Thursday, July 31, 2014

Occupiers Like Government

I'm in the middle of investment guru Peter Schiff's video on his visit to Occupy Wall Street.  The setup is that he's wandering around the Occupy encampment in the fall of 2011 with a camera crew from Reason magazine and a protest sign that reads: I AM THE 1%. LET'S TALK.The full version goes on for 1:48 hours.  Or you can get the gist with the 18 minute cut.

My takeaway is that the Occupy protesters all agree that they need government holding a gun to the head of their employer if they are to get a fair shake in the world.  They've internalized all the lefty talking points but are completely ignorant of the righty talking points.  As far as they are concerned, without government they'd all be getting paid subsistence wages in sweat shops with no health care, no pensions, no benefits.

So, they don't understand the market, they don't understand business, and they don't understand government.  Otherwise they are pretty smart; they know all about memes and protest tactics.  But what would you expect after a K-graduate school education conducted by government functionaries?

Look, I get it.  Most people work as employees for The Man.  Their uppermost thought is a worry that they'll get laid off. They do not think: Hmm, I wonder how my employer is doing, how many projects are in the pipeline, how well the company products are priced.  They just think: Wow, I could get fired tomorrow.  Then they think: Wow, if only the government could stop my employer from laying me off.

To understand that the market is a regulating mechanism that coordinates the activities of millions of people and hundreds of thousands of businesses through the price system is completely outside the reality of most peoples' lifeworld.  The idea that surrender to the price system is the first step on the road to prosperity sounds completely crazy.

The other side of this game is that lefty politicians understand instinctively that people must believe that the corporation, not the price system, rules the world if the left's agenda of enlightenment and liberation is to win.  Otherwise voters will hesitate to vote for bigger government.

And that's the key.  People must believe that force is needed before they'll vote for more government.  If you listen to the Occupy protesters talking to Peter Schiff you realize that our millennial young 'uns have been perfectly socialized to vote for more government.  They all believe in force.

But what's the reality?  Daniel J. Mitchell has a nice little link to a piece on the history of sweatshops from Ben Powell of the Independence Institute.  Did you know that workers flocked from the countryside to the sweatshops in the early 19th century?  Yes, conditions were horrible, compared with today's Third World sweatshops, and in some of them people worked for 16 hours per day.
Yet workers flocked to the mills. …sweatshop workers…were attracted by the opportunity to earn higher wages than they could elsewhere. In fact, economist Ludwig von Mises defended the factory system of the Industrial Revolution,…writing, “The factory owners did not have the power to compel anybody to take a factory job. They could only hire people who were ready to work for the wages offered to them. Low as these wage rates were, they were nonetheless more than these paupers could earn in any other field open to them.” …Mises’s argument is supported by historical evidence. Economist Joel Mokyr reports that workers earned a wage premium of 15 to 30 percent by working in the factories compared with other alternatives.
And so the population in Britain tripled and then doubled in the 19th century.

The truth is that nobody has any problem with paying people a premium of 15% to 30%.  What gets everyone riled up is when the business cycle turns down and the factory owners want to cut wages.  This is regarded as an outrage.  And a guy like worker Joe Soptic thinks it is monstrous for private equity guy Mitt Romney to restructure his steelworker job out of existence.  Because in the mind of Joe, he has a property right to that job, and the bosses have a moral obligation to pay his wife's health care bills.

In my mind, Joe Soptic thinks like a serf, and so do most of the folks in the Occupy movement.  And in my mind it is a bloomin' shame that the political leaders on the left won't educate their followers to the facts of life in the industrial age and lead them to the golden future of responsible individualism. Liberals get their power from keeping their voters on the liberal plantation and don't see why anything should change.

And yet.  The interesting thing is that the working stiffs of the 1930s grew up into 1950s suburban householders.  And now there's a new generation on the way up. I saw a construction truck near my house yesterday that had "Chavez LLC" emblazoned on the side.

Despite all the propaganda about the horrors of big corporations people still want to start their little business; they still want that little house in the suburbs.  They still want the peace and tranquility of middle class respectability.

But how?  How can this be happening when 100,000 liberals chant with one voice and 100,000 liberal hearts beat in unison about the wonders of marriage equality and the horrors of the Republican "war on women."

I will tell you what I think.  I think that there are millions of black women who ache for a marriage and a house of their own and two kids growing up straight and true far from the roar and the violence of the big city.  But these women have been cruelly and corruptly misled into a reactionary racism and kept on the liberal plantation where their desperate votes can be used to keep the current liberal ruling class in power.

One beautiful day, un bel di, the world will change, even if it changes too late for Butterfly and today's adult black women.  The rage of those black women, cheated for half a century from the good life of middle class respectability, will be something to behold.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Liberals say Ted Cruz isn't very smart

One of the eternal verities, to liberals, is that Republican politicians aren't too smart.

George W. Bush was notably stupid -- except that he had better grades than John Kerry.  Ronald Reagan was an "amiable dunce" when he wasn't a dangerous extremist.  And Ike was an aging bumbler who liked to golf in the afternoons.

It all probably got started when Alice Roosevelt Longworth wrote that Calvin Coolidge looked like he had been "weaned on a pickle."  And Dorothy Parker, upon learning that Coolidge had died, reportedly remarked, "How can they tell?"

Har de har har.

Now the meme is getting started on Ted Cruz.  Unfortunately, with Cruz there's a bit of a problem on the stupid front because Cruz went to Princeton and Harvard Law. Here's Wikipedia with six (!) citations:
Referring to Cruz's time as a student at Harvard Law, Professor Alan Dershowitz said, "Cruz was off-the-charts brilliant."
Then Cruz went on to clerk for a federal appeals court judge and then clerked for Chief Justice Rehnquist on the US Supreme Court.

You can see the problem for the liberal "GOP stupid" brigade.  Cruz has a perfect educational resume that any liberal would kill for.

So there must be something else wrong with him.  And here it is (H/T NRO).

According to Nathan Robinson at Salon: “The ‘Ted Cruz is smart’ trap: Why this garbage is false — and dangerous.”  You see, according to the folks who know Ted Cruz has never changed his mind.
David Panton, Cruz’s law-school roommate and college debate partner, who told The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin: “Ted’s views today politically are almost identical to when I met him. There’s nothing he says today that I didn’t hear in college.” “Ted Cruz,” Robinson declares, “does not in his life ever seem to have taken on board a single challenge to his worldview”
Golly.  I mean, like, has Barack Obama, like, ever taken on board a single challenge to his worldview? Like, ev-er?

You can see the quandary liberals are in.  They can't really take the usual route of making Cruz stupid because he hadn't punched his ticket at all the liberal way-stations.  Did you know, darling, that Ronald Reagan never even clerked for a district judge, let alone the Supreme Court.  Not our kind, darling.

So Ted Cruz has to be rigid, ideological, inflexible, a guy that hasn't grown into a liberal world view.  In fact Cruz is a scandal.  How come, how come that a naive immigrant's sone didn't get converted to the liberal world view in the liberal secular seminary?  That's what college is for, after all.  Somehow the system failed, and I suspect sabotage from the Koch Brothers.

OK, liberals, go ahead and underestimate Ted Cruz.

Remember back in Fall 2013 when Ted Cruz did his 21 hour filibuster.  "Everyone" said it was a stupid gesture that made Republicans look like obstructionists.

But then I got an email from my sister suggesting that Ted Cruz was her man.

You see, liberals, if you are a conservative in these Obama dog days, the one thing that really annoys you is that nobody is willing to stand up and take the fight to Obama.  And we know why.  It's because anyone that criticizes Obama gets called out as a racist.  (Hey, maybe I'll never vote for a non-white-male again unless they are to the right of Attila the Hun.  Because what's the point of voting for America's First Whatever unless you get a hall pass?)

When Ted Cruz staged his photo-op filibuster he was telling people like me and my sister that he's willing to fight for us.

Oh yeah, I know.  It was all staged, a photo op that was never going to roll back Obamacare.  What was the point? But then you could say the same about all politics.  It is all staged, a sham fight, or as I like to say "civil war by other means."

But there was a point to the filibuster.  The point was to communicate to the frustrated GOP faithful that here was a guy who would stand up for us, and fight for us.  And the message came through loud and clear.

But go ahead liberals.  Get your "Ted Cruz is dumb or something" meme going.  Just don't forget that when liberals say a conservative has "grown" it's a sign to us that he's betrayed us in order to go along to get along inside the Beltway.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Outlook Impoved, say Medicare Trustees

The annual Medicare Trustees Report came out yesterday, and the official line is good news.  You can see that from Googling the news reports.

Not surprisingly, administration spokesmen have claimed that the Affordable Care Act is partially responsible for this. Maybe.  After all, the ACA is supposed to raid Medicare of something like $700 billion over ten years to pay for the ACA.  Or maybe the answer is Medicare Advantage, which encourages large deductibles and limits the front-end "free stuff" aspects of conventional Medicare.

