I Knew (of) a Man Who Knew (of) a Man …

… who, etc., etc., knew (of) George Washington.

A bit of trivia for this, the 288th anniversary of Washington’s birth on February 22, 1732 (New Style date). Washington served as president from April 30, 1789 to March 4, 1797. He died on December 14, 1799.

Martin Van Buren (8th president) was born on December 5, 1782, and was 6 to 14 years old during Washington’s presidency. Van Buren was therefore had memories of the first presidency. Van Buren served as president from March 4, 1837, to March 4, 1841. He died on July 24, 1862.

Rutherford B. Hayes (19th president) was born on October 4, 1822, and was 14 to 18 years old during Van Buren’s presidency. Hayes served as president from March 4, 1877, to March 4, 1881. He died on January 17, 1893.

William Howard Taft (27th president) was born on September 15, 1857, and was 19 to 23 years old during Hayes’s presidency. Taft served as president from March 4, 1909, to March 4, 1913. He died on March 8, 1930.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th president) was born on October 14, 1890, and was 18 to 22 years old during Taft’s presidency. Eisenhower served as president from January 20, 1953, to January 20, 1961. He died on March 28, 1969.

Donald J. Trump (45th president) was born on June 14, 1946, and was 6 to 14 years old during Eisenhower’s presidency. Trump’s presidency began on January 20, 2017.

From Washington to Trump: 5 degrees of separation.

(For more facts about presidents, see “Presidents: Key Dates and Various Trivia“.)

Fifty-Two Weeks on the Learning Curve

I first learned of the learning curve when I was a newly hired analyst at a defense think-tank. A learning curve

is a graphical representation of how an increase in learning (measured on the vertical axis) comes from greater experience (the horizontal axis); or how the more someone (or something) performs a task, the better they [sic] get at it.

In my line of work, the learning curve figured importantly in the estimation of aircraft procurement costs. There was a robust statistical relationship between the cost of making a particular model of aircraft and the cumulative number of such aircraft produced. Armed with the learning-curve equation and the initial production cost of an aircraft, it was easy to estimate of the cost of producing any number of the same aircraft.

The learning curve figures prominently in tests that purport to measure intelligence. Two factors that may explain the Flynn effect — a secular rise in average IQ scores — are aspects of learning: schooling and test familiarity and a generally more stimulating environment in which one learns more. The Flynn effect doesn’t measure changes in intelligence, it measures changes in IQ scores resulting from learning. There is an essential difference between ignorance and stupidity. The Flynn effect is about the former, not the latter.

Here’s a personal example of the Flynn effect in action. I’ve been doing The New York Times crossword puzzle online since February 18, 2019. I have completed all 365 puzzles published by TNYT from that date through the puzzle for February 17, 2020, with generally increasing ease:

The fitted curve is a decaying exponential, which means that progress continues but at an increasingly slower rate, which is typical of a learning curve.

The difficulty of the puzzle varies from day to day, with Monday puzzles being the easiest and Sunday puzzles being the hardest (as measured by time to complete):

For each day of the week, my best time is more recent than my worst time, and the trend of time to complete is downward for every day of the week (as reflected in the first graph above). In fact:

  • My worst times were all recorded in March through June of last year.
  • Today I tied my best time for a Monday puzzle.
  • I set or tied my best time for the Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday puzzles in the last three weeks.
  • In the same three weeks, my times for the Tuesday puzzle have twice been only a minute higher than my best.

I know that that I haven’t become more intelligent in the last 52 weeks. And being several decades past the peak of my intelligence, I am certain that it diminishes steadily, though in tiny increments (I hope). I have simply become more practiced at doing the crossword puzzle because I have learned a lot about it. For example, certain clues recur with some frequency, and they always have the same answers. Clues often have double meanings, which are hard to decipher at first, but which become easier to decipher with practice. There are other subtleties, all of which reflect the advantages of learning.

In a nutshell, I am no smarter than I was 52 weeks ago, but my ignorance of TNYT crossword puzzle has diminished significantly.

(See also “More about Intelligence“, “Selected Writings about Intelligence“, and especially “Intelligence“, in which I quote experts about the Flynn Effect.)

Psychiatry Is a Disorder

I happened upon “Schizoid personality disorder” (SPD) at Wikipedia, and wondered why it is a disorder, that is, a “bad thing”. A footnote in the article leads to a summary of SPD. Here are some excerpts:

A person with schizoid personality disorder often:

  • Appears distant and detached
  • Avoids social activities that involve emotional closeness with other people
  • Does not want or enjoy close relationships, even with family members….

People with schizoid personality disorder often do well in relationships that don’t focus on emotional closeness. They tend to be better at handling relationships that focus on:

  • Work
  • Intellectual activities
  • Expectations

In other words, persons who “suffer” from SPD may in fact be highly productive in pursuits that demand (and reward) prowess in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — a.k.a. STEM. But because they don’t conform strictly to a psychiatric definition of normality they are said to have a disorder.

What is the psychiatric definition of a normal personality? This is from a page at the website of the American Psychiatric Association (APA):

Personality is the way of thinking, feeling and behaving that makes a person different from other people. An individual’s personality is influenced by experiences, environment (surroundings, life situations) and inherited characteristics. A person’s personality typically stays the same over time. A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.

There are 10 specific types of personality disorders. Personality disorders are long-term patterns of behavior and inner experiences that differs significantly from what is expected. The pattern of experience and behavior begins by late adolescence or early adulthood and causes distress or problems in functioning. Without treatment, personality disorders can be long-lasting. Personality disorders affect at least two of these areas:

  • Way of thinking about oneself and others
  • Way of responding emotionally
  • Way of relating to other people
  • Way of controlling one’s behavior

Types of Personality Disorders

  • Antisocial personality disorder: a pattern of disregarding or violating the rights of others. A person with antisocial personality disorder may not conform to social norms, may repeatedly lie or deceive others, or may act impulsively.
  • Avoidant personality disorder: a pattern of extreme shyness, feelings of inadequacy and extreme sensitivity to criticism. People with avoidant personality disorder may be unwilling to get involved with people unless they are certain of being liked, be preoccupied with being criticized or rejected, or may view themselves as not being good enough or socially inept.
  • Borderline personality disorder: a pattern of instability in personal relationships, intense emotions, poor self-image and impulsivity. A person with borderline personality disorder may go to great lengths to avoid being abandoned, have repeated suicide attempts, display inappropriate intense anger or have ongoing feelings of emptiness.
  • Dependent personality disorder: a pattern of needing to be taken care of and submissive and clingy behavior. People with dependent personality disorder may have difficulty making daily decisions without reassurance from others or may feel uncomfortable or helpless when alone because of fear of inability to take care of themselves.
  • Histrionic personality disorder: a pattern of excessive emotion and attention seeking. People with histrionic personality disorder may be uncomfortable when they are not the center of attention, may use physical appearance to draw attention to themselves or have rapidly shifting or exaggerated emotions.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder: a pattern of need for admiration and lack of empathy for others. A person with narcissistic personality disorder may have a grandiose sense of self-importance, a sense of entitlement, take advantage of others or lack empathy.
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: a pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfection and control. A person with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be overly focused on details or schedules, may work excessively not allowing time for leisure or friends, or may be inflexible in their morality and values. (This is NOT the same as obsessive compulsive disorder.)
  • Paranoid personality disorder: a pattern of being suspicious of others and seeing them as mean or spiteful. People with paranoid personality disorder often assume people will harm or deceive them and don’t confide in others or become close to them.
  • Schizoid personality disorder: being detached from social relationships and expressing little emotion. A person with schizoid personality disorder typically does not seek close relationships, chooses to be alone and seems to not care about praise or criticism from others.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder: a pattern of being very uncomfortable in close relationships, having distorted thinking and eccentric behavior. A person with schizotypal personality disorder may have odd beliefs or odd or peculiar behavior or speech or may have excessive social anxiety.

Holy mackerel, Andy, there’s hardly a “normal” person alive. And certainly none of them is a psychiatrist. The very compilation of a list of personality traits that one considers “abnormal” is a manifestation of narcissistic personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, at the very least.

