Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Three Stages of Government and Law

Here's a new and brilliant idea. Governments start out as lawless rebels; then they change the rules to suit themselves. Finally, they find that the rules they set up don't work any more, so they start to break their own rules.

Stage One: Outraged citizens decide they can't take it any more and combine to form a head of rebellion.

Stage Two: Victorious revolutionaries rewrite the law to make their kind of justice legal.

Stage Three: Ageing dynasty starts to cut corners as its popularity and influence starts to decline.

You know what this is all about. The Obama Age of Lawlessness illustrates the point perfectly. Right now, liberals are in such a pickle that they are reduced to lawlessness.

Liberals wrote the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in Congress, but they could only pass it by cheating. Then, once the bill became law, President Obama started violating its provisions, because the Act wouldn't work as written. Then liberals got so scared by the Tea Party that they sicced the IRS on the Tea Party. Without an election to fight the president has tried to implement immigration amnesty by executive action. Now it's reported that he'd like to increase taxes by executive action.

And liberals are fine with all that. So we know that the liberal

Actually, the trajectory of the liberal dynasty hasn't quite followed the three-stage script. Their "revolution" was the Progressive Era when they got to rewrite the constitution for direct election of senators and the income tax without actually taking to the streets. All done by the book. They took the US off the gold standard. All by the book. And then they dominated politics for most the the last century and built up the welfare state. All by the book.

But now they are running out of other peoples' money and other peoples' votes, and they need to take short cuts in order to live from paycheck to paycheck.

In my view, the only reason that governments ever obey the law is to avoid pissing people off. When people get pissed off they start muttering about revolution, so a prudent government abides by its own rules.

But when ruling dynasties get into trouble, that's when they start cutting corners. They have to, because they can't get what they want by following the law. That's when they start pissing people off.

That's good news. Liberals are in trouble and they are starting to cut corners, and that will piss a lot of Americans off.

So for conservatives, we should be in Stage One, where the disaffected start to form a head of rebellion and refuse to obey the unjust laws of the failing dynasty.

Do we really have the stomach for that? Or will we just sit around just talking about rebellion, like the Republic of Texas, and let the state's police come in and take all our cellphones from us with nary a whimper?

In the best of all possible worlds revolution wouldn't be necessary because the pissed off voters would get to vote for a new political dynasty without the blood and guts of a real revolution.

I wonder what will happen this time around.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Real Challenge for 2017

Linked today on RealClearPolitics.com is Russ Smith, once "Mugger," on Scott Walker and the Republican candidates for president. He writes that
not a single candidate has articulated a coherent strategy to resuscitate the United States once Barack Obama’s tenure mercifully ends.
Then he notes that Scott Walker is pretty light on foreign policy.

I think that's baloney. I think that it's pretty clear what is needed to "resuscitate" America in 2017. The big question is how.

By that I mean that it's pretty obvious that we need honest money, budget cuts, an honest Obamacare that puts the subsidies into the federal budget and leaves the rest of the health insurance market alone. It's pretty obvious that we need a generational cleansing of the income tax code and a start on entitlement reform. It's pretty obvious that we need to reformulate our strategy vis-a-vis Islamic radicalism that stops short of occupying the Middle East. We need to draw a line on immigration somewhere between the people that want to send all the illegal immigrants home and the open-borders folks that want to register as many new Democratic voters as soon as possible.

The problem is that we conservatives don't want to do this the liberals did it, by ramming everything from Obamacare to gay marriage down our throats either by partisan cramdowns or by Salem-style witch-hunts. We want to reform America with bipartisan bills that represent a rough consensus of the American people. We want to observe the Moynihan rule, that you want to pass important reforms by 70-30 votes in the US Senate. Otherwise we have done nothing except stir the pot and create opponents to our programs.

Do we want to reverse all the Obama executive orders on January 20, 2017? Should we cram down a reform of the independent regulatory agencies so that the FCC Obamanet decision can never be repeated? Should we reverse Obamacare with a partisan vote without bothering to get a single Democratic vote? I don't think so. Because then we have licensed Democrats to do the same to us in eight years.

One of the reasons I don't want to shove conservative victories in liberal faces is the grim message of René Girard's notion of mimetic rivalry. His theory may not explain everything, but it does illuminate pretty well the tit-for-tat folly of excessive partisanship. Full-on partisanship doesn't achieve lasting reforms and social consensus. It just inflames passions and raises the stakes, as the presidency of Barack Obama has done.

