Author: Thomas

More Presidential Trivia: Deaths

I drew on on “Facts about Presidents” to compile some more trivia. These trivia pertain to the deaths of presidents. Let’s start with this table, which lists the presidents in the order in which they died and gives the gap (in years) between their deaths:

Presidents-death dates and gaps

The gap between the deaths of Washington and Jefferson is 26.55 years, and so on down the list. It happens that the first gap is the longest one. The next longest gap is the 21.25 years between the deaths of Nixon and Reagan. The chart below depicts the death years of presidents. The years are plotted in a saw-tooth pattern, from left to right: row 1 (bottom row), row 2, row 3, row 4, row 5, row 6, row 1, row 2, etc. (If you’re uncertain about the interpretation of the initials, see the key at the bottom of this post.) The vertical green and white bands delineate presidential administrations. Washington’s is the first green band, followed by a white band for John Adams, and so on. (For a sequential list of administrations, see the table later in this post. For exact dates of administrations and deaths, see “Facts about Presidents.”)

Presidents-death years

Many administrations didn’t experience any presidential deaths. Those administrations with more than one presidential death are as follows:

  • John Quincy Adams — Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
  • Andrew Jackson — James Monroe and James Madison
  • Abraham Lincoln — John Tyler, Martin Van Buren, and Abraham Lincoln (I consider the death of a sitting president to have occurred during his administration.)
  • Ulysses S. Grant — Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, and Andrew Johnson
  • Grover Cleveland (first administration) — Ulysses S. Grant and Chester Alan Arthur
  • William McKinley — Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley
  • Herbert C. Hoover — William Howard Taft and Calvin Coolidge
  • Richard M. Nixon — Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson
  • George W. Bush — Ronald W. Reagan and Gerald R. Ford.

What about the number of ex-presidents living during the administrations of sitting presidents? Lincoln, Clinton, and G.W. Bush are tied for the most living ex-presidents (5 each):

Presidents-living ex-presidents

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KEY TO PRESIDENTS’ INITIALS: Presidents-key to initials

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Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge

Take a very large number, say, 1 quintillion. Written out, it looks like this: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000. It can also be expressed as 1018 or 10.E+18.

I doubt that any human being has ever discerned 1 quintillion discrete objects in a single moment. Including the constituents of all of the stars and planets, there may be more than 1 quintillion particles of matter in the visible portion of the sky on a clear night. But no person may reasonably claim to have seen all of those particles of matter as individual objects.

I doubt, further, that any human being has ever discerned 1 million  objects in a lifetime, even a very long lifetime. And if I’m wrong about that, it’s certainly possible to conjure a number high enough to be well beyond the experiential capacity of any human being; 101000, for instance.

Despite the impossibility of experiencing 101000 things, it is possible to write the number and to perform mathematical operations which involve the number. So, in some sense, very large numbers “exist.” But they exist only because human beings are capable of thinking of them. They are not “real” in the same way that a sky full of stars and planets is real.

Numbers and mathematics are rational constructs of the minds of human beings. Stars and planets are observed; that is, there is empirical evidence of their existence.

Thus there are two1 types of scientific knowledge: rational2 and empirical. They are related in the following ways:

1. Rational knowledge builds on empirical knowledge. Astronomical observations enabled Copernicus to devise a mathematical heliocentric model of the universe, which was an improvement on the geocentric model.

2. Empirical knowledge builds on rational knowledge. Observations aimed at verifying the heliocentric model led eventually to the discovery that the Sun is not at the center of the universe.

3. Empirical knowledge may affirm or contradict rational knowledge. Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which is given in a paper written in 1915, says that light is deflected (bent) by gravity. Astronomical observations made in 1919 affirmed the effect of gravity on light. Had the observations contradicted the postulated effect, the general theory (if any) might be markedly different than the one set forth in 1915. (A scientific theory is more than a hypothesis; it has been substantiated, though it always remains open to refutation.)

4. Rational knowledge may lead to empirical knowledge. One of the postulates that underlies Einstein’s special theory of relativity is the constancy of the speed of light; that is, the speed of light is independent of the motion of the source or the observer. This is unlike (for example) the speed of a ball that is thrown inside a moving train car, in the direction of the train car’s motion. An observer who is stationary relative to the train car will see the speed of the ball as the sum of (a) its speed relative to the thrower and (b) the speed of the train car relative to the observer. Einstein’s postulate, which drew on James Clerk Maxwell’s empirically based theory of electromagnetism, was subsequently verified experimentally.

