leftists

The Culture War

“Culture war” is a familiar term, but one that I hadn’t thought deeply about until a few days ago. I read something about abortion in which “culture war” occurred. The fog lifted, and I grasped what should have been obvious to me all along: The “culture war” isn’t about “culture,” it’s about morality and liberty.

Rod Dreher, in the course of a premature paean to Barack Obama’s “diplomatic” approach to ideological strife, gets it right:

The source of our culture war is conflicting visions of what it means to be free and what it means to be an American – and even what it means to be fully human. More concretely, as Princeton’s Robert George has written, they have to do mainly “with sexuality, the transmitting and taking of human life, and the place of religion and religiously informed moral judgment in public life.”

Because the cultural left and cultural right hold to irreconcilable orthodoxies on these questions, we find scant cultural consensus. That’s life in America. Unless we become a homogenous country, we will continue to struggle to live together, staying true to our deepest beliefs while respecting the liberty of others to stay true to their own.

But we do not live in a libertarian Utopia. We can’t have it all. If, for example, courts constitutionalized same-sex marriage, as gay activists seek, that would have a ground-shaking effect on religious liberty, public schooling and other aspects of American life. Without question, it would intensify the culture war, as partisans of the left and right fight for what each considers a sacred principle.

What irritates conservatives is the liberals’ groundless conceit that they fight from a values-neutral position, while the right seeks to impose its norms on others. Nonsense. Marriage was a settled issue until liberals began using courts to impose their moral vision on (so far) an unwilling majority. Who fired the first shot there? (“Obama Won’t End the Culture Wars,” RealClearPolitics, February 16, 2009)

And it doesn’t matter whether the unwilling are a majority or a minority. Just about everyone is a loser in the war against morality and liberty.

When social norms — long-established rules of behavior — are sundered willy-nilly the result is a breakdown of the voluntary order known as civil society.

The liberty to live a peaceful, happy, and even prosperous life depends on civil society: the daily observance of person X’s negative rights by persons W, Y, and Z — and vice versa. That is so because it is impossible and — more importantly — undesirable for the state to police everyone’s behavior. Liberty depends, therefore, on the institutions of society — family, church, club, and the like — through which individuals learn to treat one another with respect, through which individuals often come to the aid of one another, and through which instances of disrespect can be noted, publicized, and even punished (e.g., by criticism and ostracism).

That is civil society, which the state ought to protect, but instead usurps and destroys. Usurping is one of the state’s primary (and illegitimate) functions. The state establishes agencies (e.g., public schools, welfare), gives them primary and even sole jurisdiction in many matters, and funds them with tax money that could have gone to private institutions.

Worse, however, is the way in which the state destroys the social norms that foster social harmony — mutual respect and trust — without which a people cannot flourish.  As I observed some years ago, in connection with same-sex “marriage”:

Given the signals being sent by the state, the rate of formation of traditional, heterosexual marriages will continue to decline. (According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of adult males who are married dropped steadily from 71.1 percent in the 1960 census to 58.6 percent in the 2000 census; for females, the percentage dropped from 67.4 to 54.6. About half of each drop is explained by a rise in the percentage of adults who never marry, the other half by a rise in the percentage of divorced adults. Those statistics are what one should expect when the state signals — as it began to do increasingly after 1960 — that traditional marriage is no special thing by making it easier for couples to divorce, by subsidizing single mothers, and by encouraging women to work outside the home.)

“Thanks” to the signals sent by the state — many of them in the form of legislative, executive, an judicial dictates — we now have not just easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that feature disease, promiscuity, and familial instability.

The state, of course, doesn’t act of its own volition. It acts at the behest of special interests — interests with a “cultural” agenda. Dreher calls them liberals. I call them left-statists. They are bent on the eradication of civil society — nothing less — in favor of a state-directed Rousseauvian dystopia from which morality and liberty will have vanished, except in Orwellian doublespeak.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Trevor Thomas, “The Laughable Liberal ‘Moral Imperative’,” American Thinker, December 1, 2013
Deborah C. Tyler, “Morality, Anti-Morality, and Socialism,” American Thinker, December 1, 2013

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The Consequences of Roe v. Wade
The Old Eugenics in a New Guise
The Left, Abortion, and Adolescence
Moral Luck
Consider the Children
Same-Sex Marriage
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual Marriage
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Equal Time: The Sequel
Marriage and Children
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A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
Crime, Explained
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
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Rawls Meets Bentham
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Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
The Left’s Agenda
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
In Defense of Marriage
The Left and Its Delusions
Burkean Libertarianism
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Society and the State
Are You in the Bubble?
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
“Conversing” about Race
Defining Liberty
“We the People” and Big Government

The View from Here

You know what happens when a law is enacted to protect a “minority,” don’t you? The minority acquires privileged status in the eyes of the law. Any action that is claimed to deprive the “minority” of its rights brings the wrath of the state down on the purported offender. And the same law enables members of the “minority” to attain jobs, promotions, and university admissions for which they are otherwise unqualified.

My opening paragraph is prompted by the likely passage of a “gay rights in workplace” bill by the U.S. Senate. The bill is unlikely to be approved soon by the U.S. House of Representatives, but I won’t say “never.” Many members of the GOP are eager to seem “nice,” and enough of them might vote with Democrats to pass the bill and send it to B.O. for signature. Such an act of appeasement will, of course, go unrewarded by voters of the left. But panicked lawmakers are immune to logic, and devoid of principles.

The “gay rights” issue is only a symptom of America’s decay. The official elevation of gays to privileged status is of a piece with several other developments: the very possible failure of efforts to derail death-dealing Obamacare, the equally likely failure of efforts to curb murderous abortion (the gateway to involuntary euthanasia), the ever-growing dependence of Americans on an unaffordable welfare state, an unchecked regulatory apparatus, feminized and gutted defenses, groveling before enemies, and the suppression of dissent in the name of “rights,” “social justice,” “equal protection,” and other Orwellian catch-phrases.

It is altogether evident that America soon will be an irreversibly effete, statist, inhumane, and appeasing realm. In it, every truly beneficial impulse — like those that energized America’s revolution against Britain, the framing of a Constitution that promised the preservation of liberty, the defeat of oppressive regimes in wars hot and cold, and the creation of the world’s most dynamic and productive economy — will be squelched.

The barbarians within, and their willing dupes, are in the saddle. It can happen here, and it is happening here. America is about to become the land of the unfree and the home of the weak-kneed.

*     *     *

Related reading: Joe Herring, “I Am Now a Dissident (and You Should Be Too!),” American Thinker, November 6, 2013

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Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
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The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Crimes against Humanity
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Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
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The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union

As empires die, the barbarians usually gather at the gates, preparing a final rush. Unfortunately our savages are already inside. They are in the public schools, the universities, and downtown in the cities. They make our movies, set social policy from afar, instill appropriate values in our children. They do not know that they are savages. They now rule us, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Except watch. Vast disasters make splendid theater. This one is going to be a doozy.

– Fred Reed (Nekkid in Austin, iUniverse, 2002)

Reed is right. He must be right because he agrees with me about America’s future. (See “Well-Founded Pessimism” and “America: Past, Present, and Future.”) Reed also agrees with me about the causes of that future.

Some would say that “we” have done it to ourselves. But that is wrong. The truth is that some of “us” have done it to the rest of “us.”

Who are the doers? Reed gets it partly right, but he (like most social observers) overlooks the “secret” ingredient: leftist lying and treachery. (Though he is alert and scathing about one of its powerful instruments: political correctness.*)

Leftists lie to themselves and to others. The purpose of these lies is to advance collectivism, and to do so at the expense of America’s economic and military security.

By collectivism, I mean not just the obvious things (e.g., government control of the economy, income redistribution). Collectivism also embraces forced egalitarianism, regardless of differences in ability, skill, and effort — and to the detriment of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights.

As for the willingness (eagerness) of leftists to forgo economic and military security, consider just a few examples: It is the left that opposes free trade. It is the left that constantly calls for higher taxes on “the rich,” to punish success and deter growth-producing investments. It was the left that sniveled about Reagan’s “dangerous and provocative” arms buildup — the buildup that brought the USSR to its knees. It is the left that, since the “McGovern revolution” of 1972 has turned the Democrat Party into a party of military weakness and appeasement — appeasement of Soviet and Chinese Communism, of Islamic terrorism, and of any other “ism” but American patriotism.

Leftists lie to themselves (engage in magical thinking) in order to justify (to themselves and the gullible) their upside-down woldview. Thus, for example, they embrace the pseudo-sciences of climatology and macroeconomics, which justify costly and aggrandizing state action (e.g., limitations on the use of fossil fuels, the conscription of scarce resources by government in the name of “stimulus”). Perhaps the biggest lie that leftists tell themselves is that they really believe in collectivism and egalitarianism, when they patently do not.

Leftists lie to others — usually deploying the lies they tell themselves  — in order to advance egalitarian collectivism and weaken America. There are the straightforward lies about policy matters as the need to combat man-made global warming by adopting expensive and inefficient “solutions” (think “green” energy, for example), and the effectiveness of “stimulus” spending. Beyond that, there are hoaxes and the Big LIe about Communism, the effects of which burden America more than two decades after the purported demise of Communism. (Note to reader: Hitler, inventor of the Big Lie, was a leftist — not a demented conservative, as later Big Liars would have you believe.)

Before I elaborate on the Big Lie and its accompanying treachery, I will set the stage by say a bit about a kind of “little lie” that appeals to leftists: the hoax.

What kind of political gain accrues to a hoax? Sympathy for a favored “minority group” — usually blacks, women, and persons suffering from real or feigned gender confusion. Beyond sympathy, of course, there is the hope of favored treatment through changes in social norms, forced and reinforced by codes of conduct, and statutes. Favored treatment means more-than-equal treatment for a “minority group” and less-than-equal treatment for persons not in the “minority group” — for example, the erosion of rights (property, speech, and association), and the loss of jobs, promotions, and university admissions.

Prominent, politically inspired/exploited hoaxes of recent times include:

  • The “rape” of Tawana Brawley, a black female
  • The fatal beating of Matthew Shepard, supposedly because of his homosexuality (more here)
  • The “rape” of a black female members of Duke University’s lacrosse team

What about the Big Lie? Well, the aim is the same: to twist the truth and advance the left’s domestic agenda:

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). (For a broad enumeration, see this post.)

