American History, Book Reviews, Business & Money, Charles, Economics, Political Discussion & Analysis, Political Economy, Social Behavior
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Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town (Brian Alexander)

Private equity has made me rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Yet private equity can be, as this book shows, a tool of the devil, a corrosive and destructive force in American life. Still, I do not think the story is as simple as Brian Alexander, the author of Glass House, would have it. The town in which he grew up, and which he profiles here—Lancaster, Ohio—has fallen far from its glory days, as have hundreds of similar towns across America. But the responsibility for that lies not just with the shady private equity companies that looted its largest employer, glass manufacturer Anchor Hocking, or with other elements of our rotten ruling class. It also lies with all of us, who bear more than some responsibility for the degradation of our towns, and of ourselves.

Although there are variations, in general “private equity” refers to a certain type of investment firm. Those who manage the firm collect money from investors seeking high returns, and use that money, along with copious additional borrowed money, to buy private companies. They then seek to resell those companies at a higher value within a few years, thereby returning money to investors, and more to themselves, while extracting money along the way. If done competently, those who manage private equity firms can become extremely rich, and they never become poor, since they are not risking their own money. The risks are instead borne by the passive investors, the banks who lend money, and by the companies they buy. Think of those, in most cases, as a goose force-fed to massively increase its liver size. Time is short, and it rarely ends well for the goose.

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In my past life, I was a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer; the nature of that business, buying and selling companies, often involves private equity firms. I also studied private equity, and related fields, a great deal in business school, which I attended after being a lawyer. For most of 2020, as I worked toward selling my business, I interacted with a number of private equity companies, who constitute the buyers of most businesses today. This sale process showed, although I already knew them, the differences among private equity firms. As with any firm, each has a personality, and while they are subject to economic incentives, much of their behavior is actually driven by personality. For example, I had signed a letter of intent (an agreement to agree) to sell my company to one private equity company last July. Their personality was a common one for private equity—slick, overconfident, far less smart than they thought, and people I wouldn’t trust to buy me a sandwich, if I were relying on them to bring me the change. Although they were the initial high bidder, it was in their nature, again as is common with private equity companies, to chisel. Failing to read my personality and thinking that I would be desperate to keep a bird in the hand, and so be willing to give up some money for their benefit, they tried to lower the price before the transaction closed. It took me thirty seconds to kill the deal, and I never spoke to them again.

But other firms have different personalities. Soon enough, a bidder that had earlier dropped out, because of the impact of the Wuhan Plague on other companies it owned, came back to the table, offering an even higher price, and quickly closed the deal. This private equity company represented not many investors seeking returns in the traditional way, but family members of one wealthy family (with politics very opposed to mine). This firm’s personality, and all its representatives, were always honest and aboveboard in every way and they were a pleasure to deal with. Moreover, they have successfully continued to run and grow my company, with what appears to be a long-term focus.

Alexander would say that despite differences in personality, private equity firms are all subject to similar incentives—to pump up the value to a third party of an entity they buy, by minimizing expenses and maximizing EBITDA (an indirect measure of cash generated by the company), and then to sell it to someone who will pay them more than they paid for it. And that is true enough. It is equally true that private equity firms extract money from owned companies prior to sale, through fees and special dividends. They often claim that this is compensation for providing guidance, a bogus claim, since except in rare instances those who work at private equity firms have no idea how to run a business (although often those who run the business also have no idea how to run a business), because financial engineering is a completely different skill set from running a business. Hubris is the defining characteristic of private equity, but nemesis never arrives, because of the political power of the financial engineering class.

One might legitimately ask, given that private equity has so many cretins in it, why did I sell to private equity? Because I wanted the money, of course. It so happened that the buyer was the bidder most aligned with all stakeholder interests, not just my interests, although the shift from a firm run by a single man to one run by a larger entity necessarily results in some change, disadvantaging some stakeholders and advantaging others. To be fair to me (something I never fail to do), I should mention that I distributed around ten million dollars to my employees, for although successful entrepreneurship almost always centers on the work of one indispensable man, he cannot do it without others, and the laborer is worthy of his hire. But I would have sold to a greaseball private equity company if that was what got me the most money, if I am being honest. The official mission statement of my company was “The purpose of this company is to put sweet cash in the pocket of Charles Haywood,” and so it turned out. That’s all there is to it. I’m avaricious, not so much for cash as the marker of success, but for what cash will let me do. Perhaps this merely proves I am part of the rot of modern America.

So, of Glass House. As with many books in the genre that combines social analysis with business analysis, the book is somewhat confusing, because it hops around in time and among people. But the basic story is relatively simple. Once upon a time, glass manufacture (not of windows, but of articles) built the modern version of the town of Lancaster, which is some distance southeast of Columbus. The city has plentiful supplies of natural gas, which made it, starting in the late nineteenth century, an ideal place for glass manufacture, an energy-intensive process. The biggest of these glass manufacturers was, and the only one left in or near Lancaster is, Anchor Hocking. Through the lens of Anchor Hocking, Alexander concisely explains glass manufacture, a heavy industrial process requiring hard and dangerous work. This Lancaster was a successful town, and in many ways the image of America in the 1950s, a decade that we are told now was awful, but which was in reality an awesome decade, and the last decade before America hurtled into the pit. Any person in Lancaster could, with a modicum of hard work, have a more than decent life. He wouldn’t be rich (nobody was truly rich in Lancaster, nor were there sharp class distinctions—Anchor Hocking executives drank at the same bars as men who worked the machines), but he would be able to raise a successful family and have a successful life, as success was once defined.

