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Here’s Why New York Drops the Ball at Midnight

Reading Time: 1 minutes

Once upon a time, in the days of sundials and pendulum clocks, people needed a way to agree on the time. For instance, if my watch says 11:13 and your watch says 1:32, who’s right?

One way to coordinate time in a city or a sea port was a time ball placed somewhere highly visible. People could use the ball to set their pocket watches, and use their pocket watches to set their other clocks.

Here’s how time balls worked, from the Cincinnati Observatory:

Precisely 15 minutes before noon, the ball was raised, using a windlass, to half-mast, and, at 5 minutes to noon, the ball was lifted to the top, providing viewers with 15-minute and 5-minute advance notices. At astronomical noon in Cincinnati, the ball dropped free- fall style. A hand-operated Prony friction brake allowed the ball to stop gently before the end of its 30-foot travel.

Set your pocket watch to precisely noon with the stem out. When the ball drops, drop the stem. If you kept your watch wound, you’d have fairly accurate time for a few months.

New York City used the ball-drop method of time coordination to ring the new year and to promote Edison’s lightbulbs. Since the whole point of the ball drop was visibility, there’d be no value to a midnight ball-drop unless the ball was lighted.

The first NYC New Year’s ball was covered in 100 lightbulbs. You could set your watch by it.

Now, here’s the 10 Most Popular Posts of 2015


Learning to be wrong

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I am wrong a lot.

When I was 25, I was wrong a lot, too.

The difference between 1988 and 2015 is not that I’m particularly smarter now, but that I’m used to being wrong. Somewhere along life’s journey, I realized two things:

  1. Being wrong isn’t the end of the world.
  2. Being wrong is the beginning of learning.

When I was 25, I refused to admit being wrong about anything. Now, I assume I might be wrong about everything. Recognizing–even embracing–our own fallibility seems rare, to me at least, among young people of any era, any culture, and generation. School teaches us that being wrong is bad and that learning is the overcoming of ignorance. On these two points, education is wrong.

Politico Was Wrong

The discredited Politico hit piece on Dr. Ben Carson smacks of the folly of youthful mindset. Politico was wrong and has since changed its false headline and slanderous lede without admitting its error.

Politico’s Kyle Cheney wrote the piece. Cheney graduated from Boston University in 2007 making him about 30 years old. I know little about Mr. Cheney, but he seems to display what psychologist Carol Dweck calls “a fixed mindset.” People with a fixed mindset are more concerned with demonstrating their infallibility than in learning and growing. And, having managed young people most of my life, fixed mindset seems a particular malady of men in their late teens through their early thirties.

Learning Begins With Error

Learning begins, not with a blank slate, but with recognition of error. The entire scientific method depends on error. A theory emerges only when the scientist fails to falsify his own assumptions. As the great Richard Feynman said:

If your guess disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is, how smart you are, who made the guess, or what their name is… it is wrong.

Without the guess there is no experiment; without experiment there is no learning.

Mr. Cheney might learn from his error now that the experiment disagrees with his guess. Or he might hold onto his fixed mindset, trying to prove that the experiment was wrong, not his guess. Not that he should ask me for advice, but I would offer this: always assume you might be wrong.

For more on Being Wrong, see this TED talk by journalist Kathryn Schultz:

Farewell, Joe LeGrand

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Once upon a time I didn’t like Joe LeGrand.

It was 3rd grade. I was in the Epiphany Toppers Drum and Bugle Corps, and Joe was a bugler who stood right in front of me. He kept turning around and giving me dirty looks. So I decided right then and there that I didn’t like him.

Joe was a year ahead of me in school. While our lives intersected a lot, we weren’t really close. We ran in different circles in grade school and high school.

But he started working at Binder’s Market in St. Louis Hills, and my mom and dad went in there a lot, so I ran into him now and then. Those encounters–about 1989–were confusing. He’d smile when he recognized me–like he’d been waiting for me to walk in because he had a great story to tell me. Just me, no one else.

He usually did.