In foreign affairs, the left’s agenda is the erosion of America’s military and economic might, because (insert one or more of the following morally relativistic-politically “realistic” positions):

  • No other country [at present] poses a military challenge to the U.S. [As if this were a permanent condition which would survive prolonged decimation of America’s armed forces.]
  • it is wrong for America to attack other countries. [Always? Even when those other countries are hotbeds of terrorism?]
  • Other countries (e.g., Iran) ought to have nuclear weapons if they want them; after all, the U.S. has them. [Well, why didn’t we offer the A-bomb to Japan instead of using it to end World War II and save millions of lives?]
  • America is nothing special and doesn’t deserve to be stronger and richer than other countries. [Easily said when you are protected by America’s strength and benefit from its quasi-free and still potent economic system, but would you really weaken and impoverish America — and yourself — just to be “no better” than, say, a sub-Saharan country?]
  • “We” must rely in international institutions instead of being the word’s policeman and/or bully. [Rely on ‘international institutions’ even if they are controlled by states that wish ill on America, states that promote ideals other than America’s (professed) ones of liberty and equality of opportunity.
  • The inevitable “convergence” of Communism and capitalism will lead America down the path of socialism and accommodation with the USSR, so we might as well relax and enjoy it.

Reasonable people may disagree about the necessary size and shape of America’s defenses. Reasonable people may disagree about the wisdom of a particular military operation. Reasonable people may disagree about the threat posed by Iran. But reasonable people will not hold the preceding convictions as absolutely and fervently as they are held by leftists, without regard for the facts or the consequences for the liberty and prosperity of Americans.

For decades, the left indulged in one of its biggest Big Lies — a lie perpetrated with the clear purpose of fostering collectivism and military weakness — anti-anti-Communism:

… Whittaker Chambers experienced this [Big Lie] at its punishing extreme. Chambers, probably the most famous American ex-Communist ever, was a former courier for Soviet military intelligence, subsequently an editor at Time magazine, and, in passing, curiously, the English translator of the 1923 Austrian novel Bambi, which became the 1942 Disney cartoon. His exceedingly wise decision to retain hard evidence attesting to his espionage work in the 1930s helped convict, most sensationally, Alger Hiss— the Ivy-educated, well-connected former State Department official and progenitor of the United Nations, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and all-around poster boy of the Liberal Establishment. Starting in 1950, Hiss served four years in jail for perjury charges related to Soviet espionage.

Then what happened? Did a thankful President Truman crown Chambers in laurels and congratulate him on behalf of a grateful nation for exposing a Communist conspiracy metastasizing at the highest levels of the federal government?

Never has a simple “no” been less adequate…. At one point in his testimonial [Witness], Chambers encapsulates the physics of anti-anti-Communism this way: “I had been warned repeatedly that the brunt of official wrath was directed, not against Alger Hiss as a danger, but against me for venturing to testify to the danger.”

It bears restating: Officialdom was enraged not by the danger posed by Hiss, a Soviet military intelligence agent “continuously since 1935,” but by Chambers for testifying to the danger….

… When did anti-Communism itself— the philosophical and political drive against state domination of the individual— become a radioactive inheritance of perceived bigotry and mass hysteria to be passed down, gingerly, generation to generation? …

The so-called McCarthy Era is the obvious place to search for answers, since the narrative we can all recite tells us that the Red-hunting Republican senator from Wisconsin was himself singlehandedly responsible for the evisceration of ideological opposition to Communism— anti-Communism— rendering said anti-Communism into a kind of disease. The remedy was said to be a steadying dose of anti-anti-Communism, despite the often heavy pro-Communist side effects. McCarthy accomplished all of this, the same narrative goes, with his crude zealotry and wild overreach, hectoring and destroying American innocents who had the misfortune to be dragged before his investigatory Senate committee for nothing. “Name one Communist or Soviet agent ever identified by McCarthy,” goes the perpetual challenge to this day, regardless of evidence from both Soviet and American archives that corroborate FBI reports, sworn testimonies, and other facts amassed in support of innumerable McCarthy investigations into the Soviet penetration of the federal government…. (Diana West, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, St. Martin’s Press, 2013**)

What was the Big Lie of anti-anti-Communism? The story line went like this: Communism stands for a noble ideal (regardless of what Communism invariably looks like in practice), and the Soviet Union’s expansionism is merely defensive. Any criticism of the Soviet Union — including criticism of its espionage and infiltration of the U.S. government — is therefore bad. Anti-Soviet (anti-Communist) views must therefore be discredited.

This story line was advanced by Communist agents working inside the U.S. government, with the help of the usual suspects: academics, show-biz types (with a few notable and ostracized exceptions), and politicians and bureaucrats — many of whom agreed with the story line and others of whom sought election and advancement by placating the left and, at the same time, adopting the “sophisticated” posture of moral relativism and political realism.

By 1995, when the collectivist cause needed no special protection — having advanced from FDR’s New Deal to LBJ’s Great Society, and having been consolidated in the years since — the U.S. government finally released materials amassed by the Venona project,

a long-running secret collaboration of the United States and United Kingdom intelligence agencies involving cryptanalysis of messages sent by intelligence agencies of the Soviet Union, the majority of them during World War II….

During the initial years of the Cold War, the Venona project was a source of information on Soviet intelligence-gathering activity that was directed at the Western military powers. Although unknown to the public, and even to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, these programs were of importance concerning crucial events of the early Cold War….

… Sometime in 1945, the existence of the Venona program was revealed to the Soviet Union by the NKVD agent and United States Army SIGINT analyst and cryptologist Bill Weisband….

To what extent the various individuals were involved with Soviet intelligence is a topic of dispute. While a number of academics and historians assert that most of the individuals mentioned in the Venona decrypts were most likely either clandestine assets and/or contacts of Soviet intelligence agents, others argue that many of those people probably had no malicious intentions and committed no crimes [emphasis added].

Well, of course, “many of those people” were innocent. But many were not. Among the many non-innocents:

And that’s just a sample of a long list of known Soviet agents. Did you notice the presence on the list of the Rosenbergs, as well as a large number of government officials (Alger Hiss among them)? Protestations and “proof” of the innocence of the Rosenbergs, Hiss, and others were key components of the Big anti-anti-Communist Lie.

America’s hollow victory in the Cold War brought with it the end of anti-Communism and anti-anti-Communism as political preoccupations. But the Big Lie lives on, in the service of a collectivist and weak America. How could that have happened if America “won” the Cold War? The bitter truth is that every living person of influence in the U.s. was raised during the reign of the Big (anti-anti-Communist) Lie or in the succeeding generations that were (and are) dominated “educators” who persist unto this day in spreading  the gospel of collectivism at home and weakness abroad. (It is not a sign of strength to kill a few terrorists at long distance with armed drones or to back with words and deeds the efforts of anti-American insurgents aiming to replace one kind of tyranny with their own.)

The lamentable truth is that America’s political elites, their enablers in the academy and the media, their financial backers, and their constituents and dupes (the “masses”) have together succeeded in yoking America with “soft” despotism:

Soft despotism is simply a more polite term than fascism (or socialism) for pervasive government control of our affairs:

Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by “a network of small complicated rules” might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called ‘hard despotism’) in the sense that it is not obvious to the people. Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Soft despotism is “soft” only in that citizens aren’t dragged from their houses at night and executed for imaginary crimes against the state — though they are hauled into court for not wearing seatbelts, for smoking in bars, and for various other niggling offenses to the sensibilities of nanny-staters.

Despite the absence of arbitrary physical punishment, soft despotism is despotism, period. It can be nothing but despotism when the state holds sway over your paycheck, your retirement plan, your medical care, your choice of associates, and thousands of other details of your life — from the drugs you may not buy to the kind of car you can’t drive, from where you can build a house to the features that your house must include.

“Soft despotism,” in other words, is too soft a term for the regime under which we live. I therefore agree with Tom Smith: “Fascism” is a good descriptor of our present condition, so I’ll continue to use it.

Consider Obamacare, which — unlike Hillarycare — may survive:

When Obama was campaigning on behalf of his health care law one mantra was repeated ad nauseam: If you like your current plan, you can keep it. To put it gently, this hasn’t turned out to be the case, as more and more employers are opting to drop health coverage for their employees, pushing them onto the insurance exchanges…. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Instead of subsidizing retiree health premiums directly, IBM will give retirees an annual contribution via a health retirement account that they can use to buy Medicare Advantage plans and supplemental Medicare policies on the exchange, as well as pay for other medical expenses. Retirees who don’t enroll in a plan through Extend Health won’t receive the subsidy. […]

Few employees can now count on big companies to provide retirement health care. Only 28% of large companies that offer health benefits to employees offered retiree coverage in 2013, down from 34% in 2006 and 66% in 1988, according to a 2013 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This is huge. Far from being a status quo law, Obamacare has become a weapon of mass destruction against traditional employer plans…. (“Obamacare Is Destroying Employer-Based Health Plans,” Via Media, September 9, 2013)

Anyone who knew anything about the likely effects of Obamacare knew that it was sold with this purpose in mind: To undermine employer-based plans and, thus, to garner support for single-payer (i.e., government-provided) health insurance. That, in turn, would practically complete government’s takeover of health care in the U.S., given its control of everything else involved in health care through regulation and the power over providers that accompanies Medicare and Medicaid. (This, too, probably shall not pass.)

And healthcare is but one aspect of an economy that has been commandeered by government spending and regulation, in the name of and for “the people.” For it is well known that most Americans oppose government spending and regulation, in the abstract, while supporting those very things when push comes to shove. (See, for example, this and this.)

Not that the state of the economy will matter much when America is no longer able to effectively defend its citizens and their legitimate overseas interests:

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

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

(Norman Podhoretz delivers a more elaborate version of Phillips’s thesis at “Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013.)

And the Big Lie continues, transmogrified from anti-anti-Communism to anti-anti-Islamism:

[S]hortly after 9/11, a time when some among us were beginning to realize that what we were all hearing 24/7 on cable, on NPR, in The New York Times, from all the experts … was out of sync with what we were watching before our eyes. In other words, the narrative—“ Islam is peace”— was not supported by the evidence: Islam is violence. Islam is slavery (Sudan). Islam is forced conversion (Egypt). Islam is child rape (Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, South Yorkshire, too). Islam is pillage (Somalia). Islam is religious cleansing (Iraq). Islam is death for apostasy (Swat Valley, Harvard University, too8). Islam is censorship (everywhere). Islam is conquest (Cyprus, Israel, Kosovo, Philippines, the 751 government-ID’d no-go zones of France). Such fact-based observations, of course, trigger charges of that sin of sins—“ Islamophobia” (“ racism” being its domestic twin)— but does mere name-calling (“ Islamophobe”) make these serious crimes and their real victims go away? In our world, yes. Over nearly a century of Big Lies we have learned to discount fact and disable logic. As in a frustration dream, the crimes, the victims, and their suffering vanish in today’s magic word, “Islamophobia.” What remains— slanderous allegations of “prejudice,” permanent brands of “bias”— triggers the revulsion reflex in the postmodern brain, still programmed to be vigilant against racism, lynch mobs, the KKK, and the like.

