Reportage

Who Shot JFK, and Why?

On this, the 50th anniversary of the murder of John F. Kennedy, I refer you to my recollections of the day (posted two years ago), and offer the following thoughts about the killing.

I recently watched the NOVA production, Cold Case JFK, which documents the application of current forensic technology to the 50-year-old case. The investigators’ give a convincing explanation of the shooting in Dallas. The explanation supports the original “verdict” of the Warren Report: Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter. He, and only he, fired the shots that killed JFK and wounded John Connally, then governor of Texas. The NOVA program moves me from “reasonable doubt” to “beyond a reasonable doubt,” with respect to who shot JFK and how.

What about the thesis advanced by James B. Reston Jr. that Oswald’s real target was Connally? Possibly, inasmuch as Oswald wasn’t a sniper-class shooter. Here’s a scenario that’s consistent with the timing of events in Dealey Plaza: Oswald can tell that his first shot missed his target. He gets off a quick second shot, which hits JFK, who’s in line with Connally, passes through JFK and hits Connally. There’s no obvious, dramatic reaction from Connally, even though he’s hit. So, Oswald fires a quick third shot, which hits Kennedy in the back of the head instead of hitting Connally, who by this time has slumped into his wife’s lap.

Reston’s thesis is that Oswald went after Connally because Oswald’s discharge from the Marine Corps was downgraded from “honorable” to “undesirable” while Connally was Secretary of the Navy. The downgrading hurt Oswald’s pride and his ability to get a good job in those days when employers were allowed to hire whom they pleased. Reston could be right, but we’ll never know. The truth of the matter died with Oswald on November 24, 1963.

The only conspiracy theory that might still be worth considering is the idea that Oswald was gunning for JFK because he was somehow maneuvered into doing so by LBJ, the CIA, Fidel Castro, the Mafia, or the Russians. The murder of Oswald by Ruby conveniently plays into that theory. But I say that the burden of proof is on conspiracy theorists, for whom the obvious is not titillating enough. The obvious is Oswald — a leftist loser and less-than-honorably discharged Marine with a chip on his shoulder, a domineering mother, an unhappy home life, and a menial job. In other words, the kind of loser with a gun who now appears almost daily in the news, after having slaughtered family members, former co-workers, or random strangers. (This ubiquity is, of course, a manifestation of the media’s anti-gun bias, but that’s another story.)

Finally, after 50 years as a moderate skeptic of the Warren Report, I am satisfied that Lee Harvey Oswald was the only shooter in Dallas, and that he wasn’t part of a conspiracy.  Given that, it is immaterial whether Oswald was gunning for JFK or Connally. He killed JFK, and the rest — for good or ill — is history.

That history still resounds with absurd claims that an “atmosphere of hate in Dallas” (right-wing, of course) was somehow responsible for the murder of JFK. How did this “atmosphere” — invented by the media to deflect blame from a leftist killer — cause Oswald to take aim at JFK or Connally? By “atmospheric” induction? There’s a conspiracy theory for you.

Intellectual Courage in Austin

Ken Herman’s columns in the Austin American-Statesman are among the paper’s few bright spots. I don’t always agree with Herman, whose brand of modern-style liberalism usually shines through. But he’s intelligent, analytical, witty, and fair.

I cringed inwardly this morning when I read this in Herman’s column (“Judgment on constitutionality, not on abortion,” behind a paywall):

Local U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel showed a keen understanding of both sides of that equation this week in his decision striking down portions of Texas’ new abortion restrictions law. And, though a federal appeals court on Thursday lifted Yeakel’s injunction against enforcement of portions of the new law, he offered solid logic in throwing out the provision requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

“The court expresses grave reservations about allowing a hodgepodge of diverse medical committees and boards to determine, based solely on admitting privileges, which physicians may perform abortions,” he wrote, adding that the provision “places an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion.”

What did the appeals court — a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit — have to say? This:

We first consider the hospital-admitting-privileges provision of H.B. 2 [the Texas law] and whether the State has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits. We conclude that it has….

… The district court focused primarily on emergency room treatment of women experiencing complications following an abortion. This overlooks substantial interests of the State in regulating the medical profession and the State’s interest in “‘protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession.’” As the Supreme Court has noted, “the State has ‘legitimate concern for maintaining high standards of professional conduct’ in the practice of medicine.’” The Supreme Court has also consistently recognized that “[r]egulations designed to foster the health of a woman seeking an abortion are valid if they do not constitute an undue burden.”

The State offered more than a “conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis” for requiring abortion physicians to have hospital admission privileges. The State offered evidence that such a requirement fosters a woman’s ability to seek consultation and treatment for complications directly from her physician, not from an emergency room provider. There was evidence that such a requirement would assist in preventing patient abandonment by the physician who performed the abortion and then left the patient to her own devices to obtain care if complications developed. The district court’s finding to the contrary is not supported by the evidence, and in any event, “a legislative choice is not subject to courtroom factfinding and may be based on rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data.”

The requirement that physicians performing abortions must have hospital admitting privileges helps to ensure that credentialing of physicians beyond initial licensing and periodic license renewal occurs….

The district court’s conclusion that a State has no rational basis for requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital is but one step removed from repudiating the longstanding recognition by the Supreme Court that a State may constitutionally require that only a physician may perform an abortion….

We similarly [to the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart] conclude that the provisions of H.B. 2 requiring a physician who performs an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital, “measured by [their] text,” do not impose a substantial obstacle to abortions. Just as the Supreme Court concluded in Gonzales with regard to the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 200335 that “[t]here can be no doubt the government ‘has an interest in protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession,’”36 there can be no doubt that the State of Texas has this same interest, as well as an interest in protecting the health of women who undergo abortion procedures.

There is the possibility, if not the probability, however, that requiring all physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital may increase the cost of accessing an abortion provider and decrease the number of physicians available to perform abortions. As the district court correctly recognized, the Supreme Court has nevertheless held that “‘[t]he fact that a law which serves a valid purpose, one not designed to strike at the right itself, has the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate it.’”

There’s much more, but that’s enough to make this point: It should have been evident to Herman that Judge Yeakel’s “solid logic” wasn’t really solid.

I will give Herman the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that he didn’t have time to digest the Fifth Circuit’s opinion before he wrote his column. (The opinion was issued in the morning of October 31, and Herman’s column was posted at 7:28 p.m. on the same day.)

But I come to praise Herman, not to vilify him. What’s praiseworthy in his column are two paragraphs near the end:

In addition to being a most-divisive issue, abortion is one with little to no middle ground. And it’s marked by close to a total inability for one side to understand the other side.

One of the blindest spots in the argument is held by abortion rights supporters who believe the other side is driven by opposition to women’s rights. Abortion rights foes are motivated by a sincere belief that an unborn child or fetus, or whatever term you choose, is a form of life entitled to constitutional protection. You might agree, you might not. But if you don’t, it’s important that you understand that [anti-abortion] side isn’t driven by a desire to curtail woman’s rights. (Emphasis added.)

It’s hard to say it any plainer than that. Kudos to Herman for saying it, and for figuratively confronting the pro-abortion forces, which — in leftish Austin — must vastly outnumber the anti-abortion forces.

I expect Herman’s candor to be “rewarded” with irate and hateful messages from many abortion advocates. Herman must have anticipated such messages — and perhaps worse — before he published his column. I therefore admire not only his candor but also his intellectual courage.

Good news …

… for a change.

Despite my pessimism about America, the pathway to the future sometimes rises.

First:

The Texas Senate late Friday passed tough new abortion restrictions after weeks of protests, sending them to Gov. Rick Perry to sign into law. (Source)

George Zimmerman has been acquitted of all charges in the February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.

Thus my week ends on a high note.

Life in Austin (1)

You may have heard that Austin, Texas, is the “Live Music Capital of the World.” That dubious, self-promoting title points to only one of Austin’s many noteworthy characteristics. Most of them, unfortunately, make Austin an unsuitable locale for those of you who may be in search of a better place in which to live and work.

If you haven’t been keeping track of such things, let me tell you that Austin ranks among the worst cities in the nation for traffic congestion. There are four contributing factors worth mentioning here:

  • There is a powerful cycling lobby that represents (at most) 2 percent of Austin’s residents but which has gobbled (and continues to gobble) road space for bike lanes.
  • Then there is the foolish belief (common among Austin’s green-hued elites) that an urban rail system will somehow absorb the influx of new residents, despite the fact that the system (as it stands) is mainly a means of subsidizing businesses and yuppies by transporting low-wage workers from outlying (low-rent) areas. And, like the city’s bus system, it does this by running almost-empty coaches most of time. The proposed expansion of the system will do more of the same, while also compounding traffic problems during construction (as roads are torn up and blocked) and afterwards (as more almost-empty coaches cause traffic backups at grade crossings).
  • Austin’s rapid growth has been spurred by the insistence of its elites on promoting growth (often through tax breaks that rebound onto current residents). Austin’s elites may be green-hued lefties, but they are just as irrationally attached to the idea of a “greater Austin” as any jingo is attached to the idea of “national greatness” and protectionism.
  • The preceding factors militate against clear thinking and the expenditure of tax monies in ways that would actually relieve traffic congestion. One such way, which seems never to have occurred to Austin’s elites, is the conversion of existing, stop-and-go east-west thoroughfares into high-speed, controlled access highways. The lack of such highways undoubtedly accounts for a goodly share of Austin’s ungodly traffic mess.

