Jim Bacon

Jim Bacon is the founder and publisher of Bacon’s Rebellion, Virginia’s leading politically, non-aligned publication for news, opinions, and analysis about state, regional, and local public policy. The publication is dedicated to reinventing Virginia for the 21st Century. Its focus is on building more prosperous, livable, and sustainable communities. Previously, Mr. Bacon held a successful career in Virginia journalism spanning 25 years. We interviewed Jim because of his interesting worldview, dedication to truth and honesty in journalism, skill as a writer and advocate, and vast practical knowledge of American current events, social, political, and economic science, and history.

Introduction

Doug Monroe:

I really appreciate you doing this, Jim. It takes a lot of guts. And I just want you to know that we have developed a little bit of an interest in journalism. I think that’s been totally more or less by accident. But with you we would have, let’s see, May-Lily Lee, Frank Hill, Ross Mackenzie, you. That’s four professional journalists. So we really do have a core, developing an interest in that as far as truth telling, free speech, that kind of thing, reporting media and so on. I think that all of you are somewhat different politically a little bit. But everybody has a traditional journalist view of trying to be professional and trying to be sort of truth-telling related and that may be falling by the wayside in the business. So if you were to think that, you would have support with the Praxis Circle crew behind you, but you don’t have to think that unless you really do think that. It could be turning into more opinion advocacy. So I thought we’d just start off with you talking about Bacon’s Rebellion. What is Bacon’s Rebellion? What’s your mission? You seem to be filling a void in the marketplace to me.

Tell us about the Bacon’s Rebellion news portal

Jim Bacon:

Well, I started Bacon’s Rebellion at the year 2002. I was publisher of Virginia Business Magazine at that time. Didn’t think that print publications had the greatest future. I’m glad to say that Virginia business is still alive 20 years later, even though I’m no longer associated with it. So I give kudos to the owners of the publication, but overall I was right. The newspaper industry has been just decimated and has gone through wrenching economic changes as well as philosophical changes. And what has happened now, there’s been a generational, I guess, one of the big changes is a generational change and a young kind of a new cadre of young journalist has come to the fore in the newspapers. They brought a whole different set of values and perspectives and they are much more, I would say, liberal to progressive in nature.

Ironically, while the reporting and the commentary has gotten more and more liberal and left leaning, the remaining readership of newspapers, those people who still read newspapers and haven’t all migrated to social media or whatever else, tend to be older and more conservative. You know, just the old guys who still “I always got my newspaper and I still read it every morning over my coffee and I’m not going to change.” So those guys are still getting the newspaper. But what’s happening is they’re going, “Oh my God, I can’t believe what these people are writing about!” So, a huge opportunity has been created, not just nationally. We see national blogs and publications flourish all over the place, but locally too. And so Bacon’s Rebellion has a focus on state and local government and public policy issues.

That’s our niche. We try to stick to it. We don’t try to talk about what’s going on in Washington DC, except occasionally as maybe stuff rolls downhill and has an impact on us. So there is a void. People are crying out for credible news and commentary that’s fact-based and not just like wild, crazy stuff. That’s not conspiracy mongering. I mean, there’s some of that out there in the internet, but people crave credible news. That’s what we try to provide to the people who write on the Bacon’s Rebellion. Some of them are former journalists, some of them are professionals, retired government professionals, but people who knew what they’re talking about and they know it’s based on, on hard data. It may not be as exciting or may not generate so many click-throughs as QAnon or something like that, but it is credible and it does feel a huge void.

Are you a rebel like Nathaniel Bacon (1647 – 1676)?

Jim Bacon:

Well with the last name of Bacon, Bacon’s Rebellion was a natural to name the newsletter. It started out as a newsletter and then became a blog. The original Bacon’s Rebellion, the real Bacon’s Rebellion was started in 1676 by a guy named Nathaniel Bacon. To whom I am no relation as far as I know. But there were a fair number of Bacons running around in the English-speaking world at that time, Sir Francis Bacon and so on. Nathaniel Bacon lived on the American frontier at that time, which was Henrico county and the country, or the colony is still really relatively new. The system of slavery had not been really formalized. Africans were brought over and sold as slaves and their indentured servants came over and it’s not clear really what happened with Africans, but at some point, a lot of them would be kind of became quasi-free.

Anyway. So there were a lot of poor landless people, and they kind of came to the frontier and there on the frontier, they came into conflict with the Indians who were still here. Nathaniel Bacon kind of took up their cause. They began mixing it up with the Indians and kind of raids and counter raids and stuff like that. It was all not very well organized, and the impression I get, it was pretty militarily incompetent, but it did occur where there was a conflict. But the governor, Governor Berkeley, he had these deals going on with some Indian tribes. They were like fur trading deals or whatever, I’m not sure exactly what they were. And then there was just the old thing of government, and he would put his cronies into positions of power.

Back then offices were often associated with remuneration. They had like sources of revenue attached to them. So he put all his buddies in all the positions that earned money and created wealth. So it was some point that Bacon and his kind of rabble marched on Jamestown, and Berkeley fled to the Eastern shore. They burned down Jamestown. Somewhere along the line, they wrote a document, published a document called the ‘Rights of Englishman’ or ‘Declaration of the Rights of Englishman’. Something like that was kind of like a proto Liberty kind of a document, but it was not universal. And that was really interesting. We talk about universal principles that are established through the American revolution, where rights of man were considered universal. These were the rights of Englishman. Kind of going back to the Magna Carta. These are rights that Englishman had fought for and won in their status as Englishman.

Anyway. So it was very interesting from that point of view. Unfortunately, Nathaniel Bacon died of dysentery in the swamp somewhere, and the whole rebellion just kind of collapsed. But he was very much a figure that was against the established order. And I feel the same role, journalistically speaking. I don’t believe in burning down Richmond. I think it’s a nice town. I don’t want to burn it down, but I think figuratively, metaphorically, I think then maybe we could burn a few of our more corrupted, decaying and antiquated institutions down. So, I feel like I live in the same spirit as Nathaniel Bacon.

Your education and journalistic background?

Jim Bacon:

Well, I’m just the life lifelong Virginia journalist. I went to UVA. Got a graduate degree at Johns Hopkins University, both in history. Got my first job as a cub reporter at the Martinsville Walton. Didn’t really know what I was doing. Nearly got fired. It was nearly a very short career. I just didn’t get it apparently. But my editor gave me another chance, and the light bulb clicked. Figured out what I was doing. Everything went well. Got a job with Roanoke Times, worked there, covered the coal industry and the railroad industry. Moved to Charlottesville, worked in PR briefly, and then to Richmond to work for Virginia Business Magazine. Started out as editor of the startup team, and over 16 years worked my way up the ranks, became editor in chief and publisher. So that was a great experience. Loved working for Virginia Business.

It was tough working for Media General, which was a big media conglomerate, and I did not feel it put sufficient resources into us to allow us to grow when this cool thing called the internet came along. I was really eager to get involved and I was kind of bureaucratically stifled. Saw my opportunity to start my own business. And that’s when I started a couple of newsletters and did online newsletters and publications, and then kind of gravitated more and more into Bacon’s Rebellion, which I kind of had on the side. And that became the way I made my living.

Do some rely on Bacon’s Rebellion as their newspaper?

Jim Bacon:

Some people are. Certainly not in the same numbers yet. I mean, we have, I would consider a gratifying readership and we probably average about 4,000 page views a day. Which is maybe triple what it was two, three years ago, so clearly it’s growing and it’s meeting a need. It’s spreading kind of word of mouth. It’s not one of these viral sensations though, And I’m still kind of wondering, “How does someone who is like a fashionista develop a following of a hundred thousand followers?” I don’t know how they do it. I think maybe intrinsically their subject matter is much more esoteric, and we write about a subject matter that maybe 5% of the population really cares about in so far as people who follow political issues, they tend to be much more geared to what’s happening at the national level.

So, I mean, if you’re writing about Donald Trump or Joe Biden, the war in Iraq or whatever, those are national issues that people can exercised about. The state and local issues. It’s government. It’s much closer to home. Has more immediate impact, but they don’t tend to be quite as polarizing or they haven’t been in the past. Politics, at least in Virginia has been more than pragmatic, and yeah, there are differences between Republicans and Democrats, but hey, in Virginia you’ve got to balance the budget as a constitutional requirement. So some of the big philosophical issues are kind of settled right up front.

Why has national interest lost ground to local issues?

Jim Bacon:

That has changed with the advent of the cultural wars. When I started out Bacon’s Rebellion 20 years ago it was a lot more focused on good government. How do we run more efficient government? How do we accomplish our goals/ do a better job? How can we do it with lower taxes? How do we promote economic development, create more jobs, bring more jobs here?

I used to have a tagline, “Building more livable, prosperous, sustainable communities.” And that’s what it was about. And that had a following, but it grew very slowly. But now that we have, critical race theory in the public schools, and the absolute craziness of what’s going on in the universities and in the politicization of every single institution in our society, that kind of marked a turning point. And people have really, a lot of people have had it. And so they turned to Bacon’s Rebellion as a kind of a credible source of here’s the what’s going on.

Do you have a definition of worldview?

Jim Bacon:

Doug. I don’t know if I have a definition of worldview. In fact, that book you gave me to read kind of late, said, “Oh my God, there’s a zillion definitions!” So, nobody has a definitive definition of worldview. It is something that we all carry around with us. I used to use a term called, it’s our kind of maybe a paradigm, more of a set of assumptions that we use to kind of look at the world or, or the prison to which we look at the world and interpret the world around us. I have not sat down like a philosopher has to kind of systematize and think logically in rigorously about what my world view is. But I have given a fair amount of kind of informal thought to it. Most people I don’t think give any thought to it at all. I mean, that’s kind of a level of esotericism that it’s just kind of way beyond them. They just carry around these beliefs through which they look at the world, but they’re not self-critical about it.

Do you believe in God?

Doug Monroe:

Yeah. I think you’re right about that. But you seem to have read something cause you summarize what it is in two or three different ways. I’ve heard you talk about your worldview or aspects of it, and you are, I see in this question, not a believer in God. I think at least she told me 99% sure you’re not. And that’s very understandable to me. Usually I’m the religious person apologizing to people about being religious today, so we’re all in the boat together, but why would you say that as the case if you had to say why you feel that way?

Jim Bacon:

Yeah, I suppose technically I’m an agnostic. In the sense that I feel that the existence of God is beyond knowable proof. It’s back to the old saying, “The concept of God is an unfalsifiable proposition.” You just can’t prove or disprove his existence. So from that point of view, I can’t totally deny the existence of a God since it’s impossible to prove or disprove. So I guess in that way, I’m agnostic, but I tend to be agnostic that veers towards the atheistic side. In that, I don’t think that you need the concept of God to explain anything. I think we live in a naturalistic world and there are still a lot of mysteries out there. And I suppose if you believe in God, you can kind of seek refuge in those mysteries, but I do think that science has been relentlessly answering and addressing a lot of those mysteries over the last 500 years and will probably continue to do so.

Maybe at some point there will be the ultimate mystery that no one can explain, so I kind of like leave a little teeny corner out there where maybe it’s possible, but that is kind of a starting point. I don’t think that there’s any divine purpose for humanity or for us as individuals. We have to find and make our own purpose.

How would you characterize your worldview?

Jim Bacon:

I would actually say that I have a Judeo-Christian worldview. Because even though I don’t believe in God as a theological proposition, I recognize that we live in a civilization that was shaped by Judeo-Christian thought, and it’s a tradition that I wholeheartedly share and believe in. So even though I consider myself a kind of an atheistic leaning agnostic, I’m not in any way hostile to religion. I think religious people, particularly the United States today do a lot of wonderful, wonderful things. And I think that they create sense of community and they give very generously and they help other people. So I don’t have a problem with religious people at all. And in fact, I find myself more concerned by other secularists who tend to be extremely aggressive in pushing their point of view and forcing it upon other people. The religious fear seems to me that it’s kind of being more and more constricted. I’m not intimately, personally affected because I don’t belong to an organized religion, but I feel I can see dispassionately what is happening in the country?

Could you expand on your worldview beliefs?

Jim Bacon:

Well, let’s see, I mean, exploring the concept of worldview a little more deeply in terms of how I can see things. I guess I would call myself a Darwinian. And I believe that human beings are the product of millions, of years of, of evolution. That there is such a thing as human nature.

Now, human nature is extraordinarily complex, and it’s a mixture of genetic influences and epigenetic influences and interactions with the environment in ways that are so complex that we are still beginning to unravel it. But it’s a result of human nature, when you can see that the certain patterns that exist in other primates and hunter gatherer societies and primitive societies that carry through to modern day society. And that is different forms of aggression is a real thing. Aggression is not something that is the result of capitalism or agriculture, or some of the things that you hear, it’s intrinsic to the species status. Quest for status, a quest for material, material wealth. So you have all these things which are recurring patterns over and over and over again. And you can maybe conceivably have enough wealth to share with everybody but you can never have enough status. Status is by definition, a zero sum game. If you have more of it than someone else has less of it. And so even if we someday we all have robots waiting on us and we all have universal basic income, conflict in our society is not going to go away. Because different people will be quartered different levels of status. And related to that is power. People quest power, particularly the totalitarians among us, they love, they thirst for power so they can impose their views on everybody else.

So I see these, all these negatives coming from being intrinsic traits to the human species. Now, it’s not all bad. Some of the things that we consider to be wonderful of about human beings are, are also part of our genetic evolutionary heritage. Things like love and altruism and things like that. These are also intrinsically human characteristics. And so they also exist and they are also inextinguishable.

And from human nature to government?

Jim Bacon:

So if, once you kind of realize that you have these traits that are intrinsic to being human being, then the next proposition is the universal values that we were talking about earlier. That all men are created equal. That is a statement using kind of the terminology of, of the religious era being created by a creator. But it’s basically saying that all men are endowed from whatever source with individual rights. We should all have the same rights. Then the question is how do you build a society that respects that everyone should have the same rights, when the reality is everyone is competing for wealth and status and power.

And I think the best system of government ever devised, at least until that time, maybe other people have learned from our experience and maybe done a little bit better, was the system that was set up in 1776, well 1786 I guess when we passed the constitution and then the bill of rights. It recognized that it has a democracy as a part of it. Every citizen has a right to participate and vote, but it’s also a Republic in that it has all these different centers of power. States and federal government and the judiciary and I don’t need to go into all that, but all the checks and balances that are built in, I think it was an absolutely brilliant system. And that it recognizes the inherent flaws, original sin if you want to call it from that point of view of, of the human beast. And so you can be religious and you can say it’s natural law, you can say it’s endowed by the creator, we’re not that far apart in terms of the way we see these things all coming together.

Some Darwinians believe in fate or determinism. You?

Jim Bacon:

No, I do not believe in fate. I think that’s just a bizarre philosophical abstraction, and I do believe in free will. I do believe that we’re all control of our own destinies. Obviously some of us have much more constrained circumstances than others. Obviously if we come from a well-to-do affluent family and we’re raised with a mother and father who love us and invest in us and give us good education, we have a much broader range of opportunities than someone who comes from a very poor family and a broken shattered family and mother’s a crack addict or whatever, goes to a really crummy school. Obviously there’s differences that way. I think one of our obligations as citizens is to help other citizens widen their sphere of opportunity.

What about consciousness?

Jim Bacon:

I don’t have an informed opinion on what consciousness is. I have written a little bit about it, I mean, read a little bit about it, but no informed opinion. What I would say is I can understand that deterministic view that we were all just the sum total of a) our genes and then our environmental inputs. In theory, according to deterministic view, if you had a super computer that was big enough, that could capture all the genes and understand and have algorithms that understood all their interactions, and then captured all the environmental inputs, you could predict what that person was going to do or think or say at any given time. So, in that sense, we are the inputs. Our actions are all a result of those inputs. Then this gets into realm, which this is really kind of fuzzy. But it’s like there are different layers of complexity. Human behavior is such an incredibly complex phenomenon, which you have so many, the millions and millions of trillions of inputs that it is. Then chaos theory comes into place and images. I don’t think it ever can be totally predicted. Somewhere within that realm of human beings, not being totally deterministic and us having a consciousness of some thought. We can make our own decisions. And again, maybe those decisions are very constrained by our culture and our background and circumstances, but there still our decisions to make. And so, in that sense, I do believe in freewill.

