Tuesday, June 30, 2015

No, Dennis Prager; the Left Does Not Run on "Feelings"

One of radio host Dennis Prager's recurrent memes is that the left runs on feelings. It's not grounded in the Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition, but encourages free-floating "feelings." Here is Prager in the aftermath of the Supreme Court on gay marriage and the end of Judeo-Christian America.
Americans, from the Founders on, understood that without God, there is no moral truth, only moral opinion -- and assumed that those truths were to be gleaned from the Bible more than anywhere else.
But now the Judeo-Christianity in America's public square has been tossed in the garbage can.
And what has replaced Judaism, Christianity, Judeo-Christian values and the Bible?

The answer is: feelings. More and more Americans rely on feelings to make moral decisions. The heart has taken the place of the Bible.

Years ago, I recorded an interview with a Swedish graduate student. I began by asking her whether she believed in God. Of course not. Did she believe in religion? Of course not.

"Where, then, do you get your notion of right and wrong?" I asked.

"From my heart," she responded. 
I love Dennis Prager, but I think that he misunderstands the issue here. That Swedish graduate student's "heart" was not getting its notions from free-floating "moral opinions."  It was getting a new moral law from a new "god" and a new "bible." To quote Oscar Hammerstein II: "you've got to be carefully taught." The feelings we all experience as natural and right are in fact the end product of careful ideological education.

The new god is the god of creativity and identity. The new bible is the intellectual output of 150 years of leftist thought, from the Enlightenment and Romanticism and Fourier and Saint-Simon and Marx and Engels to the Frankfurt School to feminism to environmentalism to the Empire trilogy of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.

I try to understand the modern era by dividing its people into three tribes. There are the people of the creative self who experience themselves as evolved and educated beyond the norm, and ordained by reason and inspiration to be first an avant-garde and then the cultural and political ruling class. There are the people of the responsible self that believe in freedom and responsibility, and experience themselves as part of a community of free people worldwide that live by serving each other. Then there are the people of the subordinate self that live by attaching themselves to a powerful lord and think of themselves as a tribe united by kin or race or gender or other tribal identity against the world.

The left has constructed a secular religion based on the notion that the people of the responsible self are not free and responsible persons but exploiters and oppressors who are grinding the people of the subordinate self into the ground with their oppressive politics and their exploitative economics; they aren't very nice to creative people either because they want to cut funding to the arts. The people of the creative self are called by everything that's creative and compassionate to protect the people of the subordinate self from this reign of oppression and to create a better world for all through fundamental transformation of politics and culture.

It's a pity, of course, that the left's Marxian and Fabian economics was exploded over a century ago as false and chimerical. It's a shame that its anti-bourgeois culture that is really neo-feudal in character results in cultural chaos for the poor and slows the assimilation of immigrants to the city into the international capitalist economy where they eventually take their place as people of the responsible self. It's ominous that its cultural norms discourage people from having children. It's an outrage that the leftist god and leftist bible have visited death and misery on the world ever since they went on-line in the mid 19th century.

The fact that failures and famines and terrors have not discredited the left proves that the left's belief system is not founded on un-directed "feelings" but is in fact the "true religion" to its priests and its adherents. We may say that the core of its church community is the educated young Swedish woman who thinks that she acts from her "heart" when in fact she is a nice young lady that just graduated from progressive finishing school and passed all the classes in progressive moral law.

The task before conservatives is to change the culture so that well-bred young Swedish graduate students will be obtaining their notions of right and wrong from hearts undamaged by the follies and crimes of the left.

Monday, June 29, 2015

It's the Pensions, Stupid.

On July 5, writes John Fund, "the Greek people will be asked to make a choice: either 'surrender' and give in to cuts in pensions and higher taxes or refuse and perhaps be forced to exit the euro and go back to a depreciated drachma as their national currency."

The Greek people are of one mind on all this. About 80 percent of them want to stay in the Euro; and about 80 percent of them are opposed to "austerity" spending cuts and tax increases.

So the Greeks aren't much different from Americans. We Americans all demand our entitlements and benefits but we don't want to pay for them.

Here's Cliff Taylor in the Irish Times talking about the difference between the Irish "austerity" and the Greek "austerity." Both countries did a pretty good job of "in terms of cutting borrowing" but to reduce debt you need high growth.
The problem is that Greece never got momentum moving firmly in the right direction; it never got around the corner. As the crisis took hold, its debt level shot up, reaching more than 170 per cent of GDP. Reducing such a high debt level requires high growth (along with a bit of inflation) and a big surplus on the government’s annual budget, excluding debt costs.
This ought to be obvious. You can't have a flourishing, prosperous nation state unless you have economic growth.

Ireland, on the other hand, started the crisis with very low national debt, so it was able to get "around the corner" and resume growth in 2012.

Of course, you can't really have high growth if you are burdening your economy with e.g. Obamacare.

So let us try and understand the problem of the modern administrative welfare state.

The problem is really very simple. The whole idea is to tax the country up to the limit that is politically possible, and distribute the revenue in entitlements and subsidies. Usually, however, the government borrows a little to sweeten the pot a little. Since this works pretty well in normal times everybody is happy.

But the truth is that when you get into debt you are making a bet against the future that cannot go wrong. You must have the income to make your payments; otherwise you get into a world of hurt.

This is obvious in personal finances. People that mortgage themselves up to the hilt get wiped out if they lose a job.

The same thing applies to administrative welfare states. When there's a recession or a crash they must continue to pay their normal entitlements to pensioners plus their free health care and free education, but must also increase their welfare expenditures substantially to take care of all the people thrown out of work. All this on reduced revenues because of the recession. This wouldn't matter if, say, the government was collected and spending about 10% of GDP. But at 40% of GDP you can't really afford a recession, because you already are paying entitlements to tons of people to do nothing. Now you need to bail out the banks and also pay the unemployed.

The solution is pretty simple: privatize all pensions, privatize health care and education. No more "defined benefit" pensions. Then the state can weather a crash and a depression by borrowing. No problem.

But of course no modern state is going to do that because every state that ever was has maintained itself by paying pensions to its supporters.

Either way, for nations and for individuals, don't ever forget that when you contract a debt you are making a bet that you'll repay before the downside hits. Because the downside for a debtor means that you get wiped out.

The thing to watch in the Greek crisis is how the bank depositors get screwed. In Argentina in 2002 they wiped out the depositors, and in Cyprus they gave them a haircut. The buzz-word is "bail-in."

Friday, June 26, 2015

The "Frozen" Girls "Inside Out" the Boat

At the end of The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown's book about the University of Washington varsity crew that went to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, oarsman Joe Rantz marries Joyce, his faithful high-school sweetheart, and lives happily ever after.

The Boys in the Boat is narrative non-fiction that mixes male athletic competition with the hard-scrabble story of Joe Rantz and the horrible fact of rising Nazi fascism. One of the contrasts Brown draws is between the comfortable upper-middle class undergraduates "in pressed slacks and freshly shined oxfords and cardigan sweaters" and the kids from the artisan class who just managed to scrape together the tuition and were working night jobs to stay in school. Further in the book we get to contrast the converted government seaplane hangar in which the Washington Husky crew kept their rowing shells with the lavish crew facilities of the WASP colleges back east.

But I found myself reading the book as an allegory of our own time.

After all, if Joe Rantz was chucked out by his father's second wife when Joe was ten, we have our own abandoned athletes like The Blind Side's Michael Oher. And if you are a conservative you can't help notice the parallels between 1930s Nazi fascism and today's Liberal Fascism.

Oh sure, we aren't putting anyone in concentration camps, but we are firing prominent people for having the wrong opinions on gay marriage. We don't have Leni Riefenstahl and her Triumph of the Will, but we did have a big presidential acceptance speech a while back staged in a stadium complete with heroic camera angles and Grecian formula columns in back of the candidate. We don't have the virulently anti-semitic Der Stürmer, but we do have the virulent mob of social justice warriors ready to turn out a Twitter mob to name and shame anyone who dares to voice an heretical thought that departs from liberal orthodoxy.

For me, the Command Central of liberal cultural orthodoxy is the children's CGI cartoon feature. I am talking about Disney mega-hit Frozen and the current Pixar-Disney hit Inside Out that's now playing in a theater near you.

Both Frozen and Inside Out are what used to be called "fractured fairy tales." They need to be broken because the originals don't serve the liberal zeitgeist and don't send the message that liberals want to indoctrinate in our children. Frozen is a rewrite of Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen. Only now the heroine is not trying to find the ordinary lost boy next door, corrupted by a shard from the Snow Queen's mirror, but trying to rescue her sister, and both are princesses. In the Frozen ending the two sisterly princesses are best friends forever instead of the boy and girl next door living happily ever after through the strength of Gerda's Christian love.