All of this is lost on Austin’s multitude of guilt-ridden, SUV-driving yuppies who — together with Latinos and blacks — represent Austin’s Democrat super-majority.  That super-majority, which takes its intellectual cues from the leftist academics at the University of Texas (UT), consistently elects a Democrat mayor and city council, whose adherence to political correctness trumps every tenet of economic sensibility. In addition to the aforementioned bike lanes, dysfunctional transit system, and growth for its own sake, Austinites “enjoy” (and pay through the nose for) a recycling program that loses millions of dollars a year; electricity that (in obeisance to the prevailing, antiscientific religion of “warmism”) is generated in significant part by high-cost “sustainable” resources; a health-care agency that, in a few years, has expanded its mission from the administration of tax-funded medial services for the poor and lazy to the extortionate, tax-funded subsidization of a medical school for football-rich UT.

You will, by now, be unsurprised to learn that a recent revenue windfall (higher sales tax revenues arising from economic recovery) led Austin’s rulers to ask for ideas about how to spend the additional money. Was a tax reduction considered? Ask a stupid question. This is, after all, the Peoples Republic of Austin, with government of the left, by the left, and for the left and its dependents.

If all of that isn’t enough to deter you from moving to Austin, stay tuned.

The Clemens Verdict

This does not surprise me:

Roger Clemens, who intimidated even the toughest batters while becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball history, was acquitted Monday of all charges that he lied to Congress in 2008 when he insisted he never used steroids or human growth hormone during his long career. [Juliet Macur, "Clemens Found Not Guilty of Lying About Drug Use," The New York Times, June 18, 2012]

I did not follow the trial closely, and cannot recite details of the evidence presented by the government or the defense’s response to the evidence. I am unsurprised by the verdict because there is no statistical case that Clemens used (or derived benefit from) steroids or human growth hormone (HGH). The statistical evidence — or lack of it — is spelled out in my post of February 18, 2008, “Did Roger Do It?

Leaks, What Leaks?

Victor Davis Hanson is in a justifiable state of stratospheric dudgeon about the leaks that clearly are meant to portray Barack Obama as a steely, anti-terrorist warrior:

Recent leaks — the cyberwar secrets, the drone methodology, the double agent in Yemen, the details of the bin Laden mission, and the trove of information that accrued from it — juxtaposed with polls that have consistently shown uncertainty about Obama’s natural-security fides (cf. the serial boasting of Joe Biden that Obama’s decision is the most significant accomplishment in recent military history) are a time bomb.

Unlike the terrible Fast and Furious scandal, the Secret Service fiasco, the Solyndra boondoggle and solar con, or the GSA mess, we are talking about endangerment to the collective security of the entire United States — and not just due to laxity or incompetence but apparently due to calibrated political advantage. These targeted leaks seem to be part of a larger culture of narrowly defined and opportunistic access and political imaging. For is there not something terribly wrong when, to take just two examples, a David Sanger is apparently given access to such top-secret information, or when a David Ignatius, chest-thumps “exclusive,” as he offers his own analyses of once classified al-Qaeda documents seized from the bin Laden compound, for which he alone apparently was selected as gatekeeper to examine and analyze what he thinks is and is not important for Americans to know?…

This scandal will not go away, because it is so reckless that it will go well beyond Republican efforts to score political points, as it equally enrages congressional Democrats, Defense Department non-political officials, the CIA, and the intelligence community at large, whose careers and lives are jeopardized by such serial leaking. There is a toxic relationship now between high members of this administration, and favored marquee reporters such as those at the New York Times and Washington Post, who have crafted a hand-washes-hand relationship that, whether inadvertent or not, has put all our safety at risk. Obama himself seems not so much angry that his own are leaking to form favorable narratives, but angry that anyone would dare suggest to him that they are. That, too, is an untenable position and will change.

This will not stand, and until those who are doing these terrible things to the country are fired, the story will not go away. ["Court Journalism and the National Interest," The Corner at National Review Online, June 12, 2012]

Update (06/13/12): Today, Hanson writes:

Securitygate has Nixonian trademarks all over it and is far more injurious to the republic than all the previous Obama administration–era scandals combined. Attorney General Holder simply cannot select an attorney to investigate key players in the administration who was both a recent appointee of Obama and a campaign contributor to and political supporter of him….

That the result was lives endangered and national policy imperiled makes an outside investigator essential. Even more chilling is that unlike prior leaking during past administrations when the media was at odds with the executive branch, in this case the administration apparently welcomed the leaks. The reporters involved were assumed to operate, not as self-proclaimed auditors trying to enhance their careers purportedly by keeping government honest, but rather more as court toadies determined to make their sources look good as payback for “exclusives.”…

At some point, watch the journalistic community: Typically they rally around the leaky reporter and law breaker as some sort of wounded fawn punished for trying to speak truth to power, but now what? Are they to close ranks with Ministry of Truth careerists who may well have been used as stooges of a government that serially broke the law for partisan advantage? ["Securitygate Is Not Going Away," The Corner at National Review Online, June 13, 2012]

Here are links to some of the leak-ticles that prompted Hanson’s [continued] sub-orbital flight:

Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” Jo Becker and Scott Shane, The New York Times, May 29, 2012

Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” David Sanger, The New York Times, June 1, 2012

Stuxnet was work of U.S. and Israeli experts, officials say,” Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warwick, The Washington Post, June 1, 2012

And here links to some relevant commentary (in addition to Hanson’s):

Covert Wars, Waged Virally: ‘Confront and Conceal’,” a review by Thomas Ricks of David Sanger’s book about cyberwar against Iran and various anti-terrorist action, The New York Times, June 5, 2012

For U.S. Inquiries on Leaks, a Difficult Road to Prosecution,” Charlie Savage, The New York Times, June 9, 2012

Obama loses veneer of deniabilty with intelligence leaks,” Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, June 11, 2012

Ricks, an erstwhile Pentagon correspondent of some note, seems unfazed by leakage — an indifference that must have served him well in the day. He notes, without irony, that

Mr. Sanger clearly has enjoyed great access to senior White House officials, most notably to Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser.

Well, the moral code of Washington is encapsulated in “go along to get along” and “give something to get something.” (A former colleague — now a late and (by me) unlamented one — of no firm convictions, who fancied himself politically astute, was fond of spouting those feeble justifications of his sleaziness.) Thus Ricks’s next sentences should come as no shock to anyone but a pre-schooler:

Mr. Donilon, in effect, is the hero of the book, as well as the commenter of record on events. He leads the team that goes to Israel and spends “five hours wading through the intelligence in the basement of the prime minister’s residence.” He is shown studying the nettlesome problems of foreign relations, working closely with the president, and fending off the villains of this story— which in Mr. Sanger’s account tend to be the government of Pakistan and, surprisingly, the generals of the American military.

Yes, there is righteous outrage in Washington. Savage’s piece opens with this:

Anger over leaks of government secrets and calls for prosecution have once again engulfed the nation’s capital. Under bipartisan pressure for a crackdown, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday announced the appointment of two top prosecutors to lead investigations into recent disclosures.

But

the prospects for those efforts are murky. Historically, the vast majority of leak-related investigations have turned up nothing conclusive, and several of the nine that have been prosecuted — six already under the Obama administration, and just three more under all previous presidents — collapsed.

“These cases are very difficult to pursue,” said Kenneth L. Wainstein, a former assistant attorney general for national security under President George W. Bush.

Why?

Many people are surprised to learn that there is no law against disclosing classified information, in and of itself. The classification system was established for the executive branch by presidential order, not by statute, to control access to information and how it must be handled. While officials who break those rules may be admonished or fired, the system covers far more information than it is a crime to leak.

Instead, leak prosecutions rely on a 1917 espionage statute whose principal provision makes it a crime to disclose, to persons not authorized to receive it, national defense information with knowledge that its dissemination could harm the United States or help a foreign power.

The statute should be changed to make it a criminal act to knowingly disclose classified information to anyone not authorized to receive it. But that would not suit the leak-happy mentality of Washington. Nor would it suit the primary beneficiaries of that mentality, namely, the major media outlets. So, the leaks will continue apace and every once in a while they will be condemned — even by the leakers, if not the leakees.

Cue Lefty Cohen, who makes sport of the whole thing:

Pity the poor Obama administration leakers. They impart their much-cherished secrets to make their man look good and then, at the first chirp of criticism, are ordered to confess their (possible) crimes by the very same president they were seeking to please. In this, they are a bit like the male praying mantis. He does as asked, and then the female bites his head off.

What is remarkable about the recent leaks is the coincidence — it can only be that — that they all made the president look good, heroic, decisive, strong and even a touch cruel; born, as the birthers long suspected, not in Hawaii — but possibly on the lost planet Krypton. The leak that displayed all these Obamian attributes was the one that said the president personally approves the assassinations of terrorists abroad. He gives his okay, and the bad guys are dispatched via missiles from drones.