Extant or not, functional or not, these usually faux stimuli create outrage Islam exploits as “Islamophobia.” … This pattern is very old. In pre-McCarthy times, the all-powerful word that stopped the logic process cold was “Red-baiter.” …

… Islam, we are told, has nothing to do with anything bad. How could it? Islam means “peace,” said the forty-third president of the United States. No, in fact, Islam means “submission.” There’s a huge difference, and it explains why Islam celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers in Gaza, Kabul, and Queens. Dhimmitude, already evident in our society, goes a long way to explain why we didn’t dare show that we had noticed.

What we were witnessing was the marshaling forces of the latest, greatest Big Lie…. I saw how … this Big Lie was actively pressed on us by cadres of agents of Islam and their own armies of useful fools: members of the Muslim Brotherhood fobbed off as advocates of a pluralistic, American Islam, the Iran Lobby, Saudi princelings, the international Islamic bloc now known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Bush administration, the Obama administration, practically anyone on a TV soundstage. All “reasonable people,” they peddled the same Big Lie: Islam is a religion of peace.

The history of the decade that followed, then, became a stuttering story of mongrel words and phrases (from “Islamofascism” to “violent extremism”) and morphing suffixes (“ ist,” “ism”). It was a time of now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t terminology (jihad, jihadist, sharia, mujahideen, shahid, taqqiyya, jizya, caliphate). Apt phrases became verboten (“ Islamic terrorism,” “Muslim violence,” “Islamic jihad”), as did concepts uniquely or characteristically Islamic: religious supremacism, censorship, slavery, pederasty, “honor killings,” “grooming,” and totalitarianism, among others. We may have intuited that “apostasy” did not go out with Galileo, and that beheadings did not end with the French Revolution, but  … Islam is a religion of peace. The real threat, we decided to believe, or thought we had no choice but to believe (or just didn’t think), is “violent extremism.”…

Limiting our brains to this empty phrase, however, has done extreme violence to our thought processes…. After all, if the problem is “violent extremism,” what’s the problem? Have a nice flight….

Islam is the totalitarian threat of today. However, because we continue the “deceit and double-speak” we adopted in response to Communism, we are unable to deal with the new threat— the new Communism of today. We deal with Islam the same way we dealt with Communism: Having been subverted and undermined, we apologize and converge.

As [Geert] Wilders asked, What is wrong with modern Western man? Did something happen to him? I think the answer is yes: Communism happened to him. Solomon aside, there was something novel under the Communist sun; under the shorter-lived Nazi sun, too. In his 1998 book Century of Horrors: Communism, Nazism, and the Uniqueness of the Shoah, Alain Besançon explains what that was: “Communism and Nazism set out to change something more fundamental than mores— that is, the very rule of morality, of our sense of good and evil. And in this, they committed acts unknown in prior human experience.”

And in this, our world was transformed….

Where “good” and “evil” are old-fashioned and laughable (and bracketed by quotation marks), moral relativism takes hold— Lenin’s universal legacy. Solzhenitsyn wondered what would happen next: “But if we are to be deprived of the concepts of good and evil, what will be left? Nothing but the manipulation of each other.”

The manipulation of each other through the manipulation of narratives….

… All these decades later, no one wants information or to open their eyes to the Muslim Brotherhood’s self-described “civilization jihad,” either. It hurts our heads. It exhausts our limited lexicon of ideology…. (Diana West, op. cit.)

*     *     *

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the ascendancy of FDR, his “Brain Trust,” and the New Deal. It is an anniversary to be mourned, not celebrated. Mourned because it means that Americans’ prosperity and liberty have been eroded and imperiled by eight decades of leftist lies and treachery.

Thus the land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of the handout-seeker and the home of the appeaser. That is the unfortunate state of the Union in 2013.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Arnold Kling, “Our New Technocratic Masters,” Askblog, February 3, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Glue Holding America Together,” RealClearPolitics, June 28, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson,”Liberal Apartheid,” RealClearPolitics, July 8, 2013
M. Stanton Evans, “In Defense of Diana West,” cnsnews.com, September 13, 2013

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Course of the Mainstream
FDR and Fascism
An FDR Reader
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
The Shape of Things to Come
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Where We Are, Economically
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Obamanomics: A Report Card
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Well-Founded Pessimism
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy
__________
* From Fred Reed (op. cit.):

Feminists wanted congress to pass a vast program of funding for every left-wing cause that incited enthusiasm in the sterile nests of NOW. They called it the Violence Against Women Act, and men deferentially gave it to them. Of course to vote against it, no matter what it actually said (and almost no one knew) would have been to seem to favor violence against women. A law to exterminate orphans, if called the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, would pass without demur.

There followed yet more male deference to female desires. When women wanted to go into the military to have babies, or a Soldier Experience, men couldn’t bring themselves to say no.

When the women couldn’t perform as soldiers, men graciously lowered standards so they could appear to. It was the equivalent of helping a woman over a log in the park, the legal and institutional parallel of murmuring, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about a thing.”

On and on it went. The aggregate effect has been that women have gained real power, while (or by) managing in large part to continue to exact deference and, crucially, to avoid the accountability that should come with power. A minor example is women who want the preferential treatment that women now enjoy, and yet expect men to pay for their dates. In today’s circumstances, this is simple parasitism.

Today men are accountable for their behavior. Women are not. The lack of accountability, seldom clearly recognized, is the bedrock of much of today’s feminist misbehavior, influence, and politics. Its pervasiveness is worth pondering.

** West’s book is controversial — to put it mildly — even among conservatives. Key charges and counter-charges about American Betrayal can be found here:

Ronald Radosh, “McCarthy on Steroids,” FrontPage Mag, August 7, 2013

John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, “Was Harry Hopkins a Soviet Spy?,” FrontPage Mag, August 16, 2013

Diana West, “Published: The Rebuttal in Three Parts [links provided],” dianawest.net, September 10, 2013

West’s style — breathless, repetitive, discursive, often logic-challenged — should not blind you to the essence of her argument, which I have tried to capture in the quotations from her book. Read American Betrayal, read the entries in the debate, consult your own knowledge of America’s past 80 years (if you have much knowledge of those times), and judge for yourself. But don’t commit what I call the fallacy of particularism, which is to discredit an entire thesis because the supporting argument is incorrect in some particulars. (That’s how O.J. got off: “If it [a glove left near the murder scene] doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”) West may not be right about every detail; she has, in my estimation, got the big picture right. For example, even if West is wrong in her assertion that FDR’s right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, was a Soviet agent, she is right about his baleful influence on the foreign and domestic policies of the U.S. government. And his influence lives on.

IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition

This is a wandering post, in which I use a recent controversy about IQ to make some observations about political correctness, which leads to a tale of leftist subversion and America’s descent into statism.

Since my last post about IQ, more than a year ago, the biggest kerfuffle on the IQ front arose when Jason Richwine was chased from his job at Heritage Foundation. The proximate cause of Richwine’s departure from Heritage was the usual kind of witch hunt that accompanies the discovery of anything coming from a conservative source that might offend political correctness. Richwine was “guilty” of having penned a dissertation that contains unremarkable statements about ethnic differences in average IQ, including the IQ difference between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites.

These are excerpts of John Derbyshire’s narration of l’affaire Richwine as it unfolded:

… Following the release of a report by the Heritage Foundation arguing that the Rubio-Schumer immigration bill will cost the nation $6.3 trillion, the Slave Power set their dwarf miners to digging.

They soon found gold. One of the co-authors of the study is twentysomething Jason Richwine, a Heritage analyst. Not just an analyst, but a quantitative analyst: “Heritage’s senior policy analyst in empirical studies.” …

After a few days’ digging the Nibelungs turned up Richwine’s Ph.D. thesis from Harvard University, title: “IQ and Immigration Policy.” The mother lode! (You can download it from here.)

The Washington Post ran a gleeful story on the find under the headline “Heritage study co-author opposed letting in immigrants with low IQs.” [By Dylan Matthews, May 8, 2013]. They note that:

Richwine’s dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races.

Eek! A witch! …

Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, on secondment from Conservatism, Inc. to offer some pretense of “balance” at the Post, hastened to join the lynch mob. “It undermines the cause of all immigration opponents to have their prized work authored by such a character,” she wrote, reading Richwine out of respectable society….

She then brings in Jennifer S. Korn for a quote. Ms. Korn was Secretary for Hispandering in the George W. Bush White House….

What does Ms. Korn have to tell us?

Richwine’s comments are bigoted and ignorant. America is a nation of immigrants; to impugn the intelligence of immigrants is to offend each and every American and the foundation of our country….

Even if you take Ms. Korn’s usage of “impugn” to mean Richwine has stated that immigrants have lower mean IQ than natives, she is wrong. Table 2.2 in the thesis (p. 30) gives an average estimated mean IQ of 105.5 for immigrants from Northeast Asia….

And so another “anti-racist” witch hunt commences….

The forces of orthodoxy have identified a heretic. They’re marching on his hut with pitchforks and flaming brands. The cry echoes around the internet: “Burn the witch!” … (“‘Burn the Witch': Heritage Foundation Scuttles Away from Jason Richwine–and the Cold, Hard Facts,” VDare.com, May 9, 2013)

The impetus for politically correct witch-hunting comes from the left, of course. This is unsurprising because leftists, on average, are dumber than conservatives and libertarians. (See this and this, for example.) Which would explain their haste to take offense when the subject of IQ is raised.

But facts are facts, and Richwine summarizes them neatly in a recent (post-Heritage) essay; for example:

The American Psychological Association (APA) tried to set the record straight in 1996 with a report written by a committee of experts. Among the specific conclusions drawn by the APA were that IQ tests reliably measure a real human trait, that ethnic differences in average IQ exist, that good tests of IQ are not culturally biased against minority groups, and that IQ is a product of both genetic inheritance and early childhood environment. Another report signed by 52 experts, entitled “Mainstream Science on Intelligence,” stated similar facts and was printed in the Wall Street Journal. (“Why Can’t We Talk about IQ?,” Politico, August 9, 2013)

Richwine continues:

[W]hen Larry Summers, then the president of Harvard University, speculated in 2005 that women might be naturally less gifted in math and science, the intense backlash contributed to his ouster.Two years later, when famed scientist James Watson noted the low average IQ scores of sub-Saharan Africans, he was forced to resign from his lab, taking his Nobel Prize with him.

When a Harvard law student was discovered in 2010 to have suggested in a private email that the black-white IQ gap might have a genetic component, the dean publicly condemned her amid a campus-wide outcry. Only profuse apologies seem to have saved her career.

In none of these cases did an appeal to science tamp down the controversy or help to prevent future ones. My own time in the media crosshairs would be no different.

So what did I write that created such a fuss? In brief, my dissertation shows that recent immigrants score lower than U.S.-born whites on a variety of cognitive tests. Using statistical analysis, it suggests that the test-score differential is due primarily to a real cognitive deficit rather than to culture or language bias. It analyzes how that deficit could affect socioeconomic assimilation, and concludes by exploring how IQ selection might be incorporated, as one factor among many, into immigration policy.

