Monday, June 30, 2014

What Went Wrong: Getting to a Solution

For those of us that believe in individual responsibility and the free collective mind, we've got to get out of the freeloader culture and its collective mindlessness.  That's what we argued in the previous part of this series. (Beginning of series here.)

It is the great question that confronts our society in the second decade of the 21st century.  Shall we go further and further on the current path towards a society of complete administrative supervision, what I call collective mindlessness?  Or shall we change course and reduce the weight of government and reanimate our collective mind.

You've got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. And latch on to the affirmative. Don't mess with Mister In-Between. Rare words, brave world!  But what do we actually do?  The answer is obvious: we eliminate the negative boat anchor of politically mandated freeloading and its collective mindlessness.  We accentuate the positive flourishing of the collective mind.

But how?  How can we deal with the vice that has utterly metastasized itself throughout modern politics, the cancer of votes for free stuff?

In a recent piece for The American James V. DeLong confirms this analysis by describing the current political regime in the United States.  Each party must appeal to the “values and concerns” or “V&C” of a broad swath of voters but must also get money and influence from elites and special interests.
The system gives a big edge to the Democrats, who have no particular principles except for more government and more money to deserving groups. These principles are congruent with the interests of the dependent classes, the bureaucracies that serve them, the public and private elites who operate the system, an academia dependent on federal money, and many corporate looters.
DeLong goes on the show the problem that Republicans and conservatives have dealing with this system.
The Republicans have a harder time with the imperative to appeal to both the broad base of V&C voters and special interests. On taxes, the Republicans have made the link between benefits for targeted groups and pro bono publico, arguing that reductions for the rich and upper middle class prove the party’s dedication to the interests of working people, and it is not surprising that tax-cut rhetoric has a long chapter in the Republican catechism.

For conservatives, the definition of V&C has evolved. Rather than the usual jobs, education, and so on, their V&C concerns go deeper and now include dedication to free markets, light regulation, individual autonomy, respect for conscience, refusal to privilege victimhood, and the rule of law. These do not translate well into visible benefits for individuals, firms, or industries, and thus do not keep the vital dollars flowing into the coffers of the party, the independent groups, and the K Street lobbying firms where old donkeys and elephants go to get rich.
In other words, the Democratic voters and interests are united in getting (voters) and furnishing (interests) more stuff for “deserving groups.”  Republican voters are merely interested in values and concerns around the question of individual responsibility and rights and therefore aren't offering “more stuff” for anyone, not for voters, not for special interests.  Obviously the Republican voters can't get what they want unless their values and concerns become more universal, or unless the administrative state fails to deliver on its free stuff for the dependent classes and the middle-man elites.

You can see what is going on here.  Right now, in the United States divided about 50-50 between the two parties, we have a stalemate between the two parties.  The Democratic voter V&C plus the bureaucracy-elite-academia-crony looters are about equal to a Republican voter V&C that's warring with its own RINO elite.

The solution is obvious.  Republicans and conservatives must reduce the legitimacy of the free-stuff-for-victims V&C and the hall pass that the  bureaucracy-elite-academia-crony looters get from supporting the agenda of free stuff for victims.  Short term, Republicans can win by picking up some independent voters that are just annoyed by the failures of the Democratic ruling class and think it is Time for a Change.  But long term we are talking about religion and faith.  We must reduce the faith that people have in the ruling elite, and the tribal instinct that the village big man, aka the ruling class, can deliver the free stuff people have come to expect not just as a mess of pottage but as a birthright.

Short term, we can bid for the independents; long-term, we must change the culture from freeloading to responsibility.  But what about the medium term? What can we do to limit the damage from the springtime for freeloaders that has resulted from the politics of the authoritarian welfare state?

That's what we'll look at in the next installment of this series.

Friday, June 27, 2014

What Went Wrong: Collective Mind or Collective Mindlessness?

We've been looking at what went wrong, pre and post Obama, at the tactical and strategic political level.  (Beginning of series here.) Now let's look at the decisive point: do we believe in collective mind or collective mindlessness?

The decisive character of humans when compared against the rest of Nature is that we can understand and practice barter and exchange.  We have the instinct to exchange something we value for something we value more.  From this simple idea comes the whole impossibly complex market economy and global exchange system.  Ships are sailing the seas, trains are rumbling over the fruited plan, people are working away, and nobody is in charge.  The whole thing works because people are willing to exchange.  They are willing to exchange a particular good for money, their time for money, and their money for food and shelter and products and services.  There is a name for this amazing phenomenon: the collective mind.

But government is different.  Government is mechanics.  Government is a Newtonian opposition of forces not an exchange of voluntary services.  Government is the seizing of wealth and income as the price of defending people against enemies.  Government says you must pay payroll taxes if you want to work at a job; government says you must not get on an airplane without submitting to government's security theater.  You could say that there is a word for this phenomenon: collectivism, but really it is collective mindlessness, the thuggery of the clunking fist.

You can see now where we have been going wrong, and where the Obama administration has been going wrong in spades.  We have been steadily increasing the amount of government in America and reducing the amount of free cooperative exchange.  We have been increasing the amount of collective mindlessness at the cost of shrinking the collective mind.  And for what?  To make the ruling class feel good about itself.

So we must change, and we must start to change today.  But there is a problem.  Nobody wants to give up a dime of their free stuff.  Grandmothers say things like: “'they' better not cut my Medicare.”  Seniors say: “I paid for my Social Security with my taxes.”  And so politicians dare not touch the sacred “entitlements,” the third rail of American politics.  Probably we cannot reform entitlements short of total government meltdown.  We should not be hard on our fellow citizens for their dog-in-the-manger attitude; our problem is not just a question of selfish freeloaders wanting to keep their free stuff.  The modern welfare state panders to the eternal yearning in every human heart to escape the contingency of human life, to obtain if not eternal life, at least a job for life, or a pension for life, or health-care for life.  But, of course, the person that wants politicians to give him a pension for life is not looking at the fact that he is exchanging his birthright for a mess of pottage.  He does not understand that he is putting his hands within the hands of his liege lord and surrendering his freedom and his dignity as a free person for three squares a day, as the English peasant could do a millennium ago.

The freeloader forgets that when he places his hands within the hands of his liege lord, whether warrior noble or The One who will bring Hope and Change, he is transferring the ownership of risk in his life, for good or ill, from himself to his lord.  And that risk has a price, not just in money but in human freedom and dignity.

Not everyone wants a life of subservience and serfdom.  Some people say: I don't want that deal.  I don't want to live in subordination to a lordly liberal ruling class, and I wouldn't want it even if liberals were really as sensitive and compassionate as they imagine themselves to be.  I want freedom and the responsibility that goes with it.  I want the monkey on my back, not on the government's back.  I want the right to choose how to make my own contribution to society and take the consequences rather than dutifully follow the dictates of my bureaucratic supervisor or my precinct captain who, I've noticed, isn't very sharp at anything except currying favor with his political bosses and playing favorites with his subordinates.

But is there any way that the responsible individuals can influence our politics, or are they doomed, doomed to be overrun by freeloaders and corporate looters?  See the next installment in this series.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What Went Wrong: Bad Political Philosophy

Yesterday we looked at the foolish politics of liberals, punching through major legislation on a partisan vote, running a permanent campaign as though Americans were at war with each other.  (Beginning of series here.) But now we look at the foolish philosophy at the bottom of it.

