Tea Party

Not-So-Random Thoughts (III)

This is the third of a series of occasional posts that link to and discuss writings on matters that have been treated by this blog. The first edition is here; the second, here; the fourth, here; the fifth, here; and the sixth, here.

Apropos Science

In the vein of “Something from Nothing?” there is this:

[Stephen] Meyer also argued [in a a recent talk at the University Club in D.C.] that biological evolutionary theory, which “attempts to explain how new forms of life evolved from simpler pre-existing forms,” faces formidable difficulties. In particular, the modern version of Darwin’s theory, neo-Darwinism, also has an information problem.

Mutations, or copying errors in the DNA, are analogous to copying errors in digital code, and they supposedly provide the grist for natural selection. But, Meyer said: “What we know from all codes and languages is that when specificity of sequence is a condition of function, random changes degrade function much faster than they come up with something new.”…

The problem is comparable to opening a big combination lock. He asked the audience to imagine a bike lock with ten dials and ten digits per dial. Such a lock would have 10 billion possibilities with only one that works. But the protein alphabet has 20 possibilities at each site, and the average protein has about 300 amino acids in sequence….

Remember: Not just any old jumble of amino acids makes a protein. Chimps typing at keyboards will have to type for a very long time before they get an error-free, meaningful sentence of 150 characters. “We have a small needle in a huge haystack.” Neo-Darwinism has not solved this problem, Meyer said. “There’s a mathematical rigor to this which has not been a part of the so-called evolution-creation debate.”…

“[L]eading U.S. biologists, including evolutionary biologists, are saying we need a new theory of evolution,” Meyer said. Many increasingly criticize Darwinism, even if they don’t accept design. One is the cell biologist James Shapiro of the University of Chicago. His new book is Evolution: A View From the 21st Century. He’s “looking for a new evolutionary theory.” David Depew (Iowa) and Bruce Weber (Cal State) recently wrote in Biological Theory that Darwinism “can no longer serve as a general framework for evolutionary theory.” Such criticisms have mounted in the technical literature. (Tom Bethell, “Intelligent Design at the University Club,” American Spectator, May 2012)

And this:

[I]t is startling to realize that the entire brief for demoting human beings, and organisms in general, to meaningless scraps of molecular machinery — a demotion that fuels the long-running science-religion wars and that, as “shocking” revelation, supposedly stands on a par with Copernicus’s heliocentric proposal — rests on the vague conjunction of two scarcely creditable concepts: the randomness of mutations and the fitness of organisms. And, strangely, this shocking revelation has been sold to us in the context of a descriptive biological literature that, from the molecular level on up, remains almost nothing buta documentation of the meaningfully organized, goal-directed stories of living creatures.

Here, then, is what the advocates of evolutionary mindlessness and meaninglessness would have us overlook. We must overlook, first of all, the fact that organisms are masterful participants in, and revisers of, their own genomes, taking a leading position in the most intricate, subtle, and intentional genomic “dance” one could possibly imagine. And then we must overlook the way the organism responds intelligently, and in accord with its own purposes, to whatever it encounters in its environment, including the environment of its own body, and including what we may prefer to view as “accidents.” Then, too, we are asked to ignore not only the living, reproducing creatures whose intensely directed lives provide the only basis we have ever known for the dynamic processes of evolution, but also all the meaning of the larger environment in which these creatures participate — an environment compounded of all the infinitely complex ecological interactions that play out in significant balances, imbalances, competition, cooperation, symbioses, and all the rest, yielding the marvelously varied and interwoven living communities we find in savannah and rainforest, desert and meadow, stream and ocean, mountain and valley. And then, finally, we must be sure to pay no heed to the fact that the fitness, against which we have assumed our notion of randomness could be defined, is one of the most obscure, ill-formed concepts in all of science.

Overlooking all this, we are supposed to see — somewhere — blind, mindless, random, purposeless automatisms at the ultimate explanatory root of all genetic variation leading to evolutionary change. (Stephen L. Talbott, “Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness,” The New Atlantis, Fall 2011)

My point is not to suggest that that the writers are correct in their conjectures. Rather, the force of their conjectures shows that supposedly “settled” science is (a) always far from settled (on big questions, at least) and (b) necessarily incomplete because it can never reach ultimate truths.

Trayvon, George, and Barack

Recent revelations about the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman suggest the following:

  • Martin was acting suspiciously and smelled of marijuana.
  • Zimmerman was rightly concerned about Martin’s behavior, given the history of break-ins in Zimmerman’s neighborhood.
  • Martin attacked Zimmerman, had him on the ground, was punching his face, and had broken his nose.
  • Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defense.

Whether the encounter was “ultimately avoidable,” as a police report asserts, is beside the point.  Zimmerman acted in self-defense, and the case against him should be dismissed. The special prosecutor should be admonished by the court for having succumbed to media and mob pressure in bringing a charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman.

What we have here is the same old story: Black “victim”–>media frenzy to blame whites (or a “white Hispanic”), without benefit of all relevant facts–>facts exonerate whites. To paraphrase Shakespeare: The first thing we should do after the revolution is kill all the pundits (along with the lawyers).