Doug’s comments

Doug Monroe:

That’s great. I’m just thinking about another gentleman that we interviewed, Maria and I did. Eben Alexander. He was a Harvard brain surgeon materialist. I don’t think he believed in freewill. That would make him a Darwinist, I would say. He had this death experience and he’s going to the far extreme saying that he doesn’t even think this is real. He thinks this is a product of idealism and consciousness. He thinks there’s a mass consciousness. You know what I’m saying? I’m just fascinated by the differences that people have in the way they think. I personally don’t believe anybody knows the right answers to me, these answers, because they’re at every extreme. They’re real people that really believe all the extremes. I got to move on from that fun conversation. Has your worldview changed much over the course of your life? Do you think? Any events or people?

Has your worldview changed?

Jim Bacon:

I don’t know that it’s really changed that much as it’s, perhaps it’s matured. Maybe you feel something in your gut and then what you do is you explore ideas and you find yourself attracted to those ideas that help you explain what you feel in your gut. So, maybe I’m a lot better at explaining the things I feel in my gut, then I was when I was 20 years old. When I was 20 years old, I was always fairly politically conservative. I’m a big believer in individual liberties and believe in free market economies and fiscal conservatism, and traditional values to some degree. I may not be, more of a moderate, I guess, when it comes to family values, issues, and things.

Maybe that would be an area where I have changed. My worldview has changed is to be more flexible in terms of thinking about what constitutes viable families and relationships. They don’t all have to fit into the paradigm of the mom and dad and bubba and sis kind of nuclear family. Which in the grand scheme of things, is actually kind of a rarity in the history of the world. It is American as apple pie, but it is not necessarily natural. Our human species has shown an incredible diversity in family structures. I’ve learned that intellectually and then with the whole gay rights movement and things like that, I was initially a very wary of that, but I’ve come to accept it. Then I was kind of aware of the idea of gay people adopting children didn’t seem natural to me, but again, the forms of human families are so plastic. I don’t think there’s anything… As much as I love and revere my family, I think it’s like some kind of solid family is incredibly important fundamental foundational institution our society, it doesn’t have to be a nuclear family. So I guess that’s one way that I’ve kind of, my worldview is evolved.

Your upbringing?

Doug Monroe:

Well, those are two important ways, would you say? Overall you, a lot of the ways, have not changed. Would you, would you say that’s because when you think of yourself kind of being brought up, going out into the world, going to school, as you were educated and you got the input of those that came before you. If there wasn’t that much change that would tell me that they maybe had figured it out pretty well, so that you more or less came to accept what was the learning at that point? Is that fair to say? Was it already there laid before you and you came to know it or was it your own personal experience that you’re-

Well, I certainly absorbed a lot of my values from my family, my mother and my father. So that’s true. I owe a lot them and I hold them both in high esteem. My father has passed, but he was a career military officer for 20 years. And then he went into banking, and he was a fine, upstanding man. Not very expressive. I mean, he wasn’t demonstrable in expressing his emotions. We would get together. We’d shake hands, that was how we, but there’s no question whatsoever in terms of all the love you felt. So I absorbed a lot of values from him. He and my mother were divorced at, when I was about three, but my mother was very different, very expressive, very demonstrative, very opinionated.

She loved talking about politics. So I kind of grew up talking about politics around the dinner table all the time. So that’s probably a big part of where my interest in those kinds of things came from. I absorbed a lot of my values from them because I love both my parents and I appreciated them.

Have generations changed on race?

Jim Bacon:

You know, I say maybe another area that has changed to compare the older generation with our generation, and then the generation after me, is maybe the attitudes towards race. My parents’ generation was, let’s just say by the definition of our children, were racist. Sometimes they would say things that would even appall me.

I don’t think they were cruel people and they all had relationships with African-Americans that were very personal and meaningful. They were wonderful relationships. But within a context of maybe social stratification, the exception would maybe be my dad who was in the Navy and I never heard him say a racist thing his life anyway.

So, I kind of grew up in the 60s, went to prep school, St. Alban’s in Washington, DC. We were one of the first schools in the area to integrate. We very much grew up with the idea. Kind of like Martin Luther King idea that you treat people on the basis of their character, not the color of their skin. You don’t make stereotypes and you treat everybody as individuals and maybe you were aware of the circumstances they came from and the hardships they endured. Certainly, it made allowances for those kinds of things. Now we live in an age where, all of a sudden, we’re all stereotypes based on our race again, except the stereotypes are flipped. Now I just find myself totally and utterly baffled by the idea that people now seriously talk about whiteness as a bad thing. I never thought of whiteness as anything, but I guess I’m guilty of whiteness because I’m a white person and I have white privilege. So, that makes me bad somehow. Anyway, I’m an oppressor, I guess.

So I kind of evolved from my parents’ generation. In my children’s generation, they’ve kind of evolved beyond me. I think they’re, I don’t know if they really embraced that whole idea, that whole kind of critical race theory paradigm, but they’re a lot closer embracing it than I am. So I don’t know.

Doug on Changes over Last 20-30 Years

Doug Monroe:

So in a last worldview question, it’s a little bit of your last answer. I think you summarized a lot of generational changes and I would say worldview changes. When you look at say where we were in 2000, when W became president and now, I would personally say that the changes to now have been greater than from 1965 to 2000. Primarily because when we were going to high school, it was generally accepted that integration was right. That we’re all equal. That we’re all. I also believed, and I think most guys did that women were equal and women could be CEOs. Women could do whatever they wanted and homosexuality was not as accepted as much, but we didn’t think they were bad people or anything like that. At least I didn’t. Most people didn’t. But there had been a lot of changes in the last 20 years, I think. Do you agree with that? And if so, if you don’t tell me why, but if you do, what are the changes that, that are, that are so different in the last 20 years?

What has changed most since 2000?

Jim Bacon:

Oh yeah. Well, clearly things have changed. I mean, the most dramatic, and I think probably permanent changes are going to be acceptance of gay rights. As kind of libertarian leaning, conservative, my philosophy is just like what the gay lifestyle is not for me, for sure, but you know what? People are free to pursue their bliss in their own way. A lot of people do a lot of different things. That’s fine as long as what they do, doesn’t impinge upon me, then okay, that’s fine. That’s great. Now, I go, I do kind of react when it’s like, let’s celebrate the gay lifestyle. It’s like bring in transvestites into schools and reading books to kindergartners and stuff like that and say, this is wonderful. This is something to be celebrated.

Yeah. I’m still conservative enough where I have a problem with that. But I think that everyone should have a right to love who they want to love, have sex with who they want to have sex with. And that’s not anybody else’s business to tell them. I do have a problem with that being propagated as a lifestyle that should be celebrated. But regardless, that is, that is a change that’s occurred in our society. I don’t think we’re going to go back.

There’ve been huge changes in view towards race. You and I grew up in the same environment in the 60s where we thought certain things to be true. And I think that we made a huge amount of progress towards that. Now, obviously not all institutions that serve society change along with it at the same rate as public opinion did. Particularly, the administration of justice. Although those issues get very, very complicated, institutions have changed dramatically. There’ve been huge efforts to change and bring about equality in our institutions. Obviously, it hasn’t been fast enough to satisfy some people.

Are we going too far with race?

Jim Bacon:

What I’m afraid of is that now what’s happened is kind of like, maybe like when we voted 2012 to elect a black president, we’d kind of like we had come so far and then was having, I feel like we kind of be going, we’d been retrogressing in certain ways. We’ve been going over the helm. And now it’s like, whiteness is bad. Racism is systemic and white privilege. It’s just a whole grab bag of concepts. I did not think that was helpful to anybody in any way, shape or form. It’s not helpful to make white people feel guilty about their whiteness. It’s not helpful to black people to feel that they live in a society where the odds are so stacked against them. They have no chance of succeeding.

Who does that help? How does that encourage any child who’s going through school to study harder and master reading, and writing, and all other disciplines it takes to get into college? It doesn’t. It also, when applied to every field of endeavor, if you look at everything through a prism of race, you misdiagnose a lot of causes. You think it’s always, everything is attributed to race. Well, guess what? Some of the things that we see we don’t like may be attributed to due to other causes. What you’re doing then is when you misdiagnose, then your prescriptions are going to be wrong. I think that we’re seeing that on a massive scale in our society. We’re seeing it in spades. And I think it’s really, really destructive and that just distresses the hell out of me. So, we have changed a lot in our attitudes towards race and for the better, for a long, long time. And now I think we’re changing for the worse.

How has journalism changed during your career?

Jim Bacon:

Well, when I entered the profession of journalism in the late 1970s, it was very much the ideal was our job is to be objective. Our job is to portray reality as objectively as possible. I think there was a recognition that, sure, everybody has their biases. Everybody has their conscious or unconscious, but at least our goal was to overcome those biases to our best of our abilities. And to write about what we saw as objectively as possible. Accuracy was hugely valued. We had rules based on learned experience in the profession to be very, very wary about using unnamed sources because those sources might have agendas and you don’t know how accurate they are. And so to get everything we possibly could, I, we’re not. I started off with a Martinsville bulletin.

They made me, every sentence I wrote, I had to… If I covered a city council meeting, it had to be, “he said”, “she said”. I couldn’t just summarize it in my own words. I had to like, say, “y=Yeah, that’s what so and so said, that’s not me interpretating, my interpretation.” So that’s the way it started. As you grow in the profession and you gain more confidence in your abilities, you are able to maybe interpret a little bit more, but still the idea is you’re supposed to be objective. One of the goals was you always, one of the things you learn is there’s always two sides to every story.

What’s the old saying? It’s like, if your mama says she loves you, check it out, you know? Don’t just take it on one person’s word, you know? So that was the ethos that I was raised in. And I feel like it’s gone.

How did journalism change?

Jim Bacon:

I watch the way journalists have practice in Washington, DC today. And particularly it became, it’s not something that happened just when Donald Trump came along. You could see it incrementally change. I mean, with George Bush and Bush derangement syndrome, and the war in Iraq and things like that, you could see it change. But when Donald Trump came along, then what you saw was the most prestigious newsrooms in the country explicitly and consciously threw out the old rule books. They said, “We’re throwing out the old rule books!” And then what happened is the news, it was… I won’t say it was impossible to distinguish it from commentary, but I will say that it was driven by narratives. It’s driven by editorial narratives and the news had to fit within these editorial narratives. And that’s the way it is done today.

What can you do about the destruction of journalism?

Jim Bacon:

I remember at Bacon’s Rebellion, I pulled together a conference maybe two or three years ago. And why didn’t a lot of people who were like avid readers and supporters of the magazine, the publication. And I said, “Look, one of the things I want to do is how do we create a more civil dialogue?” And that was my emphasis that time, how can we be more civil to one another? How can we create news that everybody can buy into, can feel has some kind of credibility. I feel like I’ve left that behind. The reason I left it behind is because the news, as it’s reported, disseminated by the established media, and then not just the people in Washington, DC, but the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in the Virginia Pilot and other many of the other newspapers is so unbelievably one-sided, so unbelievably biased.

I feel like I have to, with the limited resources that I have personally, and the people that I could gather around me, we have to provide some balance. We can’t provide that balance by going out and living up to the old ideas that we’d be totally objective or totally fair and consider all points of view, because there’s only a handful of us.

There’s dozens and dozens of others are all these other people in the newsrooms. They have a thousand times more page views and exposure than we have, and we can’t fight back in any way by hewing to the old forms of objectivity. So what I find is what we’re doing is we’re going in and reporting the facts and the figures and the perspectives that are not getting reported by the others. But that kind of distresses me in a way, because I still feel that the old way of doing things—being objective and explaining the different points of view and explaining how the side says that, this side says that—this is how they interplay with one another. That’s the best way of doing it. And maybe in another world, as some, somebody comes along and showers a MacArthur Grant on Bacon’s Rebellion or something like that, then we can go to that back to that model. So there we are, the mainstream media is become hopelessly driven by narratives. And unfortunately we have to as well.

Where is free speech most threatened?

Jim Bacon:

Not surprisingly to anybody, free speech and free expression is most under threatened in our bastions of higher education. Which, in theory, should be where free speech is the freest. You would think, at least once upon a time when we were coming along, that’s the way it was. Professors are granted tenure so they could be free to explore ideas without fear of retribution. That is very much under threat today. I follow most closely the University of Virginia, where I went to school and I guess I have the greatest emotional investment, but I follow higher education, generally. And it’s definitely a trend. Sadly to say, it seems the more elite the university, the worse the problem is. The more elite the university, the more likely it is to have been captured by wet, left wing ideologues. And what we’re seeing there, like in journalism, we’re seeing a key change in the generations. Journalists, a replacement from the old guys who said, okay, just the facts, ma’am. You know, check it out. Mother says, she loves you. Check it out. That generation too. You know, they’re all social justice warriors.

What is UVA like now versus then?

Jim Bacon:

Universities for a long time have leaned to the left, but non-extremely so. And there was always what I would call liberal professors, democratic, you know, they would vote democratic. They believed in supporting the democratic causes, but they were also dedicated to teaching. They were not dedicated to the idea. They did not seen their jobs as indoctrinating students. They believed in teaching. And I had some phenomenal teachers at the University of Virginia. Then I know I was kind of the little, a little conservative and, there weren’t too many of us on the campus. There were a few and they were willing to… They tolerated my eccentricities, I guess, and, and tolerated my kind of trying to explore things from a conservative point of view. And they were wonderful. They were just, extraordinary men and women.

I don’t know where those people are today. They are retiring. They’re an older generation and they’re even a few conservatives in the group, but they’re all retiring. And what you see now at the University of Virginia is a program to systematically replace them with left leaning people. The only question is how far out in the left are they? The idea of only hiring someone who’s generally just kind of middle of the road, or much less conservative. It’s like, that just won’t fly. So you have that going on in terms of who the faculty selection and also the staff I mean, so you have, at the University of Virginia and like almost everywhere else, you have this huge D, E, and I, diversity equity and inclusion bureaucracy that’s been created now. And it’s all devoted to kind of basically racial Naval gazing and just focusing on racial issues.

What about the DEI Inquisitors?

Jim Bacon:

If you have a say, you have a vice president in charge of DE&I. What do you think he’s going to do? He’s got to justify as job. He’s not going to say, “h, wow, we’ve really made a lot of progress. We’ve done great. We have a great school here. And everybody’s basically pretty happy.” No, they’re never going to do that. They’re always going to find something wrong and they’re always going to go like, will you always fix that? Oh, now we’ve got to fix that. And what we’ve seen is these definitions of what constitutes acceptable or objectionable behavior, or what’s considered racist gets ever more and more and more refined. So now we’re talking about my microaggressions and where at the University of Virginia, for example, a huge consternation was caused when a commerce school professor told a joke he pulled it off the internet and he wasn’t telling it because he thought it was funny.

He was telling it as an example of something way not to look at the world, but he told a joke that basically made fun of.. He utilized the stereotype of starving Africans. Okay. That was kind of part of the joke. It was lots of ethnic and national stereotypes, but that was one. Well, that caused a huge uproar. And he had to issue a groveling apology. Really, is that what we are now?

Other educational censorship issues?

Jim Bacon:
So while that’s going on at the level of administration and the faculty who thought the third thing you have going on is social media. You have basically a couple hundred people of hyperly, hypercharged, hyperactive leftists who dominate social media and go after anybody who makes any kind of infraction of the code as they interpret it and continually reinterpret it and all in order to exercise their power. And, so, a huge percentage of the population of the students feel like they’re cowed. They don’t not feel like they’re able to openly express themselves. They self-censor themselves. It’s not even a matter of freedom of speech being censored. It’s like they just censor themselves. And so, more and more people have just retreated from the public sphere.