The difference between a society and a bureaucracy or army ought to be obvious. A bureaucracy is a goal-oriented organization. Like an army it has simple, strategic goals. It is an instrument to collect taxes, like the IRS, or to coordinate health care programs, like the federal Department of Health and Human Services. But a society is different, because society is a work in progress. The truth is we do not know what a society is for, just as we don't know what humans are for, or the Earth, or the Solar System, or the Universe. The closest we can come is in vague words about the good society like “human flourishing” and “something higher than just material prosperity.” People disagree earnestly and deeply about what a good society is, and even when they agree about the nature of the good society they still disagree about how to get there.

So how can a president say to his defeated opponents: “we won?” How can we build a good society in the United States when the victor in the latest round of political fisticuffs says, in so many words: “screw you, loser?” He can only say it if he is a fool.

Moreover, how can a political party advance the cause of “human flourishing” with a comprehensive and mandatory administrative program like Obamacare, not to mention all the other big entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare? Administration and bureaucracy kill human flourishing; they pave over paradise and make it a parking lot. The whole point of administration and bureaucracy is to prevent autonomous activity and replace it with rigid rules. The whole point of life and liberty is that you don't know what is coming up next. The world will probably throw you a curve ball and you will have to adapt. How do you adapt to change when the whole of e.g., health care, is rigidly defined by legislation, bureaucracy, and entitlement whether or not the resources are there to deliver? When the world changes, how long does it take your activists, your politicians, your legislation, you bureaucrats, your regulations to adapt and catch up? Actually we know. With great national programs it is only possible to do political reform once in a generation, if that.

Our great national problem is that our ruling class, in order to advance its paltry idea of an administrative state and implement its elite fantasy of top-down springtime for rulers, has reduced the people of the United States to the pathetic status of freeloaders and foragers. To win the next election and the mandate to enact the next tranche of administrative authoritarianism the rulers must again and again bribe the voters with the promise of some free stuff. Hey kids: more student debt! Hey uninsured: super-subsidized health insurance! Hey illegals: amnesty! Hey veterans: free health care for life! But what actually happens? Students get buried in debt, because a twenty-year-old has no clue what kind of income he'll earn after college. The uninsured get lured into expensive insurance that doesn't help them because the uninsured don't need health insurance, not having any assets; they just need a bit of help with their health-care bills. Kids from Central America get lured to the border. Vets find that the free health care has a real cost: waiting lists and second-rate service.

Golly, who could have seen all that coming?  Evidently our educated ruling class could not.

So what do we do about all this?  Stay tuned for the next exciting installment.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What Went Wrong: Drilling Down

We just looked at the mess of what has gone wrong in America in recent years.  Now let's drill down a little.

That's all very nice, but let's get back to the question. What went wrong? I will tell you. And the answer dwells in the difference between the understanding of government as force, the necessary force to defend against enemies, and the understanding of society as a voluntary consensus, an unconscious organism of human cooperation.

When a presidential candidate wins a presidential election with his party we can think of him winning a civil war, but with ballots not bullets (actually ballot is the same word as bullet). Now the question is: after the bullets are counted, what happens next? Do the victorious president and his party continue to fight à outrance, as the French say? Or do they stop the war and follow the advice of Winston Churchill: “in victory, magnanimity?”

Yeah. When the president sends the bust of Churchill back to the Brits it does kinda send a message.

The fact is that President Obama and his party decided to go all out and exploit their 2008 victory to the uttermost limit. This was symbolized by the passage of Obamacare, in which the Obamis decided to pass their Affordable Care Act, after losing their filibuster-proof Senate to Scott Brown, by legislative shenanigans. Yeay! That'll teach those racist-sexist-homophobes!

But the Irish-American Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said years ago that you always want to pass a big thing like Obamacare by a 70-30 majority in the US Senate. You need to manufacture, at very least, the appearance of consensus. Why? Because in the end, you must obtain the consent of the governed for your legislation. If you win merely by powering over the opposition you have not obtained the consent of the governed; you have merely provokeed a head of rebellion.

Obtaining the consent of the governed doesn't just mean doing big things right like passing your landmark legislation with a 70-30 bipartisan vote in the US Senate. It means doing little things right, like obeying the law, talking to the leaders of the opposition and buttering up the barons of Congress, and speaking kindly to people that will never vote for you in a hundred years. Why? Because it quiets the fears of your opponents.

If we recognize politics as “civil war by other means” then we understand the truth that politics is a kind of shadow boxing, a ritual combat in which we reenact on the stage of the political theater what could, in another time and another way, be enacted in the real combat in a real civil war. You get the feeling that the president and his people just do not understand that they are playing with fire when they talk of “punching back twice as hard” and when they keep the president's campaign organization fully mobilized between elections. Liberals ought to understand that: during the Cold War they were quick to note the provocation that a big defense budget or offensive nuclear weapons represented to the rest of the world. If you are mobilized for political war between elections then you are communicating that you mean to crush your political opposition without mercy. You are telling the opposition that you just might stage some kind of a surprise attack while they are out to lunch. What sort of a message does that send to your political opposition?

But is that all that went wrong? Did our liberal friends just make a mistake on tactics, playing the stupid jerk when august maturity was wanted? Alas no. Because now we come to the real problem with today's America. It is the folly of the administrative state, the idea that human society could be or should be organized on the principle of the modern army or the national bureaucracy.

But that's for the next installment.

The Way Forward: What Went Wrong

By now nearly everyone in America senses that something has gone wrong, that somehow, after the promise of Hope and Change in the maelstrom of the Crash of 2008, things in America are going from bad to worse.

What is it?  What has gone wrong?  Why did President Obama's promise of an end to the mistakes and the corruption of the Bush years, an end to partisanship and polarization not turn America around?  Why has it seemed to go from bad to worse?

Is it because the president has tried to implement “fundamental change” when fundamental change wasn't needed?  Or did he not go far enough?  Perhaps the problem is that he has abandoned the good old All American Way for a farrago of untried and untested ideas.  Could it be that underneath the comforting assurance of the president's rhetoric hides a Marxist fanatic that wants to destroy America before rebuilding it as a neo-Marxist utopia?  Maybe the failure is nothing more than good old All American political corruption, the Chicago Way in black-face.

You'll be frustrated to learn that the answer is None of the Above.  Our problem here in America is not a specific problem but a generic problem, an old problem; perhaps it is the oldest problem in human government.  Our problem is not merely the good old human evil of bad government, or even worse, good old bad government incompetently conducted, but merely good old human folly, playing in endless repeat.  It is the problem of the ruling class that forgot what government is for.  Government is not instituted among men for the ruling class to indulge itself with glorious visions and pet programs, to admire itself in the mirror and reward its friends and punish its enemies, to legislate its evolved morality over the cramped visions of the great unwashed.

No, government must cringe and recoil before such self-indulgence or it is rubbish.  Government must sail, with ears deaf to the song of the Sirens of power, between the Scylla of defending its people against enemies and the Charybdis of free human flourishing.  Or, in left-wing terms, we must defend the road to enlightenment and liberation from exploitation and injustice, and that means defending our glorious vision of a world of peace and justice from the power of government, any government, as much as the power of corporations and the rich and powerful.