In Inside Out we have a little girl tossed out of her happy Minnesota childhood, complete with championship hockey team, into the tech startup world of San Francisco; and her world collapses. Her troubles are symbolized by a pop-psych (but actually mechanical) representation of her emotions where Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust rule her consciousness from Headquarters. The trouble starts when this white-bread upper-middle-class girl gets up in the diverse class in her new San Francisco school complete with right-on black teacher and discovers her sadness over the life she left behind.

(Diverse class? In the city of San Francisco? Where I imagine every parent is a white helicopter parent or an Asian tiger mom?)

In both movies we get hammered over the head with boys in girls' clothing. The movie makers are converting fairy tales into boys' adventure stories with the good parts played by girls. We are meant to think that every girl will grow up to become Carly Fiorina. (Only, of course, none of them will grow up to be a Republican. Eeeuw!)

But women just aren't like that. Daniel James Brown allows us a glimpse in The Boys in the Boat. Joe Rantz's sweetheart Joyce finds herself enraged that Joe's father could ever have allowed his second wife to toss Joe out of the family home.

After the Berlin Olympics it took two years for Joe Rantz to graduate from UW in 1939 with a degree in Chemical Engineering. He then went to work at Union Oil Company and later at Boeing, living with Joyce in the family home north of Seattle for decades where they raised five children.
In all those years, Joyce never forgot what Joe had gone through in his early years, and she never wavered from a vow she had made to herself early in their relationship: come what may, she would make sure he never went through anything like it again, would never be abandoned, would always have a warm and loving home.
That reads like the women I know, even, no, especially, the liberal women. Their entire lives revolve around moral analysis -- some might even say moral judgment. 

The one thing these women are not is faux heroines in faux liberal fairy tales.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Chantrill Rule on Debt

Debt is a big deal these days, what with the National Debt, the Greek debt, the student debt.

And who can forget that the current sluggish Obama economy is a consequence of the Big One, the mortgage debt meltdown of 2007-09 and the Crash of 2008?

Today Victor Davis Hanson is writing at National Review about the current concept of debt, which is that you really don't have to pay if you are a little guy and the creditor is a big guy.

But I want to suggest a different understanding of debt. On my view, there are two kinds of debt: public-sector debt and private-sector debt.

Let us look at private-sector debt first.

In the private sector, people contract debt primarily to grease the wheels of commerce. A merchant borrows money in anticipation of selling those goods in a month or two. Or a homeowner borrows money to buy a house, using the house as collateral.

With this kind of private-sector debt, we are talking about a low risk proposition. The merchant or the homeowner cannot get a loan unless the lender is pretty certain that the borrower has the means to repay the loan. And the borrower shows that he has the means to repay, with the backup that the goods or the house in question is pledged as collateral in case of failure to repay. Nobody has any doubt that in the case of default the borrower must release the collateral to the lender and face a devastating loss.

But public-sector debt is different. Here the risk is piled on the lender.

Let us take the case of the National Debt of a sovereign nation. Typically, a nation state will borrow money to fight wars. The idea is that the extraordinary expenses of war will be paid back when the war is over, and then the nation state will run a surplus in its accounts to service the debt. Typically, the national debt is considered a low risk and the government enjoys the lowest interest rate as the most credit-worthy borrower.

But what happens if the nation state loses its war? Well, then the lenders, the bourgeoisie and the widows and orphans, are toast. In effect, the nation state has wagered the savings of the bourgeoisie on winning the war. If the state loses, well, too bad for the bourgeoisie.

In our modern post-WWII age, nations rack up the National Debt during financial crises as part of the Keynesian consensus. They bail out the banks and they keep the entitlements going and they even spend money on "stimulus" to revive the economy. Typically, the national debt is considered a low risk and the government enjoys the lowest interest rate as the most credit-worthy borrower.

But what happens if the nation state fails to revive its economy after all the borrowing? Well, then the lenders, the bourgeoisie and the widows and orphans, are toast. Vide Greece.

Do you see the difference between private-sector debt and public-sector debt? In private-sector debt it is the borrower that is making the big bet, and if the bet is a bust then the borrower, the little guy, is wiped out. But in public-sector debt it is the lender, the government, that is making the big bet. And if the bet is a bust then it is the lender, the little guy again, that is wiped out.

In private-sector debt it is the borrower, the little guy, that must pay the piper when things go wrong. In public-sector debt it is the lender, the little guy, that must pay the piper when things go wrong.

That is why I believe that widows and orphans should not put their money in banks and in municipal bonds and state toll authorities, let alone federal debt. Governments are all the same. When the going gets tough they default on their debt, all the time.

People should bet their savings on the economy, not on the government. And that means stocks.

That's because when it comes to debt, the little guy always loses.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

From the Confederate Battle Flag to the Boys in the Boat

The flap about the Confederate battle flag brings out the admiration in me.

How do liberals do it? One liberal writer brings up the issue of the Confederate battle flag, that featured in the on-line rantings of the racist killer Dylann Roof, and immediately 30 million liberal hearts are beating as one to demand that the flag be taken down at the South Carolina statehouse.

Imagine if conservatives could come together on an issue and carry all before them, if only for a week!

I suppose the answer is: that's what liberals do. That's what it means to practice a secular religion and combine your religious and political practice in one. Everything is political, and everything is a moral outrage. And everything comes down to "The Issue."

For conservatives like me, things are more diffuse. Morality is separate from politics, because morality is about right and wrong, while politics is about strong and weak. And to me, "slavery" is a more complex subject than the peculiar institution that prevailing in the years in the South before the Civil War.

For instance, the plantation owners didn't choose African slaves to work their plantations out of racism. They chose them because west Africans four hundred years ago had developed a peculiar immunity to malaria. The plantation owners could have used white Europeans on their American plantations, and they did, bringing indentured servants to the Americas. The only problem was that the white indentured servants died of malaria in the malarial swamps of the east coast of North America.

Put it this way. The plantation owners that hired white indentured servants failed, because their workers all died. The plantation owners that bought west African slaves thrived, because their workers didn't die as much as the wimpy whites.

Yes, but how could those Southerners face themselves in the morning!

They could face themselves in the morning because we each of us write ourselves a moral blank check each morning, while checking the bank balance of others with admirable and searching rectitude.

That's how liberals manage to politicize the evil actions of an evil racist lone wolf while remaining silent about the black-on-black carnage in, e.g., the South Side of Chicago. And the cultural tsunami of fatherless boys in America. And the utter incompetence of government at all levels, including the apparent Chinese hack of all federal employee records.

I'm reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, the 2013 book about the University of Washington crew that competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It follows a number of themes, from the horror of Nazism to the agonizing sufferings of Americans in the Great Depression.

But for me the overriding theme is the cultural differences between then and now. The heroes of the book, the boys in the boat, were mostly from the artisan class, and from unstable, fractured homes. Before enrolling at the University of Washington in the fall of 1932 they had faced formidable hardships in their young lives, including being chucked out by their father's second wife. There wasn't no welfare state; these young men had to find a job, had to find a place to sleep, had to find a way, somehow, to overcome -- and then pay for tuition at the UW. The book contrasts their privations, their grit, and their shame, with the easy effortless lives of their upper middle-class classmates.

Back in the 1930s in America it was white Northern European youngsters trying to build a life out of the economic chaos of a failed government and the social chaos of their parents' struggles and failures. Today in the 2010s, nothing has changed. Only now it is African American youngsters trying to build a life in the wreckage of failed government policies, and the chaos of their parents' struggles and failures.

But by all means let's stop selling Confederate flag memorabilia at Walmart.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hey Millennials! Have I Got A Deal for You!

Everybody knows that Millennials looove the Democrats. Because gay marriage, or something.

But millennials are discouraged and demoralized. No jobs and punishing student debt.

Do you realize where no jobs and punishing debt come from? You should. A lousy economy and punishing student debt come from Democrats.

Let me explain.

The Democratic Party stands athwart the free-market economy saying Stop. That's because the Democratic Party stands for the following notions that really screw young people trying to get started in life.

  • Entitlements Forever. You've been told that Social Security and Medicare are the best things since sliced bread. And so they were, for the first generation that enjoyed them. But now you chaps are stuck with the bill. Republicans stand for reform of entitlements, which will help millennials.
  • Government Employee Pensions Forever. If you are wondering why the roads are a mess and that your school fees are so high, there is one overriding reason. Democratic politicians have promised pensions, payable by you, to their loyal Democratic-voting government employees at all levels of government. Republicans don't owe these folks a dime.
  • Student Debt Forever. Sounds like a groovy idea. Borrow money from the government to finance your education. The only problem is that the higher education industry took the money and hiked their fees and hired a bunch of administrators that make things worse. And, of course, as you know, student debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.
Now I have a suggestion for you millennials. Forget cool. Forget progressives and social liberal rubbish. Forget the Democrats.  Think about Republicans, who stand, despite everything you have heard from your teachers and from your cool friends and from social media, for people without political connections, without a comfortable sinecure, without showers of subsidies for fashionable gentry liberal enthusiasms. Think about a party that, stupidly and blindly, actually represents your interests instead of misleading you with coolness and social media.