Joe and his brothers eventually bought Binder’s and renamed it LeGrand’s. The store didn’t accept food stamps, but the LeGrand generosity was unlimited. They donated everything, including their time and their infinite spirit. And their endless smiles.

I like all the LeGrands, but Joe ended up being one of the people I admired most. He gave my nephew a job when my nephew was very young. Taught him more about customer service than all the MBAs graduated in the last 40 years will ever know. Not that Scottie doesn’t have a natural talent for sales and getting customers what they want–he does. But Joe LeGrand exposed that talent and helped teach Scottie how to let it shine. And Scottie wasn’t the only student of Joe LeGrand’s customer service school.

LeGrand’s served simply the best sandwiches, brats, barbecue, and meats in South St. Louis for 30 years. And no one ever went in and out of LeGrand’s without feeling they’d just spent time with good friends. Here’s what Joe told Feast Magazine about knowing his customers:

“We know ‘em by name,” LeGrand says with conviction. “When they hit the door, we’re making their sandwich. I have customers who come in and we change the radio station. I’ll put on some Dean Martin. We know these customers that well.”

Yeah. Hear that, BoA? (Is the Deano for Scottie?)

Joe LeGrand passed away last week. He was only 52–one year older than me.

Joe’s death leaves a big hole in this world, especially in South St. Louis. We can take some solace in the fact that Joe taught a lot of young people how to serve the public, how to give more to customers than customers expected for their dollar, and how to smile no matter how bad you hurt.

And he taught me a lesson I need to learn over and over again: when you decide you don’t like someone, you’re probably wrong.

I was wrong in 3rd grade. Joe LeGrand was a stand-up man who would change the world for many people.

Eternal rest grant unto him, Lord, and let the the perpetual light shine upon him.

How the chippies will miss him.

More reactions:

Riverfront Times:

Who is going to replace LeGrand at the market? “Nobody is going to replace him. We’re still trying to decide what is going to happen,” said Perry.

Instead of flowers, the family asked that memorial donations be made in LeGrand’s name to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We also suggest you have a great sandwich to honor him. His favorite was the “LeGrand Special” — roast beef, turkey, corned beef, cheddar, lettuce and tomato.

Ted Drewes

The South St. Louis Community lost a very dear friend this past week. Joe LeGrand’s pride and passion for providing us…

Posted by Ted Drewes Inc. on Monday, August 3, 2015

Joe serves an excellent steak. Image clipped from

Free eBook of National Service Posts

Reading Time: 1 minutes

My series on National Service is important. Maybe not urgent, but important. (See Eisenhower Square.)
So I turned it into an eBook:


Be warned: I did not edit the posts, so the ebook contains all the links to previous posts in the series. If there’s interest, I’ll go back and clean it up. This is just for convenience.


A Conservative Missouri Service Program–Part 5

Reading Time: 6 minutes

We’ve reached the end.

On Monday, we corrected disinformation about The Franklin Project.

Next, we looked at the historical conservative framework for national service.

Wednesday was a dissection of The Franklin Project’s Plan of Action (as distinguished from the group’s vision.)

Yesterday, we examined the consequences of ignoring the call for national service.

Today, we offer an oversimplified proposal for Missouri’s version of a national-service program. While inadequate, it is a start.

The Conservative Approach

Because William F. Buckley was the lone voice crying out for increased sense of duty and sacrifice and appreciation through ubiquitous national service, let’s begin with him.

National service doesn’t lend itself to conventional analysis. For this reason it pays to stress and re-stress that the market has only a tangential role, if any, in sugginsting vectors of national service concern. The idea, as viewed through the conservative looking glass, is to arouse a desire which is uniquely one’s own to help a society.

Buckley goes on to lay down a challenge:

Opponents of national service must establish, to make their case, that national service, unlike state militia or jury service, or military conscription in times of emergency, is distinctively hostile to a free society.

He points out that our philosophical and political founders were fond of the idea:

Adam Smith admired Rome and the Greek republics in which ‘every free citizen was instructed, under the direction of the public magistrate, in gymnastic exercises and in music.’ These had their purpose to ‘humanize the mind, to soften the temper, and to dispose it for performing all the social and moral duties both of public and private life.’