As with many companies, in the 1970s Anchor Hocking ran into trouble. Some of that was the sclerosis that affected many American companies of the era, the result of decades of little competition. In 1982, Carl Icahn bought a block of stock in Anchor Hocking and threatened that he would try to replace management, that is, directors and officers. What he wanted was “greenmail”—to have management repurchase his shares at an above-market price, a practice that is bizarrely not illegal (though a special tax is now imposed on such payments, making them less common today). He got what he wanted, starting a cycle of Anchor Hocking being led around, like a bull with a ring through its nose, by one “investment” firm after another.

The Icahn episode demonstrates a key underlying structural problem with all corporate entities—what is called the “agency problem,” the separation between ownership and control. Those who made the decisions for Anchor Hocking, the officers and directors, were not significant owners, or owners at all in many cases. That means they made decisions with other people’s money, and they could benefit themselves, here by keeping their jobs, at the expense of the owners, the stockholders. Managers say they act (as they are legally required) to benefit the stockholders, not to keep their jobs and perks. But that is at best a half-truth; rare is the manager devoid of self-interest. The agency problem is an eternal challenge for any firm, but in a firm that needs reform, it ensures that reform is unlikely to come except under extreme pressure—often in the form of being bought by private equity. Whatever may be the deficiencies of private equity, as an owner private equity firms take direct, immediate action to benefit the owner, largely removing the agency problem. This means that managers who are fat, lazy, and stupid stay in charge until private equity forces changes; this all-or-nothing approach tends to lead to undesirable outcomes for those who work for or rely on the continued stable existence of a company.

Alexander mostly ignores it, but it is entirely true that American industry in the 1970s and 1980s had fallen behind and needed reform, living large off two decades of riding high and made resistant to pressure by the ever-increasing pie allowing everyone to do well. It is no surprise this led to complacence; that reaction is simply the default for most human creations, whether firms or governments. With the right leadership, complacence can sometimes be avoided, but that leadership is extremely rare. Such sclerosis was before extreme globalization and the ideology of free trade wiped out our industrial capacity, though lean and hungry foreign competitors already were starting to enforce some discipline in the 1970s. (The classic example of this dynamic was the auto industry, whose lunch was eaten by the Japanese.) Anchor Hocking, however, wasn’t much subject to foreign competition (it’s expensive to ship glass across the ocean, although Anchor Hocking did sell overseas, and some foreign glass, especially Mexican, competes in America), and had enormous amounts of difficult-to-replicate tacit knowledge (something Matthew B. Crawford writes very well about). Thus, while it no doubt had become somewhat inefficient, it continued to operate adequately, and it spent money on necessary capital improvements while offering good wages and benefits to workers and being closely tied to the continued success of Lancaster. It’s hard to tell from this book, but there’s no real indication that Anchor Hocking in the 1980s needed to do much differently than it already was. Icahn was looking for a quick buck, not to improve the company.

Coincident with rising sclerosis among American firms, however, was the rise of libertarian economic ideas, epitomized by Milton Friedman, with his idea that the sole purpose of any firm was to make a profit for its stockholders. This was a rejection of the stakeholder view of corporate decision making, in which the corporation is run for the benefit of all those with an interest in its success, in particular the employees (though this concept is too often stretched far from real stakeholders). I used to have quite a bit of sympathy with Friedman’s idea, but it’s become clear that such an imbalanced focus is one of the drivers of American economic decay. On the other hand, it’s also true that the agency problem is real, that managers very commonly line their own pockets and protect their own jobs and perks while lying that they are doing so for all the stakeholders. And more recently, a great many managers have destroyed enormous firm value for all stakeholders by using their firms to virtue signal with leftist agitation, another example of the agency problem, and the most pernicious one yet. The question, again, is where and how to strike the balance in deciding for whose benefit a firm should be operated.

Certainly, we don’t need total laissez faire. The bizarre idea that many supposed conservatives advance, that corporations should be free to do what they want, even monopolistic ones that use their massive power to aggressively advance left-wing goals, is just that—bizarre. It ignores that corporations, which are creatures of the state, are told all the time what they can and cannot do—but only to advance left-wing goals, like forcing small businesses to bake celebration cakes for homosexual “weddings.” The sooner this idea of keeping hands off corporate entities dies, the better. When I am in charge, corporations will work to advance, or at least not hinder, the societal goals of Foundationalism, or they will be dissolved, and regardless of that, no giant corporations at all will be allowed, following Tim Wu’s neo-Brandeisianism.

As for Anchor Hocking, the next four decades of its history were one of decline combined with endless financial engineering machinations. More investments by raiders who demanded short-term returns at the expense of all other stakeholders; spinoffs that lined the pockets of a few; declining quality and declining sales; cutting investment in capital improvement in an attempt to raise cash flow; and all the usual common events in the many American industries choked by financial engineering. The long-standing ties of the company’s managers to the town frayed and then severed. An endless churn of new owners and managers became the new norm, in the corrosive manner modern corporate America endorses. The union was cowed and forced to repeatedly retrench wages and benefits, threatened with shutdowns otherwise. Public money was extracted by one owner after another; school funding was cut in order to meet the demands of voracious new owners. The left-wing critics of the “greed is good” attitude, which tried to justify dishonesty and the quick buck, were, it turns out, correct.