These reflections lead me to four conclusions:

  • Knowledge is provisional. Human beings often don’t know what to make of the things that they perceive, and what they make of those things is often found to be wrong.
  • When it comes to science, rational and empirical knowledge are intertwined, and their effects are cumulative.
  • Rational knowledge that can’t be or hasn’t been put to an empirical test is merely a hypothesis. The hypothesis may be correct, but it doesn’t represent knowledge.
  • Empirical knowledge necessarily precedes rational knowledge because hypotheses draw on empirical knowledge and must be substantiated by empirical knowledge.3

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Related reading:
Thomas M. Lennon and Shannon Dea, “Continental Rationalism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, April 14, 2012 (substantive revision)
Peter Markie, “Rationalism vs. Empiricism,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, March 21, 2013 (substantive revision)

Related posts:
Hemibel Thinking
What Is Truth?
Demystifying Science
Are the Natural Numbers Supernatural?
Pinker Commits Scientism
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists

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1. This post focuses on scientific knowledge and ignores other phenomena that are sometimes classified as branches of knowledge, such as emotional knowledge.

2. In this context, rational means by virtue of reason, not lucid or sane. The discussion of rational knowledge is restricted to knowledge that derives from and is a logical extension of observed phenomena, as in the example with which the post begins. I will not, in this post, deal with intuition, innate knowledge, or innate concepts, which are also treated under the heading of rational knowledge.

3. Unless it is true that human beings are born with certain kinds of knowledge, or with certain concepts that can be filled in by knowledge. The article by Markie treats these possibilities at some length.

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Democracy, Human Nature, and America’s Future

Like many (most?) persons of a libertarian stripe, I see democracy as an enemy of liberty. Democracy is popularly thought of as

a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

There are two things wrong with this view. First, the “supreme power” isn’t just exercised by elected agents but, with their blessing, it is exercised mainly by unelected agents: judges, law-enforcement personnel, regulators of myriad economic activities at all levels of government, and on and on. Many of these appointed functionaries write the very rules that they and others enforce — rules that often are barely recognizable as deriving from ordinances and statutes enacted by elected agents.

In sum, what is called democracy in America can reasonably be called fascism, in the proper meaning of the word. It isn’t called that mainly because neither “the people” nor the elite purveyors of fascism are willing to face facts. And then there are the many (far too many) Americans who don’t seem to object to an intrusive state.

Here’s the second problem with the popular view of democracy: It implies that a majority of voters — or a majority of their elected agents — should have unlimited power to meddle in everyone’s personal and business affairs. The implication has become fact, with the sweeping aside of constitutional checks on the powers of the legislative and executive branches, with the connivance of the judicial branch. The elected agents of “the people” — and those agents’ appointed functionaries — have acquired unlimited power by pandering to “the people,” by appealing to their envy, greed, and deluded faith in central planning.

What all of this illustrates is something that was obvious to the Framers of the Constitution: Even if there were (or could be) such a thing as political equality, democracy is dangerous because it can’t be constrained. Why would anyone expect “the people” or their elected representatives or their appointed functionaries to limit the power of the state to the defense of citizens? “The people” believe — wrongly, in most cases — that the state’s unlimited power makes them better off. In fact, the true beneficiaries of the state’s power are elected officials, appointed functionaries, and their pseudo-capitalist cronies.

True believers will retort that the problem isn’t with democracy, it’s with the way that democracy has been put into practice. They are indulging in the nirvana fallacy, the tendency to believe in “more perfect” systems that can somehow be attained despite human nature. In short, true believers substitute “ought to be” (in their view) for “what can be.”

They are no different than the true believers in socialism, who maintain — despite all evidence to the contrary — that “true socialism” is possible but hasn’t yet been put into practice. It would be possible only if socialism (like democracy) didn’t involve human beings. No system that involves human beings can rise above the tendencies of human nature, among which, as noted above, are envy and greed.

Then, there is power-lust. This may be less prevalent than envy and greed, but it is more dangerous because it exploits envy and greed, and amplifies their effects. Almost no politician, regardless of his rhetoric, is driven by a pure desire to “do good”; he is almost certainly driven by a desire to use his power to do what he thinks of — or rationalizes — as “good.”

And use his power he will, for he believes that it is his right and duty to make rules for others to obey. This is always done in the name of “good,” but is really done in the service of cronies and constituents who enable the politician to remain in power. In short, the last person to trust with high office is a person who seeks it. That is why elections usually come down to a choice among the lesser of evils.