Cohen is not worried so much about leaks, which are potage to the Post, as he is about those terrorists who refuse to surrender to American justice and so are dispatched at long distance:

The leak that troubles me concerns the killing of suspected or actual terrorists. The triumphalist tone of the leaks — the Tarzan-like chest-beating of various leakers — not only is in poor taste but also shreds a long-standing convention that, in these matters, the president has deniability. The president of the United States is not the Godfather.

But he is commander-in-chief, and if he has performed any constitutionally legitimate act during his presidency, it has been to advance the common defense by terrorizing terrorists.

But that does not excuse the acts of leakage, which are morally if not legally criminal. They have been committed on behalf of Barack Obama, and — I cannot doubt — at his behest.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (II)

Atheism

Philip Kitcher reviews Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality:

The evangelical scientism of “The Atheist’s Guide” rests on three principal ideas. The facts of microphysics determine everything under the sun (beyond it, too); Darwinian natural selection explains human behavior; and brilliant work in the still-young brain sciences shows us as we really are. Physics, in other words, is “the whole truth about reality”; we should achieve “a thoroughly Darwinian understanding of humans”; and neuroscience makes the abandonment of illusions “inescapable.” Morality, purpose and the quaint conceit of an enduring self all have to go.

The conclusions are premature. Although microphysics can help illuminate the chemical bond and the periodic table, very little physics and chemistry can actually be done with its fundamental concepts and methods, and using it to explain life, human behavior or human society is a greater challenge still. Many informed scholars doubt the possibility, even in principle, of understanding, say, economic transactions as complex interactions of subatomic particles. Rosenberg’s cheerful Darwinizing is no more convincing than his imperialist physics, and his tales about the evolutionary origins of everything from our penchant for narratives to our supposed dispositions to be nice to one another are throwbacks to the sociobiology of an earlier era, unfettered by methodological cautions that students of human evolution have learned: much of Rosenberg’s book is evolutionary psychology on stilts. Similarly, the neuroscientific discussions serenely extrapolate from what has been carefully demonstrated for the sea slug to conclusions about Homo sapiens.

And David Albert gets rough with Lawrence M. Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing:

Look at how Richard Dawkins sums it up in his afterword: “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.”

Well, let’s see. There are lots of different sorts of conversations one might want to have about a claim like that: conversations, say, about what it is to explain something, and about what it is to be a law of nature, and about what it is to be a physical thing. But since the space I have is limited, let me put those niceties aside and try to be quick, and crude, and concrete.

Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from?…

Never mind. Forget where the laws came from. Have a look instead at what they say. It happens that ever since the scientific revolution of the 17th century, what physics has given us in the way of candidates for the fundamental laws of nature have as a general rule simply taken it for granted that there is, at the bottom of everything, some basic, elementary, eternally persisting, concrete, physical stuff….

The fundamental laws of nature generally take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of that stuff are physically possible and which aren’t, or rules connecting the arrangements of that elementary stuff at later times to its arrangement at earlier times, or something like that. But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.

The fundamental physical laws that Krauss is talking about in “A Universe From Nothing” — the laws of relativistic quantum field theories — are no exception to this. The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields. And the fundamental laws of this theory take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of those fields are physically possible and which aren’t, and rules connecting the arrangements of those fields at later times to their arrangements at earlier times, and so on — and they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story….

[Krauss] has an argument — or thinks he does — that the laws of relativistic quantum field theories entail that vacuum states are unstable. And that, in a nutshell, is the account he proposes of why there should be something rather than nothing.

But that’s just not right. Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff…. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.

None of this is news to me. This is from my post, “The Atheism of the Gaps“:

The gaps in scientific knowledge do not prove the existence of God, but they surely are not proof against God. To assert that there is no God because X, Y, and Z are known about the universe says nothing about the creation of the universe or the source of the “laws” that seem to govern much of its behavior.

(See also the many posts linked at the bottom of “The Atheism of the Gaps.”)

Caplan’s Perverse Rationalism

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have little use for the psuedo-libertarian blatherings of Bryan Caplan, one of the bloggers at EconLog. (See also this and this.) Caplan, in a recent post, tries to distinguish between “pseudo output” and “real output”:

1. Some “output” is actually destructive.  At minimum, the national “defense” of the bad countries you think justifies the national defense of all the other countries.

2. Some “output” is wasted.  At minimum, the marginal health spending that fails to improve health.

3. Some “output” doesn’t really do what consumers think it does.  At minimum, astrology.

Note: None of these flaws have any definitional libertarian component.  Even if there’s no good reason for tax-supported roads, existing government roads really are quite useful.  Still, coercive support is often a credible symptom of pseudo-output: If the product is really so great, why won’t people spend their own money on it?

Once you start passing output through these filters, the world seems full of pseudo-output.  Lots of military, health, and education spending don’t pass muster.  Neither does a lot of finance.  Or legal services. In fact, it’s arguably easier to name the main categories of “output” that aren’t fake.  Goods with clear physical properties quickly come to mind:

  • Food.  People may be mistaken about food’s nutritional properties.  But they’re not mistaken about its basic life-preserving and hunger-assuaging power – or how much they enjoy the process of eating it.
  • Structures.  People may overlook a structure’s invisible dangers, like radon.  But they’re not mistaken about its comfort-enhancing power – or how aesthetically pleasing it is.
  • Transportation.  People may neglect a transport’s emissions.  But they’re not mistaken about how quickly and comfortably it gets them from point A to point B.

Lest this seem horribly unsubjectivist, another big category of bona fide output is:

  • Entertainment.  People may be misled by entertainment that falsely purports to be factual.  But they’re not mistaken about how entertained they are.

Caplan is on to something when he says that “coerc[ed] support is often a credible symptom of pseudo-output,” but he gives away the game when he allows entertainment but dismisses astrology. In other words, if Caplan isn’t “entertained” (i.e., made to feel good) by something, it’s of no value to anyone. He is a pacifist, so he dismisses the value of defense. He (rightly) concludes that the subsidization of health care means that a lot of money is spent (at the margin) to little effect, but the real problem is not health care — it is subsidization.

Once again, I find Caplan to be a muddled thinker. Perhaps, like his colleague Robin Hanson, he is merely being provocative for the pleasure of it. Neither muddle-headedness nor provocation-for-its-own-sake is an admirable trait.

The Sociopaths Who Govern Us

I prefer “psychopath” to “sociopath,” but the words are interchangeable; thus:

(Psychiatry) a person afflicted with a personality disorder characterized by a tendency to commit antisocial and sometimes violent acts and a failure to feel guilt for such acts Also called sociopath

In “Utilitarianism and Psychopathy,” I observe that the psychopathy of law-makers is revealed “in their raw urge to control the lives of others.” I am not alone in that view.

Steve McCann writes:

This past Sunday, the Washington Post ran a lengthy front-page article on Obama’s machinations during the debt ceiling debate last summer.  Rush Limbaugh spent a considerable amount of his on-air time Monday discussing one of the highlights of the piece: Barack Obama deliberately lied to the American people concerning the intransigence of the Republicans in the House of Representatives.  The fact that a pillar of the sycophantic mainstream media would publish a story claiming that their hero lied is amazing….

What I say about Barack Obama I do not do lightly, but I say it anyway because I fear greatly for this country and can — not only from personal experience, but also in my dealing with others — recognize those failings in a person whose only interests are himself and his inbred radical ideology, which as its lynchpin desires to transform the country into a far more intrusive state by any means possible….

… Obama is extremely adept at exploiting the celebrity culture that has overwhelmed this society, as well as the erosion of the education system that has created a generation or more of citizens unaware of their history, culture, and the historical ethical standards based on Judeo-Christian teaching….

The reality is that to Barack Obama lying, aka “spin,” is normal behavior. There is not a speech or an off-the cuff comment since he entered the national stage that does not contain some falsehood or obfuscation. A speech on energy made last week and repeated on March 22 is reflective of this mindset. He is now attempting to portray himself as being in favor of drilling in order to increase oil production and approving pipeline construction, which stands in stark contrast to his stated and long-term position on energy and reiterated as recently as three weeks ago. This is a transparent and obvious ploy to once again fool the American people by essentially lying to them….

[T]here has been five years of outright lies and narcissism that have been largely ignored by the media, including some in the conservative press and political class who are loath to call Mr. Obama what he is, in the bluntest of terms, a liar and a fraud. That he relies on his skin color to intimidate, either outright or by insinuation, those who oppose his radical agenda only adds to his audacity. It is apparent that he has gotten away with his character flaws his entire life, aided and abetted by the sycophants around him; thus, he is who he is and cannot change.

Obama: Sociopath-in-Chief.

Poetic Justice

Newspaper Ad Revenues Fall to 60-Yr. Low in 2011

“Nuff said.

Where Were You?

If you are in your mid-fifties or older, you must remember where you were and what you were doing when you learned that JFK had been shot in Dallas.

I have long since repented of my admiration for JFK (e.g., here). But my repentance is irrelevant to this story. The events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, burned into my brain a memory that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

I was in Arlington, Virginia, where I was employed by a defense think-tank. I was seated in the company van that made regular trips to the Pentagon (a few miles away), where members of the think-tank’s staff met often with their clients. The van was being held to await a senior manager. As he entered the van (it must have been shortly after 1:30 p.m. EST) he broke the news that Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. When I arrived at the Pentagon, the TV sets in the Pentagon’s public concourse were tuned to coverage of the shooting. JFK’s death (officially at 2:00 p.m. EST) was announced while I watched the TV coverage.