Yeah.  Pity the poor schmuck who thinks that the road to the future is paved with government programs, in other words with force. Because even if you delude yourself into thinking that government is nothing more than the slightly doddery kindliness of an absent-minded librarian that listens to NPR, it is still true that government is force.  As the saying goes: all power corrupts librarians, but absolute power corrupts librarians absolutely.

But if the path to the future is not paved with government programs and defended by force, how shall we find it?

Link to the next post in this series as we drill down.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Is This What You Really Wanted Liberals?

Yesterday I noted Matt Bai's rundown on the rich-bitch Democracy Alliance.  How it's now just a fully-owned dependency of the Democratic Party as it signs up the head of the National Education Association.  Oh well, those rich billionaires that thought they were creating a left-wing version of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" got what they paid for.

Maybe more than they reckoned for.

Sharyl Attkisson tells us why in a Changing Lanes interview on RealClearPolitics.  Attkisson did some stories back in the day that really burned the Bush administration.  And liberals loved her.  But when she started pushing on Fast and Furious, then all of a sudden she experienced determined pushback from TalkingPointsMemo and Media Matters for America for sloppy journalism.  Guess what.  TPM and MM get funding from folks like Democracy Alliance.

According to Attkisson the pushback from the lefty media foghorns was a lot more intense and brutal than the pushback from the Bush administration and conservatives.

Here we have a problem liberals.  You guys have convinced yourself that there's a hard-ass implacable "right-wing message machine" that you guys have to oppose by pushing back twice as hard.

Only you guys are deluding yourselves.  Your problem is not that conservatives have their own policy shops and media outlets.  You are pissed off that anyone dares to oppose the liberal narrative.  So you think that the answer is to overwhelm the opposition with your own "message machine."

But you know what?  Your brilliant tactics is in the process of making the biggest mess in American politics in our lifetimes.  Because you guys aren't brilliant; you are clueless.  Let us rehearse the ways that this is so.

First, your full-court press means that we don't get to have a serious discussion of the issues.  It means that conservative voices don't get heard and it means that liberal reporters are afraid to question anything coming out of the liberal "message machine."  Can you spell Obamacare?

Then there is the little problem of Obama's phone and pen.  Let's face it, if some Republican president tried this, there would be hell to pay.  And that is quite from the minor fact that a Republican president wouldn't do it because Republicans have this weird fetish about the Constitution.  My liberal friends don't seem to have heard this, but the big problem with kids swarming over the border is connected with the president deciding to implement the DREAM Act without benefit of Congress. Someone sent the message down to Central America that kids get in free.  And now the New York Times, according to my liberal friends, is telling its liberal readers that the president is working hard to fix the problem. Yea!

But ya know what liberals?  If, way back, you guys had said wait a minute, Mr. President, we can't change the law by executive fiat, then the poor helpless New York Times wouldn't be having to grudgingly tell us that the president is getting right on to fixing this disaster of little kids packed on the top of railroad cars like Depression Era bums.

There are numerous instances of the president's illegal violations of law, from his administrative nullification of welfare reform and expansion of food stamps, and they won't turn out well.  Because any opposition absolutely hates a government that doesn't obey the law.  Remember how pissed off you guys were when "Bush Lied, People Died?"

The problem with the "left-wing message machine" is that liberals told themselves it was merely a response to the conservative message machine.  But anyone with a heartbeat can tell is that the left-wing machine is clearly not just a ramp of lefty activist groups, but coordinated into the whole government, from the White House to the IRS.  I don't think you guys realize what a gift this is to Republicans and all of us racists, sexists, and homophobes.  Nobody understands finance and debt and health policy.  Everyone loves their local teachers and so the teachers unions are able to stop education reform.

But hey liberals! People sure understand using the IRS to punish your enemies!

There's a bigger issue here, liberals, and I hope you don't pay attention.  You chaps are used to sitting in the catbird seat.  You are used to exercising the power of the race card.  You are used to kicking young men out of school for not quite ticking all the feminist boxes on lefty sexual etiquette.  You are delighted to pile on an aging rich billionaire talking trash to his mistress.  You think it nothing to humiliate a tech guy for the sin of not quite going the Full Monty on gay marriage.  The thing is that ordinary people hate this bullying. Or they can easily be made to hate it.

Back in the 1990s I voted for Bill Clinton because I knew that only a Democratic president would revive interest in getting a GOP Congress.

In 2008 I voted for Obama because I wanted Democrats to stop barracking Bush and actually show and tell what they believed in for a foreign policy.

What I did not appreciate was that the Obama years would develop into a pedal-to-the-metal effort to push the liberal agenda a far as it could go.  Not by consensus, or even the ironical Chomskian "manufactured consensus," but by raw power and bullying.

You really couldn't give conservatives a better gift.  When we've said that liberals are really fascists (as in Jonah Goldberg) or closet totalitarians (as in F.A. Hayek) we sounded like Chicken Little squawking that the sky was falling.  But when liberals actually do in real time what we warned would eventually come way into the future at the end of the Road to Serfdom, well, it kinda shows that we know what we are talking about.

See you at the polls, liberals.

Monday, June 23, 2014

There Really is a Difference Between Conservative and Liberal Big Money

According to Matt Bai the Democracy Alliance was set up a decade ago to provide an ideological answer to the right.
The alliance grew out of a PowerPoint slideshow assembled by Rob Stein, a longtime Democratic operative, who diagramed what Clinton had famously called the "vast right-wing conspiracy." He argued that a handful of rich, conservative families had funded a network of vibrant think tanks and a "message machine" to spread their ideas.

The thinking behind the Democracy Alliance was to create a venture capital fund for new progressive groups. (The Center for American Progress and Media Matters for America were two of the charter recipients.) A central tenet of the alliance in those days was that it wanted nothing to do with the Democratic Party or elections, per se. The alliance was about creating a bolder alternative to the status quo.
But what are we to think of this? "Earlier this month, the alliance announced that John Stocks, executive director of the National Education Association, would become the chairman of its board."  We should think, writes Matt Bai, that the Democratic rich billionaires have been captured by the status quo.

Actually, I would say that they always were.  After all, they have been promoting the received liberal doctrine on things like climate change.

The "handful of rich, conservative families" were always consciously fighting the status quo.  The notorious Koch Brothers are not inside players.  They are playing an outside game.  But coal-billionaire Tom Steyer and his tattooed wife Kat get the kool kat treatment in the SF media. (Did you know that Steyer once invested in coal plants in Indonesia and now he bankrolls campaigns to stop coal exports from Washington State?)

Yeah, right on, Tom and Kat!

But the "rich, conservative families" (interesting how that "families" gets in there) don't expect luvvie coverage.  They expect nothing but scorn.  They are doing what they do because they want real change; they want to build an adversary culture to found a move away from the educated elite expert-led authoritarian welfare state.  I doubt that Democracy Alliance ever imagined doing much more than rearranging the deckchairs, stiffening up a bureaucracy or two with some corporate processes to improve feedback and accountability.  I am thinking of something like the Gates Foundation.  Good stuff, but still completely within the liberal mindset.

The current rebellion against the status quo, from Koch Brothers to Tea Party to pro-lifers to gun nuts to bitter clingers, may thrive or it may wither.  But it is real.

