No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing

I just took the Freedom Scenarios Inventory at YourMorals.org, the producers of which include the estimable Jonathan Haidt. I was shocked by the result — not my result, but my result in comparison with the results obtained by other users.

Before you look at the result, you should read this description of the test:

The scale is a measure of the degree to which people consider different freedom issues to be morally relevant. As you may have noticed, this inventory does not include perennially contentious freedom-related issues like abortion or gun rights. These issues were deliberately excluded from this scale, because we are interested in what drives people to be concerned with freedom issues in general. On the other hand, people’s stances on well worn political issues like abortion and gun control are likely to be influenced more by their political beliefs rather than their freedom concerns.

The idea behind the scale is to determine how various individual difference variables relate to people’s moral freedom concerns. Throughout the world, calls for freedom and liberty are growing louder. We want to begin to investigate what is driving this heightened concern for freedom. Surprisingly little research has investigated the antecedents of freedom concerns. In the past, our group has investigated clusters of characteristics associated with groups of people who are more concerned with liberty (i.e., libertarians), but this type of investigation differs from the current investigation in that we are now interested more in individual differences in freedom concerns – not group differences…. It seems that many psychologists assume that many types of freedom concerns are driven by a lack of empathy for others, but we think the truth is more complicated than this.

The test-taker is asked to rate each of 14 scenarios on the following scale:

0 – Not at all morally bad
 1 – Barely morally bad
 2 – Slightly morally bad
 3 – Somewhat morally bad
 4 – Morally bad
 5 – Very morally bad
 6 – Extremely morally bad
 7 – Extraordinarily morally bad
 8 – Nothing could be more morally bad

Here are the 14 scenarios, which I’ve numbered for ease of reference:

1. You are no longer free to eat your favorite delicious but unhealthy meal due to the government’s dietary restrictions.

2. You are no longer free to always spend your money in the way you want.

3. You are not always free to wear whatever you want to wear. Some clothes are illegal.

4. Your favorite source of entertainment is made illegal.

5. Your favorite hobby is made illegal.

6.. You are not free to live where you want to live.

7. By law, you must sleep one hour less each day than you would like.

8. You are no longer free to eat your favorite dessert food (because the government has deemed it unhealthy).

9. You are no longer allowed to kill innocent people . [Obviously thrown in to see if you’re paying attention.]

10. You are no longer free to spend as much time as you want watching television/movies/video clips due to government restrictions.

11, You are no longer free to drink your favorite beverage, because the government considers it unhealthy.

12. You are no longer free to drive whenever you want for however long you want due to driving restrictions.

13. You are no longer free to go to your favorite internet site.

14. You are no longer free to go to any internet site you choose to go to.

I didn’t expect to be unusual in my views about freedom. But it seems that I am:

Moral profile-freedom concern

A lot of people — too many — are willing to let government push them around. Why? Because Big Brother knows best? Because freedom isn’t worth fighting for? Because of the illusion of security and prosperity created by the regulatory-welfare state? Whatever the reason, the evident willingness of test-takers to accede to infringements on their liberty is frightening.

The result confirms my view that democracy is an enemy of liberty.

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Related posts:
Something Controversial
More about Democracy and Liberty
Yet Another Look at Democracy
Democracy and the Irrational Voter
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
About Democracy

The Real Burden of Government

The proprietor of Political Calculations, harkening back to Irving Fisher, makes a case for personal consumption as the proper measure of national output. Robert Higgs argues that personal consumption is the proper benchmark against which to measure the burden of government spending:

How big is government in the United States? The answer depends on the concept used to define its size. Although many such concepts are available, and several are used from time to time, by far the most common measure, especially in studies by economists, is total government spending (G) as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP)….

On reflection, however, one might well wonder why G has been “normalized” so often by measuring it relative to GDP. One reason this practice is questionable is that GDP includes a large part—equal in recent years to about 10 percent of the total—known as the capital consumption allowance. This is an estimate of the amount of spending that was required simply to maintain the value of the nation’s capital stock as it depreciated because of wear and tear and obsolescence. Given that GDP is defined to include only “final” goods and services, it is questionable that expenditures made solely to maintain the capital stock should be included at all, rather than excluded as “intermediate goods,” as a large volume of the economy’s total output is already excluded (e.g., steel sold the manufacturers of machinery, wheat sold to flour mills).

One way around this difficulty is to measure G not relative to GDP, but relative to net national product, which, except for a statistical discrepancy, is the same as the accounting concept known as national income (NI). Using NI as the denominator, for the same period 2010-14, we find that size of government in the United States was 41.4 percent. This figure, however, may still give a misleading impression of the relative size of government because NI includes elements that are more or less remote from the economic affairs of individual households.

After some adjustments to NI, including several deductions (e.g., for contributions to government social insurance) and several additions (e.g., for personal income receipts on assets), we arrive at the accounting concept designated personal income (PI), which, because the foregoing deductions and additions have been almost offsetting, has been approximately the same as NI in recent years. From the total PI, individuals pay taxes, spend a portion (designated personal consumption, C), and save the rest. PI is the income concept that accords most closely with ordinary people’s notion of their income.

Personal consumption outlays, which currently amount to about 95 percent of disposable (that is, after-tax) personal income, are an arguably superior denominator for the measurement of the relative size of government. If we use it as such, we find, for the same period 2010-14, a figure of 52.2 percent. Thus, by a more meaningful measure, total government spending is equivalent not to a little more than a third of the economy (G/GDP) nor to a little more than four-tenths of it (G/NI), but rather to a little more than half of the part of the economy that affords immediate satisfaction to consumers (C/PI).

I would argue that something like PI, rather than C, is the proper benchmark for measuring the burden of government spending. As Higgs says, “PI is the income concept that accords most closely with ordinary people’s notion of their income.”

But I would go a step further and say that the relevant measure of personal income is that part of it which derives from private economic activity: private personal income (PPI). I would therefore exclude from PPI any income derived directly from government employment and government transfer payments (Social Security, etc.).

PPI is a measure of “real” economic activity, in that it reflects the aggregate value of voluntary, mutually beneficial exchanges of goods and services. Government, on the other hand, crowds out and hinders real economic activity, in three ways: spending on government programs, redistributive spending, and regulatory activity. In other words, there is more to government spending than G, the formal definition of which excludes transfer payments. I therefore compare PPI to $Ga, which

represents the observable cost of [governmental activities], including [actual transfer payments and de facto transfer payments disguised as compensation of government employees and contractors], even though they flow into private-sector consumption and investment…. $Ga does not include indirect costs, such as those that are imposed by the regulatory burden….

Without further ado, here’s a graphical comparison of PPI and $Ga*:

PPI vs $Ga

That’s not the end of the story. Regulations impose a huge burden on the U.S. economy. Higgs cites the work of Wayne Crews, “who makes an annual estimate of the cost of compliance with federal regulations alone.” According to Crews, “Costs for Americans to comply with federal regulations reached $1.863 trillion in 2013.” (That’s remarkably close to an estimate for 2008 obtained by a different study, which I’ve cited elsewhere.)

Let’s focus on 2013. In then-year dollars, PPI was $11.4 trillion, $Ga was $6.3 trillion, and the regulatory burden imposed by federal regulations was $1.9 trillion. The sum of these three (mutually exclusive) quantities is $19.6 trillion. PPI accounts for only 58 percent of the sum. And it is safe to say that if State and local regulations were taken into account, PPI would account for no more than one-half of the dollar value of the nation’s potential economic output.

That is a reasonable estimate of the real (economic) burden of government — at the moment. But the cumulative burden is greater than that; decades of government spending and regulatory activity have cut the rate of economic growth almost in half since the end of World War II:

Real GDP by post-WW2 business cycle

__________
* I estimated PPI from Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Income and Product Accounts Tables, Table 2.1, Personal Income and Its Disposition, by adding line 4 (wages and salaries paid by private industries); the portion of line 6 (supplements to wages and salaries) attributable to private employment (line 4 divided by line 3 — total salaries and wages, including government — times line 6); line 9 (proprietors’ income); line 12 (rental income); and line 13 (interest and dividend income).

I estimated $Ga from Table 3.1, Government Current Receipts and Expenditures, by adding lines 35-38: current expenditures, gross government investment, capital transfer payments, and net purchases on non-produced assets.

In both cases, I estimated per capita values by applying the population figures given at MeasuringWorth. I converted all estimates to 2014 dollars by applying CPI-U values obtained from BLS.gov.

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Related posts:
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
The Rahn Curve Revisited
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy

Signature

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XIII)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

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Jeremy Egerer says this “In Defense of a Beautiful Boss” (American Thinker, February 8, 2015):

Leftists have been waging a war against nearly every personal advantage for years: if they aren’t upset because your parents are rich, they’ll insult you because your parents are white, or maybe because you have a penis.  In their most unreasonable moments, they might even be upset that you deserve your own job.  It seems only reasonable to expect that sooner or later, they would be complaining about whether or not our bosses keep themselves in shape.

This is because at the heart of all leftism lies an unreasonable envy of all advantage (disguised as an advocacy of the disadvantaged) and an unhealthy hatred of actual diversity (disguised as an appreciation of difference).  They call life a meritocracy when your successful parents raise you to win, which is a lot like complaining that your parents raised you at all.  It’s almost enough to make you wonder whether they loathe the laws of cause and effect.  In the fight against all odds – not his, but everyone’s – the leftist hasn’t only forgotten that different people breed different people; he’s forgotten that different people are diversity itself, and that diversity, the thing he claims to be championing, means that someone is going to have natural advantages.

Spot on. I have addressed the left’s war on “lookism” in “How to Combat Beauty-ism” and “An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly.”

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John Ray tackles “Conservative and Liberal Brains Again” (A Western Heart, February 14, 2015):

Most such reports [Current Biology 21, 677–680, April 26, 2011 ª2011. DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.017] are … parsimoniously interpreted as conservatives being more cautious, which is hardly a discovery. And if there is something wrong with caution then there is everything wrong with a lot of things.  Science, for instance, is a sustained exercise in caution. So conservatives are born more cautious and Leftist brains miss most of that out.  So [a commentary that conservatives are] “sensitive to fear” … could be equally well restated as “cautious”.  And the finding that liberals “have a higher capacity to tolerate uncertainty and conflicts” is pure guesswork [on the part of the commentators].  As the report authors note, that is just “one of the functions of the anterior cingulate cortex”.

Despite the apparent even-handedness of the authors of the study cited by Dr. Ray, the field of psychology has long had a pro-left tilt. See, for example, my posts “Conservatism, Libertarianism, and the ‘Authoritarian Personality’,” “The F Scale, Revisited,” and “The Psychologist Who Played God.”

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Income inequality is another item in the long list of subjects about which leftists obsess, despite the facts of the matter. Mark J. Perry, as usual, deals in facts: “US Middle Class Has Disappeared into Higher-Income Groups; Recent Stagnation Explained by Changing Household Demographics?” (AEI.org, February 4, 2015) and “Evidence Shows That Affluence in the US Is Much More Fluid and Widespread Than The Rigid Class Structure Narrative Suggests” (AEI.org, February 25, 2015). The only problem with these two posts is Perry’s unnecessary inclusion of a question mark in the title of the first one. For more on the subject, plus long lists of related posts and readings, see my post, “Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes.”

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Speaking of leftists who obsess about income inequality — and get it wrong — there’s Thomas Piketty, author of the much-rebutted Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I have much to say about Deidre McCloskey’s take-down of Piketty in “McCloskey on Piketty.” David Henderson, whose review of Capital is among the several related readings listed in my post, has more to say; for example:

McCloskey’s review is a masterpiece. She beautifully weaves together economic history, simple price theory, basic moral philosophy, and history of economic thought. Whereas I had mentally put aside an hour to read and think, it took only about 20 minutes. I highly recommend it. (“McCloskey on Piketty,” EconLog, February 25, 2015)

Henderson continues by sampling some of Piketty’s many errors of fact, logic, and economic theory that McCloskey exposes.