Because a large number of recent immigrants are from Latin America, I reviewed the literature showing that Hispanic IQ scores fall between white and black scores in the United States. This fact isn’t controversial among experts, but citing it seems to have fueled much of the media backlash.

Derbyshire follows up:

Jason, who can hardly be more than thirty, has not yet grasped an important thing about humanity at large: that most of our thinking is magical, superstitious, religious, social, and egotistical. Very little of it is empirical. I myself am as stone-cold an empiricist as you’ll meet in a month of Sundays; yet every day when I walk my dog there is a certain tree I have to pat as we pass it. (It’s on the wrong side of the road. The family joke is that I shall one day be hit by a truck while crossing the road to pat my lucky tree.)

Hence Jason’s puzzlement that 25 years after Snyderman and Rothman, 19 years after The Bell Curve and the follow-up “Mainstream Science on Intelligence” declaration, the public discourse even in quality outlets is dominated by innumerate journo-school graduates parroting half-remembered half-truths from Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, the greatest work of Cultural Marxist propaganda yet produced.

That’s how we are. That’s the shape of human nature. Alan Cromer explained it in his 1993 book Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science. Not many people can think empirically much of the time. At the aggregate level, where the lowest common denominator takes over and social acceptance is at the front of everyone’s mind, empiricism doesn’t stand a chance unless it delivers some useful technology.

Nor is it quite the case that “emotion trumps reason.” What mostly trumps reason is the yearning for respectability, leading us to conform to ambient dogmas—in the present-day West, the dogmas of Cultural Marxism, which waft around us like a noxious vapor….

This is how we are: jumbles of superstition, emotion, self-deception, and social conformism, with reason and science trotting along behind trying to keep up.

Science insists that there is an external world beyond our emotions and wish-fulfillment fantasies. It claims that we can find out true facts about that world, including facts with no immediate technological application. The human sciences insist even more audaciously that we ourselves are part of that world and can be described as dispassionately as stars, rocks, and microbes. Perhaps one day it will be socially acceptable to believe this. (“Why We Can’t Talk about IQ,” Taki’s Magazine, August 15, 2013)

Much has been made of the “bland” 1950s and the supposed pressure to conform to the Ozzie and Harriett way of life. Though i was never clear about the preferred alternative. On the evidence of the past 50 years, it seems to have been a potent mix of blue language, promiscuous sex, sodomy, broken families, drugs, violence, and ear-blasting “music.”

The true forces of conformity had begun their work many years before Ricky Nelson was a gleam in his father’s eye. There was, of course, the Progressive Era of the late 1800s and early 1900s, from which America was beginning to recover by the late 1920s.. But then came the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the establishment in America of a fifth column dedicated to the suppression of liberty:

As recounted in [KGB: The Inside Story by KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky and Cambridge intelligence expert Christopher Andrew]  … Harry Hopkins — FDR’s confidant, advisor, and policy czar, who actually resided in the White House during World War II — was the Big Enchilada among American agents of influence working for the USSR. Gordievsky recounts attending a lecture early in his career by Iskhak Akhmerov, the KGB’s top “illegal” spy in the U.S. during the 1940s (In espionage parlance, “illegals” do not have legal cover if caught). According to Gordievsky, Akhmerov spoke for a long period about Hopkins, calling him the top Soviet asset in the US. Yet, Gordievsky and Andrew tiptoe around this allegation by representing that Hopkins was a naïve devotee who only courted Stalin to ensure victory over Hitler’s Germany.

Although I know Andrew well, and have met Gordievsky twice, I now doubt their characterization of Hopkins…. It does not ring true that Hopkins was an innocent dupe dedicated solely to defeating the Nazis. Hopkins comes over in history as crafty, secretive and no one’s fool, hardly the personality traits of a naïve fellow traveler. And his fingerprints are on the large majority of pro-Soviet policies implemented by the Roosevelt administration. [Diana] West [author of American Betrayal: Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character] deserves respect for cutting through the dross that obscures the evidence about Hopkins, and for screaming from the rooftops that the U.S. was the victim of a successful Soviet intelligence operation….

West mines Venona, the testimony of “Red spy queen” Elizabeth Bentley — who confessed her work for the communist underground to the FBI in 1945 — and the book Blacklisted by History by M. Stanton Evans, a re-examination of the McCarthy era using Venona and hundreds of other recently declassified documents from the FBI, CIA, and other agencies. And West lambastes the Truman administration for not revealing data from Venona that would have exonerated McCarthy and informed the nation that Soviet agents had indeed infiltrated key departments of the FDR administration….

The Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, Laurence Duggan, and 397 more American agents have been confirmed and verified as Soviet agents. West claims Harry Hopkins has been outed too in Venona, but Radosh and other scholars say this identification is bogus. But the Soviets also ran important agents of influence with great attention to the security of their identities. In essence, whether or not Hopkins is ever identified in Venona, he remains, as the cops say, a person of interest. (Bernie Reeves, “Reds under the Beds: Diana West Can’t Sleep,” American Thinker, August 10, 2013)

Influence flows downhill. What happened in Washington was repeated in many a city and State because the New Deal had made leftism respectable. By the end of World War II, which made nationalization the norm, the “mainstream” had shifted far to the left of where it had flowed before the Great Depression.

Influence also flows laterally. The growing respectability of leftism emboldened and empowered those institutions that naturally lean left: the media, academia, and the arts and letters. And so they went forth into the wilderness, amplifying the gospel according to Marx.

The most insidious influence has been the indoctrination of students — from pre-Kindergarten to graduate school — in the language and ideals of leftism: world government (i.e., anit-Americanism); redistributionism (as long as it hits only the “rich,” of course); favoritism for “minorities” (i.e., everyone but straight, white males); cultural diversity (any kind of crap in the arts, music, and literature, as long as it wasn’t produced by dead, white mailes); moral relativism (e.g., anti-feminism is bad, unless it’s practiced by Muslims). All of that, and much more, is the stuff of political correctness, which is an especially corrosive manifestation of social conformism, as Jason Richwine learned the hard way.

And then came the “pod people.” These are the masses of “ordinary people” who may have been deaf or impervious to indoctrination by teachers and professors, but who in vast numbers were (and continue to be) seduced by into collaboration with the left by years and decades of post-educational exposure to leftist cant. Seduced by slanted opinionators — usually disguised as reporters. Seduced by novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, and other denizens of the world of arts and letters. Seduced by politicians (even “conservative” ones) trading “free lunches” and “local jobs” for votes.

It is more than a small wonder that there is such a sizable remnant of true conservatives and non-leftish libertarians (unlike this leftish one). But we are vastly outnumbered by staunch leftists, wishy-washy “moderates,” and “conservatives” whose first instinct is to defend sacred cows (Social Security and Medicare, for example) instead of defending liberty.

I will have more to say, in future posts, about the subversion of “Old America.” For now, I end with this observation from an earlier post:
If America was ever close to being a nation united and free, it has drifted far from that condition — arguably, almost as far as it  had by 1861. And America’s condition will only worsen unless leaders emerge who will set the nation (or a large, independent portion of it) back on course. Barring the emergence of such leaders, America will continue to slide into baseness, divisiveness, and servitude.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Affirmative Action, One More Time
A Contrarian View of Segregation
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Secession
A New, New Constitution
Secession Redux
A New Cold War or Secession?
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
The Shape of Things to Come
The Near-Victory of Communism
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
Intelligence as a Dirty Word
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap–Causes and Implications
Dan Quayle Was (Almost) Right
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
Secession for All Seasons
Liberty and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
“Conversing” about Race
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Political Correctness vs. Civility

Life in Austin (3)

To fully appreciate this post, you should read “Life in Austin (1)” and “Life in Austin (2).”

A combination of leftist whites, blacks, and Hispanics is in charge of Austin. That is not about to change, although leftist whites may find themselves coaching their protégés from the sidelines.

Why and how? Last November, Austin’s voters approved a change in the composition of the city council. The current scheme provides for 6 at-large members (plus an at-large mayor). The new scheme (which takes effect with the election of November 2014) calls for 10 members, each representing a particular geographic district. The 10 districts are to be decided by a 14-member commission consisting of volunteers from the electorate. The initial response to the call for volunteers was insufficiently “diverse,” so there was a great effort to enlist “minorities.”

From the expanded and suitably “diverse” pool of applicants emerged a leftist white’s dream team. The present council chose the first 8 members of the commission (allegedly by random draw): 6 Hispanics, 1 black, and 1 Asian. (It should be noted here that Austin is 48-percent white.) Further, not one of the 8 is from the west (more affluent) side of Austin. These unrepresentative 8 commissioners will select the other 6 commissioners from the applicant pool. What this means, of course, is that Austin’s council districts will be drawn by a completely unrepresentative commission.

I fully expect that those of us who pay most of Austin’s taxes will have no more than token representation on the new city council.

That’s “diversity” in Austin, folks.

Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause

A recent post, “Government in Macroeconomic Perspective,” is dauntingly long and replete with equations. The equations are simple ones, but may be off-putting to readers who are allergic to mathematical notation. Herewith is an abridged version of the post. Please refer to the original for details of the argument and references to supporting material.

A nation’s aggregate economic activity usually is measured by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). I accept GDP as an aggregate, monetary measure of national output. But it is impossible to sum the true value of the myriad economic transactions that GDP is supposed to represent because each transaction means something different to the participants in the transaction; that is, the true value of economic goods is subjective.

GDP, nevertheless, affords a rough measure of the general level of a nation’s material output, that is, the rate at which goods and services are being produced (exclusive of such important things as “household production”). All things being the same, a large fraction of a nation’s citizens — but certainly not all of them — will be better off materially if GDP is growing and worse off if it is shrinking. Governmental activities have led to an economy that produces a small fraction of its potential output. And yet, the true believers in big government seek to make it larger and ever more destructive.

Government spending – beyond a certain level — does not increase GDP, but generally redistributes and decreases it. Government spending is beneficial up to the point where it becomes a drain on GDP; that is, at the point where government exceeds a minimal, protective role and acts in ways that discourage productive effort.

Government spending enables governmental activities of five types:

  1. transfer payments to individuals (e.g., Social Security), which impose costs because the payments transfer income to those who did not earn from those who did;
  2. de facto transfer payments, namely, the compensation of government employees, and the compensation that flows to the employees, shareholders, and creditors of government contractors – all of which must be financed by private-sector entitites;
  3. purchases of consumables and capital that are used directly by government in the provision of government services (e.g., fuel for government vehicles, electricity for government buildings, government vehicles, and government buildings);
  4. the continuation, initiation, modification, and enforcement of tax codes, regulations, administrative procedures, statutes, ordinances, executive orders, and judicial decrees; and
  5. the financing of items 1 – 4.