That bare-bones recitation may seem cold but emotions fade with time, and I have come to see that the emotions that stirred in me 48 years ago were foolish ones. The greatest tragedy of JFK’s passing was LBJ’s succession to the presidency. LBJ’s cynical use of JFK’s memory helped him to unleash policies that have divided America and threaten to bankrupt it.

More Fool He

David Brooks, The New York Times‘s ersatz conservative, writes:

When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill….

This wasn’t a speech to get something done. This was the sort of speech that sounded better when Ted Kennedy was delivering it. The result is that we will get neither short-term stimulus nor long-term debt reduction anytime soon, and I’m a sap for thinking it was possible.

Yes, I’m a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around….

Being a sap, I still believe that the president’s soul would like to do something about the country’s structural problems. I keep thinking he’s a few weeks away from proposing serious tax reform and entitlement reform. But each time he gets close, he rips the football away.

No s***, Sherlock. Being a bit smarter than Charlie Brown isn’t exactly a mark of distinction.

Welcome to the party David, even if it has taken you three years to get here.

Oh, but wait…

The White House has decided to wage the campaign as fighting liberals. I guess I understand the choice, but I still believe in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. I may be the last one. I’m a sap.

Fool David once, Obama’s to blame. Fool David twice, David’s to blame. Fool David thrice (at least), and you know that David’s no sap — he’s a fool.

Gestapo Exonerates Hitler

Well, it’s not quite that bad, but it’s analogous:

Federal Investigators Clear Climate Scientist, Again

The Inspector General of the National Science Foundation has closed its investigation into climatologist Michael Mann after failing to find any evidence of misconduct

What an amazing coincidence!

Today’s Revealing Quotation

It comes from Rebecca Traister’s article in today’s NYT, “What Would Hillary Clinton Have Done?“:

There simply was never going to be a liberal messiah whose powers could transcend the limits set by a democracy this packed with regressive obstructionists.

Democracy is good only if everyone agrees with you. That seems to be a common view among leftists.

Related posts:
FDR and Fascism
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Are We All Fascists Now?
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
The Psychologist Who Played God
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Down with “We”
The Divine Right of the Majority
An Encounter with a Marxist
Our Enemy, the State
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions

Compromise, Democrat Style

David P. Barash — a professor of psychology at the University of Washington and the co-author of Payback: Why We Retaliate, Redirect Aggression and Seek Revenge — unwittingly reveals his psyche in a NYT op-ed, “Washington’s Rogue Elephants.” In Barash’s unsubtle symbolism, “rogue elephants” refers to Republicans, as he views their role in the present debate (if you can call it that) about the debt ceiling and how to avoid a default by the federal government.

Barash seems, not unsurprisingly given his profession and political leanings, to be plagued by prolonged adolescent rebellion. The rebellion, in this case, is against fiscally responsible authority figures in the Republican Party. The giveaway is Barash’s concluding comments:

[G]iven the Republicans’ continued insistence on an unobtainable wish list of spending cuts and constitutional amendments, it’s fair to conclude that Mr. Obama is facing the political equivalent of an elephant in must — a player who simply won’t play the game.

In the 1983 movie “WarGames,” an errant military supercomputer has a final moment of lucidity in which it notes, “The only winning move is not to play.” The president is best advised to do the same: declare that the other side has foregone all pretense at rational legitimacy, and simply proceed to govern as best he can for the good of the country.

This is leftist fantasizing. Obama can’t simply “govern” without Congress; it’s not up to him to decide how much to spend, nor can he constitutionally ignore the debt ceiling.

More generally, Barash hews to the typical leftist view that it’s up to Republicans to compromise; thus “the Republicans’ continued insistence on an unobtainable wish list of spending cuts and constitutional amendments.” But those things aren’t unobtainable or mere wishes; Democrats simply refuse to agree to them.

The current crisis is a spending problem. Republicans helped to create the problem, but most of them are adult enough to face up to it and offer ways to deal with it. Democrats seem unable to detach themselves from their vision of government as Santa Claus.

Democrats are suffering from a delusional disorder, but it’s evident that Barash doesn’t have the psychological chops to cure them of it.

Related posts:
Conservatism, Libertarianism, and “The Authoritarian Personality”
The F-Scale, Revisited
The Psychologist Who Played God
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
Questioning the National Debt
Tax Expenditures Are Not Expenditures
My Negotiating Position on the Federal Debt
Miss Brooks’s “Grand Bargain”
A Tax Is a Tax Is a Tax

Texas, The New York Times, and Teen Pregnancy

There is something about Texas that irritates lib’ruls — especially those who write for The New York Times. The latest case in point is a column by Gail Collins (“Mrs. Bush, Abstinence and Texas,” Feb. 16, 2011), in which Ms. Collins notes that Texas “ranks third in teen pregnancies — always the children most likely to be in need of extra help. And it is No. 1 in repeat teen pregnancies.” Why? According to Collins, it’s because “Texas is doing as little as possible to help women — especially young women — avoid unwanted pregnancy,” and “it’s extremely tough for teenagers to get contraceptives in Texas.”

There is one thing to be said for lib’rul columnists — they don’t need facts, especially when they “know” that the world’s problems are caused by callous Republicans like Gov. Rick Perry. Ms. Collins was in such a hate-filled rush to blame the high teen pregnancy rate in Texas on its Republican governor (a busy man, he) that she overlooked the real cause of the high rate: the large Hispanic population of Texas.

Here are the facts, according to the 2011 Statistical Abstract, an official publication of the U.S. government (a.k.a. the omniscient, benevolent institution to which lib’ruls bow thrice daily):

Putting two and two together — a trick that Ms. Collins evidently has not mastered — yields the less-than-startling conclusion that teen-pregnancy rates are determined not by the political affiliation of a State’s governor but by the State’s demographic composition.

Incidentally, the demographic determinant is backed (unwittingly) be left-leaning PolitiFact Texas (PFT). Today’s PFT emission merely quibbles with Collins by pointing out that she “incorrectly referred to Texas’ teen birth rate as a pregnancy rate — Texas actually ranks fourth in teen pregnancies, not third.” Which States hold down the number 1, 2, and 3 spots? According to PFT, they are Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. Guess what? Those States rank 4th, 5th, and 1st in percentage of population of Hispanic origin.

Get the picture? Gail Collins doesn’t. That’s what happens when your left-wing heart is filled with hate for Republicans.

P.S. to Ms. Collins: If you happen across this post, pass it along to your colleague, Mr. Krugman. He is another factually challenged, hate-filled leftist.

Related posts:
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
Is the Anger Gone?
A Not-So-Fine Whine
Social Justice
The Left’s Agenda

Leiter vs. Volokh

Brian Leiter seems to have a problem with Eugene Volokh. More generally, Leiter seems to have a problem with what he terms “offensive internet speech.” I have never found Leiter to be lacking in offensiveness (see this, this, and this, for example).

Well, I used to have a problem with Leiter, which I’ve discussed here, here, here, here, and here. (Note: These are old posts and contain many broken links.)

My problem with Leiter disappeared when I began to ignore Leiter and things written about him. I picked up on the Leiter-Volokh contretemps only because I’m a regular reader of The Volokh Conspiracy.

UPDATE: This post was about 30 minutes old when Politics & Prosperity hosted a 55-second visit from a server at uchicago.edu. (Leiter’s present academic home, according to his CV, is the University of Chicago.) The visit included three page views, including a look at my “About” page. I’m just stating the facts as I know them, not drawing inferences.

(Jared) Lee Harvey Loughner?

The rush to ascribe Jared Lee Loughner‘s despicable acts of murder and attempted murder to a right-wing “climate of hate” reminds me of the immediate reaction to the shooting of JFK in Dallas.

Because Dallas was, at that time, a media-designated hot-bed of right-wing extremism (anti-Catholic, anti-civil rights, pro-John Birch Society), the murder of JFK was immediately ascribed to the “climate of hate” which, one gathered, hung over Dallas like a miasma. It was ironic to learn, fairly quickly, that the apparent assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a communist who had lived in the USSR, supported Castro’s regime in Cuba, and tried to assassinate retired Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, a noted right-winger of the time.

History repeats itself as farce. And the present farce is the rush of the usual suspects on the left to pin Jared Lee Loughner’s acts on the “hate” that oozes (so it would seem) from the pores of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and others on the right. (Whereas Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann, and their ilk speak only sweet reason.) It is evident that Jared Lee Loughner does not possess a coherent political view of any kind, and that if he has been influenced by anyone it is extraterrestrial beings.

Even if Loughner were a certified right-winger of some kind, would that make Palin et al. accessories to his crime? And if so, wouldn’t that pin the assassination of JFK on Nikita Khrushchev and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan on Jodie Foster? Or perhaps everything is the fault of “society,” as the left likes to say when it comes to criminals.

Facts and logic will not keep the left and its allies in the media from spewing and spreading hateful rhetoric aimed at discrediting their political enemies. Nor will it keep them from trying, again, to use the power of government to disarm Americans and stifle speech of which they disapprove, speech that threatens their agenda of regimentation.