Notably, one short-term owner of the company was Cerberus Capital Management, of which one Stephen Feinberg, a top economic advisor to Donald Trump, is CEO. This simple fact explains a lot about how Trump’s term in office went. Feinberg is laughably described in his Wikipedia profile as a “businessman”; nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a parasitical extractor of value created by others. As Robert Nisbet said, rootless men always betray.

One result of this ruination wrought by financial engineering was that working at Anchor Hocking, which used to be the goal of most young people in the town, became a low-prestige option, where nobody ambitious wanted to work given that upward opportunities were few and the company might shut down at any time. By when this book was written, in 2016, Anchor Hocking was still around, shrunken (as it is to this day, though it seems to be a big seller of bottles for premium liquor), but sadly diminished as a pillar of Lancaster, which itself was, not coincidentally, also sadly diminished. Alexander weaves, among the business discussion, profiles of local residents, not connected to the glass industry, mostly drug addicts. There’s a little too much of this, which becomes repetitive. All you need to know is that like most towns, especially in this area of the country, drug use is ubiquitous and hugely destructive, and a very large percentage of the population cycles in and out of the criminal justice system. The details don’t really matter; what matters is that this is indicative of a blasted and destroyed society. Did that have to happen? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

The root symptom of Lancaster-style societal destruction is the alienation and isolation that characterizes most of America today, even in economically-thriving areas. From that follow numerous secondary harms. Alienation led to the destruction of the virtues that used to be the norm, and which were enforced by the community. Chief among those disappeared virtues were hard work and thrift; as Alexander says, now “Modesty was out; acquisitiveness was in.” As everywhere, consumerism, usually of cheap Chinese crap, substituted for community, aided by easy credit and easy bankruptcy (and more recently by our government printing money). (If you need more proof of the attitude this creates, I passed a bus stop bench the other day, printed with an advertisement, “Bankruptcy By Phone!”) As the community corroded, those on the edges fell out, creating new edges, that also fell out. As a result, it became increasingly difficult for businesses to find good workers, further fueling decline. Numerous other indicia of decay, such as illegitimacy, soared. The result is that Lancaster today is a drug-addled and poverty-stricken town, where most people who work are employed in health care, an industry pumped up by the vicious cycle of poor health leading to yet more social decay leading to more poor health, and where the only people in Lancaster with good jobs are those who work in Columbus and commute, who have no time to participate in the community.

Many locals blame government handouts for the decay, and there is no doubt much truth in that—as Chris Arnade’s Dignity reveals, government handouts are often what allow many people to wallow in degradation. If they disappeared, we’d have a lot less degradation. But even if there were no payments, and if Anchor Hocking and other employers paid the inflation-adjusted wages and benefits they paid in the 1960s, it’s not clear it would be enough for people in Lancaster to lead the lives our consumerist culture demands they live. The deeper problem is societal expectations and changed structures. The most important changed structure is sex roles—a significant degree of our national fracture of community is the direct result of the poison of Betty Friedan and her ilk, and a huge percentage of alienation and atomization comes from mothers being employed outside the home. Aggressively stigmatizing such work, and ensuring that no subsidies go to encourage it, rather the reverse, would go far toward restoring a decent American society, though you’d need to do a lot more than just that to actually reverse decay, or more accurately, forge a new society.

It’s somewhat sad that a core of older residents keeps hoping to renew Lancaster, and trying to do so, and keeps failing. It’s essentially impossible to renew a town without an economic engine and with a broken society. As Alexander notes at one point, a town that works is “governed by a set of long-held rules and customs.” In a world that celebrates emancipation and autonomic individualism, this evanesces, and cannot be recaptured. I found it particularly interesting how Alexander profiles one young man, Brian Gossett, a fourth-generation employee of Anchor Hocking. Gossett rejects “the System,” by which he means the complex of pernicious societal drivers that creates dead-end lives for young people like him. He’s employed (though he quits Anchor Hocking), and he’s not a drug user, but he drifts, atomized within an atomizing society. This is the kind of young man who in another time would have been guided by his elders, and welcomed less autonomy and more community, but now is cast adrift, offered nothing but temptations. Yet, exemplifying the spirit that much of America fails to understand, that of J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (also set in Ohio), he and many others want to stay in Lancaster, which is their home. He just doesn’t see a path forward. He’s been betrayed by our ruling class, which runs the System. The solution, which he can’t see but he would no doubt endorse under the right circumstances, is to bring down the System.

You can’t go back. So what does that imply? Saying you can’t go back is not the same thing as insisting that all the nightmarish social consequences of financial engineering are simply natural, the result of “being part of a modern economy.” Still, the type of sclerosis that affected American industry in the 1970s and 1980s is very real and largely inevitable; although Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of creative destruction is overstated and overvalued, it has a grain of truth, in that change disciplines. The problem, I think, is that we got the wrong type of change, benefiting at the expense of most of America a thin slice of Americans (the 1% of the subtitle of Glass House), as well as various foreigners.

How to address this, and try to move ourselves to a sounder, more broadly socially beneficial, industrial economy, that still allows America to move forward to a new dawn (assuming we also solve all the other problems we have, a big assumption)? First, we should start by breaking the political power of the financial engineers—not just private equity, but hedge funds, big banks, and a vast host of other parasites who have manipulated our entire society to their benefit, on every front from taxes to regulation. Half measures won’t do; I’d not just tax the carried interest at ordinary income rates, but implement confiscatory taxation on financial engineering profits, looking backward (separately from my intent to wholly confiscate the fortune of any wealthy person who has funded destructive left-wing programs, such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs’s widow; the assets of all left-wing foundations, such as the Ford Foundation; and all college endowments above a de minimis amount). We also need a robust antitrust regime that allows no single company, or companies under direct or indirect common ownership, to control more than five percent of any given market, whether internet search or breakfast cereal, no matter the source of that control.