Obama famously said, “”If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Given the thuggish similarity between Trayvon and Obama (small sample here), it is more accurate to say that if Obama had a son, he would be like Trayvon.

Creepy People

Exhibit A is Richard Thaler, a self-proclaimed libertarian who is nothing of the kind. Thaler defends the individual mandate that is at the heart of Obamacare (by implication, at least), when he attacks the “slippery slope” argument against it. Annon Simon nails Thaler:

Richard Thaler’s NYT piece from a few days ago, Slippery-Slope Logic, Applied to Health Care, takes conservatives to task for relying on a “slippery slope” fallacy to argue that Obamacare’s individual mandate should be invalidated. Thaler believes that the hypothetical broccoli mandate — used by opponents of Obamacare to show that upholding the mandate would require the Court to acknowledge congressional authority to do all sorts of other things — would never be adopted by Congress or upheld by a federal court. This simplistic view of the Obamacare litigation obscures legitimate concerns over the amount of power that the Obama administration is claiming for the federal government. It also ignores the way creative judges can use previous cases as building blocks to justify outcomes that were perhaps unimaginable when those building blocks were initially formed….

[N]ot all slippery-slope claims are fallacious. The Supreme Court’s decisions are often informed by precedent, and, as every law student learned when studying the Court’s privacy cases, a decision today could be used by a judge ten years from now to justify outcomes no one had in mind.

In 1965, the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut, referencing penumbras and emanations, recognized a right to privacy in marriage that mandated striking down an anti-contraception law.

Seven years later, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, this right expanded to individual privacy, because after all, a marriage is made of individuals, and “[i]f the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual . . . to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

By 1973 in Roe v. Wade, this precedent, which had started out as a right recognized in marriage, had mutated into a right to abortion that no one could really trace to any specific textual provision in the Constitution. Slippery slope anyone?

This also happened in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, where the Supreme Court struck down an anti-sodomy law. The Court explained that the case did not involve gay marriage, and Justice O’Connor’s concurrence went further, distinguishing gay marriage from the case at hand. Despite those pronouncements, later decisions enshrining gay marriage as a constitutionally protected right have relied upon Lawrence. For instance, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (Mass. 2003) cited Lawrence 9 times, Varnum v. Brien (Iowa 2009) cited Lawrence 4 times, and Perry v. Brown (N.D. Cal, 2010) cited Lawrence 9 times.

However the Court ultimately rules, there is no question that this case will serve as a major inflection point in our nation’s debate about the size and scope of the federal government. I hope it serves to clarify the limits on congressional power, and not as another stepping stone on the path away from limited, constitutional government. (“The Supreme Court’s Slippery Slope,” National Review Online, May 17, 2012)

Simon could have mentioned Wickard v. Filburn (1942), in which the Supreme Court brought purely private, intrastate activity within the reach of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. The downward slope from Wickard v. Filburn to today’s intrusive regulatory regime has been been not merely slippery but precipitous.

Then there is Brian Leiter, some of whose statist musings I have addressed in the past. It seems that Leiter has taken to defending the idiotic Elizabeth Warren for her convenient adoption of a Native American identity. Todd Zywicki tears a new one for Leiter:

I was out of town most of last week and I wasn’t planning on blogging any more on the increasingly bizarre saga of Elizabeth Warren’s claim to Native American ancestry, which as of the current moment appears to be entirely unsubstantiated.  But I was surprised to see Brian Leiter’s post doubling-down in his defense of Warren–and calling me a “Stalinist” to boot (although I confess it is not clear why or how he is using that term).  So I hope you will indulge me while I respond.

First, let me say again what I expressed at the outset–I have known from highly-credible sources for a decade that in the past Warren identified herself as a Native American in order to put herself in a position to benefit from hiring preferences (I am certain that Brian knows this now too).  She was quite outspoken about it at times in the past and, as her current defenses have suggested, she believed that she was entitled to claim it.  So there would have been no reason for her to not identify as such and in fact she was apparently quite unapologetic about it at the time….

Second, Brian seems to believe for some reason that the issue here is whether Warren actually benefited from a hiring preference.  Of course it is not (as my post makes eminently clear).  The issue I raised is whether Warren made assertions as part of the law school hiring process in order to put herself in a position to benefit from a hiring preference for which she had no foundation….

Third, regardless of why she did it, Warren herself actually had no verifiable basis for her self-identification as Native American.  At the very least her initial claim was grossly reckless and with no objective foundation–it appears that she herself has never had any foundation for the claim beyond “family lore” and her “high cheekbones.”… Now it turns out that the New England Historical Genealogical Society, which had been the source for the widely-reported claim that she might be 1/32 Cherokee, has rescinded its earlier conclusion and now says “We have no proof that Elizabeth Warren’s great great great grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith either is or is not of Cherokee descent.”  The story adds, “Their announcement came in the wake of an official report from an Oklahoma county clerk that said a document purporting to prove Warren’s Cherokee roots — her great great great grandmother’s marriage license application — does not exist.”  A Cherokee genealogist has similarly stated that she can find no evidence to support Warren’s claim.  At this point her claim appears to be entirely unsupported as an objective matter and it appears that she herself had no basis for it originally.