When a leftist cries “hate” and “fascism” he should be looking in a mirror.

Related posts:
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Parsing Political Philosophy
Fascism and the Future of America
Clinton the Conspirator
The Psychologist Who Played God

“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review

Thomas Sowell‘s Intellectuals and Society is a rewarding and annoying book.

The book is rewarding because it adds to the thick catalog of left-wing sins that Sowell has compiled and explicated in his long career as a public intellectual. When Sowell criticizes the anti-gun, soft-on-crime, peace-at-any-price, tax-spend-and-regulate crowd, he does it by rubbing their noses in the facts and figures about the messes that have been created by the policies they have promoted.

Having said that, I must also note the ways in which Intellectuals and Society annoys me, namely, that it is verbose and coy about the particular brand of intellectualism that it attacks.

VERBOSITY

Regarding verbosity, here is a randomly chosen example, from page 114:

Abstract people are above all equal, though flesh-and-blood people are remote from any such condition or ideal. Inequalities of income, power, prestige, health, and other things have long preoccupied intellectuals, both as things to explain and things to correct. The time and effort devoted to these inequalities might suggest that equality is so common or so automatic that its absence requires an explanation. Many intellectuals have approached equality in much the same spirit as Rousseau approached freedom: “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” To much of the modern intelligentsia, man is regarded as having been born equal but as having become mysteriously everywhere unequal.

Which means:

The notion of equality propounded by left-wing intellectuals bears no relation to the reality of the human condition. But the false ideal of equality enables leftists to advance the notion that disparities of income, power, prestige, and health (among other things) are injustices that call out for correction.

There are other ways of saying the same thing — all of them equally concise and therefore easier for the reader to grasp. Dozens, if not hundreds, of other passages in Intellectuals cry out for the same kind of ruthless editing. With that done, the book would be more compelling, because the facts and figures that make Sowell’s case against leftist intellectuals would stand out more sharply.

THE TRUE SUBJECTS OF THE BOOK

This brings me to the “intellectuals” who are the subject of the book. Sowell’s definition of intellectuals is so broad that it includes him and others of his ilk:

Here “intellectuals” refers to an occupational category, people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas — writers, academics, and the like. Most of us do not think of brain surgeons or engineers as intellectuals, despite the demanding mental training that each goes through, and virtually no one regards even the most brilliant and successful financial wizard as an intellectual.

At the core of the notion of an intellectual is the dealer in ideas, as such — not the personal application of ideas, as engineers apply complex scientific principles to create physical structures or mechanisms. A policy wonk whose work might be analogized as “social engineering,” will seldom personally administer the schemes that he or she creates or advocates. That is left to bureaucrats, politicians, social workers, the police or whoever else might be directly in charge of carry out the ideas of the policy wonk. (Intellectuals and Society, pp. 2-3)

Sowell’s definition encompasses thinkers who devoted much (or all) of their careers to combating the kinds of statist policies advanced by the left-wingers who are the real targets of Intellectuals and Soceity. Sowell even mentions two anti-statist intellectuals — Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman — in the first chapter of his book, in a context which suggests that they are among his targets. But Sowell later invokes Hayek, Friedman, and other “conservative” intellectuals as he confronts left-wing ideas and their consequences.

There can be no doubt that Sowell’s fire is directed at left-wing academicians and pundits — and their enablers in political-bureaucratic-media complex — for the many good reasons documented in the book. A truth-in-packaging law for book titles — a left-wing idea if ever there was one — would require the renaming of Intellectuals and Society to Left-Wing Intellectuals and the Dire Consequences of their Ideas.

My aim is not to quibble with Sowell’s title, but to lament his lack of clarity about which set of intellectuals he is attacking, and why that set of intellectuals deserves reproach, whereas Hayek, Friedman, and company do not. Surely the author of Intellectuals and Society — who is, by his own definition, an intellectual — does not mean to denigrate his decades of research and writing in the service of liberty. (This is not to say that conservatives and self-styled libertarians are above reproach; they are not, as I show elsewhere in this blog. But left-wing “intellectuals” deserve a special place in hell for their contributions to the destruction of the social fabric and demise of liberty, which Sowell so thoroughly documents.)

THE LEFT AND ITS ILLUSIONS

Now for the meat of Intellectuals and Society. And beneath an over-abundance of dressing, there is plenty of meat. Sowell draws on his own work and that of many distinguished philosophers and scholars as he puts the lie to left-wing ideas and policies. Thus we find the likes of Gary Becker, William F. Buckley Jr., Edmund Burke, Richard Epstein, Friedman, Hayek, Eric Hoffer, Paul Johnson, Jean-Francois Revel, Adam Smith, and James Q. Wilson pitted against left-wing stars of the past and present, including Louis D. Brandeis, Noam Chomsky, the Clintons, Herbert Croly, John Dewey, Walter Duranty, Ronald Dworkin, Paul Ehrlich, William Godwin, Edward Kennedy, Paul Krugman, Harold Laski, Roscoe Pound, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., George Bernard Shaw, the Webbs, and H.G. Wells.

Because of the timing of the book’s publication, Barack Obama makes only a cameo appearance as a senator who opposed the surge in Iraq:

[Obama] said in January 2007 that the impending surge was a “mistake that I and others will actively oppose in the days to come.” He called the projected surge a “reckless escalation,” and introduced legislation to begin removal of American troops from Iraq no later than May 1, 2007…. Another 20,000 troops [Obama said] “will not in any imaginable way be able to accomplish any new progress.” (p. 268)

Intellectuals and Society does not directly address the “highlights” of Obama’s presidency to date: “stimulus” spending, Obamacare, and new financial regulations. But they are merely new manifestations of old policies that — among others — the book amply discredits.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The hunt for left-wing error begins in earnest with “Knowledge and Notions,” Chapter 2 of Intellectuals and Society. There, Sowell highlights some leading tendencies of left-wingers. There are the experts in particular fields who act as if their expertise gives them license to expound on any and all subjects. Appositely, Sowell quotes Roy Harrod on John Maynard Keynes:

He held forth on a great range of topics, on some of which he was thoroughly expert, but on others of which he may have derived his views from the few pages of a book at which he had happened to glance. The air of authority was the same in both cases. (p. 12)

Sowell then turns to the matter of centralized, expert knowledge vs. decentralized knowledge, and how the former can never substitute for the latter when it comes to making personal and business decisions — left-wing dogma to the contrary. Here, Sowell echoes Hayek’s Nobel Prize lecture, “The Pretence of Knowledge.”

The final pages of Chapter 2 are devoted to a critique of rationalism. This is the habit of mind, usually found on the left, by which intellectuals superimpose their views of what “ought to be” on decades and centuries of human striving, and pronounce the results of that striving “irrational.” (A recent case in point is Judge Vaughn Walker’s fatuous decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.)

Chapter 4, which is out of place, continues in the same vein as Chapter 2. That is, it expose more systemic errors of the left-wing view of the world. The sequence opens with a reprise of the theme of Sowell’s earlier book, A Conflict of Visions, which is followed by a departure from the studied neutrality of that book:

Th[e] vision of society … in which there are many “problems” to be “solved” by applying the ideas of morally anointed intellectual elites is by no means the only vision, however much that vision may be prevalent among today’s intellectuals. A conflicting vision has co-existed for centuries — a vision in which the inherent flaws of human beings are the fundamental problem and social contrivances are simply imperfect means of trying to cope with that problem…. (p. 77)

[That conflicting] vision is a sort of zero-based vision of the world and of human beings, taking none of the benefits of civilization for granted. It does not assume that we can begin with what we already have and simply tack on improvement, without being concerned at every step with whether these innovations jeopardize the very processes and principles on which our existing level of well-being rests…. Above all, it does not assume that untried theories stand on the same footing as institutions and practices whose very existence demonstrate their ability to survive in the world of reality…. (p. 79)

If you happen to believe in free markets, judicial restraint, traditional values and other features of the [constrained] vision, then you are just someone who believes in free markets, judicial restraint and traditional values. There is no personal exaltation resulting from those beliefs. But to be for “social justice” and “saving the environment,” or to be “anti-war” is more than just a set of beliefs about empirical facts. This [unconstrained] vision puts you on a higher moral plane as someone concerned and compassionate, someone who is for peace in the world, a defender of the downtrodden, and someone who wants to preserve the beauty of nature and save the planet from being polluted by others less caring. In short, one vision makes you somebody special and the other vision does not. These visions are not symmetrical…. (pp. 79-80)

That is to say, adherents of the constrained vision (conservatives) put great stock in what works, and change it only for the sake of improving it, and not for the sake of changing it because it doesn’t comport with their a priori views of how the world “ought to be.” By contrast, adherents of the unconstrained vision (the left) are wedded to the rhetoric of “ought to be” and its close relation, the Nirvana fallacy. They judge existing arrangements against unattainable standards of perfection (invented by themselves), and proclaim themselves to be on the side of all that is good. The adherents of the constrained vision point out, quite rightly, that the left’s proposals are inherently flawed because they fail to take into account the ways in which human nature produces unintended consequences.

