Author: Thomas

Not Over the Hill

The Washington Post reports on some research about intelligence that is as irrelevant as the candle problem. Specifically:

[R]esearchers at Canada’s Simon Fraser University … have found that measurable declines in cognitive performance begin to occur at age 24. In terms of brainpower, you’re over the hill by your mid-20s.

The researchers measured this by studying the performance of thousands of players of Starcraft 2, a strategy video game….

Even worse news for those of us who are cognitively over-the-hill: the researchers find “no evidence that this decline can be attenuated by expertise.” Yes, we get wiser as we get older. But wisdom doesn’t substitute for speed. At best, older players can only hope to compensate “by employing simpler strategies and using the game’s interface more efficiently than younger players,” the authors say.

So there you have it: scientific evidence that we cognitively peak at age 24. At that point, you should probably abandon any pretense of optimism and accept that your life, henceforth, will be a steady descent into mediocrity, punctuated only by the bitter memories of the once seemingly-endless potential that you so foolishly squandered in your youth. Considering that the average American lives to be 80, you’ll have well over 50 years to do so! (Christopher Ingraham, “Your Brain Is Over the Hill by Age 24,” April 16, 2014)

Happily, Starcraft 2 is far from a representation of the real world. Take science, for example. I went to Wikipedia and obtained the list of all Nobel laureates in physics. It’s a long list, so I sampled it — taking the winners for the first five years (1901-1905), the middle five years (1955-1959) and the most recent five years (2009-2013). Here’s a list of the winners for those 15 years, and the approximate age of each winner at the time he or she did the work for which the prize was awarded:

1901 Wilhelm Röntgen (50)

1902 Hendrik Lorentz; (43) and Pieter Zeeman (31)

1903 Henri Becquerel, (44), Pierre Curie (37), and Marie Curie (29)

1904 Lord Rayleigh (52)

1955 Willis Lamb (34) and Polykarp Kusch (40)

1956 John Bardeen (39), Walter Houser Brattain (45), and William Shockley (37)

1957 Chen Ning Yang (27) and Tsung-Dao Lee (23)

1958 Pavel Cherenkov (30), Ilya Frank (26), and Igor Tamm (39)

1959 Emilio G. Segrè (50) and Owen Chamberlain (35)

2009 Charles K. Kao (33), Willard S. Boyle (45), and George E. Smith (39)

2010 Andre Geim (46) and Konstantin Novoselov (34)

2011 Saul Perlmutter (39), Adam G. Riess (29), and Brian Schmidt (31)

2012 Serge Haroche (40-50) and David J. Wineland (40-50)

2013 François Englert (32) and Peter W. Higgs (35)

There’s exactly one person within a year of age 24 (Tsung-Dao Lee, 23), and a few others who were still in their (late) 20s. Most of the winners were in their 30s and 40s when they accomplished their prize-worthy scientific feats. And there are at least as many winners who were in their 50s as winners who were in their 20s.

Let’s turn to so-called physical pursuits, which often combine brainpower (anticipation, tactical improvisation, hand-eye coordination) and pure physical skill (strength and speed). Baseball exemplifies such a pursuit. Do ballplayers go sharply downhill after the age of 24? Hardly. On average, they’re just entering their best years at age 24, and they perform at peak level for several years.

I’ll use two charts to illustrate the point about ballplayers. The first depicts normalized batting average vs. age for 86 of the leading hitters in the history of the American League*:

Greatest hitters_BA by age_86 hitters

Because of the complexity of the spreadsheet from which the numbers are taken, I was unable to derive a curve depicting mean batting average vs. age. But the density of the plot lines suggests that the peak age for batting average begins at 24 and extends into the early 30s. Further, with relatively few exceptions, batting performance doesn’t decline sharply until the late 30s.

Among a more select group of players, and by a different measure of performance, the peak years occur at ages 24-28, with a slow decline after 28**:

Offensive average by age_25 leading hitters

The two graphs suggest to me that ballplayers readily compensate for physical decline (such as it is) by applying the knowledge they acquire in the course of playing the game. Such knowledge would include “reading” pitchers to make better guesses about the pitch that’s coming, knowing where to hit a ball in a certain ballpark against certain fielders, judging the right moment to attempt a stolen base against a certain pitcher-catcher combination, hitting to the opposite field on occasion instead of trying to pull the ball every time, and so on.

I strongly suspect that what is true in baseball is true in many walks of life: Wisdom — knowledge culled from experience — compensates for pure brainpower, and continues to do so for a long time. The Framers of the Constitution, who weren’t perfect but who were astute observers of the human condition, knew as much. That’s why they set 35 as the minimum age for election to the presidency. (Subsequent history — notably, the presidencies of TR, JFK, Clinton, and Obama — tells us that the Framers should have made it 50.)

I do grow weary of pseudo-scientific crap like the research reported in the Post. But it does give me something to write about. And most of the pseudo-science is harmless, unlike the statistical lies on which global-warming hysteria is based.

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* The numbers are drawn from the analysis described in detail here and here, which is based on statistics derived through the Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com. The bright red line represents Ty Cobb’s career, which deserves special mention because of Cobb’s unparalleled dominance as a hitter-for-average over a 24-year career, and especially for ages 22-32. I should add that Cobb’s dominance has been cemented by Ichiro Suzuki’s sub-par performance in the three seasons since I posted this, wherein I proclaimed Cobb the American League’s best all-time hitter for average, taking age into account. (There’s no reason to think that the National League has ever hosted Cobb’s equal.)

** This is an index, where 100 represents parity with the league average. I chose the 25 players represented here from a list of career leaders in OPS+ (on-base percentage plus slugging average, normalized for league averages and park factors). Because of significant changes in rules and equipment in the late 1800s and early years of the 1900s (see here, here, and here), players whose careers began before 1907 were eliminated, excepting Cobb, who didn’t become a regular player until 1906. Also eliminated were Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, whose drug-fueled records don’t merit recognition, and Joey Votto, who has completed only eight seasons. Offensive Average (OA) avoids the double-counting inherent in OPS+, which also (illogically) sums two fractions with different denominators. OA measures a player’s total offensive contribution (TOC) per plate appearance (PA) in a season, normalized by the league average for that season. TOC = singles + doubles x 2 + triples x 3 + home runs x 4 + stolen bases – times caught stealing + walks – times grounded into a double play + sacrifice hits + sacrifice flies. In the graph, Cobb seems to disappear into the (elite) crowd after age 24, but that’s an artifact of Cobb’s preferred approach to the game — slapping hits and getting on base — not his ability to hit the long ball, for which extra credit is given in computing OA. (See this, for example.)

Unsurprising News

John Taylor writes that “New Research Bolsters Policy Link from Uncertainty to Economy“:

Last week a joint Princeton-Stanford conference held in Princeton focused on policy uncertainty and showcased new findings on connections between policy uncertainty and political polarization and on patterns in different states, countries and time periods.

Danny Shoag, for example, presented new work “Uncertainty and the Geography of the Great Recession,” co-authored with Stan Veuger, showing that  policy uncertainty across the United States has been highly and robustly correlated with state unemployment rates. As the authors explain, their “paper serves to counter such claims” as those made by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi that “an increase in business uncertainty at the aggregate level does not explain the stark cross-sectional patterns in employment losses” which had cast doubt on the role of policy uncertainty. Scott Baker, Nick Bloom and Steve Davis had written extensively on this at the national level and also presented new work at the conference.

I’ve written about Baker, Bloom, and Davis’s work here.

Ross Douthat comments about “Diversity and Dishonesty“:

Earlier this year, a column by a Harvard undergraduate named Sandra Y. L. Korn briefly achieved escape velocity from the Ivy League bubble, thanks to its daring view of how universities should approach academic freedom.

Korn proposed that such freedom was dated and destructive, and that a doctrine of “academic justice” should prevail instead. No more, she wrote, should Harvard permit its faculty to engage in “research promoting or justifying oppression” or produce work tainted by “racism, sexism, and heterosexism.” Instead, academic culture should conform to left-wing ideas of the good, beautiful and true, and decline as a matter of principle “to put up with research that counters our goals.”

Which reminds me of the story behind Robert Putnam’s “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century,” which I recount here. In short, Putnam withheld publication of his paper because it refutes the leftist mantra “diversity is good.”

Finally, we are told by David Z. Hambrick and Christopher Chabris that “Yes, IQ Really Matters“:

The SAT does predict success in college—not perfectly, but relatively well, especially given that it takes just a few hours to administer. And, unlike a “complex portrait” of a student’s life, it can be scored in an objective way…. In a study published in Psychological Science, University of Minnesota researchers Paul Sackett, Nathan Kuncel, and their colleagues investigated the relationship between SAT scores and college grades in a very large sample: nearly 150,000 students from 110 colleges and universities. SAT scores predicted first-year college GPA about as well as high school grades did, and the best prediction was achieved by considering both factors. Botstein, Boylan, and Kolbert are either unaware of this directly relevant, easily accessible, and widely disseminated empirical evidence, or they have decided to ignore it and base their claims on intuition and anecdote—or perhaps on their beliefs about the way the world should be rather than the way it is.

Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just first-year college GPA that SAT scores predict. In a four-year study that started with nearly 3,000 college students, a team of Michigan State University researchers led by Neal Schmitt found that test score (SAT or ACT—whichever the student took) correlated strongly with cumulative GPA at the end of the fourth year. If the students were ranked on both their test scores and cumulative GPAs, those who had test scores in the top half (above the 50th percentile, or median) would have had a roughly two-thirds chance of having a cumulative GPA in the top half. By contrast, students with bottom-half SAT scores would be only one-third likely to make it to the top half in GPA….

[I]t is clear that [socioeconomic status] is not what accounts for the fact that SAT scores predict success in college. In the University of Minnesota study, the correlation between high school SAT and college GPA was virtually unchanged after the researchers statistically controlled for the influence of SES. If SAT scores were just a proxy for privilege, then putting SES into the mix should have removed, or at least dramatically decreased, the association between the SAT and college performance….

What this all means is that the SAT measures something—some stable characteristic of high school students other than their parents’ income—that translates into success in college. And what could that characteristic be? General intelligence….

IQ predicts many different measures of success. Exhibit A is evidence from research on job performance by the University of Iowa industrial psychologist Frank Schmidt and his late colleague John Hunter. Synthesizing evidence from nearly a century of empirical studies, Schmidt and Hunter established that general mental ability—the psychological trait that IQ scores reflect—is the single best predictor of job training success, and that it accounts for differences in job performance even in workers with more than a decade of experience. It’s more predictive than interests, personality, reference checks, and interview performance. Smart people don’t just make better mathematicians, as Brooks observed—they make better managers, clerks, salespeople, service workers, vehicle operators, and soldiers.

IQ predicts other things that matter, too, like income, employment, health, and even longevity. In a 2001 study published in the British Medical Journal, Scottish researchers Lawrence Whalley and Ian Deary identified more than 2,000 people who had taken part in the Scottish Mental Survey of 1932, a nationwide assessment of IQ. Remarkably, people with high IQs at age 11 were more considerably more likely to survive to old age than were people with lower IQs. For example, a person with an IQ of 100 (the average for the general population) was 21 percent more likely to live to age 76 than a person with an IQ of 85. And the relationship between IQ and longevity remains statistically significant even after taking SES into account. Perhaps IQ reflects the mental resources—the reasoning and problem-solving skills—that people can bring to bear on maintaining their health and making wise decisions throughout life. This explanation is supported by evidence that higher-IQ individuals engage in more positive health behaviors, such as deciding to quit smoking….