What has happened is that Medicare costs have moderated in recent years, although they are expected to start to climb significantly by 2020.  But the result is that, according to my analysis at, Medicare costs will reach 4 percent of GDP by 2023 -- instead of in 2020 as forecast in last year's report.  Long term, at the end of the century, Medicare is forecast to approach 7 percent of GDP.

Think of it.  By the end of the century the American people will be forking out 7 percent of every dollar just for the government share of senior healthcare, and that doesn't include Medicaid expenditures for the low-income elderly.

Something, as they say, will have to give.  And way before the end of the century.

In a way, it's nice that the government takes care of our retirement income and health care.  It relieves us seniors of the big worries of our declining years.  Feel a pain, head for the doctor.  But I worry about the young 'uns.  Is is really fair or just to saddle them with such enormous burdens?

If you raise the question with a liberal they will ask you whether you want grandma starving in the street.  Good point, liberal.

But, as the Brits are finding out, if you tighten up on welfare eligibility, more of the poor go out and get a job.  In other words, marginal economics works, even with welfare.  If you change the rules a bit, people will change their behavior a bit.  Maybe we could try that with Medicare, especially as old people are the richest kind in America.  What a concept: make seniors more individually responsible for their health care.

John Hawkins, in a typical "5 Obvious Principles of Human Nature That Baffle Liberals," points out the central principle of responsible individualism.
[I]t’s bad for people to have someone else making the decisions about their kids’ education, their retirement, and their health care[.]
That's because the person that has other people make the big decisions about their life is, de facto if not de jure, a slave.

Hawkins also mentions a corollary of this truth: "it’s even worse that the government officials that take those decisions away from people are usually given a free pass when they screw-up."

Yeah.  Why is that?  Oh all right, we know why.  The whole point of government power (as opposed to market power) is that you don't get called on your mistakes.  If you can get called on your mistakes then you don't have power, you just have responsibility.

The whole point of responsible individualism is to reduce the amount of power and domination in the world and increase the amount of responsible individual acts in the world.

So here's a question.  Under what conditions would seniors like me demand of the government: take it away?  Take Medicare away and let me get my own health care in my old age. Hey, I'll even kick in a little for the aged poor.

Don't hold your breath.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Seeds of Destruction

For conservatives there is much in Obama's America that doesn't make sense.  Why is Obama so terminally divisive? Why would gays, on the cusp of winning their "marriage equality" want to rub out a techie like Brendan Eich?  Why would feminists, after a half century of feminist progress, now be subjecting college boys to the witch hunt of the "rape culture?"  Don't these people understand that they've won?

Jim Goad describes what is going on here.
Howard Bloom’s book The Lucifer Principle goes into great detail describing how social movements that initially claim to merely seek “equality” morph into insatiably power-hungry predatory super-organisms once their alleged oppressors are willing to grant them equal treatment. While those making the concessions may think they’re doing so in the name of “fairness,” groups who are on the ascent tend to smell blood instead. Once even a semblance of “equality” is achieved, the mask falls off and it becomes a naked drive for power. They never seem sated by equality and keep moving the goalposts, ultimately becoming every bit as oppressive and intolerant as their former masters.
The point is that any political movement is about politics.  It starts, no doubt, with a sharp experience of injustice.  That is not hard to do because all government dispense injustice, because they write their laws based on their ruling-class interpretation of justice. Others find their so-called justice the acme of injustice.

Very well. But politics is politics, and involves mobilizing people into a political army that is trained and inspired to fight, whatever the cost, for truth and justice.

What happens to the political army once it has achieved its goal?  Nothing.  So it looks for new fields to conquer, and that is the moment that the political movement transforms itself from a movement for justice into a cruel agent of injustice.  We've seen that happen to the civil-rights movement, to the environmental movement, to the feminist movement, and now the gay movement.

But why is Barack Obama so insistent on dividing America?

I've been reading a piece by Harry Stein on his father, Joseph Stein, who wrote the book for Fiddler on the Roof.  Joe was a lefty-liberal all his life, and couldn't understand his son's journey to the right.
My father simply couldn’t fathom how any thinking person, let alone someone who’d imbibed politics at his knee, could have ended up a . . . well, he never actually used the word, at least not directly. 
The word, of course, is Fascist.

The point is that Barack Obama has lived his entire life in a left-liberal bubble.  He is part of a political movement that is dedicated to "fundamentally transforming" America.  The point about such a political movement is that, by its nature, it doesn't know when to stop.

Back in the 2000s I was worried by books like The Emerging Democratic Majority by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira.  They projected that a new majority of blacks, Latinos, women, the educated, and the young would form a new majority that would rule for decades.

But the problem is that Obama has rained hardship on this new majority. Blacks have lost the homes that the real-estate bubble got them into, and are devastated that the the new dawn promised by the election of a black president has turned into a mirage.  Hispanics want jobs and they don't see them. The educated are confused, and the young are totally screwed.  College educated youth is buried in student debt, and the rest of the youth are buried in the slow recovery.

The most telling thing is that inequality has got worse on Obama's watch.

Yeah, well, say conservatives and libertarians.  What do you expect when you boost welfare and food stamps, and you implement Keynesian cheap money?

The point is that Obama and his acolytes in the liberal bubble don't get it.  They think that cheap money "stimulates" the economy.  They think that their programs to help the poor alleviate inequality.  But somehow it's all gone wrong.  That's why they are looking for scapegoats and reckon that some dastardly Republican plot masterminded by the Koch Brothers has destroyed the president's agenda. They are like Harry Stein's father. They can't wrap their brains around the notion that they could be wrong, and that it is the president's policies that have caused the present malaise.

That brings us to the good news.  The polls say that the American people are coming to the notion that we need different policies to attack America's problems.  There's wisdom in that poll question and in the response of the voters.  Americans don't know the first thing about economics and how to promote prosperity.  In fact they believe a bunch of contradictory things about the economy.  Think of their ideas as a muddy precipitate of all the sound bites that are flung at them every day.

There's one thing that the voters can decide for us.  When they sense that things are on the wrong track, they can vote for a change.  That's what happened in 1980 when voters repudiated the McGovernite Sixties generation.  It took nearly a generation after the debacle of the Sixties New Left before Americans could vote for an unapologetic leftist, and even then the media hid Obama's leftism from the voters.

But now the voters sense that things aren't working.  Probably they'll surprise us in November with a wave election that unseats a couple of Democratic senators that nobody thought were in trouble.  And then it will be on to 2016 when Republicans will have at least three bright and energetic young candidates -- Cruz, Rubio, Paul, Ryan: your list is as good as mine -- that will be telling the American people that it is time for a change.

Oh yeah.  The Democrats will be flogging their base with wars on women and gays and finding racism in every living room, board room, locker room, and classroom.  But there comes a moment in flogging a cart horse when the light goes out of its eyes.  It just doesn't have the strength or the will to shove its weight against the harness.  It just stands there, under a rain of blows, and does nothing.

Because politics is about power, government is about force, and human society is about something better than power games and brute force.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Get a Clue on Reality of Politics and Journalism, Ron Fournier

For years I've been wondering how the Obama administration does it.  I mean how it has managed near zero pushback from the media?

I know that the media are all liberals and liberals believe that the Democrats' hearts are in the right place.  But still, somewhere, somehow there must have been a liberal joournalist whose desire to make a name for himself should have won out against tribal loyalty.  After all, you don't make a career in journalism by going along to get along.  Not any more, not while dead-tree journalism is flushing down the toilet.

There must me more to the Obama message discipline than tribal loyalty, and the "more" has been slowly dribbling out in the lame-duck years of the Obama presidency.  We've seen that Obama officials go nuclear against journalists that displease them, pushing back with appalling invective in a brazen attempt to intimidate.  And we've seen that the Obamis appeal over the heads of the journalists to the Democratic-contributor suits at the media outlets to keep the junior journos in line.

Now we see, from a frustrated Ron Fournier, that there's another method to the Obama media blitzkrieg: the media minder.  Quoting a Washington Post staffer, he writes:
"Almost every officially sanctioned exchange between reporters and the proverbial 'senior administration officials' is conducted in the presence of a press staffer, even when the interview is 'on background,' meaning the source will not be identified by name."
The purpose of the "press staffer" is not just to intimidate the reporter but also the administration official.
"If you have a minder there, it sits in [a source's] brain that they're supposed to stay on message," said Peter Baker, who covers the White House for the New York Times. "They're less likely to share something other than the talking points."
Ron Fournier's solution to this problem is to "flip the script," to refuse to play by the rules, to make the administration fear the reporter rather than the other way around.