The net effect of items 1 and 2 is almost certainly a reduction of GDP. Why? The diversion of income to the unproductive (e.g., persons on Social Security) and counterproductive (e.g., government employees who write and enforce regulations) – by whatever means (taxing or borrowing) is bound to disincentivize work, saving, innovation, and investment. That causes GDP to be lower than it otherwise would be, but the effect is multiplicative, not merely a matter of addition or subtraction. (A Keynesian would argue that the actions encompassed in item 1 tend to raise GDP because the recipients of nominal transfer payments probably have higher marginal propensities to consume than do the persons from whom the transfer payments are exacted. This facile claim overlooks the disincentivizing effects of taxation on the more productive components of an economy, and on the resulting reduction in work effort and growth-producing investment.)

Similarly, the diversion of resources to items 3 and 4 cannot be thought of as additions to or subtractions from GDP, but as multiplicative, because of the same kind of disincentivizing leverage. For example, one effect of item 4 is the unobserved but very real burden placed on the private sector by federal regulations. It has been estimated, reliably, that those regulations impose a hidden cost greater than 15 percent of GDP.

Then there is item 5: financing. In the end, it matters not whether governmental activities are financed by borrowing or taxation, and if by borrowing, whether the lenders are domestic or foreign. This is because it is government spending that diverts resources from private uses, and it is government spending that enables destructive governmental activities (e.g., the writing and enforcement of regulations).

Government long ago became larger than necessary to perform its minimal protective functions. Consider what has happened since 1890, when the early legislative “accomplishments” of the Progressive Era – the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887 and the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890 – began to weigh on the economy.

Real GDP (in year 2005 dollars) was $319 billion in 1890; it had risen to $13.3 trillion in 2011 — a compound growth rate of about 3.1 percent. But real GDP in 2011 would have been more than $104 trillion had growth continued at an annual rate of 4.9 percent after 1890 (the rate of growth from 1866 through 1890). What happened? The heavy hand of government (at all levels) — especially after 1929 — made itself felt by discouraging work, discouraging the saving that makes investment possible, discouraging innovation, and (even to the extent that innovation persists) discouraging the investments required to bring innovation on line. How? It begins with the diversion of resources to governmental activities, and is compounded by the cumulative disincentivizing effects of taxes, regulations, administrative procedures, statutes, ordinances, executive orders, and judicial decrees.

Defenders of big government will say that the rate of growth could not have been sustained at something like 5 percent. But such an assertion, if it is based on anything other than ignorance, is based on a simple, sub-exponential model of growth, where returns on investment are diminishing. This model overlooks the effects of innovation and recombination (the use of previous innovations in new ways). If the model of ever-diminishing growth were correct, the U.S. economy would not have experienced rising growth in the first 20 to 25 years after the end of World War II. No, the defenders of sub-exponential growth must look to the Great Society — and to the continuous expansion of the regulatory-welfare state — if they wish to understand the artificially low rate at which the economy is growing: currently about 2 percent a year.

Despite what I have said here about the deleterious effects of bigger-than-minimal government, there are true believers who maintain that the greater the scope and scale of government, the better and richer America will be. These true believers evidently have not considered the cumulative effect  of big government on the incomes and wealth of Americans. As the preceding analysis suggests, those relatively few Americans who would not be better off with minimal government would be the beneficiaries of a pool of charitable giving that is vastly greater than the present pool.

That big government might be harmful, even to the “little people” who are its supposed beneficiaries, is of no account to its worshipers – as long as they run it, advise in the running of it, profit by it, or simply enjoy watching it run roughshod over the lives and fortunes of others. Power and the vicarious enjoyment of power are habit-forming drugs.

The ranks of true believers are peopled such left-wing economists as Brad DeLong, James K. Galbraith, and Paul Krugman. They adhere to and popularize two major rationalizations of big government — the Keynesian fallacy and the myth that government is the same as community.

In “A Keynesian Fantasy Land” I discuss six reasons for the ineffectiveness of Keynesian “stimulus”; in summary:

1. The “leakage” to imports

“Part of the extra spending stimulus fails to stimulate domestic income because as much as 0.3 of the multiplier might leak out through extra imports.” (Anthony de Jasay, “Micro, Macro, and Fantasy Economics,” Library of Economics and Liberty, December 6, 2010)

2. The disincentivizing effects of government borrowing and spending

Even if additional debt does not crowd out private-sector borrowing to finance business expansion, it will nevertheless inhibit investments in business expansion. This inhibiting effect is compounded by the reasonable expectation that many items in a “stimulus” package will become permanent fixtures in the government’s budget

3. The timing-targeting problem

The lag between the initial agitation for “stimulus” and its realization. In the extreme, the lag can be so great as to have no effect other than to divert employed resources from private to government uses. But even where there is a relatively brief lag, “stimulus” spending is essentially wasted if the result is simply to divert already employed resources from private to government uses.

4. Inadequate Aggregate Demand (AD) is a symptom, not a cause

A drop in AD usually is caused by an exogenous event, and that exogenous event usually is a credit crisis. Pumping money into the economy — especially when it results in the bidding up the prices of already employed resources — does not reinflate the punctured credit bubble that caused the slowdown.

5. Inequity, moral hazard, and their consequences

Favorable treatment of defaulters and failing companies generates considerable popular resentment, which — in the present instance — has found a vocal and politically potent outlet in the Tea Party movement. Favorable treatment of defaulters and failing companies also creates moral hazard; that is, it encourage unwise risk-taking that can (and probably will) spark future crises, leading the government to assume more obligations and impose more regulations, in a futile effort to change human nature.

6. The human factor

Those who cling to the Keynesian multiplier would like the world to comply with it. But the world does not because it is filled with people, whose behavior is not determined (or described) by a simplistic model but by their responses to incentives, their political predispositions, their informed and reasonable skepticism about the consequences of government intervention in economic matters, and — above all else — their fallibility.

In truth, the Keynesian multiplier is a mathematical fiction, as explained here, and government spending is in fact destructive of economic growth, as discussed here and in some of the posts listed at the end.

“We owe it to ourselves” is a phrase used by Paul Krugman (among others on the left). It is a variant of the stock rationale for socializing gains and losses: “We’re all in this together.” As if the citizens of the United States were members of an extraordinarily large community, with a perpetual town-hall meeting conducted by the government of the United States.

Consider the intellectual dishonesty of Krugman’s claim that “we” owe the debt of the U.S. government to “ourselves.” Who are “we”? If government borrows money and spends it on goodies for Congressman X, Y, and Z’s districts, how do I get my cut? Or does the happiness generated in Congressman X, Y, and Z’s districts simply radiate in waves across the country, eventually reaching me and making me feel better?

If the borrowed money makes (some) people in Congressman X, Y, and Z’s districts better off, why is it that “we” (i.e. the rest of us and/or our descendants) end up repaying the debt that made those others better off? I do not understand how I “owe it to myself” when (a) I didn’t ask to borrow the money and (b) I gained nothing as a result of the borrowing.

You might claim that my personal wishes are of no account because Congress and the president are duly elected by majorities of voters. But that is tantamount to saying that Congress and the president possess a kind of omniscient super-consciousness that somehow overrides the harm, hate, and discontent that flow from their acts.

The left succeeds, in large part, because apologists for big government — from Krugman to Obama — are skillful practitioners of slippery logic. An assumption here, an assumption there, and government spending is made out to be a source of enrichment. The hard truth is that government spending — and the big government that it supports — is the source of America’s impending impoverishment.

Related posts:
Trade Deficit Hysteria
Trade, Government Spending, and Economic Growth
The Causes of Economic Growth
In the Long Run We Are All Poorer
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
The Price of Government
Gains from Trade
The Price of Government Redux
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Trade
The Mega-Depression
As Goes Greece
Ricardian Equivalence Reconsidered
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
Enough of “Social Welfare”
Subjective Value: A Proof by Example
Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
Our Enemy, the State
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Subjective Value: A Proof by Example
The Stagnation Thesis
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Does World War II “Prove” Keynesianism?
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
The Real Multiplier
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
The Commandeered Economy
We Owe It to Ourselves
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
The Real Multiplier (II)
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
The Burden of Government
Economic Growth Since World War II
More Evidence for the Rahn Curve
“Big SIS”: A Review
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A.
The Obama Effect: Disguised Unemployment
Some Thoughts about Leftist Hypocrisy
The State as Jailer
Where We Are, Economically

Government in Macroeconomic Perspective

 I. INTRODUCTION

A nation’s aggregate economic activity usually is measured by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). I accept GDP as an aggregate, monetary measure of national output. But it is impossible to sum the true value of the myriad economic transactions that GDP is supposed to represent because each transaction means something different to the participants in the transaction; that is, the true value of economic goods is subjective. (See, for example, Peter Boettke’s “Austrian School of Economics,” at The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics., and my posts, “Subjective Value: A Proof by Example” and “Microeconomics and Macroeconomics.”)

GDP, nevertheless, affords a rough measure of the general level of a nation’s material well-being. All things being the same, a large fraction of a nation’s citizens — but certainly not all of them — will be better off materially if GDP is growing and worse off if it is shrinking. But no one who is paying attention to the state of the nation should mistake material progress for real progress. (See, for example, “I Want My Country Back.”)

The usual way of representing GDP is called the expenditure method. In simple form, it expresses GDP this way:

GDP = private consumption + gross investment + government spending + (exportsimports), or

GDP = C + I + G + (X – M)

Note: “Gross” means that GDP measures production regardless of the various uses to which that production can be put. Production can be used for immediate consumption, for investment in new fixed assets or inventories, or for replacing depreciated fixed assets. “Domestic” means that GDP measures production that takes place within the country’s borders. In the expenditure-method equation given above, the exports-minus-imports term is necessary in order to null out expenditures on things not produced in the country (imports) and add in things produced but not sold in the country (exports). (Taken from “Gross domestic product” at Wikipedia. See also Mack Ott’s “National Income Accounts” at The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.)

This equation has become so familiar that its correctness is taken for granted. But a bit of reflection reveals it as a model of inconsistency. The dichotomy between consumption and investment is sensible. But the goods acquired and sold in international trade are of the same two types; there is no reason to segregate them from consumption and investment. This is especially true because the sum of consumption and investment is greater than it would be in the absence of international trade. Government, on the other hand, is a net consumer of economic output, not a net producer of it, as the “+ G” term might suggest.

With that background, I will offer an alternative to the standard expenditure method of describing GDP. The journey is step-wise: from a closed economy without international trade or government to an economy with international trade, but without government, to an economy with both international trade and government. Along the way, I fully acknowledge the importance of government as a contributor to GDP, as long as its role is to foster beneficial exchange by maintaining the rule of law and defending Americans from predators, at home and abroad.