By itself this won’t be enough. The American economy produces less and less of value, but this truth is largely concealed by financial chicanery. We don’t need more cheap crap from abroad to feed the destructive consumerist mill, and we don’t need the fictitious increases in GDP that result from everyone buying more cheap crap, or for that matter, expensive crap, every year. Thus, second, we should massively increase tariffs on any goods coming from low-wage countries, or from China, regardless of its wages. NAFTA and all similar agreements should be voided. It’s just dumb that we allow our manufacturing to be stripped from the country, relying on the continued goodwill of our enemies, on that globalism will be stable and wonderful forever. And cheap is rarely better, even if we have been propagandized into that belief. For example, the other day I needed to buy a drill chuck for a metal mill. The gold standard at one time was Jacobs chucks; but now, having been bought by Danaher, a conglomerate driven by financial engineering, they are made in China, and their quality has plummeted. Or, to take another example, a few days ago I tried to purchase a second Ursa garden wagon, for a long time the pinnacle of garden wagons. But I was told they don’t sell wagons anymore, just parts; Gorilla Carts copied their designs and sells Chinese knockoffs. So when China cuts us off, we won’t have any chucks or wagons at all. That, multiplied across a thousand industries, is a big problem. We can kill both consumerism and our dependency by simply increasing tariffs.

Yes, increasing tariffs would likely diminish American exports and cause short-term economic pain; that’s not necessarily desirable, but it would be desirable if the crisis, following the immortal words of Rahm Emanuel, allowed us to make other required social changes, such as eliminate the BS jobs that are most of what our professional-managerial elite does; eliminate the massive racial grift industry of diversity commissars and the like; and end the idea that it is desirable for mothers to work outside the home. A tall order, but in social change, upheaval is usually necessary first, and this upheaval would be worth it. Along with raising tariffs, we should destroy every other pernicious element of globalism, such as allowing American firms to offshore assets to reduce their tax burden, and allowing any immigration, legal or illegal, of any unskilled workers at all. And I should note that as with most of what I recommend these days, none of these are really policy recommendations in the traditional sense, because in the present dispensation they will never happen. Rather, they are parts of the new dispensation, when the present one is destroyed, root and branch.

The goal of all this, and much more, is to create a society where the working class is aligned with the ruling class, as opposed to what we have now, where the ruling class makes degraded slaves of what remains of the working class. Foundationalism will have, to be sure, a ruling class, though no member of today’s ruling class will be in it. The working class will not be in charge, because the working class is not capable of being in charge. Nonetheless, for us, today, the key is the working class, because their aid in the wars to come will be crucial. To prevent them choosing rightly, our overlords rely on sedating the working classes with consumerism, drugs, porn, and video games. Thus, they have become degraded to a great degree, just like all of us. We can see, though, from Brian Gossett, and from phenomena such as Jordan Peterson, that many young people in the working class don’t want those things. The solution is to, at the right moment, weaponize the working class against the ruling class, and against their foot soldiers, the woke professional-managerial elite and the myrmidons of Burn-Loot-Murder, for both of whom the working class, of all races, have nothing but contempt. A new social compact, for a renewed society. Stephen Feinberg can move to Canada or England, or better yet, Mexico, with the one suitcase of possessions he’s allowed. Then Lancaster can flourish again.

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  1. Fonny says

    monopolistic coörporations have become monopolistic not due to “laissez-faire” capitalism, but due to government regulation, so that new competitors cannot enter the marketplace, and due to government regulation that they can buy up all competition. Milton Friedman is the wrong enemy.

    • Charles Haywood says

      This is not true, or is only partly true. Government regulation does not make it possible for first-movers to gobble up all comers–see Google and Facebook. Nor did it make it possible for earlier predatory monopolies, such as Standard Oil, to exist. It is no doubt true that in some regulated industries large firms can use regulation to exclude entrants (banks are one such), but even there, the refusal to forbid acquisitions is the bigger problem. Milton Friedman is exactly the right enemy, though only one on my very long list of enemies.

      • goodlander says

        Certainly Google and Facebook are the best cases for anti-trust action maybe ever but in an actually free market, I suspect even they would eventually be outcompeted by the next new thing with enough patience. Neither is very old and the tech monopoly graveyard is already full of dead giants. The larger issue is that Silicon valley is an ideological cartel that is all to happy to assist our progressive rulers implement their Orwellian designs in the private sphere.

        I don’t think Milton Friedman or even his more autistic and principled collogues would claim these tech platforms are innocent private companies that must be left in piece as a moral imperative. Or if he would, he’s wrong. They’re so entangled with government(s) that its a distinction without a difference. Feeding them through the woodchipper via anti-trust or some other means is perfectly justified even for a free market absolutist. Doubly so for banks.

        • Milton Friedman did say that business men are enemies of free enterprise and a free society just as much as politicians are, mostly because they’re in bed together.

