Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Meg and Rodrigo: I Would You Would Accept of Grace and Love

Of course I get the point, Rodrigo Kazuo and Meg Perret. Your op-ed "Occupy the syllabus" in The Daily Californian was designed as a performance in the politics of "taking offense." It is a model of its kind, almost perfectly constructed and executed. The outrage, the injustice, the offense! That two such as you, multiracial differently gendered students should be subjected to non-stop recitations about dead white males without balancing narratives from non-whites: it is insupportable.

So you call for an "occupation of syllabi." So you wish to oppose the violence of western civilization with a new violence. You want to forcibly replace the old oppressive syllabi with a new liberated  syllabus. That means, of course, that you will have blood on your hands, because government is force, and politics is civil war by other means. And when politics wins its war of the streets it imposes its will. By force. It must be so, because government is force.

I'm sure that you have never thought beyond the idea of "peaceful protest". I've noticed, over the years, that my lefty friends seem more and more to gravitate towards euphemisms in their discourse that rather elide the irreducibly violent nature of all "activism" and politics.

Thus "street riot" becomes "demonstration" becomes "peaceful protest." But it is still a show of force.

If you really believe that your grievances are so deep that violence is the only recourse, then go ahead: occupy the syllabi. Name and shame; conduct your campaign of intimidation and domination. Impose your ideology and stamp out all the evil patriarchs and neo-colonialists. We will meet at the barricades.

But if you think that the solution to our problems can be achieved short of bloody violence, then I beg you to accept of grace and love, and stop before you cross the Rubicon into the wilderness of mirrors that is the world of left-wing activism beyond the windows of the university hot-house. Start to talk to people outside the walls of your cramped left-wing seminary.

I admit that for you, Meg, it is probably too late. You seem to be deep in the secular religion of gender, and probably confirmed in the faith. But you, Rodrigo, appear from Google to be an artist more than an activist. For you it is not too late.

One thing disturbed me in the list of dead white males that you recited in your manifesto of offense, apart from the omission of Immanuel Kant. You didn't mention the social theorists Horkheimer and Adorno. They represent, for me, a point of inflection in left-wing thought. They proposed, in their Dialectic of Enlightenment, that the problem of domination starts with reason and enlightenment, for what does woman want from reason but to dominate nature and other women?

Has it occurred to you that you want to dominate the culture at Berkeley and impose your ideas upon it, just as white males dominated the world from about 1500 until now?

From Horkeimer and Adorno we get to the left-wing sociologist and philosopher J├╝rgen Habermas. He realizes that all social systems, governmental and economics, are dominatory. It all ends in one person or a group of people imposing their way on others. The only way to get out of this, in Habermas' mind, is to enter into genuine discourse where two or more people are genuinely trying to understand the other's point of view and try to come to a common understanding.

Have you seen the research on this? It says that if you put a bunch of Americans into ta room to solve a problem -- without politicians -- they will do so, usually in a way that gives everyone a piece of the solution. But you are already politicians; so it wouldn't do any good to put you guys into the room. You have already learned the tricks and the games of politicians, and how to manipulate other people into serving a political movement rather than acting as free and cooperative citizens.

I am afraid I do not understand how your agenda of the occupation of syllabi can be achieved by cooperation and non-violence. I can only hear the crack of the overseer's cowskin whip and feel the cold frown of the reeducation camp's commandant. For me, you are replacing one evil with another. I do not call that liberation; I do not call it emancipation. I call it revanchism, back to the totalitarianisms of the 20th century.

I want to close with this recent thought from a Chinese man.  Where does it come from? You could look it up.
At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
How far is each of you from beginning to be able to understand what that Chinese man was talking about? You'd certainly need to learn a lot more about the world than the pearls of wisdom cast from a brief introductory course in Classical Social Theory. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

What Women Want: To Talk It Over

Back in the dim mists of time some wag asked: "What do women want?" More formally, the German sociologist George Simmel predicted that in the 20th century women would begin to impress their views upon the culture. As I wrote back in 2008:
Simmel understood that in the short term the public sphere for women would be defined by the rules “created by men and for men” but that eventually women would transform the public square to suit “a more feminine sensibility.”
But what is a more feminine sensibility? I think we are now clearly finding out.