*     *     *

Although it won’t matter to committed leftists, Piketty seems to have taken some of this critics to heart. James Pethokoukis writes:

[I]n a new paper, Piketty takes a step or two backward. He now denies that he views his simple economic formula “as the only or even the primary tool for considering changes in income and wealth in the 20th century, or for forecasting the path of income and wealth inequality in the 21st century.” Seems his fundamental law isn’t so fundamental after all once you factor in things like how some of that wealth is (a) spent on super-yachts and bad investments; (b) divided among children through the generations; and (c) already taxed fairly heavily. In particular, the rise in income inequality, as opposed to wealth inequality, has “little to do” with “r > g,” he says….

Piketty’s modest retreat isn’t all that surprising, given the withering academic assault on his research. In a survey of top economists late last year, 81 percent disagreed with his thesis. And several used fairly rough language — at least for scholars — such as “weak” and not “particularly useful,” with one accusing Piketty of “poor theory” and “negligible empirics.”

This is all rather bad news for what I have termed the Unified Economic Theory of Modern Liberalism: Not only are the rich getting richer — and will continue to do so because, you know, capitalism — but this growing gap is hurting economic growth. Redistribution must commence, tout de suite!

But Piketty’s clarification isn’t this politically convenient theory’s only problem. The part about inequality and growth has also suffered a setback. The link between the two is a key part of the “secular stagnation” theory of superstar Democratic economist Lawrence Summers. Since the rich save more than the middle class, growing income inequality is sapping the economy of consumer demand. So government must tax more and spend more. But Summers recently offered an updated view, saying that while boosting consumer demand is necessary, it is not sufficient for strong economic growth. Washington must also do the sort of “supply-side” stuff that Republicans kvetch about, such as business tax reform.

…[C]oncern about the income gap shouldn’t be used an excuse to ignore America’s real top problem, a possible permanent downshift in the growth potential of the U.S. economy. At least Piketty got half his equation right. [“The Politically Convenient but Largely Bogus Unified Economic Theory of Modern Liberalism,” The Week, March 11, 2015]

About that bogus inequality-hurts-growth meme, see my post, “Income Inequality and Economic Growth.”

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Harvard’s Robert Putnam is another class warrior, whose propagandistic effusion “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century“ I skewer in “Society and the State” and “Genetic Kinship and Society.” I was therefore gratified to read in Henry Harpending’s post, “Charles Murray and Robert Putnam on Class” (West Hunter, March 20, 2015) some things said by John Derbyshire about Putnam’s paper:

That paper has a very curious structure. After a brief introduction (two pages), there are three main sections, headed as follows:

The Prospects and Benefits of Immigration and Ethnic Diversity (three pages)
Immigration and Diversity Foster Social Isolation (nineteen pages)
Becoming Comfortable with Diversity (seven pages)

I’ve had some mild amusement here at my desk trying to think up imaginary research papers similarly structured. One for publication in a health journal, perhaps, with three sections titled:

Health benefits of drinking green tea
Green tea causes intestinal cancer
Making the switch to green tea

Social science research in our universities cries out for a modern Jonathan Swift to lampoon its absurdities.

Amen.

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Putnam is a big booster of “diversity,” which — in the left’s interpretation — doesn’t mean diversity of political, social, and economic views. What it means is the forced association of persons of irreconcilably opposed social norms. I say some things about that in “Society and the State” and “Genetic Kinship and Society.” Fred Reed has much more to say in a recent column:

In Ferguson blacks are shooting policemen as others cheer. It does a curmudgeon’s soul good: Everything gets worse, the collapse continues, and unreasoning stupidity goes thundering into the future.

We will hear I suppose that it wasn’t racial, that teens did it, that discrimination  caused it, white privilege, racism, institutional racism, slavery, colonialism, bigots, Southerners, rednecks—everything but the hatred of blacks for whites.

And thus we will avoid the unavoidable, that racial relations are a disaster, will remain a disaster, will get worse, are getting worse, and will lead to some awful denouement no matter how much we lie, preen, vituperate, chatter like Barbary apes, or admire ourselves.

It isn’t working. There is no sign that it ever will. What now?

The only solution, if there is a solution, would seem to be an amicable separation. This methinks would be greatly better than the slow-motion, intensifying racial war we now see, and pretend not to see. When the races mix, there is trouble. So, don’t mix them….

The racial hostility of blacks for whites can be seen elsewhere, for example in targeting of crime, most starkly in interracial rates of rape…. The numbers on rape, almost entirely black on white, also check out as cold fact… This has been analyzed to death, and ignored to death, but perhaps the most readable account is Jim Goad’s For Whom the Cat Calls (the numbers of note come below the ads).

Even without the (inevitable) racial hostility, togetherheid would not work well. The races have little or nothing in common. They do not want the same things. Whites come from a literate European tradition dating at least from the Iliad in 800 BC, a tradition characterized by literature, mathematics, architecture, philosophy, and the sciences. Africa, having a very different social traditions, was barely touched by this, and today blacks still show little interest. Even in the degenerate America of today, whites put far more emphasis on education than do blacks.

The media paint the problems of blacks as consequent to discrimination, but they clearly are not. If blacks in white schools wanted to do the work, or could, whites would applaud. If in black schools they demanded thicker textbooks with bigger words and smaller pictures, no white would refuse. The illiteracy, the very high rates of illegitimacy, the crime in general, the constant killing of young black men by young black men in particular—whites do not do these. They are either genetic, and irremediable, or cultural, and remediable, if at all, only in the very long run. We live in the short run.

Would it then not be reasonable to encourage a voluntary segregation? Having only black policemen in black regions would slow the burning of cities. If we let people live among their own, let them study what they chose to study, let them police themselves and order their schools as they chose, considerable calm would fall over the country.

If the races had the choice of running their own lives apart, they would. If this is not true, why do we have to spend such effort trying to force them together?

It is a great fallacy to think that because we ought to love one another, we will; or that because bloodshed among groups makes no sense, it won’t happen. The disparate seldom get along, whether Tamils and Sinhalese or Hindus and Moslems or Protestants and Catholics or Jews and Palestinians. The greater the cultural and genetic difference, the greater the likelihood and intensity of conflict. Blacks and whites are very, very different….

Separation does not imply disadvantage. The assertion that “separate is inherently unequal” is a catchiphrastic embodiment of the Supreme Court’s characteristic blowing in the political wind. A college for girls is not inherently inferior to a college for boys, nor a yeshiva for Jews inherently inferior to a parish school for Catholics. And maybe it is the business of girls and boys, Catholics and Jews, to decide what and where they want to study—not the government’s business….

Anger hangs over the country. Not everyone white is a professor or collegiate sophomore or network anchor. Not every white—not by a long shot—in Congress or the federal bureaucracy is a Mother Jones liberal, not in private conversation. They say aloud what they have to say. But in the Great Plains and small-town South, in corner bars in Chicago and Denver, in the black enclaves of the cities, a lot of people are ready to rumble. Read the comments section of the St. Louis papers after the riots. We can call the commenters whatever names we choose but when we finish, they will still be there. The shooting of policemen for racial reasons–at least four to date–is not a good sign. We will do nothing about it but chatter. [“The Symptoms Worsen,” Fred on Everything, March 15, 2015]

See also Reed’s column “Diversity: Koom. Bah. Humbug” (January 13, 2015) and my posts, “Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications,” “The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Lincoln.”, “‘Conversing’ about Race,” “‘Wading’ into Race, Culture, and IQ,” “Round Up the Usual Suspects,”and “Evolution, Culture, and ‘Diversity’.”

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In “The Fallacy of Human Progress” I address at length the thesis of Steven Pinker’s ludicrous The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. In rebuttal to Pinker, I cite John Gray, author of The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths:

Gray’s book — published  18 months after Better Angels — could be read as a refutation of Pinker’s book, though Gray doesn’t mention Pinker or his book.

Well, Gray recently published a refutation of Pinker’s book, which I can’t resist quoting at length:

The Better Angels of Our Nature: a history of violence and humanity (2011) has not only been an international bestseller – more than a thousand pages long and containing a formidable array of graphs and statistics, the book has established something akin to a contemporary orthodoxy. It is now not uncommon to find it stated, as though it were a matter of fact, that human beings are becoming less violent and more altruistic. Ranging freely from human pre-history to the present day, Pinker presents his case with voluminous erudition. Part of his argument consists in showing that the past was more violent than we tend to imagine…. This “civilising process” – a term Pinker borrows from the sociologist Norbert Elias – has come about largely as a result of the increasing power of the state, which in the most advanced countries has secured a near-monopoly of force. Other causes of the decline in violence include the invention of printing, the empowerment of women, enhanced powers of reasoning and expanding capacities for empathy in modern populations, and the growing influence of Enlightenment ideals….

Another proponent of the Long Peace is the well-known utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer, who has praised The Better Angels of Our Nature as “a supremely important book … a masterly achievement. Pinker convincingly demonstrates that there has been a dramatic decline in violence, and he is persuasive about the causes of that decline.” In a forthcoming book, The Most Good You Can Do, Singer describes altruism as “an emerging movement” with the potential to fundamentally alter the way humans live….

Among the causes of the outbreak of altruism, Pinker and Singer attach particular importance to the ascendancy of Enlightenment thinking….

…Pinker’s response when confronted with [contrary] evidence is to define the dark side of the Enlightenment out of existence. How could a philosophy of reason and toleration be implicated in mass murder? The cause can only be the sinister influence of counter-Enlightenment ideas….

The picture of declining violence presented by this new orthodoxy is not all it seems to be. As some critics, notably John Arquilla, have pointed out, it’s a mistake to focus too heavily on declining fatalities on the battlefield….

If great powers have avoided direct armed conflict, they have fought one another in many proxy wars. Neocolonial warfare in south-east Asia, the Korean war and the Chinese invasion of Tibet, British counter-insurgency warfare in Malaya and Kenya, the abortive Franco-British invasion of Suez, the Angolan civil war, the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, the Vietnam war, the Iran-Iraq war, the first Gulf war, covert intervention in the Balkans and the Caucasus, the invasion of Iraq, the use of airpower in Libya, military aid to insurgents in Syria, Russian cyber-attacks in the Baltic states and the proxy war between the US and Russia that is being waged in Ukraine – these are only some of the contexts in which great powers have been involved in continuous warfare against each other while avoiding direct military conflict.

While it is true that war has changed, it has not become less destructive. Rather than a contest between well-organised states that can at some point negotiate peace, it is now more often a many-sided conflict in fractured or collapsed states that no one has the power to end….

It may be true that the modern state’s monopoly of force has led, in some contexts, to declining rates of violent death. But it is also true that the power of the modern state has been used for purposes of mass killing, and one should not pass too quickly over victims of state terror…. Pinker goes so far as to suggest that the 20th-century Hemoclysm might have been a gigantic statistical fluke, and cautions that any history of the last century that represents it as having been especially violent may be “apt to exaggerate the narrative coherence of this history” (the italics are Pinker’s). However, there is an equal or greater risk in abandoning a coherent and truthful narrative of the violence of the last century for the sake of a spurious quantitative precision….

While the seeming exactitude of statistics may be compelling, much of the human cost of war is incalculable…. [T]he statistics presented by those who celebrate the arrival of the Long Peace are morally dubious if not meaningless.

The radically contingent nature of the figures is another reason for not taking them too seriously. (For a critique of Pinker’s statistical methods, see Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s essay on the Long Peace.)…

Certainly the figures used by Pinker and others are murky, leaving a vast range of casualties of violence unaccounted for. But the value of these numbers for such thinkers comes from their very opacity. Like the obsidian mirrors made by the Aztecs for purposes of divination, these rows of graphs and numbers contain nebulous images of the future – visions that by their very indistinctness can give comfort to believers in human improvement….

Unable to tolerate the prospect that the cycles of conflict will continue, many are anxious to find continuing improvement in the human lot. Who can fail to sympathise with them? Lacking any deeper faith and incapable of living with doubt, it is only natural that believers in reason should turn to the sorcery of numbers. How else can they find meaning in their lives? [“John Gray: Steven Pinker Is Wrong about Violence and War,” The Guardian, March 13, 2015]

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I close this super-sized installment of “Thoughts” by returning to the subject of so-called net neutrality, which I addressed almost nine years ago in “Why ‘Net Neutrality’ Is a Bad Idea.” Now it’s a bad idea that the FCC has imposed on ISPs and their customers — until, one hopes, it’s rejected by the Supreme Court as yet another case of Obamanomic overreach.