But this is rubbish, at least for reporters in a Democratic administration.  And it violates what I call the "Jack Patera Rule." Or you can call it the "blood in the water" rule.

The story is simple.  Years ago, Jack Patera was the first head coach of the expansion Seattle Seahawks.  Every week the local sports journalists would interview him on various pre- and post-game shows, respectfully asking the usual nuts-and-bolts questions about the game.  But then the day came when Jack Patera was fired as head coach, and we found out that the journalists had never liked him. Then all the dirt came out.  No kidding!  You guys thought Jack was a loser all along?  Why didn't you tell us, you rough, tough, muckracking journos?

Of course the sports journalists didn't tell us.  Because day-to-day their jobs depended on the nuts-and-bolts PR of interviews and canned questions about the team and the game.  If they had started asking difficult questions, then they would have lost their jobs.

Because the whole point of sports journalism is to do PR for the home sports teams.

Until there is blood in the water, and the coach loses his job.  Then it's shark feeding time and the journos can circle in for the kill.

That's why Ron Fournier needs to get a clue on the journalists that cover the Obama administration.  If any journalist "flipped the script" on the Obamis it would be his last interview.  Game over. Career over.  There are lots more journalists where that one came from, hungry journalists willing to play doormat for the next interview.

Until there is blood in the water, and everyone agrees that President Obama is the worst president ever and the officials of the Obama administration are the most useless and incompetent and corrupt ever.  Then you'll see courage returning to the press corps. Then you'll see the sharks going in for the kill.

The only guys that could have "flipped the script" were the Obamis.  They could have said: Look, everyone wants to be able to control the message, but you can go too far.  Isn't the whole point of the media is to shine a light upon the government, and give it some feedback?  That way, maybe, we can avoid making a few real boner mistakes.

But that was never the way that the Obamis approached things.  They wanted to push as many left-liberal policies past the point of no-return as they could, never mind how it was done.  We can assume that they believed in the ratchet effect.  Once you start a government program it is almost impossible to stop it.

And, of course, there is the little matter of power.  Men like power, and will seize it if they can.  What's the point of political power if you don't use it?  The place to learn the game of power when you are merely a bush-league politician is in bullying young bush-league journalists around, because they need you more than you need them.  By the time you have graduated to big-league politics you are practiced enough to bully big-league journalists around!

Which way is best for an administration?  Is it best to use the utmost ferocity in your messaging and make the journos fear you?  Or is it best to ease up a bit and let them criticize you?

Stay tuned for the final two years of the Obama administration to find out.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fighting the Left-wing Culture

Here's a touching story from Taki on-line magazine.  It's about Roy Griffis, who's been writing for years, but could never break through the liberal gatekeepers in the entertainment and publishing industries.

But now, as Amy Sterzinger writes, Griffis is finally getting published, because of the growth of indie publishing efforts like Liberty Island.

You can see why he's had a problem.
Griffis began writing as a teenager. By his 30s he’d given up on selling stories to magazines, with their labyrinthine rules about which viewpoints were correct for sympathetic characters to hold. He turned to screenplays. But screenplays introduced him to even more of what he calls the “good-think rules” for media. When working on a history piece set during the Korean War, Griffis was using North Korean characters as antagonists in the drama, and the producer told him: “Let me check and see if they’re okay.”
Hello! Can anyone spell C-E-N-S-O-R-S-H-I-P?

Anyway, Griffis has started writing novels, and has written two series already.  So I though I'd better get started on his "By the Hands of Men" series. Imagine a book uncensored by the lefties at the Ministry of Lefty Publishing.

Of course, in all ages the gatekeepers are trying to control what is thought and said -- particularly the best that is thought and said.  That's how you do social control.  Right now I'm reading a book on the Bronte sisters, The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller, and back then they said that Jane Eyre was full of "coarseness." They meant that it had too much sex and violence for nice young ladies.  I expect they were right.

It used to be the church that did all this social control, and now it's liberals.  Right this week, Tracy von Slyke has been writing in the British Guardian about the intolerable racism of the BBC Thomas the Tank Engine TV series.  You see, the steam engines are the good guys and all exude white smoke and the dirty diesels spout black smoke.  And as for the Fat Controller, that icon of the white patriarchy!

Never mind that "everybody" in England in the 1950s hated the diesels, including lefties that hadn't yet realized that coal was the root of all evil.  (By the way, steam maxes out at about 6% efficiency, and diesel at about 40%)

The problem is everywhere.  I get to watch children's cartoon features when I'm visiting my grandchildren and the lefty cultural assumptions in the movies frankly terrify me.  But what's a grandfather to do?  Well, he can start patronizing the adversary culture.  Over at Vox Popoli, Vox Day is aggressively trying to lead the Science Fiction/Fantasy world away from lefty cultural control, and getting the lefty Torquemada treatment for his pains. And he is actively involved in a center-right SFF publishing venture, Castalia House.  Don't ask me why it's based in Finland.

My guess is that the current lefty cultural offensive is going to run out of steam in the next couple of years, as Americans resist its totalitarian mind control with a "backlash."

But a tactical reverse isn't enough.  To beat the lefty culture we need the counterforce of a righty culture with culture warriors ready to do battle and die for the cause.

Maybe, just maybe, the retreat of the big five publishers at the hands of Amazon and the possibility of non-Hollywood movies getting made will make a difference.

But don't hold your breath.  I'm still under the influence of Eric Hoffer and The Ordeal of Change.  He points out that the intellectuals are a class that got started with the invention of writing, and they are nothing but trouble. Half the time they are employed by the state and happily order the people around at the command of the rulers.  But when the state collapses, as it does from time to time, then the intellectuals are out of a job and get angry and take up their pens against the state as revolutionary leaders of the people.

Go figure.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Obamas' Problem, Chris Cilizza, Is That Liberalism is Unjust

We conservatives have been waiting for this: the moment when liberal pundits would view the failed Obama presidency and sigh that the job was just too big for one man.  Déjà vu Jimmy Carter all over again.

So here comes liberal worthy Chris Cillizza telling us that "It's virtually impossible to be a successful modern president." No!

For you young 'uns, a bit of history.  Back in the 1970s when the liberals ruined the economy with Keynesianism and big government and Jimmy Carter had his head handed to him by the Soviets, the best and the brightest all opined that, gosh, the job was just too big for one man.  Maybe we needed a committee of presidents instead of one man.

Earth to liberals:  The problem isn't the man. The problem is the system, the whole unjust system of administrative bureaucracy by the best and brightest that you call "liberal" and "progressive."

Oh and don't forget to add in the secular liberal Puritanism that stigmatizes and shames and shuns anyone that doesn't salute when the identity-politics parade goes by.  What I want to know is who will write The Pink Letter for our age in which a conservative young woman gets shamed and shunned and forced to wear a pink "B" because she didn't want to make a wedding cake for a pair of sue-happy gays with contacts at the local Human Rights Commission?

But of course liberalism is not merely unjust.  It studiously ignores, as any pony-tailed lefty fundamentalist would do, a century of settled social science.

Correction.  It would be settled science if more than 2 1/2 liberals had actually read it and if more than a couple of liberal professors had actually got their students to study it.

Let's review the settled science.

Settled Science Part One.  It was nearly a century ago that the Austrian Jew Ludwig von Mises wrote that socialism couldn't work because it couldn't compute prices.  For about 20 years lefty writers tried to refute Mises.  Then they gave up and pushed him down the memory hole.

Settled Science Part Two.  Mises' student, F.A. Hayek extended his teacher's argument.  He said that administrative government couldn't work, for two reasons.  Reason one was that the administrative bureaucrat could never know enough to run a large program when compared against millions of consumers and producers interacting via the price system.  Reason two was that you could never write a law that covered all the contingencies of a large government program, so bureaucrats would have to write regulations on the fly.  But wait a minute!  I thought that writing laws was the job of Congress, not the president and his assignees.  Hello Injustice.  Hello Obamacare!

Settled Science Part Three. All legislating involves the springtime of the special interests and the buying of votes to force the legislation down the throats of the minority.  This settled science is called "public choice" theory.  The go-to guys are James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock in The Calculus of Consent.  Interestingly, if you are interested in justice, the only voting system that does not involve raping and pillaging the minority is the voting system of unanimous consent.  That way the majority has to buy the votes of the entire minority; in other words the majority will have to compensate the minority for its costs.  Notice the gravamen of this settled science.  All legislation is unjust except unanimous consent, because all majority voting amounts to two wolves and a sheep voting on what to eat for breakfast.

The answer to the injustice of liberal politics is simple, Chris Cillizza.  Read, learn, and inwardly digest the settled science and stop this culture of denial.  Cut government down to size, so that it is within the span of control of a single man.

Actually there is a bigger question here, and it issues from my apothegm that "government is force."