[T]he bottom line is that there are large, measurable differences among people in intellectual ability, and these differences have consequences for people’s lives. Ignoring these facts will only distract us from discovering and implementing wise policies.

Given everything that social scientists have learned about IQ and its broad predictive validity, it is reasonable to make it a factor in decisions such as whom to hire for a particular job or admit to a particular college or university. In fact, disregarding IQ—by admitting students to colleges or hiring people for jobs in which they are very likely to fail—is harmful both to individuals and to society. For example, in occupations where safety is paramount, employers could be incentivized to incorporate measures of cognitive ability into the recruitment process. Above all, the policies of public and private organizations should be based on evidence rather than ideology or wishful thinking.

As I say at the end of this post, “life just isn’t fair, so get over it.”

Governmental Perversity

People are sometimes by harmed natural events such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Though such events may be exogenous to human activity,they are somewhat predictable, in that people can know (or learn) where and (sometimes) approximately when such events are likely to occur. That knowledge, in turn, allows people to cope with natural events in three ways:

  • Move away from or avoid areas prone to natural disasters, at least during times of heightened risk.
  • Taking physical measures to reduce the damage caused by natural events.
  • Buying insurance to help defray the costs resulting a natural disaster.

Moral hazard enters the picture when government intervenes to encourage people to live in high-risk areas by insuring risks that private insurers will not insure (e.g., floods), by underwriting certain physical measures (e.g., the installation of bulkheads and pumping systems), and by reimbursing losses sustained by persons who insist on living in high-risk areas — as if to do so were a God-given right. Through such actions, government encourages unremunerative risk-taking, and transfers most of the resulting losses to those citizens who choose not to put themselves in harm’s way.

Now, egregious as it is, the moral hazard created by government with respect to natural disasters is nothing compared with the moral hazard created by government with respect to financial disasters. The recent financial crisis-cum-deep recession is but the latest in a long string of government-caused and government-aided economic messes.

In the recent case, the Federal Reserve and pseudo-private arms of the federal government (Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae) loosened the money supply and encouraged lenders to grant loans to marginal borrowers. Financial institutions were further encouraged to take undue risks by having seen, in times past, that there were bailouts at the end of the tunnel. Not all troubled firms were bailed out during the recent financial crisis, but enough of them were to ensure that the hope of being bailed out still shines brightly. Nor were bailouts limited to financial institutions; troubled companies like General Motors, which should have been put out of their misery, were given new life, at a high cost to taxpayers.

And so, thanks to government, people and businesses continue to take undue risks at the expense of their fellow citizens. Meanwhile — through taxes and regulations — government continues to discourage privately financed risk-taking (entrepreneurship) that is essential to economic growth.

Perversity, thy name is government.

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Related posts:
The Stagnation Thesis
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
In Defense of the 1%
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Economic Growth Since World War II
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
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
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A.
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism

Surrender? Hell No!

About six weeks ago, Ross Douthat — the truly conservative columnist at The New York Times (as opposed to David Brooks) — conceded surrender in the battle over same-sex “marriage”:

It now seems certain that before too many years elapse, the Supreme Court will be forced to acknowledge the logic of its own jurisprudence on same-sex marriage and redefine marriage to include gay couples in all 50 states.

Once this happens, the national debate essentially will be finished, but the country will remain divided, with a substantial minority of Americans, most of them religious, still committed to the older view of marriage.

So what then? One possibility is that this division will recede into the cultural background, with marriage joining the long list of topics on which Americans disagree without making a political issue out of it.

In this scenario, religious conservatives would essentially be left to promote their view of wedlock within their own institutions, as a kind of dissenting subculture emphasizing gender differences and procreation, while the wider culture declares that love and commitment are enough to make a marriage. And where conflicts arise — in a case where, say, a Mormon caterer or a Catholic photographer objected to working at a same-sex wedding — gay rights supporters would heed the advice of gay marriage’s intellectual progenitor, Andrew Sullivan, and let the dissenters opt out “in the name of their freedom — and ours.”

But there’s another possibility, in which the oft-invoked analogy between opposition to gay marriage and support for segregation in the 1960s South is pushed to its logical public-policy conclusion. In this scenario, the unwilling photographer or caterer would be treated like the proprietor of a segregated lunch counter, and face fines or lose his business — which is the intent of recent legal actions against a wedding photographer in New Mexico, a florist in Washington State, and a baker in Colorado….

… We are not really having an argument about same-sex marriage anymore, and … we’re not having a negotiation. Instead, all that’s left is the timing of the final victory — and for the defeated to find out what settlement the victors will impose. (“The Terms of Our Surrender,” March 2, 2014)

Well, it didn’t take long to learn the terms of surrender. (Not that it wasn’t obvious, given the cases of the florist in Washington and the baker in Colorado.) There is a strident branch of gay activism — backed by the usual “liberal” and “libertarian” suspects — that will brook nothing less than the surrender of fundamental rights: freedom of association, freedom of contract, and freedom of speech. The cases in Washington and Colorado are evidence of efforts to deny freedom of association and freedom of contract. Then came the full-blown attack on freedom of speech, with the ouster of Brandon Eich from his job as CEO of Mozilla because six years ago he donated $1,000 to California’s Prop 8 ballot initiative reaffirming traditional marriage.  (See the links at the bottom of this post for more about the Eich affair and its implications.)

What else would you expect, given the precedent of the “civil rights” movement? In the name of “civil rights,” Americans have long been forced to associate with and hire persons whose main qualification is the color of their skin. As for speech, no CEO of any consequence would dare say anything in public (or private) about the difficulty of finding qualified black employees, despite the demonstrably lower intelligence of blacks and their above-average proclivity for criminal behavior. The typical CEO will instead tell his minions to make the workplace look like the “face of America,” regardless of the impossibility of doing so without ripping off taxpayers, shareholders, and customers.

Why? Because honesty about the reasons for failing to meet racial quotas would cause the wrath of the Civil Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to be visited upon the CEO’s corporation. And you can be sure that the worthies in those thought-crime agencies are polishing their truncheons in anticipation of the day when the failure to meet a government-imposed gay quota becomes a crime. Brendan Eich’s fate at the hands of private actors is but a hint of the things that will come at the hands of state actors.

Anyone who lived through the “civil rights” forced equality movement with open eyes could see where the “gay rights” movement would lead, long before its victory became evident to Ross Douthat. I certainly did. See, for example, “In Defense of Marriage” (May 26, 2011), “The Myth That Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Causes No Harm” (October 14, 2011), and the posts and readings linked therein. This is from “In Defense of Marriage”:

The recognition of homosexual “marriage” by the state — though innocuous to many, and an article of faith among most libertarians and liberals — is another step down the slippery slope of societal disintegration. The disintegration began in earnest in the 1930s, when Americans began to place their trust in chimerical, one-size-fits-all “solutions” offered by power-hungry, economically illiterate politicians and their “intellectual” enablers and apologists. In this instance, the state will recognize homosexual “marriage,” then bestow equal  benefits on homosexual “partners,”  and then require private entities (businesses, churches, etc.) to grant equal benefits to homosexual “partnerships.” Individuals and businesses who demur will be brought to heel through the use of affirmative action and hate-crime legislation to penalize those who dare to speak against homosexual “marriage,” the privileges that flow from it, and the economic damage wrought by those privileges.

It should be evident to anyone who has watched American politics that even-handedness is not a matter of observing constitutional limits on government’s reach, regardless of who asks for an exception; it is, rather, a matter of expanding the privileges bestowed by government so that no one is excluded. It follows that the recognition and punitive enforcement of same-sex “marriage” would be followed by the recognition and bestowal of benefits on other arrangements, including transient “partnerships” of convenience. And that surely will weaken heterosexual marriage, which is the axis around which the family revolves. The state will be saying, in effect, “Anything goes. Do your thing. The courts, the welfare system, and the taxpayer — above all — will pick up the pieces.” And so it will go.

The day is coming — and it’s not far off — when it will be illegal to refuse to associate with, do business with, or hire anyone for any reason that Congress, the executive, or the courts deem unacceptable. This will have two predictable effects. It will further dampen entrepreneurial enthusiasm, which has already taken big hits, thanks to the expansion of the regulatory-welfare state. And it will further divide Americans from each other (see Michael Jonas, “The Downside of Diversity,” boston.com, August 5, 2007).

The U.S. Supreme Court to the contrary notwithstanding, I will never recognize same-sex “marriage” as a valid institution. I refuse to cede an inch in the culture war.

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Related reading:
Seth Mandel, “Brendan Eich, the Culture Wars, and the Ground Shifting beneath Our Feet,” Commentary, April 4, 2014
Jonathan S. Tobin, “Mozilla Has Rights, Just Like Hobby Lobby,” Commentary, April 7, 2014
Scott Johnson, “Roots of Totalitarian Liberalism,” Powerline Blog, April 7, 2014
Jordan Lorence, “Supreme Court Turns Down Elane Photography,” National Review Online, Bench Memos, April 7, 2014
Mollie Hemingway, “The Rise of the Same-Sex Marriage Dissidents,” The Federalist, April 8, 2014
Patrick J. Buchanan, “The New Blacklist,” Taki’s Magazine, April 8, 2014
Ed Morrisey, “Eich, Intolerance, and the Growing Demand for Absolutism,” Hot Air, April 8, 2014
Nicholas James Pell, “The Care Bears vs. McCarthy,” Taki’s Magazine, April 8, 2014
Stella Morabito, “Bait and Switch: How Same-Sex Marriage Ends Family Autonomy,” The Federalist, April 9, 2014
Robert Oscar Lopez, “Stop Crying over Mozilla and Start Fighting Back!,” American Thinker, April 14, 2014

Other related posts at this blog: Take your pick of the many listed here, here, and here.

 

Checking Out

The demise of Mickey Rooney at the age of 93 reminded me that several years ago I began to track some celebrities who had attained the age of 90. The rather quirky list of notables, which doesn’t include Rooney, now looks like this:

Luise Rainer 104, George Beverly Shea 104, Charles Lane 102, George Kennan 101, Gloria Stuart 100Eddie Albert 99Irwin Corey 99, Michael DeBakey 99, Mitch Miller 99, Max Schmeling 99, Risë Stevens 99, John Wooden 99Tony Martin 98, Dale Messick 98, Eli Wallach 98, Herman Wouk 98, Olivia de Havilland 97, Zsa Zsa Gabor 97John Kenneth Galbraith 97, Ernest Gallo 97, Estée Lauder 97, Art Linkletter 97, Al Lopez 97, Vera Lynn 97Karl Malden 97, John Mills 97, Kitty Carlisle 96, ,Jack LaLanne 96, Kevin McCarthy 96, Harry Morgan 96, Fay Wray 96Jane Wyatt 96, Joseph Barbera 95, Ernest Borgnine 95, Henri Cartier-Bresson 95, Monte Irvin 95, Herbert Lom 95, Peter Rodino, Jr 95, Sargent Shriver 95, Patty Andrews 94, Sammy Baugh 94, Constance Cummings 94, Lady Bird Johnson 94, Robert Mondavi 94, Byron Nelson 94, Les Paul 94Billy Graham 93, Ruth Hussey 93, Frankie Laine 93, Robert McNamara 93, Artie Shaw 93,  Richard Widmark 93, Oleg Cassini 92, Ralph Edwards 92Bob Feller 92, Ernie Harwell 92, Lena Horne 92Julia Child 91, Archibald Cox 91, Geraldine Fitzgerald 91, Frances Langford 91, John Profumo 91, William Westmoreland 91Jane Wyman 90.