As Robert Tracinski notes,

[b]illionaire investor Mark Cuban recently commented, about a push for new regulations on the Internet, that “In my adult life I have never seen a situation that paralleled what I read in Ayn Rand’s books until now with Net Neutrality.” He continued, “If Ayn Rand were an up-and-coming author today, she wouldn’t write about steel or railroads, it would be Net Neutrality.”

She certainly would, but if he thinks this is the first time real life has imitated Ayn Rand’s fiction, he needs to be paying a little more attention. Atlas has been shrugging for a long, long time. [“Net Neutrality: Yes, Mark Cuban, Atlas Is Shrugging,” The Federalist, March 18, 2015]

The rest of the story is outlined by the headings in Tracinski’s article:

The Relationship Between Net Neutrality and Atlas Shrugged

Internet Execs Are Already Uncomfortable with the Net Neutrality They Demanded

The Parallels Extend Into Fracking

Government Shuts Down Any Runaway Success

Atlas Shrugged Is Coming True Before Our Eyes

As I did in my post, Julian Adorney focuses on the economics of net neutrality:

After a number of false starts and under pressure from the White House, the FCC gave in and voted to regulate the Internet as a public utility in order to ban such practices, thus saving the Internet from a variety of boogeymen.

This is a tempting narrative. It has conflict, villains, heroes, and even a happy ending. There’s only one problem: it’s a fairy tale. Such mischief has been legal for decades, and ISPs have almost never behaved this way. Any ISP that created “slow lanes” or blocked content to consumers would be hurting its own bottom line. ISPs make money by seeking to satisfy consumers, not by antagonizing them.

There are two reasons that ISPs have to work to satisfy their customers. First, every company needs repeat business….

For Internet service providers, getting new business is expensive…. Satisfying customers so that they continue subscribing is cheaper, easier, and more profitable than continually replacing them. ISPs’ self-interest pushes them to add value to their customers just to keep them from jumping ship to their competitors.

In fact, this is what we’ve seen. ISPs have invested heavily in new infrastructure, and Internet speeds have increased by leaps and bounds…. These faster speeds have not been limited to big corporate customers: ISPs have routinely improved their services to regular consumers. They didn’t do so because the FCC forced them. For the past twenty years, “slow lanes” have been perfectly legal and almost as perfectly imaginary….

…ISPs shy away from creating slow lanes not because they have to but because they have a vested interest in offering fast service to all customers.

Contrary to the myth about ISPs being localized monopolies, 80 percent of Americans live in markets with access to multiple high-speed ISPs. While expensive regulations can discourage new players from entering the market, competition in most cities is increasingly robust….

ISPs still have to compete with each other for customers. If one ISP sticks them in the slow lane or blocks access to certain sites — or even just refuses to upgrade its service — consumers can simply switch to a competitor.

The second reason that ISPs seek to satisfy customers is that every business wants positive word of mouth. Consumers who receive excellent service talk up the service to their friends, generating new sign-ups. Consumers who receive mediocre service not only leave but badmouth the company to everyone they know.

In fact, this happened in one of the few cases where an ISP chose to discriminate against content. When Verizon blocked text messages from a pro-choice activist group in 2007, claiming the right to block “controversial or unsavory” messages, the backlash was fierce. Consumer Affairs notes that, “after a flurry of criticism, Verizon reversed its policy” on the pro-choice texts. The decision may have been ideological, but more likely Verizon reversed a policy that was driving away consumers, generating bad press, and hurting its bottom line.

In 2010, an FCC order made such “unreasonable discrimination” illegal (until the rule was struck down in 2014), but even without this rule, consumers proved more than capable of standing up to big corporations and handling such discrimination themselves.

In competitive markets, the consumer’s demand for quality prevents companies from cutting corners. Before the FCC imposed public utility regulations on the Internet, ISPs were improving service and abandoning discriminatory practices in order to satisfy their users. Net Neutrality advocates have spent years demanding a government solution to a problem that  markets had already solved. [“Net Nonsense,” The Freeman, March 18, 2015]

Amen, again.

Understanding Investment Bubbles

In the classic definition of gross domestic product (GDP), saving (income not spent) is always equal to investment (output allocated to capital rather than current consumption). Thus, in the simple case of an economy without government or foreign trade:

GDP = C + I = C + S

∴ I = S

Whether I represents an addition to productive capital is another matter.

Consider a self-sufficient baker who bakes 8 loaves of bread a week. He usually consumes 7 of the loaves and saves 1 in case he gets sick and isn’t able to bake enough to cover his consumption. The extra loaf is just an investment in inventory, not an investment in productive capital. To be an investment in productive capital, the baker would have to increase his rate of consumption for the purpose of fortifying himself for an expansion of his baking operation.

If the baker doesn’t get sick and his inventory of uneaten loaves continues to grow, some of the loaves will become inedible. In other words, the baker’s inventory will depreciate, and he will have wasted time and materials because he overestimated his own demand for bread.

In the extreme, if the baker never gets sick and effectively wastes a loaf of bread a week, his apparent output (GDP) is higher than his actual income — his consumption (C) — by 1 loaf a week. The baker has created an inventory “bubble” that he’s unlikely to sustain when the facts of his situation hit home. Until then, his real GDP will have been overstated because of the inventory buildup that was unwarranted by his own demand for bread.

Alternatively, the baker consumes the 8th loaf of bread every week and expends the resulting boost in energy by building another oven, which can produce another 8 loaves a week. He has invested in productive capacity, yes? Only if there is demand for the additional output. But there isn’t. After he has built the new oven, the baker reverts to his previous consumption rate — 7 loaves of bread a week — so his new oven stands idle. Superficially, the baker has invested in additional productive capacity. But in reality, he has created an investment “bubble” — the additional oven that doesn’t produce anything because there’s no demand for its output.

The inflated inventory and the unused productive capacity seem, on the surface, to represent investment. But both are bubbles: the wasted expenditure of resources (the baker’s efforts and materials). The bigger the bubble, the more waste there is.

Bubbles are inevitable in a complex economy, where there’s imperfect information about the demand for various goods and services. But markets quickly put an end to bubbles because they promptly fill information gaps.

Government interventions stifle the transmission of information, with the result that such interventions cause resources to be wasted in profusion. When government steps in to mandate low-income mortgages, for example, demand for housing is overstated to the extent that home-buyers are encouraged to buy houses which they can’t afford. Absent the mandate, fewer home-buyers would be tempted to borrow beyond their means. And fewer builders would hire workers and buy materials to construct houses that are foreclosed and stand empty for months and years.

The self-sufficient baker harms only himself when he bakes too much bread. Government harms millions of people when it pushes resources toward unsupportable uses.

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Related posts:
Mr. Greenspan Doth Protest Too Much
Monopoly: Private Is Better than Public
The Fed and Business Cycles
Government Failure: An Example
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
“Big SIS”: A Review
How Not to Cope with Government Failure
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government

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All-Time Hitter-Friendly Ballparks

WITH PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO TIGER STADIUM

As opening day nears, my mind turns to ballparks — the green cathedrals. I was lucky enough to have attended several games in Tiger Stadium, where a seat in the upper deck between first base and third base afforded the best view of the game, anywhere, any time. Why? Because the upper deck rose directly above the lower deck, with little setback, so that a fan in the upper deck (in front of the posts) had a bird’s eye view of the action.

Tiger Stadium had another great distinction: it was a hitter’s park. Despite its deep center field, it had accessible power alleys and the upper deck in right field overhung the playing field by about 10 feet — an open invitation to a high fly ball. The park had a “cozy” feeling because it was double-decked (i.e., fully enclosed) all the way around, and the background (green fences, green seats) must have been conducive to hitting.

I wondered how Tiger Stadium stacked up against other hitter-friendly parks of the past and present. I turned to the Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com, where I could generate season-by-season batting statistics for each major-league park from 1914 to the present. I focused on three statistics: batting average (BA), slugging percentage (SLG), and home runs per plate appearance (HR/PA).

I compiled BA, SLG, and HR/PA for each major-league ballpark in every season from 1914 through 2014. Just to avoid wild swings from season to season and over time, I normalized the annual figures, using 2014 as the index year. This graph depicts the normalization factors:

Balpark factors - normalization

These factors doesn’t mean, for example, that a home run in 1918 (the peak year of the green line) is “worth” or “equivalent to” 7.4 home runs in 2014. As I’ve written here, cross-temporal comparisons of baseball statistics (especially over spans of decades) are meaningless given the substantial changes in conditions of play (equipment, lighting, field conditions) and the size and strength of the players.

Having normalized the annual statistics for each ballpark, I then searched for the “outliers” — the parks in which BA, SLG, and HR/PA were markedly above or below average for sustained periods. As it turned out, some of the outliers on the high end were also outliers on the low end. (I’ll say more about that, below.)

Here are the graphs of the outliers of interest for each statistic:

Ballpark factors - BA

Ballpark factors - SLG

Ballpark factors - HR

The names of the ballparks listed in the legends can be found in this table of all ballparks in use from 1914 through 2014:

Ballpark factors - stadiums

If you want to know why some ballparks (e.g., Fenway Park and Tiger Stadium) went from pitcher-friendly to hitter-friendly, look at the changes in their configurations. The details are given at this site, and this one provides diagrams of parks at key stages in their evolution.

There are no surprises (for me) in the graphs. And they show that Tiger Stadium was every bit the hitters’ paradise it was thought to be by millions of fans and thousands of players.

Tiger Stadium holds a special place in my heart not only because it was the home of the favorite team of my youth and early adulthood, but also because my father and I saw the Tigers win both games of a doubleheader there on August 15, 1961. Ironically, they were close, low-scoring games (2-0 and 3-2), though Norm Cash‘s homer was decisive in the first game. Even more exciting, however, was a single by Tiger great Al Kaline that produced a come-from-behind-bottom-of-the-ninth win in the second game. (The box scores and game summaries are here and here.)

The air in Tiger Stadium on that balmy summer evening was blue with the haze of cigar and cigarette smoke; the stadium was packed and rocking (without the aid of a mascot, canned music, or stroboscopic effects); the manicured playing field glowed brightly in the lights; and I was there with my father, seated in the upper deck behind third base and watching every pitch, every swing, and every play unfold in cinematic splendor. A priceless memory.

General View of Playing Field
This photo of Tiger Stadium (then Briggs Stadium), was taken at the All-Star Game on July 8, 1941. It shows the birds-eye view from the upper deck. The foul-ball screen detracted from the view behind home plate, which is why I preferred seats behind third base, where spectators were shielded from the glare of the late-afternoon sun. But for the absence of light towers (added in 1948), the stadium looks as it did in 1961.

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“The Great Debate”: Not So Great

I was drawn to Yuval Levin‘s The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left because some commentators on the right had praised it. But I was disappointed by The Great Debate for two reasons: repetitiveness and wrongheadedness (with respect to conservatism).

Regarding repetitiveness, the philosophical differences between Burke and Paine are rather straightforward and can be explained in a brief essay. Levin’s 304 pages strike me as endless variations on a simple theme — a literary equivalent of Philip Glass‘s long-winded minimalism.

In fact, I am wrong to suggest that it would take only a brief essay to capture the philosophical differences between Burke and Paine. Levin does it in a few paragraphs:

Paine lays out his political vision in greater detail in Rights of Man than in any of his earlier writings: a vision of individualism, natural rights, and equal justice for all made possible by a government that lives up to true republican ideals. [Kindle edition, p. 34]

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Politics [to Burke] was first and foremost about particular people living together , rather than about general rules put into effect. This emphasis caused Burke to oppose the sort of liberalism expounded by many of the radical reformers of his day. They argued in the parlance of natural rights drawn from reflections on an individualist state of nature and sought to apply the principles of that approach directly to political life. [Op. cit., p. 11]

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For Paine, the natural equality of all human beings translates to complete political equality and therefore to a right to self-determination. The formation of society was itself a choice made by free individuals, so the natural rights that people bring with them into society are rights to act as one chooses, free of coercion. Each person should have the right to do as he chooses unless his choices interfere with the equal rights and freedoms of others. And when that happens— when society as a whole must act through its government to restrict the freedom of some of its members— government can only act in accordance with the wishes of the majority, aggregated through a political process. Politics, in this view, is fundamentally an arena for the exercise of choice, and our only real political obligations are to respect the freedoms and choices of others.