In conversation with Hugh Hewitt the other day, the blowhard Donald Trump called for new leadership in America, a cheerleader that would inject a new optimism into America and Americans. Their conversation made me realize how singularly lacking President Obama has been in the optimism department. And they agreed with each other that the way to get the attention of millennials would be in the matter of college costs and student debt.

What would you millennials think of a presidential candidate that proposed to "do something" about spiraling college costs and crushing student debt?

Just don't look for a Democratic candidate to do much about the cost of education. You see, millennials, the most central part of the Democratic Party base is the education blob, professors and adminstrators, that has grown fat and sleek on government subsidies for education and unlimited student debt.

But hey, we still have a secret ballot. So you millennials can vote what you want and don't have to admit anything to your cool friends and your social media buddies.

Meanwhile just think about which side your millennial bread is buttered. Whether it makes sense to vote for the party of privilege and patronage, or the party of people building lives for themselves. And whether it is Time for a Change, to mend the torn and divided and demoralized America that has come out of the much advertised Hope and Change of 2008.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Trouble with Scott Walker's Tax Policies

Scott Walker is the remarkable GOP governor of the purple-to-blue state of Wisconsin and he's running for president.

His record on taxes, Henry Olsen tells us approvingly, departs from supply-side orthodoxy. In Wisconsin, he reduced the marginal rate on the state income tax for the middle-class taxes from 4.6% to 4.0%. But he only reduced the top rate on the rich from 7.75% to 7.65%. And he sweetened the pot with middle-class deductions for contributions to HSA accounts and private school tuition. No general tax rate relief for corporations, of course.

The result is that Scott Walker got reelected in a landslide in Wisconsin, but Sam Brownback, running for reelection for governor in Kansas with an orthodox supply-side record, only squeaked in.

The fact is that the middle class cares about what the politicians do for them, and that means lower taxes on the middle class. The middle class resents anyone else getting a break. And that, I'd say, is a pity.

It's all very discouraging to me, because the way out of the welfare state box canyon is not to create more middle-class sweeteners while keeping tax rates on the rich high. Why? Because high tax rates on the rich and corporations are in fact catnip for political corruption. Lobbyists can deal small-ball exemptions and carve-outs below the radar with the politicians that benefit existing powerful interests. And high marginal tax rates make it hard for newcomers to accumulate wealth to challenge the status quo.

But you can't explain that to Americans. In fact, Rule One in politics is that if you are explaining, you are losing.

Henry Olsen calls Ronald Reagan to testify for his anti-supply-side arguments. Reagan didn't sell his tax reductions on the benefits to entrepreneurs but to ordinary people. And he made sure that his tax proposals included big middle-class sweeteners.
By indexing standard deductions and tax brackets for inflation, he steered hundreds of millions of dollars to middle- and working-class families, money that theoretically could have been used to cut top rates even more. And his 1981 tax cut allowed all workers to contribute to tax-deductible IRAs, exactly the sort of middle-class tax cut that today’s supply-siders deride.
Yeah. But the truth is that these carveouts for the middle class were bubba-bait, just like President Obama's claims that Obamacare would reduce premiums by $2,500 per year. The real thrust of the Reagan tax cuts was to lower the top marginal rate from 70 percent down to 28 percent, and get entrepreneurs out of their garages. Just like President Obama's plan was to force everyone to get health insurance, whether they needed it or not.

The problem with high tax rates mitigated by deductions and subsidies is that it turns the economy into a valley with high cliffs on each side. As long as you stay in the valley bottom in sight of the politicians you do all right. But to strike out across open country? Well, first you have to find a way to climb the valley walls.

Yes, but isn't it right that government should subsidize people into doing the right thing, saving for medical and education expenses and stuff? Maybe.

But is it really a good idea to subsidize billionaire Elon Musk in his electric car startup and his solar-panel venture? Green energy subsidies are based on the idea that we are running out of fossil fuels and/or that carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is frying the planet. It's all based on current "settled science" or perhaps the latest gentry liberal fad.

My dream is for an America with low entitlements and low taxes, so that people just starting out don't pay 25% of their wages on payroll taxes, but use that money for health care, education, starting a business, saving for retirement.

But we'll never get started if we are all ruthlessly defending our own pet projects and carveouts like the proverbial dog in a manger.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Wages of Politics is Betrayal

There's a long piece by Israeli pundit Caroline Glick about Israel's multiple betrayals of its allies.
In 1994, Israel betrayed the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza who had helped us fight against PLO terrorists for decades. 
That's because when Yasser Arafat and his boys entered the scene they immediately neutralized the folks that had collaborated with Israel.

Then, in 2000, Israel abandoned its allies in South Lebanon.
After 18 years of fighting shoulder to shoulder with the IDF, Israel left the soldiers and commanders of the South Lebanese Army and their families to face Hezbollah alone.
Now, Glick worries, Israel needs to help their old allies, the Druze in the Golan Heights, else they will be wiped out in the aftermath of the Syrian civil war. And then there are the Kurds.

You can make an argument that Israel should have helped its former allies. But that forgets the fundamental axiom of politics, attributed to the British Lord Palmerston.
I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow. 
This is too narrow a view. Not just in foreign policy, but in politics in general, there is only expediency, only interest.

So Israel abandoned its Palestinian allies. What did those Palestinians think would happen when they were no longer useful to Israel?

The same applies to US domestic politics. What did the white working class expect when the liberals and the Democrats declared themselves the eternal friends of the exploited working stiff?

What did women expect when liberals and Democrats declared themselves the eternal friends of women? And now liberals and Democrats have destroyed companionate marriage and turned mothers into wage slaves.

What did African Americans think when they elected the First Black President? What blind bit of good has it done them, except to confirm them in a bitter racial and cultural ghetto?

That is what the old Biblical line means: you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Live by politics, die by politics.

Marriage advocate Maggie Gallagher today writes about the lefty notion of the "social construction" of race and gender that the left demands we believe or else. But what about sexual orientation?

Oh no. That's different, and the lefties are attacked reprogramming therapists that propose to help LGBT people of faith reorient themselves towards a heterosexual orientation and traditional marriage.

What does it all mean, you ask?

The answer is that the left is all about politics, all the time. Just like the British Empire, its sole interest is in the eternal and perpetual interest of power. Today its interests include promoting black racism, feminist anti-male activism, social construction of race and gender, and "gay genes" in sexual orientation.

But if you are foolish enough to believe in any of those fantasies, be warned. The day will come when the interests of left-wing power will move on. The political colonels and generals will get in their private jets and scoot off to the next gig. You will be left by the roadside, abandoned and scorned.

That is why conservatives promote limited government and the full flourishing of civil society. Government is force; it only knows how to make war. Politics is division; it only knows how to set brother against sister. But civil society, in our notion, is about the cultivation and the flourishing of friendly relations, anchored in the natural human instinct that to get a friend you must be a friend.

In civil society if you lose a friend, well, there are others. But in politics if you lose your patron you are screwed.

That is why I feel a lot of hope for 2016. There must be a ton of Americans right now that are wondering more and more what happened to all the Hope and Change of 2008?

And the answer is the old one. Put not your trust in princes, for the wages of politics is betrayal.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Because Life is Too Easy

The excellent John Derbyshire opines today that "In advanced societies, the average amount of reality people can bear has declined across the past few decades."

He proceeds to talk about about the denial of reality involved in the Jenner and the Dolezal affairs.

There is nothing world-shattering in this, says Derb. After all, T.S. Eliot reminded us that "human kind cannot bear very much reality."

Derb writes about the decline in reality:
This, I believe, has something to do with the ever-increasing availability of screen-based entertainment (movies, TV, the internet), something to do with the decline of religion, something to do with the revolution in manners that we call “political correctness,” and something to do with the falloff in violence, as chronicled by Steven Pinker.
While I agree with Derb's assignment of blame I think that the first reason for the falloff in reality is that we can afford to.

When nearly all children survive infancy and we are not losing 0.5 percent of people a year to violent death then the urgency of getting children on the ground and fed and off the nest becomes rather less urgent.

When most of us can get a decent job by sleepwalking through school for 12 or 16 years, then we can afford to indulge ourselves in a bit of fantasy in between the times we have to show up for work.

We can afford to have educated twentysomethings wasting their youth pretending to be artists and writers in some yeasty urban "ideopolis." We can afford to have people experimenting with gender. We can afford to have and "underclass" of violent gangbangers and welfare scroungers. We can even afford to have people bullying other people around with their stupid and twisted doctrines of social justice. We can afford to have a huge government edifice doing useless things with extraordinary ineptitude.

We can afford this because we are so rich, as a result of 200 years of the Great Enrichment. If and when things turn south than the penalty for living in a fantasy will go up.