What is to be done about democracy in America? Nothing like the revocation of near-universal suffrage, of course. The natives (of all hues, creeds, genders, and origins) wouldn’t stand for it. The only viable reform is constitutional, that is, a constant chipping-away at the power of the state.

And how is that to be accomplished, inasmuch as the GOP has proved to be an unreliable ally in the fight against statism? Perhaps the GOP would be less faint-hearted if it were to control the White House and Congress. And perhaps the best thing to come of that control would be the replacement of a Ruth Bader Ginsburg by another Clarence Thomas. (I hold little hope for courageous action on entitlements and regulatory excesses.) But, given the electorate’s fickleness, it wouldn’t be many years before an Antonin Scalia is replaced by a reincarnated William O. Douglas. In sum, I hold little hope that the Supreme Court will rescue liberty from democracy.

It’s also possible that GOP control might result in an Article V convention:

…[O]n the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, [Congress] shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which … shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress….

But what would be the thrust of any proposed amendments that leap the high hurdle of ratification, “The Constitution says this, and we mean it”? The Constitution already says this, and it’s ignored.

What’s needed is real action, not the mere placement of words on paper. Thus the best (and perhaps only) hope for a permanent withdrawal from the precipice of totalitarianism is de facto secession:

This has begun in a small way, with State-level legalization of marijuana, which has happened in spite of the central government’s de jure power to criminalize it. It is therefore imaginable that GOP control of the White House and Congress would embolden some GOP-controlled States to openly flout federal laws, regulations, and judicial decrees about such matters as same-sex marriage, environmental emissions, and Obamacare — to name a few obvious targets. The result, if it came to pass, would be something like the kind of federalism envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution.

Beyond that, the only hope for liberty seems to lie in drastic (but unlikely) action.

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Related reading:
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “Natural Elites, Intellectuals, and the State,” Mises Institute, July 31, 2006
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, A Short History of Man: Progress and Decline, Mises Institute, March 5, 2015
Hans von Spakovsky, “Book Review: Mike Lee on the 6 ‘Lost’ Provisions of the Constitution,” The Daily Signal, April 8, 2015
Myron Magnet, “The Dead Constitution,” City Journal, April 10, 2015

Related posts:
The State of Nature
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Fascism and the Future of America
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
“We the People” and Big Government
How Libertarians Ought to Think about the Constitution
An Agenda for the GOP
The States and the Constitution
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing

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Obamanomics in Action

I begin with this dismal picture of GDP crawling along at bottom edge of the 99-percent confidence interval around the long-term trend:

Real GDP 1947-2014
Source for this and the following charts: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Current Dollar and “Real” Gross Domestic Product, March 27, 2015.

Here is a closer look at the state of affairs since World War II. Note the steady decline in the rate of growth — a decline that has been exacerbated by Obamanomics:

Year-over-year changes in real GDP

It should not surprise you to learn that we are in the midst of the weakest recovery of all post-war recoveries:

Annualized rate of real growth - bottom of recession to bottom of next recession
See this post for my definition of a recession.

Nor should you be surprised by the stickiness of unemployment, when it is measured correctly. The real unemployment rate is several percentage points above the nominal rate. For details, see “The Obama Effect: Disguised Unemployment.”

The sad but simple explanation for all of the bad economic news: Employers and employees remain discouraged because Europeanism has arrived in America and regime uncertainty persists. It all adds up to this: punish producers, reward non-producers, and stagnate.

And thus the real unemployment rate remains high. Officially, the unemployment rate stands at 5.5 percent, as of March 2015. Unofficially — but in reality — the unemployment rate stands at 12.0 percent. This real rate has remained almost unchanged since October 2009. And it is significantly higher than the real rate of 10.0 percent that Obama “inherited” from G.W. Bush in January 2009.

Employers and entrepreneurs remain loath to take the risk of expanding and starting businesses, given Obama’s penchant for regulating against success and taxing it when it is achieved. The job-killing effects of Obamacare will only worsen the situation. And, of course, taxing “the rich” is a sure way to hamper economic growth by stifling productive effort, innovation, and investment.

How can I say that the real unemployment rate is 12.0 percent, even though the official rate is only 5.5 percent? Easily. Just follow this trail of definitions, provided by the official purveyor of unemployment statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Unemployed persons (Current Population Survey)
Persons aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week. Persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off need not have been looking for work to be classified as unemployed.