For Burke, human nature can only be understood within society and therefore within the complex web of relations in which every person is embedded. None of us chooses the nation, community, or family into which we are born, and while we can choose to change our circumstances to some degree as we get older, we are always defined by some crucial obligations and relationships not of our own choosing. A just and healthy politics must recognize these obligations and relationships and respond to society as it exists, before politics can enable us to make changes for the better. In this view, politics must reinforce the bonds that hold people together, enabling us to be free within society rather than defining freedom to the exclusion of society and allowing us to meet our obligations to past and future generations, too. Meeting obligations is as essential to our happiness and our nature as making choices. [Op cit., pp. 91-92]

In sum, Paine is the quintessential “liberal” (leftist), that is, a rationalistic ideologue who has a view of the world as it ought to be.* And it is that view which governments should serve, or be overthrown. Burke, on the other hand, is a non-ideologue. Social arrangements — including political and economic ones — are emergent. Michael Oakeshott, a latter-day Burkean, puts it this way:

Government, … as the conservative … understands it, does not begin with a vision of another, different and better world, but with the observation of the self-government practised even by men of passion in the conduct of their enterprises; it begins in the informal adjustments of interests to one another which are designed to release those who are apt to collide from the mutual frustration of a collision. Sometimes these adjustments are no more than agreements between two parties to keep out of each other’s way; sometimes they are of wider application and more durable character, such as the International Rules for for the prevention of collisions at sea. In short, the intimations of government are to be found in ritual, not in religion or philosophy; in the enjoyment of orderly and peaceable behaviour, not in the search for truth or perfection….

To govern, then, as the conservative understands it, is to provide a vinculum juris for those manners of conduct which, in the circumstances, are least likely to result in a frustrating collision of interests; to provide redress and means of compensation for those who suffer from others behaving in a contrary manners; sometimes to provide punishment for those who pursue their own interests regardless of the rules; and, of course, to provide a sufficient force to maintain the authority of an arbiter of this kind. Thus, governing is recognized as a specific and limited activity; not the management of an enterprise, but the rule of those engaged in a great diversity of self-chosen enterprises. It is not concerned with concrete persons, but with activities; and with activities only in respect of their propensity to collide with one another. It is not concerned with moral right and wrong, it is not designed to make men good or even better; it is not indispensable on account of ‘the natural depravity of mankind’ but merely because of their current disposition to be extravagant; its business is to keep its subjects at peace with one another in the activities in which they have chosen to seek their happiness. And if there is any general idea entailed in this view, it is, perhaps, that a government which does not sustain the loyalty of its subjects is worthless; and that while one which (in the old puritan phrase) ‘commands the truth’ is incapable of doing so (because some of its subjects will believe its ‘truth’ to be in error), one which is indifferent to ‘truth’ and ‘error’ alike, and merely pursues peace, presents no obstacle to the necessary loyalty.

…[A]s the conservative understands it, modification of the rules should always reflect, and never impose, a change in the activities and beliefs of those who are subject to them, and should never on any occasion be so great as to destroy the ensemble. Consequently, the conservative will have nothing to do with innovations designed to meet merely hypothetical situations; he will prefer to enforce a rule he has got rather than invent a new one; he will think it appropriate to delay a modification of the rules until it is clear that the change of circumstances it is designed  to reflect has come to stay for a while; he will be suspicious of proposals for change in excess of what the situation calls for, of rulers who demand extra-ordinary powers in order to make great changes and whose utterances re tied to generalities like ‘the public good’ or social justice’, and of Saviours of Society who buckle on armour and seek dragons to slay; he will think it proper to consider the occasion of the innovation with care; in short, he will be disposed to regard politics as an activity in which a valuable set of tools is renovated from time to time and kept in trim rather than as an opportunity for perpetual re-equipment. [Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition, pp. 427-31]

This leads me to Levin’s wrongheadedness with respect to conservatism. It surfaces in the final chapter, with a failed attempt to reconcile the philosophies of Burke and Paine as variants of what Levin calls liberalism.

Given the stark differences between Paine’s proto-liberalism and Burkean conservatism, I cannot view the latter as a mere variant of the former. As Levin says,

the Burke-Paine debate is about Enlightenment liberalism, whose underlying worldview unavoidably raises the problem of the generations. Enlightenment liberalism emphasizes government by consent, individualism, and social equality, all of which are in tension with some rather glaring facts of the human condition : that we are born into a society that already exists, that we enter this society without consenting to it, that we enter it with social connections and not as isolated individuals, and that these connections help define our place in society and therefore often raise barriers to equality.** [Op. cit., p. 206]

Despite that, Levin writes of

[t]he tradition of conservative liberalism — the gradual accumulation of practices and institutions of freedom and order that Burke celebrated as the English constitution….

… [T]his very same conservative liberalism is very frequently the vision [that today’s conservatives] pursue in practice. It is the vision conservatives advance when they defend traditional social institutions and the family, seek to make our culture more hospitable to children, and rail against attempts at technocratic expert government. It is the vision they uphold when they insist on an allegiance to our forefathers’ constitutional forms, warn of the dangers of burdening our children with debt to fund our own consumption, or insist that the sheer scope and ambition of our government makes it untenable. [Op. cit., p. 229]

Levin’s sleight of hand is subtle. Paine’s so-called liberalism rests on premises rejected by Burke, the most important of which is that change can and should be imposed from the top down, through representative government. Where conservatives do promote change from the top down, it is to push civil society toward the status quo ante, wherein change was gradual and bottom-up, driven by the necessities of peaceful, beneficial coexistence. That isn’t liberalism; it’s conservatism, pure and simple.

Whence Levin’s category error? It seems to arise from Levin’s mistaken belief in an all-embracing social will. After all, if humankind has a collective will, its various political philosophies can be thought of as manifestations of an underlying bent. And that bent, in Levin’s view, might as well be called “liberalism.” It would be no less arbitrary to call it Couéism, or to say that pigs are human beings because they breathe air.

Am I being too harsh? Not at all. Consider the following passage from The Great Debate, with my interpolations in brackets:

The tension between those two dispositions comes down to some very basic questions: Should our society be made to answer [by whom] to the demands of stark and abstract commitments to ideals like social equality or to the patterns of its own concrete political traditions and foundations? Should the citizen’s relationship to his society be defined [by whom] above all by the individual right of free choice or by a web of obligations and conventions not entirely of our own choosing? Are great public problems best addressed through institutions designed to apply the explicit technical knowledge of experts or by those designed to channel the implicit social knowledge of the community? Should we [who?] see each of our society’s failings [by whose standards?] as one large problem to be solved by comprehensive transformation or as a set of discrete imperfections to be addressed by building on what works tolerably well to address what does not? What authority should the character of the given world exercise over our sense of what we would like it to be? [The opacity of the preceding sentence should be a clue about Levin’s epistemic confusion.]

Our answers [as individuals] will tend to shape how we [as individuals] think about particular political questions. Do we [sic] want to fix our [sic] health-care system by empowering expert panels armed with the latest effectiveness data to manage the system from the center or by arranging economic incentives to channel consumer knowledge and preferences and address some of the system’s discrete problems? [Or simply by non-interference with markets?] Do we [sic] want to alleviate poverty through large national programs that use public dollars to supplement the incomes of the poor or through efforts to build on the social infrastructure of local civil-society institutions to help the poor build the skills and habits to rise? [Or by fostering personal responsibility and self-reliance through laissez-faire, with private charity for the “hard cases”?] Do we [who?] want problems addressed through the most comprehensive and broadest possible means or through the most minimal and targeted ones? [Or through voluntary cooperation?]

…Is liberalism, in other words, a theoretical discovery to be put into effect or a practical achievement to be reinforced and perfected? [By who?] These two possibilities [see below] suggest two rather different sorts of liberal politics: a politics of vigorous progress toward an ideal goal or a politics of preservation and perfection of a precious inheritance. They suggest, in other words, a progressive liberalism and a conservative liberalism. [Op. cit., pp. 226-227]

Even though liberals tout individualism, they evince a (mistaken) belief in a collective conscience. Individualism, in the liberal worldview, is permissible only to the extent that it advances liberals’ values du jour. There is no room in liberalism for liberty, which is

peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

Why is there no room in liberalism for liberty? Because peaceful, willing coexistence might not lead to the particular outcomes that liberals value — for the moment.

In sum, liberalism, despite its name, is an enemy of liberty. And Paine proves his liberal credentials when, in Levin’s words, he

makes a forceful case for something like a modern welfare system. In so doing, Paine helps show how the modern left developed from Enlightenment liberalism toward embryonic forms of welfare-state liberalism as its utopian political hopes seemed dashed by the grim realities of the industrial revolution. [Op. cit., p. 120]

“The grim realities of the industrial revolution” are that workers’ real incomes rose, albeit gradually. Levin evidently belongs to the romantic-rustic school of thought that equates factories with misery and squalor and overlooks the deeper misery and squalor of peasantry.

I don’t know what school of conservative thought Levin belongs to, but it can’t the school of thought represented by Burke, Oakeshott, and Hayek. If it were, Levin wouldn’t deploy the absurd term “conservative liberalism.”

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* In that respect, there is no distance at all between Paine and his pseudo-libertarian admirers (e.g., here). Their mutual attachment to “natural rights” lends them an air of moral superiority, but it is made of air.

** Not to mention the obvious fact that human beings are not equal in any way, except rhetorically. Some would say that they are equal before the laws of the United States, which is true only in theory. Laws are not applied evenhandedly, especially including laws that are meant to confer “equality” on specified groups but which then accord privileges that deprive others of jobs, promotions, admissions, and speech and property rights (e.g., affirmative action, low-income mortgages, and various anti-discrimination statutes).

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Related posts:
The Social Welfare Function
On Liberty
Inventing “Liberalism”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Accountants of the Soul
The Left
Enough of “Social Welfare”
Undermining the Free Society
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Our Enemy, the State
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
What Are “Natural Rights”?
Government vs. Community
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
The Left’s Agenda
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
The Evil That Is Done with Good Intentions
Understanding Hayek
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
About Democracy
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
Society and the State
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Defining Liberty
Government Failure Comes as a Shock to Liberals
“We the People” and Big Government
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
My View of Libertarianism
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)

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The Sorta Popular Congressional GOP

One of the polls that I track is Rasmussen Report’s weekly generic congressional ballot. My log of poll results goes back more than six years, to January 2009. The following graph shows the results and compares them with the popular-vote margins in the House elections of 2010, 2012, and 2014:

GOP lead-deficit in generic congressional ballot

Rasmussen’s poll was accurate in 2010, when the nationwide tally of votes for House candidates favored the GOP by almost 7 percentage points. The poll was accurate again in 2012, when the GOP came up short by more than 1 percentage point. But the story was different in 2014, when the poll undershot the GOP’s victory margin of 6 percentage points.

Is it possible that the poll sample has become biased toward Democrats? Perhaps. It’s also possible that Barack Obama’s lingering unpopularity gave the GOP an extra boost in 2014. (See this post.)

In any event, if the generic congressional ballot means anything, it means that the GOP is still on the upswing. It’s halting and slow, to be sure, but it’s an upswing. The question is whether Boehner, McConnell, and company can capitalize on their party’s relatively good standing with voters.

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Obamacare: Five-Plus Years of Negative Ratings

Obamacare was signed into law almost five years ago. Rasmussen Reports has been polling likely voters about Obamacare since June 2009. As measured by the percentage-point difference between strong approval and strong disapproval, Obamacare has always been viewed negatively by a majority of likely voters. Here’s the story, in graphical form:

History of Obamacare ratings
For the period before Obamacare was signed into law on March 23, 2010, the values represent the percentage of respondents who strongly favored the passage of Obamacare, less the percentage of respondents who strongly opposed the passage of Obamacare. From the enactment of Obamacare to the present, the values represent the percentage of respondents who have strongly favored Obamacare or strongly opposed its repeal, minus the percentage of respondents who have strongly opposed Obamacare or strongly favored its repeal.

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Does Obama Love America?