Sowell has more to say about the unconstrained vision; briefly, it invents “rights” (to a “living wage,” “decent housing,” and “affordable health care,” and so on) that cause “compassionate” politicians to impose obligations on third parties (i.e., hapless taxpayers). This legalized theft — for that is what it is — is committed with scant regard for the good that taxpayers would do with their own money; for example:

  • Save it in the form of bank deposits, bonds, and stocks so that businesses may be formed, expand, and adopt more productive technology, thus creating jobs and fueling economic growth.
  • Help private charities and members of their immediate families, who are no less worthy of such help than complete strangers (unless, of course, you are an omniscient leftist who thinks otherwise).

But such considerations are beneath the left, whose mission is to “do good,” and damn the consequences.

On that note, I return to Sowell’s dissection of left-wing rhetoric. Here are some other incisive passages from Chapters 4:

That some people [the left] should imagine that they are particularly in favor of progress is not only another example of self-flattery but also of an evasion of the work of trying to show, with evidence and analysis, where and why their particular proposed changes would produce better end results than other people’s proposed changes. Instead, [those other people] have been dismissed … as “apologists for the status quo.” (pp. 101-2)

If the real purpose of social crusades is to make the less fortunate better off, then the actual consequences of such policies as wage control become central and require investigation…. But if the real purpose of social crusades is to proclaim oneself to be on the side of the angels, then such investigations have a low priority…. The revealed preference of many, if not most, of the intelligentsia has been to be on the side of the angels. (pp. 104-5)

…William Godwin’s notion that the young “are a sort of raw material put into our hands” remains, after two centuries, a powerful temptation to classroom indoctrination in schools and colleges…. This indoctrination can start as early as elementary school, where students are encouraged or required to write about controversial issues…. More fundamentally, the indoctrination process habituates them to taking sides on weighty and complex issues after hearing just one side of those issues…. In colleges and universities, whole academic departments are devoted to particular prepackaged conclusions — whether on race, the environment or other subjects…. Few, if any, of these “studies” include conflicting visions and conflicting evidence, as educational rather than ideological criteria might require. (pp. 108-9)

While logic and evidence are ideal criteria for the work of intellectuals, there are many ways in which much of what is said and done by intellectuals has less to do with principles than with attitudes…. During the earlier ["progressive"] era [of the early 1900s], when farmers and workers were the special focus of solicitude, no one paid much attention to how what was done for the benefit of those groups might adversely affect minorities or others. Likewise, in a later era, little attention was paid by “progressive” intellectuals to how affirmative action for minorities or women might adversely affect others. There is no principle that accounts for such collective mood swings. There are simply reasons du jour, much like the adolescent fads that are compulsive badges of identity for a time and afterwards considered passé…. (pp. 110-12)

…Anyone who suggests that individuals — or worse yet, groups — are unequal is written off intellectually and denounced morally as biased and bigoted toward those considered less than equal. Yet the empirical case for equality ranges from feeble to non-existent…. Does anyone seriously believe that whites in general play professional basketball as well as blacks? [For readers new to Sowell: He is black.] How then can one explain the predominance of blacks in this lucrative occupation, which offers fame as well as fortune? For most of the period of black predominance in professional basketball, the owners of the teams have all been white, as have most of the coaches. Then by what mechanism could blacks have contrived to deny access to professional basketball to whites of equal ability in that sport? (p. 114)

Thus armed against the essential fallacies of left-wing intellectualism, the reader is treated to dissections of left-wing error with respect to economics (Chapter 3), the media and academia (Chapter 5), the law (Chapter 6), and war (Chapters 7 and 8).

THE LEFT AND ECONOMICS

Chapter 5 (“Intellectuals and Economics”) is a sustained litany of the left’s obdurate insistence on the truth of economic fallacies. If there were a Nobel Prize for Economic Illiteracy, it would be awarded to left-wing academics (some of them economists) and pundits, as a group.

One of the left’s favorite preoccupations is “income distribution”:

Although such discussions have been phrased in terms of people, the actual empirical evidence cited has been about what has been happening over time in statistical categories — and that turns out to be the direct opposite of what has happened over time to flesh-and-blood human beings…. [I]n terms of people, the incomes of those particular taxpayers who were in the bottom 20 percent in income in 1996 rose 91 percent by 2005, while the incomes of those particular taxpeayers who were in the top 20 percent in 1996 rose by only 10 percent by 2005 — and those in the top 5 percent and top one percent actually declined. (p. 37)

The left’s systematic misunderstanding of economics rises to astounding heights on many other issues:

  • High interest rates — “immoral,” even though they reflect the risk of lending to borrowers who are likely to default.
  • Capitalism — “exploitative,” even though it has brought workers to much higher standards of living than under socialism and communism.
  • Competition — “chaotic,” because shallow thinkers cannot conceive of progress without central planning and control (though they are ready enough to concede man’s superior mental capacity to the chaotic thing known as evolution).
  • Government intervention — “essential and beneficial,” despite generations of evidence to the contrary (which is ignored by wishful thinkers on the left).
  • Business — “economically dominant,” despite the rise and fall of many a business empire, and the fact that business is at the mercy of consumers, not the other way around. (See “capitalism” and “competition.”)
  • Recessions and depressions — “the result of capitalist excesses,” even though — normal business cycles aside, government intervention (so cherished by the left) has caused or exacerbated several recessions (including the present one) and the Great Depression.

(In the foregoing list, I have violated the letter, but not the spirit, of Sowell’s commentary on economic subjects.)

THE LEFT, THE MEDIA, AND ACADEMIA

The title of Chapter 5 is “Optional Reality in the Media and Academia.” The subtitle of the entire book could well have been “The Left and Optional Reality,” for in Chapter 5 and elsewhere Sowell exposes leftism and left-wing intellectuals as unconnected with reality. There is a preferred leftist version of the world — which changes from time to time and drags devoted leftists in its wake. From that preferred vision, leftists concoct their view of reality.

As Sowell reminds us in Chapter 5, the left’s concocted view of reality has included:

  • air-brushing the brutality of totalitarian regimes then being held up as leftist ideals (e.g. the USSR, Communist China, Cuba)
  • suppressing data that would show affirmative action to be counterproductive
  • depicting gun ownership as an unmitigated evil
  • trying to pin poverty among blacks on “racism,” when it predominates among the families of single, black mothers who have been lured into a cycle of dependency on welfare
  • portraying homosexuals as “victims,” except when they happen to be priest of the despised Catholic religion
  • giving publicity and credibility to trumped-up charges of rape and arson, when the victims are black or the alleged perpetrators are “privileged” whites
  • exaggerating the incidence of poverty in the United States
  • demonizing the left’s enemies by attributing to them evil deeds that they didn’t commit
  • coining euphemisms to promote pet causes (e.g., bums as homeless persons, swamps as wetlands, trolleys as light rail, liberalism as progressivism)
  • justifying all of the foregoing (and more) on the ground that truth is subjective
  • portraying Americans as barbaric, in the face of true barbarism among cultures currently in favor with leftists
  • exaggerating the importance of isolated events, for the sake of promoting the left’s agenda, while ignoring the great advances that have resulted from the hum-drum, daily work of millions of “average” Americans.

The point of all of this deception and self-deception is simple and straightforward: it is to make the case (first to oneself and then to the public) for the left’s vision of how the world should be run. In the left’s Alice-in-Wonderland world of reality, the vision precedes and shapes the facts, not the other way around.

THE LEFT AND THE LAW

Nowhere is the left’s upside-down world more evident than in the development and application of law, which is the subject of Chapter 6 (“Intellectuals and the Law”). As Sowell observes,

There can be no dependable framework of law where judges are free to impose as law their own individual notions of what is fair, compassionate or in accord with social justice. Whatever the merits or demerits of particular judges’ conceptions of these terms, they cannot be known in advance to others, or uniform from one judge to another, so that they re not law in the full sense of rules known in advance to those subject to those rules….

By the second half of the twentieth century, the view of law as something to be deliberately shaped according to the spirit of the times, as interpreted by intellectual elites, became more common in the leading law schools and among judges. Professor Ronald Dworkin of Oxford University epitomized this approach when he dismissed the systemic evolution of the law as a “silly faith,” — systemic processes being equated with chaos, as they have been among those who promoted central economic planning rather than the systemic interactions of markets. In both cases, the preference has been for an elite to impose its vision, overriding if necessary the views of the masses of their fellow citizens…. (pp. 157-160)

The left’s approach to the law is, in a word, rationalistic. That is, it would uproot tradition — which embodies the wisdom of experience — simply because it is tradition, and replace it with reductionist constructs that have been tested only in the minds of left-wing intellectuals. The left’s insight into human nature, and all that it entails, is profoundly shallow, to coin an apt oxymoron.

Sowell documents many of the ways in which the left has tortured the Constitution, so that it no longer serves its intended, minimalist role of preserving the liberty that had been won by the War of Independence. The story of how the Constitution — the supreme law of the land — became, in the hands of the left, a weapon in their war against liberty is too depressing (and long) to recount in detail. I will say, simply, that Sowell has the story down pat:

  • disregard for the original meaning of the Constitution (and, thus, disregard for the rule of law)
  • judicial interpretation of the Constitution in ways intended to reach outcomes favored by the left, even when those outcomes clearly ran contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution
  • the expansion of the power of the federal government, in the service of those outcomes, to a point where there is nothing beyond its dictatorial reach, and no one is secure in the right to the peaceful enjoyment of life, liberty, and property.