          So said Friedman (in an interview with Reason:

          “I often say that the two chief enemies of the free society or free enterprise are intellectuals on the one hand and businessmen on the other, for opposite reasons… Every businessman is in favor of freedom for everybody else, but when it comes to himself that’s a different question. He’s always the special case. He ought to get special privileges from the government, a tariff, this, that and the other thing. And it’s this coalition that’s really difficult for us so I think we ought to be careful of according businessmen too much power, or of believing that they are the major source of support for a free society.”

          I personally like Friedman more than Charles, and may give him more of the benefit of the doubt, but I certainly do understand the limitations of his thought (and, more generally, liberal economic theory). Meaning, it’s right as far as it goes, but often misses, badly, long term and more complex issues with economics. Like how free trade, unfettered and unwatched, can cause cities and regions (and often because of this countries) to over-specialize and end up living off of profits that are long-term unsustainable because no broader base of production ever develops. (This is taken from Jane Jacobs’s excellent “Cities and the Wealth of Nations”) And how, on a frighteningly enormous scale this is happening all over the US. Or how free trade can create dependency on our enemies – for instance China controlling all of Hollywood, as per John Cena’s castrated apology to the “communists” over there.

          As regards monopolies – here also they’re “right” insofar as the economic theory goes. Even with the governmental chicanery Facebook et al. won’t be around very long. Maybe ten more year if nothing crazy happens (but, of course, Charles thinks that something crazy WILL happen and I tend to agree), but all the free marketer enormously discount the damage that can be done with decade(s) of draconian control of the market, especially in information dissemination.

          Interestingly, we may actually be seeing the deleterious effects of monopoly on the companies themselves because they’ve so obviously overstepping their boundaries that it’s making a lot of people angry and may end up bringing the conflagration that beings their downfall nearer.

      • Fonny says

        So your point is that entrepeneurs cannot buy-out other entrepeneurs? You work and create a company, but you cannot sell it, to retire, for example? Furthermore, I did not posit that it is always “first-movers” that monopolize an industry. It is the ones that understand that regulation is needed to do just that.

  2. Altitude Zero says

    One challenge faced by the Right today is to understand that, while Leftist “solutions” to social problems vary from being ineffectual at best to murderous at worst, the problems themselves are often quite real (not always – for example, modern feminism came along at a time when, by all accounts, women as a whole were happier than at any time before or since). Dealing with the real problems that give Leftism traction is far more difficult than owning the liberals or railing against “Big Government”, but utterly necessary. One hopeful sign is that thinkers on our side, like yourself, are starting to grapple with this

  3. goodlander says

    An insightful post! I’ve worked for two firms that had the misfortune of being boarded by machete-wielding MBAs. I was young but had the sense to see the smart rats leaving the ship and followed them out. Perhaps these towns where the mine/plant/mill closed 30 years ago leaving everyone to collect a check and work a bar stool are prime targets for the federal agency rustication you’ve mentioned. These places need a reason to exist or should be evacuated.

    I’m quite fond of laissez faire, although my conception wouldn’t include the legal entities you aptly describe as “creatures of the state.” If business is sufficiently entangled with government laissez faire is out the window. Simply having a government that wasn’t for sale, nor a government that allowed quasi-government power centers to exist outside its formal structure, would go a long ways towards cleaning up the pathology in business.

    I recall an argument I read online between self-identified communists in which one was supportive of destroying small business and enriching huge corporate powers. I found this odd, but he went on to explain how corporate consolidation is simply fewer things to nationalize in the end and how the counter-revolutionary opposition is always some kind of Freikorps which mainly comprises middle class and small business interests with something to lose. This makes a disturbing amount of strategic sense. Particularly since the left vs right in this country is increasingly a coalition of the upper-class and underclass vs the middle class. Through this lens private equity is certainly a tool of our enemies–good for bayonetting the corpses of anything that may have survived the last year’s offensive.

  4. Mr. Haywood,
    It is my great fortune to have found The Worthy House via Daily Wire (Andrew Klavan) then through Young Heretics (Spencer Klavan) then onto the American Mind where I heard your conversation with Michael Anton. I have been watching conservative commentators over the past couple years crying about how the sky is falling and the Left is not playing fair, while I find myself asking, “…well, if you have an opponent who will not/can not reason, where are the calls for action? What is there to keep talking about?”

    It’s very refreshing to hear you discuss our current nihilistic, Satanic culture in stark terms and talk openly about a vision for resistance as well as positive renewal of culture. I am an Orthodox Christian convert (baptized 5 years ago on John Climacus Sunday). It sounds like you have been inquiring into Orthodoxy and I get the idea that like me, you are sensing in the Orthodox tradition the last haven in Christendom for men who don’t want to be neutered. I very much trust in God and His Providence, but I do not believe for a second that we should cower in a corner and allow evil to prevail unopposed.

    Thanks for all of the great reviews including a very helpful elucidation of Glass House, the rot of our ruling class and how this translates into the destruction of our once beautiful American towns and cities. I live in midcoast Maine and work all over western Maine where I observe all of the fallout discussed above. Meth, oxy, baby mamas, obesity, laziness, shamelessness, abandoned buildings, empty paper mills etc.

    I work for the electric utility in southern Maine, and another thing I see (in stark contrast to the decay) among those I work with is a healthy supply of strong, practical, competent, politically incorrect and well armed men who are NEVER going to fall in with gender theory, race theory or any other laughable left wing madness. They are not ideologues, but one of them would be worth 100 screeching antifa ghouls. What I’m wondering is where do I go from here and who else as far as thought leaders are in your camp? Who can harness the energy of these men and their terrific arsenals. The time is late and it blows my mind how much garbage we have been asked to swallow.