By my reckoning, of the dozens (or hundreds) of actors who starred in Hollywood films before World War II, only two survive:

I should note that de Havilland’s younger sister and life-long rival, Joan Fontaine, died on December 15, 2013, at the age of 96. The de Havilland sisters came by their longevity the easy way; they inherited it. Their father lived to the age of 95; their mother, to the age of 88.

More Lessons from Baseball

Regular readers of this blog will know that I sometimes draw on the game of baseball and its statistics to make points about various subjects — longevity, probability, politics, management, and cosmology, for example. (See the links at the bottom of this post.)

Today’s sermon is about the proper relationship between owners and management. I will address two sets of graphs giving the won-lost (W-L) records of the “old 16″ major-league franchises. The “old 16″ refers to the 8 franchises in the National League (NL) and the 8 franchises in American League (AL) in 1901, the first year of the AL’s existence as a major league. Focusing on the “old 16″ affords the long view that’s essential in thinking about success in an endeavor, whether it is baseball, business, or empire-building.

The first graph in each set gives the centered 11-year average W-L record for each of the old teams in each league, and for the league’s expansion teams taken as a group. The 11-year averages are based on annual W-L records for 1901-2013. The subsequent graphs in each set give, for each team and group of expansion teams, 11-year averages and annual W-L records. Franchise moves from one city to another are indicated by vertical black lines. The titles of each graph indicates the city or cities in which the team has been located and the team’s nickname or nicknames.

Here are the two sets of graphs:

W-L records of old-8 NL franchises

W-L records of old-8 AL franchises

What strikes me about the first graph in each set is the convergence of W-L records around 1990. My conjecture: The advent of free agency in the 1970s must have enabled convergence. Stability probably helped, too. The AL had been stable since 1977, when it expanded to 14 teams; the NL had been stable since 1969, when it expanded to 12 teams. As the expansion teams matured, some of them became more successful, at the expense of the older teams. This explanation is consistent with the divergence after 1993, with the next round of expansion (there was another in 1998). To be sure, all of this conjecture warrants further analysis. (Here’s an analysis from several years ago that I still like.)

Let’s now dispose of franchise shifts as an explanation for a better record. I observe the following:

The Braves were probably on the upswing when they moved from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953. They were on the downswing at the time of their second move, from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966. It took many years and the acquisition of astute front office and a good farm system to turn the Braves around.

The Dodgers’ move to LA in 1958 didn’t help the team, just the owners’ bank accounts. Ditto the Giants’ move to San Francisco in 1958.

Turning to the AL, the St. Louis Browns became the latter-day Baltimore Orioles in 1954. That move was accompanied by a change in ownership. The team’s later successes seem to have been triggered by the hiring of Paul Richards and Lee McPhail to guide the team and build its farm system. The Orioles thence became a good-to-great from the mid-1960 to early 1980s, with a resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The team’s subsequent decline seems due to the meddlesome Peter Angelos, who became CEO in 1993.

The Athletics, like the Braves, moved twice. First, in 1955 from Philadelphia to Kansas City, and again in 1968 from Kansas City to Oakland. The first move had no effect until Charles O. Finley took over the team. His ownership carried over to Oakland. Finley may have been the exceptional owner whose personal involvement in the team’s operations helped to make it successful. But the team’s post-Finely record (1981-present) under less-involved owners suggests otherwise. The team’s pre-Kansas City record reflects Connie Mack’s tight-fisted ways. Mack — owner-manager of the A’s from 1901 until 1950 — was evidently a good judge of talent and a skilled field manager, but as an owner he had a penchant for breaking up great teams to rid himself of high-priced talent — with disastrous consequences for the A’s W-L record from the latter 1910s to late 1920s, and from the early 1930s to the end of Mack’s reign.

The Washington Senators were already resurgent under owner Calvin Griffith when the franchise was moved to Minnesota for the 1961 season. The Twins simply won more consistently than they had under the tight-fisted ownership of Clark Griffith, Calvin’s father.

Bottom line: There’s no magic in a move. A team’s success depends on the willingness of owners to spend bucks and to hire good management — and then to get out of the way. (Yes, George Steinbrenner bankrolled a lot of pennant-winning teams during his ownership years, from 1973 to 2010, but the Yankees’ record improved as “The Boss” became a less-intrusive owner from the mid-1990s until his death.)

There are many other stories behind the graphs — just begging to be told, but I’ll leave it at that.

Except to say this: The “owners” of America aren’t “the people,” romantic political pronouncements to the contrary notwithstanding. As government has become more deeply entrenched in the personal and business affairs of Americans, there has emerged a ruling class which effectively “owns” America. It is composed of professional politicians and bureaucrats, who find ample aid and comfort in the arms of left-wing academicians and the media. The “owners’ grip on power is sustained by the votes of the constituencies to which they pander.

Yes, the constituencies include “crony capitalists,” who benefit from regulatory barriers to competition and tax breaks. Though it must be said that they produce things, and would probably do well without the benefits they reap from professional politicians and bureaucrats. Far more powerful are the non-producers, who are granted favors based on their color, gender, age, etc., in return for the tens of millions of votes that they cast to keep the “owners” in power.

Far too many Americans are whiners who grovel at the feet of their “owners,” begging for handouts. Far too few Americans are self-managed winners.

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Related posts:

The Limits of Science (II)

The material of the universe — be it called matter or energy — has three essential properties: essence, emanation, and effect. Essence — what things really “are” — is the most elusive of the properties, and probably unknowable. Emanations are the perceptible aspects of things, such as their detectible motions and electromagnetic properties. Effects are what things “do” to other things, as in the effect that a stream of photons has on paper when the photons are focused through a magnifying glass. (You’ve lived a bland life if you’ve never started a fire that way.)

Science deals in emanations and effects. It seems that these can be described without knowing what matter-energy “really” consists of. But can they?

Take a baseball. Assume, for the sake of argument, that it can’t be opened and separated into constituent parts, which are many. (See the video at this page for details.) Taking the baseball as a fundamental particle, its attributes (seemingly) can be described without knowing what’s inside it. Those attributes include the distance that it will travel when hit by a bat, when the ball and bat (of a certain weight) meet at certain velocities and at certain angles, given the direction and speed of rotation of the ball when it meets the bat, ambient temperature and relative humidity, and so on.

And yet, the baseball can’t be treated as if it were a fundamental particle. The distance that it will travel, everything else being the same, depends on the material at its core, the size of the core, the tightness of the windings of yarn around the core, the types of yarn used in the windings, the tightness of the cover, the flatness of the stitches that hold the cover in place, and probably several other things.

This suggests to me that the emanations and effects of an object depend on its essence — at least in the everyday world of macroscopic objects. If that’s so, why shouldn’t it be the same for the world of objects called sub-atomic particles?

Which leads to some tough questions: Is it really the case that all of the particles now considered elementary are really indivisible? Are there other elementary particles yet to be discovered or hypothesized, and will some of those be constituents of particles now thought to be elementary? And even if all of the truly elementary particles are discovered, won’t scientists still be in the dark as to what those particles really “are”?

The progress of science should be judged by how much scientists know about the universe and its constituents. By that measure — and despite what may seem to be a rapid pace of discovery — it is fair to say that science has a long way to go — probably forever.

Scientists, who tend to be atheists, like to refer to the God of the gaps, a “theological perspective in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence.” The smug assumption implicit in the use of the phrase by atheists is that science will close the gaps, and that there will be no room left for God.

It seems to me that the shoe is really on the other foot. Atheistic scientists assume that the gaps in their knowledge are relatively small ones, and that science will fill them. How wrong they are.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
A Theory of Everything, Occam’s Razor, and Baseball
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Science, Logic, and God
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
The Big Bang and Atheism
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
The Greatest Mystery
More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps
Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
Something from Nothing?
Something or Nothing
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
Nothingness
Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness

The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism

Government is actually the worst failure of civilized man. There has never been a really good one, and even those that are most tolerable are arbitrary, cruel, grasping and unintelligent.

H.L. Mencken

*     *     *

From Bryan Caplan, writing at EconLog:

If a private individual did what governments do, almost everyone would call him a criminal.  If I took your money without your consent, I’d be a thief.  If I forced you to work for me, I’d be slaver.  If I killed you, I’d be a murderer – even if you “provoked” me by resisting my demands for your money and labor.  Note further: We’d still make these judgments even if I was acting if “for your own good” or “to help the poor.” (scare quotes optional!)  But somehow when government does it, we change the names and our moral evaluation….

If you put aside all the propaganda, states are gangs of glorified criminals.

I often disagree with Caplan (usually about immigration and defense), but not this time. For example, I have argued that

taxation for the purpose of redistribution is slavery (see number 2 in the second set of definitions). It amounts to the subjection of one person (the taxpayer) to other persons: deadbeats, do-gooders, and  demagogues. If “slavery” is too strong a word, “theft” will do quite well.

I hasten to add that most of the state’s minions don’t think of themselves as criminals. That’s because (a) they don’t think deeply, they just do what they’re paid and told to do (Befehl ist Befehl), and (b) they’ve been brain-washed into believing that the state (as long as it’s their state) can do no wrong. (Well, it can do no wrong today, though its past wrongs are sometimes seen as such through the lens of hindsight.)

If the “criminal” label applies to anyone, it applies to the politicians whose wishes are their minions’ commands. Criminality is a manifestation of psychopathy: a common trait among leftist politicians and the pundits and academicians whose facile rationalizations for statism give aid and comfort to leftist causes. Here is a small sample of John J. Ray’s monograph-length analysis of psychopathy and leftism:

[A]lthough all sorts of different people can be Leftist in one way or another, there would seem to remain a core Leftist type — seen at its clearest among Leftist academics and intellectuals. Although such people form only a small fraction of the total population, their influence and their grasp on the levers of power in the media, in the bureaucracy, in the universities and, at times, in politics, make what they think, say and do very important indeed. And it is my contention that this type is eerily reminiscent of a well-known psychiatric category: The psychopath. So the ULTIMATE explanation for all the core characteristics of Leftism that have been described so far lies in many Leftists being sub-clinical psychopaths.

The characteristics of the clinical psychopath can be summed up as follows: He is not obviously “mad”; he is often highly intelligent; he is unmoved by brutality (except to enjoy perpetrating it); he has no moral or ethical anchors or standards; he is deeply (but discreetly) in love with himself (narcissism) so secretly despises others and thinks they are fit only to be dominated and exploited by him and those like him; he is a great manipulator who loves getting others to do his bidding by deception or otherwise; he is the master of the lie and the false pretence but sees no reason to be consistent from occasion to occasion; he will say anything to gain momentary praise or admiration; his only really strongly felt emotions seem to be hate and contempt and he is particularly enraged by those who have what he wants and will be totally unscrupulous in trying to seize what others have for himself. But above all, the psychopath does not seem to be able to tell right from wrong and, as a result, does sometimes commit or connive at murders and other heinous crimes with what seems to be a clear conscience.

That seems to me to constitute, by and large, a fairly comprehensive description of your average Left-wing intellectual…

Obama … exemplifies psychopathic “flexibility” about what he supports.  He says whatever will please his audience of the moment, regardless of taking quite different stands on other occasions.   ‘At the 2014 National Prayer Breakfast  he warned that “freedom of religion is under threat… around the world.” He neglected to mention, however, that organizations like Little Sisters of the Poor and Hobby Lobby are suing his administration because they object to contraceptives mandated under ObamaCare in violation of their religious views. Even more astoundingly, Obama claimed, “We… believe in the inherent dignity of every human being,” and “the killing of the innocent is never fulfilling God’s will; in fact, it’s the ultimate betrayal of God’s will.” Remember, this is a man who supports abortion under any and all circumstances, even in its most appalling partial-birth form, and who once told Planned Parenthood “God bless you.” The seemingly total lack of self-awareness is beyond shocking but is classical psychopathy….