Of course, I think, following my piece "The Age of Ineptitude," that the big problem at any time is the notion, common among ruling classes, that the rulers are ordained by God to rule over their subjects with compassion and wisdom. This, I believe, is a vicious fantasy, and it always has been. It was bad when the king was the representative of the sky god on earth, and it is bad when the ruling class is an educated, evolved class of administrators and experts, ordained to rule by their knowledge and their expertise.

Government is force. Its job is to do the things that cannot be done by social cooperation, because of bad guys. There is nothing of wisdom or of compassion in the workings of government. It is an armed minority occupying and defending territory with armed might, and it can only stay in power by rewarding its soldiers and its supporters. It is a bad idea, but better than the alternative. Government always and everywhere is accompanied by chicanery, cruelty, injustice, ineptitude, folly, and brutality.

Some men, in some times, have advanced the notion that the way to deal with government is to limit it -- to limit its powers and limit its scope. But that notion imposes a harsh reality on people and requires them to look to themselves and their neighbors for safety and prosperity, and they would rather not. Only in times of trouble are people are forced get serious and lose the fantasy or lose their lives.

But in prosperous times like the present, when life is too easy, there is no need for every person to lose the fantasy.

Derb finishes with an important apércu. In the old days, religion focused wishful thinking into sensible channels like "kindly Sky Fathers listening to our prayers." But not any more.
With that focusing lens gone, wishful thinking runs amok. “I feel female/black, so I am female/black!” “Race creates tensions we don’t know how to manage, so let’s pretend it doesn’t exist!”
Still, with the Great Enrichment we can afford to have half the country zoned out. The only problem arises when the Great Emergency arises and we all have to pay attention.

But will we know it when we see it? There are always alarms and excursions and would-be saviors telling us to mind our ways because the End of the World is nigh. How can we tell if it really is the End of the World, or just another political/religious scam, like global warming?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Age of Ineptitude

What is wrong with our government that it can't, e.g., keep the data on its own government employees out of the hands of the Chinese? Why doesn't President Obama do something?

And why, to ask an impertinent question, does the director of the Office of Personnel Management still have a job? Last week a Nobel Laureate resigned his sinecures because of a stupid joke. But OPM Director Katherine Archuleta, testifying before Congress, declined to resign.

I will tell you what is going wrong. There are two things.

First, our government class operates under the world-view that a perfect society is possible with government by the right sort of people with the right sort of evolved world-view, and government should be conducted by rational processes advised by technical experts. To them, the only problem is that we have not yet applied a sufficient amount of reason and expertise.

This, you will agree, is a new idea, at least since the notion of the divine right of kings took a tumble. In the high ascendancy of Dickens in Bleak House, for example, it was received opinion that government was corrupt and inept, from its law courts to its Circumlocution Office staffed by Barnacles and Stiltstockings. But no longer. Today we are all taught from our cradles that the failures of government result from insufficient government.

Second, under Chantrill's Law of Government, the sole purpose of government is to occupy territory, tax its inhabitants, and reward the government's supporters. So of course the government lets Lois Lerner retire on full pension. And of course all the failures don't result in anyone getting fired. These are the government's supporters, silly.

It all dovetails. Government failures don't faze the governing class because their faith in their own rationalism and social evolution and expertise blinds them the possibility that they could be horribly, foolishly wrong and inept.

And this inability to see no evil, hear no evil, descends down to the everyday tasks of government like health care and education. Nobody really serously looks at the government failures in things like health care or education. Because that would mean casting aspersions on Our Healthcare Professionals and Our Teachers.

And yet it is nothing for people to blast capitalism to kingdom come whenever some tiny safety defect turns up in a consumer product.

I am reading Jürgen Habermas' Between Facts and Norms and it is driving me crazy. This is a guy that wrote a two volume tome on The Theory of Communicative Action where he developed the notion to have the dominative systems of the modern world in government and business balanced by the intersubjective dialog in the face-to-face "lifeworld." But Between Facts and Norms assumes that the rationalizations and actions of people like him are the sole requirement for a just and flourishing society. Everything can be solved by passing laws, administering bureaucracies, and issuing regulations.

No! The requirement for a just and flourishing society is that we can and we do fix our mistakes, starting with the recognition that almost everything humans do is wracked with mistake and error and that only painful effort enables us to undo our mistakes and move forward. That must mean, for starters, that when educated and evolved people lead society down a rabbit hole following their religious or secular faith there is a possibility for someone to say: "hey, this isn't working" and to have people listen. It means that the governing class should not have the power to inflict their faith on the rest of us without the rest of us being able to rise up and say: No!

Jim Geraghty writes that "An NR commenter calls our current system of government an “ineptocracy.”" I tell you what I call that. I call that a start.

We have got to lose the current Panglossian zeitgeist that looks fondly on our present age as the best of all possible worlds as long as the right people are in charge, and we must rebrand it as the Age of Ineptitude. There is no silver political bullet that leads us from the dusty plains to sunlit uplands. There is only the climb, one step at a time, interspersed with discouraging retreats whenever we find that we have been on the wrong trail that leads to the bottom of an unclimbable cliff instead of around it.

Meanwhile, we must go work in the garden.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Dolezal's Resignation: A Window into the SJW Mind

We conservatives don't often get to read the internal communications of the social justice warriors, the jargon, the corporate bubblespeak, that they emit when talking to each other. But Rachel Dolezal's resignation letter, penned by the fake black head of the Spokane NAACP to her fellow SJWs, gives us a window in the the lefty soul.

Dolezal starts with delicious bureaucratic gobbledegook.
Many issues face us now that drive at the theme of urgency. Police brutality, biased curriculum in schools, economic disenfranchisement, health inequities, and a lack of pro-justice political representation are among the concerns at the forefront of the current administration of the Spokane NAACP.
Notice what is missing: Jobs, jobs, jobs.  Because our liberal friends these days, and presumably their social justice clients, aren't really that interested in jobs. (I'm assuming that "economic disenfranchisement" is really about access to some sort of government privilege rather than ordinary access to the job market.)

Then Dolezal segues into delicious corporate PowerPoint-ese.
While challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness, we can NOT afford to lose sight of the five Game Changers (Criminal Justice & Public Safety, Health & Healthcare, Education, Economic Sustainability, and Voting Rights & Political Representation) that affect millions, often with a life or death outcome. 
Yay! Gotta love those "Game Changers." It's really delicious to see these anti-capitalist SJWs using the very language that sales managers use to motivate their sales crews out there in corporate-land.

And of course we are all interested in the Game Changers, even the lowest of the low: the racists, sexists, and homophobes that so pollute our world. Let's take those bullet points and restore some sanity:

  • Criminal Justice & Public Safety. Because of gangs in the inner city it is very difficult to get residents to testify against gang thugs. So we must restore the "broken windows" policing policy that the Ferguson Effect has stopped. Why is "borken windows" so important? It gets around the fear of "snitching" by using the testimony of police officers when arresting and trying gang members. So it puts them away for minor infractions, when people are too afraid to testify against them for their drive-by shootings.
  • Health & Healthcare. Let's repeal Obamacare and convert Medicaid into a cash subsidy with which low-income African Americans can buy real health care, instead of the second-rate care they get with Medicaid.
  • Education. Let's implement school choice nationwide and give black mamas the chance to get their kids out of violent inner-city schools that basically act as jobs programs rather than tickets out of the ghetto.
  • Economic Sustainability. Goodness knows what the twisted liberal meaning of that is. I suspect it may be that people with jobs can never be fired. But the truth about the economy in the Great Enrichment of the last 200 years is that there is no "safe space" where today's workers can hide from the gusty winds of economic growth. People need to get a decent education and they need to surrender to the market. Any policy that "saves jobs" is a policy that is taking money away from Hillary Clinton's "everyday Americans" and giving it to people with powerful friends.
  • Voting Rights & Political Representation. I suppose this is all about the Democrats' efforts to gin up the black vote by insisting that Voter ID and limited early voting is about bringing back Jim Crow. But if I were an African American I'd be thinking about illegal immigrants voting and taking jobs away from people like me.
Dolezal finishes with the usual call to action that every motivational speaker uses at the end of a speech.
It's about moving the cause of human rights and the Black Liberation Movement along the continuum from Resistance to Chattel Slavery to Abolition to Defiance of Jim Crow to the building of Black Wall Street to the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement to the ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ movement and into a future of self-determination and empowerment.
I like that "future of self-determination and empowerment." It reads a lot like my own notion of "responsible individualism." And indeed I have faith that most white Americans that haven't given in to the temptation of putting on a fright wig to access the benefits of politicking-while-black would like nothing better than for African Americans to come out of their self-imposed racial ghetto and join the rest of responsible individual Americans trying to make a decent life with work and marriage and children in the greatest country in the world. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Politics, Clinton, and "Fighting"

Back in 2000 when Al Gore ran for the presidency by "fighting for the people against the powerful" I was offended. And then when I looked at his campaign website, I found more fights, as in fighting for seniors, fighting for children, etc.

Come on, I thought. We are all Americans. Why do we need to fight?