You have, I mean, the more affluent kids, I guess they go belong to fraternities and maybe they can express themselves freely within their fraternities. But within the student government and all the, anywhere in the public sphere, it’s all, anybody of any conservative, moderate views is chased out. So that’s what’s happened. It’s not like a single thing where somebody said something wrong and they got canceled, although that happens. It goes far beyond that. It goes so deep. I mean, let me give you an example. I mean, there’s two key instances I can talk to, I can think of on the University of Virginia where people are such snowflakes that they feel threatened by other people who are always expressing view political views that are different from their own. And in these two cases have gotten no-trespass orders in which those individuals were forbidden from re-stepping back, or stepping foot back on campus. I’m now doing a Freedom of Information Act request to find out if there’s more examples of that. The mechanisms for enforcing a philosophical, ideological conformity go far beyond anything that’s been reported or that we really know about and understand. And it’s terrifying to me because our universities are supposed to be the places where we have the most freedom to express our ideas. And those are the places where you have the least freedom, and it’s all leaking out into the broader society.

What about the boards?

Doug Monroe:

Along those lines do you, it seems to me that it may be driven by really from the top down, from whoever governor you’ve got. That the nature of the role itself, maybe prior to 2000, if you were on the board of visitors of whatever college you were supposed to try and be objective and be beyond politics. But now, the role has changed to you go in there and you do the political power play. You enforce the power play itself. Is there anything about our governance in these public universities that is driving this?

Jim Bacon:

Yeah. Well, I think you probably find that where you have democratic governors who appoint democratic members to the boards of visitors, you’re going to find a different approach. But it’s not that simple. So here in Virginia, for example, we have a decentralized system versus North Carolina, where they have a very centralized system and a board of visitors that governs the whole system. Each university has its own board. The first criteria, number one criteria for being appointed to board is giving a lot of money. So you got to be a good Democrat or a good Republican in terms of having given a lot of money. So then you get appointed on the board but the system is created so that one governor can’t just stack the deck with everybody. Say at UVA, for example, you have 19 board members. And one of them is a student board member, but they rotate off a certain number, I guess, maybe three or four, every two years or something like that.

So one governor can’t just stack the deck. So, I mean, there are certain kinds of things that are built into the system that I think are probably good, but still okay. So here in Virginia, you have the McAuliffe administration, Northam administration. So now almost all the boards are totally dominated by Democrats. But what kind of Democrats? Not crazy Loony Tune, leftist Democrats, for the most part I mean, the people who have been on the board of say the University of Virginia have been very mainstream parts of the establishment. I mean, the guy who’s just newly appointed to the rector of University of Virginia is Whitt Clement, who is a partner at Hunton Woods or whatever they call the firm now. And he’s a state local government lobbyist. He served under the Warner administration as secretary of commerce.

He’s a very mainstream guy. He’s not a radical by any means at all. And a lot of people are cut from the same cloth at UVA. So then it becomes a question of… I think for Democrats though, it’s harder to resist the tenor of the time, the way things are going. Because all good Democrats are going to have to be really, they have to be on board with DE&I, they may not call it a critical race theory, but they’ve got to be, diversity, you’ve got to worship diversity, you’ve got to accept equity as a principle. And so they’re more conflicted. And so they say, “Yeah, we want to uphold the traditions of UVA, the Jeffersonian traditions, and the honor code and all those kinds of things.” But at the same time we feel the pull of the leftist ideology.

The Presidents? Do they manipulate?

Jim Bacon:

So they’re in between, buffering. But then you have the president, and the presidents of almost all, of all these institutions, the W&L and UVA, and to a greater or lesser degree everywhere, are much more liberal. They come out of an academic background and they are much, much more liberal. And the presidents are very powerful when it comes to dealing with boards of visitors. They feed them information. The board doesn’t get… Very rarely has any information except for what the president and the administration gives them and the board, and the president sets the agenda. He also says, “We have X amount of time to talk about this.” So if you’re on a board and you say, “Well, we’re not really comfortable about where we’re going on XYZ.” And you bring it up and you raise an issue, well, you maybe have 15 minutes to talk about it, maybe if anyone else even wants to talk about it. And then if you keep on persisting, then you’re designated a troublemaker and then you’re kind of ostracized by others, as you’re just being a jerk. So, the system is not really built very well for outsiders to exercise a whole lot of oversight and control.

Please comment more on UVA, W&L, and VMI.

Jim Bacon:

Yeah. Those are the three places. Those are the three institutions, higher ed institutions of Virginia, where the cultural wars really had reached a flash point. At UVA, it’s President Ryan has been driving this much larger thing, and there’s a whole task force on race and racial equity and everything. And part of it is coming to a reckoning with our past. I mean, this is why you see so much of it in Virginia, because UVA, VMI, W&L, they all have their origins as antebellum institutions. They all had associations with slavery. They all had associations with Jim Crow and segregation. They all have a past that no one is proud of. Although there are aspects of the past that we are, some of us are proud of, but certainly there’s no question.

So there has been that reckoning. And so that all three of those institutions have been driven forward internally in the case of UVA and W&L, and at VMI it’s been slower to change, but it’s been driven from the Northam administration, which appointed that body to investigate racism in quote unquote at VMI. So, there are going to be similar problems at William & Mary and VCU, which all have antecedents that go back to those times.

What to do with Thomas Jefferson?

Jim Bacon:

At UVA it’s, what do you do with the tradition of Thomas Jefferson? Thomas Jefferson was a slave holder. He may or may not have had used one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, as a concubine. That issue apparently is unsettled. Although there is a widespread, it’s just accepted as fact that she was his concubine and that the relationship can best be described by the word rape.

So you have some people there who say Thomas Jefferson was a slave holding rapist. I mean, that is basically the sum total of what they see in him. And then there are other people that say, “Well, I’m sorry, that’s not quite the way we look at it, we don’t, the whole situation back then was much more… We’re using present day values to judge the behavior of people back then, and in a context and circumstances, which they were, did not, could not readily extricate themselves, given the laws of the time.” But anyway, so to what extent do we, can maintain the value of recognition of Jefferson as a Founding Father? And to what extent do we continue to revere him, basically?

What about RE Lee and SW Jackson?

Jim Bacon:

At W&L, it’s similar, although the flash point there is Robert E. Lee. Robert E. Lee basically salvaged the university after the Civil War when it had been reduced to penury. And was a very progressive educator in many ways.

But of course he owned slaves. He commanded the armed forces of the Confederacy, which fought to uphold slavery. So that was, that is the reason that he’s castigated. At VMI flash point, is it always, we love to have, we love to personify all these issues with Stonewall Jackson. Stonewall Jackson, again, he was a brilliant military commander, but he fought for South, he fought to uphold the Confederacy. He owned six slaves I think it was. It gets more complicated. And Lee’s case was complicated because he was not a fan of the institutional of slavery. He didn’t really know what to do about it, he certainly wasn’t abolitionist. Stonewall Jackson, he educated the slaves. He taught them to read and write. And even though it was against the law, so you could go well by the standards of slave holders, he was progressive, but by our standards today, he was still a slave holder.

So you go back through all those kinds of issues and they’re I don’t know, they’re really fascinating. If you’re a historian it’s fascinating to dig into them. But that’s a lot of what we’re dealing with here in Virginia.

And CRT and 1619 K through 12?

Jim Bacon:

I mean, I can speak a little bit about it. Yeah. First of all, so the Democrats, all of a sudden they’re saying, “Oh, Republicans are making this up, there’s no, we don’t teach CRT in schools.” Critical race theory is an academic theory, is all has to do with relations of power between the oppressed and the oppressors. And its origins are very academic. Well, no, critical race theory in that sense is not being taught in our schools. But there are people who have taken critical race theory and applied those intellectual tools to look at race in America today. And they basically conclude that America is systemically racist, that whites are intrinsically racist, unless very few of them have managed to break free and become allies of people of color.

The whites enjoy white privilege. There is such a thing as whiteness, which I guess, is a series of attitudes and values and behaviors, which is somehow considered to be bad and inherently racist. So, you have this complex of ideas and, like any intellectual current, there’s lots of variation. I mean, no two people think exactly the same way, but they are all to one degree or another are derived ultimately from critical race theory. So no, they’re not teaching critical race theory, except for a couple of instances, they actually are. I mean, this book by Ibram Kendi, who is basically saying he’s totally inspired by critical race theory, he writes about race, systemic racism. A lot of his books have been sold in Fairfax County and in Arlington County and are given to students to read there.

How do they institute the new racial prejudice?

Jim Bacon:

But you have this complex set of ideas, which anywhere you hear the phrase, diversity, equity and inclusion, okay. Which are… How can you be against diversity? How can you be against being inclusive? Of course, we’re in favor of being, integrating all members of our society and treating everybody fairly and equally. Sure. But those are cover words or code words for these other concepts. And there’s those concepts that are being ferried into the schools at various levels, at the levels of the administrative staff. And then they have something called culturally responsive responsible pedagogy or something along that lines, I can’t remember exactly. But in which now they’re teaching teachers, they’re instructing teachers, this is the way you’ve got to look at things, and this is way you’ve got to approach things. And it basically, it’s all based on this complex of ideas that I just described.

And in many cases you have it in a discussion groups with the PTAs, you have it more and more being integrated into the classroom. So that is most prevalent in Arlington, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, up in Northern Virginia. That’s where it’s gone to farthest. You’re beginning to see a lot of it in Virginia Beach, you’re seeing a lot of it the City of Richmond and other places. So those are locally driven, at the same time you have from the Virginia Department of Education, driven by governor Ralph Northam, who is trying to make amends for his black face scandal, who has adopted this whole way of thinking is trying to… He’s created a person in charge of DE&I for the state. Another one, chairperson charged DE&I for the school system, and they are driving this top-down through the school system, across the state of Virginia.

So it may not have always penetrated at the same rate and the same way that it has up in Northern Virginia, but that’s where it’s all going. And to pretend that somehow that CRT or critical race theory is a figment of the imagination of Republicans. Tell me just one thing is that the Democrats realize that this is an electoral loser of an issue, and they’re trying to sweep it under the rug.

How is Northam doing in business?

Doug Monroe:

Interesting. Okay. Along those lines, and you have a whole lot of business experience and you follow business for a long time. I’m going to skip ahead a little bit. What has been the impact of the Northam administration on business in Virginia would you say in this?

Jim Bacon:

It’s really interesting. I think it’s too early to say for sure, the Northam administration has one big win under its belt. And that was recruiting Amazon to Northern Virginia. That’s huge as far as from an economic point of view. I think that can be attributed mainly through the efforts of the fact that, of a guy named Stephen Moret. Who’s the head of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and arguably the best state economic developer in the country. Then we get to the whole issue of how much do we pay them in subsidies and so on and so forth, but still big coup. Now, other than that, there’ve been some smaller victories, but nothing out of the ordinary compared to what Virginia has always had, maybe less, I don’t know. It’s hard to make a comparison to because the COVID epidemic throws off everything, so it’s hard to say.

What about VA’s recent #1 business ranking?

Jim Bacon:

What we’ll be telling is I think the CNBC has the best states to do business ranking. and Virginia scored, I can’t remember, I guess it scored first or second recently. So that was the recovery from previous years, we had fallen. Again, that was a victory for the Northam administration. Although again, I attribute that entirely to the efforts of Stephen Moret. But now we’ve had the general assembly has gotten involved and enacted all these laws, they’ve passed a lot of anti-business legislation, or let’s say, shall we say, business UN-friendly legislation, it’s changed the equation. So it’ll be really interesting to see what CNBC says I think maybe next week, it’s going to come out with its new rankings and we’ll get a better idea.

My sense in my gut and of course my gut has informed my conservative prejudices, so I’ll confess to that upfront, is that we have lost a lot of ground and we have become much less business friendly. A progressive who would say, “Well, I’m sorry, we’re less business friendly, but more people friendly.” So you could make that argument, but we’ll see.

Conversation about Small Business

Doug Monroe:

Yeah. A lot of the people, the shiny objects are the big recruiting jobs, like Facebook that come in, but it’s the legislation hurts small business, which is 80% of the business. That’s always here, it’s not going anywhere. Maybe you recruit small businesses here from outside, but it cramps the smaller ones, the mid-size and the smaller ones.

Jim Bacon:

Nobody recruits small businesses.

Doug Monroe:

No. No.

Jim Bacon:

You get small business by creating business friendly ecosystems. It comes to the bottom of the law and you have to have the right business friendly environment. The last time we had a governor… Well, okay. Terry McAuliffe was a Democrat, but he was very big on recruiting business. He was a rah-rah Virginia. I mean, he was very enthusiastic about “Virginia is the greatest state in country” and all that kind of stuff. And he would get out there. I don’t know if he did a whole a lot to actually improve the business climate, but he was a great salesman.

The last governor we had, who really understood the economic development side of business was Mark Warner, of course he had came from a venture capital background and he totally understood the necessity of what was involved with creating business and innovation ecosystems, and the ties would say higher education and finance and how all those pieces put together. I don’t think Northam has a clue about any of it.

What about poverty in VA?

Jim Bacon:

There’s poverty. I mean, of course there is poverty, but the statistic will show we have, Virginia has a significantly lower level of poverty then than other states. And I attribute that to the fact that we have always consistently had one of the lowest unemployment rates. So if you work, you’re more likely to you have a job, you’re more likely to be able to work your way out of poverty. All the concepts of self-reliance and the traditional ways of addressing poverty, I just feel like they’re just going down the tubes. It’s all now about income redistribution. Everything is about income redistribution. That’s how the political establishment wants to address poverty. It isn’t by, they give lip service to okay, let’s give everybody a free tuition to community college.

So I guess that’s something, you educate them, but so there’ll be that. But in terms of creating a business friendly environment and creating the preconditions for economic growth, that’s just all gone by the wayside. I mean, that is not even talked about anymore. I mean, there was a time when we talk to the people in charge… I mean, governor Gerry Baliles, he was huge on, education was one of us that platforms, roads, building infrastructure and foreign trade. He took all these foreign trade trips. Jim Gilmore. I mean, he was a Republican. He was appointed the first secretary of technology. He became a huge rah-rah promoter for the Northern Virginia technology sector and technology across the state of Virginia. These are things that were premier in their minds. Mark Warner came out of the same tradition. Tim Kaine a little bit, but not much. You had a Bob McDonnell was called Bob-

Doug Monroe:

George Allen.

Jim Bacon:

Yeah. George Allen was very much the same way. Bob’s for jobs, it was less informed approach. I mean, he had his heart in the right place but. And then Northam, as far as I can tell, he’s done absolutely nothing.

What was the approach to Richmond’s statues?

Jim Bacon:

Well, before George Floyd was killed and demonstrations erupted across the country, Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond had appointed a study commission to look at the issue of the Civil War statues along Monument Avenue and elsewhere in the city. There were a lot of other monuments. And basically the approach was that we want to acknowledge the fact that first of all, why these statues were erected. And in some instances it was an expression of, to honor the soldiers who fought the Civil War is clearly part of it. But a part of it was the mythology of the lost cause. So they wanted to recognize the reason these statues were erected and to place these statues in a historical context that now we would give them today.

So hey, these guys. Hey, Robert E. Lee, amazing guy in many ways, but he did fight to uphold the Confederacy, which did fight, which was formed to preserve slavery. So you have a complex legacy there, but the idea was that some of these things are a magnificent pieces of art, and you don’t just willy-nilly tear down magnificent pieces of art on Monument Avenue, they’re integrated into the whole Monument Avenue and the urban planning and layout design. And then you take them out and you can just create these huge voids and pockets. So there was a recognition that these things are, there’s something worth preserving, but we’ve got to re-interpret it. And update an understanding of who these people are and why these monuments were built, so that’s the way the thinking was.

And then what happened: How to think about it?

Jim Bacon:

And that’s where we’re going until George Floyd got killed. I think that would have been the best way to approach things. Once George Floyd got killed, I mean I think that all reason and willingness to compromise went out the window. So then okay, so we’re getting rid of all the Civil War statues. Okay. Then now the battle has moved on. So how about all the slave holders? How about if the slave holders were among the Founding Fathers? How about if those slave holders like Thomas Jefferson, maybe they owned slaves. And it was very, very complicated because one of the reasons he couldn’t be free to slaves he because he was so in debt and he, they were collateral, legal collateral, and they give him the laws at the time he had very little, almost no leeway to free slaves.