American “liberals” … often say that not all Leftists are as nasty as Stalin, Hitler, Castro, Pol Pot, Mao, Kim Jong Il and all the other lovely “socialists” who have gained unrestricted power. Some American “liberals” even say … that they hate such “totalitarians” or “authoritarians”. So if “liberals” hate Communists, how come they were apologizing for the Soviets and praising them and trying to protect them almost up to the day that the Soviet Union imploded? Even to this day, to have been a Communist in the past is treated most indulgently in “liberal” intellectual circles — as no more than excessive idealism or as having been “a liberal in a hurry”. And what American “liberal” has ever said a bad word about Castro?… U.S. “liberalism” is just an attempt to achieve the old Communist goal of enforced “equality” in a gradual, step-by-step way. They are just “slowed down” Communists and like the Communists, their real motive for seeking equality is not “compassion” but hatred of other people’s success….

Another absolutely characteristic feature of psychopaths is their readiness to lie and lie shamelessly. And to this day I have never quite managed to get used to the way many Leftists seem to be completely uninterested in the truth. And this is another way in which the Leftists of today differ not at all from the Leftists of the Cold War era….

A more subtle form of dishonesty is the great absurdity of the policies that Leftists have often advocated. Policies such as rent-control and nationalization of industry have a superficial attraction that guaranteed that they would be widely tried but who could honestly advocate them once it is apparent how badly they work? Certainly not a person who had the welfare of the people at heart. Such policies have only ever delivered poverty and housing shortages. Why have Leftists advocated such nostrums for so long?…

[T]he famous Leftist call for abolition of wealth and income differentials would surely lead one to expect that Leftists would reject materialistic ambition in their own lives. But it is not so. Although Leftists seem to decry the scramble for private material possessions (conservatism is smeared as “the politics of greed”), they themselves on the personal level seem to be just as keen for the scramble as anyone else. There has been a lot of research reported in the literature of academic psychology on the subject of achievement motivation but the various measures of materialistic achievement motivation have been shown to have negligible correlation with Leftism — where a high negative correlation might on theory have been expected (Ray, 1981b; Ray & Najman, 1988). In other words, in their own lives Leftists are just about as apt as Rightists to seek personal material gain. Once again the Leftist emerges as being hypocritical and as not honest about his/her real motives and values….

Much that I have said in this monograph (e.g. here, here and here) points out the good fit to reality provided by the explanation that Leftists are strongly motivated by hatred and contempt for others — with “compassion” being merely a necessary cloak for their real motivations. Leftists want power and acclaim for themselves and when they see any power and success in others they hate it and want to tear it down. But is that consistent with Leftists being psychopathic? Are not psychopaths supposed to be devoid of normal human emotions? They are not. They certainly have large emotional deficits and a great lack of empathy but one emotion that thrives in them is hate….

Now … we have come to the point of suggesting that the emotional shallowness that a large but weak ego implies may in fact be just one symptom of a much broader and more serious emotional and intellectual deficit — psychopathy. Psychopaths are after all renowned for their emotional shallowness — to the point where they can at times seem entirely devoid of emotion. Additionally, we have seen that Leftists not only have the moral imbecility of the psychopath but in fact proudly proclaim it — in their “postmodernist” doctrine (See here) that everything is relative and nothing is better or worthier than anything else (except when it suits Leftists, of course). We have also seen that the other major characteristics of the psychopath — indifference to brutality and reliance on lies — are present in spades among Leftists. And most of all, the sense of superiority to others and the masked contempt for others are at once very psychopathic and very Leftist….

In summary, then, Leftism at its deepest level would seem to be a form of sub-clinical psychopathy — not normally severe enough to get the person into much trouble but severe enough to cause lots of trouble for others.

[See also this follow-up by Ray.]

Ray’s analysis comports with what I’ve seen of left-wing politicians, pundits, and academicians over the past fifty years. They love to hate, and they love to project their hate-feelings onto their political opponents. And they’re very good at convincing themselves and others that they “care” — care about the poor, about people of color, about income inequality, about the environment, and about anything and everything that seems worth caring about. But what they really care about is massaging their own egos by forcing others to do their bidding.

A Home of One’s Own

Since the inauguration of Politics & Prosperity on February 8, 2009,* I’ve rarely indulged in ruminations about personal matters. But I will now, in response to the lead editorial in the Austin American-Statesman of March 26, 2014 (subscription required). It says, in part:

Just two weeks after a fatal wreck during the South by Southwest Music Festival killed three attendees, the city of Austin is taking steps to set a safer stage for the upcoming Texas Relays, the first major event weekend since the tragedy….

Just five years ago, the event, which draws 45,000 athletes and fans to the city and boosts the economy with more than $8 million, was greeted with protests and charges of racism in the city’s treatment of its predominately African-American guests.

“In the past, we have not always been welcoming this event to the city in light of the positive impact it has, especially on tourism,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole [a black].

The weekend activities around the two events have been known to put extra stress on Highland Mall, which becomes the center of social networking for 20,000 teenagers and young people, mostly African-Americans. The mall parking lot and other spots around town become ideal hangouts for the young crowds to mingle and show off cars. And as in most cases with large crowds at any type of gathering, there will be small-scale trouble.

But in 2009, the city of Austin “prepared” for the weekend by closing off several exit ramps onto Sixth Street. Some downtown businesses closed for the weekend. And Highland Mall chose to close its doors early on that particular Saturday.

While merchants and the city said closure decisions were about safety and not race, the combination sent the wrong message….

During this weekend of events, Cole said she hopes the city can experience the vibrancy of youth and diversity as well as enjoy the sheer fun of track and field.

As a resident of Austin who is frequently irritated by the doings of the city’s officials, I must object.

The shutdown of Highland Mall and downtown stores sent the wrong message? Baloney. It sent a message that the lefties who dominate Austin’s politics simply don’t want to acknowledge. The owners of Highland Mall and downtown stores had had enough of rowdiness, and didn’t find the economic “boost” (if any) sufficiently offsetting. That was the message, which Austin’s “leaders” choose to ignore, in their (usual) eagerness to promote political correctness, growth, and tourism — despite the hardships and higher taxes imposed on residents.

Instead of dealing in facts, Ms. Cole invokes “vibrancy of youth” and “diversity,” as if these dubious qualities will somehow permeate Austin’s atmosphere and make all of its citizens feel good. Why not just spew balloons and nitrous oxide into the air? Or better yet, evict all of the recent arrivals (post July 2003, say) and spend some money on fixing Austin’s streets instead of continuing to convert them to (little used) bike lanes.

Heaven forbid that private parties act in their own interest by closing stores against invading hordes of riff-raff. Austin’s “leaders” will have none of it, in their zeal to be politically correct. It’s a zeal that encompasses not only an embarrassing degree of racial, ethnic, and sexual-orientation pandering, but also “greenness” at almost any price. This latter zeal encompasses the aforementioned bike lanes, costly “green” electricity, costly energy inspection mandates, a money-losing recycling plan that continues to grow, buses and rail cars that run empty most of the day and night, and on and on.

Austin is far from unique in being saddled with a heavy-handed, left-minded government. The dictatorial mindset is epidemic, spanning as it does almost every city of any size, most States, and a central government that imposes draconian policies to which the “leaders” of too many cities and States eagerly conform.

Barring an electoral revolution, or something more drastic, how can liberty-loving Americans arrange to live among and be governed by others of like mind? Arranging a libertarian homeland would be a tall order — nigh unto impossible, you might think (as I do). But human nature may yet prevail over planning, as it often does. (Witness the likely failure of Obamacare to coerce sufficient numbers of healthy young persons to buy health insurance.)

One hopeful trend is the continued geographic sorting of Americans, which means that those who seek liberty are more likely to find it in the municipalities and States to which they are drawn. As I have noted,

evidence of ideological sorting along geographic lines is seen in electoral maps of the 1976 and 2012 presidential elections, where the popular-vote splits were almost identical in favor of the respective Democrat candidates, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. Ignoring the favorite-son effect that swung the South to Carter and Michigan to Ford in 1976, one can see rather striking differences between 1976 and 2012; for example: the Northeast has become much more heavily Democrat since 1976; the Left Coast is no longer close, and is now solidly Democrat; except for Colorado, the States of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains have become more strongly Republican.

[See the same post for discussions of Peter Cushing and Bill Bishop's The Big Sort and Robert Putnam’s “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century."]

Geographic sorting is reinforced by assortative mating: like prefers like. This is from the abstract of a paper by Casey A. Klofstad, Rose McDermott, and Peter K. Hatemi, “The Dating Preferences of Liberals and Conservatives” (Springer Science+Business Media, July 2012):

American politics has become more polarized. The source of the phenomena [sic] is debated. We posit that human mate choice may play a role in the process. Spouses are highly correlated in their political preferences, and research in behavioral genetics, neuroscience, and endocrinology shows that political preferences develop through a complex interaction of social upbringing, life experience, immediate circumstance, and genes and hormones, operating through one’s psychological architecture…. Consequently, if people with similar political values produce children, there will be more individuals at the ideological extremes over generations….. Using a sample of Internet dating profiles we find that both liberals and conservatives seek to date individuals who are like themselves. This result suggests a pathway by which longterm couples come to share political preferences, which in turn could be fueling the widening ideological gap in the United States.

There’s much more about assortative mating in these posts, papers, and articles:

Henry Harpending, “Class, Caste, and Genes,” West Hunter, January 13, 2012
Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran, “Assortative Mating, Class, and Caste,” manuscript, December 1, 2013
Jeremy Greenwood et al., “Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality,” Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania, January 12, 2014
Ironman, “In Which We’re Vindicated. Again.,” Political Calculations, January 28, 2014
Chris Mooney, “The Origin of Ideology,” Washington Monthly, March/April/May 2014

As discussed in the first four items, assortative mating also influences income (i.e., income inequality, so dreaded by “liberals”). Income, of course, is strongly influenced by intelligence. And assortative mating reinforces the persistent IQ gap between whites, on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics on the other. (See my post, “Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications,” Politics & Prosperity, July 11, 2012; Mark J. Perry, “Charts of the Day: Mean SAT Math and Critical Reading Test Scores by Ethnicity, 1992 to 2013,Carpe Diem, October 5, 2013; and Nooffensebut, “Black Suits, Gowns, & Skin: SAT Scores by Income, Education, & Race,” The Unsilenced Science, October 24, 2013.)

It therefore seems likely that geographic sorting will result in more ideological, ethnic, and cultural homogeneity across large regions. This will be true not only of those areas that attract right-libertarians and conservatives, but also of those areas that retain well-to-do (mainly white) big-government “liberals.” (Austin has become one such area.) Those “liberals” will, of course, be surrounded by the minorities that they champion. (As they are in Austin.) But, as usual, they will reside mainly in pricy, white-dominated enclaves and often send their children to private schools. They will nevertheless pat themselves on the back for their embrace of “diversity.” But few of them will actually experience it, except to the extent that they employ Hispanic maids, nannies, and gardeners and occasionally encounter a black who is employed in some menial capacity.

In short, “diversity” is doomed, as a practical matter. And it’s a good thing, as I discuss at length here.