Fourth, Brian’s post also states the obvious–that there is plenty of bad blood between Elizabeth and myself.  But, of course, the only reason that this issue is interesting and relevant today is because Warren is running for the U.S. Senate and is the most prominent law professor in America at this moment.

So, I guess I’ll conclude by asking the obvious question: if a very prominent conservative law professor (say, for example, John Yoo) had misrepresented himself throughout his professorial career in the manner that Elizabeth Warren has would Brian still consider it to be “the non-issue du jour“?  Really?

I’m not sure what a “Stalinist” is.  But I would think that ignoring a prominent person’s misdeeds just because you like her politics, and attacking the messenger instead, just might fit the bill. (“New England Genealogical Historical Society Rescinds Conclusion that Elizabeth Warren Might Be Cherokee,” The Volokh Conspiracy, May 17, 2012)

For another insight into Leiter’s character, read this and weep not for him.

Tea Party Sell-Outs

Business as usual in Washington:

This week the Club for Growth released a study of votes cast in 2011 by the 87 Republicans elected to the House in November 2010. The Club found that “In many cases, the rhetoric of the so-called “Tea Party” freshmen simply didn’t match their records.” Particularly disconcerting is the fact that so many GOP newcomers cast votes against spending cuts.

The study comes on the heels of three telling votes taken last week in the House that should have been slam-dunks for members who possess the slightest regard for limited government and free markets. Alas, only 26 of the 87 members of the “Tea Party class” voted to defund both the Economic Development Administration and the president’s new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program (see my previous discussion of these votes here) and against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank (see my colleague Sallie James’s excoriation of that vote here).

I assembled the following table, which shows how each of the 87 freshman voted. The 26 who voted for liberty in all three cases are highlighted. Only 49 percent voted to defund the EDA. Only 56 percent voted to defund a new corporate welfare program requested by the Obama administration. And only a dismal 44 percent voted against reauthorizing “Boeing’s bank.” That’s pathetic. (Tad DeHaven, “Freshman Republicans Switch from Tea to Kool-Aid,” Cato@Liberty, May 17, 2012)

Lesson: Never trust a politician who seeks a position of power, unless that person earns trust by divesting the position of power.

PCness

Just a few of the recent outbreaks of PCness that enraged me:

Michigan Mayor Calls Pro-Lifers ‘Forces of Darkness’” (reported by LifeNews.com on May 11, 2012)

US Class Suspended for Its View on Islam” (reported by CourierMail.com.au, May 11, 2012)

House Democrats Politicize Trayvon Martin” (posted at Powerline, May 8, 2012)

Chronicle of Higher Education Fires Blogger for Questioning Seriousness of Black Studies Depts.” (posted at Reason.com/hit & run, May 8, 2012)

Technocracy, Externalities, and Statism

From a review of Robert Frank’s The Darwin Economy:

In many ways, economics is the discipline best suited to the technocratic mindset. This has nothing to do with its traditional subject matter. It is not about debating how to produce goods and services or how to distribute them. Instead, it relates to how economics has emerged as an approach that distances itself from democratic politics and provides little room for human agency.

Anyone who has done a high-school course in economics is likely to have learned the basics of its technocratic approach from the start. Students have long been taught that economics is a ‘positive science’ – one based on facts rather than values. Politicians are entitled to their preferences, so the argument went, but economists are supposed to give them impartial advice based on an objective examination of the facts.

More recently this approach has been taken even further. The supposedly objective role of the technocrat-economist has become supreme, while the role of politics has been sidelined….

The starting point of The Darwin Economy is what economists call the collective action problem: the divergence between individual and collective interests. A simple example is a fishermen fishing in a lake. For each individual, it might be rational to catch as many fish as possible, but if all fishermen follow the same path the lake will eventually be empty. It is therefore deemed necessary to find ways to negotiate this tension between individual and group interests.

Those who have followed the discussion of behavioural economics will recognise that this is an alternative way of viewing humans as irrational. Behavioural economists focus on individuals behaving in supposedly irrational ways. For example, they argue that people often do not invest enough to secure themselves a reasonable pension. For Frank, in contrast, individuals may behave rationally but the net result of group behaviour can still be irrational….

…From Frank’s premises, any activity considered harmful by experts could be deemed illegitimate and subjected to punitive measures….

…[I]t is … wrong to assume that there is no more scope for economic growth to be beneficial. Even in the West, there is a long way to go before scarcity is limited. This is not just a question of individuals having as many consumer goods as they desire – although that has a role. It also means having the resources to provide as many airports, art galleries, hospitals, power stations, roads, schools, universities and other facilities as are needed. There is still ample scope for absolute improvements in living standards…. (Daniel Ben-ami, “Delving into the Mind of the Technocrat,” The Spiked Review of Books, February 2012)

There is much to disagree with in the review, but the quoted material is right on. It leads me to quote myself:

…[L]ife is full of externalities — positive and negative. They often emanate from the same event, and cannot be separated. State action that attempts to undo negative externalities usually results in the negation or curtailment of positive ones. In terms of the preceding example, state action often is aimed at forcing the attractive woman to be less attractive, thus depriving quietly appreciative men of a positive externality, rather than penalizing the crude man if his actions cross the line from mere rudeness to assault.