But of course, Al Gore was right. Politics is a fight, it is civil war by other means.

But we stalwarts in the bourgeoisie and the established middle class don't want to open old fights. We want to prosper and flourish in the existing system with its various status quos and compromises.

Now comes Hillary Clinton with her Four Fights. Not for her the Four Freedoms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Hillary's into Fighting. Here's what she said in her campaign relaunch speech on June 14, 2015.
"If you'll give me the chance, I'll wage and win Four Fights for you," Clinton told the crowd. Those fights are: 1) the fight "to make the economy work for everyday Americans"; 2) the fight "to strengthen America's families"; 3) the fight "to harness all of America's power, smarts, and values to maintain our leadership for peace, security, and prosperity"; and 4) the fight for "reforming our government and revitalizing our democracy."
Yeah. Don't we all. But there's one little problem. Well, four problems, if you want to get technical. Today's Democratic Party and today's liberals like Hillary Clinton are the main force in the land that's standing in the way of these Four Fights. Let's take them one by one.

  1. Make the economy work for everyday Americans. The whole point of the administrative welfare state and the entitlement programs is to sew up the economy into silos and turn the economy into a rigid administrative system that responds to powerful national interests. For everyday Americans to get ahead they need a political and economic space that keeps the Bigs on the sidelines so they don't gobble up all the opportunities for themselves and their clients. Don't look for today's Democrats to do that.
  2. Strengthen America's families. When Democrats say this they always mean more entitlements and government handouts. But the way to strengthen America's families is to reduce government handouts so that women need men once again in order to start a family and provision it. The decay in American's families is a result of government programs that encourage women to marry the state instead of the father of their children. Don't look for today's Democrats to incentivize women to marry men rather than government.
  3. Harness all of America's power, smarts, and values to maintain our leadership for peace, security, and prosperity. This of course is about the Pax Americana. But it is so attenuated that it is meaningless. Because it means  nothing until it is informed by a strategy. I talked to a military strategist a week ago, and he approved of President Obama's aimlessness because the American people weren't ready to do anything. Very good. But the Next President of the United States is going to have to formulate and persuade the American people about America's role in the world. Don't look for today's Democrats to do that.
  4. Reforming our government and revitalizing our democracy. Oh please. If there is one thing today's Democratic Party stands for it is to oppose all efforts to reform government. I get that "revitalizing our democracy" means mobilizing the Democratic base to believe that Republicans want to take them back to the Jim Crow era. Don't look for today's Democrats to take one step in reforming our government and revitalizing our democracy.
What Hillary Clinton is really telling us, between the lines, is that she knows what America needs but  she really can't do anything about it.

The simple fact about the modern era is that we have learned that our prosperity comes from technological and entrepreneurial surprises that emerge out of nowhere and cunningly sidestep the best efforts of government to block them. Everything that the modern educated elite and the modern Democratic Party stands for amounts to stopping economic change and protecting established interests from the wave of the future.

The best thing that can happen to America is for Hillary Clinton to lose the next election and for Republicans to undo as many of the entitlements and carve-outs that Democrats have written into the law over the past century. They won't dare to do much, of course, because humans are dogs-in-the-manger that defend their privileges till the world is collapsing around them.

But there is always the chance that they might do something, and that's worth voting for. And fighting for.

Friday, June 12, 2015

If Every Young Liberal Longs to be an Activist, What About Conservatives?

A liberal friend recently confided to me that she'd always wanted to get into "activism." And I must say that the notion struck me forcibly. It wasn't that I didn't already know that. I just hadn't heard it from someone I knew personally, and I hadn't thought about what that meant for her and for me.

I've been thinking about this for about a year now, and I've come to think that it encapsulates the whole question of the culture war. If young liberals all want to escape the necessity of earning a living and doing activism, where does that leave conservatives? Do we just sit back and take it?

It's the basic question. Liberals want to get away from their hum-drum little lives, as Lina Lamont might have said, and fight injustice. Conservatives? What do we dream about sitting in front of the computer in our cubicle? Living responsible lives as spouses and parents? Fighting against government corruption? Reforming the welfare state?

It's really important, because according to the latest opinion polls they are making more liberals these days. Peter Wehner has the numbers and he wonders if conservatives are losing the future.

If we are losing the future it's no mystery why. Our kids are being raised by liberal labor-union teachers and all they get is 100% liberal line and liberal activism that issues from the cultural Marxism agenda of identity politics. Lots of nice liberal girls decide that they want to do activism, just like nice Catholic girls a century ago got a "vocation," and they end up indoctrinating our kids and proselytizing their secular liberal religion.

If you wonder about the kids, I got a chilling lesson from R.K. Modena, the daughter of a Filipino reporter and activist. She reports from the years when her father was the Filipino ambassador in East Germany. The young people were totally indocrinated by the "system;" they knew nothing except what they had been taught by the government. Here's what happened when a young woman got smuggled out into the West.
One of the people working at the consulate fell in love with an East German woman. The only way they could marry was if she escaped East Berlin, and so he smuggled her out. The details of that I don’t know, but I remember my dad saying she was struck dumb for three days from sheer culture shock after she saw West Berlin for the first time – and realized that everything she’d been raised to believe, and had known as truth was in fact a carefully manufactured and maintained lie that was possible only through total control of information.
If only that liberal secular religion didn't always call for more government, more spending, more subsidies, and more jobs for liberals. And lies. And total indoctrination of "our kids."

So what are we going to do about it?

I'd say we need a two point program. Point One is to develop a culture of conservative activism. We want millions of young Americans earnestly working towards solving our national problems by reforming and reducing government. I had a email from a woman church member in Vermont last week, wanting data on Vermont spending on welfare. She wrote:
My project is for a church coalition considering a serious attempt at offering alternative services/approaches to poverty in the state of Vermont. 
See what I mean? Here you have conservative activism, honest, earnest Americans trying to make government smaller and people bigger.

Point Two is to delegitimize liberal activism. And I would say it starts with the idea that liberal activism makes government bigger and people smaller. It's time to ask whether the answer to all our problems is another law, another entitlement, another subsidy, another bureaucracy, another unholy alliance between activists and government bureaucrats. I mean, it's 150 years since Marx demanded justice for the workers and for government force as the solution. Here we are, almost two orders of magnitude richer. Couldn't we dial back the coercion, now that the poor are doing better?

How does this work? How about the presidential campaign of Carly Fiorina? She is doing a full court press to change the dialog on women and feminism:
“A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses,” Mrs. Fiorina told a free-market interest group dinner in Washington in speech that was billed as her first major policy address since declaring her candidacy May 5. “A woman may choose to have five children and home-school them. She may choose to become a CEO or run for president.
Right. And I'd say that a real feminist is a woman who disdains "safe spaces." She's a responsible woman and she owns her choices.
“The left fights to protect late-term abortions and sues the Little Sisters of the Poor, but they oppose over-the-counter birth control,” she told the crowd.
You see what she's doing? She's turning the left's rhetoric back on it, making liberal feminists the issue rather than dead white males and male privilege.

Or, as I like to say: "There is only one kind of privilege in America: Liberal privilege."

Thursday, June 11, 2015

When the Ruling Class Defines Humor It Isn't Humor

We are having a little ruction this week about Jerry Seinfeld. He's been saying that he can't do colleges any more because the students are so politically correct.

Even his 14-year-old daughter has caught the bug, telling her mother "that's sexist!"

So a "politically correct" student writes a response so correct that, surely, it has to be a parody.

The official line of the liberal bullies is that it is wrong to make fun of women and minorities because they don't have the power. This is in the same chapter as the line the blacks can't be racist because they don't have the power.

Here is liberal Dean Obaidallah:
Where Seinfeld and I disagree is that I don't see "political correctness" as being inherently bad -- unless it goes way overboard. To me, "political correctness" is about being respectful to minorities -- be it based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
Quite so. Except that political correctness doesn't work that way. It's more about liberals saying "you will be respectful to minorities who vote Democrat or you will lose your job." Which is a bit different.

When we unpack this and recall that the Democratic Party is an over-under coalition of the powerful and the marginalized, you can see thatit all makes sense. The PC brigade are really saying "You cannot make fun of our political clients." Which is what the ruling class has been doing since time out of mind.

Laughter and humor, of course, are mysteries. Why do humans laugh and make jokes? Let us just suggest that they play a part in the drama of human sociality.

Back in the day when liberals thought of themselves as cultural underdogs, oppressed by the Puritans and the WASPs, we were told that humor and satire were important tools for the oppressed to speak truth to power. But that was then. That was when liberals could get political advantage out of humor and satire. But now that liberals are politically and especially culturally dominant, now you're not allowed to make fun of liberals and their political clients.

Now liberals say it's OK to do humor and satire if you are "punching up" but not if you are "punching down" to e.g., Muslims.