As for myself, I have now lived in Blue States and municipalities for most of my life. Austin is just the latest stop, though it is has proved to be the least bearable one. I’m looking forward to the day — perhaps in a few years — when I can join the Big Sort.

Until that day, I will continue to be in Austin, but not of Austin.

*     *     *

Other related posts:
Driving and Politics
Driving and Politics (2)

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* Older posts are imports from other blogs of mine, as are some of the posts dated after February 8, 2009.

An Agenda for the GOP

Despite my pessimistic view of America’s prospects, there is some hope for a non-violent reversal of America’s long slide into despotism. The reversal could begin in the next few years, if . . .

  • Republicans take control of Congress and the White House in the elections of 2014 and 2016.
  • When they gain control, they take a page from Barack Obama’s playbook and act swiftly and boldly — not defensively and apologetically.

How boldly? Roughly in order of difficulty — from easiest to hardest — here’s an agenda for the GOP:

1. Adopt and consistently use simple, hard-hitting slogans; for example: “Free and Responsible Americans Govern Themselves”; “Liberty and Security = Less Government and a Strong Defense”; “DC Knows How to Collect Taxes, but Not How to Run a Country.”

2. Rescind executive orders issued by Obama with respect to same-sex “marriage,” the environment, so-called climate change, and anything else that undermines free institutions and free markets.

3. Institute a waiting period of at least 6 months for all legislation and regulations. Further, every regulation on a particular matter must be expressly enacted into law in separate legislation. Omnibus legislation would be expressly forbidden.

4. Repeal Obamacare. If it’s deemed politically necessary to replace it with something, the something should be such things as means-tested vouchers for medical insurance, allowing insurance companies to operate across State lines; and phasing out employer-provided insurance and replacing it with portable plans.

5. Take advantage of the no-filibuster rule to fill all judicial vacancies on district and circuit courts with nominees with a demonstrated commitment to limited government.

6. Increase the number of seats on the Supreme Court from nine to eleven by reinstating long-vacant seats (associate justiceships 5 and 7). Extend the no-filibuster rule to include the Supreme Court and quickly fill the additional seats with persons whose commitment to limited government is unquestionable.

7. Require, by law, a balanced federal budget during every 10-year span, without exceptions: “More guns” would mean “less butter”; nothing would be “off budget.”

8. Rebuild national defense, and adopt a foreign policy that consists of a commitment to the defense of Americans’ overseas economic interests through unilateral action. Maintain military alliances only with those countries that are firmly committed to the use of military force to defend their own interests (e.g., Australia, South Korea, and Japan).

9. Replace the income tax with a national sales tax, and abolish the IRS.

10. Begin a transition away from Social Security and toward self-funded retirement — as an incentive to work and save. Social Security would be replaced by means-tested income subsidies for very-low-income persons over the age of 65. Payments on a sliding scale would reduce (if not eliminate) disincentives that arise from the threshold effect of all-or-nothing subsidies.

11. Begin a similar transition away from Medicare. (Medicaid is covered by #4.)

12. Stack the Senate with Republican senators from conservative States by carving new States out of existing States and rearranging State boundaries (with the consent of the legislatures of the affected States), as authorized by Article IV, Section 3, of the Constitution. Texas is a good candidate for subdivision; for example, the counties along the Rio Grande could be split off as a Democrat enclave and the rest of Texas could be divided into three GOP-dominated States, for a net gain of four GOP seats in the Senate. The outcome of the elections of 2014 and 2016 might make it easier to rearrange other States to the benefit of the GOP (see this post for specifics).

13. Devolve power and fiscal responsibility to the States by authorizing inter-State compacts, under Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution. For example, States in the Mississippi River watershed would organize and operate their own flood-control and disaster-relief programs; States in hurricane-prone areas would organize and operate their own programs for the mitigation of damage and post-storm recovery. The idea is to place responsibility closer to where it lies: with the people who choose to live in certain areas with known dangers.

If the GOP fails to win Congress and the White House, or if it succeeds electorally but fails to enact much of what I recommend, liberty-loving Americans can wave goodbye to the tattered remnants of their liberty. Unless . . .

Romanticizing the State

Timothy Sandefur, an old sparring partner of mine, offers qualified praise for the state:

Cato Unbound has an excellent essay by Mark S. Weiner arguing that whatever its shortcomings, the state as a political entity is better than its likely alternative: clan rule. I remember having similar thoughts when Christina and I got married. As atheists, we occasionally face various forms of discrimination (fortunately only rarely, and typically minor) but we were still able to get married because we could obtain a civil marriage through the state. Lucky us. In centuries past, that alternative might not have been open to us. In this way, the state provided us with a service that in other times and places has not been available: secular marriage.

It’s a mystery to me why Sandefur and his spouse, both of them declared atheists and libertarians, want their marriage to be authorized by the state. Surely, they know that they could have entered into a cohabitation contract without the approval of the state. That contract could have included many provisions, including an agreement to submit their differences to binding, private arbitration.

Did they seek state approval to indicate that their marriage is just as legitimate as marriages sanctioned by churches? This strikes me as out of character for atheists and libertarians. If one doesn’t believe in God and is generally opposed to the workings of the state (beyond some minimal level of defense, perhaps), why would one unnecessarily emulate believers and acknowledge the state’s legitimacy in a sphere where its involvement is unnecessary?

All of that aside, I am bemused by Sandefur’s laudatory reference to Weiner’s essay, which begins with this:

Many conservatives argue as a basic tenet of their political thought that individual liberty thrives when the state is limited and weak. “As government expands, liberty contracts,” explained President Ronald Reagan in his farewell address, calling the principle “as neat and predictable as a law of physics.” This view is especially pronounced among libertarians, and for libertarians of an anarchist perspective, the opposition between the individual and the state is fundamental and irreconcilable.

I believe this view is significantly mistaken. From the perspective of comparative law and legal history, it represents a dangerous illusion characteristic of citizens who already enjoy the benefits of modern liberal government. Although the state can be an instrument of tyranny, robust government capable of vindicating the public interest is vital for individual autonomy.

As I argue in my recent book The Rule of the Clan, among its important benefits, a strong central state provides the most effective means to ensure that persons are treated as individuals, not merely as cousins. In its absence, people are forced to look to other institutions to address their social and legal problems, and the most enduring such organization in human history is the extended family, the clan—for which group loyalty trumps individual rights.

Because the rule of the clan provides many vital goods that liberal societies deliver less effectively, and because it is based on the natural fact of genetic affinity, it represents an ever-present gravitational force in human affairs.

One of the objects of modern liberal government is to resist this gravitational pull.

The fatal flaw in Weiner’s argument is his passing admission that “the state can be an instrument of tyranny.” The state not only can be an instrument of tyranny; it is an instrument of tyranny. When it comes to tyranny, the clan has nothing on the state.

Weiner writes as if the state were a kind of mechanical contrivance, free of human impulses and capable of a dispassionate defense of individualism. Would that it were so, but it is not so. The state — as a human institution — is powered by the operation of clannish institutions. As Daniel McCarthy writes in response to Weiner,

It’s not only the case that a strong central government—today’s “state” or the ancient empire—can safeguard the individual from being subsumed into a constraining group identity, but it’s also the case that the active component of liberty, the exercise of self-government, has tended to be a matter of group expression.

In republican Rome, the good (self-government) was inextricably mixed with the bad (rule by clannish elites). But this is the story of self-government everywhere. The House of Commons in England, for example, did not begin as an institution to represent all commoners; it began as a forum to represent the wealthiest towns and localities….

Reform of the boroughs, broadening of the franchise, and the introduction of the secret ballot were great struggles; at times they seemed almost revolutionary to Britain’s landed class. These struggles were fought and won not by individuals but by groups that were more than a little clannish and coercive. Clannishness was characteristic of the Catholic and Dissenting Protestant groups that also fought at this time—sometimes literally in streets—for their civil liberties. And in America, too, clannish groups, from racial minorities to religious and sexual ones, have had to battle for freedom. This was not at all an individualistic activity, either in its origins or its methods. The liberties we as individuals cherish today were largely won by clannish groups.

Such struggles, even when they are outlawed and cannot be conducted at the ballot box, are a kind of participation in power, as one institution of power—not the state, but the clan—compels another to recognize its demands and accede to at least some of them for the sake of peace. Even in ordinary politics at the level of Republicans and Democrats, clannishness rather than individualism is the rule, with religious, ethnic, and cultural blocs pursuing group objectives. Individualists tend to be blind to this reality; they are often at a loss to explain politics when, judged as a purely individual activity, even the act of voting is irrational. But it’s not an individual activity—it’s a clan ritual, one that bears some relation to the actual acquisition of power for the group.

Without groups, there is no participation in power—not outside of the tiniest direct democracy, at any rate. The ever present possibility of clan organization, well noted by Weiner, is a natural building block for group participation in ruling. As Weiner warns, the admixture of kinshp and government can lead to “clannism,” in which a kin group dominates the state and uses its machinery of power for selfish ends. Yet without strong clans, participation in power, for defensive as well as aggressive purposes, is forestalled. The result is Caesarism—the condition of the early Roman Empire, in which the citizen may have certain individual legal rights, but he has hardly any way of participating in government to safeguard or extend those rights….

The paradox of rule is that to secure one’s rights, one must participate in government, but participation in government means wielding power that can—and inevitably will—be used to oppress others. Participation in government necessarily has an illiberal dimension, even though it is also indispensable for securing liberty.

I call it the interest-group paradox:

Pork-barrel legislation exemplifies the interest-group paradox in action, though the paradox encompasses much more than pork-barrel legislation. There are myriad government programs that — like pork-barrel projects — are intended to favor particular classes of individuals. Here is a minute sample:

  • Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, for the benefit of the elderly (including the indigent elderly)
  • Tax credits and deductions, for the benefit of low-income families, charitable and other non-profit institutions, and home buyers (with mortgages)
  • Progressive income-tax rates, for the benefit of persons in the mid-to-low income brackets
  • Subsidies for various kinds of “essential” or “distressed” industries, such as agriculture and automobile manufacturing
  • Import quotas, tariffs, and other restrictions on trade, for the benefit of particular industries and/or labor unions
  • Pro-union laws (in many States), for the benefit of unions and unionized workers
  • Non-smoking ordinances, for the benefit of bar and restaurant employees and non-smoking patrons.

What do each of these examples have in common? Answer: Each comes with costs. There are direct costs (e.g., higher taxes for some persons, higher prices for imported goods), which the intended beneficiaries and their proponents hope to impose on non-beneficiaries. Just as importantly, there are indirect costs of various kinds (e.g., disincentives to work and save, disincentives to make investments that spur economic growth)….

You may believe that a particular program is worth what it costs — given that you probably have little idea of its direct costs and no idea of its indirect costs. The problem is millions of your fellow Americans believe the same thing about each of their favorite programs. Because there are thousands of government programs (federal, State, and local), each intended to help a particular class of citizens at the expense of others, the net result is that almost no one in this fair land enjoys a “free lunch.” …

The paradox that arises from the “free lunch” syndrome is much like the …. paradox of thrift, in that large numbers of individuals are trying to do something that makes certain classes of persons better off, but which in the final analysis makes those classes of persons worse off. It is like the paradox of panic, in that there is a  crowd of interest groups rushing toward a goal — a “pot of gold” — and (figuratively) crushing each other in the attempt to snatch the pot of gold before another group is able to grasp it. The gold that any group happens to snatch is a kind of fool’s gold: It passes from one fool to another in a game of beggar-thy-neighbor, and as it passes much of it falls into the maw of bureaucracy.