But given the fact that there’re these… How do we treat these slaveholders? And I guess the way I look at it is this, I’m going to use a football analogy. In the realm freedom, in advancement of human rights, do they move the football down the field or they move it, or fumble the football and get sacked and move it backwards. They just move it a yard up the field or 10 yards up the field. So I feel with Thomas Jefferson for example, and George Washington, and our Founding Fathers who articulated the universal principles, applying to all men, not just the rights of Englishmen okay, of the equality before the law and equal rights and in many cases were moved by their own principles, in many cases to manumit slaves, where they could, and to pass laws restricting slavery, the slave trade, and doing other things to ameliorate the condition of slaves. They couldn’t, given the circumstance at the time, they couldn’t score a touchdown. They couldn’t get to where we are today, but they moved the ball down the field 10 yards, or 15 yards. Okay? And America moved closer to freedom, and closer to the ideals that we have today, because of those men. And the idea of trashing their memory, because they couldn’t score a touchdown, they couldn’t get it all the way across the finish line, and they didn’t live up to the ideals that we have today, I find is just monumentally barbaric.

Doug Monroe:

All right. Well, I think it’s nuts too. So I’ll just say that. My voice won’t be in there. It’s ludicrous.

Conversation: What to do with Empty Monuments?

Doug Monroe:

Okay. So, if you liked discovering America, or if you liked discovering the rest of the world, you had to… Like Columbus and everybody who did it. Hey, that’s just the way what happened. So if you want freedom, you have to follow the people that made it happen. But what do you do with Monument Avenue today, now that we have the… What do you think’s going to happen there? You follow the news. What should we do with the stumps, the… What’s going to happen there?

Jim Bacon:

Yeah. I mean, I don’t have any really informed opinion on that, Doug. I mean, you’ve got these places, these urban places. I mean, particularly the circles with Lee and Stuart, I guess. And you could do something. Put up fountains. I don’t know. Some other kind of monument, I think is… You have a contest and get people to submit ideas and say, “We can’t just let this sit there. We’ve got to do something with it.” So that would be what we have, and hopefully we can at least put band-aids over the wounds, over the scars.

Doug Monroe:

That there is no plan in place, I take it?

Jim Bacon:

Right now, no.

Doug Monroe:

The mayor doesn’t have one, and Northam… They just want to get Lee down first, I’m sure. And then go from there.

Jim Bacon:

Yeah, one step at a time.

Doug Monroe:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jim Bacon:

It seems there are a lot more interested in tearing down than building back up.

Why do we need government?

Jim Bacon:

Yeah. Yeah. So in an ideal world, all human interactions would be free and voluntary, but that is a pipe dream. That the libertarian pipe dream. In a real world, when you have no government, you have no institution that monopolizes the power of coercion, you have anarchy. Where you have anarchy, people rule by force. And as Thomas Hobbes said, “Life is nasty, brutish and short.” And you have to have governments. So government is preferable to anarchy, but government creates its own new sets of problems. You have to have someone that gets, creates basic laws for human interaction, to shape commerce. I mean, commerce cannot function, prosper in the absence of laws relating to… The torts and contracts and things like that. So you have to have laws, you have to have the ability to administer justice. You have to be able to have a military defense and defend your polity.

Those are bare bones, basic things for government. Unfortunately, human beings aren’t perfect. And even in the free market, as much as I believe in the free market as a general principle, is not perfect. There are always, there are commerce call externalities, socially undesirable consequences of people pursuing their self-interest. There is, people utilize, they amass monopoly, economic power, and they abuse that monopoly economic power. Arguably, we see that with Google, and Facebook, and Twitter, and those guys today. And so we need to create regulations. And the environment, the tragedy of the commons. We need to regulate business in order to curtail pollution that hurts everybody. So you have to have government, and what happens, because society gets more and more complex, complex beyond the imagining of the Founding Fathers, in things, all these different things interacting in ways that no one can ever imagine. Yeah. Government’s got to step in and be the referee. So yeah, you’ve got to have government.

Is the State too big? What risks?

Jim Bacon:

Now, the problem is, it’s so easy to have too much government, that it’s like people are drawn to power. There’s a lust for power. And we are ruled by an elite today that loves exercising that power, and utilizing that power to force changes that I don’t think are justified, in so far as politics has crept into every aspect of our existence, not just an economic, not even just a social, but I mean, just, there is no sphere of endeavor that people don’t have hyperpolarized political opinions about. When they have political opinions, then government follows. So now it’s like I feel like we’ve reached a point where government is way too big, it’s way too intrusive. And it’s massively destructive, over and above the fact that we spend way more money than we bring in through taxes. We’re cumulating a massive federal debt. We’re creating institutions, like welfare institutions, that more and more people are becoming reliant upon.

And if those institutions ever failed, would create a social catastrophe way beyond whatever happened in the Great Depression, because at least in the Great Depression, people were somewhat self-reliant and had an ethos of self-reliance. But at some point when, right now the gross national debt is 27 trillion, or 28 trillion. When it gets up to 50, 80, 100, at some point, it’s going to reach enough trillion dollars, investors are going to say, “I don’t think I’m ever going to get repaid, and I’m not going to lend the government any more money.” And the government is going to collapse. And when the government collapses then the social welfare system collapses and society collapses. So that’s what I fear that we have created a monster. And hopefully I won’t be around when it happens.

Do you like the word “conservative”?

Jim Bacon:

I generally give it positive connotations, but I think you have to be clear about how you’re using it because it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So, one realm is I call fiscal monetary and economic conservatives. So I basically, I believe in free market and expanding the sphere of the free market as much as possible, recognizing that there are some limitations. And I also believe that government needs to live within its means. And so that’s a cluster of ideas, that you share one proposition, you probably share most of them. Then there’s the realm that I call cultural conservatism. And that is that, “Hey, we’ve inherited these practices from the past. They had some value or else people wouldn’t have adopted them. We still see value in traditional ways of doing things. And we don’t think that we should change them for light, frivolous or transitory reasons.”

What do you call yourself?

Jim Bacon:

And so in many ways, I guess, in some ways, I’m a cultural conservative, but recognizing that sometimes some change does need to occur. So we talked about gay rights. So that’s an area where, okay, yeah, that’s a change that needed to occur. And so that’s why I really called myself a cultural moderate. So I share impulses of conservatism, but I recognize that we need to change. Now, I’ll never go over to the other extreme. And so, for example, I mean this whole thing about transgender identity, I, in so far as I’ve studied, I believe that transgender identity is a real thing. And maybe it exists in all populations, maybe one out of 1,000 people is generally… Their sense of what their gender identity is is not the same as their biological sex identity. So that, that is a real thing. There were even societies, there’s some Buddhist societies, you go to Thailand and places like that, where they almost, they have three genders. I mean, they have these people who… So, I don’t know how numerous they are, but it’s recognizing those societies of being a thing. So I feel like, okay, yeah, that’s a real thing.

But then in America, it has been joined with this ideological fashion of, “Oh, not only is it a real thing, not only should we not bully these people, because they’re different.” It’s like, now we’ve got to celebrate them, and say, “This is a perfectly legitimate lifestyle.” And oh, by the way, if you’re 14 years old and you have the body of a boy, but really think you’re a girl, it’s okay for us to give you hormones, and cut off your penis and testicles, and et cetera, et cetera. Or if you’re a girl thinking you’re a boy, it’s okay to give you testosterone and cut off your breasts. Okay. There, I think that we have gone into the realm of utter derangement. So, in that way, then I started calling myself a cultural conservative again.

Updating “Boomergeddon”

Doug Monroe:

You’re very practically driven, and I can see that in your worldview. And I got to just keep it at that. I’ve got the author of “Boomergeddon” sitting here, okay? And I love that book. It was written in 2010. I got it back here. I’ll get you to autograph it for me. Along with the one on Morgan Massey, but on “Boomergeddon,” can you give us your updated forecast? You can make any comments on the state of the budget that you want to, and update your forecast.

Jim Bacon:

So I wrote that in 2010, and my prediction was, I thought there’s a high likelihood that Boomergeddon, what I call Boomergeddon, which is basically the fiscal meltdown of the federal government, would probably occur in the late 2020s, or early 2030s. Certainly by the time the money ran out of the social security trust fund, which I think is the actuary sale will occur around 2033. My argument then was that we were… Our polarized political system was incapable of self, any kind of fiscal discipline. The Republicans wanted to cut taxes and increase military spending. And the Democrats wanted to inflate domestic spending just insanely beyond reason. And the only compromise, and a way to get things done, we’re saying, “Okay, well, we’ll just borrow more money.” So, and lo and behold, that’s what’s happened. So President Trump gave lip service to balancing the budget, and had more fiscally austere policies and submitted budgets that were dead on arrival. But then ultimately went along with, as long as you get that tax cuts, and we’ll just, we’ll blow out the deficits.

And, but that was nothing compared to what we’ve seen with Joe Biden. So we now have reached an era where people don’t… A large number of people will think we just monetize the debt with no consequence and we can spend our ways to prosperity. And unless we have succeeded in inventing a new fiscal perpetual motion machine that runs forever, something has got to give at some point. And the exact form that we’ll take is hard to tell, but inflation is one likely outcome. And we will try to, in our desperation, we’ll try to inflate away the debt. But investors will not invest if they know they’re going to lose money on an inflation-adjusted basis. And they will ratchet up interest rates, as we saw happen in the 1970s. Some of us are old enough to remember that era, but more than half the population has no experience with inflationary era at all. They have no idea. So they don’t fear it.

A Monetary Black Jack Game: “Hit me, hit me, hit me . . . Busted.”

Jim Bacon:

That is the way of stagnation. And back in the 1970s, we had so much more latitude fiscally than we have today. So that will be one of the things that happens. Then you go into what happens to our currency. I mean, as China, as a rising economic power, will they succeed in displacing the dollar as the world global currency? If they do, then that will be very difficult, make life very difficult for us to borrow. It just can’t go on. And of course, we’ve been saying for a long time that it can’t go on, and it has gone on. And I think the federal monetary authorities have been very good at figuring out how to double down. It’s like, “Okay, well, we’re up to a $10 trillion debt, so we’ll push in more chips and we’ll just see if that’ll work. Oh, now we’re up $20 trillion, and we’ll push it more chips.”

And then, “Okay, double to $40 trillion.” And we might be able to double it again to 40. But by the time you got to double up again to $80 trillion. It just can’t go on. So it is almost inevitable. There’s only one possible hope I have is that as if we can kick the can down the road long enough, we can kick that can down the road for 20, 30, maybe 40 or 50 years, and the Baby Boom generation has retired, and then died off and that huge fiscal obligation tie to social security, and Medicare, and all those kinds of things, that era that is attached to the Baby Boom generation, disappears, then conceivably, we might get over the hump. But that is the only hope there is. And I’m not very hopeful.

Cross Talk with Predictions

Doug Monroe:

All right. Here’s my prediction. My prediction is you’re exactly, you are right then, you’re right on target. And it’s going to happen before you said it would.

Jim Bacon:

Okay.

Doug Monroe:

That’s my prediction. And it may not be a catastrophe, terrible, like a double depression or something, but people are really starting to… And as you say, the government has no fallback position. We push, they bailed out everything in sight, and eventually the government is… That’s our last backstop we’ve got.

Jim Bacon:

Right.

Doug Monroe:

And we’re destroying our backstop. When you don’t have a backstop, and when it collapses, it has collapsed, and you just have to go through the badness. Anyway, so we’ll see. We’ll see. Interesting.

Please talk about Morgan Massey and your recent book, “Maverick Miner”

Jim Bacon:

Well, Morgan was one of the great entrepreneurs of the coal industry. He made a significant amount of money, don’t get me wrong. He did make more money than anybody else, but he probably had a bigger impact on the coal industry than anybody else. He was a tremendous innovator, and he clustered people around him who were innovative, and they drove a lot of changes. Technological changes, the cleaning, and processing, and washing of coal, the loading of coal, organizing loading of coal in the Union trains. A lot of coal mine, coal mine safety. Things that are too technical for anybody to really understand or appreciate, but they really drove productivity. They were innovators in labor relations, in particular. They were far more, probably the most advanced in labor relations in building workforce teams around, and rewarding them on the basis of productivity.

And of course that got them totally into conflict with the United Mine Workers. The most, from a philosophical point of view, Morgan wasn’t much of a philosopher. He was a very pragmatic guy, but he did write something that he was very proud of, and he called it the “Massey Doctrine.” And what he articulated then was the set of principles that would guide his organization. Now he took it from a family owned company to a company that was owned by St. Joe Minerals, and then subsequently, became a joint venture partnership between St. Joe, and then subsequent Fluor, and then Fluor… Very, very complicated. So it was not entirely his company to run entirely as he pleased. But he devised these principles. And it’s very similar to what one might call stakeholder democracy today.

What were his stakeholder principles?

Jim Bacon:

And the most important stakeholders were the customers in his estimation, because if you didn’t have customers, you had nothing. You had no business, you had nothing. The next most important thing was capital. You had to have capital to grow and expand the business. And you had to reward the equity owners. What was interesting though, he didn’t say, he never thought that the job of the organization was to maximize profits. He never said that. And he never ran his organization that way. He thought, his idea was that you wanted to make a good profit and a fair, reasonable profit. Was not to maximize the profits at the expense of others, other things. The third pillar was the employees. So if you don’t treat your employees right, you’re not going to have a company. And he was very progressive in that way. I mean, they treated their employees, and also developed their managers. I mean, they spent a lot of money. Morgan in the ’80s and ’90s, he spent money on educational scholarships at West Virginia University and Virginia Tech. And they would get the first pick of the best and the brightest mining engineers coming out of the engineering schools.

And fourth was the community. And he thought that every corporation had a responsibility to be a good citizen in the community. Now, I don’t think he looked at the corporate responsibility the same way a lot of progressives would today. But he’s very cognizant of it. He was like, “First of all, always be honest.” And this is a big deal. And when you do most of your business in eastern Kentucky and west Virginia, where corruption was pretty rampant. Be honest and transparent, and give to your community, and participate in the community, contribute to it.

And the coal industry itself?

Jim Bacon:

And he also gave a lot of thought to thinking about life beyond the coal industry. Back in the 1980s, coal seemed to be on top of the world. Morgan was acutely aware that, “You know what? We’re only going to have… The prosperity’s only going to last as long as we have coal in the ground that we can mine economically. And at some point it’s going to run out.” And he foresaw a time when it would. And he was absolutely right.

Jim Bacon:

And so he was urging the powers that be in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky at that time and said, “Look, you got to prepare for the day when it runs out, and you got to diversify our economy.” And that was hard when the rest of the coal industry was just struggling for survival and looking for tax breaks, and special treatment, and stuff like that. But, so he was really, really wise in that way. And I think that you have this, what’s the name of this group today? It’s Jamie Diamond was associated with a bunch… Anyway, they articulated these principles of stakeholder democracy. And Morgan was very far forward looking in that way.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the U.S.?

Jim Bacon:

Maybe I’m just becoming a crotchety old man, and I’m kind of pessimistic. I really am. I describe the fiscal monetary trajectory we’re heading on, which I think is absolutely unsustainable, and we’ll double down our bets until the whole thing falls apart. And that’s not even talking about the other things that seem to preoccupy me these days. Our loss of our moral fiber. And we were talking earlier about, we’re the left of Karl Marx now. Karl Marx famously said, his dictum was, “To each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities.” So at least, in the Marxian socialist communist worldview, people had to contribute according to their abilities. They had to participate. They couldn’t just take. Well now, United States today, what are we doing? We’re paying people not to work. We’re just inflating. And just giving them these unemployment benefits, and people can’t hire enough workers. We can’t do anything. What are they doing? Some of them might be moms, staying home, taking care of the kids. A lot of them are young men who just do sitting around and playing computer games, literally. So we are at the left of Karl Marx today. I don’t see that ending well. We are not the same country we were.

Doug Monroe:

The problem is you have to be our age to really understand that, because most people don’t have any personal experience to fall back on.

Doug Monroe:

So anyway. Jim, it’s been a pleasure.

Jim Bacon:

I enjoyed it. It was fun. It gives me a chance to think about things in a way I don’t normally get to think about them.

