LIVE: Writer’s Corner: The Hook

Mike Reid and I will be chatting on Thursday, May 21, on how to write magazine articles that hook the reader.

Join the conversation on LIVE.

Abolition, Brazil, and the Last Confederates

ConfederadosPicture thousands of country folk down south, gathered for fried chicken, barbecue, and beer. "I Wish I Was in Dixie" plays on infinite loop. The stars and bars of the Confederate battle flag are everywhere, including belt buckles and trucker caps. Many of the partiers are descended from Confederate soldiers. Not all are white, and very few speak English.

It is the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War, and the unlikely locale of this unusual gathering is Santa Barbara d’Oeste, a rural Brazilian town colonized by Southern families fleeing the (re-)United States.

"For many of the residents," according to the Associated Press’s Jenny Barchfield, "having Confederate ancestry is a point of pride that’s celebrated in high style at the annual ‘Festa dos Confederados.’"

Most of the original Confederate immigrants "were lured by newspaper ads placed in the wake of the war by the government of Brazil’s then-emperor, Dom Pedro II, promising land grants to those who would help colonize the South American country’s vast and little-explored interior."

The emperor wanted agriculturally skilled colonists, and the former Johnny Rebs wanted to escape the rule of the Yankee carpetbaggers.

It may be tempting to conclude that another attractive feature of their new home was that the institution of slavery survived in Brazil. In fact, holding human beings as property was legal there until Dom Pedro’s daughter, Dona Isabel, acting as regent in her father’s absence, signed the Lei Áurea into law on this day, May 13, 1888, formally abolishing slavery in Brazil. And since Brazil’s was the last government in either North or South America to recognize the legality of slavery, Princess Isabel’s actions marked the end of legal slavery in the Americas.

But it’s unlikely that the legal status of slavery affected the Confederados’ decision to leave North America and start a new life south of the equator. These migrants were not from the aristocracy of plantation owners and slaveholders. They were mostly the working-class farmers who had had to compete with slave labor in the antebellum economy, and the system of slavery worked to their disadvantage.

About half the Confederados found life too hard and too foreign in the land the emperor granted them, and they eventually returned home. The rest assimilated into Brazilian society. At the time, over 40 percent of Brazil’s 10 million people were of African heritage, and about a third of them were enslaved. After abolition, being multiracial eventually became the norm. Today, no country outside of Africa has a larger population of African descendants.

Barchfield writes, "Mixed-race guests at Sunday’s party seemed unruffled by the omnipresent Confederate flag."

"To me it’s a positive symbol of my heritage," said Keila Padovese Armelin, a 40-year-old mother of two who describes herself as a "racial milkshake." "For us, it doesn’t have a negative connotation at all."

Of course, African-descended Brazilians have the luxury of viewing the flag as both historical and exotic. In the United States, it is still either a symbol of ongoing resistance or of ongoing intolerance and oppression.

Everything about the racial history of Brazil is different from the US experience. And if abolition came later to the South American country, racial harmony — or at least the blurring of the racial categories — seems to have developed considerably sooner.

The process was already underway before Dom Pedro invited the defeated Southerners to his shores. Historian James McMurtry Longo writes,

In his first and in all subsequent cabinets and government appointments, Pedro II selected Brazilians for leadership positions regardless of race. Isabel … grew up seeing men of all races serving [her] father in positions of authority.

As her father’s student, daughter, and heir, Princess Isabel followed his example. Race never played a role in her social life, political relationships, alliances or disagreements. It may have been the most important lesson Isabel learned from him.

According to economist Edward Glaeser, in his book Triumph of the City, "Emperor Pedro II disliked slavery, but fear of a political backlash may have kept him from trying to emancipate the rest of the country."

So it was while he was abroad that his daughter Isabel signed her country’s emancipation proclamation. Abolition was a popular cause in Brazil, and her subjects acclaimed Isabel as "the Redemptress" (A Redentora). Pope Leo XIII conferred on her the Golden Rose for her role in eradicating slavery from its last bastion in the Americas.

But her father "had been right to fear a backlash," writes Glaeser. "In the next year, a military coup, backed by oligarchs outraged by losing their human chattels," overthrew the monarchy.

Isabel wrote, on the day after the coup d’état that deposed her family, "If abolition is the cause for this, I don’t regret it; I consider it worth losing the throne for."

The former slavers were now in charge, but abolition proved to be irreversible, and over time, Brazilians began to integrate.

Half a century later, author Stefan Zweig — Ludwig von Mises’s Viennese contemporary — saw Isabel’s lost empire as a model for the rest of the world.

The "central problem that forces itself on each generation, and more than ever on ours," he wrote in 1941, "is the answer to the simplest and still most important question, namely: what can we do to make it possible for human beings to live peacefully together, despite all the differences of race, class, colour, religion, and creed?"