I call this third, insidious, paradox the interest-group paradox. It is the costliest of the three — by a long shot. It has dominated American politics since the advent of “progressivism” in the late 1800s. Today, most Americans are either “progressives” (whatever they may call themselves) or victims of “progressivism.” All too often they are both.

Sandefur’s “free lunch” is the state’s recognition and authorization of his marriage. Now, it’s true that the state was already in the business of recognizing and authorizing marriage, so Sandefur’s “free lunch” probably didn’t impose additional costs on the rest of us. But by beseeching the state for a favor, he joins millions of others in validating a panoply of state powers that, on the whole, suppress rather than uphold liberty.

Sandefur would argue that his right to be married wasn’t the state’s to grant. Rather, rights exist independently, and the state sometimes recognizes and enforces them. The state, in other words, is really in the business of bestowing benefits. But because of the interest-group paradox there’s always a price to be paid — in dollars or liberty — for those benefits. The price is often justified by referring to “the greater good,” “the people,” “the nation,” or “society” (to list but a few such shibboleths).

What does that have to do with individualism? Nothing. How does it differ from clannism? It doesn’t; it is simply clannism with a bigger army.

*     *     *

Related posts:
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Unreality of Objectivism
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
More about Consequentialism
Line-Drawing and Liberty
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More about Conservative GovernanceWhy I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Understanding Hayek
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Society and the State
Why Conservatism Works
The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
“We the People” and Big Government
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Getting Liberty Wrong
Left-Libertarianism in a Nutshell

A Burgeoning Blog

Politics & Prosperity has gained more than 2,000 posts, just like that. How? I imported all of the posts from my old Blogspot blogs: Liberty Corner, Liberty Corner II (the home of very long posts), and Americana, Etc. The posts from those blogs date back to March 2004. If you happen upon one of those posts and find a link that seems to point to another post at this blog, the link will take you to the original post at the Blogspot blog. I wasn’t about to edit some 2,000 posts to change Blogspot links to WordPress links.

Nevertheless, this blog now contains all of the blog posts that I’ve ever written, including a collection of 29 posts dated April 29, 2010.  That’s when I published a facsimile of the original version of Liberty Corner, which I maintained as a “home page” in the pre-blog days of the late 1990s.

2013: A Bad Year at the Movies

Thanks to Netflix, I used to watch two or three feature films a week. I was able to sustain that pace for years because of a backlog of highly rated but yet-unwatched films, and the frequent release of new films of merit. The backlog has almost vanished, as has the offering of meritorious new films.

Take 2013, please! I have thus far seen only four of the films emitted in that year: American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, and Now You See Me. Viewers who rate films at IMDb (Internet Movie Database) have given the films average ratings of 7.5, 7.4, 8.0, and 7.3 out of 10, respectively, as against my own ratings of 4, 1, 7, and 7.*

Admittedly, a sample of four may seem inadequate to the task of judging a year’s worth of filmic output, but my assessment of that output would be even less glowing had I not rejected most of it sight unseen. Take American Hustle (please!), which I watched last night. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, despite the fact that it’s too long, too loud, too crude, and rarely funny where it’s meant to be funny. Thus my rating of 4. Blue Jasmine, to which I gave a 1, turned out to be another of Woody Allen’s series of kvetches — boring as hell unless you are fascinated by neurotic, yuppie Manhattanites. Captain Phillips and Now You See Me are good but not great films.

I’m content to call 2013 a bad year at the moves — perhaps the worst year — because of two trends. The first is an accelerating downward trend (with respect to year of release) in the percentage of movies that I have called a “favorite,” that is, a movie that I’ve rated 8, 9, or 10:

Favorites as pct of films seen and rated

What about overall ratings? Here are my ratings of movies, relative to the ratings given the same movies by IMDb users; note the steep decline after 1995:

Ratings as pct of IMDb users

Is it just me? Perhaps. But it’s more likely that movie-goers’ tastes have coarsened in the past two decades. Witness the popularity of American Hustle; witness the unremitting stream of sex, violence, and general depravity that emanates from movies and over the electromagnetic spectrum.

I conclude that movies are getting worse than ever, in keeping with popular culture.

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Movies: (Not) Better Than Ever
At the Movies: The Best and Worst Years
My Year at the Movies (2007)
The Movies: Not Better than Ever (II)
__________
Here’s a guide to my ratings:
1 – unwatchable
2 – watched all the way through, to my regret
3, 4, 5 – varying degrees of entertainment value, but altogether a waste of time
6 – generally engaging, but noticeably flawed in some way (e.g., a weak performance in a major role, trite story, a contrived ending, insufficient resolution of plot or sub-plot)
7 – well done in all respects, with only a few weak spots; enjoyable but not scintillating
8 – a thoroughly engaging movie; its weak spots (e.g., a corny plot), if any, are overwhelmed by scintillating performances (e.g., the spectacular dancing of Astaire and Rogers), sustained hilarity, a compelling plot, a witty script, etc. (a rating that I’ve given to 30 percent of the more than 2,000 feature films that I’ve seen)
9 – an “8″ that is so good it bears re-watching (a rating that I’ve given to only 3 percent of the films I’ve seen)
10 – a movie that I didn’t want to end; a masterpiece of film-making (a rating that I’ve given to only 5 films — 0.2 percent)

Facts about Presidents (Updated)

Here, with the addition of two tables. One lists presidents by order of birth; the other, by order of death.

Two decades will go unrepresented by a presidential birth: the 1810s and the 1930s. The 1950s aren’t yet represented, but that gap might be filled.

Four decades will go unrepresented by a presidential death: the 1800s, 1810s, 1950s, and 1980s. A death in the 2010s is likely, unless George Herbert Walker Bush and James Earl Carter — both pushing 90 — last another five-plus years. The current record-holder for longevity is Gerald Rudolph Ford (born Leslie Lynch King Jr.), who died at age 93.45, barely surpassing Ronald Wilson Reagan’s 93.33 years.

Ford’s post-presidential survival of 29.93 years has been surpassed only by Carter’s 33-plus years (and counting) and Herbert Clark Hoover’s 31.63 years.  Hoover’s age at death — 90.17 years — puts him in 4th place, behind Ford, Reagan, and John Adams. It seems likely, however, that both Carter and G.H.W. Bush will move ahead of Hoover on the longevity list.

Home-Field Advantage

You know it’s real. Just how real? Consider this:

Home field advantage
Derived from statistics available through the Play Index subscription service of Baseball-Reference.com.

In the years 1901 through 2013, major league teams won 54 percent of their home games and lost 46 percent of their road games, for a home/road (H/R) ratio of 1.181. Only one team has lost more than half of its home games: San Diego, with 1,791 wins against 1,793 losses (which rounds to a W-L record of .500). The Padres have nevertheless done better at home than on the road, with an H/R ratio of 1.171.

No team has done better on the road than at home. Two expansion teams — Los Angeles Angels (1961) and New York Mets (1962) — have come closest. But their home records are still significantly better than their road records: H/R ratios of 1.132 and 1.139, respectively.

The Colorado Rockies have the best H/R ratio — 1.381 — mainly because Rockies teams have been tailored to do well at their home park in mile-high Denver. Accordingly, they have done poorly at lower altitudes, where (for example) high fly balls don’t as often become home runs.

The New York Yankees, unsurprisingly, have been the best at home and on the road. Further, the Yankees franchise is the only one with a road record above .500 for the past 113 years.

The importance of playing at home is perhaps best captured by these averages for 1901-2013:

  • The mighty Yankees compiled their enviable home record by outscoring opponents by only 0.89 run per game.
  • The second- and third-best Giants and Red Sox bested visitors by only 0.49 and 0.46 runs per game, respectively.
  • The lopsided Rockies compiled by far the biggest home-minus-road scoring gap: 1.04 runs per game.
  • Eleven of the 30 franchises were outscored at home, but only the Padres had a (barely) losing record at home.
  • Only 4 of 30 franchises — Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, and Cardinals — outscored opponents on the road as well at home.
  • Every franchise had a better average margin of victory at home than on the road.
  • Home teams (on average) outscored their opponents by only 0.16 runs.

Home-field advantage is a fragile but very real thing.

Left-Libertarianism in a Nutshell

If I have a least-favorite political philosophy, it is the one that I call left-minarchism (a.k.a., left-libertarianism). I say a lot about it in “Parsing Political Philosophy (II).” In a nutshell, here’s how it stacks up against right-minarchism (libertarian conservatism) and left-statism (the reigning philosophy in the United States):

Left-minarchism in a nutshell

*     *     *

Related post: The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament (see also the links at the bottom)

Getting Liberty Wrong

Like most libertarians, Jeffrey Tucker doesn’t understand liberty. He writes:

Liberty allows peaceful human cooperation. It inspires the creative service of others. It keeps violence at bay. It allows for capital formation and prosperity. It protects human rights of all against invasion. It allows human associations of all sorts to flourish on their own terms. It socializes people with rewards toward getting along rather than tearing each other apart, and leads to a world in which people are valued as ends in themselves rather than fodder in the central plan. (“Against Libertarian Brutalism,” The Freeman, March 12, 2014)

What’s wrong with Tucker’s formulation? In a word: reification. Liberty does nothing, absolutely nothing. Liberty is a result of human striving, not the mysterious causal force of Tucker’s imagining.

Liberty is what people enjoy when they coexist peacefully and cooperatively, when they recognize property rights, when they allow freedom of association, and when they observe both of the complementary sub-rules of the Golden Rule:

  • Do no harm to others, lest they do harm to you.
  • Be kind and charitable to others, and they will be kind and charitable to you.

None of this is possible unless there is agreement as to what constitutes harm — agreement which is embedded in and preserved by social norms that have evolved through eons of trial and error. Above all, there must be mutual trust and respect. Liberty is therefore likely to prevail only in a polity that is bound by genetic kinship.

Getting back to Tucker’s effusion: It’s just another example of left-libertarian whinging. Liberty is all right, say left-libertarians, as long as it yields certain results. What are those results? Combine the treacly, goody-two-shoes mentality of Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Sesame Street; throw in laws and regulations to suppress non-conforming behavior; form identically shaped, identically colored, identically mindless citizens; and bake in the heat of elite-manufactured opinion.

*     *     *

Related posts:
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Unreality of Objectivism
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
More about Consequentialism
Line-Drawing and Liberty
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More about Conservative GovernanceWhy I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Understanding Hayek
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Society and the State
Why Conservatism Works
The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
“We the People” and Big Government
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)

“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”

The title phrase, of course, is from FDR’s speech to Congress on December 8, 1941. His speech was occasioned by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (a date that still lives in infamy), and by several subsequent attacks. Specifically:

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched as attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

But I’m not quoting FDR for the purpose of recalling the events of December 7 and 8, 1941. There’s another date that lives in infamy: March 4, 1933. It was on that date, 81 years ago today, that FDR first took the oath of office as president of the United States — an oath that he would take three more times.