The main argument against externalities is that they somehow result in something other than a “social optimum.” This argument is pure, economistic hokum. It rests on the unsupportable belief in a social-welfare function, which requires the balancing (by an omniscient being, I suppose) of the happiness and unhappiness that results from every action that affects another person, either directly or indirectly….

A believer in externalities might respond by saying that they are of “economic” importance only as they are imposed on bystanders as a spillover from economic transactions, as in the case of emissions from a power plant that can cause lung damage in susceptible persons. Such a reply is of a kind that only an omniscient being could make with impunity. What privileges an economistic thinker to say that the line of demarcation between relevant and irrelevant acts should be drawn in a certain place? The authors of campus speech codes evidently prefer to draw the line in such a way as to penalize the behavior of the crude man in the above example. Who is the economistic thinker to say that the authors of campus speech codes have it wrong? And who is the legalistic thinker to say that speech should be regulated by deferring to the “feelings” that it arouses in persons who may hear or read it?

Despite the intricacies that I have sketched, negative externalities are singled out for attention and rectification, to the detriment of social and economic intercourse. Remove the negative externalities of electric-power generation and you make more costly (and even inaccessible) a (perhaps the) key factor in America’s economic growth in the past century. Try to limit the supposed negative externality of human activity known as “greenhouse gases” and you limit the ability of humans to cope with that externality (if it exists) through invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Limit the supposed negative externality of “offensive” speech and you quickly limit the range of ideas that may be expressed in political discourse. Limit the supposed externalities of suburban sprawl and you, in effect, sentence people to suffer the crime, filth, crowding, contentiousness, heat-island effects, and other externalities of urban living.

The real problem is not externalities but economistic and legalistic reactions to them….

The main result of rationalistic thinking — because it yields vote-worthy slogans and empty promises to fix this and that “problem” — is the aggrandizement of the state, to the detriment of civil society.

The fundamental error of rationalists is to believe that “problems” call for collective action, and to identify collective action with state action. They lack the insight and imagination to understand that the social beings whose voluntary, cooperative efforts are responsible for mankind’s vast material progress are perfectly capable of adapting to and solving “problems,” and that the intrusions of the state simply complicate matters, when not making them worse. True collective action is found in voluntary social and economic intercourse, the complex, information-rich content of which rationalists cannot fathom. They are as useless as a blind man who is shouting directions to an Indy 500 driver….

Theodore Dalrymple

If you do not know of Theodore Dalrymple, you should. His book, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas, inspired  “On Liberty,” the first post at this blog. Without further ado, I commend these recent items by and about Dalrymple:

Rotting from the Head Down” (an article by Dalrymple about the social collapse of Britain, City Journal, March 8, 2012)

Symposium: Why Do Progressives Love Criminals?” (Dalrymple and others, FrontPageMag.com, March 9, 2012)

Doctors Should Not Vote for Industrial Action,” a strike, in American parlance (a post by Dalrymple, The Social Affairs Unit, March 22, 2012)

The third item ends with this:

The fact is that there has never been, is never, and never will be any industrial action over the manifold failures of the public service to provide what it is supposed to provide. Whoever heard of teachers going on strike because a fifth of our children emerge from 11 years of compulsory education unable to read fluently, despite large increases in expenditure on education?

If the doctors vote for industrial action, they will enter a downward spiral of public mistrust of their motives. They should think twice before doing so.

Amen.

The Higher-Eduction Bubble

The title of a post at The Right Coast tells the tale: “Under 25 College Educated More Unemployed than Non-college Educated for First Time.” As I wrote here,

When I entered college [in 1958], I was among the 28 percent of high-school graduates then attending college. It was evident to me that about half of my college classmates didn’t belong in an institution of higher learning. Despite that, the college-enrollment rate among high-school graduates has since doubled.

(Also see this.)

American taxpayers should be up in arms over the subsidization of an industry that wastes their money on the useless education of masses of indeducable persons. Then there is the fact that taxpayers are forced to subsidize the enemies of liberty who populate university faculties.

The news about unemployment among college grads may hasten the bursting of the higher-ed bubble. It cannot happen too soon.

I Want My Country Back

When a Tea Partier says something like “I want my county back,” leftists reliably label the sentiment as racist, sexist, homophobic, mean-spirited, and a lot of other things that are meant to be uncomplimentary. Well, I’m not an active member of the Tea Party movement, but I am sympathetic to it. And if I were to say “I want my country back,” here’s what I would mean by it:

Let’s start with the unlawfulness of government. The Constitution of the United States creates a “national” government of limited and enumerated powers, to act on behalf of the States and their citizens in certain matters. This “national” government has nevertheless blatantly and persistently exceeded its rightful powers. Moreover, much of what is done by all governments — not just the “national” government — is in fact unlawful at its core. There is a fundamental tenet of law — one that precedes and informs the Constitution — which is that “law” is law only when it serves the general welfare, regardless of its official status as an legislative, executive, or judicial act. Therefore, it is truly unlawful for the  “national” government or any other government in the United States to interfere with the lives, liberty, or property of Americans for the purpose of promoting special interests, however laudable those interests may seem. And yet, the “laws” under which Americans labor are, in the main, enactments that serve special interests and the power-lust of politicians, bureaucrats, and judges. In sum, I want my country (and its various parts) to return to the true “rule of law,” which is to promote the general welfare by

  • protecting all Americans from their enemies within and without
  • ensuring the free movement of all Americans
  • ensuring the free exchange of goods and services
  • and nothing more.