And what is it that we are now finding out? It is that women like to talk things over. In fact they demand to talk things over. You see it in the therapy culture. You see it in conservative women; you see it in liberal women.

You can see how it operates with liberals. The whole "rape culture" panic seems to be structured around a system for a college woman that hs had an unpleasant sexual experience to talk about it with a university bureaucrat. From my perusal of the literature, it appears that college girls that have been dumped want the opportunity to tell their dumper how badly he has treated them. And they like the idea of having a college bureaucrat, with whom they have discussed the whole matter, there by their side to impress upon the crude male dumper how mean and cruel he has been.

But the same thing applies with conservatives. Here is National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez writing about young women suffering crisis pregnancies. It's all about making sure that a woman never feels alone, that she always has someone to talk to.
Anne Koehl, a nurse who runs the Women’s Care Center in Fort Wayne, Ind., told me during a recent visit how when a woman seeking an abortion walks through the doors of her clinic, she listens and lets the woman make clear her needs, and she works to meet them. That’s her agenda — “the woman’s agenda.” It means loving the woman, letting her know she’s there to offer help, whether that help is diapers or mentoring — whatever she needs to make life go on.
This is obviously a world away from the male approach, which could probably be characterized by the bark of the drill instructor: "Get with the program, Jenkins!" To women, this is marvellous, as it was to the mother that described to me her amazement at the eagerness with which her son and his team-mates adapted to the discipline meted out by his Little League coach.

The great challenge to men in this modern age is that our male culture is not a culture of talk, it is a culture of action. We are facing the challenge that the more that women emerge into the public square the more they will change institutions from an action orientation to a discussion orientation.

No doubt there are many situations in this life that need discussion. There are others that need action. The challenge for our society is to let women dominate those areas that need discussion and for men to dominate those areas that need action.

No doubt, in the end, men and women will work all this out sensibly and instinctively, self-selecting into areas that suit their particular sensibilities.

Just don't look for any sense coming out of the political arena.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Shrinking Middle Class: What To Do?

Liberal Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post is delighted. Finally, after 35 years of inaction -- since the Reagan recession of 1980-82 -- someone is doing something about the hole in the middle class. Here's the problem:
A gap between productivity gains and average family income — which didn’t exist in the three decades following World War II — opened in the 1970s and has only widened since.
After 30 years of inaction here comes President Obama with a solution.
This time, he had a concrete proposal to diminish the shift from income derived from work to income derived from investment — by raising the tax on capital gains and using the income to provide a tax credit to help working parents pay for child care. 
I guess what makes me dispirited about an opinion like this is the thought that Mr. Meyerson really believes it. By taking away money from capitalists and giving it away in a tax credit  he thinks we are really going to be able to boost middle class incomes. Where has he been?

Does he not get that taking money away from the capitalists and giving it away is exactly what Lenin did in Russia, exactly what the Castro Brothers did in Cuba, exactly what Chavez and now Maduro have been doing in Venezuela?

OK, let's admit that there are two narratives to account for the modern era.

One narrative is that the surprises of several economic revolutions have showered wealth upon all the people of the world, but disproportionately more wealth upon those communities that let capitalists get stinking rich.

The other narrative is that the benefits of economic production in the last two centuries only got shared because compassionate liberals forced the capitalists to share it out. You can see which side Harold Meyerson is on.

The president's new initiative is really cool, he writes:
Democrats have long sought to represent the interests of both business and labor... They’re the party that rewards work, that seeks to increase labor income even if — and you’d better believe they’ve polled on this — it means taking a bite out of capital income.
Hey, it might even win them back some of the white working class vote, he says. Yay!

OK. Here's my counterblast. (Aside from the fact that, given the swingeing taxes on business and labor, especially payroll taxes on labor collected by business, I'd say that Democrats are strongly opposed to both business and labor.)

The hollowing out in labor income since 1980, sez I, came from a number of secular trends and government policies. Let's list them, in no particular order.