The flutters of reform in the Cathedral like the Democracy Alliance are no more than the ruling class gazing at its navel.  Nobody is really thinking of substantive reform.  Not yet.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Who Deals with the Freeloaders and Predators?

The two Big Problems of human society, in my view, are Freeloaders and Freebooters.  I have a whole chapter about it in "Freebooters and Freeloaders." Who are they?

The Freebooters are the common criminals that prey on the poor.  That's what we have police forces for.  That's just the domestic freebooters.  The foreign freebooters are the neighboring state, the expansionist empire, the marauders and the pirates.  That's what we have armies for.

But what about the freeloaders?  They are the people looking for free stuff.  And it's a curious thing that the government that defends us from freebooters, common criminals and dreaded foreign powers, is the agency that tends and feeds the freeloaders.  Why does it do that?  Because that is how all governments maintain their power.  They originate as rebel or conquering armies that distribute baronies to the captains in their armies.  They continue by buying the loyalty of their supporters with government spending and privileges.

So we could say that governments exist to protect the people from the predators.  But they do it at the cost of encouraging the freeloaders.  Two steps forward and one step backward.

What do we do about the freeloader problem?  That's what we have religion for, and specifically the post-Axial Age religions that advance an individual relationship with God.  Put it this way.  The only way you can deal with a common criminal is by arresting him and locking him up.  But freeloaders are different.  They are people that don't actively break the law.  They are just sneaking around looking for handouts.  It's obviously a universal human trait or we wouldn't have supermarket specials and coupons and airline frequent flier programs.

The way you deal with freeloaders is you make them ashamed of their idleness. You shame them into getting a job.  That's what religion does.

Back when Jane Austen was writing novels it was nothing for the rich to be idle.  And the worst of the worst were the young heirs that wasted their youths on gambling and dissipation.  I am thinking in particular of young Tom Bertram in Mansfield Park.

Not any more.  The liberal trustafarians of our own time all present themselves as busy as bees running their family foundations and funding social justice projects.  High class women don't sit around embroidering and making calls. They all have college educations and have careers.  Rich people don't have social cachet these days unless they are doing something.

So much for the rich.  But at the other end of the spectrum the modern welfare state actually encourages the poor in their idleness.  It makes a virtue out of freeloading!  And this is coded into the very design of the authoritarian welfare state and its over-under governing coalition.  The "over" part gets the jobs, the money, the power and the love of beautiful women.  The "under" part gets to freeload with a share of the loot, a payoff for voting the "overs" into power.

Now I maintain that the secular liberal political movement is actually a secular religion.  It is not just a governing party but a way of life.  So here we have a religion that actually promotes freeloading!

If you ask me, something's gotta give.

Here's my idea for a better America.  Keep the government focused on fighting the freebooters and the predators.  Government is force, and the only thing it can do is wage war on someone.

But we need a new religion to shame the freeloaders.  Religion is all about the meaning of life and what it takes to live a good life.  And the way that religion works on people is by shaming and shunning the backsliders: "social control" as our liberal friends put it.

But first we've got to chase the present liberal priesthood out of the temple, because their religion is a false religion.  If a religion does not shame its believers away from freeloading then it is worth nothing at all.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

How to Teach Rapists Not to Rape

There's a big flap going on in SF quarters right now about rape.  Conservative SF writer Larry Correia in his blog affirmed the advice of Miss Nevada that women should take self-defense classes to protect themselves from rapists.

Apparently this is all wrong.  The current liberal narrative is that there is a "rape culture" in the US and that instead of teaching women to defend themselves we should "teach men not to rape."  After all, rape is not women's fault so why should it be their responsibility to defend themselves?

This would be comical if it weren't so serious.  Look, if women are to go out into the world as independent women without the protection of their fathers then there's a chance they might run into a nasty.  What's a woman to do then?  Teach the guy not to rape?

Women in general and feminists in particular have no idea how men's minds work.  One of the biggest differences is that if you teach a girl something she will dutifully learn it and repeat it back to you.  But boys resist learning.  That's why we have Basic Training and Boot Camp for soldiers.  Basic Training is not about teaching anything.  It is about ramming lessons home to a "licentious soldiery."

I have a little private joke about Jaques' tale of the second age of man in As You Like It:
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. 
My point is that you don't see little girls "creeping like a snail / Unwillingly to school."  Why?  Because little girls do what they are told and are glad to do it.  Want to teach men not to rape, other than nice well-brushed upper-middle class lads?  You put the fear of God or the drill instructor in them.

And that brings up the bigger point.  It's about the social triad of economy, government, and religion.

Ideally, in the best of all possible worlds, people would exchange and barter like they have for 200,000 years and cooperate with each other, making and doing things that are useful for other people. After all, exchange and barter are what has created the miraculous global economy.

But there is a problem.  Some people don't want to do that.  They would rather just take from other people.  They may be thieves snatching stuff from others, or they may be in a gang organized to prey on others.  Or they may be in a predatory army or a political party offering free stuff to its followers.

That's why we need government: to punish the predators and freeloaders.

But the problem is that all governments are organized as a kind of criminal conspiracy.  All governments are armed minorities occupying a patch of land from which they seize resources from the inhabitants to give to their supporters.

So we have a little problem.  The very people that are charged with defending us against predators are themselves predators.  Or, to put in in rape terms, the very people that we charge to protect us from the rapists are very often rapists themselves.

I don't need to mention any names of famous politicians for you to get the point.

So what's the solution?  It's religion, of course.  Religion does not merely teach men not to rape, it teaches them the concept of divine justice. If they rape and pillage they will burn in hell.  Yes, and they will still burn in hell even if they "get away with it" and escape human justice.  Because God Knows, and God will judge all the sinners in the next life.

What we see in our liberal universities and schools is liberals trying to create a secular religion to replace the religion of Judeo-Christian personal responsibility that they have spent the last century trying to destroy.  All the stuff about sexual harassment and rape culture and freshman indoctrination is an attempt to restore some sort of order after the liberals declared that the old order of male courtesy towards women was nothing but patriarchal oppression.

Meanwhile we are raising a generation of feral young men that have never had fathers.  But no worries. We will just teach these home-boys not to rape.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

It's not the Corporations, It's the Government

Yesterday talk-show host Rush Limbaugh riffed off a piece in Redstate.com about crony capitalism.  Big business, you see, doesn't like Dave Brat and his populist anti-corporatism.  They are afraid that Tea Party populism could upset their relationship with their "strongest champions on Capitol Hill."

Look, I understand how business feels about this.  It's all very well for a Tea Party candidate to rail against bankers and demand that we put them in jail, but what are the bankers supposed to do when the government comes calling and demanding that they lend money to deadbeats?

So big business does what comes naturally.  It goes along to get along.

My poster-boy for this attitude is none other than folk-hero Warren Buffett.  Good ole Warren knows which side his bread is buttered on, as I wrote in 2010.  His insurance business makes a ton of money on life insurance for small businesses so their heirs can have cash to pay estate tax.  And he also likes to buy businesses when the principals die and the business needs to be sold quickly to pay estate tax.  And he's making a ton of money with BNSF oil trains while new pipelines like the Keystone XL are held up by coal-speculator Tom Steyer and his green friends.  Plus, did you notice, Warren just gave away a billion or so for abortion.