I doubt it. The evidence for the negative is just too strong. Consider the following posts and articles, the first two of which predate the present kerfuffle:

Norman Podhoretz, “Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013

Melanie Phillips, “Putin Checkmates America,” Melanie’s Blog, September 15, 2013

Paul Kengor, “Here’s the Guy Rudy Is Talking About: Frank Marshall Davis Communist Party No. 47544,” The American Spectator, February 22, 2015

Fred Siegel, “Ranting about Rudy,” City Journal, February 22, 2015

Aaron Goldstein, “For Love of Obama,” The American Spectator, February 23, 2015

Alexander Grass, “Obama the Impotent, the Infant, the Fool,” American Thinker, February 23, 2015

Ed Rogers, “The Insiders: Why Would Anyone Think Obama Doesn’t Love America? Plenty of Reasons,” The Washington Post, February 23, 2015

Carol Brown, “Barack Obama Has Identified the Enemy, and It Is Us,” American Thinker, February 24, 2015

John Steele Gordon, “Does President Obama Love This Country?,” Commentary, February 24, 2015

Jeffrey Lord, “Reagan, Like Rudy, Tied Democrats to Communists,” The American Spectator, February 24, 2015

Thomas Sowell, “Giuliani versus Obama,” The American Spectator, February 24, 2015

Pat Buchanan, “The Friend of Every Country but His Own,” The Imaginative Conservative, February 25, 2015

Bear in mind that Obama is a typical leftist. The America that he could love is a far different America than the one envisioned by the Founders, or by a large (but dwindling) fraction of today’s Americans. If you think about it, you will discern a progression — or, rather, a regression — from FDR to LBJ to Obama: from statism at home and victory abroad to statism at home and surrender abroad.

By the way, Giuliani said nothing that hadn’t already dawned on me. See, for example, “The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union.”

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Related posts:
FDR and Fascism
An FDR Reader
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Inventing “Liberalism”
The Shape of Things to Come
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
Well-Founded Pessimism
Is There Such a Thing as Society
The Folly of Pacifism
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
Presidential Treason
“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Romanticizing the State
Ruminations on the Left in America

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The Writing on the Wall

A headline at Slate puts it this way: “The Supreme Court Just Admitted It’s Going to Rule in Favor of Marriage Equality.” Which is to say that when it comes to the legalization of same-sex “marriage”* across the United States, the writing is on the wall.

Here are some relevant passages from the Slate story:

Early Monday morning [February 9[, the Supreme Court refused to stay a federal judge’s order invalidating Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage….

Here’s how Monday’s decision reveals the justices’ intention to strike down gay marriage bans across the country. Typically, the justices will stay any federal court ruling whose merits are currently under consideration by the Supreme Court. Under normal circumstances, that is precisely what the court would have done here: The justices will rule on the constitutionality of state-level marriage bans this summer, so they might as well put any federal court rulings on hold until they’ve had a chance to say the last word. After all, if the court ultimately ruled against marriage equality, the Alabama district court’s order would be effectively reversed, and those gay couples who wed in the coming months would find their unions trapped in legal limbo.

But that is not what the court did here. Instead, seven justices agreed, without comment, that the district court’s ruling could go into effect, allowing thousands of gay couples in Alabama to wed. That is not what a court that planned to rule against marriage equality would do. By permitting these marriages to occur, the justices have effectively tipped their hand, revealing that any lower court’s pro-gay ruling will soon be affirmed by the high court itself.

Don’t believe me? Then ask Justice Clarence Thomas, who, along with Justice Antonin Scalia, dissented from Monday’s denial of a stay…. The court’s “acquiescence” to gay marriage in Alabama, Thomas wrote, “may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution” of the constitutionality of gay marriage bans….

I suspect that Justice Thomas has it right. (I only hope that the acquiescence of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito is part of a tacit deal in which their support for “marriage equality” is repaid by the evisceration of Obamacare when the Court rules in King v. Burwell.) The Court’s refusal to stay same-sex “marriage” in Alabama seems to be the writing on the wall — the foreshadowing of the Court’s decision in four related same-sex “marriage” cases.

If the Court, as now expected, rules for “marriage equality” under the rubric of “equal protection,” that will only mark the beginning of a push for other kinds of “equality.” What’s next? Here are my guesses:

  • How can polygamy fail to gain legal acceptance if the “partners” are willing adults?
  • When that’s done, the Court’s views will have evolved to the point of allowing pederasty at the urging of  NAMBLA.

Fuddy-duddies — like this one — who oppose the legalization of moral corruption will be silenced by the threat of fines and imprisonment.

Livy, the Roman historian, says this in the introduction to his history of Rome:

The subjects to which I would ask each of my readers to devote his earnest attention are these – the life and morals of the community; the men and the qualities by which through domestic policy and foreign war dominion was won and extended. Then as the standard of morality gradually lowers, let him follow the decay of the national character, observing how at first it slowly sinks, then slips downward more and more rapidly, and finally begins to plunge into headlong ruin, until he reaches these days, in which we can bear neither our diseases nor their remedies.

Livy foretold the fate of the Roman Empire. And I fear that he has also foretold the fate of the American Republic.

The writing is on the wall.
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* Why the “sneer quotes”? See “Notes about Usage” in the sidebar.

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Related posts:
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
In Defense of Marriage
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
The Equal-Protection Scam and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Not-So-Random Thoughts (VIII) (first item)
The View from Here
The Culture War
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!
Murder Is Constitutional
Posner the Fatuous
Getting “Equal Protection” Right

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The President’s Power to Kill Enemy Combatants

Michael Stokes Paulsen, an estimable professor of constitutional law of whom I’ve written before, takes a scholarly swing at the pantywaists who object to the killing of enemy combatants who happen to be U.S. citizens. Here’s the gist of Paulsen’s argument:

First, is there a constitutionally authorized state of war? The answer is yes: The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of September 18, 20011 is a legally operative constitutional authorization of war.

Second, was al-Awlaki a legitimate military target—an enemy combatant falling within the scope of this war authorization? The answer, again, is yes: Anwar al-Awlaki was a person who fit within the scope of the AUMF’s authorization for use of force against enemy combatants.

Third, are decisions about targeting and killing enemy combatants within the President’s exclusive Commander in Chief Clause power to wage and conduct war, when authorized? The answer is a resounding yes: The President might legitimately and lawfully judge Anwar al-Awlaki to be an enemy combatant, covered by the September 18, 2001 AUMF.

Fourth, is al-Awlaki’s citizenship relevant?  Here, the correct answer is no—or at least it should be “no”: The Supreme Court wrongly seems to think that citizenship is, sometimes, relevant. The correct answer is that, in terms of the constitutional application of the war power, the citizenship of an enemy combatant, fighting for a force or power with whom the United States is at war, is not relevant, so long as that combatant falls within the description of persons or groups subject to the application of the war power.

Fifth, does there exist in our constitutional system what might be called a “Due Process of War” Clause that requires further judicial authorization—or some form of “kill warrant”—as a precondition to targeting an enemy combatant? The answer is no, or again, it should be “no”: The same Supreme Court decision that wrongly seems to make citizenship relevant also seemingly implies, equally wrongly, that targeting decisions are subject to judicial review or some other form of judicial legal process, at least in the case of U.S. citizen enemy combatants.

Sixth, what is the relevance of international law? The answer is that international law is primarily a political and diplomatic constraint on war-waging,4 not a domestic legal constraint that can alter or displace the constitutional powers of the President as Commander in Chief. [“Drone On: The Commander in Chief Power to Target and Kill Americans,” 38 Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 43 (2015)]

If you know of Paulsen and his writings, you know that he despises leftists like Barack Obama. Accordingly, Paulsen ends with this:

What if the nation has a poor, ineffectual Commander in Chief serving as President? Sadly—and with all due respect—that is the situation in which the United States finds itself today. We have, right now, an exceedingly poor Commander in Chief serving in the office of President of the United States, arguably the weakest such commander in more than 100 years. The current occupant of the office appears to lack the essential qualities of a good Commander in Chief: decisiveness, moral clarity, consistency, conviction, political and personal acumen, diplomatic savvy, strategic sense and vision, resiliency, thick-skinned moral toughness, and good old-fashioned guts. As I write, the U.S. President is not a strong person, and is not a strong Commander in Chief. The consequences in terms of world events, lost wars, invasions, and deaths, are evident for all to see and have been much commented upon by others.

My point here, however, is that none of this goes to the existence of constitutional power. As poor as the Commander in Chief may be at any given point of time, in terms of personal qualities and abilities, he or she always retains the constitutional powers of the office. These include the power to target and kill enemy combatants in time of war, including U.S. citizens, by available weapons technology when the President determines that they are active enemy combatants engaged in war against the United States. That this is a fearsome and important power is only another reason why it is so vitally important to elect a person with the requisite abilities and character to perform so awesome a task as serving as Commander in Chief of U.S. military forces in time of constitutionally authorized war.

Zing!

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“Blue Wall” Hype

Michael Barone’s analysis of the so-called Blue Wall is must-read. Barone opens with this:

Do Republicans have a realistic chance to win the next presidential election? Some analysts suggest the answer is no. They argue that there is a 240-electoral-vote “blue wall” of 18 states and D.C. that have gone Democratic in the last six presidential elections.

A Democratic nominee needs only 30 more electoral votes to win the presidency, they note accurately. A Republican nominee, they suggest, has little chance of breaking through the blue wall. He (or she) would have to win 270 of the 298 other electoral votes.

Democrats do have an advantage in the electoral vote, because heavily Democratic clusters clinch about 170 electoral votes for them, while Republicans have a lock on only about 105. But the blue wall theory, like all political rules of thumb, is true only till it’s not. And this one could easily prove inoperative in a competitive 2016 race. [“Democrats’ ‘Blue Wall’ Not Impregnable to Republicans — If They’re Smart,” AEI.org, February 17, 2014]

Barone then demonstrates the flimsiness of the “Blue Wall.” Here’s my take:

The right GOP candidate with the right message can win some or all of the States that Obama won narrowly in 2012. In the table below, they’re the States whose electoral votes are highlighted in pale blue in the Tossup column (Florida, Ohio, and Virginia) and the States in the Swing Blue column (Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin). If the GOP candidate were to hold all of the States won by Romney and take the additional Tossup and Swing Blue States, he or she would garner 347 electoral votes — a resounding victory.

Election 2012 - closeness of election, by State
Source: Derived from this table at Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.

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The Obamacare Effect: Greater Distrust of Government

I think it’s not a coincidence that voters’ fears of the federal government ramped up in 2013, with policy cancellations and premium hikes, and again in 2015, as fines taxes for non-coverage loom: Voters views of federal government Source: Rasmussen Reports, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Signature

How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It

I’ll begin with how not to do it. One way of not doing it is simply not to do it, which is the left’s way. In fact, the left is always on the lookout for ways to expand the welfare state.

Reform conservatives offer less obvious ways not to do it. And the left loves them for it. Consider, for example, Noah Smith’s list of “People I Admire” and see if you can spot what Smith’s “admirable” persons have in common. Hint: They are either lefties or they do things that lefties like.

What’s James Pethokoukis doing on that list? Pethokoukis is an economist at American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which has been described as right-leaning and conservative. Why, then, does Smith admire Pethokoukis? Because, in Smith’s words, Pethokoukis is a “reform conservative.”

And what is reform conservatism? According to Ross Douthat,

It’s rooted in two major premises, which I would summarize as follows:

1) The core economic challenge facing the American experiment is not income inequality per se, but rather stratification and stagnation — weak mobility from the bottom of the income ladder and wage stagnation for the middle class. These challenges are bound up in a growing social crisis — a retreat from marriage, a weakening of religious and communal ties, a decline in workforce participation — that cannot be solved in Washington D.C. But economic and social policy can make a difference nonetheless, making family life more affordable, upward mobility more likely, and employment easier to find.

2) The existing welfare-state institutions we’ve inherited from the New Deal and the Great Society, however, often make these tasks harder rather than easier: Their exploding costs crowd out every other form of spending, require middle class tax increases and threaten to drag on economic growth; their tangled web of subsidies and credits and tax breaks often benefit the already-affluent and create perverse incentives for the poor, and the distortions created by the way they pay for health care, in particular, contribute mightily to the rising cost of health insurance and thus the stagnation of middle class incomes. So we don’t face a choice between streamlining the welfare state and making it more supportive of work and family; we should be doing both at once.