  • Labor income in the immediate post-WWII years artificially boosted by labor unions. After 1980, labor income reverted to the mean, as unionized companies went broke.
  • Great Society programs that made it easier for people not to work, and imposed extremely high marginal tax rates on low-skilled workers trying to get off welfare.
  • Entry of women into the workforce. More workers competing for jobs equals lower wages.
  • Increased economic regulation.
  • Staggering capital gains from the electronic, computer, and internet revolutions, that boosted capital income.
  • Cheap money, which usually screws mom-and-pop savers.
  • "Affordable housing" policy which has wiped out minority homeowners that got mortgages they couldn't afford.
Really, Harold Meyerson and I couldn't be further apart on this. For instance, I think that the current policy across the west of Zero Interest Rate Policy and Quantitative Easing is a clear sign that redistribution is failing. It is telling us that entrepreneurs and capitalists aren't investing enough in new jobs, so government has to pile on and help them by artificially lowering the interest rate. But Meyerson wants to reduce the return on capital with new taxes.

Look. Right now in the United States the governments are spending about $1 trillion a year on government pensions, $1 trillion a year in government health care, $1 trillion a year on government education, and $0.5 trillion a year on welfare. That's according to usgovernmentspending.com. All this money is straight-up redistribution.

So are we saying that $3.5 trillion a year in straight-up redistribution is not enough?

We are talking about $3.5 trillion in benefits that people don't have to work for. So no wonder the middle class doesn't work as hard as it might. And really, Harold Meyerson thinks that some fiddling with the capital gains tax and middle-class tax relief is going to fix the hollowing out of the middle class?

I tell you what scares me. Imagine what the economy would look like without the extraordinary wealth from electronics, computers, and the internet. And imagine the slashing articles Harold Meyerson would be writing to call for more redistribution from the greedy capitalists to the helpless middle class.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Harvey Mansfield on Democrats

The chaps at the Manhattan Institute have signed up conservative Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield to write a two-parter on our national political parties. Mansfield starts with the Democrats in "Our Parties, Part One."

This creates a good opportunity for me to match my rather wild and crazy ideas against a man who is rather less wild and crazy, if still conservative.

Mansfield begins by noting that the Democrats are increasingly liberal, and think of themselves as progressive, while the Republicans are increasingly conservative. The two parties and the two philosophies face themselves as opponents. The parties and their philosophies are how we divide ourselves.

So, for Mansfield, our politics reduces into progress, for and against. Liberals and Democrats are for progress, and conservatives and Republicans are against it.
On progress, an interesting problem appears in the facts of American politics: on the one hand, progressives keep gaining their point, the latest one being the growing success of same-sex marriage; on the other hand, their opponents keep resisting progress, own half the electorate, and win half the elections.
That's why liberals are so enraged by conservatives: they don't understand why "reactionaries" continue to oppose them. Perhaps there is something "permanent in the nature of politics about resistance to progress that sustains conservatives".

Actually, I don't agree that liberals are progressives and conservatives are reactionaries. I believe the opposite is true.

For liberals progress is progress towards equality, and there are always "fresh inequalities requiring reform." Since conservatism is a critique of liberalism, that puts conservatives in a tricky position. But where will equality find an end? That is what is implied in the notion of progress, yet progress never seems to know where that end might be.

But liberals are also all in favor of democracy, and therein lies a problem.
The idea of progress is caught between democratic majority rule, which often sanctions inequality and requires stable institutions, and its own formless drive toward ever-increasing equality. 
But what happens if the majority votes for inequality? Marx calls that "false consciousness". What about liberals?

The fact is, according to Mansfield, that progress gets liberals in a complete tangle. They say that they are in favor of progress and reason and science, but what does science tell us about equality? What do its experts tell us? And anyway, liberals have moved away from reason, calling it "anti-foundational," so liberalism has become relativistic, except where its own foundational beliefs are concerned.

Liberals use science to justify their government by experts --  which goes against the grain of the expertise of the generation of Adam Smith -- and in due course the experts like Lord Keynes said that bigger government was better, reversing the early idea of progress that bourgeois morality and government frugality was better.