That's what you call taking care of business.

I maintain that business doesn't care one way or another what government does.  It just wants to stay out of trouble, and when government wants its help for, e.g., getting Obamacare off the ground, then business is perfectly willing to help, for a fee.

I have a friend that seems to get a lot of his news from Comedy Central Stewart/Colbert. And he fervently believes in the sins of the insurance companies and the banksters.  There's no doubt that insurance companies and banks are in up to their necks with the ruling class.  But that tells us nothing.  Why are corporations so interested in government?  It's simple: government is interested in them.

Remember Bill Gates?  He and Microsoft wanted nothing to do with politics until the day the federal government came calling with an anti-trust suit.

It's the old saw from Trotsky: You many not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.  Which means that you have to pay attention, whether you like it or not.

Yes, insurance companies are monsters that deny you coverage just when you need it.  And they are deep in Obamacare with the "risk corridors" that compensate them for losses in the transition.  But insurance companies have been regulated by government for over a century.  Why?  Because people get pissed off when the insurance company doesn't pay when they have a loss due to something-or-other in the "fine print."  But why did the fine print get there?  I will tell you why.  Because people cheat.

Yes, banksters are monsters that got themselves in a mess with reckless loans and derivatives in the 2000s.  And they oughta go to jail.  Just don't forget that the monetary/financial/credit system is dominated by government, starting with the Federal Reserve System and continuing to Fannie and Freddie the mortgage twins.  Due to lefty activists, the government set policy for Fannie and Freddie that forced them to increase loans to marginal borrowers.  It seemed like a good deal to the banks at the time because they could sell all their dodgy loans to Fannie and Freddie.  Then they started packaging mortgage loans to sell to European banks and pension funds and mitigating the risk with derivatives.  Yeah, but they should have known!  Except that if they didn't get into the profitable mortgage business they would have shown reduced earnings and been bought up by another bank, or something.

Look, I'm with Dave on this.  We've got to pull crony capitalism out by the roots. But we also have to realize that the problem isn't the crony capitalists.  The problem is the government, and behind the government the liberal ruling class.  And behind the ruling class are the ordinary Americans pissed off because life isn't free and demanding that government "do something" about it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Matt Ridley's "Rational Optimist:" It Takes a Collective Brain

What makes humans different?  In our modern era our opinion leaders have been moving closer and closer to the Folger's TV commercial insistence that there's "no difference."  People can't tell the difference between Folger's mass-market coffee and the other kind -- at least not after a satisfying restaurant meal.  Nor is there any difference between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.  We are all Darwin's creatures.

But Matt Ridley in The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves wants us to accept that there really is a difference between us and the ape species nearest to us in the living world.  The difference is specialization and exchange.  In economic language, the difference between us and the apes is Ricardo's law of comparative advantage.  Humans instinctively understand that, rather than do everything for myself, it's better for me to specialize on something I'm good at, while my neighbor specializes on something else.  Then we can exchange.

But only humans know this.  If you set up an experiment with apes, they don't get it.  Writes Ridley:
The primatologist Sarah Brosnan tried to teach two different groups of chimpanzees about barter and found it problematic...  They could not see the point of giving up food they liked [to get] food they liked even more.(p.59)
Get it?  The whole point of barter and exchange is to give up something that's valuable to you in exchange for something even more valuable.  And chimps don't get it. Barter, trade, exchange: it's a human thing.  We really are different.

In A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World William J. Bernstein shows that human trade is not just a modern thing since the breakup of feudalism. Trade started at least 6,000 years ago.  We know that because archaeologists have found obsidian chips hundreds of miles away from their volcanic sources.  People started trading for these razor sharp cutting tools between 6,000 and 12,000 years ago.  Pretty soon people were trading in copper so that they could make weapons and helmets for the continual warfare that obtained in ancient times.

But Matt Ridley wants us to look further back for the dawn of trade.  Half a million years ago hominids were making tools to butcher animals, and they'd been doing it the same way for a million years.  But then something changed.  It's hard to know when, but by 72,000 years ago archaeologists have found perforated shells from estuarine snails at locations that were up to 100 miles away from salt water.  The snails didn't get up and walk.  Most likely they were traded.  People that trade or exchange are people that specialize.  Specialization leads to expertise, and expertise leads to improvement, and improvement leads to innovation.

There's a scale effect here.  The bigger the population the more specialization, the more exchange, the more connections and the more innovation.  Conversely, a small isolated population tends to regress towards less specialization, less exchange and even a negative rate of innovation, a loss of current skills and expertise.  That's what happened to the natives of Tasmania.

"Human cultural progress is a collective enterprise and it needs a dense collective brain."(p.83)  The bigger the collective the more "collective brain" connections and the more progress.  Thus capitalism thrives in cities, and cities specialize: New York in finance, Dallas and Houston in oil, Silicon Valley in information technology.  Even pop-pysch bestsellers get this, as in Richard Florida's Rise of the Creative Class where creatives clump together in "ideopolises."

The biggest impediment to the big collective brain is big government.  Here is how the founder of the Ming dynasty took China from #1 to a wasteland of poverty.
forbid all trade and travel without government permission; force merchants to register and inventory of their goods once a month; order peasants to grow for their own consumption and not for the market; and allow inflation to devalue the paper currency 10,000-fold.(p.183)
Today big government would like to reduce travel to reduce "carbon pollution;" Lefty economist Thomas Piketty proposes a global cadaster of private wealth, and self-sufficiency and "local" food is celebrated by the latest generation of upper-class ascetics.

The point is that the collective brain doesn't just sit there; it does something.  So whatever the challenge, whatever the problem, specialists will start working on a solution.  The more people on the problem talking to each other and exchanging with each other and "borrowing" ideas from each other, the sooner they'll innovate themselves out of a jam. "[T]he human race has become a collective problem-solving machine and it solves problems by changing its ways."(p.281)

And that's the reason to be optimistic, despite the official pessimism about food scarcity and climate change.  Ordinary animals do what they do, and if the world changes and their habitat disappears they disappear with it.  But humans are different.  We don't have a fixed niche; we don't have a fixed way of doing things.  We see a problem and we solve it -- with our collective brain.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Trying to Think Strategically About Iraq Mess

The conventional wisdom response to the sudden ISIS offensive in Iraq, taking Mosul and Tikrit and coming within range of Baghdad, is panic.  It sees Iraq collapsing before the unstoppable momentum of the Sunni extremist militia.

Just a minute.  Let's try to think strategically about this.  In the first place, it seems that the Sunni rebels have been defeated in Syria and recently have been confined to the northeast along the Syrian border with Turkey.  You could say that their invasion of Iraq is an act of desperation, because they have nowhere else to go.

But what about the collapse of two Iraqi divisions in the path of the invaders?  What's that all about?  Well how about this?  The Iraqi soldiers know very well that Mosul and Tikrit are Sunni heartland.  They know that the Shia-led army doesn't belong there, and that the people in that area don't like them and would probably whack them if they had a chance.  So they got out while they still could.

And this brings up the bigger picture.  The first reaction of the Shia-led government in Baghdad was to connect with their Shia brethren in Iran.  So the whole conflict could escalate quite quickly into a Sunni-Shia war with Shia-led Syria on one side and Shiite Baghdad and Iran on the other and the Sunni ISIS rebels in the middle.