The rest, unfortunately, is history. The unconstitutional changes set in motion by FDR have led to the present state of affairs:

  • Congress may pass any law about anything.
  • The president and regulatory agencies may do just about anything they want to do because of (a) delegations of power by Congress and (b) sheer willfulness on the part of the president and the regulatory agencies.
  • The Supreme Court may rewrite law at will, regardless of the written Constitution, especially for the purposes of enabling Congress to obliterate social and economic liberty, and disabling the defense and law-enforcement forces of the United States to defend the life, liberty, and property of Americans.
  • The States, abetted and coerced by federal courts, may enforce legislative, executive, and judicial whims — as long as those whims are anti-libertarian, that is, destructive of property rights, freedom of association, and traditional mores.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Ranking the Presidents
FDR and Fascism
Rating the Presidents, Again
How the Great Depression Ended (see the passages in which I quote Robert Higgs)
Presidential Legacies
An FDR Reader
The Price of Government
Fascism and the Future of America
The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism
Invoking Hitler
I Want My Country Back
Save Me from Self-Appointed Saviors
Nonsense about Presidents, IQ, and War
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
The View from Here
“We the People” and Big Government
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!

Presidential Treason

I see, in recent events, the makings of a New Axis, formed on Russia, Iran, and China. The New Axis, if unchallenged, would be able to isolate and extort the United States. The stark alternatives will be a rerun of World War II or de facto surrender by the United States.

Without a sudden and massive reversal of America’s disarmament, there will be little hope of defeating the New Axis in a rerun of World War II. A 21st Century Alliance would be weaker (relatively) than the World War II Alliance because Britain would not be the player that it was — in spirit or in war-making potential. Continental Europe would sit it out, for fear of retaliation from Russia, even though a victorious Russia would quickly roll up the continent. Israel, India, and Japan would be tied down (if not knocked out quickly). Thus, the U.S. would stand almost alone, with relatively insignificant support from Australia and Canada (maybe).

This gloomy scenario, it seems to me, is the inevitable — and foreseeable — dénouement of Obama’s foreign and defense policies, which seem calculated to encourage Russian and Chinese expansionism. The evidence is there in Obama’s calculated fecklessness in the Middle East, and in his dealings with Russia and China.

As one commentator puts it:

… The fate of the free world no longer rests with the US. It now rests with Putin. He and the mullahs in Iran, presented with the spectacle of the preening narcissist in the White House gazing in rapt adoration at his own reflection, are surely laughing fit to bust.

And why shouldn’t the First Narcissist preen? For he has achieved precisely what he wanted, his true goal that I described in this blog when Obama first ran for President: to extend the reach of the state over peoples’ lives at home, to emasculate the power of America abroad, and to make the free white world the slave of those he falsely characterised as the victims of that white world’s oppression…. (Melanie Phillips, “Putin Checkmates America,” Melanie’s Blog, September 15, 2013)

Norman Podhoretz delivers a fuller version of this thesis; for example:

… [A]s astute a foreign observer as Conrad Black can flatly say that, “Not since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, and before that the fall of France in 1940, has there been so swift an erosion of the world influence of a Great Power as we are witnessing with the United States.”

Yet if this is indeed the pass to which Mr. Obama has led us—and I think it is—let me suggest that it signifies not how incompetent and amateurish the president is, but how skillful. His foreign policy, far from a dismal failure, is a brilliant success as measured by what he intended all along to accomplish….

… As a left-wing radical, Mr. Obama believed that the United States had almost always been a retrograde and destructive force in world affairs. Accordingly, the fundamental transformation he wished to achieve here was to reduce the country’s power and influence. And just as he had to fend off the still-toxic socialist label at home, so he had to take care not to be stuck with the equally toxic “isolationist” label abroad.

This he did by camouflaging his retreats from the responsibilities bred by foreign entanglements as a new form of “engagement.” At the same time, he relied on the war-weariness of the American people and the rise of isolationist sentiment (which, to be sure, dared not speak its name) on the left and right to get away with drastic cuts in the defense budget, with exiting entirely from Iraq and Afghanistan, and with “leading from behind” or using drones instead of troops whenever he was politically forced into military action.

The consequent erosion of American power was going very nicely when the unfortunately named Arab Spring presented the president with several juicy opportunities to speed up the process. First in Egypt, his incoherent moves resulted in a complete loss of American influence, and now, thanks to his handling of the Syrian crisis, he is bringing about a greater diminution of American power than he probably envisaged even in his wildest radical dreams.

For this fulfillment of his dearest political wishes, Mr. Obama is evidently willing to pay the price of a sullied reputation. In that sense, he is by his own lights sacrificing himself for what he imagines is the good of the nation of which he is the president, and also to the benefit of the world, of which he loves proclaiming himself a citizen….

No doubt he will either deny that anything has gone wrong, or failing that, he will resort to his favorite tactic of blaming others—Congress or the Republicans or Rush Limbaugh. But what is also almost certain is that he will refuse to change course and do the things that will be necessary to restore U.S. power and influence.

And so we can only pray that the hole he will go on digging will not be too deep for his successor to pull us out, as Ronald Reagan managed to do when he followed a president into the White House whom Mr. Obama so uncannily resembles. (“Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013)

I dare call it treason.

*     *     *

A small sample of related reading:
Walter Russell Mead et al., “Putin Tells His Ambassadors: The West Is All Washed Up,” The American Interest, July 9, 2012
Erica Ritz, “Troubling? Putin Overseas Largest Russian Nuclear Tests Since the Cold War,” The Blaze, October 20, 2012
Caroline Glick, “The Goal of Obama’s Foreign Policy,” RealClearPolitics, November 26, 2013
Benjamin Kerstein,”The Iran Deal: American Influence Retreats,” The Federalist, November 26, 2013
Mandy Nagy, “What the White House Didn’t Report on the Iran Nuke Deal,” Legal Insurrection, November 29, 2013
Editorial board, “President Obama’s Foreign Policy Is Based on Fantasy,” The Washington Post, March 2, 2014
Daniel Greenfield, “Obama Enters Putin’s World,” Frontpage Mag, March 3, 2014
Bruce Thornton, “Sacrificing the Military to Entitlements,” Frontpage Mag, March 3, 2014
Robert Tracinski, “The Eighties Called: Do We Want Their Foreign Policy Back?,” The Federalist, March 3, 2014
Michael Auslin, “Crimean Lessons for East Asia,” WSJ.com, March 4, 2014
Thomas Lifson, “China Watches Ukraine, Eyes Taiwan,” American Thinker, March 4, 2014
Rick Moran, “TNR: Romney Got Russia Right,” American Thinker, March 4, 2014
Mark Thiessen, “What Can Obama Do in Ukraine? Plenty,” AEIdeas, March 4, 2014
Walter Russell Mead et al., “The Dragon Sharpens Its Claws,” The American Interest, March 6, 2014
Ed Lasky, “Obama to Cut AWACS Fleet by 25%,” American Thinker, March 11, 2014
Roy Gutman, “Russia’s History and Politics, Not U.S. Policies, Drive Russia in Ukraine, Book Argues” (a review of Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism, by Marcel H. Van Herpen), McClatchy Washington Bureau (published in various media), April 2, 2014

Related posts:
Why Sovereignty?
Liberalism and Sovereignty
Delusions of Preparedness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
Defense Spending: One More Time
The Fall and Rise of American Empire

How Libertarians Ought to Think about the Constitution

I’m deeply grateful to Timothy Sandefur for causing me to change my mind about the constitutionality of secession. I used to believe that secession is permissible under the Constitution, and that the forcible suppression of an attempt to secede doesn’t negate the right to secede (see this and this, for example). I still believe that secession is permissible, but for a wholly different reason, to which I’ll come in due course.

My story begins with a post at Sandefur’s blog, Freespace, in which he writes:

[I] once believed that secession was legally justified. I thought slavery was evil, of course; that much is obvious. But I had read the Kentucky Resolutions, and that persuaded me that the Constitution is basically a treaty among sovereign states, who retain the right to leave the union if they want. It’s like a club, right? If you’re in a club, and you decide to leave the club, you should be free to go—even if you choose to do that for an immoral reason, right?

Then I started delving into these issues. I read The Federalist Papers, particularly number 15. I read Lincoln’s July 4, 1861, address to Congress. I read the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. I read Calhoun’s speeches and Douglass’ speeches and the Webster-Hayne debate. I read John Marshall’s decisions. I read Madison, and especially the debate between Madison and Henry at Richmond. And I read the arguments of other scholars—Jaffa, McCoy, Banning, Amar, Farber. These things changed my mind. Turns out it’s not a club. And it turns out slavery can’t be considered a separate question. (“P.S.: A word to my libertarian friends who think secession is constitutional,” Freespace, January 28, 2014)

The last link in the quoted text points to a piece by Sandefur that appeared in Reason Papers several years ago: “How Libertarians Ought to Think about the U.S. Civil War” (Vol. 28, Spring 2006, pp. 61-83). There, Sandefur quotes several writers who had a hand in the drafting and ratification of the Constitution (James Madison, James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Marshall), and says this:

These sources reveal how well understood was the central fact that the Constitution was a government of the whole people of the United States, not a league or treaty of states in their corporate capacities, as the compact theory would have it. Contrary to Calhoun’s later claim that “the States, when they formed and ratified the Constitution, were distinct, independent, and sovereign communities,”30 the reality is that, in Marshall’s words, federal sovereignty

proceeds directly from the people; is ‘ordained and established’ in the name of the people. . . . It required not the affirmance, and could not be negatived, by the State governments. The constitution, when thus adopted, was of complete obligation, and bound the State sovereignties. . . . The government of the Union, then . . . is, emphatically, and truly, a government of the people. In form and in substance it emanates from them. Its powers are granted by them, and are to be exercised directly on them, and for their benefit . . . . [T]he government of the Union, though limited in its powers, is supreme within its sphere of action.31

… The federal government is directly vested with sovereignty of the whole people of the United States. Secession is not, therefore, like a person who chooses to cancel his membership in a club—because the states are not in the “club” to begin with. Only “We the People” are members of the federal club, and only the “people” which created it can change it, by altering the contours of that “people” through amendment, or a new Constitutional Convention. So, while the whole people may allow a state out of the union, or may even dissolve the Constitution entirely, a state cannot claim on its own the authority to withdraw from the union. Lincoln put it with dry understatement when he noted that advocates of secession were “not partial to that power which made the Constitution, and speaks from the preamble, calling itself ‘We, the People.’”33

These sources reveal that in 1787, both the Federalists and Anti-Federalists recognized that the U. S. Constitution was just that—a constitution for a nation, not a league of sovereign states. And, if these sources are not enough, as Akhil Reed Amar points out, “no major proponent of the Constitution sought to win over states’ rightists by conceding that states could unilaterally nullify or secede in the event of perceived national abuses. The Federalists’ silence is especially impressive because such a concession might have dramatically improved the document’s ratification prospects in several states.”34 “[I]f a more explicit guard against misconstruction was not provided,” wrote Madison in 1831, “it is explained . . . by the entire absence of apprehension that it could be necessary.”35 …

… We have seen that the nature of federal sovereignty under the Constitution makes unilateral secession illegal. Since the Constitution is a law binding the People, and not a league of states, states have no authority to intervene between the people and the national government. If the people of a state wish to leave the union, they may not do so unilaterally, but must obtain the agreement of their fellow citizens—or they must rebel in a legitimate act of revolution. (pp. 70-74, emphasis added)

There’s more, but the quoted passages seem to cover the main points of Sandefur’s case against the constitutionality of secession.

It’s my understanding that the Constitution — if it is law — is not just law, but positive law: “statutory man-made law, as compared to ‘natural law’ which is purportedly based on universally accepted moral principles.” Sandefur’s rejection of secession as a contravention of the Constitution therefore strikes me as odd, inasmuch as Sandefur disdains legal positivism. (Just search his site, and you’ll see.)