With economics enlisted in the cause of progress it wasn't long before social sciences like psychology and sociology joined the cause, casting the poor as vulnerable, transforming politics into the care and feeding of the vulnerable and overstressed. In any case, progressive politics is designed to be irreversible. Politics becomes the common good of entitled benefits rather than "sharing and cooperating in a common life." This makes life less social, creating a "kiudgeocracy," a "clumsy, complex, incoherent means of administering law" that are minimally effective but maximally clumsy.

Mansfield thinks that "In sum, progressive government is increasingly responsible for our lives and will increasingly be held to account by a generally ungrateful citizenry", because we take its benefits for granted but complain loudly when it fails us. And the problem is that the entitlements are based on borrowing, and the costs have been consistently hidden from the beneficiaries.

The point is that the notion of progress has contradicted itself. It said it was a rule of reason to banish unreason and superstition, but now it has lost faith in itself by failing to say what its progress consists in.

Mansfield's hope is that "multicultural, entitled progress" is not the only progress America has known. There is the only progress of the founding, that "made a place for virtue and was accompanied by virtue."

My problem with all this is that it gives liberals too much credit. I don't concede that the liberals have a coherent world view. I go straight to the postmodern idea that all political thought is a narrative for power. The point about "progress" is that it demands government action. The point about "inequality" is that it requires government action. And look, here we are, the progressives, ready, willing and able to deploy the power of government to deliver on progress, on inequality, on whatever. The genius of Marx was to set all this in motion with the idea that we needed to overthrow the bourgeoisie in bloody revolution, because exploitation.

I am saying that all the talk about progress and science and equality is merely an apology for power. There must be a need for government power, otherwise there is no need for a progressive educated elite, and there is also no need for battalions of scientists and activists and bureaucrats. There must be entitlements and free education and free school lunches and tax cuts for the middle class because that is how every ruling class looks after its supporters. The reason that Harvey Mansfield finds the progressive doctrine incoherent is that the idea of progress, of reason, of science, is not supposed to fit into any coherent world view. It is all just meant to justify the deployment of government power on behalf of the progressive ruling class. That is all.

And I contest the idea that progress is progress. The one coherent thing about the Marxists, the Fabians, the Progressives, the Social Democrats, the liberals, is that they are not looking to the future; they want to return to a nostalgic past, the past of primitive communism, the past of feudal paternalism, the past of proper and permanent hierarchy.

The one consistent thing about the left is this. It has always traded on the fear of the modern world and its requirement that every man submit to the will of the market, that every citizen become a responsible individual that lives to serve others that he may serve himself.

To understand the modern world we have to start from this truth, that the modern world, for all its wealth and comforts, is in reality terrifying. It sets everyone to work. It puts everyone at the mercy of the market. It forces everyone to subordinate his prosperity to the needs of others. No wonder that the story of the last 200 years has been one lefty reaction after another that seeks to promise a frightened populace that it will lead it to safety under the wing of big government and force the world to yield a competence.

But there is something more terrifying than the market. It is big government. Big government is like any great army and its military plan of conquest. It enlists gullible young men in its army and then marches them to death. At the end of it the conquerors may conquer, or they may fail in bloody defeat.

No worries for the officer corps, of course. The Napoleon will surely survive if his plan succeeds and likely survive if his plan ends in miserable defeat. But the soldiers, or the entitlement beneficiaries, will not be so lucky. They will likely be left by the roadside, as Napoleon's army was left on the retreat from Moscow. Too bad for them.

There must be a better way, something more modern and compassionate than the reactionary plan of progress. But first we must read what Harvey Mansfield has to say in "The Parties, Part Two."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Who Killed the Enlightenment?" is the Wrong Question

The idea of the 18th century Enlightenment was ideological. It was to create a cultural and political movement to overthrow the dark night of religion and superstition, and replace it with the bright light of reason. In particular, its leading lights wanted to chop the trunks of kings and princes away from their divine roots, the association of kingliness with godliness. Guess who would replace the benighted priests and the unjust kings?

But as soon as the Enlightenment had got fairly started, it faced a Romantic rebellion at the turn of the 19th century. Romanticism pointed out that while reason might be necessary, it certainly wasn't sufficient. What about instinct, creativity, genius? Where is their place on the lighted stage of reason? The modern era has been impaled upon the horns of this dilemma ever since.