Buckley goes on to mention that Lincoln, Hamilton, Jefferson, and others worried about America’s ability to regenerate virtue in succeeding generations. Washington argued for universal military service for men, in part, because military service and sacrifice “heightened individual disposition in loyalty, to involvement in civic affairs, and to the identification of one’s own interests with those of the community.”

The benefit of federalism is that Missouri needs no one’s permission to take the lead in service. We can show the way. We will stumble, no doubt. Many will resist. But the benefits of beginning a program of service in Missouri will soon bear fruit. Our young people will enter careers more aware of their place in the world, more appreciative of their heritage, their freedom, their opportunity, and–yes–of their own, soft bed.

The responsible conservative solution to America’s lack of appreciation for itself will not be fixed in schools or in offices. My friends Gretchen Logue and and Ann Gassel at Missouri Education Watchdog fight tirelessly for education reform. But a new threat emerges before they can subdue the last. I applaud and encourage their work, but they need help. And a service program can provide that help.

This simple plan, as I say, is a start, not an end. If you cannot pick it apart and find its flaws, you simply are not looking very hard. Find flaws in the plan, though, does not relieve conservatives of the duty to “induce a virtuous citizenry (Buckley, 1990).”

How It Works

Volunteers would work with existing charity missions in the state, plus a few state-operated programs. While the projects would work to ease needs that the market does not address, the real purpose of the program is to instill a sense of gratitude and service in the volunteers. As Buckley wrote:

While acknowledging the good can that be done to the various beneficiaries, we reiterate that we have primarily in mind the good that is done to the volunteers themselves.

Many models exist for Missouri to follow. The Mission Continues pairs veterans with charities and service organizations, sponsoring the veterans for a time. Our program could do the same for non-veterans. The Mission Continues works with host organizations including Junior Achievement, American Red Cross, YMCA, AmVets, Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, and dozens of other local and national organizations.

The Missouri program should focus efforts on work in our state. Ferguson is still a wreck almost a year after the first riots. Volunteers could serve there to clean up the debris and beautify the streets.

Were I to try to document all the opportunities for volunteers in Missouri, this post would never end. Look around. What can we do that the market is not doing? There is the opportunity to serve.

Who Chooses Projects

Milton Friedman made a big deal out of a small issue. This is a Missouri program, and Missouri’s legislature can produce the guidelines for qualifying organizations. The legislature handles far more difficult problems every day.

I would hope the enabling legislation provides limits to administrative discretion in approving or rejecting organizations and projects. As Buckley said, we probably don’t want people watching television 10 hours a day to find incidents of latent sexism. At the same time, the law should restrain the administration from rejecting an organization simply because the foundation’s aims irritate a Jefferson City bureaucrat.

What Qualifies as a Service Year and Who May Serve

I would like to see provisions for certain activities to qualify for a service year beyond the more traditional method of working 12 consecutive months for a charitable organization. For example, many people work as volunteer firefighters and EMTs while working toward placement on a fire department. Efforts like that should earn points toward fulfillment of the certification.

Military service under honorable conditions of more than one year would certainly qualify.

Beyond that and a few other exceptions, the service year should be sacrosanct. The young person works full time for little pay, living in a host home, hostel, or dormitory. Most meals are communal. Basic equipment and clothing is provided, along with a small stipend. A one-week vacation and accommodations for worship would be provided, as would accommodations for disabilities.

My impulse is to allow application to any Missouri resident between the ages of 18 and, say, 28. If they have dependents, they must solve that problem themselves. Volunteers may apply to a specific program, or they may apply for best fit. The administration will make final assignments, and no one will be assured of admission to a particular charity or corps.

Volunteers who drop out of their own accord may not reapply. They must simply live with the stigma of having failed to serve. Hardship cases can be handled the way the military handles them.

How to Pay For It

In 2014, Missouri generated $48.4 billion in federal taxes.