Bacon’s Rebellion:

http://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/

Alumni Free Speech Alliance:

https://alumnifreespeechalliance.com/

The Jefferson Council:

https://thejeffersoncouncil.com/

Overview

Jim Bacon

Jim Bacon is the founder and publisher of Bacon’s Rebellion, Virginia’s leading politically, non-aligned publication for news, opinions, and analysis about state, regional, and local public policy. The publication is dedicated to reinventing Virginia for the 21st Century. Its focus is on building more prosperous, livable, and sustainable communities. Previously, Mr. Bacon held a successful career in Virginia journalism spanning 25 years. We interviewed Jim because of his interesting worldview, dedication to truth and honesty in journalism, skill as a writer and advocate, and vast practical knowledge of American current events, social, political, and economic science, and history.
Transcript

Introduction

Doug Monroe:

I really appreciate you doing this, Jim. It takes a lot of guts. And I just want you to know that we have developed a little bit of an interest in journalism. I think that’s been totally more or less by accident. But with you we would have, let’s see, May-Lily Lee, Frank Hill, Ross Mackenzie, you. That’s four professional journalists. So we really do have a core, developing an interest in that as far as truth telling, free speech, that kind of thing, reporting media and so on. I think that all of you are somewhat different politically a little bit. But everybody has a traditional journalist view of trying to be professional and trying to be sort of truth-telling related and that may be falling by the wayside in the business. So if you were to think that, you would have support with the Praxis Circle crew behind you, but you don’t have to think that unless you really do think that. It could be turning into more opinion advocacy. So I thought we’d just start off with you talking about Bacon’s Rebellion. What is Bacon’s Rebellion? What’s your mission? You seem to be filling a void in the marketplace to me.

Tell us about the Bacon’s Rebellion news portal

Jim Bacon:

Well, I started Bacon’s Rebellion at the year 2002. I was publisher of Virginia Business Magazine at that time. Didn’t think that print publications had the greatest future. I’m glad to say that Virginia business is still alive 20 years later, even though I’m no longer associated with it. So I give kudos to the owners of the publication, but overall I was right. The newspaper industry has been just decimated and has gone through wrenching economic changes as well as philosophical changes. And what has happened now, there’s been a generational, I guess, one of the big changes is a generational change and a young kind of a new cadre of young journalist has come to the fore in the newspapers. They brought a whole different set of values and perspectives and they are much more, I would say, liberal to progressive in nature.

Ironically, while the reporting and the commentary has gotten more and more liberal and left leaning, the remaining readership of newspapers, those people who still read newspapers and haven’t all migrated to social media or whatever else, tend to be older and more conservative. You know, just the old guys who still “I always got my newspaper and I still read it every morning over my coffee and I’m not going to change.” So those guys are still getting the newspaper. But what’s happening is they’re going, “Oh my God, I can’t believe what these people are writing about!” So, a huge opportunity has been created, not just nationally. We see national blogs and publications flourish all over the place, but locally too. And so Bacon’s Rebellion has a focus on state and local government and public policy issues.

That’s our niche. We try to stick to it. We don’t try to talk about what’s going on in Washington DC, except occasionally as maybe stuff rolls downhill and has an impact on us. So there is a void. People are crying out for credible news and commentary that’s fact-based and not just like wild, crazy stuff. That’s not conspiracy mongering. I mean, there’s some of that out there in the internet, but people crave credible news. That’s what we try to provide to the people who write on the Bacon’s Rebellion. Some of them are former journalists, some of them are professionals, retired government professionals, but people who knew what they’re talking about and they know it’s based on, on hard data. It may not be as exciting or may not generate so many click-throughs as QAnon or something like that, but it is credible and it does feel a huge void.

Are you a rebel like Nathaniel Bacon (1647 – 1676)?

Jim Bacon:

Well with the last name of Bacon, Bacon’s Rebellion was a natural to name the newsletter. It started out as a newsletter and then became a blog. The original Bacon’s Rebellion, the real Bacon’s Rebellion was started in 1676 by a guy named Nathaniel Bacon. To whom I am no relation as far as I know. But there were a fair number of Bacons running around in the English-speaking world at that time, Sir Francis Bacon and so on. Nathaniel Bacon lived on the American frontier at that time, which was Henrico county and the country, or the colony is still really relatively new. The system of slavery had not been really formalized. Africans were brought over and sold as slaves and their indentured servants came over and it’s not clear really what happened with Africans, but at some point, a lot of them would be kind of became quasi-free.

Anyway. So there were a lot of poor landless people, and they kind of came to the frontier and there on the frontier, they came into conflict with the Indians who were still here. Nathaniel Bacon kind of took up their cause. They began mixing it up with the Indians and kind of raids and counter raids and stuff like that. It was all not very well organized, and the impression I get, it was pretty militarily incompetent, but it did occur where there was a conflict. But the governor, Governor Berkeley, he had these deals going on with some Indian tribes. They were like fur trading deals or whatever, I’m not sure exactly what they were. And then there was just the old thing of government, and he would put his cronies into positions of power.

Back then offices were often associated with remuneration. They had like sources of revenue attached to them. So he put all his buddies in all the positions that earned money and created wealth. So it was some point that Bacon and his kind of rabble marched on Jamestown, and Berkeley fled to the Eastern shore. They burned down Jamestown. Somewhere along the line, they wrote a document, published a document called the ‘Rights of Englishman’ or ‘Declaration of the Rights of Englishman’. Something like that was kind of like a proto Liberty kind of a document, but it was not universal. And that was really interesting. We talk about universal principles that are established through the American revolution, where rights of man were considered universal. These were the rights of Englishman. Kind of going back to the Magna Carta. These are rights that Englishman had fought for and won in their status as Englishman.

Anyway. So it was very interesting from that point of view. Unfortunately, Nathaniel Bacon died of dysentery in the swamp somewhere, and the whole rebellion just kind of collapsed. But he was very much a figure that was against the established order. And I feel the same role, journalistically speaking. I don’t believe in burning down Richmond. I think it’s a nice town. I don’t want to burn it down, but I think figuratively, metaphorically, I think then maybe we could burn a few of our more corrupted, decaying and antiquated institutions down. So, I feel like I live in the same spirit as Nathaniel Bacon.

Your education and journalistic background?

Jim Bacon:

Well, I’m just the life lifelong Virginia journalist. I went to UVA. Got a graduate degree at Johns Hopkins University, both in history. Got my first job as a cub reporter at the Martinsville Walton. Didn’t really know what I was doing. Nearly got fired. It was nearly a very short career. I just didn’t get it apparently. But my editor gave me another chance, and the light bulb clicked. Figured out what I was doing. Everything went well. Got a job with Roanoke Times, worked there, covered the coal industry and the railroad industry. Moved to Charlottesville, worked in PR briefly, and then to Richmond to work for Virginia Business Magazine. Started out as editor of the startup team, and over 16 years worked my way up the ranks, became editor in chief and publisher. So that was a great experience. Loved working for Virginia Business.

It was tough working for Media General, which was a big media conglomerate, and I did not feel it put sufficient resources into us to allow us to grow when this cool thing called the internet came along. I was really eager to get involved and I was kind of bureaucratically stifled. Saw my opportunity to start my own business. And that’s when I started a couple of newsletters and did online newsletters and publications, and then kind of gravitated more and more into Bacon’s Rebellion, which I kind of had on the side. And that became the way I made my living.

Do some rely on Bacon’s Rebellion as their newspaper?

Jim Bacon:

Some people are. Certainly not in the same numbers yet. I mean, we have, I would consider a gratifying readership and we probably average about 4,000 page views a day. Which is maybe triple what it was two, three years ago, so clearly it’s growing and it’s meeting a need. It’s spreading kind of word of mouth. It’s not one of these viral sensations though, And I’m still kind of wondering, “How does someone who is like a fashionista develop a following of a hundred thousand followers?” I don’t know how they do it. I think maybe intrinsically their subject matter is much more esoteric, and we write about a subject matter that maybe 5% of the population really cares about in so far as people who follow political issues, they tend to be much more geared to what’s happening at the national level.

So, I mean, if you’re writing about Donald Trump or Joe Biden, the war in Iraq or whatever, those are national issues that people can exercised about. The state and local issues. It’s government. It’s much closer to home. Has more immediate impact, but they don’t tend to be quite as polarizing or they haven’t been in the past. Politics, at least in Virginia has been more than pragmatic, and yeah, there are differences between Republicans and Democrats, but hey, in Virginia you’ve got to balance the budget as a constitutional requirement. So some of the big philosophical issues are kind of settled right up front.

Why has national interest lost ground to local issues?

Jim Bacon:

That has changed with the advent of the cultural wars. When I started out Bacon’s Rebellion 20 years ago it was a lot more focused on good government. How do we run more efficient government? How do we accomplish our goals/ do a better job? How can we do it with lower taxes? How do we promote economic development, create more jobs, bring more jobs here?

I used to have a tagline, “Building more livable, prosperous, sustainable communities.” And that’s what it was about. And that had a following, but it grew very slowly. But now that we have, critical race theory in the public schools, and the absolute craziness of what’s going on in the universities and in the politicization of every single institution in our society, that kind of marked a turning point. And people have really, a lot of people have had it. And so they turned to Bacon’s Rebellion as a kind of a credible source of here’s the what’s going on.

Do you have a definition of worldview?

Jim Bacon:

Doug. I don’t know if I have a definition of worldview. In fact, that book you gave me to read kind of late, said, “Oh my God, there’s a zillion definitions!” So, nobody has a definitive definition of worldview. It is something that we all carry around with us. I used to use a term called, it’s our kind of maybe a paradigm, more of a set of assumptions that we use to kind of look at the world or, or the prison to which we look at the world and interpret the world around us. I have not sat down like a philosopher has to kind of systematize and think logically in rigorously about what my world view is. But I have given a fair amount of kind of informal thought to it. Most people I don’t think give any thought to it at all. I mean, that’s kind of a level of esotericism that it’s just kind of way beyond them. They just carry around these beliefs through which they look at the world, but they’re not self-critical about it.

Do you believe in God?

Doug Monroe:

Yeah. I think you’re right about that. But you seem to have read something cause you summarize what it is in two or three different ways. I’ve heard you talk about your worldview or aspects of it, and you are, I see in this question, not a believer in God. I think at least she told me 99% sure you’re not. And that’s very understandable to me. Usually I’m the religious person apologizing to people about being religious today, so we’re all in the boat together, but why would you say that as the case if you had to say why you feel that way?

Jim Bacon:

Yeah, I suppose technically I’m an agnostic. In the sense that I feel that the existence of God is beyond knowable proof. It’s back to the old saying, “The concept of God is an unfalsifiable proposition.” You just can’t prove or disprove his existence. So from that point of view, I can’t totally deny the existence of a God since it’s impossible to prove or disprove. So I guess in that way, I’m agnostic, but I tend to be agnostic that veers towards the atheistic side. In that, I don’t think that you need the concept of God to explain anything. I think we live in a naturalistic world and there are still a lot of mysteries out there. And I suppose if you believe in God, you can kind of seek refuge in those mysteries, but I do think that science has been relentlessly answering and addressing a lot of those mysteries over the last 500 years and will probably continue to do so.

Maybe at some point there will be the ultimate mystery that no one can explain, so I kind of like leave a little teeny corner out there where maybe it’s possible, but that is kind of a starting point. I don’t think that there’s any divine purpose for humanity or for us as individuals. We have to find and make our own purpose.

How would you characterize your worldview?

Jim Bacon:

I would actually say that I have a Judeo-Christian worldview. Because even though I don’t believe in God as a theological proposition, I recognize that we live in a civilization that was shaped by Judeo-Christian thought, and it’s a tradition that I wholeheartedly share and believe in. So even though I consider myself a kind of an atheistic leaning agnostic, I’m not in any way hostile to religion. I think religious people, particularly the United States today do a lot of wonderful, wonderful things. And I think that they create sense of community and they give very generously and they help other people. So I don’t have a problem with religious people at all. And in fact, I find myself more concerned by other secularists who tend to be extremely aggressive in pushing their point of view and forcing it upon other people. The religious fear seems to me that it’s kind of being more and more constricted. I’m not intimately, personally affected because I don’t belong to an organized religion, but I feel I can see dispassionately what is happening in the country?

Could you expand on your worldview beliefs?

Jim Bacon:

Well, let’s see, I mean, exploring the concept of worldview a little more deeply in terms of how I can see things. I guess I would call myself a Darwinian. And I believe that human beings are the product of millions, of years of, of evolution. That there is such a thing as human nature.

Now, human nature is extraordinarily complex, and it’s a mixture of genetic influences and epigenetic influences and interactions with the environment in ways that are so complex that we are still beginning to unravel it. But it’s a result of human nature, when you can see that the certain patterns that exist in other primates and hunter gatherer societies and primitive societies that carry through to modern day society. And that is different forms of aggression is a real thing. Aggression is not something that is the result of capitalism or agriculture, or some of the things that you hear, it’s intrinsic to the species status. Quest for status, a quest for material, material wealth. So you have all these things which are recurring patterns over and over and over again. And you can maybe conceivably have enough wealth to share with everybody but you can never have enough status. Status is by definition, a zero sum game. If you have more of it than someone else has less of it. And so even if we someday we all have robots waiting on us and we all have universal basic income, conflict in our society is not going to go away. Because different people will be quartered different levels of status. And related to that is power. People quest power, particularly the totalitarians among us, they love, they thirst for power so they can impose their views on everybody else.

So I see these, all these negatives coming from being intrinsic traits to the human species. Now, it’s not all bad. Some of the things that we consider to be wonderful of about human beings are, are also part of our genetic evolutionary heritage. Things like love and altruism and things like that. These are also intrinsically human characteristics. And so they also exist and they are also inextinguishable.

And from human nature to government?

Jim Bacon:

So if, once you kind of realize that you have these traits that are intrinsic to being human being, then the next proposition is the universal values that we were talking about earlier. That all men are created equal. That is a statement using kind of the terminology of, of the religious era being created by a creator. But it’s basically saying that all men are endowed from whatever source with individual rights. We should all have the same rights. Then the question is how do you build a society that respects that everyone should have the same rights, when the reality is everyone is competing for wealth and status and power.

And I think the best system of government ever devised, at least until that time, maybe other people have learned from our experience and maybe done a little bit better, was the system that was set up in 1776, well 1786 I guess when we passed the constitution and then the bill of rights. It recognized that it has a democracy as a part of it. Every citizen has a right to participate and vote, but it’s also a Republic in that it has all these different centers of power. States and federal government and the judiciary and I don’t need to go into all that, but all the checks and balances that are built in, I think it was an absolutely brilliant system. And that it recognizes the inherent flaws, original sin if you want to call it from that point of view of, of the human beast. And so you can be religious and you can say it’s natural law, you can say it’s endowed by the creator, we’re not that far apart in terms of the way we see these things all coming together.

Some Darwinians believe in fate or determinism. You?

Jim Bacon:

No, I do not believe in fate. I think that’s just a bizarre philosophical abstraction, and I do believe in free will. I do believe that we’re all control of our own destinies. Obviously some of us have much more constrained circumstances than others. Obviously if we come from a well-to-do affluent family and we’re raised with a mother and father who love us and invest in us and give us good education, we have a much broader range of opportunities than someone who comes from a very poor family and a broken shattered family and mother’s a crack addict or whatever, goes to a really crummy school. Obviously there’s differences that way. I think one of our obligations as citizens is to help other citizens widen their sphere of opportunity.

What about consciousness?

Jim Bacon:

I don’t have an informed opinion on what consciousness is. I have written a little bit about it, I mean, read a little bit about it, but no informed opinion. What I would say is I can understand that deterministic view that we were all just the sum total of a) our genes and then our environmental inputs. In theory, according to deterministic view, if you had a super computer that was big enough, that could capture all the genes and understand and have algorithms that understood all their interactions, and then captured all the environmental inputs, you could predict what that person was going to do or think or say at any given time. So, in that sense, we are the inputs. Our actions are all a result of those inputs. Then this gets into realm, which this is really kind of fuzzy. But it’s like there are different layers of complexity. Human behavior is such an incredibly complex phenomenon, which you have so many, the millions and millions of trillions of inputs that it is. Then chaos theory comes into place and images. I don’t think it ever can be totally predicted. Somewhere within that realm of human beings, not being totally deterministic and us having a consciousness of some thought. We can make our own decisions. And again, maybe those decisions are very constrained by our culture and our background and circumstances, but there still our decisions to make. And so, in that sense, I do believe in freewill.