    Christ is Risen! He has trampled down death. May he banish our fear.

    P.S. I’m sure you’re bombarded with book recommendations, but if you are interested in some Orthodox books, I may be able to direct you to some precious items.

    • Charles Haywood says

      Thank you! Full Orthodox now (for two years). I would love some book recommendations. Interesting, but not surprising, what you say about Maine. Where we go from here will become evident soon enough, I think.

      • The first two are basically transcribed talks from modern saints (both reposing in the ’90s) who I find invaluable as these men lived out a spiritual existence in our modern age and can therefore understand and directly address our modern sickness. Then a book on prayer, some history and philosophy.

        1. “Spiritual Counsels of Elder Paisios”
        This is a five book series consisting of questions and answers from a group of nuns and Elder Paisios (now Saint). His way of looking at the world is startling in that he talks about the spiritual realms and realities like you talk about business, as someone with intimate knowledge of what he speaks. I would get the first one and see if it grabs you.

        2. “Wounded by Love: The life and wisdom of St. Porphyrios”
        He is another great modern saint. This and the one above are very helpful in obtaining the Orthodox mindset which about as far from enlightenment thinking as you can get.

        3. “The Path of Prayer: Four Sermons on Prayer” by St. Theophan the Recluse
        This is a very concise and practical guide on how to pray in spirit and in truth. This guy is authoritative when he speaks. Anything by him is worthwhile.

        4. “Paradise and Utopia” by John Strickland
        A two book series including “The Age of Paradise: Christendom from Pentacost to the First Millenium” and “The Age of Utopia: Christendom from the Great Schism to the Protestant Reformation”. This, in my experience, is a completely unique take on Christian history. There is a companion podcast called “Paradise and Utopia” which is very low budget and nerdy, but I find it very compelling. The thesis of Strickland’s history is that Christendom, founded by Christ at the great commission, began an age of Paradise, meaning an age in which the heavenly realms have broken into the world, operate in the world and are transforming the world through the sacramental life of the Church and It’s orientation toward Paradise. After the schism, there was a marked transition, particularly in western Christendom, away from an orientation of the world toward Paradise and toward strictly earthly ends (Utopia).

        5. Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modenrn Age by Seraphim Rose
        A short work to introduce you to Seraphim Rose. I guess he’s kind of controversial, some saying he is a saint, some a fanatic. My kind of guy. He may suffer from an overabundance of convert zeal, but I don’t think anyone would call him a heretic, he’s just too uncompromising in his commitment to Christian Truth and condemnation of modernity for some people.

        Also, check out Father Josiah Trenham from whom you will hear such lib triggering talks as “Gay Iconoclasm: Holding the Line against the Radical LGBT Agenda” which is on youtube. He runs Patristic Nectar Publications which has a lot of great talks on it including a podcast with his Sunday homilies which are always good and sometimes great. He’s a good example of someone who not only identifies and calls out the enemy but promotes a positive vision of a renewed society.

        I often think that it may be a fools errand to try to predict anything about when change will come and what it will look like, but I sure hope you see something that I don’t and we are headed toward an age of renewal and left-smashing. I see the potential, but find it hard to envision the Right coalescing into a unified force to do what desperately needs to be done.

        • Charles Haywood says

          Thank you! I’m pleased to say, or maybe I shouldn’t be, that I have copies of #1 and #2 (but haven’t done more than skim them, although my wife has read more of both). I’ll get the Strickland books. I am reading “Unseen Warfare,” Scupoli’s book as modified by Theophan, which seems very good. Seraphim Rose keeps coming up in conversations; I haven’t read him (in part because it’s not clear to me that’s a good place for a relative beginner to go), but his theory of “aliens” as demons is looking potentially more relevant by the day!

          And yes–be optimistic!

  5. T Teller says

    Your writing suggests enough intelligence to be aware that Trump’s economic and immigration policies created the greatest single-year increase of both wages and total wealth for the American working class in history in 2019, and yet you still seem to falsely single him and his policies out for the current state of the economy. It’s not difficult to see how Trump’s combination of reducing all forms of immigration which formerly drove down the value of American labor through endless competition, tax cuts and deregulation that benefited small businesses the most, better trade deals for American industries, incentivizing companies to bring their jobs back to America from overseas, and tariffs to reverse trade deficits with countries like China, combined to improve the economic lot of the American working class more than any other President in history by leading to the unprecedently great year of 2019, while the middle class also had their best year in decades. Peter Navarro was the architect of Trump’s economic policies, not Feinberg who had very little input on policy, and Stephen Miller created the immigration policies, and they were both intelligent enough to craft such effective policies and great patriots who genuinely cared about the American people enough to ensure those policies got implemented.

    The success of 2019 is the reason the ruling class wanted and needed to destroy the Trump economy and presidency so badly with everything they did in 2020. This current economy is due to a CCP-bioengineered virus from Wuhan, Democrat and RINO governors and mayors enacting completely draconian lockdowns for over a year that they knew did far more harm than good and which Trump opposed but was forced to create a stimulus to counter to save the workers affected by those lockdowns, and a new illegitimate President and Congress carrying out their agenda of open borders, inflationary spending, and job-killing green policies. But regardless, the lessons of 2019 tell us emphatically that we need a lot more of the Trump policies in the future to turn this economy around, not less. And falsely blaming Trump instead of the people who deserve the blame only deceives voters into voting against their interests. If you really want the working class to have a bigger piece of the pie, then we need to elect America-first candidates who support Trump-style economic and immigration policies to as many offices as possible.