Other than an actual disease of the brain, there is only one kind of mental “disorder” that requires treatment — criminal behavior. And the proper treatment for it is the application of criminal justice, sans psychiatric intervention. (See the articles by Thomas Szasz at FEE.)


Related posts:

I’ll Never Understand the Insanity Defense
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
A Precedent for the Demise of the Insanity Defense?
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
What Is Justice?
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
In Defense of Capital Punishment
Lock ‘Em Up
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Crime Revisited
Rush to Judgment?
Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives II

Economics Explained — Part IV: Loose Ends and Finishing Touches

This is the fourth installment of a long post. I may revise it as I post later parts. The whole will be published as a page, for ease of reference. In Parts I, II, and III I necessarily omitted many topics that might seem relevant to the principles of economics and their application in the real world. I address a few of those topics in this coda.

Macroeconomics

Macroeconomic aggregates (e.g., aggregate demandaggregate supply) are essentially meaningless because they represent disparate phenomena.

Consider Chuck and Debbie, who discover that, together, they can have more clothing and more food if each specializes: Chuck in the manufacture of clothing, Debbie in the farming and cultivation of foodstuffs. Through voluntary exchange and bargaining, they find a jointly satisfactory balance of production and consumption. Chuck makes enough clothing to cover himself adequately, to keep some clothing on hand for emergencies, and to trade the balance to Debbie for food. Debbie does likewise with food. Both balance their production and consumption decisions against other considerations (e.g., the desire for leisure).

Chuck and Debbie’s respective decisions and actions are microeconomic; the sum of their decisions, macroeconomic. The microeconomic picture might look like this:

  • Chuck produces 10 units of clothing a week, 5 of which he trades to Debbie for 5 units of food a week, 4 of which he uses each week, and 1 of which he saves for an emergency.
  • Debbie, like Chuck, uses 4 units of clothing each week and saves 1 for an emergency.
  • Debbie produces 10 units of food a week, 5 of which she trades to Chuck for 5 units of clothing a week, 4 of which she consumes each week, and 1 of which she saves for an emergency.
  • Chuck, like Debbie, consumes 4 units of food each week and saves 1 for an emergency.

Given the microeconomic picture, it is trivial to depict the macroeconomic situation:

  • Gross weekly output = 10 units of clothing and 10 units of food
  • Weekly consumption = 8 units of clothing and 8 units of food
  • Weekly saving = 2 units of clothing and 2 units of food

You will note that the macroeconomic metrics add no useful information; they merely summarize the salient facts of Chuck and Debbie’s economic lives — though not the essential facts of their lives, which include (but are far from limited to) the degree of satisfaction that Chuck and Debbie derive from their consumption of food and clothing.

The customary way of getting around the aggregation problem is to sum the dollar values of microeconomic activity. But this simply masks the aggregation problem by assuming that it’s possible to add the marginal valuations (i.e., prices) of disparate products and services being bought and sold at disparate moments in time by disparate individuals and firms for disparate purposes. One might as well add two bananas to two apples and call the result four bapples.

The essential problem, as discussed in the next section, is that Chuck and Debbie derive different kinds and amounts of enjoyment from clothing and food, and that those different kinds and amounts of enjoyment cannot be summed in any meaningful way. If meaningful aggregation is impossible for Chuck and Debbie, how can it be possible for an economy that consists of millions of economic actors and an untold variety of goods and services? And how is it possible when technological change yields results like this?

Buffalo (NY) journalist and historian Steve Cichon has an article on the Trending Buffalo website (“Everything from 1991 Radio Shack ad I now do with my phone“) featuring a full-page Radio Shack ad from the Buffalo News on February 16, 1991 (see graphic above). Of the 15 electronics products featured in the Radio Shack ad, 13 of them can now be replaced with a $200 iPhone according to Steve’s analysis. The 13 Radio Shack items in the ad (all-weather personal stereo, AM/FM clock radio, headphones, calculator, computer, camcorder, cell phone, regular phone, CD player, CB radio, scanner, phone answering machine, and cassette recorder) would have cost a total of $3,055 in 1991, which is equivalent in today’s dollars to $5,225. Versus only $200 for an iPhone 5S.

In hours worked at the average wage, the 13 electronics items in 1991 would have had a “time cost” of 290.4 hours of work at the average hourly wage then of $10.52 (or 7.25 weeks or 36.3 days). Today, the $200 iPhone would have a “time cost” of fewer than 10 hours (9.82) of work at the average hourly wage today of $20.35, and just one day of work, plus a few extra hours.

The piece is six years old and out of date in its details. But it’s nevertheless representative of almost all goods that have been produced since the founding of the United States, and almost all means of production.

GDP, in other words, is nothing more than what it seems to be on the surface: an estimate of the dollar value of economic output. Even at that, it’s not susceptible of quantitative modeling. (See “Macroeconomic Modeling: A Case Study” at this post.) Nor can real economic output — as opposed to government spending — be pushed upward by government spending, as I explain at length here.

GDP is certainly not a measure of “social welfare”, as most economists will admit — but for the wrong reason. They point to the “intangibles” that aren’t counted in GDP, one of which is the actual amount of happiness that each person derives not only from things counted in GDP but from the many things that aren’t counted in it (e.g., marital happiness, the love of children for parents, the malaise that prevails in times of prolonged international strife). In admitting that much, economists hint at — but fail to mention — the deeper reason that GDP doesn’t measure social welfare is that there is no such thing.

I will explain the non-existence of social welfare after tackling its running-mate: social justice.

Social Justice

This discussion covers a lot of ground. Little of it fits within my strict definition of economics — the voluntary production and exchange of goods — but it bears directly on two important byproducts of economic activity: income and wealth.

Social welfare (discussed below) is the implicit desideratum of seekers of “social justice”. Thomas Sowell has a better term for it: cosmic justice.

The seekers of cosmic justice are not content to allow individuals to accomplish what they can, given their genes, their acquired traits, their parents’ wealth (or lack of it), where they were born, when they live, and so on. Rather, those who seek cosmic justice cling to the Rawlsian notion that no one “deserves” better “luck” than anyone else. (For a critique of John Rawls’s theory of economic and social justice, see this.)

But “deserves” and “luck” (like “greed”) are emotive, value-laden terms. Those terms suggest (as they are meant to) that there is some kind of great lottery in the sky, in which each of us participates, and that some of us hold winning tickets — which equally “deserving” others might just have well held, were it not for “luck.”

This is not what happens, of course. Humankind simply is varied in its genetic composition, personality traits, accumulated wealth, geographic distribution, etc. Consider a person who is born in the United States of brilliant, wealthy parents — and who inherits their brilliance, cultivates his inheritance (genetic and financial), and goes on to live a life of accomplishment and wealth, while doing no harm and great good to others. Such a person is neither more “lucky” nor less “deserving” than anyone else. He merely is who he is, and he does what he does. There is no question of desert or luck. (I address luck in this post and those linked to therein.)

Such reasoning does not dissuade those who seek cosmic justice. Many of the seekers are found among the “80 percent”, and it is their chosen lot to envy the other “20 percent”, that is, those persons whose brains, talent, money, and/or drive yield them a disproportionate — but not undeserved — degree of fortune, fame, and power. The influential seekers of cosmic justice are to be found among the  “20 percent”. It is they who use their wealth, fame, and position to enforce cosmic justice in the service (variously) of misplaced guilt, economic ignorance, and power-lust. (Altruism — another emotive, value-laden term — does not come into play, for reasons discussed here and here.)

Some combination of misplaced guilt, economic ignorance, and power-lust motivates our law-makers. (Their self-proclaimed “compassion” is bought on the cheap, with taxpayers’ money.) They accrue power by pandering to seekers of cosmic justice and parasites who seek to gain from efforts to attain it. Thus politicians have saddled us with progressive taxation, affirmative action, and a plethora of other disincentivizing, relationship-shattering, market-distorting policies. It is supremely ironic that those policies have made most of persons (including many parasites) far worse off than they would be if government were to get out of the cosmic-justice business.