The problem is obvious when you try to understand modern government and the modern exchange economy. The more you try to reduce government and business to a rational system the more you create a structure that is as fragile as glass. If you touch it, the whole thing collapses. See Soviet Union, collapse of. On the other hand business, which is said to be utterly mechanical and soulless, keeps coming up with unexpected surprises -- cheap textiles, steam transportation, electricity, the internal combustion engine, electronics, information -- which it then tries to reduce to a rational system that lasts until the next surprise knocks everything into a cocked hat.

Inquiring minds have tried to square this circle between reason and creative surprise with the idea of emergence. They talk about the consequence of the flap of the wings of a butterfly and chaos theory and "emergent phenomena."

Therefore, to complain that liberals "killed the Enlightenment" misses the point, as much as conservatives that claim to represent reason while liberals rely on "feelings." Strictly speaking, the Enlightenment has been dead for 200 years. Creativity, not Enlightenment, is the god of the enlightened and evolved.

For me the last nail in the coffin is the moment in The Dialectic of Enlightenment when Horkheimer and Adorno write:
What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men.  That is the only aim...

Enlightenment is totalitarian...

Enlightenment behaves towards things as a dictator towards men. He knows them in so far as he can manipulate them.
The point of the Enlightenment was that it was a cultural and political movement to take over the religious and political power in 17th and 18th century Europe. And it succeeded rather tragically in France in 1789. Period, end of story.

But let us continue to talk of reason.

Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind argues that reason was developed by humans to to rationalize. From my "Critique of Social Mechanics:"
[Haidt] found that people do not use reason to form moral ideas.  They have moral instincts and they use their reasoning minds to rationalize their instincts.  Moreover they do not use their reason to analyze their instincts; they use reason to criticize the moral judgments and behaviors of other people, and so he confirms the analysis of Horkheimer and Adorno that reason seeks to dominate.
The Enlightenment was a political project. It was a group of thinkers that wanted to sweep away the power of bishops and kings and princes and landed aristocrats and replace them with people like them. So the new class of intellectuals declared ideological war on the superstitions of religion and the injustices of absolute monarchy.

Why did they have to declare ideological war? Because that's the nature of politics. Government is force, so if you want to obtain control of the government it means that you must develop an agenda that relies on force, so you must gin up a justification for force. The usual thing to do is to accuse the current government of monstrous and evil injustice. We are used to modern accusations of injustice, but the same thing applied in the old days, when it was marcher lords like Harry Percy from northern England raging about the injustices of Henry IV down in London.
Disgraced me in my happy victories,
Sought to entrap me by intelligence;
Rated mine uncle from the council-board;
In rage dismiss'd my father from the court;
Broke oath on oath, committed wrong on wrong,
And in conclusion drove us to seek out
This head of safety; and withal to pry
Into his title, the which we find
Too indirect for long continuance.
Really, nothing has changed. Liberals were saying exactly this during the presidency of George W. Bush. Only they rated Bush as stupid, not cunning like Henry IV.

In the 18th century the Enlightenment thinkers were raging against Throne and Altar. But in the 19th century the educated youth found a new source of injustice in the wake of the extraordinary rise of industrial capitalism: the bourgeoisie. The capitalist bourgeoisie were exploiting the factory hands in the new manufacturies and Marx and Engels offered to lead the working class to smash the bosses and give back to the working class what the bosses had stolen from them.

This strategy was effective because the working class did feel exploited and did think that force was the only remedy. The Marxist ideology dominated the next century either in its pure form or in a diluted form, with Fabianism in England and Progressivism in the United States.

In the 1920s the Frankfurt School extended the exploitation theory from the working class to blacks, women and homosexuals. Thus the class conflict theory of exploited workers against the bosses, which needed the intervention of government force on the side of the workers, was extended to other marginalized groups. Government force would be needed not just to fight for the workers but to right the injustices committed against these other groups, and not to agree was to be a racist, sexist, or homophobe.