    • Charles Haywood says

      This is silly on many levels. First, the idea that “Trump’s economic and immigration policies created the greatest single-year increase of both wages and total wealth for the American working class in history” requires, you know, some argument and evidence. I was certainly in favor of many of Trump’s declared “economic and immigration” policies, but most of them he declared in 2016 he failed to implement, in large part because of capture by advisers opposed to them. Second, I don’t “single out [Trump’s] policies for the current state of the economy.” You might try reading the piece more closely.

  6. Thank you for writing this article.

    I’ve never heard of the “agency problem”. Is it possible to separate ownership from control?

    Do you believe that libertarian ideas themselves drive American economic decay? Might another explanation be that those who are being entrusted with liberty are increasingly less able to handle it responsibly? I write as one who has abused freedom, regret having done so, and hope that the application of libertarian principles will grow in my life.

    Perhaps you’re right regarding application of laissez faire to corporations. Maybe the people that run them are not able to handle such liberty virtuously?

    Would you equate the “greed is good” attitude with “self interest”? Is it possible to cleanly separate actions which are in our own self interests and which also benefit those we interact with, and actions which seemingly are in our own self interests but which harm others?

    Alienation was the root cause of the destruction of virtue? Is it solely the community that is responsible for enforcing virtue? Does individual choice not play a role? (Again, I recognize I’ve made my own bad choices; worse, blamed others afterward).

    Is monetary income the only valid indicator of thriving life? What about freedom?

    Societal expectations are definitely a deeper problem than purely monetary concerns; excellent insight.

    Are there other changed structures which play an even greater role than changing sex roles in our society? Regarding the changing of sex roles, how much of that was allowed to take place by men? The transition from marriage contracts to marriage licenses (over time) is one area that comes to mind where men have abandoned their own best interests (along with the interests of their wives, children, families and society as well).

    Might renewing a town eventually be possible without an economic engine but with a society on the mend?

    Is the emancipation the world is celebrating that of emancipation from evil / tyranny / slavery? Or emancipation from duty, from morality, from responsibility, from religion… from God?

    Is the individualism the world is celebrating that of selfishness? Or is it of independence which allows for interdependence in society?

    Is it “the system” and “the ruling class” which are the root cause for the decay of our society? Or is it the summation of immoral individual choices (such as mine)?

    Is it possible that “all the other problems we have” might in fact be the biggest area that needs to be fixed to reverse the direction towards decay? (That’s not to suggest that some of the areas mentioned for confiscatory taxation shouldn’t be dealt with or addressed in some way; just want to know if that’s the best in terms of morality?)

    Increasing tariffs sounds good. Would you be in favor of allowing states to implement tariffs on goods produced in other states as well? The import export clause of the constitution was much more vigorously debated at the time of its inception than would seem appropriate given how many times it comes up in court today. Perhaps that suggests a change would be good?

    What moral / historical argument can be made for preventing unskilled immigrants entry to this country? (Differentiate: citizenship vs simply being allowed to live here in peace). In the early days of this country, what was required for citizenship?

    In considering calling for destruction, it might be well to remember Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

    Why must there be divisions between people, of this class and that class? Who are we to determine whether one person is capable or not capable of being responsible?

    What societal structure was historically involved with saving men from vices such as “consumerism, drugs, porn, and video games”?

    A thought provoking post; appreciate it sir!

    Daniel Michael Kovacevic

    • Charles Haywood says

      All good questions. Many are addressed in other pieces (and comments) on the site. And that Solzhenitsyn was undoubtedly right does not mean that some people are so evil, or put more neutrally, have such a different conception of the good, that separating/destroying them is both necessary and desirable, even if those that remain are by no means wholly virtuous.

  7. Ken says

    The overlords and their myrmidons aren’t going to like this. Wonderful review though.

  8. Is it true that Germany has avoided many of these problems?

    I have a very superficial knowledge of the subject, but I have the impression that in Germany, labor, management, and shareholders tend to work together for the overall long-term good of the industry, and have avoided many of these disasters.

    Why can’t we be more like Germany?

    • Charles Haywood says

      I am generally aware of the labor-management cooperation system in Germany, but not up on current German culture at all, except as it relates to lack of children and the Muslim invasion. But, to the extent it works and their ruling class is not rotten in this regard (which I doubt), I don’t think it’s likely applicable here. They’re German, after all, and don’t face the same heterogeneity we do.

  9. José Luis says

    I don’t think the solution to foreign invasion of goods is tariffs. The flow of chinese merchandise is not automatic, it doesn’t work in many countries of the world. There is something that is fuelling that imbalance in manufactured goods, and it is debt. Many economies of the world are debt driven, it is the case of the EEUU, and the same in Europe, where I live.

    Far better than tariffs (with many bad effects), whe must get rid of the “quantitative easing” and other schemes that are used to ever increase debt, all of them with public support, so as to arrive to a more normal economy. When you take out of the equation the gargantuan debt we add every year, the only way to buy say chinese goods is by selling other goods you are producing at home. In that way, you cannot destroy works in your country by buying abroad. For buying, you must produce and sell.