The problem is, of course, that Gramscian strategies of a march through the institutions, the Alinsky tactics of constant street action and deliberate humiliation of the opposition, the grievance ideology of the left-wing academy, all these left-wing notions are innocent of the idea that we humans are social animals not soldier ants. They completely miss the point that the point of politics is to damp down differences before they escalate to civil war. It is one thing to rail against the Man when you are outsiders battling the system. It is another thing to continue such "outsider" tactics when you own the culture and the elite institutions as liberals do.

But how can we communicate to liberals the danger in their tactics? How can we implement a program of conservative reform by co-opting liberal fence-sitters instead of ignoring them?

Chances are that in 2017 Republicans will have a Republican president and decent majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time since the 1920s. But it's not enough to have the power. The challenge is to persuade your adversaries, not just roll over them.

And that is the real challenge of 2017.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Net Neutrality: Liberals Ignore Settled Science on Regulation

John Fund writes that George Soros and the Ford Foundation have spent about $196 million funding the "net neutrality" campaign. And the long-term goal is control of internet content -- and funding public news organizations.

And now they have got what they wanted, with the Federal Communications Commission decision to regulate the internet as a public utility.

The price of moving data across the Internet has been falling by about 30 percent per year, according to the Wall Street Journal edit page.
That isn't good enough for the likes of Netflix, which now generates more than a third of all Internet traffic, and other major bandwidth users that are the chief lobbyists for the new FCC rules. Netflix doesn't detail its spending on Internet transport, though a telecom source estimates Netflix spends less than a penny for every movie it sends to a customer. 
Now, for some reason all our liberal friends are worked up about "net neutrality" and the evil bandwidth barons like AT&T and Comcast. Don't they know about the settled science? That the regulators always end up being captured by the interests they regulate? Are they determined to deny the fact that the price system almost always guarantees a more just distribution of resources than government?

Yeah. Like maybe Netflix and its customers should actually pay for hogging one third of Internet bandwidth. Hey, maybe a big greedy corporation like Netflix with its sky-high market valuation could afford to pay $0.02 per movie downloaded. Whatever.

But that's not the point. Nobody knows what Netflix should pay for bandwidth: that's what the price system is for. People compete for the use of a scarce resource by paying for it. If your customers can't afford to pay for the resource at market prices maybe that is an indication that your business plan has a flaw in it. The price system is much better and much more just than getting Congress to vote you a subsidy or cuddling up to a regulator. Or getting the president to bully the Federal Communications Commission into giving you free stuff.

Really, sometimes you have to wonder. Are liberals and their activist lefty pals really as educated and evolved as they claim?

I suppose that the liberal universe is divided, as Steven F. Hayward writes of the university, between its educated wing that believes in tenure and government by experts and its activist wing that believes in grievance and government by activists. Nowhere in these two world views is there space for the idea that maybe the experts and the activists should bug out and leave people to settle their differences without the option of going nuclear by calling in the strategic air command of big government.

The way to understand President Obama and his actions is to simply understand that he represents the Democratic Party coalition. The "over" part of the coalition wants to save the planet from global warming and legislate liberal morality and put everything in America, e.g. the Internet, under the supervision of liberals. The "under" part of the coalition just wants free stuff. Hey! That's what Obama delivers! Does he know his base, or what?

But if you are in the middle, neither over or under, you have to be feeling by November 2016 that Obama's America is not your America, and that it's time for a change.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gov. "Stay-on-message" Walker and America's Worries

Hey, how about that Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)? He's just penned an op-ed for USAToday. And he says that he's concerned about the problems of average citizens, not about the religion of a man he doesn't know.

It all makes me wonder if Rudi Giuliani was actually supposed to talk about the president's lack of love for America at the Walker get-acquainted session. Just to plunk Gov. Walker down in front of the target acquisition radar of the mainstream media.

Let's get down Gov. Walker's talking points, the things that he says the average people he meets are worrying about. To me, they scream "strategy" and signal what sort of a campaign he is planning to run. Here's what people are worrying about.

Worries about their children finding a job after college. Yeah. Interesting that Gov. Walker puts that at #1. I was talking with a neighbor whose daughter is just back from school with an Environmental Science degree. She's working as a waitress.

Worries about terror and ISIS. I tend to think that terror and ISIS are a bit overblown. The trouble is that there is ISIS video all over the TV news to make it look like the supposed JV guys are taking over the world.