One of the most insidious ways in which government interferes with our liberty is by exercising a subtle but powerful form of thought control. It  is not the business of government to tell us what to believe or how we must arrive at our beliefs. But government — which puts it imprimatur on the vast majority of educational institutions and much of the “factual” information in many fields of endeavor — does all of those things. Thus, contrary to the intentions of the Founders, we have become a nation imbued with official beliefs about matters ranging from the origins of the universe to the goodness of our enemies to the climatic effects of (puny) human endeavors.

One of the key beliefs instilled by government — directly and through those who are in its thrall — is its beneficent role in our economic and social affairs. It never seems to occur to the proponents of governmental interference — or to its relatively few of its opponents — that there is a living, breathing case study which disproves the beneficence of economic meddling. When government spending and regulation played a tiny role in the economic affairs of the United States — from the 1790s to around 1900 — GDP grew at an annual rate of 4.2 percent. Now, with the regulatory-welfare state fully upon us, GDP grows at an annual rate of 3.1 percent (and falling). The difference between those two rates — when compounded over a generation, a lifetime, or a century –  ranges from significantly large to enormous. The road to economic lassitude is paved by the good intentions of regulation and spending by government. Liberty — part of which is the right to make mistakes and benefit from the resulting lessons — is a collateral victim of regulatory zeal. Liberty is a victim of government spending, as well, because it deprives individuals of some portion of the rewards for their labor and capital, and the full enjoyment of those rewards.

With respect to social matters, there is only one way to put it: Government is an enemy of society. Its main mission, when you think about it for more than a minute, is to supplant voluntary and beneficial social arrangements with schemes hatched in the vacuum of intellectualism. It is as if there were nothing to the eons-long learning that is expressed in the Ten Commandments and Golden Rule, and embodied in churches, clubs, and other voluntary, private associations. We must, instead, take our social marching orders from elites, who have their own peculiar views of what is right and just: serial polygamy, pederasty, and infanticide, to name just a few things. The social engineering favored by intellectualoids arises not from the wisdom of tradition, which fosters stable, trusting, and supportive social relationships, but from idle theorizing and a large dose of adolescent and post-adolescent rebellion.

Now, after a more than a century of “progressive” destruction of the Constitution and its restraints on government, Americans no longer enjoy the protection of government and the self-policing restraints of social custom. Instead, Americans suffer the fads and whims of the self-anointed, whose legacy lingers after their departure from the scene.

Now, after more than a century of “progressive” interference in the economic affairs of Americans, our progeny face unaffordable financial commitments, which they will be expected to honor even as their standard of living withers under the assault of taxation and regulation.

Now, after more than a century of social experimentation in which anti-social behavior has been exalted and long-standing voluntary social arrangements and institutions have been stripped of their authority, too many of our progeny are hooked on hard drugs, casual sex, and gratuitous violence as forms of “entertainment” and as “lifestyles.”

I want my country back.

Our Miss Brooks

Some time back, Tom Smith referred to the NYT columnist and pseudo-conservative David Brooks as “prissy little Miss Brooks.” Smith’s recycling of the appellation has not diminished its satirical effect — or its substantive accuracy.

Miss Brooks recently cringed when she contemplated an America without government, in the aftermath of a victorious Tea Party movement. Miss Brooks, it seems, is besotted with the manliness of limited-but-energetic governments

that used aggressive [emphasis added] federal power to promote growth and social mobility. George Washington used industrial policy, trade policy and federal research dollars to build a manufacturing economy alongside the agricultural one. The Whig Party used federal dollars to promote a development project called the American System.

Abraham Lincoln supported state-sponsored banks to encourage development, lavish infrastructure projects, increased spending on public education. Franklin Roosevelt provided basic security so people were freer to move and dare. The Republican sponsors of welfare reform increased regulations and government spending — demanding work in exchange for dollars.

Throughout American history, in other words, there have been leaders who regarded government like fire — a useful tool when used judiciously and a dangerous menace when it gets out of control. They didn’t build their political philosophy on whether government was big or not. Government is a means, not an end. They built their philosophy on making America virtuous, dynamic and great. They supported government action when it furthered those ends and opposed it when it didn’t.

I am surprised that Miss Brooks was able to recover from her swoon and finish writing the column in question. I am less surprised that Miss Brooks omitted to mention Thomas “Louisiana Purchase” Jefferson and Theodore “I Can Do Whatever I Please” Roosevelt, given that Jefferson was an effete Francophile and Roosevelt was a squeaky-voiced nutcase.

Other than that, there are only two problems with Brooks’s prescription for beneficent government: The first is the impossibility of electing only those leaders who know how to use government power judiciously. The second problem is the assumption that the things wrought by Washington, Lincoln, et al. were judicious uses of government power.