Unemployment rate
The unemployment rate represents the number unemployed as a percent of the labor force.

Labor force (Current Population Survey)
The labor force includes all persons classified as employed or unemployed in accordance with the definitions contained in this glossary.

Labor force participation rate
The labor force as a percent of the civilian noninstitutional population.

Civilian noninstitutional population (Current Population Survey)
Included are persons 16 years of age and older residing in the 50 States and the District of Columbia who are not inmates of institutions (for example, penal and mental facilities, homes for the aged), and who are not on active duty in the Armed Forces.

In short, if you are 16 years of age and older, not confined to an institution or on active duty in the armed forces, but have not recently made specific efforts to find employment, you are not (officially) a member of the labor force. And if you are not (officially) a member of the labor force because you have given up looking for work, you are not (officially) unemployed — according to the BLS. Of course, you are really unemployed, but your unemployment is well disguised by the BLS’s contorted definition of unemployment.

What has happened is this: Since the first four months of 2000, when the labor-force participation rate peaked at 67.3 percent, it has declined to 62.7 percent:

Labor force participation rate
Source: See next graph.

Why the decline, which had came to a halt during G.W. Bush’s second term but resumed in late 2008? The economic slowdown in 2000 (coincident with the bursting of the dot-com bubble) can account for the decline from 2000 to 2004, as workers chose to withdraw from the labor force when faced with dimmer employment prospects. But what about the sharper decline that began near the end of Bush’s second term?

There we see not only the demoralizing effects of the Great Recession but also the growing allure of incentives to refrain from work, namely, extended unemployment benefits, the relaxation of welfare rules, the aggressive distribution of food stamps, and “free” healthcare” for an expanded Medicaid enrollment base and 20-somethings who live in their parents’ basements.* Need I add that both the prolongation of the Great Recession and the enticements to refrain from work are Obama’s doing? (That’s on the supply side. On the demand side, of course, there are the phony and even negative effects of “stimulus” spending, the chilling effects of regime uncertainty, which has persisted beyond the official end of the Great Recession, and the expansion of government spending.)

If the labor-force participation rate had remained at its peak of 67.3 percent, so that the disguised unemployed was no longer disguised, the official unemployment rate would have reached 13.1 percent in October 2009, as against the nominal peak of 10 percent. Further, instead of declining to the phony rate of 5.5 percent in March 2015, the official unemployment rate would stand at 12.0 percent.

In sum, the real unemployment rate was 3.1 percentage points above the nominal rate in October 2009; the real rate is now 6.5 percentage points above the nominal rate. The growing disparity between the real and nominal unemployment rates is evident in this graph:

Actual vs nominal unemployment rate
Derived from SeriesLNS12000000, Seasonally Adjusted Employment Level; SeriesLNS11000000, Seasonally Adjusted Civilian Labor Force Level; and Series LNS11300000, Seasonally Adjusted Civilian labor force participation rate. All are available at BLS, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.

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* Contrary to some speculation, the labor-force participation rate is not declining because older workers are retiring earlier. The participation rate among workers 55 and older rose between 2002 and 2012. The decline is concentrated among workers under the age of 55, and especially workers in the 16-24 age bracket. (See this table at BLS.gov.) Why? My conjecture: The Great Recession caused a shakeout of marginal (low-skill) workers, many of whom simply dropped out of the labor market. And it became easier for them to drop out because, under Obamacare, many of them became eligible for Medicaid and many others enjoy prolonged coverage (until age 26) under their parents’ health plans. UPDATE 04/11/15: For more on this point, see Salim Furth, “In the Obama Economy, a Decline in Teen Workers” (The Daily Signal, April 11, 2015).

UPDATE 04/06/15: Stephen Moore offers excellent insights in “Why Are So Many Employers Unable to Fill Jobs?” (The Daily Signal, April 6, 2015).