That said, government activities (as reflected in total government spending) have led to an economy that produces a small fraction of its potential output. And yet, the true believers in big government seek to make it larger and ever more destructive. I expand on these points at length in Part II, An Alternative Expenditure Model; Part III, The High Cost of Big Government; and Part IV, The Heart of the Problem: Big-Government Worship and Pseudo-Intellectualism. (Continued below the fold.) (more…)

Some Thoughts about Leftist Hypocrisy

The anti-wealth stance of the left — hypocritical as it is when it emanates (as it often does) from highly paid academics, well-connected politicians, cosseted bureaucrats, and a sparkling array of super-rich entertainers, celebrities, and “moguls” – is of a piece with other leftist displays of Puritanism: anti-smoking, anti-obesity, anti-censoriousness (toward the left’s pets, such as Islam, gays, and selected “minorities”). The anti-wealth stance and other displays of Puritanism are attitudes that mark one as a superior being — a person who is compassionate and deserving of his worldly goods. But where is the left’s compassion for the “little guy” when the “little guy” is a job-holding, beer-drinking, fast-food eating, overweight, married-with-children, possibly church-going, white, wage-laborer?

Given that the rich and famous are often heard to declaim against the “privileges” of the economic class to which they belong, one must suppose that their hypocrisy arises from economic ignorance. This ignorance leads them to believe that they are the beneficiaries of a zero-sum game, thus causing (misplaced) guilt about their wealth. I have noticed that this guilt, though it may cause the rich and famous to contribute to charity, also causes them to press for higher taxes on their ilk, as if higher taxes (which benefit already well-paid politicians and bureaucrats) were somehow better than charity. Charity, at least, can be showered directly on the unfortunate. Taxes are a form of trickle-down charity, where precious little trickles down — as evidenced by the fact that some of the nation’s wealthiest counties surround the District of Columbia.

The call for higher taxes is a misguided admission of guilt, not a sign of compassion. Were wealthy leftists truly compassionate about the plight of the unfortunate, they would give away their worldly goods and spend their lives working with the unfortunate, to lead them by example onto the path of success. Instead, wealthy leftists live among their ilk — and live truly well. If only they would not feel guilty about it.

Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action

Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle” was this blog’s first serious venture into the sociology and politics of race in America. This second venture addresses the ways in which the state usurps the liberty and property of white Americans for the benefit of black ones.

It all adds up to gross injustice: placing the blame on the blameless. As I say in “Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck“:

  • There is a “right” set of life outcomes …, which luck-egalitarians are qualified to choose and evaluate because of their [self-assessed] superior moral character.
  • Therefore, it is wrong if some persons are worse off than others in terms of the “right” set of outcomes….
  • Those who are better off (by the selective standards of the luck-egalitarian) owe aid to those who are worse off, even if those who are better off did nothing that made others worse off. The better-off simply do not deserve all that they have because, surely, they must owe much of it to luck.

Thus blameless Americans have been burdened with equal employment opportunity (EEO), about which more below; minority lending preferences, which contributed to the Great Recession by encouraging mortgage loans to low-income borrowers; public-accommodations laws, a.k.a. theft of property rights and denial of freedom of association; the expansion of the welfare state, which led to welfare dependency, broken families, and crime; and the prosecution and persecution of politically incorrect views as “hate crimes” and “inappropriate” expressions of thought.

Of those burdens, I am most familiar with EEO (a.k.a. affirmative action) because I had to contend with its enforcement and consequences in my job as the chief financial and administrative officer of a private, federally funded, research organization. What EEO (affirmative action) means in practice is this: If a member of a “protected” (i.e., favored) identity-group seems to have something like the minimum qualifications for a job, and if that person’s work record and interviews aren’t off-putting, the identity-group person is likely to be hired or promoted ahead of equally or better-qualified whites. Why?

  • Pressure from government EEO offices, which focus on percentages of identity groups hired and promoted, not on the qualifications of applicants for hiring and promotion.
  • The ability of those EEO offices to put government agencies and private employers through the pain and expense of extensive audits, backed by the threat of adverse reports to higher ups (in the case of government agencies) and fines and the loss of contracts (in the case of private employers).
  • The ever-present threat of complaints to the EEOC (or its local counterpart) by rejected identity-group candidates for hiring and promotion. Those complaints can then be followed by costly litigation, settlements, and court judgments.
  • Boards of directors and senior managers who (a) fear the adverse publicity that can accompany employment-related litigation and (b) push for special treatment of identity groups because they think it’s “the right thing to do.”
  • Managers down the line who practice reverse discrimination against better-qualified but “unprotected” identity groups, to keep EEO offices and upper management happy.

(UPDATE 08/14/12: See Roger Clegg’s “Big Business Weighs In, Unconvincingly, in Fisher v. Texas” for more in the vein of the last two points.)

Blacks constitute the identity group most likely to seek “protection” under the rubric of  EEO.  On balance, the (effectively) forced hiring of under-qualified blacks causes significant economic damage — as well as resentment of and condescension toward blacks as “affirmative action hires.”

Universities long ago began to use the term “diversity” in place of “affirmative action.” This euphemistic shift was meant to reduce resentment and condescension toward under-qualified blacks who were (and are) admitted in place of better-qualified whites, and to deflect legal challenges of reverse discrimination by disguising it as an element of a policy of “mixing” for the betterment of social solidarity — or some such bullshit. Many businesses — especially large corporations — have adopted “diversity” as a corporate “value” because doing so reflects the “social responsibility” of boards and top executives.

Reverse discrimination in favor of blacks has victimized millions of Americans, in at least three ways:

  • The aforementioned combination of resentment and condescension has undoubtedly impeded the advance of racial harmony.
  • Many whites have suffered the loss of opportunities and income in the workplace — opportunities and income that would have been theirs if blacks were held to the same standards as whites with respect to hiring and promotion.
  • Many blacks have suffered, in the not-so-long run, because reverse discrimination has set them up for failure.

Victim 1: Social Comity

Reverse discrimination may have fostered harmony — in isolated instances. But, on balance, the country (as represented by the racial composition of public schools) has become more polarized along racial lines than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Some critics of this phenomenon — which is called resegregation — blame court rulings that have undone much of the forced mixing that ensued from Brown v. Board of Education. But those rulings have only enabled many whites to avoid the mixing that they did not want in the first place. Further, resegregation owes much to “white flight” from old cities to suburbs and then to exurbs. Crime and culture are real and valid reasons for an aversion to mixing — reasons that cosseted politicians, academicians, and corporate executives cannot bring themselves to recognize or avow. America will never be a land of sweet racial harmony — nor will any other country — but more whites would willingly accept blacks as neighbors and classmates, were it not for the resentment and condescension caused by affirmative action.

Victim 2: Low-Income Whites

It is hard to come by good estimates of the cost to whites of pro-black discrimination in the workplace. The best one that I have found is here, where the author says this:

In 1997, because of affirmative action, about $192 billion in income [2.3 percent of GDP] was transferred from whites to preferred minorities. If we perform precisely the same calculation for blacks and Hispanics, we can break down the $192 billion into the amounts gained by each group. We find that $144.3 billion [1.7 percent of GDP] was transferred to blacks and $47.5 billion to Hispanics. Dividing these gains by the respective numbers of black and Hispanic workers, we can compute their average annual income enhancement. In 1997, on average a black was subsidized to the tune of about $9,400; a Hispanic gained an average of about $3,900. The cost of these subsidies was spread over 98,782,000 white workers who suffered an average loss of about $1,900 to pay the bill.

The cascade effect. The net displacement of whites by minorities is not uniformly spread across the quintiles. When high-earning whites are displaced down the employment ladder, they displace other whites downward by exerting pressure on the rung below. The effect is like a cascade. At the bottom there is no rung left. Low IQ whites, who in an affirmative action-free marketplace would be competitive in the $10,000 to $20,000 bracket, now pile up in the lowest-income quintile. Although affirmative action affects every white, the largest number affected are the least intelligent and competitive….

In sum, low-income whites — who are thought to be strongly anti-black, as a group — have a valid economic reason for their resentment of blacks. Although blacks, on the whole, are not to blame for affirmative action, they are its beneficiaries and they vote in disproportionate numbers for politicians who favor affirmative action and the other programs that are listed in the third paragraph of this post. The attachment of blacks to the tit of the state has not escaped the attention of whites, and a large fraction of them — the political left-academic complex aside — see that attachment as a moral failing.

Victim 3: Aspiring Blacks

Now to the issue of pro-black discrimination in the academy, which is the crux of Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that will be heard later this year by the U.S. Supreme Court. There is much to say about the harm done to whites and Asians in the name of “diversity,” but it has been said often and sometimes to good effect (e.g., Gratz v. Bollinger). The damage done to blacks has received far less attention, and Rick Sander, the main expositor of that harm, is one of a small number of academicians who has had the courage to call attention to it.

I first wrote about Sander seven years ago:

[N]ow comes Richard Sander…. a professor of law at UCLA who has published “A Systematic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools[.]” [Samder] is without a doubt a liberal of the modern persuasion and a proponent of diversity. He is nevertheless critical of affirmative action as it is practiced at law schools. Here’s the gist of his analysis, as reported at FindLaw:

The Heavy Weight Placed on Race in Admissions in Virtually All Schools – the Cascade Effect
Professor Sander lays the foundation for his critique by describing the kind of race-based affirmative action that law schools use today. Under the Bakke and Grutter Supreme Court precedents, public (as well as private) law schools are prohibited from making use of quotas, two-track admissions schemes, or fixed points added to the numerical indices of minorities….

Professor Sander argues that, in fact, the Michigan law school program, despite its seeming flexibility and inscrutability, employs race in just as ambitious (critics would say aggressive) a way as did the Michigan undergraduate plan [which the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional in Gratz]….

Moreover, and more important, Sander argues, the way race is used at the Michigan law school is the same way race is used in many if not most law school affirmative action programs. Indeed, Sander says that he has “been unable to find a single law school in the United States whose admissions operate the way Justice O’Connor describes in Grutter” – that is, where race is used as a flexible plus factor that does not effectively dominate over all other diversity criteria. The system of aggressive racial preferences is not, Sander says, confined to the “elite” law schools. Rather, “it is a characteristic of legal education as a whole.”

According to Sander, law school affirmative action across law schools is characterized by a “cascade” effect. As the elite schools “snap up” the blacks who otherwise would have been admitted to and have attended the next tier of schools, that next tier of schools snaps up the blacks who would have otherwise attended the tier below. And so forth.

The Mismatch Effect

This systematic cascade phenomenon is important, because when race is being used so weightily in schools all the way down the ladder, the result is that the African Americans who are admitted to each school under an affirmative action program are significantly less numerically qualified than are their white competitor students at that school, who were admitted outside the affirmative action plan. Sander calls this phenomenon the “mismatch” effect – black beneficiaries of affirmative action are “mismatched” at schools whose non-affirmative action students possess better credentials and skills.

Because of the pronounced mismatch effect that extends down the law school hierarchy, blacks tend to suffer poor grades in law school. According to the data Sander adduces, the median black law student’s GPA at the end of the first year of law school places him at the 7th or 8th percentile of his class. Put another way, more than 50% of black law students are in the bottom one-tenth of their law school class (in terms of grades) at the end of the first year.