As Anthony de Jasay writes in “Risk, Value, and Externality”,

Stripped of rhetoric, an act of social justice (a) deliberately increases the relative share … of the worse-off in total income, and (b) in achieving (a) it redresses part or all of an injustice…. This implies that some people being worse off than others is an injustice and that it must be redressed. However, redress can only be effected at the expense of the better-off; but it is not evident that they have committed the injustice in the first place. Consequently, nor is it clear why the better-off should be under an obligation to redress it….

There is the view, acknowledged by de Jasay, that the better-off are better off merely because of luck. But, as he points out,

Nature never stops throwing good luck at some and bad luck at others, no sooner are [social] injustices redressed than some people are again better off than others. An economy of voluntary exchanges is inherently inegalitarian…. Striving for social justice, then, turns out to be a ceaseless combat against luck, a striving for the unattainable, sterilized economy that has built-in mechanisms … for offsetting the misdeeds of Nature.

In fact, “social justice” not only penalizes but also minimizes and ostracizes the kinds of persons who have been mainly responsible for economic (and artistic and social) progress in the Western world, namely, straight, white, heterosexual males of European origin and descent — including, notably, Ashkenzi Jews. Many members of the aforementioned group are themselves advocates of “social justice”, which is just another indication that they are among the spoiled children of capitalism who have lost sight of what got them to where they are — and it wasn’t kow-towing to lunacies like “social justice”.

SOCIAL WELFARE

Some proponents of cosmic justice appeal to the notion of social welfare (even some economists, who should know better) . Their appeal rests on two mistaken beliefs:

  • There is such a thing as social welfare.
  • Transferring income and wealth from the richer to the poorer enhances social welfare because redistribution helps the poorer more than it hurts the richer.

Having disposed elsewhere of the second belief, I now address the first one. I begin with a question posed by Arnold Kling:

Does the usefulness of the concept of a social welfare function stand or fall on its mathematical properties?

My answer: One can write equations until kingdom come, but no equation can make one person’s happiness cancel another person’s unhappiness.

The notion of a social welfare function arises from John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism, which is best captured in the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number” or, more precisely “the greatest amount of happiness altogether.”

From this facile philosophy (not Mill’s only one) grew the ludicrous idea that it might be possible to quantify each person’s happiness and, then, to arrive at an aggregate measure of total happiness for everyone (or at least everyone in England). Utilitarianism, as a philosophy, has gone the way of Communism: It is discredited but many people still cling to it, under other names.

Today’s usual name for utilitarianism is cost-benefit analysis. Governments often subject proposed projects and regulations (e.g., new highway construction, automobile safety requirements) to cost-benefit analysis. The theory of cost-benefit analysis is simple: If the expected benefits from a government project or regulation are greater than its expected costs, the project or regulation is economically justified.

Here is the problem with cost-benefit analysis — which is the problem with utilitarianism: One person’s benefit cannot be compared with another person’s cost. Suppose, for example, the City of Los Angeles were to conduct a cost-benefit analysis that “proved” the wisdom of constructing yet another freeway through the city in order to reduce the commuting time of workers who drive into the city from the suburbs. In order to construct the freeway, the city must exercise its power of eminent domain and take residential and commercial property, paying “just compensation”, of course. But “just compensation” for a forced taking cannot be “just” — not when property is being wrenched from often-unwilling “sellers” at prices they would not accept voluntarily. Not when those “sellers” (or their lessees) must face the additional financial and psychic costs of relocating their homes and businesses, of losing (in some cases) decades-old connections with friends, neighbors, customers, and suppliers.

How can a supposedly rational economist, politician, pundit, or “liberal” imagine that the benefits accruing to some persons (commuters, welfare recipients, etc.) somehow cancel the losses of other persons (taxpayers, property owners, etc.)? To take a homely example, consider A who derives pleasure from causing great pain to B (a non-masochist) by punching him in the nose. A’s pleasure cannot cancel B’s pain.

Yet, that is how cost-benefit analysis (utilitarianism) works, if not explcitly then implicitly. It is the spirit of utilitarianism (not to mention power-lust, arrogance, and ignorance) which enables politicians and bureaucrats throughout the land to impose their will upon us — to our lasting detriment.

Conclusion: Politics Trumps Economics

In sum, and despite all of the feel-good rhetoric to the contrary, the United States differs only in degree (but not in kind) from modern communism and socialism. It’s a “social democracy”, in which the demos (mob) dictates the economic (and social) order through its various political patrons. But the political patrons (including the affluent elites who play footsie with them) are in charge, make no mistake about it, and they freely demonize those segments of the demos which turn against them. They are able to do so because the franchise has been so extended (and will continue to be extended by untrammeled immigration) that they won’t run out of votes to advance their essential agenda, which is control of the social and economic affairs of all Americans.

Despite the advent of Donald Trump, and the lesson that it should have taught high-ranking politicos, most of them (regardless of party affiliation) remain wedded to the patronage system because it’s their path to power and riches.

What this all means, as I once explained to a very smart economist, is that politics trumps economics. Ignoring politics (and being ignorant of it) while trying to understand and explain economics is like ignoring the heart while trying to explain the circulatory system without which there is no life.

Further Reflections on the Keynesian Multiplier

In “Keynesian Multiplier: Fiction vs. Fact“, I piggyback on the insights of Murray Rothbard and Steven Landsburg to show that the fiscal multiplier is fool’s gold. In addition to showing this mathematically and empirically, I address the mechanics of the multiplier:

How is it supposed to work? The initial stimulus (∆G) [an exogenous — unfunded — increase in government spending] creates income (don’t ask how), a fraction of which (b) [the marginal propensity to consume] goes to C [consumption spending]. That spending creates new income, a fraction of which goes to C. And so on. Thus the first round = ∆G, the second round = b(∆G), the third round = b(b)(∆G) , and so on. The sum of the “rounds” asymptotically approaches k(∆G) [where k is the multiplier]….

Note well, however, that the resulting ∆Y [change in real, inflation-adjusted GDP] isn’t properly an increase in Y, which is an annual rate of output; rather, it’s the cumulative increase in total output over an indefinite number and duration of ever-smaller “rounds” of consumption spending.

The cumulative effect of a sustained increase in government spending might, after several years, yield a new Y — call it Y’ = Y + ∆Y. But it would do so only if ∆G persisted for several years. To put it another way, ∆Y persists only for as long as the effects of ∆G persist. The multiplier effect disappears after the “rounds” of spending that follow ∆G have played out.

The multiplier effect is therefore (at most) temporary; it vanishes after the withdrawal of the “stimulus” (∆G). The idea is that ∆Y should be temporary because a downturn will be followed by a recovery — weak or strong, later or sooner.

Further,

the Keynesian investment/government-spending multiplier simply tells us that if ∆Y = $5 trillion, and if b = 0.8, then it is a matter of mathematical necessity that ∆C = $4 trillion and ∆I + ∆G = $1 trillion. In other words, a rise in I + G of $1 trillion doesn’t cause a rise in Y of $5 trillion; rather, Y must rise by $5 trillion for C to rise by $4 trillion and I + G to rise by $1 trillion. If there’s a causal relationship between ∆G and ∆Y, the multiplier doesn’t portray it.

And the clincher:

Taking b = 0.8, as before, the resulting value of kc is 1.25. Suppose the initial round of spending is generated by C instead of G. (I won’t bother with a story to explain it; you can easily imagine one involving underemployed factories and unemployed persons.) If ∆C = $1 trillion, shouldn’t cumulative ∆Y = $5 trillion? After all, there’s no essential difference between spending $1 trillion on a government project and $1 trillion on factory output, as long as both bursts of spending result in the employment of underemployed and unemployed resources (among other things).

But with kc = 1.25, the initial $1 trillion burst of spending (in theory) results in additional output of only $1.25 trillion. Where’s the other $3.75 trillion? Nowhere. The $5 trillion is phony. What about the $1.25 trillion? It’s phony, too. The “consumption multiplier” of 1.25 is simply the inverse of b, where b = 0.8. In other words, Y must rise by $1.25 trillion if C is to rise by $1 trillion. More phony math.