If government is force then everything that government does has the character of a war: a war on terror or a war on big banks. (Har Har.  I notice that progressive darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is perfectly happy with the crony capitalist Ex-Im Bank).

Then there are the wars on drugs, on poverty, on bigotry, on ignorance.  They go on forever.

And that's the problem.  You can see it from the failed presidency of George W. Bush.  He realized that he could only fight one war, the war in Iraq.  So he let everything else slide, including the housing bubble that was the consequence of a war for affordable housing and a war against redlining.

Here's my point.  The president is really nothing more than the commander-in-chief.  He is there in case the United States needs to go to war.  If the United States is engaged in a bunch of stupid local liberal wars like the war on poverty and the war on bigotry then the president isn't going to have enough bandwidth to do his job when a real war comes along.  He's going to be distracted by all the liberal activists showing up to insist that he nullify the immigration laws, etc.

So, Chris Cillizza and all you big-government believers: here's the bottom line.  If you want the president to be successful, then stop the expansion of government.  Don't have the government in charge of social services and turn everything social into a war against something.  Put the people in charge of helping the poor and educating the children.  Because justice.  Don't have the government regulating business: it won't work.  Public choice theory says that the regulators will end up being "captured" by the businesses they regulate.  Don't regulate business.  Because justice.

There's really a simple reason why we should cut the size of government.  We humans are social animals that thrive by communication and cooperation.  We are not Newtonian mechanical monsters that move by force.  Big business and big government are systems, and systems are there to dominate.  Even German neo-Marxists like Jürgen Habermas can figure that out.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's Not the Economy, Stupid!

A big hinge-point in my adult life from 1968 to now is the Turn of 1998.  That's when nice kindly women voters decided that since the federal budget was in surplus it was time for government to "do" stuff again.

No! No! No!  That's what I wanted to bellow to the soccer moms back then.  Everything government does is a mess; everything it does is a waste, from the Pentagon down to midnight basketball.  If you girls want a nice kindly society where people help each other, then start helping each other.  You ain't gonna get it from bigger government.

I return to 1998 today because of Michael Barone's piece about Obama's poll troubles.  It's not about the lackluster economy, writes Barone; the economy is growing, so things can't be too bad on the economic front.

No, Obama's problem is that the world on his watch is becoming noticeably disorderly.  And the distaff side notices that keenly.  Mr. President, Is It Safe? That's what women always ask.
Americans, unlike voters in many other countries, demand the maintenance of order in the world as well in their own nation. From the early days of the republic, there has been an unspoken awareness that what happens in the world affects their own lives.
The fact is that, under Obama, it is not safe.  The border is not safe, Chicago is not safe, the Middle East is not safe.  If we get down to the economy, well, the economy is not safe either.  And don't get me started on the federal budget.

In other words, the world is in a situation where US women have started to worry again about the safety of their loved ones.

Let's rehearse the model of the Democrats as the Mommy Party and the Republicans as the Daddy Party.  Women are always ready to forgive their loved ones for their folly, and slip Junior a $20 bill while Daddy isn't watching, while Daddy always wants the kids to learn the hard way.  But when things get hot and heavy then women rely on men to do the heavy lifting -- i.e. fighting -- to get the world back in order again.

Back in the 1970s the world was coming unstuck and so women found themselves supporting the rough tough Ronald Reagan, even though all the good and the great told them he was an extremist. Women knew it was Daddy Time. But 20 years later all seemed right with the world so women were ready to start slipping $20 bills to delinquent Junior again.

Today, it's obvious that we have squandered the legacy of Ronald Reagan, so the voters are coming to see that it's time to square up and restore order.

But it's such a shame that we can't learn from the past.  It's not that hard.  Government is only good for fighting wars.  Come peace time we should roll government up and deliver social services to our less fortunate brethren ourselves. To delegate the job to lifer bureaucrats and power-hungry activists and politicians is utter folly.  But hey, who can say No to free stuff?

At least we can thank President Obama and the Obamis for showing us how clueless and mindless and useless government can be. From the TSA to the VA and every IRS in between.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Millennials: Who's the Dominator, Business or Government?

We've been looking at business and government, and noting their huge power to dominate in the modern age.  But which is worst?  If you ask the politician or the activist they would say it's no contest.  The only thing saving the worker from a fate worse than death is the social legislation and regulation that the modern state has enacted over the last century to curb the power of business and corporations.

It was, of course, Karl Marx that set the campaign against business into overdrive.  Actually, his critique was nuanced.  He marveled at the wonders of technology and the world-wide reach of the trading system; he just felt that it would all end in tears because the efficiency of the system would squeeze out the worker, with corporations lowering wages down to subsistence level as they competed for business with each other.

In a way, Marx was right.  Older established corporations wither away and die all the time, and their workers suffer.  That's what the Joe Soptic steelworker story was all about in 2012.  But the story of the last century and a half is that while some workers suffer when their industries decline and fail, most workers benefit as technology and markets throw up more products at lower prices.  In the process farmers have become miners and steelworkers and manufacturing workers, and manufacturing workers have become service workers.  To put it crudely, whereas workers used to wield a shovel to move the earth, and then a machine, most workers today use machines (computers) to interact with other people.

It got to the point, in 1920, when the thinking Marxists of the Frankfurt School started moving towards the idea that both modern business and modern government were dominatory, exploitative entities.  What was needed was something to balance the power of system.  And Jurgen Habermas suggested that the answer was the free and intersubjective communication between humans as equal humans rather than the mechanical forces of business or government systems.  You mean they use machines to interact with other people?

But I want to push the argument a little further.  I want to suggest that, even in the interest of pure power, there is a limit to how far you can use business or government to dominate people.  Let's take business first.

The pure industrial system of human domination was not the satanic mill of the 19th century but the slave plantation of the 18th century.  People wrote books about how to organize a slave plantation on the "gang system" -- the prototype of the assembly line -- and how to apply a steady driving "force" to make the whole thing work.  Since the plantation owners on the West Indian sugar islands ran the government, they could apply whatever "steady driving force" they felt was needed.  And it was needed because post-pubertal males would not submit freely to the gang system.  But the plantation owners found that they got better results from their slaves by freeing them up to be creative and resourceful.

A century later the factory bosses found that it was almost impossible to get post-pubertal males to submit to the factory system.  The solution was compulsory education to get little kiddies used to submission for K through 12th grade.  Then they could be good productive employees in big organizations and do what they were told.

Still, businesses found that dutiful obedient employees weren't enough.  They needed creative resourceful employees that could solve problems and come up with new ideas.  So even as government was writing laws to regulate the relations between employer and worker the businessmen found that the best employees were free, creative employees.  Or they might leave.  Today, even at mega-corporation Walmart employees can go in the back room and take online courses to raise their hourly pay.  And if they see a product flying off the shelves at their store they have the authority to order more.

It's telling that when big government really got going in the 20th century it applied a degree of force in Soviet Russia and Maoist China that made the brutality of the slave-drivers look like a Sunday picnic.

But if you don't apply discipline, how do you get the workers to work?  In The Ordeal of Change longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer gives the answer.  It is individualism.  Why?  Because in the individualist society "the individual in the mass who turns to work as a means of proving his worth and usefulness."  In a collective society, you have worth just because you belong.  We are not talking about individual geniuses here.
All we can claim for the individual in [individualist] society is that he is more or less on his own; that he chooses his course through life, proves himself by his own efforts, and has to shoulder the responsibility of what he makes of his life.
In fact, individual freedom delivers the individual into the hands of a ruthless taskmaster: himself.

Do you see the paradox here?  In our society the left makes a big deal that we are all in this together and that you didn't build your business on your own.  But unless society promotes individualism the government or the employer will have to drive everyone at work.  It is only an individualist society where people motivate themselves to work, and thus do not need supervision and the encouragement of the overseer's lash.

In business, everyone is ceaselessly striving to improve their product or their service, to prove their worth and usefulness.  Even in my lifetime, we have seen the fall of the steel companies, the fall of the auto companies, the rise and fall of mainframe and minicomputers, the rise and fall of Sears and K-Mart.  Now we are seeing the old-line publishers in the coils of upstart Amazon.  Business reinvents itself every day; that's the only way it can keep offering jobs to American workers.

But look at government.  We are still in thrall to the bigger-is-better mentality as we try to make health care into a one-size-fits-all mega-program.  Suppose Obamacare is the best thing since sliced bread. How do we adjust it and reform it ten years, twenty years from now?  Notice how eager everyone is to reform Social Security and Medicare?  It is almost impossible to fix anything in government; that's because government is all about free stuff, and nobody will agree to give up their loot.  Don't cut my Medicare, says grandma.  Don't raise my payroll taxes, says the worker.  So nothing happens until the system breaks down.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, wrote Milton Friedman half a century ago.  If you want to lift the burden of responsibility from people and provide them with a safety net, then you must increase the level of force to make them work.  But if you leave people "on their own" then they will work and strive to provide products and services for other people.  If you leave business "on its own" then it will ceaselessly create a froth of new and improved products without anyone telling business what to do.  But if you decide to micromanage business and make it more socially conscious then you will have to ramp up the coercion and you will throttle the economy with rules and you will find that the poorest will suffer most.

