Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Five Books for Liberals to Worry About

Cass Sunstein, the advocate of "nudge," is warning liberals that they may have a problem. He puts it politely, suggesting that even though Obama and Clinton are the best thing since sliced bread, liberals might want to read some books. Not that it would change their minds, but that it might help them understand why some people down there among the deplorables and the irredeemables  might disagree with them.

He starts with James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State. He tells his readers that
Scott argues that modern governments, relying on top-down knowledge, tend to be clueless, because they depend on “thin simplifications” of complex systems -- and hence lack an understanding of how human beings actually organize themselves.
Hmm. But Scott also says that the basic plan of the modern state started with the absolute monarchs, who needed to break through the mediating institutions of the time, the guilds and land-owners, so that they could tax and draft individuals rather than merely deal with intermediate notables and power-holders. The same plan is going into effect as the globalists attempt to "piece the shell of national sovereignty."

Hey, liberals could also read Tocqueville's French Revolution and the Old Regime, which tells how the top-down administrative system of the French ancien rĂ©gime killed all sense of belonging and loyalty to the regime and thus set up France for the debacle of the Revolution and the Terror.

Then Sunstein moves on to A Matter of Interpretation by Antonin Scalia, which I have not read. Progressives don't like Scalia, writes Sunstein, because he was an opponent "of affirmative action, abortion, gun control, and campaign finance legislation."
But what Scalia cared most about was clear, predictable rules, laid down in advance. In this book, he argues for approaches to interpretation that produce clarity, generality, and fair notice, and that sharply constrain the discretion of federal judges.
Yeah, well, that's the problem innit? What liberals want is complete freedom for their nominees to be able to administer as needed, without regard to any rules laid down in advance. And that issues from the very nature of top-down administrative government. Just like with Obamacare, the ruling class cannot predict in advance what unanticipated problems will occur, so it needs complete discretion for the administrators to clean up the problems and patch them with additional billions without having to go back to Congress for additional legislation.

And that leads Sunstein into Side Effects and Complications: The Economic Consequences of Health-Care Reform by Casey Mulligan.
Mulligan’s central claim is that the Affordable Care Act is imposing large implicit taxes on full-time employment, producing real reductions in wages. The result, he argues, is that many employees would do far better if they worked fewer hours per week -- and in some cases, if they didn't work at all. 
Actually, this is true of the entire welfare state. It is an enormous tax on work, starting with the payroll tax, and then going onto all the other taxes on work, like unemployment and workers compensation taxes. Some people might actually call the welfare state unjust, in that it weighs so heavily on the brow of labor.

Then Sunstein comes to The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haight, which I have read.
Do conservatives have moral commitments that progressives may not even recognize? Haidt says yes, and he identifies three: authority, loyalty and sanctity. If, for example, someone has betrayed a trust, or treated a boss or a parent disrespectfully, conservatives are far more likely to be outraged than progressives.
The interesting thing here is that liberals do too believe in "authority, loyalty and sanctity." Liberals are really big on the authority of big government and the moral authority of peaceful protesters. Liberals are crazy loyal to their side in the culture wars, and demonstrate their loyalty by defenestrating any heretics on the spot with their naming and shaming. But they think of themselves as independent thinkers bravely speaking truth to power. And as for sanctity, liberals believe absolutely in the sanctity of the environment and the planet and a woman's right to choose. So liberals are living in a dream world. They don't understand what they believe.

Finally, Sunstein wants his liberal friends to read Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes by Robert Ellickson.
Progressives tend to believe that without a strong government, social order just isn’t possible; you would have anarchy. An impressive body of research -- much of it by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom -- demonstrates that this belief is wrong. Sometimes people can sort things out well enough on their own, benefiting from social norms that have nothing to do with government.
Oh really! "Sometimes" is it? Where I come from the settled science says that if you put a group of Americans into a room to solve a problem they will do so, attempting to resolve it by giving each party to the problem something to take away. That agrees with the notion in Buchanan and Tullock's The Calculus of Consent that the best form of legislating is the rule of unanimous consent. That way the proposers of any government program have to buy the votes of the people that will lose out on the program by compensating them for their losses.

The point is that in order to get people to fight, most of the time, you need a politician. As I say, politics is division.

I don't know what Cass Sunstein really believes. In any case, he lives in the world where he might get a government gig in any Democratic administration, so of course he believes that "Barack Obama has been a terrific president... and that Hillary Clinton would be an excellent successor." Jobs, jobs, jobs.

But I suspect that the subtext of his article is a warning to liberals, as in: You may think that everything is copacetic, dear liberal friends, but you need to know that there is "trouble at t'mill," not just because the rubes are deploring, but because a lot of what we liberals take for granted just isn't so. 

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