As to the first problem, all I can do is note the number of times that a majority of Americans has been convinced of the goodness of a candidate, only to be disappointed — when not outraged — by his performance in office. Take LBJ, Nixon, Carter, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama — please take them! –not to mention myriad Congress-critters and State and local office-holders.

The second problem is a problem for reasons that are evidentlybeyond Miss Brooks’s comprehension:

  • Government action isn’t cost-less. It absorbs resources that the private sector could have put to use.
  • Government officials, despite their (occasional) great deeds, are not gifted with superior knowledge about how to put those resources to use.
  • Private firms — when not shielded from competition and failure by governments — put resources to uses that satisfy the actual needs of consumers, as opposed to the whims (however high-minded) of politicians.
  • Private firms — when not shielded from competition and failure by government — use resources more efficiently than government.

In short, Miss Brooks, Washington may have been a great man for having led a rag-tag army to victory over the British, and Lincoln may have been a great man for having preserved the Union and (incidentally) freed the slaves, but neither man — and certainly no other man or collection of men exercising the arbitrary power of government — was or ever will be equal to the task of simulating the irreproducibly complex set of signals and decisions that are embedded in free markets.

In the end, Miss Brooks works herself into hysterics at the prospect of less government:

The social fabric is fraying. Human capital is being squandered. Society is segmenting. The labor markets are ill. Wages are lagging. Inequality is increasing. The nation is overconsuming and underinnovating. China and India are surging. Not all of these challenges can be addressed by the spontaneous healing powers of the market.

The social fabric is fraying precisely because government has pushed social institutions aside and made millions of Americans its dependents. Society is segmenting for the same reason, and also because millions of Americans are fed up with government and its dominance of their lives. Labor markets are ill and wages are lagging (compared to what?) because of various government actions that have slowed economic growth and caused (not for the first time) a deep recession. The nation is overconsuming (i.e., underinvesting) and underinnovating because of the aforesaid government-caused economic malaise, which (among other things) has reduced the demand for money (seen in the form of low interest rates) and the potential returns on innovative investments. That China and India are surging is no skin off our teeth; the more productive they are the less Americans have to pay for the goods and services they produce, and the more Americans can produce of other things — if government will only get off the back of American business.

None of these “challenges” would be challenges were it not for governmental interference in private social institutions and markets. As Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Amen.

So, Miss Brooks, I advise you to take two Valium and read Friedrich Hayek’s Nobel Prize lecture, “The Pretence of Knowledge.” Then pass it on to your politician friends.

Related posts:
Columnist, Heal Thyself
The Economic and Social Consequences of Government

A Conversation with Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam graciously granted me a telephone interview. Here is a complete transcript of the conversation between Uncle Sam (S) and me (T):

S: Sam here.

T: Hello, uncle, it’s Thomas.

S: It’s good to hear your voice, Mr. Jefferson.

T: Sorry, not that Thomas. I’m just a humble blogger. Do you know about blogs?

S: Oh, yes. I follow all the blogs about politics and economics. It’s quite a chore, but very enlightening. The things some people think about me are shocking.

T: How so?

S: Well, there are a lot of people out there who think that I hold the solution to all economic and social problems.

T: Don’t you?

S: Of course not. People are responsible for solving their own problems. All I can do is try to create a safe environment in which they can get on with the business of life.

T: Before we explore that idea further, tell me about yourself. How did you get your job?

S: I was hired by nine of the original States in 1788, when the Constitution was ratified. The other four soon joined them, and others came along later.

T: What was your job description when you were hired?

S: Pretty much what I said a minute ago: to keep the people safe, which includes refereeing squabbles among the States and ensuring that they don’t erect barriers to keep out people and goods from other States.

T: But you seem to have acquired a lot of additional duties since 1788.

S: Sad, but true. And it’s wearing me down. I have to pretend to be a lot wiser and more capable than any one person can be. I wish the States would get together and pare my job description down to its original specifications.

T: It seems unlikely, though. A lot of people have come to depend on you to do things they could do for themselves.

S: And it’s getting very expensive — like having 300 million dependents. The only way I’ll be able to support them all is to raise their taxes. I could borrow money from foreigners, but the more I borrow, the more expensive it will become. Eventually, foreigners will look at my balance sheet and cut me off.

T: So what it boils down to is this: In the end, your dependents must pay for the things that you do for them. Correct?

S: That’s exactly right. I’m just running a big Ponzi scheme. And most of the people who sign up for it are fools who believe that they’re getting something for nothing.

T: What’s in it for you?

S: Well, I must admit that I get a cut of the action.

T: So, when all the dust settles, your dependents don’t even get all of their money back from you?

S: Are you kidding? Of course they don’t. If they want me to do all of this extra work, they have to pay me for my trouble.

T: Do you think it’s possible to cut your job back to its original size?

S: Only if a lot more people get wise to me. Most of them seem to think I’m Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

T: But the politicians who give you your orders don’t believe such things, do they?