These days the Millennial generation is having a tough time getting their adult lives off the ground.  There aren't many jobs and many Millennials are groaning under the weight of student debt.  The question is whether the answer is more government, to target the Millennials with special government programs and subsidies.  Or is the solution less government, to let Millennials create opportunities for themselves with a smaller government taking a smaller cut of the nation's product.

The answer, I suggest, is in the words of Aneurin Bevan, the British politician who got the National Health System started in the 1940s.  In order to get his bill passed he "stuffed their mouths with gold," in other words, he gave away the store to the medical profession.  Is that really the best we can do?  To help the poor we must enrich the special interests?  That's the way that Obamacare was passed, with handouts to insurance companies and drug companies.  There has to be a better way, and it probably means smaller government and fewer handouts to the powerful.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Millennials: Business is More Than Domination

In the last post we looked at the two remaining mega-fauna on Earth: big government and big business.  Both are monstrous systems and the purpose of systems, the German neo-Marxists tell us, is domination.

But business seems to be something more, because in the last two centuries, the age of business, the per-capita income of humans within the boundaries of capitalism has gone up by 20 times.  There has been nothing like it in human history, ever.  Remember those Robber Barons?  Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie made a fortune -- by cutting steel prices by two-thirds.  Oil monopolist John D. Rockefeller made billions by cutting the price of illuminating oil, the stuff they used in those cute oil lamps in Hollywood westerns, by 90 percent.  Today the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are doing the same thing with computers and devices.

But what is it?  Matt Ridley in The Rational Optimist calls it the collective mind.  Humans, unlike chimpanzees understand barter and exchange.  This means that humans can specialize and get really good at one thing, exchanging for the other things of life.  And that creates wealth, enormous wealth.

David Graeber in Debt: The First 5,000 Years confirms this idea.  There's an idea that the modern economy is founded upon money, he writes.  But really it's founded upon debt, and debt is founded upon the exchange of favors.  If I do you a favor then you owe me one in return.  People keep a rough balance of favors given and received, and it eventually gets formalized in debt and credit and money.  Credit, of course, means belief, the belief that the other guy will return the favor.  In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt calls this "equality matching" that gets formalized into "market pricing."

And that's the point.  Big business may be monstrous and terrifying, but it is based on the exchange of favors and trust.  Nobody forces me to go to Walmart; it's the low prices that attract me.  Nobody forces me to buy at Whole Foods, but if I believe in buying local and organic food and sustainability and Fair Trade it makes me feel better to pay a little more to John Mackey.

But what about banksters and insurance companies and overpaid CEOs?  What about the hard-hearted private equity guy Mitt Romney that laid off steelworker Joe Soptic?  There's a chicken-and-egg problem to ponder here.  Who dances to whose tune: are bankers the dupes of the political ruling class or are politicians the bribed apologists of the corporate plutocrats.

It comes down to this: Does Warren Buffett call the tune for the Obama administration or does wily Warren contribute money and support (for tax increases) in order to curry favor with the Obamis in the hope that they will leave him and his trains alone?  Obviously it is important to get it right.  Because if you get it wrong then you have completely misunderstood the economic and political reality of the modern era.

Here's my take on this.  My take is that modern political power is founded upon a strong and vibrant economy. A politician cannot cut a dash on the world stage unless he is backed by a vast economy that can yield vast revenues with which the politician can project national power.  On this view businessmen are pets to be encouraged and fed so they will dutifully generate huge wealth.  But it is the political ruling class that calls the shots.  Of course, if the politicians come down too hard on the businessmen and loot the productive sector so badly that they wreck the economy -- hey, it happens -- then they lose everything.  And so do you and I.

I have developed a simple notion to illustrate what I mean.  It's the difference between Dutch Finance and French Finance.  In the 16th century the Dutch developed, for the first time, a national debt, money that they borrowed from the Amsterdam merchants, and they used that debt in a rebellion to free the Dutch people from the empire of Spain.  The Dutch debt was a "funded" debt meaning that taxes were specifically earmarked to service the debt.  The British were impressed by the results, so when they invited Dutch stadtholder William of Orange to come over in 1688 and run things as King William III, they set up the Bank of England and started a funded national debt of their own.  It worked so well that in a century later the Brits defeated the French in the Battle of Waterloo at the end of the Second Hundred Years War and the French have never amounted to much in the world since.  The Brits defeated the French because French national finance was all screwed up.  They used the state's power to exploit the economy; they spent more money than the economy could afford; they defaulted on their national debt several times.  The French Revolution, after all, began with a mess in the French government finances.  My point is that the government has the power to encourage business and grow the economy; it also has the power to wreck the economy.  The banksters and Matthew Josephson's Robber Barons are all hostages to the government's economic policy.

The US started out with the economic policy of Alexander Hamilton.  As a kid, Hamilton had run a merchant's office in the West Indies.  As the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury he set up a funded national debt just like the Brits and the Dutch.  America's economy took off like a rocket.

Of course, if a businessman is smart he can make a fortune out of the government's mismanagement.  I am thinking of John Paulson who made billions betting against sub-prime mortgage securities in the run-up to the Great Crash of 2008.  But does John Paulson have political power?

Of course, I don't expect you to believe all this crazy stuff right off the bat.  But suppose it's true.  Suppose the politicians are in charge and the banksters are just their dupes.  What does it mean?  What does it tell us about the proper relationship between government and business, not to mention government and people?  That's what we'll look at in the next post.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Millennials: Is There a Difference Between Business and Government

In the last posts we looked at my radical assertion that government is force and that governments therefore are always interested in war --  not necessarily a shooting war, but some conflict with an enemy that needs to be subdued.

But what about business?  What about banksters?  What about corporate greed?  Aren't CEOs and used car salesmen just as bad as government?

The short answer is: yes, of course.  The modern market economy is a behemoth, and we are all helplessly yoked to it.  It is easy to see that the 19th century critics of capitalism were on to something when they complained about its terrifying force.  If Marx had been right in his prophesy that capitalism would "immiserate" the working class and the middle class his remedy, to smash capitalism, would have been modest and prudent.

But an amazing thing happened in the 19th century, and Marx's critique came out at just about the last moment when the idea of Capitalism = Disaster was credible.  It turned out by the end of the 19th century that capitalism's profits were trickling down to the working class.  And by the end of the 19th century thinking German Marxists had to admit that the immiseration thesis, that the working class would be reduced to a bare existence on the edge of starvation, had been exploded.

Indeed, the working class was thriving, building its own authentic social institutions like the labor union and the friendly society.

In consequence the story of the last century has been about a great contradiction.  All the best people had committed to a doctrine based on the idea that the economic institutions of the industrial revolution were leading straight to disaster; but the facts on the ground showed that the opposite was happening.  As transsexual economist Deirdre McCloskey writes in her Bourgeois Era books, the last two hundred years has seen, in the developed countries, a rise in income from $1 to $3 per capita per day to something over $100 per capita per day, using constant dollars. And any country -- think China -- that switches to the capitalist model repeats the story  There has been nothing like this in human history, ever.  We are talking about per capita income that has increased by 20 times in 200 years!

So the fact of our existence is that we are yoked to a merciless monster, the global market economy, from whom there is no escape.  But that monster keeps making us richer and richer.

And who has been affected more than the rich?  At the turn of the 20th century the poor were thin and the rich were fat, as they had since time immemorial.  Now, a century later, the poor are fat and the rich are thin.  Think about the deprivation this means for what Tom Wolfe called "social X-rays."  These days rich women have to starve themselves to show that they are different from the fat and disgusting poor. (Don't tell this to your liberal friend: they hate being told that the poor are as fat as butterballs.)

Let us stipulate (that's a fancy legal term meaning that we'll agree not to disagree) that government is force and capitalism is not much better.  My guy Jurgen Habermas calls it "system."  Government is a system and so is the market economy.  The thing about system is that it is set up for domination.  People in government and people in business act "strategically."  He means that governments and businesses act to manipulate the world, to "use" it, rather than to interact in a social manner.

We said earlier that governments are always interested in war, because since government is force it stands to reason that the people in government are always looking for a job that needs force or compulsion, whether it's ridding the world of Commies or ridding the nation of sugary soft drinks.