Proceeding from these premises, the basic “reform conservative” agenda looks something like this:

a. A tax reform that caps deductions and lowers rates, but also reduces the burden on working parents and the lower middle class, whether through an expanded child tax credit or some other means of reducing payroll tax liability. (Other measures that might improve the prospects of low-skilled men, ranging from a larger earned income tax credit to criminal justice reforms that reduce the incarceration rate, should also be part of the conversation.)

b. A repeal or revision of Obamacare that aims to ease us toward a system of near-universal catastrophic health insurance, and includes some kind of flat tax credit or voucher explicitly designed for that purpose.

c. A Medicare reform along the lines of the Wyden-Ryan premium support proposal, and a Social Security reform focused on means testing and extending work lives rather than a renewed push for private accounts.

d. An immigration reform that tilts much more toward Canadian-style recruitment of high-skilled workers, and that doesn’t necessarily seek to accelerate the pace of low-skilled immigration. (Any amnesty should follow the implementation of E-Verify rather than the other way around, guest worker programs should not be expanded, etc.)

e. A “market monetarist” monetary policy as an alternative both to further fiscal stimulus and to the tight money/fiscal austerity combination advanced by many Republicans today.

f. An attack not only on explicit subsidies for powerful incumbents (farm subsidies, etc.), but also other protections and implicit guarantees, in arenas ranging from copyright law to the problem of “Too Big To Fail.” [“What Is Reform Conservatism?,” The New York Times, May 30, 2013]

Such proposals may seem like reasonable compromises with the left’s radical positions. But they are reasonable compromises only if you believe that the left wouldn’t strive vigorously to undo them and continue the nation’s march toward full-blown state socialism. That’s the way leftists work. They take what they’re given and then come back for more, lying and worse all the way. As Saul Alinsky (a source of inspiration for Barack Obama) says in Rules for Radicals:

The third rule of the ethics of means and ends is that in war the end justifies almost any means.

The left is always at war, and will be at war until the United States becomes unrecognizable by a survivor of the 1950s, let alone a Founding Father: a nation whose official policies punish success, subvert civil society, and leave Americans defenseless against domestic and foreign predators.

What this means is that “reforms” like those listed by Douthat can be achieved only by opposing them, not by agreeing to them up front. But that’s not what Pethokoukis proposes. For example, with respect to Social Security, he endorses a proposal by Andrew Biggs that would work like this, according to Pethokoukis:

First, workers would be enrolled automatically in an employer-sponsored retirement account and contribute at least 1.5% of pay, matched dollar for dollar by their employers. Second, Social Security’s government-provided benefits would be transformed into a flat universal benefit mean to improve social-insurance protections for low-income Americans. Biggs: “If you put the two benefits together, this poverty-level benefit, plus the individual accounts, the result is near what Social Security promised to pay, but can’t afford. It’s a more reliable system for low-income folks and it’s more affordable on the tax end.” [“Joni Ernst, the Tea Party, and Conservative Reform,” AEI.org, February 10, 2014[

Why throw in the towel now? Because, according to Biggs,

President Bush’s 2001 Commission to Strengthen Social Security (on which I was a staffer) wrote that once the program began to run payroll-tax deficits — something that happened this year — policymakers would face difficult choices to raise taxes, cut benefits, reduce other programs, or increase the budget deficit. … With personal accounts, we face the same choices, only sooner. If workers invest part of their Social Security taxes in personal accounts, they could indeed earn higher returns and generate higher benefits without taking more risk. But diverting taxes to accounts leaves the program short of what is needed to pay benefits to today’s retirees. To cover these “transition costs,” we would need to generate new revenues for the program, either by raising taxes, cutting other programs, or borrowing. [“Personal Accounts Are No Cure-All,” National Review Online, August 30, 2010]

The real problem, as Biggs sees it, isn’t that shifting to personal accounts (for younger workers) would lead to transition costs, but that those costs would come sooner. So what? The end of Social Security revenue surpluses doesn’t alter the fact that non-retirees will have to pay higher taxes to avert a reduction of retirees’ benefits, it just makes the fact more apparent.

In other words, the likes of Biggs and Pethokoukis are willing to sacrifice privatization on the altar of public relations. The dog that doesn’t bark in their proposals is real reform of Social Security. Privatization isn’t real reform because it accepts a basic premise of Social Security: Americans must and should be forced to save for retirement. The joke is that Social Security doesn’t foster saving; it’s a transfer-payment Ponzi scheme.

Real reform means eradication, albeit gradual eradication, like this:

1. Repeal and replace Social Security as of a date certain. Call it Abolition Day (AD), which would occur 12 months from the day on which reform legislation is enacted.

2. After AD, the federal government would continue to pay benefits to persons who are then collecting Social Security. The federal government would also pay benefits to persons who turn 55 before AD but who haven’t yet begun to collect benefits. Persons who are 45 to 54 years old on AD would receive benefits that are pro-rated according to the Social Security taxes that they and their employers had paid as of AD. Cost-of-living increases for benefits paid after AD would be tied to chained CPI. (This is a better measure of inflation, and it doesn’t rise as fast as CPI-W, the price index now used to compute cost-of-living increases.)

3. Persons who are younger than 45 on AD would receive a lump-sum repayment of Social Security taxes paid by them and their employers, plus interest at, say, the rate on 10-year Treasury notes. The repayment would be made when a person turns 70. It would automatically go to a surviving spouse or next-of-kin if the recipient dies intestate. Otherwise, the recipient could bequeath, transfer, or sell his interest in the payment at any time before it comes due.

4. For persons who are 45 to 54 years old on AD, the retirement age for full benefits would be raised to 70, and the minimum age for partial benefits would be raised to 65. (Full retirement age is now scheduled to rise to 67 in 2027; the minimum age for partial benefits is currently set at 62.)

5. The residual obligations outlined above would be funded by a special payroll tax, which would diminish as obligations are liquidated, then vanish.

But what about retirees (and their households) whose incomes are below the poverty line? It might be necessary to provide for them, to ensure the passage of reform legislation. But it would be self-defeating to offer a program for the indigent. An important goal of Social Security reform is to encourage work and saving — not to preemptively discourage work and saving by rewarding indolence.

A deal for the passage of reform might include separate legislation that provides for stringently means-tested income support. The amount of support would be aimed at boosting the total income of a retiree (or his household) to the poverty line. Examiners would take into account an applicant’s income (including income in kind) from all sources, and an applicant’s assets (with a look-back period of several years and criminal penalties for hiding assets). For an applicant who is married or a member of a household, the income and assets of a spouse and/or other members of the household would be taken into account. Benefits wouldn’t be paid to able-bodied and able-minded persons who are unemployed and below retirement age.  (No handouts to slackers who still live at home.)

How might such a “radical” plan be enacted?

Proponents of reform — Republicans, presumably — must launch a vigorous, pro-reform campaign the minute that they gain control of both Houses of Congress and the White House. They must sustain the campaign for several months before Congress sends a bill to the president, to ensure broad support for the enactment of reform. And to prevent their efforts from being stymied by Democrats, they must change the rules of the Senate to eliminate the filibuster and other obstructive tactics.

Here are the key elements of the campaign:

  • Document, publicize, and ceaselessly emphasize the the size of the tax increases that will result if Social Security benefits aren’t reduced to match projected revenues.
  • Point out, relentlessly, that a large fraction of Americans (cite number) who “contribute” to Social Security will earn worse “returns” that they would by putting their money into safe, interest-bearing investments (e.g., investment-grade corporate bonds).
  • Emphasize the true, original purpose of Social Security: keep the poorest of the elderly out of poverty.
  • Show how much less costly it would be if Social Security were restored to its original purpose.
  • Explain that their program (a) achieves the original purpose of Social Security, (b) enables the non-poor to do better for themselves than they would with Social Security, and (c) fosters economic growth that reduces dependence on Social Security:

Enough of Social Security. What about Douthat’s other “reforms”?

Tax reform that caps deductions and lowers rates, but also reduces the burden on working parents and the lower middle class, whether through an expanded child tax credit or some other means of reducing payroll tax liability.

This is too complex and easily manipulated. What’s needed is a true flat tax.

Repeal or revision of Obamacare that aims to ease us toward a system of near-universal catastrophic health insurance, and includes some kind of flat tax credit or voucher explicitly designed for that purpose.

Just repeal Obamacare and its partners-in-crime — Medicare and Medicaid — and phase them out gracefully (along the lines of my proposal for Social Security). Eliminate regulations that hinder interstate competition. Provide for the indigent — and only the indigent — through means-tested vouchers (along the lines of my proposal for Social Security).

Medicare reform along the lines of the Wyden-Ryan premium support proposal.

See above.

Immigration reform that tilts much more toward Canadian-style recruitment of high-skilled workers, and that doesn’t necessarily seek to accelerate the pace of low-skilled immigration. (Any amnesty should follow the implementation of E-Verify rather than the other way around, guest worker programs should not be expanded, etc.)

Immigration reform should discourage low-skilled immigration, as opposed to Obama’s policy of encouraging it. Discouraging it requires stronger security at the borders, a vigorous and well-publicized deportation effort, and the end of subsidies (no free health care, no free schooling, no eligibility for income or housing subsidies, no drivers’ licenses, etc.).

A “market monetarist” monetary policy as an alternative both to further fiscal stimulus and to the tight money/fiscal austerity combination advanced by many Republicans today.

Eliminate the Federal Reserve, a leading cause of the Great Depression and Great Recession. Allow free banking. Fiscal and monetary policy should be “none,” as in the case of the Depression of 1920-21, the depression that cured itself. (NB: The Fed caused that one, too.)

An attack not only on explicit subsidies for powerful incumbents (farm subsidies, etc.), but also other protections and implicit guarantees, in arenas ranging from copyright law to the problem of “Too Big To Fail.”

Douthat gets this one right. But one out of seven is a batting average of 0.143 — abject failure in any league.

“Attack” is the key word in Douthat’s unusual stroke of boldness. Liberty is born of attack, not compromise.

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Tolerance

Bryan Caplan struggles to define tolerance. This seems to be what he’s searching for:

a disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior

TheFreeDictionary.com, Thesaurus, Noun, 2

With that definition in mind, I’ll address the reasons given by Caplan for practicing tolerance:

1. People’s moral objections to how other people use their own person and property are usually greatly overstated – or simply wrong.  Think about how often people sneer at the way others dress, talk, or even walk.  Think about how often people twist personality clashes into battles of good versus evil.  From a calm, detached point of view, most of these complaints are simply silly.

The link points to a post in which Caplan confesses his own immature silliness. What’s missing are the “complaints” that are not “simply silly.” Take abortion, for example. It’s a practice that’s often defended on pseudo-libertarian grounds: a patently contrived right to privacy, for example. Caplan is cagey about abortion. If he is opposed to it, his reasons seem utilitarian rather than moral. In any event, opposition to abortion is not mere silliness; it is based on a profound moral objection to murder.

Nor should so-called personality clashes be dismissed as silliness. For example, during my 30 years as an analyst and manager at a major defense think-tank, I was a party to five conflicts (lasting months and years) that ignorant bystanders might have called personality clashes (and some bystanders did just that). But all five conflicts involved substantive differences about management methods, business ethics, or contractual performance.

Contra Caplan, I believe that differences about principle or substance give rise to most so-called personality clashes. It’s easy to dislike a person — and hard to disguise dislike — when that person reveals himself as incompetent, venal, manipulative, or corrupt. It seems to me that Caplan’s unfounded characterization of “most” disputes as personality clashes, and his back-handed dismissal of them as “battles of good versus evil,”  reflects his own deep-seated taste for conflict avoidance, as an avowed and outspoken pacifist.

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2. People’s moral objections to how other people use their own person and property often conflate innocent ignorance with willful vice.

I’ll have to compensate for Caplan’s vagueness by offering examples of what he might have in mind:

Al disapproves of Bob’s drunken driving, which caused a serious accident. Bob didn’t know he had been drinking vodka-spiked lemonade.

Bob was innocently ignorant of the vodka in the lemonade when he was drinking it. But Bob probably knew that he wasn’t fit to drive if he was impaired enough to have an alcohol-induced accident. It’s therefore reasonable to disapprove of Bob’s drunken driving, even though he didn’t intend to drink alcohol.