Worries about getting back to their 2007 paycheck.  "I hear from people who lost their jobs and are back in the workforce but who still have not quite made it back to where they were before the recession — and they wonder when, or if, they'll ever get there." I'll say.

Here's how Gov. Walker sums up before he gets down to the media and the double standard:
Across party lines and state lines, Americans want America to be secure and prosperous again. And they're looking for leaders who can focus on that goal and who will get results.
I expect that this op-ed tells us everything we need to know about Gov. Walker and his campaign. He will focus on the worries people have about themselves, worries they have about their children, and worries they have about the nation. He will address how he will make America secure and how he will make it prosperous, for us and for our children.

When you think about it, that just about covers everything a politician should address when running for office.

One thing I suspect that Gov. Walker will not address: Fundamental Transformation.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

NYT Crows Over Net-Neutrality Victory

It looks like President Obama is going to win his effort to fold the internet into the government. The smaller internet content providers have mobilized an army of activists to flood the zone at the Federal Communications Commission and it looks like Republicans are throwing in the towel on opposing the president. Here's how Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times describes it:
A swarm of small players, like Tumblr, Etsy, BoingBoing and Reddit, overwhelmed the giants of the broadband world, Comcast, Verizon Communications and Time Warner Cable. Two of the biggest players on the Internet, Amazon and Google, largely stayed in the background, while smaller participants — some household names like Twitter and Netflix, others far more obscure, like Chess.com and Urban Dictionary — mobilized a grass-roots crusade.
The issue (supposedly) is whether the bandwidth providers can charge content providers for getting a "fast lane" on the Internet and whether the bandwidth providers can "throttle" content providers that don't want to pay.

At the center of the issue are the content streamers like Netflix, which is said to use up to 1/3 of bandwidth with its movie streaming. Should Netflix pay to get the bandwidth it needs to stream without glitches? Should the government decide that or the market?

The deciding factor, apparently, has been the Millennials.
“We don’t have an army of lobbyists to deploy. We don’t have financial resources to throw around,” said Liba Rubenstein, director of social impact and public policy at the social media company Tumblr, which is owned by Yahoo, the large Internet company, but operated independently on the issue. “What we do have is access to an incredibly engaged, incredibly passionate user base, and we can give folks the tools to respond.”
So here is the first entry of the Millennials into national politics. And what do they want? They want free stuff: uninterrupted streaming of their movie and video downloading. And they want to screw the evil bandwidth providers to whom they have to pay monthly payments.

In health care we have the evil insurance companies; in the internet we have the evil bandwidth providers.

Well, Millennials, you may not like it when you get what you ask for. Because you are licensing the government to start monkeying around with bandwidth and content providers, and don't doubt that ObamaNet will turn out like ObamaCare.

Oh yeah. Remember Obamacare? That was Obama promising you can keep your health plan and your doctor and it would all cost less. Only what actually happened was that Obama bought the support of the insurance companies and the drug companies with your money, and you can't keep your doctor or your health plan and premiums and deductibles have gone up.

Don't doubt that the same thing will happen with ObamaNet. Because that's how politics works. It's not about helping people. It's about fighting over the loot. And the corporations and insiders have more money and more access than you do.

Let's close with a quote from Milton Friedman: "The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem."

But our Millennial friends will have to find that out the hard way.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Want a "Live-and-let-Live" President

A little while ago I wrote a piece for the American Thinker titled "I Want a President That Loves America." Then came Rudi Giuliani and his right-to-the-point jab at President Obama about the president's love of America.

Of course Obama doesn't love America. No liberal loves America; they know better than that. They are, to coin a phrase, on a high horse about America. They think that nation states like America ought to be replaced by multinational entities -- like the EU and the UN. They deplore "nationalism," knowing that deploring "patriotism" would get them into trouble.

But loving America is so yesterday. Now I want something more. I want a president that believes in a "live-and-let-live" America. Let me tell you what I mean (H/T Vox Day).