But what about business?  Businessmen talk all the time about capturing market share and burying the competition. But businesses are different when it comes to their customers.  They want customers to like them.  They want them to trust them.  That is why, when a corporation is discovered lying or making defective products the whole world descends upon them.  General Motors is the butt of every joke because of defective ignition switches that they tried to cover up.  But government?  Well you tell me how the VA and the IRS have reacted to recent scandals.  Lots of people are talking about "fake scandals" in the Obama administration.  But nobody is making excuses for General Motors.

So what is the difference between the monster of government and the monster of capitalism?

In the next piece I'll try to persuade you that it's government that calls the shots, not the banksters and the CEOs.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Millennials: Government Turns Everything into a War

In my last post I proposed the radical idea that "government is force."  Government is not, as President Obama has said, "simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together."  That is rubbish. As social animals just about everything we humans do is done together.

The significance of government is that it is the name of things we do together under the shadow of force or, as the neo-Marxists say, under a system of domination.

I know that you won't yet be convinced of this.  How could you?  We have all been carefully taught since we were babies to reverence and honor our political leaders.  Government protects us from robbers and commies; government runs the safety net that protects us from hunger and homelessness; government provides pensions, health care, and education.  And one of the key requirements for any politician running for office is to be likable, so that the voters think he "cares about people like me."

But now I'm going to proceed on the basis that "government is force," and I'm going to up the ante, by suggesting that "government turns everything into a war."

What I mean by this is that if government is force it will be looking for things to do that "obviously" require force.  After all, the time for talking is over.  We must fight against injustice, and force the oppressors to meet our just demands!  There is a word for operations that require force for their execution: war.

I don't mean by that a shooting war.  I mean a war in the definition of chaps like Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategist.  The best way to win a war, on his view, is without an actual battle: "To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill."  And the point of war is to subdue the enemy, by fair means or foul.

Have you ever noticed that in politics there always has to be an enemy?  If you are a conservative, the enemy used to be the Soviets; now the enemy is the Muslim terrorists.  Domestically, the conservative enemy is "big-spending liberals" and the ACLU.  If you are a liberal, you sneer at the idea of foreign enemies: that's just neo-colonialism.  But liberals make up for that with a superabundance of domestic enemies: right-wing Christians, right-wing gun nuts, the patriarchy, the racists, the homophobes.  And that says nothing about the banksters, insurance company profits, corporate greed, and Wall Street plutocrats.

I'd never really thought through all this until I started to study Marx.  Why did Marx have such a special animus for the bourgeoisie and capitalism, I wondered?  He might have said: Look, things look pretty ratty right now in the 1840s, but look at the amazing things that capitalism has brought us, from steamships to railways that have transformed the economy.  Sure, things look nasty, but they'll probably work themselves out.

Instead he said that even though the bourgeoisie had invented all these amazing things disaster lay ahead through "immiseration" of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie, and so the whole thing had to be destroyed and utterly dominated by a new political elite.

Of course he did.  Otherwise there would be no need for chaps like Marx.  Marx needed a war on someone, otherwise the Communist Manifesto would just have been a damp recommendation for a few practical reforms.  So, as a revolutionary, Marx instinctively built a case for all-out war on capitalism which could only end in the utter subduing of the capitalists and, even more important, the capitalist spirit (see Sun Tzu, above).

My point is that unless you prophesy a war you don't need politics.  And if you don't need politics you don't need activists and politicians to mobilize the people for "political struggle."  And what would the politicians and activists do then, poor things?

Now take a look at the domestic political landscape in America.

We are just mopping up after the war for "marriage equality."  Notice that the victory cannot stop with merely enacting gay marriage.  It has to continue with the subduing of individuals that don't agree with the avant garde.  They must be shamed and shunned.

Obamacare was sold to us as the remedy for the injustice of the uninsured. This injustice required not just a few cozy subsidies but the complete reworking of the individual insurance market.  Why would that be?  Because to tinker with the system is unsatisfying for political activists.  They want a great cause, and they want to transform America in the process.  They must have enemies like insurance companies and mean-spirited Republicans, and the enemies must be made to bow the knee to the new dispensation.  That's what the Hobby Lobby flap was all about.

What's Social Security?  A war on poverty in old age.  Education?  A war on ignorance.  Welfare?  A War on Poverty.

Now when it comes to foreign wars our liberal friends are all agreed that war never solved anything.  Give Peace a Chance, they say.  But what about on the domestic front?  Couldn't we find another way to educate our children than forcing them to attend government child custodial facilities?  Could we take care of our seniors without a comprehensive and mandatory program that sequesters the savings of workers in so-called government trust funds?

Of course, the advocates of big government counter that, in this dangerous world with big corporations and big banks that can crush the little guy you need a tough guy in your corner.  You need tough regulations to tame the corporate monsters.

Good point.  Corporations are astonishingly powerful, especially when with "creative destruction" a new kid on the block like Steve Jobs can turn the computer world upside down.  The only thing is that government regulation usually operates to prevent the Steve Jobs of the world from turning things upside down.  There is even a word for it: "regulatory capture."  Looking over the past century, the great age of regulation, the public choice theorists argue that it usually happens that the regulated corporations learn how to flatter the regulators and bribe the politicians into protecting them rather than regulating them.

But let's take a look at the corporations.  How powerful, and how problematic are they?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Millennials: Why Government is Force

In my last post I took a look at a recent poll of millennials, and determined to open a conversation with my millennial friends.  Now we get down to serious business, the radical idea that government is force.

Congressional candidate Dave Brat caused a bit of a ruckus recently when some oppo researcher uncovered a paper the professor had written.  He wrote that "The government holds a monopoly on violence."

To our liberal friends this is shocking, but Charles W. Cooke isn't impressed:
Who among us genuinely doubts this to be the case? Only those, I would venture, who are so uncomfortable with the consequences of their philosophy that they seek the dull refuge of lazy euphemism and collective myopia. It is, it seems, decidedly easier idiotically to repeat that “government is the only thing we all belong to,” or that “government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together” than to acknowledge that, whether one is advocating a small government that takes care of the basics or a Leviathan that seeks to meddle in the smallest recesses of the human heart, one is invoking Thomas Hobbes.
Actually, I would argue, all ruling classes like to elide the truth about government.  That is why Russian peasants were taught to think of the Czar as their "Little Father."  That is why we symbolize the US government as Uncle Sam. Remember Soviet dictator Stalin as "Uncle Joe?"  The truth is that every government maintains power by the unspoken power of its force, whether it is led by a patriarchial feudal lord, an absolute monarch, a revolutionary leader or a democratic president.

The modern state is worse than most, and its power begins with its ruthless tax bureaucracy.  Try and mess with the IRS and see where it gets you.

Guess what?  The modern tax bureaucracy is not an invention of big government liberals, or the evil bourgeoisie but the absolute monarchs.  Back in the 1600s kings found that they needed more money, a lot more money, to prevent takeover by the neighboring monarch, so they invented the tax bureaucracy to drill down through the guilds and the lords so they could tax individuals and extract the money they needed for their armies.

In due course along came the modern democratic revolutions.  But the tax bureaucracy stayed and flourished, because the first thing a government needs is money.  Indeed, a democratic government needs much more money than an absolute monarch.  It needs money not just for armies, but money for its supporters, money to buy votes, money even for old-age pensions and vital infrastructure.

Moreover, every government we know of was founded on force.  Our own US government was founded on a successful rebellion, and the land we love was taken by force from the "native Americans."  Modern Russia was born in a coup against the Kerensky government.  Modern France was born in a bloody revolution.  Modern Germany was born through a couple of wars.  Modern Britain was born in a convenient Dutch invasion in 1688, known today by the lazy euphemism of Glorious Revolution.

Every government works overtime to show that it's not really all about force.  That's why every government works to show it "cares about people like me" and does everything "for the children."  And that's why our Democratic friends are always going on about Republicans being "heartless" when they want to cut spending.  But what about the heartless payroll taxes that take money out of the pockets of ordinary workers before they even see the money in their paychecks? What do you call that?

Put it this way.  Back in the days of Watergate and the Bush years, it wasn't hard to find a political writer worrying about whether Nixon or Bush was planning to cancel the next election.  Today we have conservatives worrying about Obama's illegal administrative actions.

It's pretty obvious what is going on. When you are in the opposition you are always worrying about whether the government will jump the tracks and start ruling by decree rather than the rule of law.  Instinctively, people know that behind its pretty words, government is force.  That's OK when our guys are in charge, because they have their hearts in the right place.  But when the other party is in power, every patriotic citizen should be eternally vigilant, watching for abuses of power and ready to protest against injustice.

I know this is all pretty radical.  So let's amp it up with the idea that government always wants a war, foreign and domestic.  Because, if government is force, it stands to reason that government will look for things to do that require force.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Millennials: Let's Talk!

The folks at Reason-Rupe just released a poll about Millennial political opinions.  Not surprisingly, you Millennials are confused.  A majority, 59% are in favor of tax cuts, but 66% percent think that raising taxes on the rich would help the economy.