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Related posts:
The Laffer Curve, “Fiscal Responsibility,” and Economic Growth
The Causes of Economic Growth
Mr. Greenspan Doth Protest Too Much
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Rationing and Health Care
The Fed and Business Cycles
The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare
More about the Perils of Obamacare
Health Care “Reform”: The Short of It
The Mega-Depression
As Goes Greece
Ricardian Equivalence Reconsidered
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
I Want My Country Back
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
The Stagnation Thesis
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Understanding Hayek
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
Unemployment and Economic Growth
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
The Real Multiplier
Don’t Just Stand There, “Do Something”
The Commandeered Economy
Stocks for the Long Run?
We Owe It to Ourselves
Stocks for the Long Run? (Part II)
In Defense of the 1%
Bonds for the Long Run?
The Real Multiplier (II)
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
The Burden of Government
Economic Growth Since World War II
The Stock Market as a Leading Indicator of GDP
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
Is Taxation Slavery? (yes)
Taxes Matter
The Price of Government, Once More
Economic Horror Stories: The Great “Demancipation” and Economic Stagnation
Economics: A Survey (also here)
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
The True Multiplier
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It
Understanding Investment Bubbles

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What, If Anything, Will Unite Americans?

I don’t expect that Americans can ever be united in their political principles and policy preferences. But the cacophony that emanates from the present state of disunity is figuratively deafening. America would be on the verge of another civil war if the States were now as militarily strong, relative to the central government, as they were in 1861.

Because of the present imbalance of power, a “hot” civil war is unlikely. What then, if not a civil war, might put an end to America’s internal strife? Or is it America’s fate to muddle along in clangorous divisiveness?

History tells me that when the world seems headed in a particular direction, a cataclysmic exogenous event intervenes. Here are some examples:

World War I brought an end to Edwardian elegance, sparked the demise of the British class system, and stamped the United States as a world power.

The Great Depression curtailed the Jazz Age and its associated “excesses,” as they were then considered.

World War II created the economic conditions that helped put an end to the Great Depression in the United States.

Assassinations and anti-war protests rang down the curtain on “Camelot” and deference to authority figures.

The Reagan-Volcker inflation-busting shock of the early 1980’s did much to end the “malaise” that characterized the 1970s — from Watergate to the Iran hostage crisis — and fostered almost 30 years of relative prosperity.

Gorbachev’s sudden “surrender” — due in large part to Reagan’s defense buildup — put an end to the tense and costly 40-year-long Cold War.

A stock-market crash, followed closely by 9/11, ended the relative peace and prosperity of the Reagan-Clinton era.

What, if anything, could bring an end to — or at least muffle — the prevailing political cacophony? It’s impossible to say, of course. But two possibilities strike me as most likely:

– A major war in the Middle East, into which the U.S. is drawn because of oil, Israel, or both.

– A terrorist attack on the U.S. that claims many lives (far more than 9/11), cripples vital infrastructure, or both.

There is a peaceful possibility — though it doesn’t preclude the two unappealing scenarios; the possibility is de facto secession. This has begun in a small way, with State-level legalization of marijuana, which has happened in spite of the central government’s de jure power to criminalize it.

It is therefore imaginable that GOP control of the White House and Congress would embolden some GOP-controlled States to openly flout federal laws, regulations, and judicial decrees about such matters as same-sex marriage, environmental emissions, and Obamacare — to name a few obvious targets. The result, if it came to pass, would be something like the kind of federalism envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution.

But leftists would resist, loudly and demagogically. Given their need to control others, they would use every trick in the book to keep GOP-controlled States in line while giving free rein to Democrat-controlled States. In the end, the cacophony might intensify, not diminish.

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Related posts:
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 Next 9/11?
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET, NEVER RELENT!
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Secession, Anyone?
Obamacare and Zones of Liberty
Mission Not Accomplished
Secession for All Seasons
A New Constitution for a New Republic
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
The World Turned Upside Down
Secession Made Easy
More about “Secession Made Easy”
The Culture War
Defense Spending: One More Time
A Home of One’s Own
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Romanticizing the State
Surrender? Hell No!
Social Accounting: A Tool of Social Engineering
Has America Always Been Leftist?
Let’s Make a Deal
Jerks and Demagogues
Decline
Walking the Tightrope Reluctantly
How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It
The Obamacare Effect: Greater Distrust of Government
“Blue Wall” Hype
Does Obama Love America?

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How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression

Opposition to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is more than another battle in the culture war. It continues a trend that began with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: suppression of the rights of Americans to use their property as they see fit, to associate with whom they please, and to oppose elite opinion. (UPDATE 04/02/15: John Derbyshire puts a lot of flesh on the bare bones of the preceding sentences. By contrast, Andrew Napolitano — that pseudo-libertarian windbag — manages to get it wrong, as usual, by praising the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its theft of property rights and denial of freedom of association. UPDATE 04/05/15: Warren Meyer cuts through the baloney.)