Doug’s comments

Doug Monroe:

That’s great. I’m just thinking about another gentleman that we interviewed, Maria and I did. Eben Alexander. He was a Harvard brain surgeon materialist. I don’t think he believed in freewill. That would make him a Darwinist, I would say. He had this death experience and he’s going to the far extreme saying that he doesn’t even think this is real. He thinks this is a product of idealism and consciousness. He thinks there’s a mass consciousness. You know what I’m saying? I’m just fascinated by the differences that people have in the way they think. I personally don’t believe anybody knows the right answers to me, these answers, because they’re at every extreme. They’re real people that really believe all the extremes. I got to move on from that fun conversation. Has your worldview changed much over the course of your life? Do you think? Any events or people?

Has your worldview changed?

Jim Bacon:

I don’t know that it’s really changed that much as it’s, perhaps it’s matured. Maybe you feel something in your gut and then what you do is you explore ideas and you find yourself attracted to those ideas that help you explain what you feel in your gut. So, maybe I’m a lot better at explaining the things I feel in my gut, then I was when I was 20 years old. When I was 20 years old, I was always fairly politically conservative. I’m a big believer in individual liberties and believe in free market economies and fiscal conservatism, and traditional values to some degree. I may not be, more of a moderate, I guess, when it comes to family values, issues, and things.

Maybe that would be an area where I have changed. My worldview has changed is to be more flexible in terms of thinking about what constitutes viable families and relationships. They don’t all have to fit into the paradigm of the mom and dad and bubba and sis kind of nuclear family. Which in the grand scheme of things, is actually kind of a rarity in the history of the world. It is American as apple pie, but it is not necessarily natural. Our human species has shown an incredible diversity in family structures. I’ve learned that intellectually and then with the whole gay rights movement and things like that, I was initially a very wary of that, but I’ve come to accept it. Then I was kind of aware of the idea of gay people adopting children didn’t seem natural to me, but again, the forms of human families are so plastic. I don’t think there’s anything… As much as I love and revere my family, I think it’s like some kind of solid family is incredibly important fundamental foundational institution our society, it doesn’t have to be a nuclear family. So I guess that’s one way that I’ve kind of, my worldview is evolved.

Your upbringing?

Doug Monroe:

Well, those are two important ways, would you say? Overall you, a lot of the ways, have not changed. Would you, would you say that’s because when you think of yourself kind of being brought up, going out into the world, going to school, as you were educated and you got the input of those that came before you. If there wasn’t that much change that would tell me that they maybe had figured it out pretty well, so that you more or less came to accept what was the learning at that point? Is that fair to say? Was it already there laid before you and you came to know it or was it your own personal experience that you’re-

Well, I certainly absorbed a lot of my values from my family, my mother and my father. So that’s true. I owe a lot them and I hold them both in high esteem. My father has passed, but he was a career military officer for 20 years. And then he went into banking, and he was a fine, upstanding man. Not very expressive. I mean, he wasn’t demonstrable in expressing his emotions. We would get together. We’d shake hands, that was how we, but there’s no question whatsoever in terms of all the love you felt. So I absorbed a lot of values from him. He and my mother were divorced at, when I was about three, but my mother was very different, very expressive, very demonstrative, very opinionated.

She loved talking about politics. So I kind of grew up talking about politics around the dinner table all the time. So that’s probably a big part of where my interest in those kinds of things came from. I absorbed a lot of my values from them because I love both my parents and I appreciated them.

Have generations changed on race?

Jim Bacon:

You know, I say maybe another area that has changed to compare the older generation with our generation, and then the generation after me, is maybe the attitudes towards race. My parents’ generation was, let’s just say by the definition of our children, were racist. Sometimes they would say things that would even appall me.

I don’t think they were cruel people and they all had relationships with African-Americans that were very personal and meaningful. They were wonderful relationships. But within a context of maybe social stratification, the exception would maybe be my dad who was in the Navy and I never heard him say a racist thing his life anyway.

So, I kind of grew up in the 60s, went to prep school, St. Alban’s in Washington, DC. We were one of the first schools in the area to integrate. We very much grew up with the idea. Kind of like Martin Luther King idea that you treat people on the basis of their character, not the color of their skin. You don’t make stereotypes and you treat everybody as individuals and maybe you were aware of the circumstances they came from and the hardships they endured. Certainly, it made allowances for those kinds of things. Now we live in an age where, all of a sudden, we’re all stereotypes based on our race again, except the stereotypes are flipped. Now I just find myself totally and utterly baffled by the idea that people now seriously talk about whiteness as a bad thing. I never thought of whiteness as anything, but I guess I’m guilty of whiteness because I’m a white person and I have white privilege. So, that makes me bad somehow. Anyway, I’m an oppressor, I guess.

So I kind of evolved from my parents’ generation. In my children’s generation, they’ve kind of evolved beyond me. I think they’re, I don’t know if they really embraced that whole idea, that whole kind of critical race theory paradigm, but they’re a lot closer embracing it than I am. So I don’t know.

Doug on Changes over Last 20-30 Years

Doug Monroe:

So in a last worldview question, it’s a little bit of your last answer. I think you summarized a lot of generational changes and I would say worldview changes. When you look at say where we were in 2000, when W became president and now, I would personally say that the changes to now have been greater than from 1965 to 2000. Primarily because when we were going to high school, it was generally accepted that integration was right. That we’re all equal. That we’re all. I also believed, and I think most guys did that women were equal and women could be CEOs. Women could do whatever they wanted and homosexuality was not as accepted as much, but we didn’t think they were bad people or anything like that. At least I didn’t. Most people didn’t. But there had been a lot of changes in the last 20 years, I think. Do you agree with that? And if so, if you don’t tell me why, but if you do, what are the changes that, that are, that are so different in the last 20 years?

What has changed most since 2000?

Jim Bacon:

Oh yeah. Well, clearly things have changed. I mean, the most dramatic, and I think probably permanent changes are going to be acceptance of gay rights. As kind of libertarian leaning, conservative, my philosophy is just like what the gay lifestyle is not for me, for sure, but you know what? People are free to pursue their bliss in their own way. A lot of people do a lot of different things. That’s fine as long as what they do, doesn’t impinge upon me, then okay, that’s fine. That’s great. Now, I go, I do kind of react when it’s like, let’s celebrate the gay lifestyle. It’s like bring in transvestites into schools and reading books to kindergartners and stuff like that and say, this is wonderful. This is something to be celebrated.

Yeah. I’m still conservative enough where I have a problem with that. But I think that everyone should have a right to love who they want to love, have sex with who they want to have sex with. And that’s not anybody else’s business to tell them. I do have a problem with that being propagated as a lifestyle that should be celebrated. But regardless, that is, that is a change that’s occurred in our society. I don’t think we’re going to go back.

There’ve been huge changes in view towards race. You and I grew up in the same environment in the 60s where we thought certain things to be true. And I think that we made a huge amount of progress towards that. Now, obviously not all institutions that serve society change along with it at the same rate as public opinion did. Particularly, the administration of justice. Although those issues get very, very complicated, institutions have changed dramatically. There’ve been huge efforts to change and bring about equality in our institutions. Obviously, it hasn’t been fast enough to satisfy some people.

Are we going too far with race?

Jim Bacon:

What I’m afraid of is that now what’s happened is kind of like, maybe like when we voted 2012 to elect a black president, we’d kind of like we had come so far and then was having, I feel like we kind of be going, we’d been retrogressing in certain ways. We’ve been going over the helm. And now it’s like, whiteness is bad. Racism is systemic and white privilege. It’s just a whole grab bag of concepts. I did not think that was helpful to anybody in any way, shape or form. It’s not helpful to make white people feel guilty about their whiteness. It’s not helpful to black people to feel that they live in a society where the odds are so stacked against them. They have no chance of succeeding.

Who does that help? How does that encourage any child who’s going through school to study harder and master reading, and writing, and all other disciplines it takes to get into college? It doesn’t. It also, when applied to every field of endeavor, if you look at everything through a prism of race, you misdiagnose a lot of causes. You think it’s always, everything is attributed to race. Well, guess what? Some of the things that we see we don’t like may be attributed to due to other causes. What you’re doing then is when you misdiagnose, then your prescriptions are going to be wrong. I think that we’re seeing that on a massive scale in our society. We’re seeing it in spades. And I think it’s really, really destructive and that just distresses the hell out of me. So, we have changed a lot in our attitudes towards race and for the better, for a long, long time. And now I think we’re changing for the worse.

How has journalism changed during your career?

Jim Bacon:

Well, when I entered the profession of journalism in the late 1970s, it was very much the ideal was our job is to be objective. Our job is to portray reality as objectively as possible. I think there was a recognition that, sure, everybody has their biases. Everybody has their conscious or unconscious, but at least our goal was to overcome those biases to our best of our abilities. And to write about what we saw as objectively as possible. Accuracy was hugely valued. We had rules based on learned experience in the profession to be very, very wary about using unnamed sources because those sources might have agendas and you don’t know how accurate they are. And so to get everything we possibly could, I, we’re not. I started off with a Martinsville bulletin.

They made me, every sentence I wrote, I had to… If I covered a city council meeting, it had to be, “he said”, “she said”. I couldn’t just summarize it in my own words. I had to like, say, “y=Yeah, that’s what so and so said, that’s not me interpretating, my interpretation.” So that’s the way it started. As you grow in the profession and you gain more confidence in your abilities, you are able to maybe interpret a little bit more, but still the idea is you’re supposed to be objective. One of the goals was you always, one of the things you learn is there’s always two sides to every story.

What’s the old saying? It’s like, if your mama says she loves you, check it out, you know? Don’t just take it on one person’s word, you know? So that was the ethos that I was raised in. And I feel like it’s gone.

How did journalism change?

Jim Bacon:

I watch the way journalists have practice in Washington, DC today. And particularly it became, it’s not something that happened just when Donald Trump came along. You could see it incrementally change. I mean, with George Bush and Bush derangement syndrome, and the war in Iraq and things like that, you could see it change. But when Donald Trump came along, then what you saw was the most prestigious newsrooms in the country explicitly and consciously threw out the old rule books. They said, “We’re throwing out the old rule books!” And then what happened is the news, it was… I won’t say it was impossible to distinguish it from commentary, but I will say that it was driven by narratives. It’s driven by editorial narratives and the news had to fit within these editorial narratives. And that’s the way it is done today.

What can you do about the destruction of journalism?

Jim Bacon:

I remember at Bacon’s Rebellion, I pulled together a conference maybe two or three years ago. And why didn’t a lot of people who were like avid readers and supporters of the magazine, the publication. And I said, “Look, one of the things I want to do is how do we create a more civil dialogue?” And that was my emphasis that time, how can we be more civil to one another? How can we create news that everybody can buy into, can feel has some kind of credibility. I feel like I’ve left that behind. The reason I left it behind is because the news, as it’s reported, disseminated by the established media, and then not just the people in Washington, DC, but the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in the Virginia Pilot and other many of the other newspapers is so unbelievably one-sided, so unbelievably biased.

I feel like I have to, with the limited resources that I have personally, and the people that I could gather around me, we have to provide some balance. We can’t provide that balance by going out and living up to the old ideas that we’d be totally objective or totally fair and consider all points of view, because there’s only a handful of us.

There’s dozens and dozens of others are all these other people in the newsrooms. They have a thousand times more page views and exposure than we have, and we can’t fight back in any way by hewing to the old forms of objectivity. So what I find is what we’re doing is we’re going in and reporting the facts and the figures and the perspectives that are not getting reported by the others. But that kind of distresses me in a way, because I still feel that the old way of doing things—being objective and explaining the different points of view and explaining how the side says that, this side says that—this is how they interplay with one another. That’s the best way of doing it. And maybe in another world, as some, somebody comes along and showers a MacArthur Grant on Bacon’s Rebellion or something like that, then we can go to that back to that model. So there we are, the mainstream media is become hopelessly driven by narratives. And unfortunately we have to as well.

Where is free speech most threatened?

Jim Bacon:

Not surprisingly to anybody, free speech and free expression is most under threatened in our bastions of higher education. Which, in theory, should be where free speech is the freest. You would think, at least once upon a time when we were coming along, that’s the way it was. Professors are granted tenure so they could be free to explore ideas without fear of retribution. That is very much under threat today. I follow most closely the University of Virginia, where I went to school and I guess I have the greatest emotional investment, but I follow higher education, generally. And it’s definitely a trend. Sadly to say, it seems the more elite the university, the worse the problem is. The more elite the university, the more likely it is to have been captured by wet, left wing ideologues. And what we’re seeing there, like in journalism, we’re seeing a key change in the generations. Journalists, a replacement from the old guys who said, okay, just the facts, ma’am. You know, check it out. Mother says, she loves you. Check it out. That generation too. You know, they’re all social justice warriors.

What is UVA like now versus then?

Jim Bacon:

Universities for a long time have leaned to the left, but non-extremely so. And there was always what I would call liberal professors, democratic, you know, they would vote democratic. They believed in supporting the democratic causes, but they were also dedicated to teaching. They were not dedicated to the idea. They did not seen their jobs as indoctrinating students. They believed in teaching. And I had some phenomenal teachers at the University of Virginia. Then I know I was kind of the little, a little conservative and, there weren’t too many of us on the campus. There were a few and they were willing to… They tolerated my eccentricities, I guess, and, and tolerated my kind of trying to explore things from a conservative point of view. And they were wonderful. They were just, extraordinary men and women.

I don’t know where those people are today. They are retiring. They’re an older generation and they’re even a few conservatives in the group, but they’re all retiring. And what you see now at the University of Virginia is a program to systematically replace them with left leaning people. The only question is how far out in the left are they? The idea of only hiring someone who’s generally just kind of middle of the road, or much less conservative. It’s like, that just won’t fly. So you have that going on in terms of who the faculty selection and also the staff I mean, so you have, at the University of Virginia and like almost everywhere else, you have this huge D, E, and I, diversity equity and inclusion bureaucracy that’s been created now. And it’s all devoted to kind of basically racial Naval gazing and just focusing on racial issues.

What about the DEI Inquisitors?

Jim Bacon:

If you have a say, you have a vice president in charge of DE&I. What do you think he’s going to do? He’s got to justify as job. He’s not going to say, “h, wow, we’ve really made a lot of progress. We’ve done great. We have a great school here. And everybody’s basically pretty happy.” No, they’re never going to do that. They’re always going to find something wrong and they’re always going to go like, will you always fix that? Oh, now we’ve got to fix that. And what we’ve seen is these definitions of what constitutes acceptable or objectionable behavior, or what’s considered racist gets ever more and more and more refined. So now we’re talking about my microaggressions and where at the University of Virginia, for example, a huge consternation was caused when a commerce school professor told a joke he pulled it off the internet and he wasn’t telling it because he thought it was funny.

He was telling it as an example of something way not to look at the world, but he told a joke that basically made fun of.. He utilized the stereotype of starving Africans. Okay. That was kind of part of the joke. It was lots of ethnic and national stereotypes, but that was one. Well, that caused a huge uproar. And he had to issue a groveling apology. Really, is that what we are now?

Other educational censorship issues?

Jim Bacon:
So while that’s going on at the level of administration and the faculty who thought the third thing you have going on is social media. You have basically a couple hundred people of hyperly, hypercharged, hyperactive leftists who dominate social media and go after anybody who makes any kind of infraction of the code as they interpret it and continually reinterpret it and all in order to exercise their power. And, so, a huge percentage of the population of the students feel like they’re cowed. They don’t not feel like they’re able to openly express themselves. They self-censor themselves. It’s not even a matter of freedom of speech being censored. It’s like they just censor themselves. And so, more and more people have just retreated from the public sphere.