Jimmy and Johnny were playing with matches, and started a fire that caused their family’s house to burn to the ground. They escaped safely, but all of their family’s possessions — many of them irreplaceable — were lost. Nor did insurance cover the full cost of rebuilding their house.

Jimmy and Johnny may have been innocent, but it’s hard not to disapprove of their parents for lax child-rearing or imprudence (not keeping matches safely hidden from children).

Alison looked carefully before changing lanes, but a car on her right was in her blind spot. She almost hit the car as she began to change lanes, but pulled back into her own lane before hitting it. Jake, the driver of the other car, was enraged by the near collision and honked at Allison.

Jake was rightly enraged. He might have been killed. Alison may have looked carefully, but it’s evident that she didn’t look carefully enough.

LaShawn enjoys rap music, especially loud rap music. (Is there any other way to play it?) He has some neighbors who don’t enjoy rap music and don’t want to hear it. The only way to get LaShawn to turn down the volume is to complain to him about the music. It doesn’t occur to LaShawn that the volume is too high and that his neighbors might not care for rap music.

This used to be called “lack of consideration,” and it was rightly thought of as a willful vice.

DiDi is a cell-phone addict. She’s on the phone almost everywhere she goes, yakking it up with her friends. DiDi doesn’t seem to care that her overheard conversations — loud and one-sided — are annoying and distracting to many of the persons who are subjected to them.

Lack of consideration, again.

Jerry has a fondness for booze. But he stays sober until Friday night, when he goes to his local bar and gets plastered. The more he drinks the louder and more obnoxious he becomes.

When Jerry gets drunk, he isn’t in control of himself, in some psychological sense. Thus his behavior might be said, by some, to arise out of innocent ignorance. But Jerry is in control of himself before he gets drunk. He surely knows how he behaves when he’s drunk, and how his behavior affects others. Jerry’s drunken behavior arises from a willful vice.

Ted and Deirdre, a married couple, are highly paid yuppies. They worked hard to earn advanced degrees, and they work hard at their socially valued professions (physician and psychologist). They live in an upscale, gated community, drive $75,000 cars, dine at top-rated restaurants, etc. And yet, despite the obvious connection between their hard work and their incomes (and what those incomes afford them), they are ardent “liberals.” (See the sidebar for my views on modern “liberalism.”) They vote for left-wing candidates, and contribute as much as the law allows to the campaigns of left-wing candidates. They have many friends who are like them in background, accomplishments, and political views.

This may seem like a case of innocent ignorance, but it’s not. Ted and Deirdre (and their friends) are intelligent. They understand incentives. They understand (or they would, if they thought about it) that progressive taxation and regulations blunt incentives to work, save, and invest. They therefore understand (or could easily understand) that the plight of the poor and “downtrodden” who are supposed to be helped by progressive taxation and regulations is actually made worse by those things. They certainly understand such things viscerally because they make every effort to reduce their taxes (through legal means, of course); they do not contribute voluntarily to the U.S. Treasury (even though they know that they could); and they dislike regulations that affect them directly. Ted and Deidre (and the legions like them) allow their guilt-driven desire for “equality” to obscure easily grasped facts of life. They ignore or suppress the facts of life in order to preen as “caring” persons. At bottom, their ignorance is willful, and inexcusable in persons of intelligence.

In sum, it’s far from evident to me that “how other people use their own person[s] and property often conflate[s] innocent ignorance with willful vice.” There’s much less innocent ignorance in the world than Caplan would like to believe.

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3. People’s best-founded moral objections to how other people use their own person and property are usually morally superfluous.  Why?  Because the Real World already provides ample punishment.  Consider laziness.  Even from a calm, detached point of view, a life of sloth seems morally objectionable.  But there’s no need for you to berate the lazy – even inwardly.  Life itself punishes laziness with poverty and unemployment… So even if you accept (as I do) the Rossian principle that a just world links virtue with pleasure and vice with pain, there is no need to add your harsh condemnation to balance the cosmic scales.

On what planet does Caplan live? Governments in the United States — the central government foremost among them — reward and encourage sloth through extended unemployment benefits, bogus disability payments, food stamps, etc., etc. etc. There’s every reason to voice one’s displeasure with such goings on, and to give force to that displeasure by working and voting against the policies and politicians who make it possible for the slothful to live on the earnings of others.

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4. The “especially strangers” parenthetical preempts the strongest counter-examples to principled tolerance.  There are obvious cases where you should strongly oppose what your spouse, children, or friends do with themselves or their stuff.  But strangers?  Not really.

Yes, really. See all of my comments above.

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5. Intolerance is bad for the intolerant.  As Buddha never said, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”  The upshot is that the Real World punishes intolerance along with laziness, drunkenness, and gluttony.  Perhaps this is the hidden wisdom of the truism that “Haters gonna hate.

Here Caplan makes the mistake of identifying intolerance with anger. A person who is intolerant of carelessness, thoughtlessness, and willful vice isn’t angry all the time. He may be angered by careless, thoughtlessness, and willful vice when he sees them, but his anger is righteous, targeted, and controlled. Generally, he’s a happy person because he’s probably conservative.

It’s all well and good to tolerate freedom of choice and behavior, in the abstract. But civilization depends crucially on intolerance of particular choices and behaviors that result in real harm to others — psychic, material, and physical. Tolerance of such choices and behaviors is simply a kind of appeasement, which is what I would expect of Caplan — a man who can safely preach pacifism because he is well-guarded by the police and defense forces of his locality, State, and nation.

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Related posts:
The Folly of Pacifism
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians

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Sunstein the Fatuous

Since my last brush with the dangerous mind of Cass Sunstein (here, seventh item), I have encountered two more of his effusions. They reveal Sunstein’s utter fatuity.

In a piece that dates back to May of last year, Sunstein writes:

Suppose that an authoritarian government decides to embark on a program of curricular reform, with the explicit goal of indoctrinating the nation’s high school students. Suppose that it wants to change the curriculum to teach students that their government is good and trustworthy, that their system is democratic and committed to the rule of law, and that free markets are a big problem.

Will such a government succeed? Or will high school students simply roll their eyes?

Questions of this kind have long been debated, but without the benefit of reliable evidence. New research, from Davide Cantoni of the University of Munich and several co-authors, shows that recent curricular reforms in China, explicitly designed to transform students’ political views, have mostly worked….

…[G]overnment planners were able to succeed in altering students’ views on fundamental questions about their nation. As Cantoni and his co-authors summarize their various findings, “the state can effectively indoctrinate students.” To be sure, families and friends matter, as do economic incentives, but if an authoritarian government is determined to move students in major ways, it may well be able to do so.

Is this conclusion limited to authoritarian nations? In a democratic country with a flourishing civil society, a high degree of pluralism, and ample room for disagreement and dissent — like the U.S. — it may well be harder to use the curriculum to change the political views of young people. But even in such societies, high schools probably have a significant ability to move students toward what they consider “a correct worldview, a correct view on life, and a correct value system.” That’s an opportunity, to be sure, but it is also a warning. [“Open Brain, Insert Ideology,” Bloomberg View, May 20, 2014]

Where has Sunstein been? He seems unaware of the left-wing ethos that has long prevailed in most of America’s so-called institutions of learning. It doesn’t take an authoritarian government (well, not one as authoritarian as China’s) to indoctrinate students in “a correct worldview, a correct view on life, and a correct value system.” All it takes is the spread of left-wing “values” by the media and legions of pedagogues, most of them financed (directly and indirectly) by a thoroughly subverted government. It’s almost a miracle — and something of a moral victory — that there are still tens of millions of Americans who resist and oppose left-wing “values.”

Moving on, we find Sunstein arguing circularly in his contribution to a collection of papers entitled “Economists on the Welfare State and the Regulatory State: Why Don’t Any Argue in Favor of One and Against the Other?” (Econ Journal Watch, Volume 12, Issue 1, January 2015):

…[I]t seems unhelpful, even a recipe for confusion, to puzzle over the question whether economists (or others) ‘like,’ or ‘lean toward,’ both the regulatory state and the welfare state, or neither, or one but not the other. But there is a more fine-grained position on something like that question, and I believe that many (not all) economists would support it. The position is this: The regulatory state should restrict itself to the correction of market failures, and redistributive goals are best achieved through the tax system. Let’s call this (somewhat tendentiously) the Standard View….

My conclusion is that it is not fruitful to puzzle over the question whether economists and others ‘favor’ or ‘lean’ toward the regulatory or welfare state, and that it is better to begin by emphasizing that the first should be designed to handle market failures, and that the second should be designed to respond to economic deprivation and unjustified inequality…. [Sunstein, “Unhelpful Abstractions and the Standard View,” op cit.]

“Market failures” and “unjustified inequality” are the foundation stones of what passes for economic and social thought on the left. Every market outcome that falls short of the left’s controlling agenda is a “failure.” And market and social outcomes that fall short of the left’s illusory egalitarianism are “unjustified.” Sunstein, in other words, can’t see that he is a typical leftist who (implicitly) favors both the regulatory state and the welfare state. He is like a fish in water.

It remains a mystery to me why Sunstein has been called a “legal Olympian.” Then, again, if there were a legal Olympics, its main events would be Obfuscation and Casuistry. Sunstein would be a formidable contestant in both events.

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Related posts:
Sunstein at the Volokh Conspiracy
More from Sunstein
Cass Sunstein’s Truly Dangerous Mind
An (Imaginary) Interview with Cass Sunstein
Libertarian Paternalism
Slippery Sunstein
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Back-Door Paternalism
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Sunstein and Executive Power
The Feds and “Libertarian Paternalism”
A Further Note about “Libertarian” Paternalism
Apropos Paternalism
FDR and Fascism
Fascism
Are We All Fascists Now?
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America
Discounting and Libertarian Paternalism
The Mind of a Paternalist
Another Entry in the Sunstein Saga
The Sunstein Effect Is Alive and Well in the White House
Not-So-Random Thoughts (XII) (seventh item)

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Nature, Nurture, and Inequality

I almost always agree with John Derbyshire, and this post by him is no exception. But he does err in the course of the aforementioned post when he says:

The Left, which I am using to mean approximately people who want a more egalitarian society [a generous characterization], believe that the causes of human inequality are external to the individual human being. If you fix the external causes, then you get a more equal society. The Right, who are more tolerant of inequality, believe that components of human nature are innate. Customary and traditional social arrangements that are not obviously harmful shouldn’t be disturbed for projects of human improvement that are likely to prove futile.

Both sides have a case. The Left does have a case. Human nature has somewhat improved. Rigid hereditary social hierarchies of the kind that a conservative over 200 years ago would have fought to the death for, proved to be not as necessary as they thought. Most human beings in most places no longer enslave, eat, or publicly torture each other. So human nature does improve. Many of you have probably read Stephen Pinker’s recent book about the long term decline of violence. We’re kinder and gentler than our remote ancestors.

Pinker’s book is hogwash. I won’t repeat all of the reasons for saying that. Just go here and see for yourself. See also this excellent article by William Kirkpatrick.

Derbyshire soon gets back on track:

But the Right also has a case. And much of the strength of that case comes from the last few decades of research in the human sciences.

Individual personality seems to resemble what physicists call “shape memory alloys.” These are metal alloys that you can construct that remember their shape—you can take a bar of this stuff and bend it into a knot, and when you heat it up, it unbends itself and remembers its original shape. Human nature seems to be much like that. You can push people in certain directions during childhood and adolescence, but the finished adult human being seems to follow the Judith Rich Harris model: 50% heredity and the rest environmental.

I am sure that some of you know that last month [October 2014] was the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray‘s book, The Bell Curve. There have been a number of commemorative articles on human science websites. The grand metaphysician of the Human Biodiversity movement, Steve Sailer, published what I thought, was a very witty comment about it. He said that there had been a complete change in our understanding of, for example, educational attainment. Statistically, 20 years ago there was definitely a hierarchy of educational attainment. At the top you had Orientals, below them you had Caucasians, below them you had Chicanos, and below them you had Blacks on average statistical attainment. Now things are completely different. Now there is a new hierarchy. At the top you have Asians, second you have Whites, third you have Hispanics, and fourth you have African Americans.