The Long-Term Costs of the Mismatch Effect – Bar Passage and Job Placement

This poor academic performance in law school, in turn, creates two distinct costs for African Americans. First, Sander argues, the poor grades lead to a very poor bar passage rate. As he points out, “only 45% of black law students in the 1991 cohort completed law school and passed the bar on their first attempt.” That number is far worse than the comparable number for whites.

Sander goes on to argue that many of these blacks with poor grades would have had better grades – and have ended up with a higher chance of passing the bar – if they had been at law schools more commensurate with their academic skills. Sander’s data suggests to him that black students at any law school who have the same law school grades as white students at that school pass the bar in the same percentages. In other words, blacks with good law school grades don’t fail the bar any more than whites with the same grades.

The problem, Sander suggests, is that law schools have “mismatched” blacks in schools where they are unlikely to get good grades. By placing black students in environments where their grades will be higher – less competitive law schools — the system could improve their overall bar pass rate….

From all this, Sander argues that if race-based law school affirmative action were eliminated or reduced, the black bar passage rate would actually go up. According to his calculations, in the absence of preferential admissions, this rate would rise to 74% from the 45% he observed….

If affirmative action were eliminated, most black law students wouldn’t be ousted from law school entirely – they would simply attend law schools that “match” their numerical credentials more tightly. In other words, elimination of affirmative action would simply eliminate the mismatch effect – blacks would simply be attending less competitive and less prestigious schools than they are currently attending. And of those blacks who would be displaced from the bottom of the legal academic system altogether (i.e., those who need affirmative action simply to get into the least competitive schools), many of them today do not end up passing the bar and entering the legal profession in any event….

Sander says that blacks at better schools, but with poor grades, get worse jobs than they would if they were at lesser schools and had better grades. In other words, Sander argues, at all but the most elite schools, grades matter more than the school from which one graduates for black law job applicants. The upside of attending a better school is more than outweighed – in terms of employment options – by the downside of getting weak grades at that school, compared to the better grades that could have been obtained at a less competitive school….

So whether one focuses on passing the bar, or getting a good job, Sander says, there is a case that race-based affirmative action hurts, rather than helps, black law students.

Two years later, I added this:

Gail Heriot of The Right Coast, who is a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law and a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, pens an update:

No one claims Sander’s findings are the last word on the subject. Although so far his work has held up to scrutiny as least as well as the work of his critics, all fair-minded scholars agree that more research is necessary before the “mismatch thesis” can be definitively accepted or rejected.

Unfortunately, fair-minded scholars are hard to come by when the issue is affirmative action. Some of the same people who argue Sander’s data are inconclusive are now actively trying to prevent him from conducting follow-up research that might yield definitive answers. If racial preferences really are causing more harm than good, these thinly-disguised political operatives don’t want anyone to know.

Take William Kidder, a University of California staff member and co-author of a frequently-cited attack of Sander’s study. When Sander and his ideologically-diverse co-investigators sought bar passage data from the State Bar of California, Kidder passionately argued that access should be denied, because disclosure “risks stigmatizing African American attorneys.” At the same time, the Society of American Law Teachers, which leans so heavily to the left it risks falling over sideways, subtly threatened future litigation against the State Bar. Coincidentally, one of Kidder’s co-authors, University of Michigan law professor David Chambers, is a former SALT president.

Sadly, the State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners caved under the pressure. The committee members didn’t formally explain their decision to deny Sander’s request for the non-personally-identifiable data, but the root cause is clear: Over the last forty years, many distinguished citizens–university presidents, judges, philanthropists, and other leaders–have built their reputations on their support for race-based admissions. Ordinary citizens have found secure jobs as part of the resulting diversity bureaucracy. If it’s not working, they too don’t want anyone to know.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hopes that it can persuade the State Bar to reconsider. Its newly-released report on affirmative action in law schools specifically calls for state bar authorities to cooperate with qualified scholars studying the mismatch issue. Its recommendation is thus modest. It doesn’t claim that Sander is right or his critics wrong. It simply seeks to encourage and facilitate important research.

Its deeper purpose is to remind those who support and administer affirmative action polices of something that ought to be obvious: The good intentions of one’s predecessors do not give anyone a permanent moral free ride. Good faith requires a willingness to re-examine the consequences of one’s actions from time to time. Deliberate ignorance is not an option….

Sander doesn’t need to be proven 100% correct for his research to be devastating news for affirmative action supporters. Suppose the consequences of race-based admissions turn out to be simply a wash–neither increasing nor decreasing the number of minority attorneys. In that case, few people would think it worth the costs, not least among them the human cost that results from the failure of the supposed affirmative action beneficiaries to graduate and pass the bar. Under current practices, only 45% of blacks who enter law school pass the bar on their first attempt as opposed to over 78% of whites. Even after multiple tries, only 57% of blacks succeed. The rest are often saddled with student debt, routinely running as high as $160,000, not counting undergraduate debt. The real question therefore is how great an increase in the number of black attorneys is needed to justify this. If it is decreasing the number, it can hardly be defended.

Sander has returned to the fray, with more evidence about “mismatch” — this time about “scientific mismatch.” His three posts on the subject, at The Volokh Conspiracy,  merit extensive excerpting. In his first post, he writes:

As some readers will recall, a little more than seven years ago I published an analysis of law school affirmative action in the Stanford Law Review. The article was the first to present detailed data on the operation and effects of racial preferences in law schools (focusing on blacks)….

The article generated intense interest, debate, and criticism, though even most critics conceded that I had gotten the facts right. Several well-known empirical scholars in law schools published essays that purported to disprove the mismatch hypothesis. For awhile, many defenders of affirmative action seemed to assume that the article would inevitably provoke a crisis in legal academia, and while attempting to seize the moral high ground in the debate, they attracted even more publicity to the article.

After several months, however, it became clear there would be no widespread calls, among either law students or law faculty, for further inquiry and reform, and things died down. Those unhappy with the “mismatch” article – and that included the vast majority of law school and university administrators – decided the best strategy was to (a) ignore the issue and (b) use their best efforts to prevent the further release of data such as I had used in the original article. There was another, smaller burst of attention when I published a follow-up article  about affirmative action in law firms, and its similar tendency to boomerang on the intended beneficiaries; but otherwise, public debate about mismatch faded away.

It is about to come back.

Over the past few years, there has been a steadily growing stream of empirical research on affirmative action, much of it taking up the mismatch question.  Some social scientists, like Peter Arcidiacono at Duke University and Frederick Smyth at the University of Virginia, were interested in this subject and producing valuable research well before my Stanford article appeared.  Others, like Doug Williams at Sewanee University or Robert Zelnick at Boston University, were intrigued by some of the issues that arose out of the public mismatch debate and the questions raised in the debate.  Still others have been attracted by the “natural experiments” in affirmative action created by the bans on racial preferences adopted in half-a-dozen states.  I have worked closely with Jane Yakowitz (soon to join the law faculty at the University of Arizona) and public-spirited lawyers to pry loose data relevant for studying affirmative action.

Cumulatively, these scholars have produced a remarkable body of research (some of which can be found here) on the workings and effects of affirmative action. And the Supreme Court’s decision (by granting cert to Fisher v. University of Texas) to revisit the subject of racial admissions preferences in higher education will undoubtedly fuel interest in this work.

This is from Sander’s second post:

Some of the most significant recent work on affirmative action concerns a phenomenon called “science mismatch”. The idea behind science mismatch is very intuitive: if you are a high school senior interested in becoming, for example, a chemist, you may seriously harm your chances of success by attending a school where most of the other would-be chemists have stronger academic preparation than you do. Professors will tend to pitch their class at the median student, not you; and if you struggle or fall behind in the first semester of inorganic chemistry, you will be in even worse shape in the second semester, and in very serious trouble when you hit organic chemistry. You are likely to get bad grades and to either transfer out of chemistry or fail to graduate altogether….

Duke economists Peter Arcidiacono, Esteban Aucejo, and Ken Spenner last year completed a study that looked at a number of ways that differences in admissions standards at Duke affected academic outcomes. In one of many useful analyses they did, they found that 54% of black men at Duke who, as freshmen, had been interested in STEM fields or economics, had switched out of those fields before graduation; the comparative rate for white men was 8%. Importantly, they found that “these cross-race differences in switching patterns can be fully explained by differences in academic background.” In other words, preferences – not race – was the culprit.

In research conducted by FTC economist Marc Luppino and me, using data from the University of California, we have found important peer effects and mismatch effects that affect students of all races; our results show that one’s chances of completing a science degree fall sharply, at a given level of academic preparation, as one attends more and more elite schools within the UC system. At Berkeley, there is a seven-fold difference in STEM degree completion between students with high and low pre-college credentials.

As is always the case with affirmative action, ironies abound. Although young blacks are about one-seventh as likely as young whites to eventually earn a Ph.D. in STEM fields, academically strong blacks in high school are more likely than similar whites to aspire to science careers. And although a U.S. Civil Rights Commission report in 2010 documented the “science mismatch” phenomenon in some detail, President Obama’s new initiative to improve the nation’s production of scientists neither recognizes nor addresses mismatch….

Science mismatch is, of course, relevant to the general affirmative action debate in showing that preferences can boomerang on their intended beneficiaries. But it also has a special relevance to Fisher v. University of Texas. The university’s main announced purpose in reintroducing racial preferences in 2004 was to increase “classroom” diversity. The university contended that, even though over a fifth of its undergraduates were black or Hispanic, many classrooms had no underrepresented minorities. It sought to use direct (and very large) racial preferences to increase campus URM numbers and thus increase the number of URMs in classes that lacked them. But science mismatch shows that this strategy, too, can be self-defeating. The larger a university’s preferences, the more likely it is that preferenced students will have trouble competing in STEM fields and other majors that are demanding and grade sternly. These students will tend to drop out of the tough fields and congregate in comparatively less demanding ones. Large preferences, in other words, can increase racial segregation across majors and courses within a university, and thus hurt classroom diversity.

And this is from Sander’s third post:

[In the previous post] I discussed a body of research – all of it uncontroverted – that documents a serious flaw in affirmative action programs pursued by elite colleges. Students who receive large preferences and arrive on campus hoping to major in STEM fields (e.g., Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) tend to migrate out of those fields at very high rates, or, if they remain in those fields, often either fail to graduate or graduate with very low GPAs. There is thus a strong tension between receiving a large admissions preference to a more elite school, and one’s ability to pursue a STEM career.

Is it possible for contemporary American universities to engage constructively with this type of research? Recent events at Duke University suggest not.