In 1968, Ronald Reagan, then California Governor, proposed to the National Conference of Governors, that states should keep a mere 2 percent of federal taxes raised in the state.

Suppose Congress were to allow states to keep that 2 percent. Remember, there’s no change in taxes. Just 2 percent of federal taxes raised in Missouri stay in Missouri.

That would be a windfall of $968,264,940 for Missouri.

If Missouri applied one-third of that amount to a service program, that would allow $19,000 per volunteer for up to 20,000 Missourians annually. In 10 years, 200,000 Missourians could complete a service year. (There are, coincidentally, about 800,000 Missourians 18-28, so this formula would accommodate 25 percent.)

That $19,000 figure includes both cost of operating the program and providing humble living arrangements and a small stipend to volunteers. No one would consider this volunteer service year a job. The stipend would be minimal.

This funding method is part of the process of keeping more money in the states. Like the Transportation Empowerment Act, it’s a small first step toward checking Washington’s growth.


I am far less conscientious now than I was when I left the Navy 20 years ago. Perhaps it’s the effect of aging. I suspect, though, that it has  more to do with service. The Navy instills conscientiousness in its sailors, as the Army does in its soldiers, the Marines in Marines, the Air Force in airmen. Conscientious, unit pride, fixing problems are all side-effects of the military.

Sure, some people are immune. Some people enter the service jerks and leave the same way. Pointing out an exception doesn’t debunk the case; it points out an exception.

Our form of government depends on virtuous, informed citizens with a strong sense of purpose for their communities, not just for their individual lives. Service might instill that ethos. The faithful young whose church sends them on missions returned different. They are both more human and more connected to their world, their community, their family, and their faith.

A year of service will fix a few problems, sure, or give temporary relief. But the problems the volunteers work on will return. Problems always do. As Eric Greitens wrote to his buddy Zach in Resilience:

There’s no point at which you’ve cleaned yourself so well that you never have to shower again.

The point of service is not to end social problems; it’s to reverse spiritual problems. Our lack of gratitude for America, for Western Civilization, for great music, for the Constitution–symptoms of a spiritual deficit enabled and aggrevated by a society that’s developed an unhealthy and depraved appetite for distraction, isolation, and independence. We detached from our community, and government has filled the void.

Alexis de Tocqueville saw our isolated emptiness 200 years ago.

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Tocqueville wrote those words in 1838. They could have been written yesterday. We can prove Tocqueville wrong, and service is a way.

Thank you for following this journey.

Why Conservatives Should Get Involved—Part 4

Reading Time: 13 minutes

In part 1 of this series, we clarified some misconceptions and falsehoods about the Franklin Project.

In part 2, we examined the debate on the right from 1990 with William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman.

Part 3 was a critique of the Franklin Project’s Plan of Action.

Today, we will look at the consequences should conservatives turn their backs on the concept of developing a service ethos in America.

Generations: Saying “No” Won’t Work

  1. Do you remember when Roosevelt died?
  2. Do you remember, however vaguely, Kennedy’s assassination?

  3. How about the Challenger disaster?

  4. The fall of Lehman Brothers?


A. If you answered Yes to 1, you are a Silent or WWII generation, but not a Boomer.

B. If you answered No to 1 and Yes to 2, you are a Boomer.

C. No to 2 and Yes to 3, you are Generation X.

D. No 3 and Yes to 4, you are a Millennial.

Based on statistical analysis of readers of this blog, about 10 percent of my readers fall into A, about 50 percent B, about 30 percent C and about 10 percent D.

In terms of population, D is the largest group, B is second, C is third, and A is fifth. There are more people alive in the USA younger than Millennials than there are older than Boomers.

Now, think about this. Gen X is fairly conservative. Boomers are fairly conservative. The remaining Silents and WWIIers are mostly conservative. Millennials are not.

God and His nature are producing no new Silents, no new Boomers, no new Xers. But Millennials reach voting age every day, and will until 2020.