A while ago back down the Yellow Brick Road, according to the London Guardian, a couple of techies, Hank and Alex, were sitting at a tech conference and swapping dongle jokes when the young woman in front of them got up and took a photo of them. Pretty soon the photo was on Twitter:
They found a tweet from a woman, called Adria Richards, with a photo of them: “Not cool. Jokes about forking repo’s in a sexual way and ‘big’ dongles. Right behind me #pycon”.
One thing led to another and pretty soon Hank had been fired from his job. But that's not the end of the story.
That night, Hank made his only public statement. He posted a short message on the discussion board Hacker News: “Hi, I’m the guy who made a comment about big dongles. First of all I’d like to say I’m sorry. I really did not mean to offend anyone and I really do regret the comment and how it made Adria feel. She had every right to report me to staff, and I defend her position. [But] as a result of the picture she took I was let go from my job today. Which sucks because I have three kids and I really liked that job. She gave me no warning, she smiled while she snapped the pic and sealed my fate.”
That's not the end of the story either. A bunch of guys on Hacker News decided to take Adria Richards out, and they did. Pretty soon they had got her fired. Did you know that Adria Richards is a black Jewish female?

Hey fellahs and social justice warriors! How about an America where we live and let live? How about we tell someone to their face that we are offended by their locker-room talk instead of taking our taking offense to the entire world?

Of course, we all know that this is impossible for the Left. The whole point of the Left, starting in the French Revolution, is the taking of offense, turning the personal into the political, transforming the normal frictions of life in the modern world into political issues, and getting the government involved.

We know that liberals really hate it when they are on the receiving end of the political. Liberals hated Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority. They hate government getting into the bedroom. They were practically paranoid that the openly religious George W. Bush was setting up a "theocracy." And liberals froth at the mouth when denouncing the injustice of "legislating morality."

Liberals want to be free of the demands of conventional morality. So why don't they reciprocate, and allow conservatives and others the freedom to dissent from their "social justice" morality? (I know: they wouldn't understand.)

The whole point of the modern constitutional state is to put a space between law and morality, to permit freedom of religion, meaning a diversity in ways of worshipping God or in liberal-speak addressing the ultimate questions and meanings. The whole point of the Left since the French Revolution is to collapse the separation of powers into a single political power that some people have called "totalitarian."

We see this, incidentally, in President Obama's "phone and pen" governance where he pushes the administrative power of the presidency to the utmost, as in the executive order on immigration, as in his administration's pushing of the Federal Communications Commission to implement "net neutrality" by administrative fiat rather than by congressional legislation.

We see it in all the works of modern government. It can't just let parents educate their own children according to their lights; it has to corral children into government child-custodial facilities. It can't just let people make their own arrangements for health care; it has to bully them into buying a government-approved health plan. It can't just leave people to save money for retirement; it has to bully them into a government retirement plan.

The thing is that when you decide that it's OK to bully parents over education, or bully nerds exchanging sophomoric dongle jokes, or implement a culture of "taking offense" or define society as composed of the oppressors, the oppressed, and the champions of the oppressed, you'd better think a couple of moves ahead and figure out how people on the other side will respond to your actions.

The history of warfare is full of new tactics that completely confused and demoralized the opposition -- until the opposition figured out how to counter and defeat them.

The idea of live and let live is that it's better not to start offensive operations; you never know where they may end up. The best thing to do is to  solve your problem right here and right now. Most people are pretty decent and don't want to offend or hurt other people. Government ought to concentrate on the people that don't respond to a quiet word and to be hit on the head with a two-by-four before they will pay attention.

Hmm. I guess we might as well haul in René Girard and his idea of mimetic rivalry. The natural thing to do is for humans to escalate rivalries and conflict higher and higher. Until the whole thing gets out of hand and finally solved when the whole community turns upon a scapegoat and expels the scapegoat from the community.

In my view President Obama, with his Alinksy community organizer tactics, his Obamacare cramdown, with his executive orders à outrance, with his encouragement of "Our Loud, Proud Left," with his Obamanet "net neutrality" is stoking a mimetic rivalry between right and left that can only end in tragedy. In my view the whole point of the separation of powers, of the separation of church and state, of the civil society between the individual and the state, of the live and let live idea, is to neutralize mimetic rivalry and its escalation of conflict into open violence.

But I have a faith that the American people will stop this escalation by electing a bland live-and-let-live president in 2016 that will find a way to send the left's Offense Brigades back to their barracks where they can harmlessly squabble with each other without damaging the body politic.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Should We "Do Something" About ISIS?

The political war of words about defining the enemy with regard to ISIS and Islamic extremism is a necessary conflict. We need to understand what ISIS and radical Islam means to us, and what we should do about it, if anything.

The first thing to understand is that President Obama and the West's center-left oligarchy are in a bit of a bind. The reason that Obama (and Bush) wanted to talk about "violent extremism" is that they want to avoid facing the fact that Islam is a pre-modern religion. The notion of "jihad" is an appropriate ideology for the pre-industrial society when land was life and wealth. You need to defend your food-growing territory, and maybe expand it, because the more good land, the more of your people can live.