But this is typical of liberals lying to themselves. Because when they say you can't punch down to Muslims they are really saying that you can't punch down to Muslims who are political clients of the liberals. Want to punch down to fundamentalist Christians? Perfectly OK. Want to punch down to white crackers like Honey Boo Boo? Go right ahead. Want to sneer at NASCAR fans? No problem.

But, as usual, liberals are their own worst enemies. Back in the day, kings used to have court jesters. "There is no slander in an allowed fool, though he do nothing but rail." The rulers can't afford to cut off all feedback from their subjects; they need to know what is bubbling away down there.

But liberals keep narrowing the Overton Window about what you are allowed to say in America. And they are becoming more and more specific about demanding that we care about liberal agenda items.

The result is that liberals don't have a clue about what Americans think and feel. Too bad. When you are a ruling class and you shut yourself off from feedback and deny the right of the people to petition the government about their grievances, and forbid the people to laugh at the rulers and their little darlings you are not just unjust rulers, you are fools.

When you forbid your subjects to laugh at you and your political clients there is a good chance that you won't be a ruling class for much longer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How Does the Next President Beat the Liberal Activism Culture?

The current "rape culture" flap was started by a "Dear Colleague" letter from an official at the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education. The letter -- which was not a law, not a regulation -- told universities that they'd better put in a Star Chamber system of adjudicating accusations of sexual harassment. Or else they'd be violating Title IX, the federal law that is designed to "end discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding." Jessica Gavora, who's written a book on Title IX gives us the state of play. As she writes:
As long as Title IX’s victims were wrestlers or swimmers from low-revenue men’s sports that were jettisoned to achieve participation-parity with women’s sports, nobody much cared. But now that the law is being turned into a tool to suppress free speech on college campuses, even liberals are starting to cry foul.
At least they are crying foul when card-carrying liberals are involved.

Did you know that the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education has about 950 lawyers working for it? I read this recently, but can't find it on Google.

And of course "Title IX" is just one tiny part of the federal government's activities in service to liberaldom's identity politics agenda.

The context on this, for me, is supplied by the following points.

  • About a year or so ago a liberal friend told me at lunch that she had always wanted to do "activism." You can see what is going on here; liberal secularists turn to activism in lieu of religion. Doing activism, for them, is making a difference in the world. But what they do not realize is that government is force. It is one thing to work for a better world; it is another thing to empower government bureaucrats to enforce your will on the world. If their activism involved advocating for a new law or a new regulation or a new "Dear Colleague" letter they are saying: We Need More Force.
  • There is a whole universe of liberal groups out there doing activism. There really isn't anything close to a conservative or libertarian counterforce to the liberal activism culture. But the liberal activism culture is everywhere, advocating for more government, more spending, more regulations, more bullying, more force.
  • Since 2009 the Obama administration has put its pedal to the metal pushing the left-liberal agenda by any means possible. To take a single example, the Obamis essentially neutered the bipartisan welfare reform of 1996. Without a "conversation," without a change in law. They just did it. And the mainstream media did nothing.
What happens in 2017, assuming a Republican president and a Republican Congress? What would happen if the Republicans reduced the number of lawyers in the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights down to five? What would happen if they gutted the Environment Protection Agency's global warming initiatives that are essentially shutting down coal-fired electric power stations? Suppose the president issued as executive order banning all federal government employee unions? And so on. Would the next President of the United States have the cojones for that? Would his appointees have the cojones?

It seems to me that the first priority for the next Republican president should be to make it very difficult for liberals ever again to do what they did during the Obama era, pushing the liberal agenda without attempting to obtain consensus first, without bothering to pass a law in Congress. They could do it because the mainstream media, being partisan operatives with bylines, did nothing when the Obama administration blatantly violated the letter and  spirit of the law and bulldozed the de-facto consensus into the ditch on a whole host of public policy issues.

I've been reading that the strategy of the GOP Congress back in the Clinton presidency was to flood the zone in the details of the appropriation bills with a host of spending cuts and policy changes and set up certain issues as veto bait. The idea was that a president could veto a bill or two on some headline issue, but he can't really veto a bill because of 950 spending cuts and policy changes that he doesn't like.

Should that be the strategy of the next Republican President of the United States? To flood the zone will jillions of executive orders, cuts to liberal pet programs, forcing the liberal activism culture to focus on one or two issues?

You could say that, given that the liberals changed the rules and just pushed the pedal to the metal, that the old game is over, that Republicans can do what liberals just did, and to hell with their objections. But that is unrealistic, because the media will revert to its traditional role of "speaking truth to power" once a Republican administration takes power. They will make a scandal of any Republican initiative that offends the liberal agenda. And they will have liberal activist groups backing them up. And most important of all, we conservatives don't believe in extra-legal government. We want limited government with powers that are agreed upon by the citizens.

Obviously the GOP presidential nominee in 2016 must prepare the ground. He must lay out an agenda of reform and roll-back on the grounds of the Obama administration's violation of the old rules, and the oppressive use of regulatory power to dominate and marginalize ordinary American citizens. He must be able to say: look, the American people gave me a mandate to reform the egregious injustices and abuses of power committed by the Obama administration. All I am doing is correcting the egregious abuses of a lawless administration, just as I promised.

Suppose the GOP ticket wins in a 55%-45% landslide. Suppose the GOP increases its majority in the US Senate despite current projections; suppose the GOP increases its majority in the House despite the fact that they already gone about as far as they can go? Can a Republican administration really move the needle on reform, or will it get bogged down by a frenzy of liberal activist opposition?

Nobody knows what is possible. What troubles me is that I haven't heard a whisper from the conservative media about a post-Obama pushback. Check that. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has announced his reform agenda, including Medicare (!) reform. Now maybe it's too early for whispers and hints. But at some point in the road to November 2016 we need to see the battle space being prepared; we need to see spokesmen and mentioners saying that this or that candidate has big plans to reform the federal government and roll back the regulatory state and retrofit the administrative echo chamber for the liberal activist agenda with sound baffles.

The point is that you can't beat liberal politics without a conservative politics. And I don't see the conservative politics coming together to create a new Morning in America.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Reading Hillary Between the Lines

The great question in life is how much to believe your own bullshit. I am talking of everything from religion to politics to economics.

What I mean is, how much should you blindly conduct your life on faith, and how much with a skeptical eye on things, knowing that everything you believe might turn out to be wrong?

My answer is straight forward, for I am a Kantian, believing that we can never know "things-in-themselves" but only appearances.

How much should you believe your religion's creation myth, from God creating the world in seven days to the magical Big Bang of today's speculative scientists?

How much should you believe the eternal growth myth of modern economics, and how much the "immiseration" myth of Marxist economics?

And how much, if you are a Democrat, should you believe in the The Emerging Democratic Majority of women, minorities, the educated and the young prophesied in the 2000s by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira?

Probably the answer is the same as it has been for every loyal foot soldier down the ages. You believe until you find yourself dying of hunger and disease on the side of the road as your army disintegrates in defeat. But then it's too late.

I think that's where we stand in the Democratic ascendancy of the last ten years. It comes through rather clearly in Rich Lowry's piece on "The End of the Clinton Coalition." He writes:
Bill Clinton got elected by peeling off working-class whites and suburbanites from the Republican party, while holding traditional Democratic voters.
 But Barack Obama won with the Emerging Democratic Majority of "minorities, liberals, and upper-class suburbanites."
Elsewhere in the former Clinton coalition, though, his support collapsed, with older and blue-collar whites continuing to flee the Democrats.
That worked pretty well for Obama because of the peculiar enthusiasm of blacks and the educated and youth for his promise of Hope and Change. And when Obama ran for reelection he did a good job turning the white working class off Mitt Romney with his Joe Soptic ad.

But now the white working class is probably gone for good.
Even if Hillary wanted to try to recapture those kinds of voters, it’s not clear that she could, and the effort would risk alienating the Obama supporters she needs if she’s going to win a national election.
So Hillary Clinton is faced with flogging the Obama coalition into one more Big Push.

But let's look at the numbers at uspresidentelection.us. In 2008 Barack Obama won with 69.5 million votes to McCain's 59.9 million. In 2012 Obama won with 63.5 million to Romney's 59.7 million.

Leaving out the natural expansion of the electorate, you think that Hillary is going to beat Obama's turnout in 2012 after eight years of disappointment for the Democratic faithful? And you think that the new generation of GOP operatives haven't been thinking 24-7 about how to bounce the GOP vote up over 70 million?

The big hit against Hillary Clinton is that people can't name a single achievement from her 25 year time on the national stage.

But I think there is another, bigger problem with Hillary Clinton. She is an utterly conventional thinker; she has never vouchsafed a single thought that wasn't liberal conventional wisdom. So how can she possibly inspire Americans with hope and change?

The conventional wisdom about presidential elections is that it is always Four More Years vs. Time for a Change. After eight years of government by one party the instinct for a change is almost irresistible.

And after eight years of Obama there must be a still small voice in the mind of many Democratic voters asking: "What difference did it make?"