By the time the last cohort of Millennials turns 18, Silents (born before 1942) will be at least 78 years old–beyond the life expectancy of their generation. Most Boomers will be retired. Generation Xers will be planning their departure from the work force. And Millennials will be taking over the vital years of their careers.

Millennials are the largest generation in American history, outnumbering Boomers by several million.

If you find this news depressing, you should. Conservatives have done little to attract the next generation of voters and leaders. As our numbers dwindle, we panic at what follows.

Winter Has Come

We are somewhere in the Winter of a secular era that began with Victory in Japan day in 1945. From 1945 until Kennedy’s assassination was the High, an era marked by feelings of hope, community, and growth. The 1960s to about 1984 was the Awakening in which the culture grew contemptuous of conformity and sought spiritual independence and enlightenment. With Reagan’s re-election, we entered the Unraveling as institutions lost their power and individuals fragmented into parties of one. The Unraveling gave way to Winter, a crisis era, with the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Looking back on past Winters, generational historians Howe and Strauss explain the feeling that continues to emerge. From The Fourth Turning:

As the community instinct regenerates, people resolve to do more than just relieve the symptoms of pending traumas. Intent on addressing root causes, they rediscover the value of unity, teamwork, and social discipline. Far more than before, people comply with authority, accept the need for public sacrifice, and shed anything extraneous to the survival needs of their community. This is a critical threshold: People either coalesce as a nation and culture—or rip hopelessly and permanently apart.

Some people might take lightly this whole debate over national service. It seems to some like the least of our problems.

But it might be the most important, if not most urgent, problem we face today. Crisis eras resolve into a new High, like the 1940s and 1950s, but only if society remains in tact. Right now, American society could go either way. We have no reason to believe that the United States will remain one nation through the next climax.

I am the oldest of Generation X, the most individualistic, narcissistic, and nihilistic generation alive. The institutions built during and after the last Crisis, from 1929 to 1945, are crumbling because we let them. We attacked them. We dance on their graves, and we have since we were kids.

We have good reasons for letting institutions fail, because we have evidence that the institutions failed us. Social Security? Medicare? Expenses we can’t reasonably expect to withdraw.

We had to let them decay. Society needs to purge itself of waste from the last saeculum so it can grow into the new order. Again, from The Fourth Turning:

This Crisis morphology occurs over the span of one turning, which (except for the U.S. Civil War) means that around fifteen to twenty-five years elapse between the catalyst and the resolution. The regeneracy usually occurs one to five years after the era begins, the climax one to five years before it ends.

Once this new mood is fully catalyzed, a society begins a process of re-generacy, a drawing together into whatever definition of community is available at the time. Out of the debris of the Unraveling, a new civic ethos arises. One set of post-Awakening ideals prevails over the others. People stop tolerating the weakening of institutions, the splintering of the culture, and the individualizing of daily behavior. Spiritual curiosity abates, manners traditionalize, and the culture is harnessed as propaganda for the purpose of overtly reinforcing good conduct. History teaches that, roughly one to three years after the initial catalyst, people begin acknowledging this new synergy in community life and begin deputizing government to enforce it. Collective action is now seen as vital to solving the society’s most fundamental problems.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t want it to happen, regeneracy occurs all around us. Milliennials–the oldest now in their mid-30s–work in teams and have faith in institutions. They don’t hate prior generations. If anything, they pity us. They also hope to learn from us and want us to lead them. But they want us to lead them to a better future built on the best ideas from the past blended and strengthened with new ideas or dormant ideas that withered in the Awaken of the 60s and 70s and the Unraveling of the 80s and 90s.

National service, and a service ethic, is coming fast whether conservatives like it or not.

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

That smug motto of the 90s comes back to bite us. And it exposes a major flaw in modern conservative behavior.

When we on the right see something that looks “hippy” or “liberal” or “do-gooder,” we tend to roll our eyes and turn away. Admit it. I do it, and so do you.

We’ve turned our backs on journalism, literature, music, photography, art, education, show business, conservation, and law. We believed we had some “moral authority” to look back at those abandoned fields and yell “knock it off!”

But they don’t listen.

Why do you think that is?