You have, I mean, the more affluent kids, I guess they go belong to fraternities and maybe they can express themselves freely within their fraternities. But within the student government and all the, anywhere in the public sphere, it’s all, anybody of any conservative, moderate views is chased out. So that’s what’s happened. It’s not like a single thing where somebody said something wrong and they got canceled, although that happens. It goes far beyond that. It goes so deep. I mean, let me give you an example. I mean, there’s two key instances I can talk to, I can think of on the University of Virginia where people are such snowflakes that they feel threatened by other people who are always expressing view political views that are different from their own. And in these two cases have gotten no-trespass orders in which those individuals were forbidden from re-stepping back, or stepping foot back on campus. I’m now doing a Freedom of Information Act request to find out if there’s more examples of that. The mechanisms for enforcing a philosophical, ideological conformity go far beyond anything that’s been reported or that we really know about and understand. And it’s terrifying to me because our universities are supposed to be the places where we have the most freedom to express our ideas. And those are the places where you have the least freedom, and it’s all leaking out into the broader society.

What about the boards?

Doug Monroe:

Along those lines do you, it seems to me that it may be driven by really from the top down, from whoever governor you’ve got. That the nature of the role itself, maybe prior to 2000, if you were on the board of visitors of whatever college you were supposed to try and be objective and be beyond politics. But now, the role has changed to you go in there and you do the political power play. You enforce the power play itself. Is there anything about our governance in these public universities that is driving this?

Jim Bacon:

Yeah. Well, I think you probably find that where you have democratic governors who appoint democratic members to the boards of visitors, you’re going to find a different approach. But it’s not that simple. So here in Virginia, for example, we have a decentralized system versus North Carolina, where they have a very centralized system and a board of visitors that governs the whole system. Each university has its own board. The first criteria, number one criteria for being appointed to board is giving a lot of money. So you got to be a good Democrat or a good Republican in terms of having given a lot of money. So then you get appointed on the board but the system is created so that one governor can’t just stack the deck with everybody. Say at UVA, for example, you have 19 board members. And one of them is a student board member, but they rotate off a certain number, I guess, maybe three or four, every two years or something like that.

So one governor can’t just stack the deck. So, I mean, there are certain kinds of things that are built into the system that I think are probably good, but still okay. So here in Virginia, you have the McAuliffe administration, Northam administration. So now almost all the boards are totally dominated by Democrats. But what kind of Democrats? Not crazy Loony Tune, leftist Democrats, for the most part I mean, the people who have been on the board of say the University of Virginia have been very mainstream parts of the establishment. I mean, the guy who’s just newly appointed to the rector of University of Virginia is Whitt Clement, who is a partner at Hunton Woods or whatever they call the firm now. And he’s a state local government lobbyist. He served under the Warner administration as secretary of commerce.

He’s a very mainstream guy. He’s not a radical by any means at all. And a lot of people are cut from the same cloth at UVA. So then it becomes a question of… I think for Democrats though, it’s harder to resist the tenor of the time, the way things are going. Because all good Democrats are going to have to be really, they have to be on board with DE&I, they may not call it a critical race theory, but they’ve got to be, diversity, you’ve got to worship diversity, you’ve got to accept equity as a principle. And so they’re more conflicted. And so they say, “Yeah, we want to uphold the traditions of UVA, the Jeffersonian traditions, and the honor code and all those kinds of things.” But at the same time we feel the pull of the leftist ideology.

The Presidents? Do they manipulate?

Jim Bacon:

So they’re in between, buffering. But then you have the president, and the presidents of almost all, of all these institutions, the W&L and UVA, and to a greater or lesser degree everywhere, are much more liberal. They come out of an academic background and they are much, much more liberal. And the presidents are very powerful when it comes to dealing with boards of visitors. They feed them information. The board doesn’t get… Very rarely has any information except for what the president and the administration gives them and the board, and the president sets the agenda. He also says, “We have X amount of time to talk about this.” So if you’re on a board and you say, “Well, we’re not really comfortable about where we’re going on XYZ.” And you bring it up and you raise an issue, well, you maybe have 15 minutes to talk about it, maybe if anyone else even wants to talk about it. And then if you keep on persisting, then you’re designated a troublemaker and then you’re kind of ostracized by others, as you’re just being a jerk. So, the system is not really built very well for outsiders to exercise a whole lot of oversight and control.

Please comment more on UVA, W&L, and VMI.

Jim Bacon:

Yeah. Those are the three places. Those are the three institutions, higher ed institutions of Virginia, where the cultural wars really had reached a flash point. At UVA, it’s President Ryan has been driving this much larger thing, and there’s a whole task force on race and racial equity and everything. And part of it is coming to a reckoning with our past. I mean, this is why you see so much of it in Virginia, because UVA, VMI, W&L, they all have their origins as antebellum institutions. They all had associations with slavery. They all had associations with Jim Crow and segregation. They all have a past that no one is proud of. Although there are aspects of the past that we are, some of us are proud of, but certainly there’s no question.

So there has been that reckoning. And so that all three of those institutions have been driven forward internally in the case of UVA and W&L, and at VMI it’s been slower to change, but it’s been driven from the Northam administration, which appointed that body to investigate racism in quote unquote at VMI. So, there are going to be similar problems at William & Mary and VCU, which all have antecedents that go back to those times.

What to do with Thomas Jefferson?

Jim Bacon:

At UVA it’s, what do you do with the tradition of Thomas Jefferson? Thomas Jefferson was a slave holder. He may or may not have had used one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, as a concubine. That issue apparently is unsettled. Although there is a widespread, it’s just accepted as fact that she was his concubine and that the relationship can best be described by the word rape.

So you have some people there who say Thomas Jefferson was a slave holding rapist. I mean, that is basically the sum total of what they see in him. And then there are other people that say, “Well, I’m sorry, that’s not quite the way we look at it, we don’t, the whole situation back then was much more… We’re using present day values to judge the behavior of people back then, and in a context and circumstances, which they were, did not, could not readily extricate themselves, given the laws of the time.” But anyway, so to what extent do we, can maintain the value of recognition of Jefferson as a Founding Father? And to what extent do we continue to revere him, basically?

What about RE Lee and SW Jackson?

Jim Bacon:

At W&L, it’s similar, although the flash point there is Robert E. Lee. Robert E. Lee basically salvaged the university after the Civil War when it had been reduced to penury. And was a very progressive educator in many ways.

But of course he owned slaves. He commanded the armed forces of the Confederacy, which fought to uphold slavery. So that was, that is the reason that he’s castigated. At VMI flash point, is it always, we love to have, we love to personify all these issues with Stonewall Jackson. Stonewall Jackson, again, he was a brilliant military commander, but he fought for South, he fought to uphold the Confederacy. He owned six slaves I think it was. It gets more complicated. And Lee’s case was complicated because he was not a fan of the institutional of slavery. He didn’t really know what to do about it, he certainly wasn’t abolitionist. Stonewall Jackson, he educated the slaves. He taught them to read and write. And even though it was against the law, so you could go well by the standards of slave holders, he was progressive, but by our standards today, he was still a slave holder.

So you go back through all those kinds of issues and they’re I don’t know, they’re really fascinating. If you’re a historian it’s fascinating to dig into them. But that’s a lot of what we’re dealing with here in Virginia.

And CRT and 1619 K through 12?

Jim Bacon:

I mean, I can speak a little bit about it. Yeah. First of all, so the Democrats, all of a sudden they’re saying, “Oh, Republicans are making this up, there’s no, we don’t teach CRT in schools.” Critical race theory is an academic theory, is all has to do with relations of power between the oppressed and the oppressors. And its origins are very academic. Well, no, critical race theory in that sense is not being taught in our schools. But there are people who have taken critical race theory and applied those intellectual tools to look at race in America today. And they basically conclude that America is systemically racist, that whites are intrinsically racist, unless very few of them have managed to break free and become allies of people of color.

The whites enjoy white privilege. There is such a thing as whiteness, which I guess, is a series of attitudes and values and behaviors, which is somehow considered to be bad and inherently racist. So, you have this complex of ideas and, like any intellectual current, there’s lots of variation. I mean, no two people think exactly the same way, but they are all to one degree or another are derived ultimately from critical race theory. So no, they’re not teaching critical race theory, except for a couple of instances, they actually are. I mean, this book by Ibram Kendi, who is basically saying he’s totally inspired by critical race theory, he writes about race, systemic racism. A lot of his books have been sold in Fairfax County and in Arlington County and are given to students to read there.

How do they institute the new racial prejudice?

Jim Bacon:

But you have this complex set of ideas, which anywhere you hear the phrase, diversity, equity and inclusion, okay. Which are… How can you be against diversity? How can you be against being inclusive? Of course, we’re in favor of being, integrating all members of our society and treating everybody fairly and equally. Sure. But those are cover words or code words for these other concepts. And there’s those concepts that are being ferried into the schools at various levels, at the levels of the administrative staff. And then they have something called culturally responsive responsible pedagogy or something along that lines, I can’t remember exactly. But in which now they’re teaching teachers, they’re instructing teachers, this is the way you’ve got to look at things, and this is way you’ve got to approach things. And it basically, it’s all based on this complex of ideas that I just described.

And in many cases you have it in a discussion groups with the PTAs, you have it more and more being integrated into the classroom. So that is most prevalent in Arlington, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, up in Northern Virginia. That’s where it’s gone to farthest. You’re beginning to see a lot of it in Virginia Beach, you’re seeing a lot of it the City of Richmond and other places. So those are locally driven, at the same time you have from the Virginia Department of Education, driven by governor Ralph Northam, who is trying to make amends for his black face scandal, who has adopted this whole way of thinking is trying to… He’s created a person in charge of DE&I for the state. Another one, chairperson charged DE&I for the school system, and they are driving this top-down through the school system, across the state of Virginia.

So it may not have always penetrated at the same rate and the same way that it has up in Northern Virginia, but that’s where it’s all going. And to pretend that somehow that CRT or critical race theory is a figment of the imagination of Republicans. Tell me just one thing is that the Democrats realize that this is an electoral loser of an issue, and they’re trying to sweep it under the rug.

How is Northam doing in business?

Doug Monroe:

Interesting. Okay. Along those lines, and you have a whole lot of business experience and you follow business for a long time. I’m going to skip ahead a little bit. What has been the impact of the Northam administration on business in Virginia would you say in this?

Jim Bacon:

It’s really interesting. I think it’s too early to say for sure, the Northam administration has one big win under its belt. And that was recruiting Amazon to Northern Virginia. That’s huge as far as from an economic point of view. I think that can be attributed mainly through the efforts of the fact that, of a guy named Stephen Moret. Who’s the head of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and arguably the best state economic developer in the country. Then we get to the whole issue of how much do we pay them in subsidies and so on and so forth, but still big coup. Now, other than that, there’ve been some smaller victories, but nothing out of the ordinary compared to what Virginia has always had, maybe less, I don’t know. It’s hard to make a comparison to because the COVID epidemic throws off everything, so it’s hard to say.

What about VA’s recent #1 business ranking?

Jim Bacon:

What we’ll be telling is I think the CNBC has the best states to do business ranking. and Virginia scored, I can’t remember, I guess it scored first or second recently. So that was the recovery from previous years, we had fallen. Again, that was a victory for the Northam administration. Although again, I attribute that entirely to the efforts of Stephen Moret. But now we’ve had the general assembly has gotten involved and enacted all these laws, they’ve passed a lot of anti-business legislation, or let’s say, shall we say, business UN-friendly legislation, it’s changed the equation. So it’ll be really interesting to see what CNBC says I think maybe next week, it’s going to come out with its new rankings and we’ll get a better idea.

My sense in my gut and of course my gut has informed my conservative prejudices, so I’ll confess to that upfront, is that we have lost a lot of ground and we have become much less business friendly. A progressive who would say, “Well, I’m sorry, we’re less business friendly, but more people friendly.” So you could make that argument, but we’ll see.

Conversation about Small Business

Doug Monroe:

Yeah. A lot of the people, the shiny objects are the big recruiting jobs, like Facebook that come in, but it’s the legislation hurts small business, which is 80% of the business. That’s always here, it’s not going anywhere. Maybe you recruit small businesses here from outside, but it cramps the smaller ones, the mid-size and the smaller ones.

Jim Bacon:

Nobody recruits small businesses.

Doug Monroe:

No. No.

Jim Bacon:

You get small business by creating business friendly ecosystems. It comes to the bottom of the law and you have to have the right business friendly environment. The last time we had a governor… Well, okay. Terry McAuliffe was a Democrat, but he was very big on recruiting business. He was a rah-rah Virginia. I mean, he was very enthusiastic about “Virginia is the greatest state in country” and all that kind of stuff. And he would get out there. I don’t know if he did a whole a lot to actually improve the business climate, but he was a great salesman.

The last governor we had, who really understood the economic development side of business was Mark Warner, of course he had came from a venture capital background and he totally understood the necessity of what was involved with creating business and innovation ecosystems, and the ties would say higher education and finance and how all those pieces put together. I don’t think Northam has a clue about any of it.

What about poverty in VA?

Jim Bacon:

There’s poverty. I mean, of course there is poverty, but the statistic will show we have, Virginia has a significantly lower level of poverty then than other states. And I attribute that to the fact that we have always consistently had one of the lowest unemployment rates. So if you work, you’re more likely to you have a job, you’re more likely to be able to work your way out of poverty. All the concepts of self-reliance and the traditional ways of addressing poverty, I just feel like they’re just going down the tubes. It’s all now about income redistribution. Everything is about income redistribution. That’s how the political establishment wants to address poverty. It isn’t by, they give lip service to okay, let’s give everybody a free tuition to community college.

So I guess that’s something, you educate them, but so there’ll be that. But in terms of creating a business friendly environment and creating the preconditions for economic growth, that’s just all gone by the wayside. I mean, that is not even talked about anymore. I mean, there was a time when we talk to the people in charge… I mean, governor Gerry Baliles, he was huge on, education was one of us that platforms, roads, building infrastructure and foreign trade. He took all these foreign trade trips. Jim Gilmore. I mean, he was a Republican. He was appointed the first secretary of technology. He became a huge rah-rah promoter for the Northern Virginia technology sector and technology across the state of Virginia. These are things that were premier in their minds. Mark Warner came out of the same tradition. Tim Kaine a little bit, but not much. You had a Bob McDonnell was called Bob-

Doug Monroe:

George Allen.

Jim Bacon:

Yeah. George Allen was very much the same way. Bob’s for jobs, it was less informed approach. I mean, he had his heart in the right place but. And then Northam, as far as I can tell, he’s done absolutely nothing.

What was the approach to Richmond’s statues?

Jim Bacon:

Well, before George Floyd was killed and demonstrations erupted across the country, Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond had appointed a study commission to look at the issue of the Civil War statues along Monument Avenue and elsewhere in the city. There were a lot of other monuments. And basically the approach was that we want to acknowledge the fact that first of all, why these statues were erected. And in some instances it was an expression of, to honor the soldiers who fought the Civil War is clearly part of it. But a part of it was the mythology of the lost cause. So they wanted to recognize the reason these statues were erected and to place these statues in a historical context that now we would give them today.

So hey, these guys. Hey, Robert E. Lee, amazing guy in many ways, but he did fight to uphold the Confederacy, which did fight, which was formed to preserve slavery. So you have a complex legacy there, but the idea was that some of these things are a magnificent pieces of art, and you don’t just willy-nilly tear down magnificent pieces of art on Monument Avenue, they’re integrated into the whole Monument Avenue and the urban planning and layout design. And then you take them out and you can just create these huge voids and pockets. So there was a recognition that these things are, there’s something worth preserving, but we’ve got to re-interpret it. And update an understanding of who these people are and why these monuments were built, so that’s the way the thinking was.

And then what happened: How to think about it?

Jim Bacon:

And that’s where we’re going until George Floyd got killed. I think that would have been the best way to approach things. Once George Floyd got killed, I mean I think that all reason and willingness to compromise went out the window. So then okay, so we’re getting rid of all the Civil War statues. Okay. Then now the battle has moved on. So how about all the slave holders? How about if the slave holders were among the Founding Fathers? How about if those slave holders like Thomas Jefferson, maybe they owned slaves. And it was very, very complicated because one of the reasons he couldn’t be free to slaves he because he was so in debt and he, they were collateral, legal collateral, and they give him the laws at the time he had very little, almost no leeway to free slaves.