It is past time to put a stop to the trend. Liberty-loving Americans should fight back by pushing for a constitutional amendment like this:

1. Neither the United States nor any State, including its political subdivisions and educational institutions, may require any governmental entity or private person, business, or organization to discriminate against any person solely on account of that person’s age, gender, sexual preference, race, color, national origin, mental or physical condition, veteran status, political affiliation, or political views. [This is how Jim Crow laws should have been dealt with. “Solely” is meant to leave room for reasonable exceptions, such as mental qualifications for admission to a university, physical qualifications for jobs, and gender segregation in prisons and restrooms. Clauses of elaboration might be necessary.]

2. Neither the United States nor any State, including its political subdivisions and educational institutions, may require any governmental entity or private person, business, organization to sell property to, do business with, hire, promote, accept as a student, associate with, or give preference to any person, business, or organization on account of income, age, gender, sexual preference, race, color, national origin, mental or physical condition, veteran status, political affiliation, or political views. [This would rule out all kinds of preferences, including favoritism toward often-bogus minority- and women-owned business and relaxed lending practices of the kind that led to the Great Recession.]

3. Neither the United States nor any State, including its political subdivisions and educational institutions, shall initiate or continue in effect any statute, regulation, policy, or judicial decree that penalizes a private person, business, or organization for expressing a view about a person’s age, gender, sexual preference, race, color, national origin, mental or physical condition, veteran status, political affiliation, or political views. [Clauses of elaboration might be necessary to ensure that this doesn’t rule out such things as prosecutions for espionage and treason, or private actions for libel.]

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Related posts:
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Not-So-Random Thoughts
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing

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Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge

It is a staple of economic thought that the additions to utility (enjoyment, satisfaction, happiness, pleasure) gained from additional income or wealth diminish as income or wealth increases. From this assumption flows a theoretical justification for the redistribution of income or wealth from persons of high income or wealth to persons of lower income or wealth.*

It follows — if you accept the assumption of diminishing marginal utility and ignore the negative effect of redistribution on economic growth — that overall utility (a.k.a. the social welfare function) will be raised if income is redistributed from high-earners to low-earners, and if wealth is redistributed from the wealthier to the less wealthy. But in order to know when to stop redistributing income or wealth, you must be able to measure the utility of individuals with some precision, and you must be able to sum those individual views of utility across the entire nation. Nay, across the entire world, if you truly want to maximize social welfare.

Most leftists (and not a few economists) don’t rely on the assumption of diminishing marginal utility as a basis for redistributing income and wealth. To them, it’s just a matter of “fairness” or “social justice.” After all, “you didn’t build that,” according to America’s Glorious Leader. It’s odd, though, that affluent leftists seem unable to support redistributive schemes that would reduce their income and wealth to, say, the global median for each measure. “Fairness” and “social justice” are all right in their place — in lecture halls and op-ed columns — but keep them at a comfortable distance from an affluent leftist’s comfortable abode.

In any event, those leftists who deign to offer an economic justification for redistribution usually fall back on the assumption of the diminishing marginal utility (DMU) of income and wealth. In doing so, they commit (at least) four errors.

The first error is the fallacy of misplaced concreteness which is found in the notion of utility. Have you ever been able to measure your own state of happiness? I mean measure it, not just say that you’re feeling happier today than you were when your pet dog died. It’s an impossible task, isn’t it? If you can’t measure your own happiness, how can you (or anyone) presume to measure and aggregate the happiness of millions or billions of individual human beings? It can’t be done.

Which brings me to the second error, which is an error of arrogance. Given the impossibility of measuring one person’s happiness, and the consequent impossibility of measuring and comparing the happiness of many persons, it is pure arrogance to insist that “society” would be better off if X amount of income or wealth were transferred from Group A to Group B.

Think of it this way: A tax levied on Group A for the benefit of Group B doesn’t make Group A better off. It may make some smug members of Group A feel superior to other members of Group A, but it doesn’t make all members of Group A better off. In fact, most members of Group A are likely to feel worse off. It takes an arrogant so-and-so to insist that “society” is somehow better off even though a lot of persons (i.e., members of “society”) have been made worse off.

Would the arrogant so-and-so agree that “society” had been made better off if I were to gain a great deal of satisfaction by punching him in the nose? I don’t think so, but that’s the import of his redistributive arrogance. He could claim that my increase in happiness doesn’t cancel his decrease in happiness, and he would be right. But that’s as far as he could go; he couldn’t claim to measure and compare my gain and his loss.