S: Some of them do. Most of them are just using me to make things work the way they want them to. It’s called “control.” I’ve seen all the presidents, members of Congress, and Supreme Court jutices — from great to mediocre — and almost every one of them was, or is, a control freak. Washington had to be one in order to get things off the ground. Without him, I wouldn’t have a job. Ditto Lincoln, who had to be a control freak in order to save the Union. Not that that was a bad thing, mind you, especially because it brought an end to slavery. But how many presidents since Lincoln have tried to stuff the genie (me) back in the bottle? Cleveland, Coolidge, and Reagan — that’s about it. And whatever success they enjoyed was only temporary. The people are good at fooling themselves, and politicians excel at helping them along.

T: You seem pessimistic.

S: I am. What’s needed is another Revolution, but a peaceful one. Those are hard to come by.

T: I’ll end our conversation on that note. Thanks very much, Sam.

S: Thank you for listening. And give my best wishes to the Tea Party.

Today’s Wisdom . . .

. . . comes from Tom Smith of The Right Coast:

I find the hostility towards the Tea Parties from libertarians hard to understand.  These people appear to generally favor small government.  Yes, they have differences on some issues, but they are much closer to libertarians than anyone else.

The only explanation that I can see for the hostility is based on a cultural view of libertarians — most of the libertarians think of themselves as part of a cultural elite and therefore reject the Sarah Palins of the world.  (I don’t mean to speak of Sarah Palin in particular, but of the Tea Partiers from her socio-economic group.)  Sad, very sad.  One would think that liberty would be more important to libertarians than self-image, but perhaps not.  Let’s hope I am wrong and the libertarians are warming to the Tea Partiers.

The Shape of Things to Come

Given the “State of the Union: 2010,” you may wonder how much worse things can get in this land of the once-free. Here are some very real possibilities:

  • More curbs on freedom of speech, in the name of “protecting” certain groups (e.g., homosexuals, immigrants, Muslims) and “preserving public order” (i.e., protecting government and government officials from criticism).
  • A complete government takeover of medical services (a U.S. National Heath Service), with no provision for opting-out to private care.
  • Environmentalism and warmism rampant, with draconian restrictions on everything from where we live, the design of our housing, and the range of products and services we are allowed to buy.
  • A stagnant economy — crushed by the weight of entitlement programs, environmentalism, warmism, and income equalization — affords a lower quality of life (on a par with the U.S. of the 1950s), and is unable to support a robust defense against foreign enemies.
  • Further reductions in quality of life, brought about by economic isolation, arising partly out of protectionism, partly out of voluntary withdrawal from overseas interests (in the name of self-sufficiency), and partly out of our unwillingness and inability to defend our overseas interests in the face of superior Chinese and Russian forces.
  • The erosion of traditional morality — aided by governmental endorsement of moral relativism — leading to the increasing brutalization of the citizenry and an eventual police-state response.

I could expand the list, but it is already depressing enough.

If you cannot participate in the efforts of the Tea Party movement, the American Conservative Union, and the Club for Growth to roll back the forces of oppression in this land, support those organizations with your dollars. Every little bit helps.

A Declaration of Independence, Updated

If you haven’t read “A Declaration of Independence,” or haven’t read it since I revised it, I recommend a first or second look.

A Declaration of Independence

REVISED, 04/02/10 and 04/03/10

A note to Tea-Partiers. It is time to channel your outrage, constructively and nonviolently. My suggestion: hold a convention in each State; adopt — in the name of the people of each State — a declaration of independence from the unconstitutional acts of the government of the United States; engage the millions of silent but equally outraged Americans who share your views by asking them to join you in signing the declarations. An articulate declaration that is joined by millions of Americans should cause many politicians — even Democrats — to rethink their allegiance to the politics of pork, regulation, and taxation. A declaration of independence from unconstitutional acts might look like this:

The people of the State of _______________ declare to the people of the United States and to their governments that

The Constitution of the United States and all laws made in accordance with it are the supreme law of the land. The ratification of the Constitution resulted in the establishment a government of the United States (the central government) for the purposes of making, executing, and adjudicating laws. But the acts of the central government are valid and binding only when they are in accordance with the Constitution.

In fact, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central government have abused their powers by making, executing, and upholding laws contrary to the Constitution; for example:

A decennial census is authorized in Article I, Section 2, for the purpose of enumerating the population of each State in order to apportion the membership of the House of Representatives among the States, and for no other purpose.

Article I, Section 1, vests all legislative powers in the Congress, but Congress has authorized and allowed unelected, executive-branch regulators to legislate on myriad matters affecting the liberty and property of Americans.

Article I, Section 8, enumerates the specific powers of Congress, which do not include such things as establishing and operating national welfare and health-care programs; intervening in the education of America’s children; regulating interstate commerce beyond ensuring its free flow; regulating intrastate commerce and private, non-commercial transactions; lending money and guaranteeing loans made by quasi-governmental institutions and other third parties; acquiring the stock and debt of business enterprises; establishing a central bank with the power to do more than issue money; requiring the States and their political subdivisions to adopt uniform laws on matters that lie outside the enumerated powers of Congress and beyond the previously agreed powers of the States and their subdivisions;  and coercing the States and the political subdivisions in the operation of illegitimate national programs by providing and threatening to withhold so-called federal money, which is in fact taxpayers’ money.  (The notion that the “general welfare” and/or “necessary and proper” clauses of Article I, Section 8, authorize such activities was refuted definitively in advance of the ratification of the Constitution by James Madison in No. 41 of the Federalist Papers, wherein the leading proponents of the Constitution stated their understanding of the Constitution’s meaning when they made the case for its ratification.)