Next question.  What do you think the Saudis think about that?

Look.  The only thing we care about is the oil.  The lefties that complained about that back in the 2000s had a point, although they got things backward as usual.  The point is that, right now, we need the Middle East oil, and we can't let the Middle East descend into Sunni-Shia mayhem.

There's a line that Winston Churchill is responsible for all this, because it was he that converted the British Royal Navy from coal to oil a century ago, and that meant strategic domination of the Middle East.

It's pretty obvious what we need to do, at a grand strategic level.  We need to free ourselves from Middle East oil.  For years that was impossible because oil production in the US was declining and the Middle East had the cheapest oil.

But now we have fracking.  Actually, according to the Baron of the Bakken, Harold Hamm, it's not really fracking that defines the new revolution in hydrocarbon discovery but horizontal drilling.  And here's a tip: my lawyer friend in the oil and gas business says that they are redrilling lots of old wells using the new horizontal technology.

Remember 2008?  In September the GOP was moving the needle with "Drill, Baby, Drill" and the Democrats had to pretend that they were all in favor of doing something about high gasoline prices.  But then came the crash and the Obama administration and the environmentalist war on carbon. (Hey Tom Steyer, how are those coal plants you financed in Indonesia coming along?)

One of the things that the GOP presidential candidate in 2016 needs to do is put up North Dakota as the poster boy for their "clear plan" for economic growth.  North Dakota, home of the Bakken oil field, came in first in economic growth for 2013 among the 50 states for the fourth year running.  North Dakota growth in 2013 was 9.7%.  And the BEA revised 2012 from 13.7% to 20.3%.  Yeah, Walmart is paying $17 an hour in North Dakota.

The point is that North Dakota symbolizes what Republicans want for all American states.  And the whole point of growth in North Dakota is that it is reducing the strategic importance of the Middle East.  So the day might come when we could apply the Hillary! doctrine to the Middle East:  At this point, what difference does it make?

Meanwhile, it's Frack, Baby, Frack.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Liberals, Shocked, Shocked that Government is Force

One of my favorite themes is that our liberal friends are a little to quick to suggest that the kind of government they advance is really just the benign program of a bunch of kindly librarians.  This allows them to forget, as they crunch down ruthlessly on anyone that disagrees with them, that government is force.

Now David Brat, economics professor and giant slayer, has dared to write that the "government holds a monopoly on violence."  He has even referenced Nietzsche and the last man.  And liberals from the Wall Street Journal's news side to the liberal blogosphere are hyperventilating, according to Charles C. W. Cooke.

OK. I get it.  Liberals really don't want the idea to get about that government is always and everywhere an overgrown band of thugs.  They don't want you to think that if you don't take care to limit its power government will sooner or later come and get you.  That's because they want to increase the powers of government.

I recently wrote an emailer that government can do three things: it can do war, it can do jails, and it can do loot.
I was at a party last night with a bunch of liberals, and afterward my mind was in a frenzy.  And I thought: government can do three things: it can do war, it can do loot, and it can do jails.  So it tries to solve every problem either with a war, such as a war on poverty, or a jail, such as our national child custodial facilities called "schools", or a handout to its supporters, as in Medicare, Social Security, handouts, crony capitalism, etc.
He replied by raising the question of "regulations" and imagining that I would characterize regulations as jail or loot.  It's true that it does seem a bit extreme to think of regulations that way.  But I'm reading Matt Ridley's Rational Optimist right now and his sweep of history has trade originating way before the start of cities, and even farming.

In other words barter and exchange are not a new and frightening thing that started with the industrial revolution.  It's been going on since the dawn of time.  Because Ricardo's law of comparative advantage applies to all living things, because everyone benefits from specialization and the growth of the "collective mind."  And most "regulation" of business was fully covered in the common law, which was judge-made law that evolved out of the legal conflicts between merchants.

But of course that wasn't good enough for the educated youth of the 19th century and it is certainly not acceptable to the progressive ruling class of the 21st century.  They want power, not justice.

Yeah.  There is a role for "regulation" but the problem is that it's a two-edged sword.  You can use it to curb corporate monopoly power, but what do you end up with?  You end up with the Interstate Commerce Commission that was supposed to curb railroad monopolies and ended up preserving the transportation status quo in a century-long railroad bankruptcy.  How do you know if your regulation is curbing monopoly and "externalities" or setting you on the road to "regulatory capture?"  The answer is that you don't.  The answer is that any government regulation will probably end up advantaging some special interest.

Start with Obamacare, which was advertised as bending the cost curve and reducing the cost of health insurance for the average family by $2,500 a year.  But now we read about the Obamacare "risk corridors" that are intended to bail the insurance companies out of losses in the transition period to full Obamacare.  What's that all about?  I thought that the whole point of Obamacare was to curb the eevil insurance companies from ripping us off.  The fact is that a monster government program like Obamacare has unlimited opportunities for special interests to carve out cozy little monopolies and subsidies that are too small for the media to sniff out and scandalize.  Of course it is.  Because we know that government regulation almost always leads to regulatory capture.  Because government is force.

And when it comes to green subsidies to green crony capitalists the media doesn't show up, because they favor subsidies and monopolies when it serves the liberal agenda.

Dave Brat is right.  If you don't start your day remembering that government is force, then you are already half way to deluding yourself that your program of government force is nothing more than a couple of librarians discussing a poster celebrating literacy.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Could a Democrat Get Cantored?

Everyone who is anyone agrees that the Tea Party is a dangerous bunch of extremists.  That's when they aren't agreeing that the Tea Party is a bunch of clueless Sharron Angles and Christine O'Donnells.

But I find myself wondering: could anything like the Tea Party happen to the Democrats?

Let's look back.  The last time that the Democrats had agitation in the ranks was the Occupy movement in 2010.  Was that a grass-roots movement?  Er, I don't think so.  The media climbed aboard it immediately, and the Obamis seemed to think it was going to power them to reelection and the war on inequality.  It looked suspiciously like a political cats-paw owned and operated by the ruling class.

Then there was the 2000s with the Kos Kidz.  But were they really a bottom-up movement like the Tea Party?  At any rate they seemed to get on pretty well with the Democratic establishment, pushing them just a little bit harder on Iraq than the regular politicians wanted.

Or the Democratic Leadership Conference that operated in the late 1980s and the 1990s?  The idea was to moderate the Democratic brand to make it more electable.  That meant a "third way" between left and right.  But was it a grass roots movement?  Hardly.  The grass roots was lefty.  The DLC was an attempt by a group of Dem leaders to present the Democratic Party in a new moderate way to the voters after the evident success of the Reagan revolution.

OK, what about the Sixties, and the movement against the Vietnam War, the New Left, the McGovern generation?  Was that a genuine revolution?  Not really.  Wasn't it really a movement at the top?  Wasn't it really the radical kids of elite liberal parents living out the logical implication of their parents' political beliefs?  At any rate the media, after a few false starts, got solidly behind the kids.  Walter Cronkite turned against the Vietnam War in 1968 and the Tet Offensive.  I'd say that the Sixties radicals amounted to a palace coup against the old big-city machines run by the Daleys, leaders of the white working class.  When the smoke cleared you had elite liberals in charge of the cities with an African-American militia to supply the political muscle.  And the old white working class headed for the suburbs.