But given the fact that there’re these… How do we treat these slaveholders? And I guess the way I look at it is this, I’m going to use a football analogy. In the realm freedom, in advancement of human rights, do they move the football down the field or they move it, or fumble the football and get sacked and move it backwards. They just move it a yard up the field or 10 yards up the field. So I feel with Thomas Jefferson for example, and George Washington, and our Founding Fathers who articulated the universal principles, applying to all men, not just the rights of Englishmen okay, of the equality before the law and equal rights and in many cases were moved by their own principles, in many cases to manumit slaves, where they could, and to pass laws restricting slavery, the slave trade, and doing other things to ameliorate the condition of slaves. They couldn’t, given the circumstance at the time, they couldn’t score a touchdown. They couldn’t get to where we are today, but they moved the ball down the field 10 yards, or 15 yards. Okay? And America moved closer to freedom, and closer to the ideals that we have today, because of those men. And the idea of trashing their memory, because they couldn’t score a touchdown, they couldn’t get it all the way across the finish line, and they didn’t live up to the ideals that we have today, I find is just monumentally barbaric.

Doug Monroe:

All right. Well, I think it’s nuts too. So I’ll just say that. My voice won’t be in there. It’s ludicrous.

Conversation: What to do with Empty Monuments?

Doug Monroe:

Okay. So, if you liked discovering America, or if you liked discovering the rest of the world, you had to… Like Columbus and everybody who did it. Hey, that’s just the way what happened. So if you want freedom, you have to follow the people that made it happen. But what do you do with Monument Avenue today, now that we have the… What do you think’s going to happen there? You follow the news. What should we do with the stumps, the… What’s going to happen there?

Jim Bacon:

Yeah. I mean, I don’t have any really informed opinion on that, Doug. I mean, you’ve got these places, these urban places. I mean, particularly the circles with Lee and Stuart, I guess. And you could do something. Put up fountains. I don’t know. Some other kind of monument, I think is… You have a contest and get people to submit ideas and say, “We can’t just let this sit there. We’ve got to do something with it.” So that would be what we have, and hopefully we can at least put band-aids over the wounds, over the scars.

Doug Monroe:

That there is no plan in place, I take it?

Jim Bacon:

Right now, no.

Doug Monroe:

The mayor doesn’t have one, and Northam… They just want to get Lee down first, I’m sure. And then go from there.

Jim Bacon:

Yeah, one step at a time.

Doug Monroe:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jim Bacon:

It seems there are a lot more interested in tearing down than building back up.

Why do we need government?

Jim Bacon:

Yeah. Yeah. So in an ideal world, all human interactions would be free and voluntary, but that is a pipe dream. That the libertarian pipe dream. In a real world, when you have no government, you have no institution that monopolizes the power of coercion, you have anarchy. Where you have anarchy, people rule by force. And as Thomas Hobbes said, “Life is nasty, brutish and short.” And you have to have governments. So government is preferable to anarchy, but government creates its own new sets of problems. You have to have someone that gets, creates basic laws for human interaction, to shape commerce. I mean, commerce cannot function, prosper in the absence of laws relating to… The torts and contracts and things like that. So you have to have laws, you have to have the ability to administer justice. You have to be able to have a military defense and defend your polity.

Those are bare bones, basic things for government. Unfortunately, human beings aren’t perfect. And even in the free market, as much as I believe in the free market as a general principle, is not perfect. There are always, there are commerce call externalities, socially undesirable consequences of people pursuing their self-interest. There is, people utilize, they amass monopoly, economic power, and they abuse that monopoly economic power. Arguably, we see that with Google, and Facebook, and Twitter, and those guys today. And so we need to create regulations. And the environment, the tragedy of the commons. We need to regulate business in order to curtail pollution that hurts everybody. So you have to have government, and what happens, because society gets more and more complex, complex beyond the imagining of the Founding Fathers, in things, all these different things interacting in ways that no one can ever imagine. Yeah. Government’s got to step in and be the referee. So yeah, you’ve got to have government.

Is the State too big? What risks?

Jim Bacon:

Now, the problem is, it’s so easy to have too much government, that it’s like people are drawn to power. There’s a lust for power. And we are ruled by an elite today that loves exercising that power, and utilizing that power to force changes that I don’t think are justified, in so far as politics has crept into every aspect of our existence, not just an economic, not even just a social, but I mean, just, there is no sphere of endeavor that people don’t have hyperpolarized political opinions about. When they have political opinions, then government follows. So now it’s like I feel like we’ve reached a point where government is way too big, it’s way too intrusive. And it’s massively destructive, over and above the fact that we spend way more money than we bring in through taxes. We’re cumulating a massive federal debt. We’re creating institutions, like welfare institutions, that more and more people are becoming reliant upon.

And if those institutions ever failed, would create a social catastrophe way beyond whatever happened in the Great Depression, because at least in the Great Depression, people were somewhat self-reliant and had an ethos of self-reliance. But at some point when, right now the gross national debt is 27 trillion, or 28 trillion. When it gets up to 50, 80, 100, at some point, it’s going to reach enough trillion dollars, investors are going to say, “I don’t think I’m ever going to get repaid, and I’m not going to lend the government any more money.” And the government is going to collapse. And when the government collapses then the social welfare system collapses and society collapses. So that’s what I fear that we have created a monster. And hopefully I won’t be around when it happens.

Do you like the word “conservative”?

Jim Bacon:

I generally give it positive connotations, but I think you have to be clear about how you’re using it because it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So, one realm is I call fiscal monetary and economic conservatives. So I basically, I believe in free market and expanding the sphere of the free market as much as possible, recognizing that there are some limitations. And I also believe that government needs to live within its means. And so that’s a cluster of ideas, that you share one proposition, you probably share most of them. Then there’s the realm that I call cultural conservatism. And that is that, “Hey, we’ve inherited these practices from the past. They had some value or else people wouldn’t have adopted them. We still see value in traditional ways of doing things. And we don’t think that we should change them for light, frivolous or transitory reasons.”

What do you call yourself?

Jim Bacon:

And so in many ways, I guess, in some ways, I’m a cultural conservative, but recognizing that sometimes some change does need to occur. So we talked about gay rights. So that’s an area where, okay, yeah, that’s a change that needed to occur. And so that’s why I really called myself a cultural moderate. So I share impulses of conservatism, but I recognize that we need to change. Now, I’ll never go over to the other extreme. And so, for example, I mean this whole thing about transgender identity, I, in so far as I’ve studied, I believe that transgender identity is a real thing. And maybe it exists in all populations, maybe one out of 1,000 people is generally… Their sense of what their gender identity is is not the same as their biological sex identity. So that, that is a real thing. There were even societies, there’s some Buddhist societies, you go to Thailand and places like that, where they almost, they have three genders. I mean, they have these people who… So, I don’t know how numerous they are, but it’s recognizing those societies of being a thing. So I feel like, okay, yeah, that’s a real thing.

But then in America, it has been joined with this ideological fashion of, “Oh, not only is it a real thing, not only should we not bully these people, because they’re different.” It’s like, now we’ve got to celebrate them, and say, “This is a perfectly legitimate lifestyle.” And oh, by the way, if you’re 14 years old and you have the body of a boy, but really think you’re a girl, it’s okay for us to give you hormones, and cut off your penis and testicles, and et cetera, et cetera. Or if you’re a girl thinking you’re a boy, it’s okay to give you testosterone and cut off your breasts. Okay. There, I think that we have gone into the realm of utter derangement. So, in that way, then I started calling myself a cultural conservative again.

Updating “Boomergeddon”

Doug Monroe:

You’re very practically driven, and I can see that in your worldview. And I got to just keep it at that. I’ve got the author of “Boomergeddon” sitting here, okay? And I love that book. It was written in 2010. I got it back here. I’ll get you to autograph it for me. Along with the one on Morgan Massey, but on “Boomergeddon,” can you give us your updated forecast? You can make any comments on the state of the budget that you want to, and update your forecast.

Jim Bacon:

So I wrote that in 2010, and my prediction was, I thought there’s a high likelihood that Boomergeddon, what I call Boomergeddon, which is basically the fiscal meltdown of the federal government, would probably occur in the late 2020s, or early 2030s. Certainly by the time the money ran out of the social security trust fund, which I think is the actuary sale will occur around 2033. My argument then was that we were… Our polarized political system was incapable of self, any kind of fiscal discipline. The Republicans wanted to cut taxes and increase military spending. And the Democrats wanted to inflate domestic spending just insanely beyond reason. And the only compromise, and a way to get things done, we’re saying, “Okay, well, we’ll just borrow more money.” So, and lo and behold, that’s what’s happened. So President Trump gave lip service to balancing the budget, and had more fiscally austere policies and submitted budgets that were dead on arrival. But then ultimately went along with, as long as you get that tax cuts, and we’ll just, we’ll blow out the deficits.

And, but that was nothing compared to what we’ve seen with Joe Biden. So we now have reached an era where people don’t… A large number of people will think we just monetize the debt with no consequence and we can spend our ways to prosperity. And unless we have succeeded in inventing a new fiscal perpetual motion machine that runs forever, something has got to give at some point. And the exact form that we’ll take is hard to tell, but inflation is one likely outcome. And we will try to, in our desperation, we’ll try to inflate away the debt. But investors will not invest if they know they’re going to lose money on an inflation-adjusted basis. And they will ratchet up interest rates, as we saw happen in the 1970s. Some of us are old enough to remember that era, but more than half the population has no experience with inflationary era at all. They have no idea. So they don’t fear it.

A Monetary Black Jack Game: “Hit me, hit me, hit me . . . Busted.”

Jim Bacon:

That is the way of stagnation. And back in the 1970s, we had so much more latitude fiscally than we have today. So that will be one of the things that happens. Then you go into what happens to our currency. I mean, as China, as a rising economic power, will they succeed in displacing the dollar as the world global currency? If they do, then that will be very difficult, make life very difficult for us to borrow. It just can’t go on. And of course, we’ve been saying for a long time that it can’t go on, and it has gone on. And I think the federal monetary authorities have been very good at figuring out how to double down. It’s like, “Okay, well, we’re up to a $10 trillion debt, so we’ll push in more chips and we’ll just see if that’ll work. Oh, now we’re up $20 trillion, and we’ll push it more chips.”

And then, “Okay, double to $40 trillion.” And we might be able to double it again to 40. But by the time you got to double up again to $80 trillion. It just can’t go on. So it is almost inevitable. There’s only one possible hope I have is that as if we can kick the can down the road long enough, we can kick that can down the road for 20, 30, maybe 40 or 50 years, and the Baby Boom generation has retired, and then died off and that huge fiscal obligation tie to social security, and Medicare, and all those kinds of things, that era that is attached to the Baby Boom generation, disappears, then conceivably, we might get over the hump. But that is the only hope there is. And I’m not very hopeful.

Cross Talk with Predictions

Doug Monroe:

All right. Here’s my prediction. My prediction is you’re exactly, you are right then, you’re right on target. And it’s going to happen before you said it would.

Jim Bacon:

Okay.

Doug Monroe:

That’s my prediction. And it may not be a catastrophe, terrible, like a double depression or something, but people are really starting to… And as you say, the government has no fallback position. We push, they bailed out everything in sight, and eventually the government is… That’s our last backstop we’ve got.

Jim Bacon:

Right.

Doug Monroe:

And we’re destroying our backstop. When you don’t have a backstop, and when it collapses, it has collapsed, and you just have to go through the badness. Anyway, so we’ll see. We’ll see. Interesting.

Please talk about Morgan Massey and your recent book, “Maverick Miner”

Jim Bacon:

Well, Morgan was one of the great entrepreneurs of the coal industry. He made a significant amount of money, don’t get me wrong. He did make more money than anybody else, but he probably had a bigger impact on the coal industry than anybody else. He was a tremendous innovator, and he clustered people around him who were innovative, and they drove a lot of changes. Technological changes, the cleaning, and processing, and washing of coal, the loading of coal, organizing loading of coal in the Union trains. A lot of coal mine, coal mine safety. Things that are too technical for anybody to really understand or appreciate, but they really drove productivity. They were innovators in labor relations, in particular. They were far more, probably the most advanced in labor relations in building workforce teams around, and rewarding them on the basis of productivity.

And of course that got them totally into conflict with the United Mine Workers. The most, from a philosophical point of view, Morgan wasn’t much of a philosopher. He was a very pragmatic guy, but he did write something that he was very proud of, and he called it the “Massey Doctrine.” And what he articulated then was the set of principles that would guide his organization. Now he took it from a family owned company to a company that was owned by St. Joe Minerals, and then subsequently, became a joint venture partnership between St. Joe, and then subsequent Fluor, and then Fluor… Very, very complicated. So it was not entirely his company to run entirely as he pleased. But he devised these principles. And it’s very similar to what one might call stakeholder democracy today.

What were his stakeholder principles?

Jim Bacon:

And the most important stakeholders were the customers in his estimation, because if you didn’t have customers, you had nothing. You had no business, you had nothing. The next most important thing was capital. You had to have capital to grow and expand the business. And you had to reward the equity owners. What was interesting though, he didn’t say, he never thought that the job of the organization was to maximize profits. He never said that. And he never ran his organization that way. He thought, his idea was that you wanted to make a good profit and a fair, reasonable profit. Was not to maximize the profits at the expense of others, other things. The third pillar was the employees. So if you don’t treat your employees right, you’re not going to have a company. And he was very progressive in that way. I mean, they treated their employees, and also developed their managers. I mean, they spent a lot of money. Morgan in the ’80s and ’90s, he spent money on educational scholarships at West Virginia University and Virginia Tech. And they would get the first pick of the best and the brightest mining engineers coming out of the engineering schools.

And fourth was the community. And he thought that every corporation had a responsibility to be a good citizen in the community. Now, I don’t think he looked at the corporate responsibility the same way a lot of progressives would today. But he’s very cognizant of it. He was like, “First of all, always be honest.” And this is a big deal. And when you do most of your business in eastern Kentucky and west Virginia, where corruption was pretty rampant. Be honest and transparent, and give to your community, and participate in the community, contribute to it.

And the coal industry itself?

Jim Bacon:

And he also gave a lot of thought to thinking about life beyond the coal industry. Back in the 1980s, coal seemed to be on top of the world. Morgan was acutely aware that, “You know what? We’re only going to have… The prosperity’s only going to last as long as we have coal in the ground that we can mine economically. And at some point it’s going to run out.” And he foresaw a time when it would. And he was absolutely right.

Jim Bacon:

And so he was urging the powers that be in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky at that time and said, “Look, you got to prepare for the day when it runs out, and you got to diversify our economy.” And that was hard when the rest of the coal industry was just struggling for survival and looking for tax breaks, and special treatment, and stuff like that. But, so he was really, really wise in that way. And I think that you have this, what’s the name of this group today? It’s Jamie Diamond was associated with a bunch… Anyway, they articulated these principles of stakeholder democracy. And Morgan was very far forward looking in that way.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the U.S.?

Jim Bacon:

Maybe I’m just becoming a crotchety old man, and I’m kind of pessimistic. I really am. I describe the fiscal monetary trajectory we’re heading on, which I think is absolutely unsustainable, and we’ll double down our bets until the whole thing falls apart. And that’s not even talking about the other things that seem to preoccupy me these days. Our loss of our moral fiber. And we were talking earlier about, we’re the left of Karl Marx now. Karl Marx famously said, his dictum was, “To each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities.” So at least, in the Marxian socialist communist worldview, people had to contribute according to their abilities. They had to participate. They couldn’t just take. Well now, United States today, what are we doing? We’re paying people not to work. We’re just inflating. And just giving them these unemployment benefits, and people can’t hire enough workers. We can’t do anything. What are they doing? Some of them might be moms, staying home, taking care of the kids. A lot of them are young men who just do sitting around and playing computer games, literally. So we are at the left of Karl Marx today. I don’t see that ending well. We are not the same country we were.

Doug Monroe:

The problem is you have to be our age to really understand that, because most people don’t have any personal experience to fall back on.

Doug Monroe:

So anyway. Jim, it’s been a pleasure.

Jim Bacon:

I enjoyed it. It was fun. It gives me a chance to think about things in a way I don’t normally get to think about them.

Reference

Bacon’s Rebellion:

http://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/

Alumni Free Speech Alliance:

https://alumnifreespeechalliance.com/

The Jefferson Council:

https://thejeffersoncouncil.com/

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