One of the provisions of Article I, Section 10, prohibits interference by the States in private contracts; moreover, the Constitution nowhere authorizes the central government to interfere in private contracts. Yet, directly and through the States, the central government has allowed, encouraged, and required interference in private contracts pertaining to employment, property, and financial transactions.

Amendment I of the Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” But Congress has nevertheless abridged the freedom of political speech — our most precious kind — by passing bills that have been signed into law by presidents of the United States and, in the main, upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Amendment IX of the Constitutions provides that its “enumeration . . . of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” But Congress, in concert with various presidents and Supreme Court majorities, has enacted laws that circumscribe one of our time-honored freedoms: the freedom of association.

As outlined above, the central government routinely and massively violates Amendment X, which states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Legislative, executive, and judicial acts of the central government have perverted the meaning of Amendments XIII, XIV, and XV — which properly abolished slavery and outlawed racial discrimination by government — to require discrimination on behalf of certain “protected groups” designated by law, to the detriment of groups not thus favored.

These and other abuses of power by the central government are grounds for civil disobedience, at the least, and secession, in the extreme.

With regard to secession, there is a judicial myth — articulated by a majority of the United States Supreme Court in Texas v. White (1868) — that the union of States is perpetual:

The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation. It began among the Colonies, and grew out of common origin, mutual sympathies, kindred principles, similar interests, and geographical relations. It was confirmed and strengthened by the necessities of war, and received definite form and character and sanction from the Articles of Confederation. By these, the Union was solemnly declared to “be perpetual.” And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained “to form a more perfect Union.” It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?

The Court’s reasoning — if it may be called that — is born of mysticism, not legality. Similar reasoning might have been used — and was used — to proclaim the Colonies inseparable from Great Britain. And yet, some of the people of the Colonies put an end to the union of the Colonies and Great Britain, on the moral principle that no person or people is obliged to remain in an abusive relationship. That moral principle is all the more compelling in the case of the union known as the United States, which — mysticism aside — is nothing more than the creature of the States and the people thereof.

It was only by the grace of nine States that the Constitution took effect, thereby establishing the central government. Those nine States voluntarily created the central government and, at the same time, voluntarily granted certain, limited powers to it. The States understood that the central government would exercise its limited powers for the benefit of the States and their people. Every State subsequently admitted to the union has entered into the same contract with the central government.

But, as outlined above, the central government has breached its trust by exceeding the powers granted to it. In fact, the central government’s abuse of power has been so persistent and egregious that a reasonable remedy on the part of the States — individually or severally — is to declare the Constitution null and void. Each and every State, in other words, has the right to secede from the union and to withdraw from the central government its support and the support of the people.

Two facts militate against secession as a remedy for the central government’s abuse of power. First, the States have much to gain by remaining joined in union: mutual defense and the free movement of people, goods, and services among the States. Second, because the central government has acquired overwhelming might, and because that might would no doubt be used to suppress secession, it would be sheer folly to secede — despite the moral and legal rightness of doing so.

The only practical alternative to secession is civil disobedience. Accordingly, the people of ______________ do solemnly state the following:

We reaffirm our allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, and hereby pledge to preserve, protect, and defend it against all its enemies, foreign and domestic. The central government of the United States, through prolonged and egregious abuses of its delegated powers, has proved itself an enemy of the Constitution.

Having assembled peacefully to consider the remedies available to us, we petition the central government to honor the Constitution by negating and reversing all of its unconstitutional acts within a reasonable period of time, which shall be no more than five years. If the central government fails to negate and reverse all of its unconstitutional acts within five years, it will be within the moral and legal rights of the people of this State to sever the ties of this State to the central government, to refuse all services and emoluments that may be offered by the central government, to withhold all services and payments to the central government, and to reclaim — for the benefit of the people of this State — any and all parcels of land and bodies of water within the boundaries of this State that are (or may be) held in the name of the central government.

The foregoing notwithstanding, the people of this State — despite their moral and legal rights to sever this State’s ties to the central government — shall not withdraw from the community of States which is known as the United States, and shall not take up arms against the central government to enforce their rights. But the governments and people of this State may refuse peacefully to comply with the unconstitutional laws, regulations, executive orders, and judicial holdings of the central government. Such refusals shall lead to violence only if the central government uses force to exact compliance with its unconstitutional laws, regulations, executive orders, or judicial holdings, thus requiring the people to act in self-defense.

Done, on this day of ______________________________, by the people of _______________ in convention, and subscribed to by the delegates to the Convention and other citizens of _______________, whose signatures are appended hereto.

Attest:

_______________, President of the Convention

_______________, Vice President of the Convention

_______________, Secretary of the Convention

P.S. The foregoing makes a legal case for secession. A different case, which I make here, is that secession is valid because the Constitution did not bind the whole of “the people” when it was ratified, and could not have bound future generations.