The essential falsity of the multiplier can be found by consulting the equation of exchange:

In monetary economics, the equation of exchange is the relation:

MV = PQ

where, for a given period,

M is the total nominal amount of money supply in circulation on average in an economy.

V is the velocity of money, that is the average frequency with which a unit of money is spent.

P is the price level.

Q is an index of real expenditures (on newly produced goods and services).

Thus PQ is the level of nominal expenditures. This equation is a rearrangement of the definition of velocity: V = PQ/M. As such, without the introduction of any assumptions, it is a tautology. The quantity theory of money adds assumptions about the money supply, the price level, and the effect of interest rates on velocity to create a theory about the causes of inflation and the effects of monetary policy.

In earlier analysis before the wide availability of the national income and product accounts, the equation of exchange was more frequently expressed in transactions form:

MVT = PT

where,

VT is the transactions velocity of money, that is the average frequency across all transactions with which a unit of money is spent (including not just expenditures on newly produced goods and services, but also purchases of used goods, financial transactions involving money, etc.).

T is an index of the real value of aggregate transactions.

(Note the careful — but easily overlooked — qualification that quantities are for “a given period”, as I point out in the first block-quoted passage. One cannot simply add imaginary increases in real output over an unspecified span of time to an annual rate of output and obtain a new, annual rate of output.)

If the values for M, V, P, and Q are annual rates or averages, then MV = PQ = Y, the last of which I am using here to represent real GDP.

If the central government “prints” money and spends it on things (i.e., engages in deficit spending financed by the Federal Reserve’s open-market operations), then ∆G (the addition to the rate of G) = ∆M (the average annual increase in the money supply). What happens as a result of ∆M depends on the actual relationships between M and V, P, and Q. They are complex relationships, and they vary constantly with the state of economic activity and consumers’ and producers’ expectations. Even a die-hard Keynesian would admit as much.

If new economic activity (Y) is relatively insensitive to  ∆G, as it is for the many reasons detailed here, it is equally insensitive to ∆M. For one thing — one very important thing — ∆M may be absorbed almost entirely by an increase in VT without a concomitant increase in Q. That is to say, ∆G necessarily implies (in the short run) an increase in transactions velocity (VT) and it is most likely to be spent on resources that are already employed (i.e, either on things that were already being produced or by displacing private purchases of things that were already being produced).

The equality MV = PQ long predates Keynes’s General Theory, in which he introduces the multiplier, and so it was well known to Keynes. As it happens, the equality is at the heart of his multiplier:

The state of the economy, according to Keynes, is determined by four parameters: the money supply, the demand functions for consumption (or equivalently for saving) and for liquidity, and the schedule of the marginal efficiency of capital determined by ‘the existing quantity of equipment’ and ‘the state of long-term expectation’ (p 246).

Adjusting the money supply is the domain of monetary policy. The effect of a change in the quantity of money is considered at p. 298. The change is effected in the first place in money units. According to Keynes’s account on p. 295, wages will not change if there is any unemployment, with the result that the money supply will change to the same extent in wage units.

We can then analyse its effect from the diagram [reproduced below], in which we see that an increase in M̂ shifts r̂ to the left, pushing Î upwards and leading to an increase in total income (and employment) whose size depends on the gradients of all 3 demand functions. If we look at the change in income as a function of the upwards shift of the schedule of the marginal efficiency of capital (blue curve), we see that as the level of investment is increased by one unit, the income must adjust so that the level of saving (red curve) is one unit greater, and hence the increase in income must be 1/S'(Y) units, i.e. k units. This is the explanation of Keynes’s multiplier.

Here’s the diagram:

If that is the explanation of Keynes’s multiplier, it is even more backward than the usual explanation that I shredded earlier. All it says is that if the real money supply (M̂) is increased (i.e., not translated into higher prices) due to an exogenous increase in government spending, the real interest rate (r̂) decreases. And if the decrease in the real interest rate leads to an increase in investment, Y must rise by enough to preserve the theoretical relationship between Y and saving (S) and investment (I).

In this case, Keynes depicts the multiplier as the effect of an increase in I resulting from an increase in M, which is really an increase in G (∆G) under the condition of less than full employment (whatever that is). The increase in I is made possible by the decrease in the real rate of interest. That’s odd, because the popular view of the multiplier is that it is the rise in real GDP that is directly attributable to a rise in government spending. Will the real multiplier please stand up?

Regardless, the relationship between the increase in I and the increase in Y is no less tautologous than it is in the usual explanation of the multiplier.Simply put, the increase in I is the increase that must result if Y increases, given an ex-post relationship between I and Y. There is no causality, except in the imagination of the proponent of increased government spending.

We are back where we started, with a mythical multiplier that explains nothing.

Intuition vs. Rationality

To quote myself:

[I]ntuition [is] a manifestation of intelligence, not a cause of it. To put it another way, intuition is not an emotion; it is the opposite of emotion.

Intuition is reasoning at high speed. For example, a skilled athlete knows where and when to make a move (e.g., whether and where to swing at a pitched ball) because he subconsciously makes the necessary calculations, which he could not make consciously in the split-second that is available to him once the pitcher releases the ball.

Intuition is an aspect of reasoning (rationality) that is missing from “reason” — the cornerstone of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment’s proponents and defenders are always going on about the power of logic applied to facts, and how that power brought mankind (or mankind in the West, at least) out of the benighted Middle Ages (via the Renaissance) and into the light of Modernity.

But “reason” of the kind associated with the Enlightenment is of the plodding variety, whereby “truth” is revealed at the conclusion of deliberate, conscious processes (e.g., the scientific method). But those processes, as I point out in the preceding paragraph, are susceptible of error because they rest on errors and assumptions that are hidden from view — often wittingly, as in the case of “climate change“.

Science, for all of its value to mankind, requires abstraction from reality. That is to say, it is reductionist. A good example is the arbitrary division of continuous social and scientific processes into discrete eras (the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, etc.). This ought to be a warning that mere abstractions are often, and mistakenly, taken as “facts”.

Reductionism makes it possible to “prove” almost anything by hiding errors and assumptions (wittingly or not) behind labels. Thus: x + y = z only when x and y are strictly defined and commensurate. Otherwise, x and y cannot be summed, or their summation can result in many correct values other than z. Further, as in the notable case of “climate change”, it is easy to assume (from bias or error) that z is determined only by x and y, when there are good reasons to believe that it is also determined by other factors: known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.

Such things happen because human beings are ineluctably emotional and biased creatures, and usually unaware of their emotions and biases. The Enlightenment’s proponents and defenders are no more immune from emotion and bias than the “lesser” beings whom they presume to lecture about rationality.

The plodding search for “answers” is, furthermore, inherently circumscribed because it dismisses or minimizes the vital role played by unconscious deliberation — to coin a phrase. How many times have you found the answer to a question, a problem, or a puzzle by putting aside your deliberate, conscious search for the answer, only to have it come to you in a “Eureka!” moment sometime later (perhaps after a nap or good night’s sleep). That’s your brain at work in ways that aren’t well understood.

This process (to put too fine a word on it) is known as combinatorial play. Its importance has been acknowledged by many creative persons. Combinatorial play can be thought of as slow-motion intuition, where the brain takes some time to assemble (unconsciously) existing knowledge into an answer to a question, a problem, or a puzzle.

There is also fast-motion intuition, an example of which I invoked in the quotation at the top of this post: the ability of a batter to calculate in a split-second where a pitch will be when it reaches him. Other examples abound, including such vital ones as the ability of drivers to maneuver lethal objects in infinitely varied and often treacherous conditions. Much is made of the number of fatal highway accidents; too little is made of their relative infrequency given the billions of daily opportunities for their occurrence.  Imagine the carnage if drivers relied on plodding “reason” instead of fast-motion intuition.

The plodding version of “reason” that has been celebrated since the Enlightenment is therefore just one leg of a triad: thinking quickly and unconsciously, thinking somewhat less quickly and unconsciously, and thinking slowly and consciously.