So, bottom line there, not much has changed. Where the Left favors a belief in high levels of malleability, reality does not seem to agree.

But reality, as usual, eludes the left. Consider for example The Economist, which is a useful tool of the left. Here is Dr. James Thompson on the case:

There is much innocent fun to be gained from The Economist’s coy avoidance of the genetics of intelligence. They are mired in Blank-Slatism, but are cautiously tip-toeing towards admitting a few things, only to then back away again, thus taking them back to where they came from. This is not all bad: by conceding the importance of intelligence and then immediately saying it is driven by wealth they keep the Faith, whatever it is, but hint that they know more than they will let on in public….

…[I]n The Economist’s view brighter people marrying brighter people is not seen as a positive development, but a practice which “increases inequality”. Of course, duller people marrying duller people also increased inequality. In fact, couples assort themselves on intelligence more than anything else:

http://drjamesthompson.blogspot.com/2014/12/five-gold-rings-inherited.html ….

In a related article they spell out their concerns: An hereditary meritocracy: The children of the rich and powerful are increasingly well suited to earning wealth and power themselves. That’s a problem….

[T]he problem seems to be that they deserve to get ahead, the bounders! …

None of The Economist’s articles or the papers they quote make it clear that intelligence must be considered a driving force in economic life and, consequently, in earnings, social status and resultant wealth. Curious, isn’t it, that a magazine written by the smart fraction for the smart fraction cannot bear to mention the smart fraction in a positive light? Perhaps they fear they will be cursed by the deity, or slaughtered by the baying mob. Noblesse oblige.

[The quotations are from “The Economist Takes a Half Step Forwards,” Psychological Comments, January 23, 2015. Thompson refers to three articles in The Economist: “America’s New Aristocracy,” “Getting ‘Em Young,” and “An Hereditary Meritocracy,” all dated January 24, 2015.]

In the left’s demented view, it would be better if the human race were populated by seven billion equally stupid (and equally unattractive) persons, all scrambling for survival, than to allow the brightest to intermarry and produce a relative handful of intelligent producers whose efforts enrich the lives of the billions (or a large fraction of them). Heaven forbid that the relative handful should thus be rewarded with more than a “fair share” of the riches that they create.

I am certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the “smart fraction” would not want to live in a world where its superior intelligence glibness went unrewarded.

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Related posts:
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Fallacy of Human Progress
The Culture War
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
Ruminations on the Left in America
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited

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A Cop-Free World?

Rolling Stone recently turned from rape fiction to nonsense of the kind on display in José Martín’s “Policing Is a Dirty Job, But Nobody’s Gotta Do It: 6 Ideas for a Cop-Free World” (December 16, 2014). Some excerpts and commentary (in bold):

  1. Unarmed mediation and intervention teams

Unarmed but trained people, often formerly violent offenders themselves, patrolling their neighborhoods to curb violence right where it starts. This is real and it exists in cities from Detroit to Los Angeles. Stop believing that police are heroes because they are the only ones willing to get in the way of knives or guns – so are the members of groups like Cure Violence, who were the subject of the 2012 documentary The Interrupters.

It’s real? Wonderful. How effective is it in Detroit, for example? Does it prevent all crime? If not, shouldn’t there also be neighborhood courts? (Yes, says Martin; see #3.) And shouldn’t those courts reflect neighborhood mores, which seem to condone a wide range of anti-social acts, like looting and burning? (And what does the straw man non sequitur about cops as heroes have to do with anything?)

  1. The decriminalization of almost every crime

What is considered criminal is something too often debated only in critical criminology seminars, and too rarely in the mainstream. Violent offenses count for a fraction of the 11 to 14 million arrests every year, and yet there is no real conversation about what constitutes a crime and what permits society to put a person in chains and a cage.

Well, there’s the answer to the problem of crime: Decree that here’s (almost) no such thing as crime. So, there’s really no need for neighborhood patrols, is there? All that’s required is a “conversation” about what constitutes crime. I thought that “conversation” took place several thousand years ago, when God spake to Moses. It also takes place in legislative chambers across the land. What Martin really wants isn’t a “conversation” about what constitutes a crime. Clearly, he wants a definition of crime that suits him. I doubt that his definition would include the theft of cigars from a convenience store.

  1. Restorative Justice

Also known as reparative or transformative justice, these models represent an alternative to courts and jails. From hippie communes to the IRA and anti-Apartheid South African guerrillas to even some U.S. cities like Philadelphia’s experiment with community courts, spaces are created where accountability is understood as a community issue and the entire community, along with the so-called perpetrator and the victim of a given offense, try to restore and even transform everyone in the process.

Yes, let’s “transform” thugs. What a great idea. Rehabilitative justice has such a wonderful track record — just ask the victims of real rapes, real muggings, real thefts, and real murders (oops, can’t ask them). And let’s “restore” property and lives that have been  “transformed” beyond restoration by the acts of violent criminals.

  1. Direct democracy at the community level

Reducing crime is not about social control. It’s not about cops, and it’s not a bait-and-switch with another callous institution. It’s giving people a sense of purpose. Communities that have tools to engage with each other about problems and disputes don’t have to consider what to do after anti-social behaviors are exhibited in the first place.

Reducing crime is about social control — the control that’s exerted through social norms that are taught and enforced in the home and in properly constituted courts of law, with the help of police and prosecutors. The real problem is that certain neighborhoods and communities fail to exert proper social control (in part because of family-destroying government policies), to the dismay of many persons in those neighborhoods and communities. And when local thugs run out of things and people to vandalize, steal, beat, rape, and murder in their neighborhoods and communities, it’s easy for them to take their act elsewhere. That’s one reason I want police in my neighborhood.
  1. Community patrols

This one is a wildcard. Community patrols can have dangerous racial overtones, from pogroms to the KKK to George Zimmerman. But they can also be an option that replaces police with affected community members when police are very obviously the criminals.

Let’s hope that the “affected community members” are armed, so they can defend themselves from thugs like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

Who are the “obvious criminals” among the police? Darren Wilson, who shot Brown in self-defense? Daniel Pantaleo, who was attempting to arrest Eric Garner for breaking a law? Cops aren’t angels, but consider what they’re up against.

  1. Here’s a crazy one: mental health care

In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed up the last trauma clinics in some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods. In New York, Rikers Island jails as many people with mental illnesses “as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York State combined,” which is reportedly 40% of the people jailed at Rikers. We have created a tremendous amount of mental illness, and in the real debt and austerity dystopia we’re living in, we have refused to treat each other for our physical and mental wounds.

Crazy, indeed. Who are the “we” who “have created a tremendous amount of mental illness [etc.]” and who “have refused to treat each other”? I can’t imagine any way in I am responsible for the culture of irresponsibility and violence that prevails in the kinds of “neighborhoods” and “communities” of which Martin writes. If anyone outside those neighborhoods and communities is responsible, it is do-gooders in government and their allies on the left, who have insisted on giving handouts without demanding work in return (handouts that have caused the breakage of countless families), and whose policies (e.g., the minimum wage, anti-business ordinances, anti-school choice) rob people of education, jobs, and the dignity that goes with them.
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Martin writes in the usual truth-denying mode of leftism. The world is full of victims, especially victims of white power. The underlying causes of poverty, criminality, and familial dysfunctionality are ignored because they derive from a noxious compound of leftist policies and genetic and cultural heredity.
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Related reading:
Fred Reed, “Real-Life Policing,” Fred on Everything, October 10, 2014
Chris Hernandez, “Ferguson, Idiot Cops, and Experts Who Know Nothing At All,” chrishernandezauthor, December 12, 2014
Fred Reed, “Solving the Police Problem,” Fred on Everything, December 31, 2014
Taki Theodoracopulos, “The Year of the Truth Camps,” Taki’s Magazine, January 3, 2015
Derek Cohen, “Ignore Rolling Stone’s Dangerously Naive Ideas about a Cop-Free World,” The Federalist, January 6, 2014
Aaron M. Renn, “Why Policing?,” City Journal, January 12, 2015
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Related posts:
The Left and Its Delusions
Are You in the Bubble?
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
“Conversing” about Race
Evolution and Race
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Ruminations on the Left in America
Crime Revisited

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The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy

Robert Higgs asks “How Much Longer Can the U.S. Economy Bear the Burdens?” (The Beacon, a blog of The Independent Institute, January 30, 2015). Higgs explains:

These burdens take the form of taxes, regulations, and uncertainties loaded onto them by governments at every level. Each year, for example, federal departments and regulatory agencies put into effect several thousand new regulations. Only rarely do these agencies remove any existing rules from the Code of Federal Regulations. Thus, the total number in effect continues to climb relentlessly. The tangle of federal red tape becomes ever more difficult for investors, entrepreneurs, and business managers to cut through. Business people have to bear not only a constantly changing, ever more complex array of taxes, fees, and fines, but also a larger and larger amount of regulatory compliance costs, now estimated at more than $1.8 trillion annually. Governments at the state and local levels contribute their full share of such burdens as well.

So it is scarcely a wild-eyed question if we ask, as economist Pierre Lemieux does in a probing article in the current issue of Regulation magazine, whether the U.S. economy is now reacting to these growing burdens by undergoing “a slow-motion collapse.”

The article by Lemieux (“A Slow Motion Collapse” (Regulation, Winter 2014-2015) ends with this:

The resilience of markets, especially in a rich and sometimes still flexible economy like the United States, has dampened the effect of regulation. However, it is reasonable to believe that, over the more than six decades since World War II, regulation has deleted a big chunk of potential prosperity. It has not actually cut into the average standard of living, but this is only a consolation prize, for worse could come if the regulatory bulldozer is not pushed back.

As Higgs suggests, the slow-motion collapse of the economy is due not only to regulation but also to taxation and what Higgs elsewhere calls “regime uncertainty.”

The combined effects of regulation, taxation, and regime uncertainty are captured in the Rahn curve, which depicts the long-term relationship between government spending (as a fraction of GDP) and the rate of economic growth. I say that because government spending and regulatory activity have grown apace since the end of World War II. That might be taken as certainty, of a perverse kind, but beleaguered entrepreneurs can never be certain of the specific obstacles that will be thrown in the path of innovation and investment.

The best evidence of the slow-motion collapse of the U.S. economy is the steady, long-run decline in the rate of economic growth, which is evident in the following graphs:

Real GDP 1947-2014

Year-over-year changes in real GDP

Annualized rate of real growth - bottom of recession to bottom of next recession
The graphs are derived from “Current dollar and ‘real’ GDP,” at the website of the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

As the third graph suggests, the rate of growth has generally declined from business cycle to business cycle.* Thus:

Bottom-to-peak rates of growth

The “Obama recovery” is an anemic thing. Is it any wonder, given Obama’s incessant war on success?

It will take more than a “push back” to restore the economy — and liberty — to health. Obama and his ilk must be driven from office, and kept out of office for good.

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Related posts:
The Laffer Curve, “Fiscal Responsibility,” and Economic Growth
The Causes of Economic Growth
In the Long Run We Are All Poorer
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
As Goes Greece
Ricardian Equivalence Reconsidered
The Real Burden of Government
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
The Commandeered Economy
We Owe It to Ourselves
In Defense of the 1%
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
The Burden of Government
Economic Growth Since World War II
Obama’s Big Lie
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
Economics: A Survey (also here)
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
The True Multiplier
How Libertarians Ought to Thinks about the Constitution
Obamanomics: A Report Card
The Obama Effect: Disguised Unemployment
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
The Rahn Curve Revisited

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* Each business cycle runs from the bottom of a recession to the bottom of the next recession. Rather than rely on the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), I use my own own definition of a recession, which is:

  • two or more consecutive quarters in which real GDP (annualized) is below real GDP (annualized) for an earlier quarter, during which
  • the annual (year-over-year) change in real GDP is negative, in at least one quarter.

Unlike the NBER, I do not locate a recession in 2001. Real GDP, measured quarterly, dropped in the first and third quarters of 2001, but each decline lasted only a quarter.

My method of identifying a recession is more objective and consistent than the NBER’s method, which one economist describes as “The NBER will know it when it sees it.” Moreover, unlike the NBER, I would not presume to pinpoint the first and last months of a recession, given the volatility of GDP estimates.
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