Seems to me that in America right now you could not get in the Democratic Party a real bottom-up political movement like the Tea Party.  The Democratic Party is completely run by the ruling class.  There is no opportunity for dissent, no opportunity for some nobody like a Dave Brat to step into a Congressional primary.  Why, we just saw liberal poster girl Sandra Fluke told to go to the back of the line when she thought she'd run for Congress.  That's because the Democratic Party is a great big political machine and there are dozens of young Democratic lawyers and activists higher up the food chain from newcomer Fluke.  And they get first dibs at the loot.

The point is pretty simple.  The Democratic Party is a great big looting and pillaging machine.  You join the party or vote for its candidates because you want a share of the loot.  Hey, how about these SSA administrative judges handing out billions in Disability Insurance to the folks!  But the Republican Party is for people that don't really want loot.  They want to live their lives as People of the Responsible Self.  And every few years the GOP party supporters revolt against their Outer Party leaders that succumb to the temptations of office, and just want to go along to get along with the ruling class in the Inner Party.

Like right now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Post Cantor: Why are Dems So Negative About Tea Party?

Ever since the Tea Party showed its ugly mug five years ago, our Democratic friends can't seem to decide whether it's a nothingburger or a frightful threat to everything we know and love -- a KKKish assembly of racist sexist homophobic gun-toting extremists.

Moments after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) got primaried by Tea Party-ish economics professor Dave Brat, DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz quickly shot off a tweet to show how shocked she was over the Tea Party, according to Katie Pavlich.
So now the Tea Party isn't dead.  It's a mortal threat to the Republic, or at least to progressive values.

Look, I get why the Tea Party is a threat to the Republican establishment.  It makes it hard for them to play their role as the Outer Party, opposing the Inner Party progressive line but going along in the end in return for some quid pro quo.  E.g., immigration.

But the Democrats? If the Tea Party is such a monstrosity, why not keep quiet and let the racist sexist homophobes destroy the GOP?  Because the Dems are taking over the world with their Emerging Democratic Majority of minorities, women, educated and young.  Right?

The truth probably is that the Tea Party poses a real threat to the entire ruling class, Inner and Outer, because it threatens to offer an opposing narrative to the ruling class PC narrative.

Think of it from the liberal perspective.  They've managed to marginalize and intimidate the Christian Right and they have turned what might have been a libertarian Silicon Valley into dutiful liberal crony capitalists.  They have tagged the middle-class Republican Party as the Party of the Rich and with Obamacare they are 90 percent of the way to adding another permanent entitlement to the welfare state.

But then along comes this rag-tag band of Tea Partiers that just didn't get the message or the threats.

Here's what troubles me about the Tea Party question and also immigration.  I think that our ruling class could be a little more understanding about the concerns of the Tea Party and specifically the immigration question.

Look, for a nearly rich guy like me, immigration doesn't matter too much.  But for the average American it does matter.  If you are a low-skilled person then your wages are seriously degraded by competition from both legal and illegal immigrants.  Legal immigrants lower the formal economy wages; illegal immigrants push the whole low-skill economy off the books, which means that you aren't earning Social Security points and you can't buy a house because to the credit agencies you don't have income.

Right now the Democrats are playing a pretty cynical game.  They are sucking up to Hispanic immigrants and branding everyone that has a doubt about immigration reform as a racist.

But the support for immigration reform is not that deep and broad.  After educated goo-goo liberals, the only people really in favor of immigration reform are Hispanics who still have family they want to bring to the US.

Get that?  Established Hispanics don't care about immigration.  It's just the new arrivals that, understandably, want the rest of their family over here.

I think that what really scares the liberals is that the Tea Party is a bottom-up movement.  It's not like the New Left of the Sixties that were radical children of liberal parents. That was the ruling class kids cutting up a little until they wormed their way into the professoriat.  Perfectly harmless, if you are a liberal.

But the Tea Party is different.  It got started by nobodies like Keli Carender.  OK, so she's not completely a nobody, because she did some post-grad work at Oxford in England.  But the point is the Keli and many other Tea Party leaders aren't the daughters of a Somebody in the ruling class.  So the ruling class asks: who is Keli Carender: who are her people?  If you are a ruling-class member you have to worry about the Tea Party.  What is it really about?  What does it want?  Where will it end?

Probably the Tea Party will just end up as a temporary disturbance to the Force, a footnote to history.  But you never know.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Student Loans: Poster Child for Government Failure

Conservatives like to account for President Obama's serial illegalities by saying that he hates America -- or hates something.

But there is a simpler explanation.  The federal government is so screwed up that it is impossible to deal with its messes without illegal administrative action.  Because by the time that Congress could get around to fixing the problems, they would have got worse, much worse.

The current flap over student loans is a case in point. President Obama has signed an executive order limiting payments by student borrowers. Writes Amanda Paulson:
The memorandum he signed would, among other things, allow more borrowers to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their income. He also directed the government to renegotiate its contracts with federal loan servicers like Sallie Mae to improve services for borrowers.
After decades of subsidizing universities and offering university student grants and loans we have got to the point where the current generation of students is so indebted that it can't afford to get married and buy houses.  So the government proposes to forgive the loans that students have been encouraged to take out to finance their education.

No surprise, of course.  If you subsidize something you are going to get more of it. And colleges educating the subsidized students are going to increase their fees and their costs, because they can.  And the increasing cost of a college education is going to encourage politicians to "do something" to ease the difficulties that students experience in paying for college and then paying off their loans.

So President Obama finds that he has to act and "do something", because otherwise his party is going to get buried at the next election.

I've written that it's madness for students to take out loans to finance education because the whole point of a loan is to anticipate income.  In general in the loan business, if you can't show the income and you can't show proper collateral then you don't get the loan.  What student can anticipate their income for the next 20 years at age 18?  And then it's cruel to convert that loan into an crook equity deal where the government gets to take up to 10 percent of your income.  Talk about the road to serfdom.

So the current student loan system stinks, in theory and in practice.

Now President Obama, just in time for the November elections, proposes to limit student loan repayments to 10 percent of income.  He's already determined that students should have their loans forgiven after 20 years, or 10 years if they work for government.

(Yeah.  Where's the justice in that, given that government workers make 50-100 percent more than private sector workers for the same job?)

But the bigger issue is how to stop the government doing stupid things like subsidizing colleges and students and then compounding the error when things go south.  The Wall Street Journal reviews a book by a retired Yale Law professor Peter H. Schuck today: "Why Government Fails So Often."
To be successful, [Schuck] argues, a public policy has to get six things right: incentives, instruments, information, adaptability, credibility and management. The federal government tends to be bad at all of these.
Well yeah, whatever all that pompous stuff actually means.  Conservatives would just say that it's impossible for government to do these six things, for any program.  Because Hayek.

But I am a radical simplifier, and I think it all boils down to this.  Government is force and the only thing the government knows how to do is declare war and bash its enemy over the head.  If it isn't a war then government shouldn't be doing it.

On that view it is obvious that the government has no business in the student loan business.  Who or what, after all, is it fighting against?  Ignorance?  Poverty?  Greedy bankers?  Pusillanimous college administrators?  Early marriage?  Big families?