I don’t have time to fight those battles because a new battlefield just opened up: national service.

You might not like the Aspen Institute. There’s good reason to suspect what all those elites do out there in Colorado.

But we don’t have the moral authority to tell them to stop. Just as we think what they do is crazy, they think what we do is pointless. And they are ahead of us on money, time, and position.

They’re not watching us stomp our feet, and they’re not hearing our shouts of “no!” They don’t think what they’re doing is wrong, and our telling them they’re wrong wins no converts.

The Jewish Lawyer

A Jewish lawyer in New York ran into a Catholic church to get out of terrible storm. The church was empty. He sat in the last pew and caught up on paperwork until the storm passed.

Appreciating the silent peacefulness of the church, he began spending afternoons in that pew. No one would bother him there. The smell of candles and incense lent an air of peace and solemnity that bolstered his focus. People came in silently and prayed, but no one disturbed him.

He would notice, from time to time, a priest enter the sanctuary and open a safe. The priest would remove something with great reverence, bow, and close the safe. He would say a prayer and depart. Hours later, the priest would return and repeat the process in reverse.

Over the course of years, the lawyer became increasingly amazed at the priest’s reverence and care. The priest never looked to see if anyone was watching. Most times, the priest could not have seen the lawyer hunched in the dark last pew. With or without an audience, the priest performed the ritual identically every time.

The lawyer eventually converted to Catholicism. Though he embraced the entire catechism, his inspiration was the simple, humble consistency of that priest who treated the sacristy and the host with such remarkable reverence and dignity when no one was watching. No one but God and a Jewish lawyer in the last pew.

A church’s nave is not a workspace for lawyers seeking refuge from the bustle of an office. It’s a place of prayer and worship. The priest, and the parishioners who came into pray, would have been well within their rights to confront the man who used the church as an office.

If the priest had confronted the lawyer and told him to get out, would he have converted?

No One Cares If We’re Right

Some of the people who influenced the terrible Plan of Action adopted at Franklin Project’s conclave two years ago may want to transform America into a socialist experiment. I would bet some do.

Some (I’m looking at Cisco and Bank of America) want to use national service as a tool to protect their incumbency and bludgeon their competitors.

Many want to renew a national ethos of service and respect (gratitude) for the great privileges we enjoy as Americans.

And a handful might even be conservatives recognizing a need and responding to William F. Buckley’s call.

None of them will pay heed to angry conservatives stomping their feet and yelling “stop.”

A Quarter of a Century Has Passed

I turned 25-years-old on October 5, 1988. My boat, the USS Woodrow Wilson, was in Charleston Naval Shipyard for a refueling overhaul. I remember thinking, “I’m a quarter century old.”

I’m older now. A quarter century ago, I read Gratitude for the first time. It was a difficult book to read. Like Milton Friedman, I asked myself, “what’s gotten into you, Bill?” Why is Bill Buckley advocating for a big federal program?

It took a long time for me to come to grips with the idea. I still haven’t completely accepted the concept of a new federal agency. Perhaps Buckley was hoping to overshoot the need so we’d settle for a more federalist system that achieved the same end.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that Buckley was absolutely right in pointing out the need for a new national ethos of service.

As petty officer first class in the Navy, I’d been living service for four years. I’d matured a decade in that time. I’d learned to look around for jobs to be done, not for leisure to be enjoyed. I’d changed.

Buckley saw a generation change in World War II. Those who’ve taken time off from life to serve a higher calling never return to the world they left. They pass into a new world where the colors are brighter, the candy sweeter, and the air cleaner than the one they departed. They appreciate smaller things and lose patience with the trivial. They learn to make decisions and move on, dealing with the fallout of their actions. They learn the beauty and majesty of the shining city on a hill.

They grow up.

A Service Ethos Is Coming

Whether you like it or not, a new ethos of service is coming. Conservatives can huddle in our affinity bubbles and crack wise about the hippies and their service ethic, or we can get involved to influence the way the programs evolve.

If we choose to get involved, we wont’ be completely satisfied with the result. We will lose some battles.