Wasn’t it ever thus? Of course it was. Which means that the Enlightenment and its sequel unto the present day have merely fetishized one mode of dealing with the world and its myriad uncertainties. I would have said arriving at the truth, but it is well known (except by ignorant science-idolaters) that scientific “knowledge” is provisional and ever-changing. (Just think of the many things that were supposed to be bad for you but are now supposed to be good for you, and conversely.)

I am not a science-denier by any means. But scientific “knowledge” must be taken with copious quantities of salt because it is usually inadequate in the face of messy reality. A theoretical bridge, for example, may hold up under theoretical conditions, but it is likely to collapse when built in the real world, where there is much uncertainty about present and future conditions (e.g., the integrity of materials, adherence to best construction practices, soil conditions, the cumulative effects of traffic). An over-built bridge — the best kind — is one that allows wide margins of error for such uncertainties. The same is true of planes, trains, automobiles, buildings, and much else that our lives depend on. All such things fail less frequently than in the past not only because of the advance of knowledge but also because greater material affluence enables the use of designs and materials that afford wider margins of error.

In any event, too little credit is given to the other legs of reason’s triad: fast-motion and slow-motion intuition. Any good athlete, musician, or warrior will attest the the value former. I leave it to Albert Einstein to attest to the value of the latter,

combinatory [sic] play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought — before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other kinds of signs which can be communicated to others….

[F]ull consciousness is a limit case which can never be fully accomplished. This seems to me connected with the fact called the narrowness of consciousness.


Related page and category:

Modeling and Science
Science and Understanding

The Impeachment Effect: A Final(?) Report

The following graph depicts Trump’s approval ratings, according to Rasmussen Reports, since the onset of the failed effort to remove Trump from office by impeachment and trial:

Rasmussen’s polling method covers all respondents (a sample of likely voters) over a span of three days. The gaps represent weekends, when Rasmussen doesn’t publish the results of the presidential approval poll.

The Washington Post broke the story on September 20 about Trump’s July 25 phone conversation with the president of Ukraine. Thus the results for September 16 through September 20 didn’t reflect the effects of the story on the views of Rasmussen’s respondents. Trump’s approval ratings continued to rise after September 20, and peaked on September 24, the day on which the House officially initiated an impeachment inquiry. Trump’s approval ratings bottomed on October 25 but since then — despite much sound and fury, culminating in articles of impeachment and acquittal by the Senate —  they have returned to where they were on September 16, given the range of error advertised by Rasmussen (±2.5 percentage points with a 95-percent level of confidence.).

If the impeachment effort had any effect, it was to strengthen allegiance to Trump among the kind of voter who put him in office in the first place — the person who sees the Democrat party as the enemy of real people. It is far too soon to say that Trump’s re-election is assured. But it isn’t too soon to say that the impeachment effort made it more likely.

Another Word or Two about Mindless Transnationalism

Eons ago, or so it seem, I posted “Transnationalism and National Defense“, in which I said this:

Transnationalists equate sovereignty with  jingoism, protectionism, militarism, and other deplorable “isms.” Transnationalists ignore or deny the hard reality that Americans and their legitimate overseas interests are threatened by nationalistic rivals and anti-Western fanatics.

In the real world of powerful rivals and determined, resourceful fanatics, the benefits afforded Americans by our (somewhat eroded) constitutional contract — most notably the enjoyment of civil liberties, the blessings of  free markets and free trade, and the protections of a common defense — are inseparable from and dependent upon the sovereign power of the United States.  To cede that sovereignty for the sake of transnationalism is to risk the complete loss of the benefits promised by the Constitution.

I expressly slammed leftists and extreme libertarians. But I didn’t spare the smug “liberal order“; for example:

This benighted attitude [transnationalism] is found in this post by Don Boudreaux, an otherwise sensible libertarian:

One of the great tenets of liberalism — the true sort of liberalism, not the dirigiste ignorance that today, in English-speaking countries, flatters itself unjustifiably with that term — is that no human being is less worthy just because he or she is outside of a particular group.  Any randomly chosen stranger from Cairo or Cancun has as much claim on my sympathies and my respect and my regard as does any randomly chosen person from Charlottesville or Chicago.

The problem with such sentiments — correct as they may be — is the implication that we have nothing more to fear from people of foreign lands than we have to fear from our own friends and neighbors. Yet, as Boudreaux himself acknowledges,

[t]he liberal is fully aware that such sentiments [about “us” being different from “them”] are rooted in humans’ evolved psychology, and so are not easily cast off.  But the liberal does his or her best to rise above those atavistic sentiments.

Yes, the liberal does strive to rise above such sentiments, but not everyone else [i.e., enemies and parasites] makes the same effort, as Boudreaux admits. Therein lies the problem.

I remembered the post after I published “Crocodile Tears (on the Left) for Soleimani“, wherein I remarked that Donald Trump

manifestly loves America and, unlike his predecessor, [and] is firmly committed to its defense against legions of enemies (some of whom masquerade as Americans and America’s allies).

France is among those so-called allies. And France’s president, le petit garçon Emmanuel Macron, gained 15 minutes of notoriety by publicly chiding Trump for his nationalism. Macron is representative of those transnationalists who are able to spew their idiocy because they are rich or powerful or otherwise comfortably insulated from the consequences of transnationalism. One of those consequences is la dictature des clercs — dictatorship by bureuacrats of distant and unaccountable uber-governments.

Crocodile Tears (on the Left) for Soleimani

Many leftists, I have noticed, are up in arms about the killing of General Soleimani (or Suleimani), about which I commented a while back (here and here). See, for example, Suleimani’s Extrajudicial Killing Legitimizes Assassination as a Foreign Policy Tool” in The Tool of Communism and Socialism The Nation. The thrust of the piece is to urge the U.S. to subject itself to asymmetrical warfare; that is, to obey international law (a chimera wrapped in a fantasy inside a hallucination) while our enemies blithely violate it.

Law works only when all parties abide by it, or can be made to abide by it. Leftists should be fully aware of that truth, inasmuch as they are responsible for some major breaches of the rule of law in this country. Examples include the practices of leftist-controlled States and municipalities that actively encourage illegal immigration and turn criminals loose to kill rather than turn them over to ICE. The recent impeachment fiasco, which turned the Constitution’s impeachment provisions upside down, is a meta-example.

Consistency, which is in short supply in the left, would cause leftists to support the killing of Soleimani, a known terrorist thug. After all, leftists (among others) drool over a recurring (and admittedly attractive) fantasy: the killing of Hitler before he comes to power, or begins to persecute and kill Jews, or starts World War II. Consistency (and a willingness to face facts about the character and deeds of various icons of the left) would apply the same fate not only to Soleimani but also to Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and on and on.

But only Hitler seems to be fair game for leftists.

You know why, don’t you? For one thing, leftists mistakenly label Hitler a right-winger. For another thing, most leftists are of a type that W.S. Gilbert captures neatly in “I’ve Got a Little List” (The Mikado, 1885),

the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone
All centuries but this, and every country but his own.

Who are you going to believe? America-hating leftists or a man (Donald Trump) who manifestly loves America and, unlike his predecessor, is firmly committed to its defense against legions of enemies (some of whom masquerade as Americans and America’s allies)?


Related pages and posts:

Leftism
Leftism: A Bibliography

Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Preemptive War Revisited (and the several posts about preemptive war that are linked to at the end)

FDR’s Fascism, Underscored

I have written before about FDR’s fascistic methods. See, for example, “FDR and Fascism” and  “FDR and Fascism: More Data“. If you’re wondering how FDR could have been a fascist when he was a bitter enemy of the openly fascistic Axis powers, you need to understand what constitutes fascism (which is a thing apart from the dictatorships that prevailed in Germany, Italy, and Japan). A good definition (no longer online) was found in an earlier version of Wikipedia‘s article about fascism:

Fascism is a system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism.