In Brazil: Land of the Future, Zweig wrote,

On the basis of its own ethnological structure, Brazil — had it adopted the European mania of nationality and race — would have become the most strife-torn, most disintegrated country on earth.…

But to one’s great surprise one soon realizes that all these different races visibly distinct by their colour alone live in fullest harmony with one another. And in spite of their different backgrounds they compete only in trying to discard their original peculiarities in order to become Brazilians as quickly as possible.

Zweig approvingly called Brazil’s social strategy "the principle of a free and unsuppressed miscegenation." In the United States, we call it the melting pot.

But if Zweig is right that Brazil’s model for the rest of the world is one of tolerance and general liberality, he may still be wrong about the flight from "original peculiarities." The racially mixed descendants of Confederate soldiers don’t seem to be discarding anything. They proudly commingle a diversity of backgrounds that many in the north would perceive as irreconcilable.

Today we can celebrate the anniversary of the demise of chattel slavery in our hemisphere. We also celebrate the divergent histories of the United States and Brazil — how differently freedom was achieved, and how amicably the descendants of Africa and Europe, by way of the American South and South America, can find common cause in beer and barbecue.

This article originally appeared on’s Anything Peaceful on May 13, 2015.

Does Michael Moore support the 2nd Amendment?

bowlingforcolumbine-michaelmoore2In the wake of the Baltimore riots and the latest charges of police violence against unarmed suspects, Oscar-winning filmmaker Michael Moore has called for disarming American cops, saying in his Twitter feed, “We have a 1/4 billion 2nd amendment guns in our homes 4 protection. We’ll survive til the right cops r hired.”

Is that an implicit endorsement of private individuals’ right to armed self-defense?

Probably not.

Moore, who became the darling of the gun-control movement in 2002 for the movie Bowling for Columbine, is an outspoken critic of the 2nd Amendment, saying that the Founders themselves would have excluded gun rights from the Constitution if they had known what firearms would become over the next two centuries:

If the Founding Fathers could have looked into a crystal ball and seen AK-47s and Glock semiautomatic pistols … I think they’d want to leave a little note behind and probably tell us, you know, that’s not really what we mean when we say “bear arms.”

It’s tempting, therefore, to dismiss Moore’s April 30th tweets as conscious hyperbole — perhaps confronting law-and-order types with the logic of their own support for gun ownership.

But if you look at the full set of Moore’s tweets on the subject, a consistent libertarian logic is evident:

  1. Government agents currently do more to endanger private citizens than they do to protect us.

  2. That oppression can only continue while the government holds a monopoly on armed violence.

  3. We need to shift the balance of power away from the state and back to the people.

Is that too much to read into one angry Twitter rant?

If Moore’s goal was to outrage the American public, he has certainly succeeded. Pro-police conservatives are jerking their knees at the far-left filmmaker’s provocations. But advocates of liberty can find at least a sliver of common cause with those who see the visible fist of government power in Baltimore and too many other American cities in recent months.

Many libertarians consider the police to be among the few legitimate roles for a night-watchman government; defense and security are necessary to protect the rights of individuals. But there is no question that the government’s most heavily armed agencies have grown well beyond the role of night watchmen, if that was ever really their function. And then there is the proliferation of armed agents to organizations like the Fisheries Office, NASA, the EPA, and the Department of Education.

As the sharing economy chips away at other cartels in our over-regulated economy, we need to accept that the police, too, need competition — and we have the opportunity right now to ally with many on the American left who are beginning to suspect the same thing.

When government agents hold a monopoly on the tools of violence, is it any wonder when they behave like a cartel? Privately owned firearms are part of the decentralized solution to both looting and the police violence that triggers the protests.

By allowing individuals to defend themselves, their homes, their businesses, and their communities from crime and rioting, they need not rely exclusively on police forces that may be ineffective or corrupt. (The famous defense of Koreatown by armed shop owners during the LA riots shows this principle at work.)

If you don’t recognize the right to armed self-defense in principle, you are either dogmatically opposed to private guns, or you think the question is pragmatic and that there is a calculus of trade-offs: which is more dangerous at the moment, armed citizens or a police monopoly?

Michael-Moore-and-the-2nd-AmendmentThere isn’t much say to dogmatists on the matter. But the question of practical trade-offs may resonate with those on the left who currently see the police less as protectors and more as a danger.

Would such an alliance evaporate as soon as our allies perceive themselves to be in power again? Probably. Moore doesn’t see the problem as permanent: “We’ll survive til the right cops r hired.”

But we have the opportunity right now to drive home the point that the government needs more than checks and balances within itself. The people must have the ability to defend themselves independently of the state, and that’s harder to do when the government has all the guns.

This article originally ran on’s Anything Peaceful.

keeping American Indians in the dark

AmericanIndianDarkYou know those satellite photos of North Korea at night, where all the surrounding countries are lit up, but the communist country is pitch black — except for a sprinkling of tiny lights in the government capital?

That black patch in the photos represents grinding poverty and near starvation for millions of people, suffering under the most market-hostile government in the world, but the bright area to the south shows that there is an alternative, a way out of the darkness.