It is not only that government now enjoys unlimited reach, but that it has failed in its duty to curb the reach of the predators among us:

As noted in Chapter 2, a retired New York police commissioner who tried to tell a gathering of judges of the dangerous potential of some of their rulings was literally laughed at by the judges and lawyers present. In short, theory trumped experience….

[A]fter many years of rising crime rates had built up sufficient public outrage to force a change in policy, rates of imprisonment rose — and crime rates began falling for the first time in years. [Leftist intellectuals] lamented the rising prison population in the country and, when they acknowledged the declining crime rate at all, confessed themselves baffled by it, as if it were a strange coincidence that crime was declining as more criminals were taken off the streets….

In light of the fact that a wholly disproportionate amount of crime is committed by a relatively small segment of the population, it is hardly surprising that putting a small fraction of the total population behind bars has led to substantial reductions in the crime rate….

…The very mention of “Victorian” ideas about society in general, or crime control in particular, is virtually guaranteed to evoke a sneer from the intelligentsia. The fact that the Victorian era was one of a decades-long decline in alcoholism, crime and social pathology in general … carries virtually no weight among the intelligentsia, and such facts remain largely unknown among those in the general public who depend on either the media or academia for information.

Thus are the wages of leftist idealism and the left’s rationalistic dismissal of traditional ways and mores.

THE LEFT AND WAR

Sowell rolls out the heavy guns in Chapter 7 (“Intellectuals and War”) and Chapter 8 (“Intellectuals and War: Repeating History”). A good way to summarize the lessons of these chapters is to say that the left’s attitudes toward war resemble the ebbing and flowing of an emotional tide. War is good, in the abstract, when it is a distant memory and the one in the offing presents an opportunity to “do good” — “the war to end all war,” and all that.

Then comes a war and its aftermath, both of which are far messier than intellectuals had expected them to be, given that their minds run to abstraction. A reflexive anti-war posture then sets in, and becomes a sign of membership in the leftist coalition,much as a fraternity pin dangling from a watch chain used to be a sign of membership in this or that exclusive circle. Given the left’s dominance in the various mass media, anti-war propaganda soon dominates and colors the public’s view of war.

Anti-war sentiment — inflamed by the left — might have kept the U.S. out of WWII, with disastrous results, had it not been for the Hitler’s decision to attack the USSR  and Japan’s miscalculated attack on Pear Harbor. The former event was more important to left than the latter, which caused non-intellectual isolationists to awaken from their slumber.

A generation later, anti-war propaganda disguised as journalism helped to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Vietnam. What was shaping up as a successful military campaign collapsed under the weight of the media’s overwrought and erroneous depiction of the Tet offensive as a Vietcong victory, the bombing of North Vietnam as “barbaric” (where the Tet offensive was given a “heroic cast), and the deaths of American soldiers as somehow “in vain, ” though many more deaths a generation earlier had not been in vain. (What a difference there was between Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite and his sycophants.)

Were it not for the determined leadership of Ronald Reagan, the left’s anti-war and anti-preparedness rhetoric — combined with a generous dose of fear-mongering — would have derailed the defense buildup in the 1980s, to which the collapse of the Soviet Union should be attributed. The left, of course, refuses to go along with the truth, preferring instead to credit the feckless Mikhail Gorbachev.

Only the 9/11 attacks helped to reverse the Clinton defense build-down of the 1990s. It has often been said, and said truly, that Clinton balanced the budget on the back of defense. But the 9/11 attacks might not have occurred had it not been for the “wall” of separation between foreign intelligence and domestic law-enforcement that was erected and maintained under Clinton’s Justice Department.

Only the determined leadership of George W. Bush (say whatever else you want to about him) brought about a reversal of fortune in the Iraq war, over the vocal and obstructive voices of the left — among which one must number the present occupant of the White House.

Then there is the constant campaign of leaks — originated through leftist media outlets — that compromise defense plans, intelligence operations, and anti-terrorist activities. That campaign meshes well with the left’s resolute determination to treat terrorists as criminal suspects, even when they are able to evade civilian justice because the evidence against them is too sensitive to be divulged in civilian courts.

Members of the armed forces are useful to the media mainly as a weapon with which to beat the anti-war, anti-defense drum. Aside from the occasional token remembrance of their sacrifices, they are mainly portrayed by the media as “victims” (because of war wounds), suicidal (though less so than the population at large), and violent (though less so than civilians of the same demographic group).

The beat goes on, relentlessly. In the meantime, America’s enemies and potential enemies take heart.

Americans now face a far more serious budget-balancing exercise, as the nation’s tax-payers face the looming mountain of debt arising from the accrual of “commitments,” past and present known as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and their expansion through CHIP, the Medicare prescription drug program, and Obamacare. Instead of confronting the real problem, politicians will duck it — for a while — by cutting other programs and raising taxes. Defense will carry a disproportionate share of the burden.

Will the U.S. be prepared for the next Pearl Harbor, the one that is far more devastating than the 9/11 attacks? In light of history and the way in which politics is played, the answer is “no.” And the next time, the U.S. will not have months and years in which to mobilize for a counter-attack. The next time, the enemy — whoever it is — will strike directly at America’s energy, telecommunications, and transportation networks with devastating blows that cripple the economy and spread fear and chaos throughout the land. (Here, I should remind the left that a sudden defeat would deprive its members of the opportunity to do what they do well when their leaders signal approval of a war: writing propaganda pieces for the home front, making propaganda films (often thinly disguised as entertainment), and commandeering the economy to  plan wartime production, set price controls, and establishing ration quotas.)

Shouldn’t the nation be preparing assiduously against such a contingency, and spending what it takes to prevent it, to work around it, and to recover from it quickly? You would think so, but — thanks largely to the left-wing agenda of bread and circuses — the necessary steps will not be taken. And the left will be out in front of the opposition to preparedness, shouting that the nation cannot afford more defense spending when it faces critical social “obligations.”

On that note, I close this portion of the review with an apt quotation that I am fond of deploying:

It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditure on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of the social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free. (Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir John Cotesworth Slessor, Strategy for the West, p. 75)

BAD IDEAS HAVE BAD CONSEQUENCES

The title of this final portion of a long review sums up the thesis of Intellectuals and Society. Sowell’s eponymous concluding Chapter 9 is not consistently on target, but it has its moments; for example:

The general public contributes to the income of intellectuals in a variety of ways involuntarily as taxpayers who support schools, colleges, and various other institutions and programs subsidizing intellectual and artistic endeavors. Other occupations requiring great mental ability — engineers, for example — have a vast spontaneous market for their end products…. But that is seldom true of people whose end products are ideas. There is neither a large nor a prominent role for them to play in society, unless they create it for themselves. (pp. 286-7)

*     *     *

While the British public did not follow the specific prescriptions of Bertrand Russell to disband British military forces on the eve of the Second World War, that is very different from saying that the steady drumbeat of anti-military preparedness rhetoric among the intelligentsia in general did not imped the buildup of a military deterrence or defense to offset Hitler’s rearming of Germany (p. 288)

In international issues of war and peace, the intelligentsia often say that war should be “a last resort.”… War should of course be “a last resort” — but last in terms of preference, rather than last in the sense of hoping against hope while dangers and provocations accumulate unanswered, while wishful thinking or illusory agreements substitute for serious military preparedness — or, if necessary, military action. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1941, “if you hold your fire until you see the whites of his eyes, you will never know what hit you.” The repeated irresolution of France during the 1930s, and on into the period known as the “phony war” that ended in its sudden collapse in 1940, gave the world a painful example of how caution can be carried to the point where it becomes dangerous (pp. 289-90)

*     *     *

The period from the 1960s to the 1980s was perhaps the high tide of the influence of the intelligentsia in the United State. Though the ideas of the intelligentsia still remain the prevailing ideas, their overwhelming dominance ideologically has been reduced somewhat by counter-attacks from various quarters….

Nevertheless, any announcement of the demise of the [leftist intellectualism] would be very premature, if not sheer wishful thinking, in view of [its] continuing dominance … in the educational system, television and in motion pictures that deal with social or political issues. In short, the intellectuals’ vision of the world — as it is and as it should be — remains the dominant vision. Not since the days of the divine rights of kings has there been such a presumption of a right to direct others and constrain their decisions, largely through expanded powers of government. Everything from economic central planning to environmentalism epitomizes the belief that third parties know best and should be empowered to over-ride the decisions of others. This includes preventing children from growing up with the values taught them by their parent if more “advanced” values are preferred by those who teach in the schools and colleges. (pp. 291-92)

*     *     *

Unlike engineers, physicians, or scientists, the intelligentsia face no serious constraint or sanction based on empirical verification. NOne bould be sued for malpractice, for example, for having contributed to the hysteria over the insecticide DDT, which led to its banning in many countries around the world, costing the lives of literally millions of people through a resurgence of malaria. (pp. 296-7)

*     *     *

One of the things intellectuals have been doing for a long time is loosening the bonds that hold a society together. They have sought to replace the groups into which people have sorted themselves with groupings created and imposed by the intelligentsia. Ties of family, religion, and patriotism, for example, hav long been treated as suspect or detrimental by the intelligentsia, and new ties that intellectuals have created, such as class — and more recently “gender” — have been projected as either more real or more important. (p. 303)

*     *     *

Under the influence of the intelligentsia, we have become a society that rewards people with admiration for violating its own norms and for fragmenting that society into jarring segments. In addition to explicit  denigrations of their own society for its history or current shortcomings, intellectuals often set up standards for their society which no society of human beings has ever met or is ever likely to meet.