The Duke study … (by economists Peter Arcidiacono and Esteban Aucejo, and by sociologist Ken Spenner, all of Duke) was motivated by an important question: do students who receive large admissions preferences “catch up” with their peers over their college years? This ties into an important premise of many preference programs – i.e., that the rich resources of an elite university will help to phase out prior preparation gaps between students of different races. Aggregate data at Duke suggested that the GPA gap across racial groups was, indeed, narrowing as college progressed, from over half-a-point black/white GPA gap in the first semester, to less than three-tenths of a point by the eighth semester.

Using data gathered by the university, Arcidiacono et al found that this narrowing was illusory. Courses taken by juniors and seniors were graded very leniently, and, more importantly, students who had bad grades in their freshmen year migrated in large numbers from STEM fields and economics to other majors, which generally had easier grading. When one adjusted for these effects, the relative achievement level of different groups was unchanged over the course of college. Thus, there was no silver lining to offset the science mismatch effect.

Importantly, the authors found that these patterns had nothing to do with race, but rather with a student’s level of academic preparation upon entry into Duke. White legacies admitted with large preferences showed the same patterns as blacks admitted with large preferences.

The paper offered no policy recommendations; like a large body of Arcidiacono’s earlier research on other social and educational issues, it simply presented intriguing results researched and analyzed in a conceptually clear and empirically careful way.

In mid-January 2012, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story on the article. Although the reporter, Peter Schmidt, was characteristically fair in summarizing the article’s findings, once the news reached Duke, the reaction was extreme. The Black Student Alliance denounced the research and staged a protest, suggesting that the research was actually an attack on black students and that data they had provided to the university had been misused. Seventeen black alumni wrote an open letter attacking the research as “misguided scholarship” whose results and methodology were “both flawed and incorrect”, though they provided no specifics. “We cannot sit idly by and allow this slander to be (mis)labeled as truth.” Duke faculty got into the act as well, sending angry, indignant emails to the authors and to the economics department.

The President of Duke, Richard Brodhead, finally weighed in on the controversy on March 22nd, at the Annual Meeting of University Faculty. He said he had decided to devote his talk to the issue of race in part because of the controversy generated by the study. He extolled the university’s progress in moving from exclusionary policies in the 1950s and before, to today having among the highest proportion of enrolled blacks of any elite university. He then went on:

“With respect to this January’s controversy I would say the following. I hope all members of this community recognize that it is not the proper function of the university to block expression from its faculty or enforce a correct view. Universities live through free and open debate; when someone thinks someone else has come to an erroneous conclusion, the remedy is to criticize it and offer a better account. On the other hand, I can see why students took offense at what was reported of a professor’s work. Generalizations about academic choices by racial category can renew the primal insult of the world we are trying to leave behind – the implication that persons can be known through a group identity that associates them with inferior powers. A further insult was that the paper had been included in an amicus brief submitted by opponents of affirmative action urging the Supreme Court to hear [Fisher v. University of Texas]….”

Brodhead’s remarks neatly stood reality on its head. The university’s policy of giving large preferences based on race had created a large academic preparation gap across racial lines (e.g., an average 150-point SAT gap, on the old 1600-point scale, between blacks and whites) and thus large differences in academic outcomes across racial lines; but careful research on the effect of academic preparation on these outcomes was offensive? Academic freedom was vital to the university’s life, but factually baseless slander against accurate research was understandable? And it was especially “insulting” to use such research in an amicus brief – i.e., a debate about public policy?

(As it happens, I know about the amicus brief mentioned by President Brodhead, because I coauthored the brief with Stuart Taylor. Both of us are, to be sure, critics of affirmative action, but neither of us are “opponents”, as I will discuss in a coming post. We cited Arcidiacono et al’s research in the brief pretty much in the same spirit that I discussed it in Friday’s post.)

Brodhead’s message was pretty clear: we won’t try to fire people who engage in honest research that identifies problems in affirmative action; but we will ostracize them, and thus strongly discourage such research. Other parts of the record suggest that Duke’s substantive response to the controversy will consist of providing additional funding to race-based student groups, and showing greater “sensitivity” to student complaints.

One might be tempted to put this behavior down to a particularly high level of intolerance at Duke or on Brodhead’s part (many Duke officials and faculty, including Brodhead, took political correctness to disgraceful lengths during the “lacrosse” scandal several years ago, when a number of white students were falsely accused of raping a black woman and Duke officials led the invidious attacks against them, even long after the prosecution had been discredited). But all of the facts of this latest episode at Duke, including Brodhead’s behavior, actually capture perfectly the dynamics of affirmative action discussions at all major universities.

Colleges and universities are committed to the mythology that diversity happens merely because they want it and put resources into it, and that all admitted students arrive with all the prerequisites necessary to flourish in any way they choose. Administrators work hard to conceal the actual differences in academic preparation that almost invariably accompany the aggressive use of preferences. Any research that documents the operation and effects of affirmative action therefore violates this “color-blind” mythology and accompanying norms; minority students are upset, correctly realizing that either the research is wrong or that administrators have misled them. In this scenario, administrators invariably resort to the same strategy: dismiss the research without actually lying about it; reassure the students that the researchers are misguided, but that the university can’t actually punish the researchers because of “academic freedom”. Note that in this dynamic, “academic freedom” becomes a device to protect the administration, not the faculty doing the research!…

But leftists — academic and other — cannot abide the truth when it refutes their prejudices. Affirmative action, as it turns out, is harmful to aspiring blacks, and so is the minimum wage, whose main beneficiaries are supposed to be young blacks. Most leftists will deny those facts because their leftist faith is more important to them than the well-being of those whose cause they claim to champion. They have no concern for the well-being of those whom they evidently despise — non-leftist whites, Asians, taxpayers, heterosexuals, legal immigrants, persons of religion, and the many other targets of left-academic scorn.

Related posts — leftists and academicians:
What Is the Point of Academic Freedom?
How to Deal with Left-Wing Academic Blather
It’s Not Anti-Intellectualism, Stupid
The Case Against Campus Speech Codes
Lefty Profs
Apropos Academic Freedom and Western Values
Why So Few Free-Market Economists?
Affirmative Action for Conservatives and Libertarians?
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?

Related posts — race:
Diversity
Putting Hate Crimes in Perspective
The Cost of Affirmative Action
Why Not Just Use SAT Scores?
The Face of America
Is There Such a Thing as Legal Discrimination?
More on the Legality of Discrimination
Epstein’s Freedom
Epstein’s Freedom, Revisited
Race and Acceptance
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Lamm (Soft of) Lays It on the Line
Affirmative Action, One More Time
A Contrarian View of Segregation
Much Food for Thought
A Law Professor to Admire
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
Time on the Cross, Re-revisited
A Black Bigot Speaks
More Anti-Black Bigotry from the Left
Societal Suicide
A “Taste” for Segregation
Don’t Tar My Nationalism with the Racism Brush
Black Terrorists and “White Flight”
Timely Material
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited

It’s the Little Things That Count
A Footnote to a Footnote
Let Me Be Perfectly Clear…
Racism among the Deracinated
“The War”: A Second Reaction
The “Southern Strategy”
Conspicuous Consumption and Race
An Honest Woman Speaks Out
The End of Slavery in the United States
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle

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

“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…

Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare

This post could be subtitled: “Or, why the left — Democrats and so-called liberals and progressives — enjoy a rhetorical advantage over libertarians and fiscal conservatives.” (Other kinds of “conservatives” — those who are simply in a war with the left over the spoils of political rapaciousness — are on their own.)

Leftists are  kind, caring, and generous — because they say they are. Conservatives and libertarians are none of those things — because the possession of such traits is a question of behavior, not rhetoric.

Leftists dismiss human imperfection, while finding perfection in their vision of the world as they want it to be. Conservatives and libertarians understand human imperfection and offer only a vision of betterment through striving.

The rhetoric of leftism — when it is not downright hateful toward non-leftists — has wide appeal because to adopt it for one’s own and to echo it is to make oneself feel kind, caring, generous — and powerful — at a stroke. It matters not whether the policies that flow from leftist rhetoric actually make others better off. The important things, to a leftist, are how he feels about himself and how others perceive him.

It is easy for a leftist to seem kinder, more caring, and more generous than his conservative and libertarian brethren because a leftist focuses on intentions rather than consequences. No matter that the consequences of leftist dogma could match their stated intentions only if Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy ruled the world.

In the leftist’s imagination, of course, government is Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Government, despite the fact that it consists of venal and fallible humans, somehow (in the leftist’s imagination) wields powers that enable it to make “good” things happen with the stroke of a pen and at no cost.

Or if there is a cost, it is to be borne by those despised “rich,” who dare to acquire more than their “fair share” of income and wealth. Leftists seem know who is “too rich” and what is a “fair share” by mysterious intuitions that are inaccessible to mere mortals. Leftists seem to have acquired a fine knowledge of what others deserve to earn, though that knowledge seems not to have kept many a leftist from scrambling up the ladder of material prosperity. It’s all right to be “rich” if you proclaim your heart to be in the right place.

By the same token, it is all right to dictate the terms and conditions of human striving– what is made, how it is made, whether it is made, how much of it is made, how much of it may be consumed, etc. — as long as one’s heart is in the right place. The leftist, you see, is compelled to protect mere mortals (the unwashed masses) from themselves. That is because the leftist cannot grasp the the concepts of personal responsibility and betterment through (sometimes) bitter experience.

Such realities have no meaning for the leftist. For him, human progress is attained by the magical powers of government, which can raise up the impoverished, cure the stricken, and banish strife from the land. It is up to government to do such things because, in the view of a leftist, nothing that happens to anyone (or to anyone who is on the left’s list of favored groups) is his fault — it is the fault of “society” or the uncaring, unkind, ungenerous exploiters who (in the left’s imagination) control society. (The ultimate irony is that the uncaring, unkind, and ungenerous exploiters are the leftists who, when not held in check, write the rules by which we mortals live.)

In sum, the true nature of leftism is a blend of Utopianism and power-lust. Thus, in the left’s view of things, human wants can be met, but only without mussing the face of the Earth; people can live and work wherever they choose, as long as it is in compact cities in which government owns the only means of transportation; people can say what they want and associate with whom they please, as long as they say nothing to offend certain kinds of persons and are forced to associate with them, like it or not. (The list goes on, but that is more than enough to make my point.)

The idea of allowing individuals to make their own way (and sometimes to fail in the process of trying), to become sick and die because of the “lifestyles” they prefer, and to avoid one another (usually for very good reasons) is beyond the ken of the leftist. Imperfection — in the mind of a leftist — is impermissible. Individuals must not be allowed to fail, to become ill, or to harbor ill feelings (except toward the enemies of leftism). The antidote to failure is to arrange our lives and business affairs as the leftist would like to see them arranged. All in the name of kindness, compassion, and generosity, of course.

The ideal person — to a leftist — is not a human being but a cog in the left’s design for the world.

Related posts:
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Penalizing “Thought Crimes”
Parsing Political Philosophy
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
The Divine Right of the Majority
I Want My Country Back