If we stand back and complain, we will lose them all.

The Fourth Turning: Climax

Private life also transforms beyond prior recognition. Now less important than the team, individuals are expected to comply with new Fourth Turning standards of virtue. Family order strengthens, and personal violence and substance abuse decline. Those who persist in free-wheeling self-oriented behavior now face implacable public stigma, even punishment. Winner-take-all arrangements give way to enforceable new mechanisms of social sharing. Questions about who does what are settled on grounds of survival, not fairness. This leads to a renewed social division of labor by age and sex. In the realm of public activity, elders are expected to step aside for the young, women for men. When danger looms, children are expected to be protected before parents, mothers before fathers. All social arrangements are evaluated anew; pre-Crisis promises and expectations count for little. Where the Unraveling had been an era of fast-paced personal lives against a background of public gridlock, in the Crisis the pace of daily life will seem to slow down just as political and social change accelerates.

Howe and Strauss might not get the details exactly right. They’re painting a likely scenario, not predicting a specific event. But the feeling of the era is dead on. We are in the eye of the storm. And we have the chance to influence its direction.

Normally occurring late in the Fourth Turning, the climax gathers energy from an accumulation of unmet needs, unpaid bills, and unresolved problems. It then spends that energy on an upheaval whose direction and dimension were beyond comprehension during the prior Unraveling era. The climax shakes a society to its roots, transforms its institutions, redirects its purposes, and marks its people (and its generations) for life. The climax can end in triumph, or tragedy, or some combination of both. Whatever the event and whatever the outcome, a society passes through a great gate of history, fundamentally altering the course of civilization.

If you think the Franklin Project’s Plan of Action is bad now, imagine if there’d been NO conservatives (or emerging conservatives) on its panel?

And if you say, “they shouldn’t have done it,” what have we done to fill the need?

In 1990, Buckley found that 72.8 percent of Americans favored “national service,” though that that number fell to 44 percent if it required an increase of five percent in taxes to fund it.

A survey in 2013 found that recognition of a need for national service has increased since 1990.

  • Eighty percent support voluntary national service, including 88 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents and 76 percent of Republicans
  • Seventy-one percent OPPOSE mandatory national service, including 52 percent who strongly oppose
  • Ninety-three support national service programs to assist veterans, the military, and their families
  • Ninety-one percent support tutoring programs for students
  • Ninety-one percent support volunteer disaster relief programs

The list goes on. Granted, people don’t want to pay taxes to fund the programs, but they might be willing to help fund private or charitable programs to fulfill these ends.

If conservatives don’t get involved, they won’t like what the programs become.

Buckley foresaw a tidal change in American attitudes toward service:

It is possible that the general public, apparently already on the way, will someday soon reach the point where they are resolutely behind the idea. If that were to happen, one might anticipate a day when, notwithstanding that national service continued to be voluntary, the sense of duty to volunteer would be felt by the typical citizen as keenly as, say, most young men felt a call to duty on December 7, 1941.

. . .

If we are engaged in promoting national service, we are engaged in the subtle business of trying to shape the national ethos. Somewhere along the line I have written that in my lifetime I have detected only two sea changes in national attitude, of them on a lesser scale, the second on a larger scale. The first has to do with the environment, the second with racial toleration.

Do you remember the episode of Mad Men when Don and Betty took the kids to a park for a picnic? After enjoying a meal and drinks, the family stood up and dumped their bottles, cans, plates, napkins, and chicken bones onto the ground and left.

The scene was shocking to today’s viewers. Being just younger than the Draper kids (almost exactly little Gene’s age), I remember those days well. I remember tossing trash out the windows of moving cars. It’s what everybody did.

Today, we’d consider such behavior boorish, if not evil.

When I was born in 1963, there were still segregated drinking fountains in America. And that’s just one symptom of racism that seems like fiction today.

I think Buckley’s recognition of national service as the third great sea change in America was dead on. And it’s happening now.

If conservatives refuse to get involved, they will hate the way it turns out.