But the modern industrial world isn't like that. Wealth in the modern world is not in land, but in people and knowledge. The fundamental transformation of the modern world, to coin a phrase, is that you increase wealth through surprise and innovation in the exploitation of the world and its knowledge secrets. The rise of the West coincided with its invention and adoption of a global exchange economy where people do not conquer and plunder but produce and exchange.

On this view, the colonialism of the West was not so much conquest and plunder as producing and trading.

This revolution in what Marx calls "productive forces" demands a revolution in politics and culture. The rich nations of the world are the ones that have submitted most completely to the demands of the new productive forces and adapted their politics and culture to the new reality on the ground.

Right now we are in the climactic phase of this revolution as the two great ancient cultures and population centers, India and China, have recently capitulated to the new reality and are soaring in wealth and prosperity.

Put simply, India and China are submitting to the global exchange economy and the rule of the market. The rule of the market means that everyone, every single human, submits to the invisible hand of the market, and works to provide products and services that other people are willing to pay for. Government, on this view, is there to provide the legal infrastructure and defend honest producers, traders, and consumers from force and fraud.

Submission is not easy; we have seen movements of rejection all the way. The fact is that people doing fine under the old regime don't want to change, and people exploited under the old system find the experience of adapting to the new culture of work and cooperation unbearable.

Under the old regime, ordinary people were serfs and peasants and they needed to live under protection of a great patron, the local lord, the local landowner, the local cacique. When these ordinary people arrive in the city they look for a new patron, and they find it in the proto-states run by city machine politicians and national social-democratic parties where they can relate to political power in the way they were used to back on the farm.

The language that the machine politicians and social democrats use is the language that the president and his officials used at the White House Summit on Violent Extremism held in February 2015. The Obamis talked about marginalized people suffering from deprivation and lack of jobs. What was needed was the usual social democratic recipe of patronage and clientism.

Conservatives say that this misses the point. The problem is that the people of the Middle East have not made the cultural journey to life in the global exchange economy. They are still tribal; they still marry cousins; they lack a thriving exchange economy run on the principle that every stranger can be trusted unless he demonstrates untrustworthiness.

Now the problem with ISIS and the turmoil in the Middle East is basically cultural. The people of the Middle East feel trapped and marginalized by the economic success they see all round them. They need to develop, under wise leadership, a version of the culture of trust and cooperation that the other peoples of the world have painfully learned over the last five centuries of economic and cultural revolution.

Right now we are seeing a panic over ISIS and its remarkable propaganda which represents itself as an unstoppable force that will flow over the Middle East and elsewhere. There is a palpable sense that we should "do something."

But we can also see that Bush's Iraq strategy of going in an taking out Saddam-like thugs is of limited use, because it imposes a political solution from above on societies that are still pre-modern. The people of the Middle East must themselves find a cultural and religious model that gives meaning to their own cultural revolution from tribe and blood to trust and cooperation.

In the prosperous West this cultural revolution involved the growth of an ideology of responsible individualism, typically associated with the Protestant Revolution.  People began to see themselves as responsible for their lives, and stopped relying on powerful patrons to provide for them. Notoriously, people like the Mayflower Pilgrims decided they couldn't take the old ways any more and sailed to America to make a new life in the new way.

Egypt's president Al-Sisi has tried to begin the process for Egypt by issuing a challenge to its cultural leaders.
"We have reached the point that Muslims have antagonized the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] want to kill the rest of the world’s population of 7 billion, so that Muslims prosper? This is not possible.” Sisi continued, to faint applause from the religious dignitaries assembled before him, to call on them to bring about a “religious revolution.” Barring that, the Muslim community “is being torn apart, destroyed, and is going to hell.”
 But of course, it is not the job of a politician to tell imams what to think and do, any more than in the US it is the job of the president to issue marching orders to the nation's churches. Politicians pick up what the cultural world creates and adapt it to the demands of political power. Right now the cultural leaders of the Middle East are caught up in the cultural aftermath of Sayed Qutb, who went to Colorado in the late 1940s and was horrified.

In the West we have the illusion that cultural change can be and ought to be conducted without heartache and without violence. This, of course, is rubbish. There will be turmoil in the Middle East for a century and more, and there will be blood.

The question for the West is whether we should "do something" about the Middle East, and if so, what that "doing something" should be.

Don't expect any brilliant solutions any time soon.