The two Koreas are just one of history’s “natural experiments” in comparative economics. We can draw similar contrasts between East and West Germany or between Hong Kong and Mainland China.

“Such grand experiments of political economy would be magnificent,” writes economic historian Robert E. Wright, “were they not the root cause of untold human suffering.”

Unfortunately, Wright informs us, there’s a similar experiment taking place in America’s Great Plains — between the mostly white population of South Dakota and the American Indians still living on government-run reservations.

More than two Dakotas

South Dakota is, “by many measures,” says Wright, “the economically freest polity in North America, including all US and Mexican states and Canadian provinces.”

In 2013, CNBC’s annual survey America’s Top States for Business ranked South Dakota number one, adding,

South Dakota’s economy, while often overshadowed by its oil-booming neighbor to the north, finishes a solid sixth. State finances are strong, the housing market is recovering, and the unemployment rate is among the nation’s lowest.

But the Indians on South Dakota’s reservations aren’t experiencing anything like the economic progress of their non-native neighbors. They are “among the poorest of the nation’s poor.”

Cultural obstacles

Unlike history’s experiments in Asia and Europe, the two populations of South Dakota aren’t as geographically isolated from each other (Wright describes the geography as “‘checkerboarded,’ meaning that plots owned by natives and subject to tribal law intermingle with lands owned by non-natives”). Neither are they as culturally similar as are East and West Germans or North and South Koreans.

But while Wright acknowledges that some of the Indians’ economic obstacles may be cultural — “Like other poor people throughout the globe, many Lakota are perhaps too eager to help others and face tremendous social pressure to aid their ne’er-do-well relatives” — nevertheless, “cultural obstacles pale compared to the restrictions the Federal government imposes upon reservation Indians.”

Federal aid, which describes itself as “a forum for the discussion of political, social and economic issues affecting the indigenous peoples of the United States,” blames the Reagan administration for its “drastic reduction in federal assistance to Indian tribes,” arguing that the cuts seemed “intended to hinder their ability for economic development on the reservations.”

But Wright contends, citing economists William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo, “giving aid to poor peoples has never sparked economic development.”

“What does get economies moving,” he adds, “is freedom, something the Lakota haven’t enjoyed since well before the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890.”

Natural resources

The contrast between the natives and non-native populations of North Dakota may be even starker, but Wright focuses on South Dakota in order to avoid the common misconception that economic development is driven by abundant natural resources.

In 2013, North Dakota’s economy was growing five times faster than the rest of the nation, but much of that growth can be attributed to the energy boom from fracking. South Dakota, on the other hand, “has none of North Dakota’s fossil fuels, so it has to get by on the wits of its entrepreneurs.”

In fact, North Dakota’s abundant natural wealth may end up hurting that state’s economy in the long term, if history is a guide. Fareed Zakaria writes in The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad,

Wealth in natural resources hinders both political modernization and economic growth. Two Harvard economists, Jeffrey D. Sachs and Andrew M. Warner, looked at ninety-seven developing countries over two decades (1971– 89) and found that natural endowments were strongly correlated with economic failure. On average the richer a country was in mineral, agricultural, and fuel deposits, the slower its economy grew — think of Saudi Arabia or Nigeria. Countries with almost no resources — such as those in East Asia — grew the fastest.

Federal obstacles

If South Dakota’s economy doesn’t offer us as dramatic an example as West Germany, South Korea, or Hong Kong, that may be because the state government can only remove so many obstacles to entrepreneurship. More and more of the economic hurdles come from the federal government.

But despite Washington DC’s growing “regulations and red tape that increase the cost of doing business in our state and beyond,” as South Dakota’s Senator John Thune wrote in 2012, federal authority in most of the state isn’t nearly as great as it is on the reservations, and it’s the federal government that Wright ultimately blames for the plight of South Dakota’s Indians:

Lamentably, few Indians in the Dakotas hold clear title to any real estate. Due to past Federal policies, most own only small fractions of land in partnership with hundreds of others. … Traditional lenders understandably want nothing to do with such complexities and until recently natives have found starting their own financial institutions daunting if not impossible. . . .

More importantly, no Native American can trust the Federal government or its self-serving Bureau of Indian Affairs. Indian entrepreneurs, who are increasingly numerous, keep their operations small because they believe, rightly, that the government may not respect their property rights should they prove too successful. Reservation land remains subject to seizure and exclusive economic privileges, like casino gambling rights, have already been eroded in some states.

NKlightsThe natural course

If Native Americans are ever to emerge from systemic poverty, it will not be from federal aid, from “five-year plans,” from striking oil, or even from casinos. They will find prosperity on the path already taken by South Korea, West Germany, and Hong Kong — a path charted already in 1755 by Adam Smith:

Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.

And no person or group will need their “affairs” managed by a federal bureau to follow it.

This article originally appeared as “Keeping Native Americans in the Dark” at’s Anything Peaceful.