Well, the current student loan debt is said to be up there are $1 trillion.  It is clear that things are going to get worse before they get better.

And there's an even bigger question than the incompetence of government and President's illegal government by phone and pen.  It is this.

When are liberals going to cry uncle on the utter failure of big government, this metastasizing cancer on the American body politic?

Exactly.  They will cry uncle when big government really starts to bite into liberal lives.  And they will blame the Koch brothers.  Or the greedy bankers.  Or the racist white working class.  Or corporate greed.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Anti-Piketty: He Even Gets "Père Goriot" Wrong

The liberal sensation of the spring has been Thomas Piketty's Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century in which the good French professor brandishes Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac at us in order to prove that r > g and the rich will go on getting richer and the poor poorer unless.

Unless we set up a cadaster of global wealth to make every rich person completely transparent, set up confiscatory income tax rates on the 1% and tax them 1-2% of their wealth every year.  What could go wrong?

Otherwise we'll find ourselves back in the extreme rentier income inequality so richly evoked by the novels of Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac.

Of course Piketty's phony-baloney good-time rock and roll inequality of r > g, that the rate of return on capital is always bigger than the rate of growth, is nonsense.  First, because a major component of the rate of return on capital is simply time preference, that you must pay people not to spend their money on present goods.  Second, because a lot of capital is needed just to maintain the existing stock of capital before it can be used to create growth.

But the other argument, that the rich will keep getting richer and the poor poorer, unless... is also phoney-baloney good time rock and roll too.  At least according to Balzac.

So let's get back to Balzac, and particularly Père Goriot, the novel that Piketty wants us to accept as a moral of the grossly unjust rentier society. (Rentier means a holder of French government bonds, or rentes). I'd seen Père Goriot as a TV serial decades ago, but had never read it.  Now I have.

The term "Père" is meant to be patronizing, as we would say "old man Goriot" or "Geezer Goriot."  But the gravamen of the novel has nothing to do with the inevitable rich getting richer.  It is about the folly of people that are ready to spend away their entire fortunes to get a leg up in the social world of beautiful women, fashionable salons and the well-connected.

Both Goriot, impoverished businessman, and Eugène de Rastignac, an impoverished young noblemen, think nothing of money except as a leg up into the world of the beautiful people.  Goriot had a flourishing business as a grain merchant; he'd started up using revolutionary connections in the 1790s and he used the fortune he'd accumulated to launch his girls into high society with big dowries.  Then he sold the business to save his daughters the embarrassment of having a father in "trade."  Then he gave away the proceeds of the business sale to provide his daughters with cash to buy stuff.

Rastignac arrives in Paris with an introduction to a wealthy relative, and soon sees that he'll need money to cut a dash in high society, so he sends to his mother and sisters for money.  Then he is given a lesson in social climbing by Vautrin, a man in the criminal underworld: marry the rich young heiress, says Vautrin.   Nobody in the Paris of 1819 seems to have any idea of actually working for a living, except Goriot, who has an idea for making pasta in Russia.

The inescapable moral of Père Goriot is that money runs through peoples' hands like water, because they are not really interested in money, but in the things that money can buy.  And they are perfectly content to spend today's money on the hope of social climbing tomorrow.

So Piketty has got it completely wrong.  The best way to lighten the load of the rich is not to tax them out of their gourds but to encourage them to spend money on social climbing.  And think of all the jobs that creates for tailors, hatters, dressmakers, milliners, coachmen, farriers, stables, and on and on.  Not to mention professors with cunning ideas to increase the power of government.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It will take Religion to end political polarization

Liberals always like to mourn the Republicans of yesteryear: the ones that could work with Democrats to solve problems.  Liberals just hate all the extremism and hate on the right.

But William A. Galston writes in the Wall Street Journal that the polarization works both ways. Using data from a study by Alan Abramowitz from Emory University he shows that Democrats have been getting more socially liberal, and Republicans more economically conservative.  And more and more people are voting on strict party lines.
Democratic support for Cold War anticommunism waned in reaction to the Vietnam War. Republican support for Keynesian economics had given way to the supply-side revolution... All these shifts pointed in the same direction, toward increased unity within each political party and more-intense divisions between them. Today, ideology, policy preferences, partisanship and voting behavior are aligned as never before.
Or you can so it by the numbers.
In 1972, for example, 29% of Democrats called themselves liberal or very liberal, a figure that rose by 18 points to 47% by 2012. During those four decades, the share of Republicans regarding themselves as conservative or very conservative rose by fully 30 points, to 76% from 46%. 
What's the way out?
The U.S. government has become dysfunctional, and there is a shared responsibility to fix it. Leaders must behave differently, which will not happen unless the people insist on a different kind of governance. We can light a candle or curse the darkness.
But that is silly.  The government has become dysfunctional because the people are divided.  They send their representatives to Washington to make a difference: liberals send their representatives to advance gay marriage and abortion and save the planet from carbon pollution; conservatives send their representatives to reform the welfare state and hold the line on the liberal social agenda.

The politicians are faithfully representing their supporters, and they are taking advantage of events to advance their agenda.  That's why the Democrats ran full-speed ahead to pass Obamacare with the majorities they got from disgusted Republicans failing to show up at the polls in 2006 and 2008.  The opposite may happen in 2014 and 2016 as rank-and-file Democratic voters wonder what happened to all the Hope and Change.

What is the answer to this gridlock?  The answer is religion.  Politics is division; government is force.  The current trench warfare is going nowhere, at least until the welfare state runs out of money.

Let us recall the thesis advanced by William G. McLoughlin in Revivals, Awakenings and Reform. McLoughlin argued that, at least in America, when things are screwed up politically you get a religious awakening or revival that resets the moral landscape and ushers in an era of reform.

We can see the McLoughlin effect in the Muslim jihad movement.  The jihadists are not primarily fighting against the West.  They are fighting to found a new moral order in the Middle East.  We western democratic capitalists think they are crazy.  But the moral and political collapse in the Middle East is real, and the jihadis are trying to do something about it.

The first three Great Awakenings, the Puritan one centering in 1600, the Welseyan one centering in the 1740s and the Dwight one centering on 1800-30 were about working people, the people of the subordinate self transforming their lives and becoming people of the responsible self.  The Social Gospel Awakening at the turn of the 20th century was more of a top-down thing encouraging the workers to stay in their working class and let the "academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex" solve all their problems for them.

But in The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism Robert William Fogel worried that liberals were losing the plot to a new revival of religion.  Not to worry. By the early 2000s people like John Judis and Ruy Teixeira thought that the danger was over and liberals were beginning a new era of The Emerging Democratic Majority of women, the educated, the young and the minority.

Obviously, today the whole thing is back up in the air.  And if there is going to be a revival of religion you would be starting to see something happening with young people.  Maybe there is, but I can't see it.

Put it this way: the Obama campaign touched a nerve with young people, who flocked to his promise of Hope and Change.  But when president Obama turned right around and betrayed them with the worst economic recovery ever.  There are millions of young people out there medicating themselves with the drugs of license and self absorption, waiting for something.

At some point things will change.  And then the prophecy of Ronald Reagan that you ain't seen nothin' yet will achieve new salience.