Monday, June 8, 2015

Arguing Over the Zombie Corpse of Keynes

As I understand it, the core of Keynesianism is that, in an economic slump, it is a good idea for governments to borrow and spend, particularly on infrastructure. Because stimulus.

The idea is that when the government spends money on a useful thing like a bridge or a highway, there will be a "multiplier" effect, and the monies spent on infrastructure will "multiply" through the rest of the economy. Hence stimulus.

We non Keynesians have always been a bit suspicious about the "multiplier" effect and recent research has indicated that the multiplier might be less than one, meaning that the Keynesian stimulus has an anti-stimulus effect. In real recessions it seems that government spends a lot of the stimulus on e.g., grants to state and local governments to avoid laying off teachers.

Anyway, almost everything the government does is payoff to a special interest. What is the chance that any government spending "stimulates" the economy? I'd say pretty slim, Solyndra.

So it's natural for a non-Keynesian like historian Niall Ferguson to needle Keynes biographer Robert Skidelsky, who predicted disaster for the "austerity" policy of the Cameron government in Britain in 2010. Instead Britain has outpaced the rest of the EU in economic growth.

So did the Brit economy do better than forecast because of its austerity policy or in spite of it? Good question.

In my view the Keynesians are missing the point.

The point is that in an economic contraction a lot of people can't pay interest on their debt, and, what is worse, cannot repay their debt because their collateral can no longer liquidate the debt. Banks, of course, are the worst of all. this creates a financial crisis.

That's why we have central banks as the "lenders of last resort." The idea is to fold the debt of defaulters into bigger, healthier institutions, including the nation state itself. A lone borrower may be broke and unable to make payments, but the whole nation is not; the bigger, healthier institution can still make its debt payments and keep the credit system afloat.

In the Crash of 1907 the United States did not have a central bank and this was considered to be a Bad Thing. But in the crisis point, J.P. Morgan was told that a certain brokerage house was set to fail on the following Monday. So he got permission from President Roosevelt to do a debt-equity swap and saved the brokerage. End of crisis. Then Morgan grabbed the richest men in America into his library and they did triage on the economy. They lent money only to troubled corporations that they thought would survive if they lent them money.

But the establishment decided that this was not enough and so they legislated the Federal Reserve System. Unfortunately when the Federal Reserve was tested in 1929 it failed in its core mission by allowing a bunch of banks to fail. This reduced the money supply and created a cascade of failure. The result was the Great Depression and it didn't matter what stimulus and what-have-you the government got into. The basic credit system collapsed because the Federal Reserve did not do its job and act as lender of last resort.

The same thing almost happened in the Crash of 2008. The Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, proprietor, let investment bank Lehman Brothers collapse, saying that he didn't have the authority to rescue it. That was in September 2008 and the financial markets went into free fall. In the end, with TARP and other programs amounting to about $20 trillion in outlays and guarantees (see my usfederalbailout.com), the federal government executed on a gigantic lender-of-last-resort program (meaning, roughly, that the feds took all the dodgy debt onto their own balance sheet) and the economy recovered.

Now my view is that Keynesian stimulus is counterproductive. In my view the problem at a financial crash is that, as the Austrian economists say, too many capital investments have turned out to be malinvestments. Those malinvestments of the previous boom must be liquidated and the resources released into more productive channels. A recession is the period of adjustment for the liquidation of the malinvestments of the previous boom.  But governments are in the business of bailing out politically favored corporations like General Motors, not in liquidating failed businesses so that the resources they consume can be reallocated to better businesses.

There is indeed an argument for temporary relief to workers thrown out of work during the period of adjustment. My argument is that this has a little to do with compassion and a lot to do with keeping disappointed people off the streets until the economy recovers and businesses are hiring again. What people call "austerity" is really the government's attempt to reduce the flood of government benefits so that people will start looking for work instead of reposing on their benefits.

I'm inclined to categorize Keynesianism in the category of what Charles G. Battig calls "bespoke science." It's science that is made to order for politicians by tame scientists. Politicians naturally respond to any economic crisis by spending and borrowing. Keynesianism gives them a fig-leaf to hide their economic embarrassment.

Friday, June 5, 2015

On Witch Hunts and Reigns of Terror

The trouble with the Left is that, time and time again, their politics creates a witch hunt. As in the current hunt for rapists on campus.

Sometimes, time and time again, their politics creates a reign of terror. As in the war against privilege that is beginning to put liberal professors in the tumbrils. Hang on a minute, you social justice warriors! The whole point of cultural Marxism is to hang the white male bourgeoisie out to dry. You're not supposed to start in on good faithful New York Times readers and NPR listeners.

Oh all right. It's not really a reign of terror because nobody has been executed. Not yet.

I was reading about witch-hunts recently, and a couple of features stood out.

First of all, witch hunts tend to occur in borderlands where the writ of central government is weak. E.g., Salem in 1692. Witch hunts tend to reflect the enthusiasm of local yokels anxious to do their bit for truth, justice, and the American Way. The first witch discovered is usually some marginal woman living out of town, e.g., Salem in 1692. The witch hunt usually ends when it starts to devour the rich and powerful. That's when the rich and powerful -- think Graham Chapman's "The Colonel" -- step in to stop the silliness. The other thing you might not know is that the fabled Spanish Inquisition was an attempt to stop the freelance pursuit of heretics, and bring it under sensible central control, complete with due process.

The point is that now, as then, the folks running around spouting off about white male privilege and microaggressions and "safe spaces" are ignorant fools that know not what they do. They are just repeating stuff that their teachers taught them in school. But that's what happens when stupid teachers teach stupid students stupid ideas.

Second, reigns of terror are a natural part of revolutions. On this one I do have chapter and verse. It's Crane Brinton's The Anatomy of Revolution. Brinton writes that revolutions tend to have four phases.

  • Fall of the Old Regime The old regime is discredited, and probably running out of money. But there is hope, for that is what the revolutionaries are selling.
  • Rule of the Moderates and Dual Power Typically the old regime is succeeded by a regime of moderates, but the moderates soon find themselves in conflict with extremists who act illegally and independently of the moderate regime.
  • Reign of Terror The extremists win for a bunch of reasons, including that they are more ruthless and better organized. Then they embark on a campaign of terror and virtue, ruthlessly purging the world of injustice and sin and vice.
  • Thermidor Humans cannot live forever in a fervor of holy rage; eventually the tension breaks and they fall back into a more normal life. But the solution typically involves a dictator, nationalism, and foreign conquest.
You can see that the way to stop this is for the government to stick to its job and to keep its finances in order.

But it's fair to suggest that the failed war and the financial crisis of 2008 set up a kind of mini-revolution with Barack Obama offering Hope and Change. And the lefty extremists seemed to get a green light to push their agenda to the max. So we've had a kind of mini reign of terror with the president showing the way with his extra-legal executive orders. Then there was that nice lady in the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights sending out her "Dear Colleague" letter in 2011 that told universities that if they didn't pursue extra-legal policies to stamp out campus rape, why then their funding might be affected. When every last administrator is a feminist liberal you can see that it would be remarkable if the universities pushed back.

At some point all this enthusiasm in the pursuit of witches and the reign of terror and virtue collapses from exhaustion and the improper capture of regime supporters. And so it ends.

Whether the collapse (or "reaction") ends in a Republican president and Congress with a mandate to do serious reform of the administrative welfare and regulatory state is another question.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Why are Liberals in a Blather Over Gender?

If you are a conservative then gender is pretty simple. Or as they say nowadays, binary. There is male and there is female, and that's all there is to say, except vive la difference.

But liberals are in a complete blather about gender, insisting on the one side that gender is not binary, but multifaceted, and on the other side that cisgendered white males are the very devil.

What is going on here?

I think that my three stage theory of humans explains everything.

On my view there are three kinds of people. There are the People of the Subordinate Self, the peasants, serfs, and victims of the world. They experience themselves as helpless and naturally seek to attach themselves to a powerful lord. They are clients to a great patron. We know who they are: women, minorities, rank-and-file Democratic voters.

Then there are the People of the Responsible Self, the responsible individuals that follow the rules, go to work, and obey the law. These people think they they are responsible for making their way in the world on their own and they understand that to do this they must serve other people, spouses, children, communities, and consumers. It's up to each individual to figure out how to contribute to society and thus earn a living.

Finally, there are the People of the Creative Self, people who believe that meaning in life comes from work of a creative endeavor. You cannot just go to work and follow the rules; you must create your own work, and discover your own rules, for otherwise you are just a routinist and a mass man.

In my view, it is easy to be a subordinate self; anyone can give up and become a victim. It is challenging, but rewarding, to become a responsible self. Most people are up to the challenge of responsibility. But it is very hard to be a successful creative person. The reason is simple: many are called, but few are chosen.