The third error lies in the implicit assumption embedded in the idea of DMU. The assumption is that as one’s income or wealth rises one continues to consume the same goods and services, but more of them. Thus the example of chocolate cake: The first slice is enjoyed heartily, the second slice is enjoyed but less heartily, the third slice is consumed reluctantly, and the fourth  slice is rejected.

But that’s a bad example. The fact is that having more income or wealth enables a person to consume goods and services of greater variety and higher quality. Given that, it is possible to increase one’s utility by shifting from a “third helping” of a cheap product to a “first helping” of an expensive one, and to keep on doing so as one’s income rises. Perhaps without limit, given the profusion of goods and services available to consumers.

And if should you run out of new and different things to buy (an unlikely event), you can make yourself happier by acquiring more income to amass more wealth, and (if it makes you happy) by giving away some of your wealth. How much happier? Well, if you’re a “scorekeeper” (as very wealthy persons seem to be), your happiness rises immeasurably when your wealth rises from, say, $10 million to $100 million to $1 billion — and if your wealth-based income rises proportionally. How much happier is “immeasurably happier”? Who knows? That’s why I say “immeasurably” — there’s no way of telling. Which is why it’s arrogant to say that a wealthy person doesn’t “need” his next $1 million or $10 million, or that they don’t give him as much happiness as the preceding $1 million or $10 million.

All of that notwithstanding, the committed believer in DMU will shrug and say that at some point DMU must set in. Which leads me to the fourth error, which is an error of introspection. If you’re like most mere mortals (as I am), your income during your early working years barely covered your bills. If you’re more than a few years into your working career, subsequent pay raises probably made you feel better about your financial state — not just a bit better but a whole lot better. Those raises enabled you to enjoy newer, better things (as discussed above). And if your real income has risen by a factor of two or three or more — and if you haven’t messed up your personal life (which is another matter) — you’re probably incalculably happier than when you were just able to pay your bills. And you’re especially happy if you put aside a good chunk of money for your retirement, the anticipation and enjoyment of which adds a degree of utility (such a prosaic word) that was probably beyond imagining when you were in your twenties, thirties, and forties.

In sum, the idea that one’s marginal utility (an unmeasurable abstraction) diminishes with one’s income or wealth is nothing more than an assumption that simply doesn’t square with my experience. And I’m sure that my experience is far from unique, though I’m not arrogant enough to believe that it’s universal.

Thus endeth today’s lesson in economics and humility.

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* It is a misconception that demand curves slope downward and to the right because of DMU. They do not, as explained by Bruce R. Beattie and Jeffrey T. LaFrance in “The Law of Demand versus Diminishing Marginal Utility,” which is available here as a PowerPoint presentation.

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Related posts:
The Social Welfare Function
Inventing “Liberalism”
Accountants of the Soul
Enough of “Social Welfare”

Signature

No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Your favorite source of entertainment is made illegal.

5. Your favorite hobby is made illegal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moral profile-freedom concern

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

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

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

Signature

The Real Burden of Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PPI vs $Ga

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

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

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

Real GDP by post-WW2 business cycle

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

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

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

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

Signature

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XIII)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Robert Tracinski notes,

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

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

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

The Relationship Between Net Neutrality and Atlas Shrugged

Internet Execs Are Already Uncomfortable with the Net Neutrality They Demanded

The Parallels Extend Into Fracking

Government Shuts Down Any Runaway Success

Atlas Shrugged Is Coming True Before Our Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen, again.

Understanding Investment Bubbles

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

GDP = C + I = C + S

∴ I = S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All-Time Hitter-Friendly Ballparks

WITH PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO TIGER STADIUM

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

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

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

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

Balpark factors - normalization

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

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

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

Ballpark factors - BA

Ballpark factors - SLG

Ballpark factors - HR

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

Ballpark factors - stadiums

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Great Debate”: Not So Great

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

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

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

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

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite that, Levin writes of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Sorta Popular Congressional GOP

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

GOP lead-deficit in generic congressional ballot

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

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

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

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Obamacare: Five-Plus Years of Negative Ratings

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

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

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Does Obama Love America?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Writing on the Wall

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

Here are some relevant passages from the Slate story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The President’s Power to Kill Enemy Combatants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zing!

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“Blue Wall” Hype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Obamacare Effect: Greater Distrust of Government

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