Calling those standards “social justice” enables intellectuals to engage in endless complaints about the particular ways in which society fails to meet their arbitrary criteria, along with a parade of groups entitled to a sense of grievance, exemplified in the “race, class and gender” formula…. (p. 305)

I remind you that Sowell (and I) are, in the main, talking about the left — especially its elites. These are the so-called intellectuals and technocrats who dominate the media, academia, left-wing think tanks, and the upper layers of government bureaucracies. The smugness, sameness, and other-worldliness of their views is depressingly predictable.

The left advances its agenda in many ways, for example, by demonizing its opponents as “mean” and even “fascistic” (look in the mirror, bub), appealing to envy (stuck on “soak the rich,” with the connivance of some of the guilt-ridden “rich”), sanctifying an ever-growing list of “victimized” groups (various protected “minorities”), and taking a slice at a time (e.g., Social Security set the stage for Medicare which set it for Obamacare).

The left’s essential agenda  is the repudiation of ordered liberty of the kind that arises from evolved social norms, and the replacement of that liberty by sugar-coated oppression. The bread and circuses of imperial Rome have nothing on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Obamacare, and the many other forms of personal and corporate welfare that are draining America of its wealth and élan. All of that “welfare” has been bought at the price of economic and social liberty (which are indivisible).

Leftists like to say that there is a difference between opposition and disloyalty. But, in the case of the left, opposition arises from a fundamental kind of disloyalty. For, at bottom, the left pursues its agenda because  it hates the idea of what America used to stand for: liberty with responsibility, strength against foreign and domestic enemies.

Most leftists are simply shallow-minded trend-followers, who believe in the power of government to do things that are “good,” “fair,” or “compassionate,” with no regard for the costs and consequences of those things. Shallow leftists know not what they do. But they do it. And their shallowness does not excuse them for having been accessories to the diminution of  America. A rabid dog may not know that it is rabid, but its bite is no less lethal for that.

The leaders of the left — the office-holders, pundits, and intelligentsia — usually pay lip-service to “goodness,” “fairness,” and “compassion.” But their lip-service fails to conceal their brutal betrayal of liberty. Their subtle and not-so-subtle treason is despicable almost beyond words. But not quite…

Good Riddance (I Hope) to Bad Rubbish

The Washington Post Company has announced its intention to sell Newsweek, the 77-year-old magazine which the Post has owned for 49 years. The magazine’s editor, Jon Meacham, had this to say in an interview with Jon Stewart:

“I do not believe that Newsweek is the only Catcher in the Rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them,” Meacham said. “And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.”

Asked by Stewart about today’s free flow of information – including news consumption – Meacham struck a foreboding tone. “We have to decide, ‘are we ready to get what we pay for?’ If you’re not going to pay for news, then you’re going to get a different kind of news,” he said.

Meacham’s “reasoning” is in keeping with the wrong-headedness of Newsweek‘s cheerleading for all things statist. For starters, he poses a false dichotomy of democracy vs. ignorance. Democracy, in fact, thrives on ignorance: the ignorance of the masses that enables demagogues and charlatans to impoverish the masses while claiming to enrich them.

Meacham then resorts to the statist’s all-purpose “we” — arrogating to himself intimate knowledge of what the masses want — when he says “We have to decide, ‘are we ready to get what we pay for?’” The thrust of his statement is that the news provided “free” over the internet is inferior to the opinions masquerading as news in the pages of Newsweek and other print media. This is nonsense, for two reasons. First, news is not provided “free” over the internet; it is supported by advertisers. Second, this “free” news flows, in large part, from media sources like Newsweek; that is to say, it consists of kernels of news smothered in layers of leftist opinion.

Meacham has more to say, but you get the idea: With “great thinkers” of his ilk at the helm, it is no wonder that the likes of Newsweek are doomed. I say “doomed” because the Post is unlikely to find a buyer for Newsweek, which eventuality will allow the Post to fold the magazine. If the post does find a buyer for Newsweek, I would expect it to fold outright or to be merged with the buyer’s other failing properties.

In any event, it will be good riddance (I hope) to bad rubbish.

Blasts from the Past

I have republished much of the pre-blog (“home page”) version of my old blog, Liberty Corner, in 29 posts at The Original Liberty Corner. (There’s a link to TOLC in the right sidebar, for permanent access.) Some of the material at TOLC is dated; most of it remains current; some of it is prescient.

The preceding post, “First Principles,” is based on one of my early contributions to the pre-blog version of Liberty Corner. From time to time, I will update other material and re-post it at this blog.

Quick Takes

1. Bryan Caplan, who is prone to wrong-headed generalizations, is at it again. He defends survey research (e.g., “how happy are you?”) by pointing out that all economic statistics are based on surveys — as if to equate subjective measures of happiness with objective (if not precise) measures of employment, unemployment, prices, etc., etc.

2. Caplan does himself one better when he argues for a “Consumer Satisfaction Standard.” He writes:

Most economists still cling to the Demonstrated Preference Standard: If A buys X, then X makes A better off by definition.

Actually, “most” economists (if I may speak for them) would say that at the time A buys X, he believes that buying X will make him better off. If A later suffers buyer’s remorse, that is simply the result of having acquired additional information that A can then apply to future decisions. Only a supremely naive economist (Caplan?) would believe that humans are perfectly prescient about the consequences of their decisions.

Unabashed, Caplan continues by offering the Consumer Satisfaction Standard (CSS):

[I]f A buys X, and would do so if he had the chance to make the decision over again, then X makes A better off.

The validity of the CSS rests on the assumption that the buyer somehow knows that buying something else (Y) instead of X would have made him happier. But the buyer can’t know that unless he actually buys Y and finds that he doesn’t suffer buyer’s remorse. This kind of imaginary second-guessing could go on forever.

3. I must give Caplan credit for challenging the addiction-as-disease school of psychology. He writes:

While I think that addictive behavior should be legal, it’s still irresponsible and emotionally abusive towards the people who care about you.   The addiction-as-disease story shifts the blame from where it belongs – the self-destructive addict – to family, friends, co-workers, employers, tax-payers, and other victims.  Calling bad behavior a “disease” may be merciful, but it’s unjust.

Bravo!

4. Megan McArdle, as usual, makes sense. Some of her predictions about Obamacare:

[A]t least one of the major funding sources, and possibly all of them, will be substantively repealed:  the Medicare cuts (except Medicare Advantage), the excise tax, and so forth.

This program will not reduce the rate of growth in medical costs by anything like 1.5% a year.

A fiscal crisis of some sort is quite likely by 2030, though not just because of this program.  But this program will make it worse, either by increasing the deficit directly, or by using up the low-hanging fruit that should have funded Medicare reform.

By 2030, there’s an 80% chance that the government will have imposed substantial price controls on pharma and other medical technology–and this will noticeably slow the rate of innovation.

5. Finally — and aptly — is a review of Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society. The reviewer, J.R. Nyquist, refers to the subjects of Sowell’s book as “Civilization’s Wrecking Crew.”  An excerpt:

. . . Sowell offers a detailed examination of those who carry today’s ideological equivalent of the Black Death. He defines the term “intellectual” as referring to those teachers and writers who chiefly deal in ideas, and are paid — by the media or the state — for batting ideas around. By focusing on intellectuals who are paid for intellectualizing, he is able to make a series of observations about their ideological tendencies, their lack of accountability, and their tendency to live outside the “real world.” . . . It is one of those sociological tragedies that intellectuals act as if “their special kind of knowledge of generalities can and should substitute for, and override, the mundane specific knowledge of others.” The intellectuals, as a class, tend to reject the first-hand knowledge of non-intellectuals as “prejudice” or “stereotypes.” Abstract formulas, adopted by the intelligentsia as dogma, are advanced as some kind of superior wisdom and used to undergird insane government policies that fly in the face of common sense. How else, indeed, has our Republic arrived at its present state?

Once established, the intellectual class continues to feed politicians and bureaucrats with ideas that point toward one solution: big government, interventionism, wealth redistribution, and other egalitarian absurdities. The country is pushed, inch by inch, toward an unnamed catastrophe. Who will name it? Who will stop the pushing? The intellectuals are feeding at the public trough, and they are entrenched. It seems that the rest of society is helpless to stop them.

To decry their push for “judicial activism” avails us nothing. If you stop them in the Supreme Court they will infect popular opinion and a new Congress will be elected. If they don’t elect Congress, they will elect a president. If they cannot act politically, they will take over the universities and bring out a generation of politically correct drones. Here we are not dealing with a particular set of abuses that can be fixed with appeals to democracy, Christianity, or legal reform. Here we are dealing with thousands of writers and professors who have, through some mysterious process, arisen from the lower depths, from the inner hell of a confused though fashionable relativism. The welfare state is their brainchild, and economic calamity is also theirs.

Civilization’s Wrecking Crew has been working overtime lately.