I Could Be Wrong

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Millennials will decide to act more like us Gen Xers, mocking institutions and joking about their slackerness. If that’s the case, then there’s no need for conservatives to get involved in shaping a national service program.

If I’m right, if Americans are sick of the winner-take-all, don’t-get-caught attitude that’s grown since the early 90s, then conservatives better get involved or prepare to live with the consequences.

National service could save free markets. I don’t want the government capping executive compensation. But I also don’t want executives issuing bonds to buy back their own stock to boost their compensation at the expense of the firm’s future viability. A generation (or more) of MBAs believes hollowing out companies for immediate profit is good business.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Paul Lawrence of Harvard Business School. Professor Lawrence attended Harvard after World War II, using the GI Bill to earn a masters and doctorate. He remained at Harvard as a professor until he passed away on Thanksgiving a couple years ago.

Dr. Lawrence told me how Milton Friedman’s op-ed about the social purpose of business changed everything. I argued with him, politely, but he was there; I wasn’t.

At the time, Friedman’s doctrine–that the only purpose of a business is to maximize return to shareholders–seemed like a ray of sunlight into business. At the time (the early 1970s) companies were going with berserk with crazy ideas of social good. Friedman gave them permission to think about nothing but profits for shareholders. It made sense at the time.

Harvard Business School accepted the thinking and adopted “agency theory” of business. Executives were agents of shareholders and were responsible only to get as much profit out of the company as they could. As an incentive, executive compensation shifted from salary to stock incentives. The higher the stock goes, the more the executive makes.

“When did you change your mind about agency model?” I asked Dr. Lawrence.

“I’d been worried about excesses for a long time,” he told me. But the telling moment came just after he semi-retired in 2000. He was watching a news program on corporate scandals–Enron and the like–when the TV displayed a 3×3 grid of executives in jail, on trial, or under investigation for fraud.

“Six of the nine were my students,” he said. “I realized I’d been part of a corrupt system that created monsters.”

Dr. Lawrence believed strongly in free markets, and recognized that agency theory threatens to destroy capitalism, not grow it.

“I had to do something.”

Dr. Lawrence emerged from a short retirement and teamed up with Nitin Nohria, now Dean of Harvard Business School, to try to correct the wrongs of agency theory.

When GE uses its influence to ban 100-watt incandescent bulbs so you have no choice but to buy more expensive condensed fluorescent lamps, agency theory is winning over free market capitalism.

I believe–and I could be wrong–that a stronger national service ethos would upend agency theory. A service-oriented CEO would be ashamed to gut a great company for his own enrichment. A service-oriented CEO would quit before manipulating (bribing) Congress to protect his business from innovation and competition. A service-oriented manager would tell shareholders to be patient before laying off good, hardworking people just to meet a quarterly profit target.

Free markets and free nations rely on people with a strong moral compass. Either we govern ourselves, or others rule over us. The absence of a strong national service ethos, I believe, helped create the twisted, selfish, “take what you can get” attitude that defines much of modern life in America.

And the kids know it.

Millennials–the largest generation in American history–look at agency theory the way we look at the Drapers tossing garbage in a park. To them, it’s a sad reminder of history. Millennials have strong sense of service, even if without a national or state programs to answer the call.

Millennials will fill the void. The founders of Franklin Project are eager to help them, to guide them, and influence them.

Conservatives can jump into the parade and help lead it, or we can stand back and gripe about the consequences. But stomping our feet and yelling “no” won’t stop the sea change in national attitude Buckley warned of twenty-five years ago.

Rather than criticizing Eric Greitens for joining Franklin Project, I thank God at least one of us is in its ranks.

Tomorrow, I will propose a simple conservative alternative the Franklin Project here in Missouri.

Thanks for your time. I’ll leave with one last “prophecy” from The Fourth Turning:

With or without war, American society will be transformed into something different. The emergent society may be something better, a nation that sustains its Framers’ visions with a robust new pride. Or it may be something unspeakably worse. The Fourth Turning will be a time of glory or ruin.

Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning (Kindle Locations 5781-5783). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.