In our modern America, as I've written before, the nation is divided into two cultural/political camps. On one side are the People of the Responsible Self and they identify as conservatives, libertarians, Christians, Republicans. On the other side is a coalition of the People of the Creative Self and the People of the Subordinate Self and they identify as liberals, progressives, atheists, victims, Democrats.

In the old days liberals and progressives were proudly elitist and served their subordinate clients as great lords, but the strain, the stress as we like to say, was unbearable. That's because the life of a person truly dedicated to the creative life is remarkably challenging.

So liberals came up with a cunning plan. Instead of living lives of true creativity they would live lives of ersatz creativity. They would get get tenure in universities and churn out ersatz scholarship; they would get creative on gender, faking life as creative people. But above all they would reimagine themselves as victims, and they would partake also of life as subordinate people. They would create and inhabit dozens of sexual or gender identities and also pose as helpless victims of the white patriarchy.

Now you understand what all the Title IX rape crisis is about. Now you understand what all the gay marriage thing is about. Now you understand the whole Bruce/Caitlin Jenner media mega-splosion.

But it's all a lie, and the worst kind of lie: the lie people tell themselves.

The most creative thing that most people can ever hope for is to create and raise a clutch of children. A few people get to create new mechanical contraptions; a few people get to create new abstract concepts. But the most that the overwhelming majority of people can hope for is the responsible task of searching out a mate, creating and raising children with that mate, and leaving the world a better place than they found it.

But we humans are forever tempted by squirrels! We are forever getting distracted from the hard work of making a living and caring for those we love. We are forever imagining what might have been, what could have been, what should have been, given a couple of breaks.

And of course when we have power, cultural and political power, we get corrupted by that power, and we declare that our sordid little appetites and oppressions are actually noble and grand.

Usually we only fool ourselves, like our liberal friends in America, right here, right now.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

My Problem with Gay Marriage, Transology

I was reading the comments on an article over at RedState about the Jenner transsexual case, and was struck by the repeated posts of "Zoe_Brain," referring to countless scientific papers that reported on the perfectly natural and physical nature of transsexualism.

Of course the other commenters were making standard conservative arguments against transsexualism by appealing to natural law and God's law.

In other words, we had "is" battling with "ought."

Now I take a different view on the whole World War G and World War T issue, and I suppose that my view amounts to "social Darwinism."

To tell the truth, I don't really know what Social Darwinism is supposed to be, only that it is bad.
Darwinism Good, Social Darwinism Bad. Everybody knows that.

Only I don't understand why there is any difference between the natural selection of beneficial genetic traits in the survival of living things and the natural selection of beneficial social/cultural traits in the survival of living things.

That was just a rhetorical flourish. Of course I know why Social Darwinism is Bad.

If the notion that society advances by the natural selection of social and cultural memes then the whole Leftist project is rubbish. The whole Leftist project is based on the notion that we know what is the best social/cultural arrangement for humans; it is the arrangement being advocated by the current generation of leftist political activists.

Let us therefore try to draw a bright line between left and right on this. In the leftist view, the just society is discovered by left-wing activism, organizing people politically and imposing the leftist solution on the rest of society by force. The right has a whole panoply of views, from the Christian view of God's law to the Enlightenment idea of natural law to the Burkean view of gradual reform, having regard for the ancestors and the generation yet unborn to the Hayekian view of human society as an irreducibly complex social organism. Force may or may not be appropriate.

My view is: we don't know how to organize society for the survival and the flourishing of humans and other species on this planet. All we have is a bunch of theories. So here is my take on the present issues:

Gay marriage: It's telling that religions down the ages have voted against homosexuality. Could it be that the religions that have valorized homosexuality have disappeared from this earth?

Transsexualism: Completely new, because prior to the current generation we didn't have the medical technology to do anything about it. But see gay marriage above.

Sexual revolution: Religions tend to be strongly pro-natal and strongly against libertine sexual behavior in women. And of course honor among women is chastity. Could the collapse of child-bearing in educated women, particularly in Germany where 40 percent of college-educated women are childless, be telling us something?

All I am saying is that when you normalize cultural memes like gay marriage, transsexualism, and sexual freedom in general, you are launching cultural memes into the social world that might have unanticipated consequences.

In fact, despite all the catchphrases about "freedom" and "safe spaces," all cultures valorize certain social behaviors and shame other behaviors. Some people shame sluts; other people shame privileged white males. The question is: which social behaviors are beneficial? And by beneficial I mean "promote human survival and flourishing."

We don't know. I'm a libertarian conservative, so I believe in freedom, because I believe that letting people make mistakes is the best road to the future. That way, I believe, mistakes will be made, and the people that make them will have to pay the price, even to the extent of getting a Darwin Award.

In my view, gay marriage and the normalization of transsexualism are mistakes because they encourage people to believe that there is no cost to veering off the mainstream of heterosexual pairing, marriage, and raising the next generation. People that do that should know that they are going off the mainstream of life.

In my view we already know that sexual libertinism is destructive, that the delay of childbearing is destructive, that the devaluing of lifetime marriage is destructive. But we are not allowed to say it.

In my view we will pay, at some point, a frightful cost, for our present cultural and social follies, courtesy of the left. And that cost might be as high as western civilizational annihilation.

Because that's how the world works. People and groups introduce political, economic, and cultural memes into the world. Some of the memes die immediately, but others grow and take over the world. Any meme, even one that takes over the world, might be destructive; we just don't know until we try it. People come into the world and adopt the memes they find close at hand. When they do so, they lash their lives to the mast of their particular cultural meme-boat.

And as their life works out they find out whether their choice was a good idea or whether it was a good idea at the time.

I don't have a problem with gays living together, if they want, or transsexuals changing their body parts, if they have the means to do it.

But I think that it's a mistake for society to go beyond tolerance to celebration of behaviors that veer off the mainstream of life. Because survival.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Look on the Bright Side of Obama's Follies

Today in National Review the classicist Victor Davis Hanson writes about the world as Pottersville, the mean and nasty world that is developing without the good-natured power of the United States to stand up to the Potters of the world. Pottersville is what the ideal New England small town Bedford Falls would have become had It's a Wonderful Life hero George Bailey not lived and the greedy banker Mr. Potter had had his sneering, cynical way.

Golly Gee. That's just a day after I wrote about the "Fargo" Presidency, comparing Obama to clueless car dealer Jerry Lundegaard, who thought he could make some quick money by having his wife kidnapped. What could go wrong, I asked.

Yes, things do look like a mess, what with the Iran threat and the ISIS threat and the Putin threat, but they always do. Just think about the last 100 years. In World War I it was the Hunnish threat. After 1917 it was the Bolshevik threat. Then it was the Nazi threat. the End of the World was nigh.

After World War II we got the Cold War and the global Communist threat. Only this time we had the additional threat of global thermonuclear war. Then, with Korea, we discovered the Maoist threat. Then with the birth of Israel and its wars, the Nationalist Arab threat. Then it was the domino threat, with the Soviets backing anti-colonialist thugs all over the world. Then Communism collapsed, China and then India took up capitalism, and lo and behold now we have the Islamic threat.

And that's to say nothing of all the threats that liberals throw up, from racism to pollution to population explosion to global cooling to sexism to world hunger to homophobia to ozone holes to global warming to peak energy to islamophobia.

Yes, but after the disasters of Obama, what will come of the United States? Can we roll back the thugs and the jihadis and resume our climb to the sunlit uplands of live-and-let-live under limited government and capitalism? The simple answer is that we don't know.

But think back to the middle of the Civil War. I wonder what people thought then about the future of the United States. Or back in December 1776 when Thomas Paine wrote "These are the times that try men's souls." What about the days of the Robber Barons when everyone was railing against the evil railroads? Or in the mid 1800s when the Irish were staggering ashore more dead than alive from the coffin ships. Truth is that the past always looks more tranquil and ordered than it seemed at the time.

My favorite example of the past is the British Empire. We like to think of it as Britain painting the world red. But actually it was one disaster after another with the government trying to pick up the pieces. Local chaps on the ground out across the other side of the world were always getting into a scrape. Before the days of the telegraph it would take three to six months for the news of the disaster to get back to Britain and then the government had to decide what to do about it. If anything. But first it had to pretend to the domestic public that everything was in hand and there was no need to worry.

But think about the disasters: losing North America; the Crimea War; the mess of the Indian Mutiny (called the Great Uprising in India); Gordon in Khartoum; the South African messes ending in the Boer War. Nothing but incompetence recovered at enormous expense in lives and treasure.

The good thing about the Years of the Obama Disasters is that they have really discredited the Democratic Party and liberalism with the American people. It's going to make really hard going for Democrats for a few political seasons. That means that there will be a calm in the usual trade winds of liberal cultural domination. That will provide a chance to do some genuine reform that rolls back government, just a little, for just a while, until the political climate returns to normal and the liberal trade winds resume.

And think of the gift of Hillary Clinton as the Democrats' Anointed! We conservatives and Republicans should be paying the Democrats to keep her in the race.

Hmm. I wonder.