57 percent of millennials want wealth distributed according to achievement, but 68 percent say government should ensure that everyone makes a living wage.

You can see what is going on here.  You millennials have been buffeted around by everyone's political talking points, and so you want plenty of things that are mutually incompatible.  Join the club!

It would be nice to have a consistent view of the world of politics, although, of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson warned us that a "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers".

Let us be clear about this: "foolish consistency" only applies to other people.  For you and I a consistent view of the world is nothing less than common sense, or even the sophisticated German idea of a world-view, a Weltanshauung.  Everybody has one, but not everyone has thought about it, or tried to resolve the inevitable inconsistencies.

I'm going to talk about my world view in this and subsequent pieces.  I believe that the current system is reaching the end of its useful life.  It may have been a good idea, a century ago, to build a government welfare state state featuring government furnished, government administered benefits like old-age pensions and health care and education and welfare, but today I think we can see that reform is needed.

The trouble is that ideas that seemed pretty good a century ago can be totally out of place a century later.  It seemed like a good idea to provide a basic pension to old people back in 1900, especially since few people lived as long as 65 years old.  But the problem is that the funding mechanism set in place for Social Security back in 1935 -- a mere 2 percent of wages -- becomes a monster in 2014 at over 12 percent of wages.

The point is: how can we, as a society, provide decent safety nets for our people without breaking the bank.  For make no mistake, the burden falls heaviest on you guys, the millennial generation.  The way that Social Security and Medicare are set up the only flexibility is on the payment side.  Try to reduce benefits on the baby boomers and see what happens to you.  But saddle Millennials with student debt and a lousy job market and who cares?

Then there are the social issues.  Everyone wants to be free, but where does freedom turn into license?  Conservatives don't much like gay marriage.  But liberals don't much like sugary soft drinks.  They hate to bow to other peoples' morality.  Yet everyone is mad to "legislate their morality" on the rest of America.

At least everyone hates those evil banksters. Except that nobody seems to do anything about them.  What gives?

Let's start at the beginning, with the idea that government is force.  A little extreme, you think?  Well, it's my belief that you can be a patriotic American and support your government, and still be radically suspicious of every politician and activist.  Because when you come down to it, government not about the things we do together, as President Obama has said.  It is about things that we authorize the government to do with force, from the IRS and taxes to the EPA and environmental regulation.  The government does not say you may pay your taxes.  It says you must pay your taxes or go to jail.  The whole idea is for a majority in Congress or in the Supreme Court to force its ideas on the minority.

So let's take a broader look at government.  There's nothing wrong with government being force; it's just that I think that it's important to be clear about it.  People like to think that government that implements their idea is nothing less than justice.  I want you to think twice about that.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Will Obama's Cloward-Piven Actually Work?

Back in the Sixties, lefty professors Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven proposed a political strategy to crash the welfare system to force the Democratic Party to introduce a guaranteed minimum wage.

Ever since, conservatives have been terrified that liberals are always trying to crash the system and flood activists into the street so that they can stampede us into some new comprehensive and mandatory new program on the whole nation that makes government bigger and increases liberal domination.

Today, many conservatives suspect that the southern border crisis is a deliberate Cloward-Piven-type effort by the Obama administration to force a comprehensive amnesty bill down the throats of the American people.

Perhaps we should ease off the conspiracy theory stuff and relax a little.

First of all, governments know that it always takes a crisis to push through a change.  That's the meaning of the old chestnut from H.L. Mencken:
Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.
 OK H.L.  But you are missing the truth that the whole point of government is to rally the people against an existential threat.  Politicians instinctively know that.  So politicians are always trying to turn a national hang-nail into the Second Coming.  Thus the crisis of the uninsured means we need a comprehensive health insurance program.  Rising global temperatures require an anti-carbon crusade.

Conservatives have their own longing for crisis.  We know, or we think we know, that there isn't a hope of reforming the welfare state and its middle-class entitlements until there is No More Money.  So we sometimes wonder if the best strategy is to pile on new entitlements, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wants to do, and so advance the day when the middle-class entitlements go broke.

But the real problem with a crisis is that it doesn't just empower the government to act.  It creates a revolutionary situation when anyone may grab the reins of state and change things.  It may be true that there isn't a hope of reforming entitlements until they go broke, but it is also true that the American people, as mobilized by various interests, may demand reform that makes things worse.

Just today there's an article by Steve Malanga about the state and local government pension crisis.  It's pretty obvious what needs to be done, but don't tell that to the government unions and the state judges.  There's a good case to be made that the government unions should make a good deal now rather than wait until voters get really pissed off by collapsing government services.  But, really, they won't.  The unions represent existing employees and retirees; most of them will get through their retirement before the crash comes, so why worry?

That's why I don't think that President Obama has some fiendishly cunning plan up his sleeve on immigration.  He has just been doing what the liberal activists groups have wanted, and he has lazily assumed that as things got worse they would create a crisis that would grease the skids for a comprehensive immigration bill.  But it looks like popular opinion is trending away from an elite cramdown as militia groups mobilize and blacks complain and protest about immigration.

There's nothing remarkable about all this.  It's the political analog of military strategy.  Do you seek the decisive battle or do you march around and avoid battle?  Democrats have tended to assume that they will win the decisive battle.  And maybe they are right.  Until they are wrong.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Death to the Moderates!

Everyone agrees that politicians win elections by appealing to the moderates.  Because they hold the balance between the partisans of the Democratic and the partisans of the Republican Party.

But now comes liberal enfant terrible Ezra Klein to argue that this is all wrong.  And the reason is that moderates aren't really moderate.  Instead they tend to hold a range of opinions on political issues all over the political map.  They only look moderate when you balance their opinions out!
What happens, explains David Broockman, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, is that surveys mistake people with diverse political opinions for people with moderate political opinions. The way it works is that a pollster will ask people for their position on a wide range of issues: marijuana legalization, the war in Iraq, universal health care, gay marriage, taxes, climate change, and so on. The answers will then be coded as to whether they're left or right. People who have a mix of answers on the left and the right average out to the middle — and so they're labeled as moderate.
Now, to be honest, I usually don't give Ezra Klein the time of day, but here I think we should pay attention.

In reality, Klein writes, partisans of the political parties tend to be more moderate than the moderates, because the partisans tend to take up the ideas advanced by their parties.  Political parties are afraid of extreme positions that might not have broad support, for obvious reasons, and so their political partisans follow suit.

The rubber hits the road on all this when states start passing laws like open primaries to encourage the supposed moderate voters.
These reforms include open primary elections, nonpartisan redistricting, and public funding of elections. But "the bulk of studies on these reforms finds little evidence that they improve moderate candidates' fortunes."

The answer, Ahler and Brookman realize, is simple: these voters don't want moderate candidates because these voters aren't actually moderates.
The reason that "moderates" are so immoderate is that they are detached from the political public square, so they don't feel any pressure to moderate their views or make them consistent so that they could enter into a political coalition with a hope in hell of getting their ideas implemented.

On Klein's argument we should encourage party voting and identification because it encourages voters to develop a consistent set of political beliefs.

Klein shows a set of graphs showing the spread of opinion on 12 issues from very liberal to very conservative. He notes that on only two issues is the moderate position the "modal" position.  But, in bad news for conservatives, public opinion is skewed towards the liberal position on Social Security, Medicare, and taxes.

Which explains why nobody is interested in reforming them.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Neo-Feudalism is not an Accident

Yesterday I wrote a piece on the over-under coalition that our ruling class runs.  It's a joint effort of the People of the Creative Self and the People of the Tribal Self.  The People of the Creative Self want to rule, and the People of the Tribal Self want to belong and to get free stuff.

Now I find that everyone is writing the same thing.  Fred Bauer writes about the "new feudalism." He references Joel Kotkin's argument that California is calcifying into a neo-feudal society with a ruling class of oligarchs (tech and finance) and clerisy (media and government) backed up by an increasing corps of serfs (working and non-working poor).  The middle class of yeomen get to be the piggy in the middle.

The problem is, of course, that neo-feudalism leads to neo-stasis, neo-inflation, neo-injustice, and neo-cruelty.  Because Hayek and his settled science that a political elite cannot organize a prosperous society because the job is just too big for politics.  But liberal fundamentalists think that their old-time statist religion is good enough for them and if it's good enough for them it better be good enough for the rest of us or else.  Don't bother them with the science!

The point is that this neo-feudalism was baked in the cake way back in the beginning of the rule of the educated ruling class a century ago.  Indeed, that's probably why Bismarck liked government social insurance for the Germans: he was a genuine feudalist, not a cheap neo- version!