The two posts that I link to in the first paragraph give some examples of FDR’s brand of fascism. Paul Kengor, in “Franklin Delano Quid Pro Quo“, lays it on with a trowel. There was nothing subtle about FDR’s political thuggery. And it was orders of magnitude worse than Trump’s alleged pressuring of Ukraine for personal political gain:

[I]f you want to see a president who engaged in using explicitly public funds for his own explicitly political interests, look no further than FDR. In fact, no one did it more. What Trump is alleged to have done one time to Ukraine, well, FDR did incessantly to his own citizenry.

To show this, I’ll make things really easy, citing a single source: scholar and historian Dr. Burton Folsom. Among Folsom’s books on FDR, go to just one, his New Deal or Raw Deal?, published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster — a dozen years ago, long before anyone could ever imagine Donald Trump even seeking the presidency. Numerous books on FDR could be cited, but here I’ll stick with just this one.

Starting around page 85 of the book, Folsom addresses the first of at least a dozen examples of FDR abusing his powers and the public purse.

FDR’s chief instrument for shaking down his targets was the crown jewel of his New Deal: the WPA, the Works Progress Administration. The WPA was at the core of the New Deal and FDR’s vast administrative state. Quite literally tons of taxpayer coin went into this massive relief program, which FDR, in turn, redirected for political manipulation. For the record, WPA picked up from where FERA, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, left off. The wildly disproportionate share of FERA money that went to states like Pennsylvania (second only to Illinois in funds received), a state that had gone for Herbert Hoover in 1932, but which FDR hoped to flip in 1936, was scandalous and undoubtedly heavily influenced by the president’s political considerations.

But let’s stick with the WPA, under which FDR reformulated relief from FERA. WPA become the cash cow that FDR would milk not only for public jobs but for political patronage.

“The inefficiency and uselessness of many WPA projects was a serious problem,” Dr. Folsom writes, “but a greater problem was the increased politicization of relief under the WPA.” President Roosevelt had “much discretion in allocation and distributing” WPA money, not unlike a president’s discretion in allocating and distributing foreign aid — though worse because foreign policy is constitutionally the president’s prerogative. As Folsom notes, FDR would choose “which states would receive what,” and the main problem was that this “made relief a game of political manipulation,” at least in the hands of a manipulative president like Franklin Roosevelt. “The problems that plagued the FERA would sharply increase under WPA because more money was at stake,” Folsom notes. “Governors worried that their states would not get their ‘fair share’ of federal tax booty, and so they came to Washington, hats in hand, to curry favor with Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, who became the WPA director, and other New Deal administrators.”…

“Although Roosevelt and Hopkins said they would not use WPA and other relief organizations to play politics,” Folsom notes, “the evidence suggests again and again that that is exactly what they allowed to happen.”

That’s for sure. And Folsom’s book is full of them. Every Republican (and every Democrat) involved in the Trump impeachment trail should grab a copy of Folsom’s book and read through the examples. Again, I’ll make it easy for them. Here’s a summary:

  • Pages 85–88 are loaded with quid pro quo specifics on the WPA
  • Page 92, last paragraph, is solid quid pro quo on the WPA
  • Page 117, middle paragraph, on Social Security
  • Page 135, the indented quote from Raymond Moley regarding FDR’s attitude
  • Page 157, next to last paragraph, is quid pro quo with FDR and Kansas City boss “Big Tom” Pendergast
  • Page 167 is quid pro quo on IRS investigations
  • Pages 170–77 are loaded with patronage quid pro quo by FDR
  • Page 184, middle of the page, quote from Sen. Hiram Johnson on subsidies for votes
  • Page 185 shows quid pro quo with FDR and the black vote
  • Pages 187–91 show tables regarding votes and where federal funds went
  • Pages 196–200 show federal funds used to court senators in FDR’s court-packing scheme

Read them and weep. It’s disgusting. To repeat all of them here would take several thousand words and constitute a virtual cut and paste from Folsom’s book. Still, I’ll note a few of them.

Harry Hopkins was well aware of the abuses taking place. He received mail regularly from people all over the country who were denied federal jobs or fired because of their political views or affiliations. There were so many of these letters that they’re today housed in state-by-state files at the National Archives in Washington in a large file labeled “WPA — Political Coercion.” The New Jersey file is especially fat. One WPA worker complained, “You are either on the WPA or employed in some government department and by virtue thereof you owe a duty to the [Democratic] Party to do your part in making the canvass.”

Of course.

Gavin Wright, a scholar and economist who carefully analyzed WPA spending state by state, concluded, “WPA employment reached peaks in the fall of election years. In states like Florida and Kentucky — where the New Deal’s big fight was in the primary elections — the rise of WPA employment was hurried along in order to synchronize with the primaries.”

FDR and his Democrat buddies were using WPA funds like a party war chest to help them win elections.

FDR’s own advisers were taken aback by his scheming, his ruthlessness, his ego. Particularly shocked was FDR’s speechwriter, Raymond Moley, who provided an assessment of FDR that we now hear every day from Democrats about Donald Trump. Moley was struck by “the utter lack of logic of the man [FDR], the scantiness of his precise knowledge of things that he was talking about, by the gross inaccuracies in his statements, by the almost pathological lack of sequence in his discussion, by the complete rectitude that he felt as to his own conduct.” He went on, adding that he was appalled at FDR’s “immense and growing egotism that came from his office, by his willingness to continue the excoriation of the press and business in order to get votes for himself, by his indifference to what effect the long-continued pursuit of these ends would have upon the civilization in which he was playing a part.” Moley was aghast at how FDR’s “political habits” were fueled by “the added influence of a swollen ego.” This was so bad, felt FDR’s own speechwriter, that he considered the president “dangerous in the extreme.”

Again, that appraisal sounds like any modern Democrat’s take on Donald Trump: the scant knowledge, the gross inaccuracies in statements, the dangerously swollen ego, the excoriation of the press, the extreme and almost “pathological” behavior, etc. But of course, here was a Democrat on a Democrat — an FDR speechwriter on FDR. And FDR is a hero to Democrats, the patron saint of their party….

Folsom also describes attempts by FDR to influence entire voting blocs, including black Americans. His analysis is backed by hard data, with several pages of tables.

Importantly, these are only some examples from a single book. Almost any non-hagiographic biography of FDR shows abuses like these. His vicious pursuit against Andrew Mellon, for example, again with the power of the public largesse behind him, and his extraordinary effort to nationalize everyone’s gold, are other stunning abuses of power. As to Mellon, the immensely talented former Treasury secretary was just one victim of FDR’s misuse of the IRS to punish, silence, and even ruin his political opponents. I personally knew one of Mellon’s nephews. He was extremely bitter at FDR for what FDR did to his uncle — an honorable man and dedicated public servant who ultimately was fully exonerated, even though the president’s lawyers went after Mellon like a pack of wolves with unlimited government dollars behind them.

“Roosevelt absolutely tried to ruin my uncle’s life,” Mellon’s nephew told me. “It was vicious.”

Folsom unavoidably addresses this as well. Mellon, he notes, became the object of a “massive and unrelenting IRS investigation.” Elmer Irey, head of the Intelligence Unit at FDR’s IRS, later confessed that “the Roosevelt administration made me go after Andy Mellon.” No less than Walter Lippmann would call FDR’s indictment of Mellon “an act of profound injustice.” This was done in large part to discredit the Mellon tax cuts that spurred the vast economic prosperity of the 1920s, given that FDR was literally pushing for a 99.5 percent tax rate on incomes over $100,000. He wanted to smear Mellon in order to smear the Mellon free-market philosophy….

As for FDR’s abusive antics, everyone knew about them, from congressmen to reporters. “The furor over the WPA and vote buying became so loud,” notes Folsom, “that Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico introduced a bill barring WPA workers, and certain other appointees, from political activity.”

Moreover, most FDR historians know about this side of their man. They shrug it off. They treat their beloved New Dealing president with a wink and grin, chuckling at FDR’s wonderful political “horse-trading.” Like LBJ’s stunts — including spying on the Goldwater campaign in 1964 — they treat it like it’s fun, cute, endearing. (“Oh, yes, good ol’ Lyndon!”) Everyone does it, they shrug — until they judge that maybe a Republican might have done something like it, even just once. Put any one of these FDR–LBJ abuses in the hands of a Nixon or a Trump, and it’s impeachment time, baby….