    • Charles Haywood says

      This is an excellent point, although doing that would get our reset started immediately, which would be fine with me. Even so, some amount of autarky traded off with reduced efficiency is desirable, in order that our enemies not have leverage over us, and tariffs do that better. There was an interesting WSJ article last week on how American farming is a subsidized corn and soybean monoculture now, and in the past twenty years most production of agricultural goods has been offshored. Thus, sixty percent of apple juice sold in America comes from China. Even if debt disappeared, the wage differentials that make that possible would remain, so purging unreality from the monetary system would likely not be a complete solution.

  10. José Luis says

    In the example you put, your government is subsidizing corn and sybean, so it is rational for farmers to produce more of those products and less of others, for example, apples for juice. The point is that, whenever the balance of payments between two countries is showing a desequilibrium, there is something the surplus country is adquiring from the other country. In the case of China and EEUU, China is trading goods for treasury bonds. Clearly it is the government who makes possible that imbalance. It lets EEUU to buy chinese goods withour producing other goods.

    If the goverment doesn’t interfere in the economy, the only way a country can buy chinese products is by producing and selling other products. Not only meddles with sovereign debt, also by encouraging private debt with public guarantees.

    • Charles Haywood says

      True enough, although it is also true that cheap labor means that in a completely free market globalized economy, with no government interference, harmful effects can still accrue to a nation with a higher cost labor structure. The solution to that is tariffs (which are also the solution to a more traditional problem, used as carrot-and-stick when one country subsidizes a domestic industry). No doubt, though, eliminating government distortions of the monetary system, as well as subsidies, would solve much of the problem. It would also result in mass beneficial change in America, as the fake jobs were squeezed out of the system.

  11. Ken says

    And the Treasury bonds are to buy what that is uniquely here? Land?

  12. Sashank Tirumala says

    Really interesting review. What is your opinion on stock buybacks? I was having an argument with my father the other day who remarked that Tim Cook was an excellent CEO of Apple because he was using the massive profits of Apple to buy ack stocks (thereby increasing the stock price). This felt fundamentally wrong, we would rather want Apple to invest in new businesses and take more risks rather than artificially jack up their price. My father though was convinced Stock Buybacks are completely fine, better buyback stocks than invest in a new risky venture that can fail and cause a fall in the stock value. I think in an ideal society we would ban stock buybacks

    • Charles Haywood says

      Stock buybacks are viewed in traditional libertarian economic theory as good, because (supposedly) they prevent inefficiencies that pools of cash sloshing around at a corporation encourage–that is, to spend it on low return projects just to spend it. It’s become clear, though, that mostly stock buybacks are pernicious. They allow distortions that benefit the decision-maker (an example of the agency problem, discussed here). They are often done with money borrowed at artificially low rates, or by companies that later seek bailouts (the airlines most recently). And they prevent bold moves to advance technology. This recent American Affairs article by David Goldman discusses some of these issues in the Chinese context, and is quite good.

  13. spotted eagle says

    It seems that the way we structure corporations is legalized fraud, or else the wealth would not be going to fewer and fewer people. Workers get squeezed. Small businesses gets squeezed. I think the reset to stakeholder capitalism might be necessary to re-anchor corporations to places and workers, but it doesn’t really matter if there is only one company in the world (Amazon). Everybody owning .000001% percent of stock is not enough to have any say over how the company is run. The company would still have more power than governments. You might get your UBI dividend but what is the point if there is nothing to do. It seems like a slicker way to achieve what they did to Lancaster. Just call it a dividend instead of welfare and people will accept it.

    I think the answer is decentralization. We should flip the script on community colleges and local government. Local institutions already exist and are they easy to influence. They’re in-between family and state so people are okay with them taking a more activist role in society. They should be sponsoring events so people have something to do, helping students without parents, rehabbing addicts and criminals, overseeing the local economy, and funding art and music. We should advantage local activity while also restricting unfair global competition. Amazon sells cheaper products, but a well-planned town can combine shopping with socialization and better work opportunities. The amount of discretion over how the town develops would attract the best people into positions of power, and it would stop the brain drain out of small cities. The local council would be advised by the heads of the college who are also the people we want teaching our children, so they would be in charge of the school curriculum. Instead of the smartest people going into corporations to rip people off, they would be working for their city. Young people would have more autonomy and they could meet people at the college, which is also why they leave for big cities. The community college would become the central hub to build up regional power organically. It would have enough expertise to push back against corporate control and government overreach.

    A planning board is given control over the most important thing (the town’s future growth), but it often lacks resources and personal. They might hire outside consulting firms but only for a specific project, so it’s not actionable. The best places know they can’t permit new development with its chains and franchises and cheap construction, but saying “no” to everything is not an answer. It’s not fair to tell less capable people that they can’t participate in their profession, so the planning board/community college needs to incorporate them into their hierarchy and only give them the jobs that they are qualified for. Relying on the public to know which professionals to hire means they would also have to be good at it, review sites are not meant for that, and local regulation is not detailed enough to correctly order who should be doing what. An expanded community college would solve the quality control problem and the welfare question by providing meaningful jobs at the right level. It would create better education, agriculture, planning, and policing in my view.

    • Charles Haywood says

      These are excellent ideas. But they have to be combined with force that breaks the power of all large corporate (and similar, such as non-profit trust) entities. Completely. They simply shouldn’t be allowed, even if they exist only because they provide “value.” Whether Walmart or Amazon, out they go. For example, a local planning board can’t fight Walmart, which will hire endless lawyers and, if it loses, locate its store just across the local border, sucking the town dry and denying it any property taxes. Subsidiarity in everything, including economics, and the only way to do that from where we are now is by force.

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