In this dispiriting time of Obama malaise we can take comfort that the internal contradictions of neo-feudalism are finally eating the ruling class alive.  The Obamacare mess is a direct result of imagining that with a 2,000 page bill and a stack of regulations you can reorganize health care.  The immigration mess is a result of the ruling class not being serious about defending the border and telling the people of Central America with nods and winks that they are all welcome to come and join the serfs.

It's interesting to read the report of a meeting on "June 30 between President Barack Obama and a host of leftist pro-amnesty groups including the Center for American Progress, the Service Employees International Union, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Leadership Council on Civil Rights."
Obama did most of the talking, promising the groups that he would take executive action to slow deportations and grant legal status to millions of undocumented workers. Obama also said he would criticize Congress for its lack of action on immigration reform, ignoring the fact nobody on Capitol Hill trusts the president to carry out any laws they’d pass.
But the president still made the activists unhappy, because he "argued forcefully that the U.S. had to signal its intent to enforce the law through deportations" and he told the groups that he had to enforce the law.  For them, open borders is a moral issue.

It's also a moral issue for the rest of us.

The truth is that neo-feudalism is not just a power thing, it's a religion.  And the only thing that will cure liberals of their religion is utter destruction at the polls.

But first we need a cultural renaissance that floods the zone with a love of freedom and responsible individualism.  That's because, as Andrew Breitbart said, politics is downstream from culture, and right now liberal culture is dominant. In fact, liberals are ramming their culture down our throats.

Who knows, maybe the day we pluck up the courage to tell the liberal Savonarolas and Torquemadas to take their hate and shove it we will find that a freedom culture has been there all along.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Double Game of the Ruling Class

On the one hand our educated rulers insist that there is no difference between the races.  On the other hand they insist on treating the races differently with "affirmative action" and "diversity."

But now, with the modern analysis of the human genome, we know that humans really do display genetic differences that are "recent, copious, and regional."  Those words come from Nicholas Wade's controversial Troublesome Inheritance. Meanwhile, as Michael Barone reminds us:
The American Anthropological Association states that race "is a recent human invention" and "is about culture, not biology." The American Sociological Association calls race "a social construct" and decries "the danger of contributing to the popular conception of race as biological."
On the one hand our educated rulers insist that they must rule over us because we can't be trusted not to fall for nationalist and racist demagogues.  On the other hand they invented "identity politics" so they could appeal for votes on the basis of sex, race, and language.

Then our educated rulers fell head over heels in love with Barack Obama, a man that clearly governs as a racist demagogue.

On the one hand our educated rulers insist that Americans follow the law.  On the other hand President Obama rules with his phone and his pen.  We know why this is so; it is because it is impossible to write laws with the complexity to grasp a comprehensive task like, e.g., health care or immigration.  It is mere common sense to know that all human activity relies, in the end, upon the flexibility and good will of the humans involved.  But the whole point of a legal system is to draw simple lines in the sand.  It is also common sense that when many lines are drawn in the sand for many laws the result will be indecipherable.

What does it all mean?

In my view we should look at this by recognizing that our educated ruling class is, first of all, like any other ruling class.  It wants to rule.  It wants to use government to implement its vision of a good society.  Generally speaking, in the modern era, that means government as an aesthetic project, producing a society that is pleasing to the eye of the educated ruling class.

Let us call this ruling class the People of the Creative Self; they believe in the German cult of creativity that began not later than the Romantic movement at the turn of the 19th century.  They believe, of course, that they have a heavenly mandate to create a new society on earth by creative political innovation.

The ruling class has a problem because its creative vision clashes with another group, the modern middle class that I call the People of the Responsible Self.  The People of the Responsible Self believe in responsible individualism.  They believe they should be free, as responsible individuals, to live lives substantially free from detailed government regulation, and they believe that they should be free to worship God (or Gaia or Mammon) in their own way.

The People of the Responsible Self create a problem for the educated ruling class, because they disagree about the nature of the good society.  Nobody can tell what will result from a society of responsible individuals working and playing individually without conforming to an overall national plan. In consequence the ruling class has been forced to appeal over the heads of the responsible individualists to the lower orders to get the support it needs for its aesthetic project.  But there is a problem. The lower orders are not responsible individualists or educated creatives.  They are tribal.  If you want to win their votes you must make tribal appeals; you must act like a tribal leader and frankly offer them free stuff in return for their support, and you must couch your appeal in terms of an embattled tribe struggling to exist in a world of enemies: bosses, patriarchs, KKKs, bigots, etc.

There is, of course, a fundamental contradiction here.  How can the educated ruling class create a perfect world of aesthetic harmony and liberation and emancipation when it obtains its political support by frank appeal to race and gender and the shameless offer of loot?

It can't, and that's why we see the whole progressive project of the educated ruling class collapsing all around us.  What our educated ruling class needs to learn, in the words of Chief Justice Roberts, is this: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."  The way for a ruling class to achieve a society that soars above racism and sexism is to lead without resorting to appeals based on race and gender.

Hypocrisy, they say, is the homage that vice pays to virtue.  We are all hypocrites, and all end up undone by our hypocrisy.  Especially ruling classes.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Government Professor Attacks Austrian Economics

I get that Noah Smith's gig at Bloomberg View is to bring a light touch to economics and business.  And as an assistant professor of finance at a government university, it doesn't hurt your career to take a swing at Austrian economics, the brain-child of Austrians Carl Menger and Ludwig von Mises, and call its supporters 9/11 truthers with brain worms.

Back in the good old days, it was Immanuel Kant that decided that philosophy needed a critique.  That's why he called his great works The Critique of Pure Reason, The Critique of Practical Reason, etc.  Ever since, inquiring minds have buzzed around the flame of "critical theory."

Now the point of so-called Austrian economics is that it is a critique of modern government and its interventionist economy.  The point of so-called Keynesian economics is that it is an apology for interventionist economics.

You can see where professors at government universities would come down on that.

When the classic economists first developed economics as a system it was a critique of mercantilism, the theory that government needed to supervise the economy to encourage exports and the inflow of gold.  National wealth, it was thought, was founded on a big hoard of gold; imports were a drain on national strength.  Nonsense, said the Adam Smiths and David Ricardos.  What matters is to encourage the markets and trade.  Leave off promoting exports and penalizing imports: all you are doing is cutting off your nose to spite your face.

But the rise of government programs in the late 19th century created a problem.  The new government programs interfered with the normal operation of the economy.  In broad terms they represented government spending that had to be maintained through good times and bad.  In the Great Depression of 1929-33 this created a huge problem.  "Orthodox" economics said that you should let the markets find a new equilibrium.  But meanwhile people were suffering, and that included big special interests.  So the government raised taxes and spending to keep things going, only they didn't.

Keynesian economics was hailed as the answer to the problem of the Great Depression, because the raising of taxes and spending didn't get the US out of the Depression.  A new approach was needed to get the government out of the jam.  The solution was to increase the money supply and use it to pay for the increased spending.  If that meant a little inflation, so much the better because it would float investments that the market collapse had put underwater.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2007-09 Keynesian economics has actually worked pretty well from the Democrats' point of view.  They have maintained benefits for their supporters and the economy has not crashed like it did in 1929-33.  But the downside is that growth has been pitiful.  Of course it has.  Huge amounts of money have gone to maintaining people in their current situation with welfare payments and bailouts of banks and auto companies; that means that people have not adjusted to the post-crash reality as fast as they could have.

Austrian economics says that all this is rubbish.  It says that the first problem is cheap money to get out of a recession: all that does is ignite a new unsustainable boom and an inevitable crash.  What is needed is to liquidate the malinvestments of the previous boom as quickly as possible so that growth may resume on the basis of a balanced credit system not a credit system artificially boosted by cheap money.  But the Keynesians say that liquidation is cruel and hurts the vulnerable.

Since Austrian economics is a critique of our current authoritarian welfare state and its interventionist economics it is not surprising that everyone from mild conservative-libertarians to wild-eyed radicals have piled on.  It is these wild-eyed radicals that Noah Smith is sneering at.

In my view some kind of Keynesian economics is inevitable so long as we maintain a big-government state.  The fact is that big government is stupid and unable to adjust to changing conditions.  So it needs the manipulations of the Keynesians to keep it going and to get out of jams.  The fact is that devaluation or inflation is the easiest way for government to get out of a jam without having to deal with riots in the streets.

But Keynesian economics is cruel and unjust and the Obama economy proves it.  Who is benefitting right now? Rich guys like me that are 100% invested in the bubble stock market and poor people chugging along on EBT and disability.  Oh and don't forget the federal government that is paying $225 billion a year in net interest instead of $1 billion a year that it would have to pay if interest rates were allowed to rise to a normal level.  Who is being screwed? The average worker that is afraid to quit their job, the young people that can't find a job, and the mom-and-pop investor with money in the bank or the bond market that's earning zero interest.

Meanwhile, let's have a laugh at the crazies on the right.  Good call, Noah Smith