Naturally, liberals today, in 2020, will ignore this. If you actually get this information in their face, they’ll dismiss it as whataboutism. But that’s nonsense, and unfair. Even if Trump were guilty as charged with the Ukraine, why would you impeach and remove a president for a onetime offense of something that the likes of FDR did daily throughout the worst decade and crisis in American history? It would be damned unjust. I personally couldn’t do it, regardless of whether I liked or voted for Donald Trump. Fair-minded people should understand that. Trump supporters will. And that’s yet another reason why they’ll ignore the Democrats’ histrionics about Donald Trump’s allegedly impeachable and removable abuse of power.

The left’s unremitting defense of FDR in the face of his well known, well documented strong-arm tactics is just another symptom of the left’s moral elasticity.

How Conservatives Should Think about the Constitution

It is has long been glaringly evident that a large and vocal fraction of U.S. citizens rejects the Constitution’s blueprint for liberty. That fraction — the anti-patriotic left — rejects almost everything about the Constitution, from its federal character to its promise to provide for the common defense to its guarantee of free exercise of religion.

The left’s attitude toward the Constitution shouldn’t be surprising, given that the left rejects the cultural context of the Constitution, and of the Declaration of Independence before it. That context is the Judeo-Christian tradition, generally, and the predominantly British roots of the signatories, in particular.

Candor compels me to admit that the high-flown language of the Declaration to the contrary notwithstanding, it was a p.r. piece, penned (in the main) by a slave-owner and subscribed to by various and sundry elites who (understandably) resented their treatment at the hands of a far-away sovereign and Parliament. The Constitution was meant, by the same elites, to keep the tenuous union from flying apart because of sectional differences (e.g., diverging trade policies and foreign connections), and to defend the union militarily without depending on the whims of the various State legislatures.

But in serving their interests, the Founders and Framers served the interests of most Americans — until the onset of America’s societal and cultural degeneration in the 1960s. It was then that political polarization began, and it has accelerated with the passage of time (despite the faux unity that followed 9/11).

Lamentable as it may be, the demise of the Constitution is just a symptom of the demise of America as something like a social and cultural entity. Conservatives must recognize this reality and act accordingly. Flogging a dead horse will not revive it. America as it was before the 1960s is dead and cannot be revived.

Conservatives must face the facts and learn from the left.

These are the facts (some of which are previewed above):

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

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

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

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

5. It is convenient to appeal to the Constitution in the cause of liberty — and I have often done just that — but this does not change the fact that the Constitution was not and never will be a law enacted by “the people” of the United States or any State thereof.

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

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

8. The ultimate and truly legitimate form of rejection is civil disobedience — the refusal of individual persons, or voluntary groupings of them (e.g., family, church, club, and other institutions of civil society), to abide by positive law when it infringes on natural law and liberty.

States and municipalities governed by leftists are engaging in institutional civil disobedience (e.g., encouragement of illegal immigration, spiteful adoption of aggressive policies to combat “climate change” and to circumvent the Second Amendment; an organized effort to undermine the Electoral College; a conspiracy by state actors, at the behest of Obama, to thwart the election of Trump and then to oust him from the presidency). There are also some conservative counterparts (e.g., Second Amendment “sanctuaries” and aggressive State efforts to undermine Roe v. Wade).

The lesson for conservatives is to do more of what the left is doing, and to do it aggressively. When the left regains control of the White House and Congress — as it will given the mindlessness of most American voters — conservatives must be prepared to resist the edicts emanating from Washington. The best way to prepare is to emulate and expand on the examples mentioned above. The best defense is a good offense: Dare Washington to deploy its weaponry in the service of slavery.

Slavish obedience to the edicts of the central government is neither required by the dead Constitution nor in keeping with conservative principles. Those principles put traditional morality and voluntarily evolved norms above the paper promises of the Constitution. In fact, those promises are valid only insofar as they foster the survival of traditional morality and voluntarily evolved norms.


Related page and posts:

Constitution: Myths and Realities

The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
The Southern Secession Reconsidered
Abortion and the Fourteenth Amendment
Obamacare: Neither Necessary nor Proper
Privacy Is Not Sacred
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
“We the People” and Big Government
Abortion Rights and Gun Rights
The States and the Constitution
Getting “Equal Protection” Right
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power? (II)
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States’ “Police Power”
Why Liberty of Contract Matters
The Answer to Judicial Supremacy
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty
Turning Points
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Polarization and De-facto Partition
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Restoring the Contract Clause
The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error
Freedom of Speech: Getting It Right
Suicide or Destiny?
Freedom of Speech, to What End?
Nullification and Secession
The Constitution vs. Reality
Power Is Power
The Citizenship Question
Vive le collège électoral!
Liberty: Constitutional Obligations and the Role of Religion

A Warning Too Late?

I am reading (thanks to my son) Warning to the West, a collection of five speeches given by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1975 and 1976.

Solzhenitsyn, in the second of the speeches, says:

Communism is as crude an attempt to explain society and the individual as if a surgeon were to perform his delicate operations with a meat ax. All that is subtle in human psychology and in the structure of society (which is even more complex), all of this is reduced to crude economic processes.

It is also reduced to “class”, in a simplistic way that would be laughable were it not taken as gospel by so many. Thus the opening sentence of Part I of the The Communist Manifesto:

The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.

Oh, really? Only if one omits war, flood, famine, invention, innovation, entrepreneurship, religion, morality, science, and myriad other facets of human life.

Or, as Solzhenitsyn puts it in the same speech:

Communism is so devoid of arguments that it has none to advance against its opponents in … Communist countries. It lacks arguments and hence there is the club, the prison, the concentration camp, and insane asylums with forced confinement.

Further:

Marxism has always opposed freedom…. In their correspondence Marx and Engels frequently stated that terror would be indispensable after achieving power, that “it will be necessary to repeat the year 1793 [the year of the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution of 1789]. After achieving power we’ll be considered monsters, but we couldn’t care less.”

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who takes a bit of time to read the Manifesto, which at 11,000 words is just a long essay. The heart of it is in Part II:

[T]he first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling as to win the battle of democracy.

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.

Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.

The state is supposed to wither away when nirvana is attained. But Marx and Engels, having already shown themselves to be socially and economically ignorant, thereby reveal their ignorance of human nature. Power is a prize unto itself. And, as the subsequent history of Communism demonstrates amply, those who hold it will use force or coercion (e.g., the incumbent-protection racket known as campaign-finance “reform”) to perpetuate their grip on it.

Of all the frightening parts of the Manifesto, I find what comes next to be most frightening:

These measures [referred to above] will of course be different in different countries. Nevertheless in the most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.

2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.

4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.

5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.

7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.

10. Free education for all children in public schools…. Combination of education with industrial production, &c., &c.

Those measures that haven’t been fully enacted in the United States have either been partially enacted or are taken seriously by leading politicians and a goodly fraction of the populace.

The first sentence of item 10 may seem unexceptionable, but the next sentence (in the quotation) betrays it; that is, education is to be the means of inculcating Communism. Which is exactly the model of public education in America, which began as an anti-Catholic measure and has evolved into a machine of leftist indoctrination.

As for the entire list, it matters not whether the ideas come from Marx and Engels or “enlightened” American politicians. Their thrust is the destruction of liberty — and, with it, prosperity. The frightening thing is that the American politicians who advance the ideas and the public that swallows them cannot see (or don’t care about) the consequences. This, of course, can be counted as a “victory” for public education in America.

(See also “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare” and “An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare“,)

An Implication of Universal Connectedness

A couple of provocative pieces (here and here) led me to an observation that is so obvious that I had never articulated it: Everything is connected.

The essence of it is captured in the first verse of “Dem Bones“:

Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone …

The final line gets to the bottom of it (if you are a deist or theist):

… Now hear the word of the Lord.

But belief in the connectedness of everything in the universe doesn’t depend on one’s cosmological views. In fact, a strict materialist who holds that the universe “just is” will be obliged to believe in universal connectedness because everything is merely physical (or electromagnetic), and one thing touches other things, which touch other things, ad infinitum. (The “touching” may be done by light.)