You can see the brilliance of this ideology. Nobody has discovered a way to push back against this agenda. You can gin up anything -- rape on campus, glass ceilings, police brutality -- and gin up a rent-a-mob and cry discrimination and injustice. Since the mainstream media always comes down on the side of the apparent victims, and anyone opposing the "social justice warriors" is automatically named and shamed as racist, sexist, homophobe, there seems to be no way to push back.

Then came the migration of people from Muslim lands, and Muslims were added to the cultural Marxist agenda. To criticize Muslims became "islamophobia." Any time that there was an Islamic terror event, the ruling class and its bribed apologists immediately worried about "islamophobia" and a "backlash." Never mind that at all times in the US the incidence of anti-semitism is about five times the incidence of anti-islamism.

But there is a problem. People expect the government to keep them safe. That is the number one core function of government. If Islamic fighters are killing people in Boston or in Paris, the people -- women, especially -- expect government to do something about it.

But that knocks the whole cultural Marxist game into a cocked hat, because the whole point is to keep the majority population cowed and afraid to criticize the ruling class by ginning up offence-taking in the marginalized groups, the little darlings of the ruling class, and threatening to name and shame anyone guilty of "hate speech."

And that's where we are today. The educated ruling class's ruling ideology is threatened by its internal contradictions. How can they stigmatize people for "Islamophobia" when the Islamists are actually out there beheading and shooting people?

This creates an opening for a conservative push-back against cultural Marxism. Politics requires an enemy, an "other" for "us" to fight against. For years, conservatives didn't have an "other", especially after the end of the Cold War. But now we do, and it's one of the groups that our liberal friends the world over have taken to their bosom as their special snowflakes.

Stay tuned, because it's going to get worse before it gets better.

But is has nothing to do with the death of the Enlightenment.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

On the Other Hand: Bubba Bait for Progressives

Yesterday I worried that President Obama's tax and spending ideas for the FY16 budget were bubba bait for the middle class. Because what working woman doesn't want more sick leave and maternity leave mandates? Who doesn't want to stick it to the Rich?

But now I think that I'm wrong. The president isn't trying to separate the middle class from Republicans. He's just throwing red meat to his progressive base. Because the one thing he must do is keep his base home and energized. Otherwise the Democrats won't be voting to sustain his vetoes.

When soldiers get into a firefight, when aviators get into an emergency, they all do the same thing. They fall back on their training. When politicians get into tight corner, they go back to their instincts. The president's instincts are the left-wing shibboleths he learned as a teenager with black Communist Frank Marshall Davis, the liberal-left politics he learned in college, the machine politics he learned in gentrified Hyde Park palling around with baby-boomer lefties like Bill Ayers.

I don't know what the best strategy should be for Republicans in countering this foolishness. I suppose the best thing to do is to ignore it and to structure the appropriation bills in the fall to make them as difficult as possible to veto. Apparently Republicans have already been doing this, by stuffing funding bills with all kinds of riders but featuring one or two items that are poison to the president and his base. When the president objects, they kill the poison and leave the other stuff in.

But it is obvious that the president is not interested in, e.g., a comprehensive bill to simplify and reduce rates in the federal corporate income tax.

But the bigger issue is how to turn the whole culture around, how to sink the progressive political culture of expressive individualism combined with lower-class tribalism. The modern world is founded upon responsible individualism, but we have a ruling class that believes in self-expression. That makes it hard to win the fight for responsibility.

On my best days I imagine that conservatives and libertarians will win the culture war. But on normal days I realize that things will only change in the crisis when the current ruling class runs out of money, and can't deliver rewards to its supporters.

The responsible world of the exchange economy changes in response to the day-to-day signals of the price system and to crises like bankruptcy and business failure.

But politics doesn't work that way. It responds to the day-to-day power plays of special interests and the crises of war and revolution.

In a way, the two systems are the same. They go on, blindly hoping for the best, until the whole world collapses about their ears. The difference is that bankruptcy doesn't involve war and rapine and loot and plunder and starvation and death camps. The exchange economy just takes resources and labor away from failed business projects and sells them, often at a few cents on the dollar, to folks with a better plan for economic growth.