This led me to the possibility that the Constitution isn’t “real” law, but just a legal mechanism through which state actors can impose their will on citizens. For enlightenment, I turned to Lysander Spooner, whose The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1860) is cited in Sandefur’s paper (p. 63). Why would an anarchist and believer in natural law, as Spooner was, care a whit about the authority of the Constitution? After all, Spooner’s No Treason (1867) opens with this:

The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. And the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them. They had no natural power or right to make it obligatory upon their children. It is not only plainly impossible, in the nature of things, that they could bind their posterity, but they did not even attempt to bind them. That is to say, the instrument does not purport to be an agreement between any body but “the people” then existing; nor does it, either expressly or impliedly, assert any right, power, or disposition, on their part, to bind anybody but themselves. Let us see. Its language is:

We, the people of the United States (that is, the people then existing in the United States), in order to form a more perfect union, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

It is plain, in the first place, that this language, as an agreement, purports to be only what it at most really was, viz., a contract between the people then existing; and, of necessity, binding, as a contract, only upon those then existing. In the second place, the language neither expresses nor implies that they had any right or power, to bind their “posterity” to live under it. It does not say that their “posterity” will, shall, or must live under it. It only says, in effect, that their hopes and motives in adopting it were that it might prove useful to their posterity, as well as to themselves, by promoting their union, safety, tranquillity, liberty, etc.

Note well Spooner’s description of the Constitution as a contract (i.e., a compact) — entered into by certain persons at a certain time, for certain purposes. This suggests a possibility not entertained in Sandefur’s Reason Papers essay, namely, that the Constitution is neither a compact between States (as sovereign entities) nor a law adopted by “the people,” but a contract entered into by a fraction of the populace that became binding on the whole populace through state power.

I’ll return to that possibility after I explain how Spooner could defer to the very Constitution that he clearly disdained. The answer is found in Chapter II of The Unconstitutionality of Slavery:

Taking it for granted that it has now been shown that no rule of civil conduct, that is inconsistent with the natural rights of men, can be rightfully established by government, or consequently be made obligatory as law, either upon the people, or upon judicial tribunals—let us now proceed to test the legality of slavery by those written constitutions of government, which judicial tribunals actually recognize as authoritative.

In making this examination, however, I shall not insist upon the principle of the preceding chapter, that there can be no law contrary to natural right; but shall admit, for the sake of the argument, that there may be such laws. I shall only claim that in the interpretation of all statutes and constitutions, the ordinary legal rules of interpretation be observed. The most important of these rules, and the one to which it will be necessary constantly to refer, is the one that all language must be construed “strictly” in favor of natural right. The rule is laid down by the Supreme Court of the United States in these words, to wit:

“Where rights are infringed, where fundamental principles are overthrown, where the general system of the laws is departed from, the legislative intention must be expressed with irresistible clearness, to induce a court of justice to suppose a design to effect such objects.” [United States vs. Fisher, 2 Cranch, 390.]

It will probably appear from this examination of the written constitutions, that slavery neither has, nor ever had any constitutional existence in this country; that it has always been a mere abuse, sustained, in the first instance, merely by the common consent of the strongest party, without any law on the subject, and, in the second place, by a few unconstitutional enactments, made in defiance of the plainest provisions of their fundamental law.

Translation: The Constitution is a fact. State actors have the power to enforce it. The text of the Constitution doesn’t authorize slavery. Slavery is against natural law. Therefore, it accords with natural law to enforce the Constitution against slavery.

What is natural law? Here’s Spooner, writing in Chapter I of the Unconstitutionality of Slavery:

The true and general meaning of it, is that natural, permanent, unalterable principle, which governs any particular thing or class of things. The principle is strictly a natural one; and the term applies to every natural principle, whether mental, moral or physical. Thus we speak of the laws of mind; meaning thereby those natural, universal and necessary principles, according to which mind acts, or by which it is governed. We speak too of the moral law; which is merely an universal principle of moral obligation, that arises out of the nature of men, and their relations to each other, and to other things—and is consequently as unalterable as the nature of men. And it is solely because it is unalterable in its nature, and universal in its application, that it is denominated law. If it were changeable, partial or arbitrary, it would be no law. Thus we speak of physical laws; of the laws, for instance, that govern the solar system; of the laws of motion, the laws of gravitation, the laws of light, &c., &c.—Also the laws that govern the vegetable and animal kingdoms, in all their various departments: among which laws may be named, for example, the one that like produces like. Unless the operation of this principle were uniform, universal and necessary, it would be no law.

Law, then, applied to any object or thing whatever, signifies a natural, unalterable, universal principle, governing such object or thing. Any rule, not existing in the nature of things, or that is not permanent, universal and inflexible in its application, is no law, according to any correct definition of the term law.

What, then, is that natural, universal, impartial and inflexible principle, which, under all circumstances, necessarily fixes, determines, defines and governs the civil rights of men? Those rights of person, property, &c., which one human being has, as against other human beings?

I shall define it to be simply the rule, principle, obligation or requirement of natural justice.

This rule, principle, obligation or requirement of natural justice, has its origin in the natural rights of individuals, results necessarily from them, keeps them ever in view as its end and purpose, secures their enjoyment, and forbids their violation. It also secures all those acquisitions of property, privilege and claim, which men have a natural right to make by labor and contract.

Such is the true meaning of the term law, as applied to the civil rights of men.

Spooner goes on and on, but never defines natural law concretely. Natural law, like natural rights, arises from human coexistence, and does not precede it. But Spooner — like most theorists who address natural law and natural rights — treats them as if they were eternal, free-standing Platonic ideals or mysterious essences. Those less inclined to mysticism, like Sandefur, strive vainly to find natural rights in the workings of human evolution. (Aside: Sandefur and I have gone several rounds on the issue of natural rights: here, here, here, here, and here; see also this.)

If there is any kind of natural law, it is the Golden Rule:

I call the Golden Rule a natural law because it’s neither a logical construct (e.g., the “given-if-then” formulation discussed in the preceding post) nor a state-imposed one. Its long history and widespread observance (if only vestigial) suggest that it embodies an understanding that arises from the similar experiences of human beings across time and place. The resulting behavioral convention, the ethic of reciprocity, arises from observations about the effects of one’s behavior on that of others and mutual agreement (tacit or otherwise) to reciprocate preferred behavior, in the service of self-interest and empathy. That is to say, the convention is a consequence of the observed and anticipated benefits of adhering to it.

Is this a recipe for chaotic moral relativism? No. Later, in the post just quoted, I note that there’s a common, cross-national, cross-cultural, and cross-religious interpretation of the Golden Rule which comes down to this:

  • Killing is wrong, except in self-defense. (Capital punishment is just that: punishment. It’s also a deterrent to murder. It isn’t “murder,” muddle-headed defenders of baby-murder to the contrary notwithstanding.)
  • Various kinds of unauthorized “taking” are wrong, including theft (outright and through deception). (This explains popular resistance to government “taking,” especially when it’s done on behalf of private parties. The view that it’s all right to borrow money from a bank and not repay it arises from the mistaken beliefs that (a) it’s not tantamount to theft and (b) it harms no one because banks can “afford it.”)
  • Libel and slander are wrong because they are “takings” by word instead of deed.
  • It is wrong to turn spouse against spouse, child against parent, or friend against friend. (And yet, such things are commonly portrayed in books, films, and plays as if they are normal occurrences, often desirable ones. And it seems to me that reality increasingly mimics “art.”)
  • It is right to be pleasant and kind to others, even under provocation, because “a mild answer breaks wrath: but a harsh word stirs up fury” (Proverbs 15:1).
  • Charity is a virtue, but it should begin at home, where the need is most certain and the good deed is most likely to have its intended effect.

What does all of this mean for secession? Here it is, from the beginning and by the numbers:

1. The Constitution was a contract, but not a contract between “the people.” It was a contract drawn by a small fraction of the populace of twelve States, and put into effect by a small fraction of the populace of nine States. Its purpose, in good part, was to promote the interests of many of the Framers, who cloaked those interests in the glowing rhetoric of the Preamble (“We the People,” etc.). The other four of the original thirteen States could have remained beyond the reach of the Constitution, and would have done so but for the ratifying acts of small fractions of their populations. (With the exception of Texas, formerly a sovereign republic, States later admitted weren’t independent entities, but were carved out of territory controlled by the government of the United States. Figuratively, they were admitted to the union at the point of a gun.)

2. Despite their status as “representatives of the people,” the various fractions of the populace that drafted and ratified the Constitituion had no moral authority to bind all of their peers, and certainly no moral authority to bind future generations. (Representative government is simply an alternative to other types of top-down governance, such as an absolute monarchy or a police state, not a substitute for spontaneous order. At the most, a minimal, “night watchman” state is required for the emergence and preservation of beneficial spontaneous order, wherein social norms enforce the tenets of the Golden Rule.)

3. The Constitution was and is binding only in the way that a debt to a gangster who demands “protection money” is binding. It was and is binding because state actors have the power to enforce it, as they see fit to interpret it. (One need look no further than the very early dispute between Hamilton and Madison about the meaning of the General Welfare Clause for a relevant and crucial example of interpretative differences.)

4. The Constitution contains provisions that can be and sometimes have been applied to advance liberty. But such applications have depended on the aims and whims of those then in positions of power.

5. It is convenient to appeal to the Constitution in the cause of liberty, as Spooner did, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Constitution was not and never will be a law enacted by “the people” of the United States or any State thereof.

6. Any person and any government in the United States may therefore, in principle, reject the statutes, executive orders, and judicial holdings of the United States government (or any government) as non-binding.

7. Secession is one legitimate form of rejection, though the preceding discussion clearly implies that secession by a State government is morally binding only on those who assent to the act of secession.

8. An  act of secession may be put down — through legal process or force of arms — but that doesn’t alter the (limited) legitimacy of the act.

9. Given the preceding, any act of secession is no less legitimate than was the adoption of the Constitution.

10. The legitimacy of an act of secession isn’t colored by its proximate cause, whether that cause is a desire to preserve slavery, or to escape oppressive taxation and regulation by the central government, or to live in a civil society that is governed by the Golden Rule. The proximate cause must be evaluated on its own merits, or lack thereof.

I close by quoting from an earlier post of mine:

[G]overnmental acts and decrees have stealthily expanded and centralized government’s power, and in the process have usurped social norms [the civilizing products of spontaneous order]. The expansion and centralization of power occurred in spite of the specific limits placed on the central government by the original Constitution and the Tenth Amendment. These encroachments on liberty are morally illegitimate because their piecemeal adoption has robbed Americans of voice and mooted the exit option. And so, liberty-loving Americans have discovered — too late, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water — that they are impotent captives in their own land.

Voice is now so muted by “settled law” (e.g., “entitlements,” privileged treatment for some, almost-absolute control of commerce) that there a vanishingly small possibility of restoring constitutional government without violence. Exit is now mainly an option for the extremely wealthy among us. (More power to them.) For the rest of us, there is no realistic escape from illegitimate government-made law, given that the rest of the world (with a few distant exceptions) is similarly corrupt….

Having been subjected to a superficially benign form of slavery by our central government, we must look to civil society and civil disobedience for morally legitimate law….

When government fails to protect civil society — and especially when government destroys it — civil disobedience is in order. If civil disobedience fails, more drastic measures are called for:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup. (Thomas Sowell, writing at National Review Online, May 1, 2007)

In Jefferson’s version,

when wrongs are pressed because it is believed they will be borne, resistance becomes morality.

The Constitution may be a legal fiction, but — as I’ve said — it’s a useful fiction when its promises of liberty can be redeemed.

That’s how this libertarian (conservative) thinks about the Constitution.