The trouble is that, instinctively, we are all tribesmen. When things go wrong we look for a strong leader to save us, someone to lead us in marches and protests, when what we really need is a good bankruptcy lawyer.

But tell that to President Obama's progressive base and see where it gets you.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Obama's Bubba Bait for the Middle Class

I get it, Mr. President. Your proposals, presumably to be unveiled in the State of the Union speech, are bubba bait for the middle class.

Your proposal for free community college is obvious. Poor kids get community college free already. Rich kids don't care. So it ought to appeal to the middle class. And it's more money for the education blob, which is a Democratic special interest. What's not to like? The Huffington Post reports that the idea polls well. Why wouldn't it? Everybody likes "free."

Your proposal for paid maternity leave and sick leave is the same. Of course mothers should get paid leave after they have a baby! Who wouldn't support something like that?

And now we have your proposal to increase taxes on capital and the rich and increase tax credits for the middle class. Hey, why not? Make the 1% pay and give the middle class a break!

The only problem is that these proposals don't grow the economy. And the only way to help the poor and the middle class long term is with a healthy growing economy with reduced opportunities for graft and crony capitalism.

Free community college? But the subsidies that we have already flung at the education system from K thru research grants have increased costs enormously. The result is that nobody can afford to education unless subsidized by the government. I don't call that free; I call that indentured servitude. And at the back of it all is the question: how do we reform the education system to, e.g., actually deliver basic literacy and numeracy to poor children, when it is utterly dominated by special interests with the ear of politicians?

Paid sick leave and maternity leave? Sounds great, but studies (from Jonathan Gruber!) show that labor is simply a cost to employers. If employers are forced to pay mothers for not working then that will reduce the wages of other employees. In other words, paid leave is simply another tax on labor.

Tax the rich? Sounds great, except that the higher you fix the marginal rate on taxes the more you encourage the rich and the well-connected to bribe politicians to give them little carve-outs that nobody notices, but which distort the economy. Politicians like that sort of thing because giving favors to supporters is what they do.

New free stuff, new mandated benefits, more tax-the-rich. Who knows what Obama's grand plan really is? Maybe he will seduce the middle class into voting Democrat with this bubba bait. Or maybe he won't. Or maybe he will destroy his party with his war on the loyal opposition.

But I am still slightly shocked that the president is so intent on bashing the opposition. It makes me realize how seldom presidents do that. Even Bill Clinton liked to pretend that his partisan initiatives were really "bi-partisan."

My guess is that presidents hurt themselves, hurt their party, and hurt the country when they govern in the divisive way of President Obama. That, I suspect, is why most presidents don't do it. That may be why the president's party has lost so many seats in Congress and in state legislatures during Obama's presidency.

Let's look at it this way. The whole effort of the left since the 19th century is that the only way to help the marginalized -- the workers, the women, the racial minorities -- is by positive legislation that mandates monetary and in-kind redistribution. We declare that workers must contribute X% of wages to a government pension plan. We declare that all seniors will get government subsidized health care. We mandate handouts to the poor. What? Don't you care about the poor?

But the lesson of capitalism is that nothing is fixed in stone. Everything is fluid, everything changes when new ideas and practices and technologies surprise us and change the terms of trade. All the mighty edifices of the welfare state are founded in sand, and sooner or later the wave of history sweeps up, undermines them, and topples them. Under the administrative system of the welfare state, the good intentions of reformers eventually get worn away by the natural forces of politics: the special interests get more and more carve-outs and the bureaucrats do less and less for more and more money. Eventually you get a corrupt system that rewards its supporters for doing nothing.

The record of the Obama administration is witness to this truth. The biggest winners have been the 1% and our stock portfolios. Then come the environmentalists and Big Green. Then come all the other Democratic constituencies. The poor? They have done well, if you consider that increased subsidies for not working benefit anyone in the long term. But inevitably, when you have the economy dominated by ruling class political action, the unorganized middle class gets screwed. Because the middle class is at the end of the line when goodies are being handed out to Democratic party supporters.

President Obama seems to be recognizing that he needs to suck up to the middle class. The question is: will the middle class take the bait?

Or will they decide that in 2016 it is Time for a Change, no matter what the politicians say or do?