Connectedness isn’t necessarily causality; it can be mere observation. Though observation — which involves the electromagnetic spectrum — is thought to be causal with respect to sub-atomic particles. As I put it here:

There’s no question that [a] particle exists independently of observation (knowledge of the particle’s existence), but its specific characteristic (quantum state) is determined by the act of observation. Does this mean that existence of a specific kind depends on knowledge? No. It means that observation determines the state of the particle, which can then be known.

I should have been clear about the meaning of “determine”, as used above. In my view it isn’t that observation causes the quantum state that is observed. Rather, observation measures (determines) the quantum state at the instant of measurement. Here’s an illustration of what I mean:

A die is rolled. Its “quantum state” is determined (measured) when it stops rolling and is readily observed. But the quantum state isn’t caused by the act of observation. In fact, the quantum state can be observed (determined, measured) — but not caused — at any point while the die is rolling by viewing it, sufficiently magnified, with the aid of a high-speed camera.

Connectedness can also involve causality, of course. The difficult problem — addressed at the two links in the opening paragraph — is sorting out causal relationships given so much connectedness. Another term for the problem is “causal density“, which leads to spurious findings:

When there are many factors that have an impact on a system, statistical analysis yields unreliable results. Computer simulations give you exquisitely precise unreliable results. Those who run such simulations and call what they do “science” are deceiving themselves.

Is it any wonder that “scientists” tell us that one thing or another is bad for us, only to tell us at a later date that it isn’t bad for us and may even be good for us? This is a widely noted phenomenon (though insufficiently documented). But its implications for believing in, say, anthropogenic global warming seem to be widely ignored — most unfortunately.

(See also “Predicting ‘Global’ Temperatures — An Analogy with Baseball“.)

A Footnote to “Is the GAO Impartial?”

Yesterday I argued — based on experience — that the GAO’s about the illegality of withholding of military aide to Ukraine was politically expedient. Today, along comes Josh Blackman of The Volokh Conspiracy with this take:

The decision does not conclude that President Trump violated the ICA with respect to the withholding of funds. GAO did not, and indeed could not, find that President Trump personally violated the ICA with respect to withholding the funds….

[D]id GAO provide any evidence to show that President Trump personally directed his subordinates to withhold the funds? I hesitate before concluding that the President ordered his subordinates to violate the law, when there is a dispute about what exactly the law requires. Several people have cited Mick Mulvaney’s press conference, wherein he relayed a conversation with President Trump:

Mulvaney: “(Trump’s) like, ‘Look, this is a corrupt place. I don’t want to send them a bunch of money and have them waste it, have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets. Plus, I’m not sure that the other European countries are helping them out either.’

This is not evidence that Trump ordered his subordinates to withhold any funding. Trump merely expressed an opinion that he didn’t want to send money to Ukraine, which he viewed as a corrupt country….

Third, did GAO provide any evidence to show that President Trump directed his subordinates to deliberately violate the ICA? This question is premised on a disputed legal issue: was the withholding of certain funds, for some period of time, a violation of the ICA….

Four, did GAO find that President Trump violated the Constitution’s Take Care Clause? No. The decision states, “Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.” Did Trump violate the Take Care Clause? GAO will not say, but they are all too happy to insinuate a constitutional ruling. This driveby dictum is entirely unsupported.

Finally:

There are … unresolved factual questions: (1) what precisely the President did, (2) what he intended to do, (3) when did he do it, (4) what were the consequences (if any) of those decisions, and finally, (4) what were the likely consequences to follow when those decisions were taken. But GAO has not come close to resolving these factual issues or analyzing the complex legal issues in this situation. And it was truly reckless for GAO to suggest otherwise. They offered only a threadbare constitutional analysis, during this heated and polarized time, hours before the impeachment trial began.

Case (against GAO) closed.

A Footnote to “Peak Civilization”

I ended that post with this:

Every line of human endeavor reaches a peak, from which decline is sure to follow if the things that caused it to peak are mindlessly rejected for the sake of novelty (i.e., rejection of old norms just because they are old). This is nowhere more obvious than in the arts.

It should be equally obvious to anyone who takes an objective look at the present state of American society and is capable of comparing it with American society of the 1940s and 1950s. For all of its faults it was a golden age. Unfortunately, most Americans now living (Noah Smith definitely included) are too young and too fixated on material things to understand what has been lost — irretrievably, I fear.

My point is underscored by Annebelle Timsit, writing at Quartz:

The endless stretch of a lazy summer afternoon. Visits to a grandparent’s house in the country. Riding your bicycle through the neighborhood after dark. These were just a few of the revealing answers from more than 400 Twitter users in response to a question: “What was a part of your childhood that you now recognize was a privilege to have or experience?”

That question, courtesy of writer Morgan Jerkins, revealed a poignant truth about the changing nature of childhood in the US: The childhood experiences most valued by people who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s are things that the current generation of kids are far less likely to know.

That’s not a reference to cassette tapes, bell bottoms, Blockbuster movies, and other items popular on BuzzFeed listicles. Rather, people are primarily nostalgic for a youthful sense of independence, connectedness, and creativity that seems less common in the 21st century. The childhood privileges that respondents seemed to appreciate most in retrospect fall into four broad categories:

“Riding my bike at all hours of the day into the evening throughout many neighborhoods without being stopped or asked what I was doing there,” was one Twitter user’s answer to Jerkins’ question. Another commenter was grateful for “summer days & nights spent riding bikes anywhere & everywhere with friends, only needing to come home when the streetlights came on,” while yet another recalled “having a peaceful, free-range childhood.” Countless others cited the freedom to explore—with few restrictions—as a major privilege of their childhood.

American children have less independence and autonomy today than they did a few generations ago.

For many of today’s children, that privilege is disappearing. American children have less independence and autonomy today than they did a few generations ago. As parents have become increasingly concerned with safety, fewer children are permitted to go exploring beyond the confines of their own backyard. Some parents have even been prosecuted or charged with neglect for letting their children walk or play unsupervised. Meanwhile, child psychologists say that too many children are being ushered from one structured activity to the next, always under adult supervision—leaving them with little time to play, experiment, and make mistakes.

That’s a big problem. Kids who have autonomy and independence are less likely to be anxious, and more likely to grow into capable, self-sufficient adults. In a recent video for The Atlantic, Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, argues that so-called helicopter parents “deprive kids the chance to show up in their own lives, take responsibility for things and be accountable for outcomes.”

That message seems to be gaining traction. The state of Utah, for example, recently passed a “free-range” parenting law meant to give parents the freedom to send kids out to play on their own.”

“Bravo!” to the government of Utah.

Transport yourself back three decades from the 1970s and 1980s to the 1940s and 1950s, when I was a child and adoslescent, and the contrast between then and now is even more stark than the contrast noted by Timsit.

And it has a lot to do with the social ruin that has been visited upon America by the spoiled (cosseted) children of capitalism.


Other related posts:

Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past
The Passing of Red Brick Schoolhouses and a Way of Life
An Ideal World
‘Tis the Season for Nostalgia
Another Look into the Vanished Past
Whither (Wither) Classical Liberalism and America?

Is the GAO Impartial?

The latest hit on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine comes from the GAO (Government Accountability Office, formerly known as Government Accounting Office). Chrissy Clark at The Federalist has the story:

The GAO determined the Trump administration broke the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. This law creates a mechanism for the executive branch to ask Congress to reconsider a funding decision or appropriation that’s already been signed into law.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law. [The Office of Management and Budget] withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control act,” said Thomas Armstrong, General Counsel for the GAO.

The report also concluded that the Trump Office of Management and Budget did not provide all the information needed to fulfill their duties.

“[The Office of Management and Budget] and State have failed, as of yet, to provide the information we need to fulfill our duties under the ICA regarding potential impoundments of [Foreign Military Financing] funds,” Armstrong said.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland requested the GAO investigation in December.

“This bombshell legal opinion from the independent Government Accountability Office demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump administration illegally withheld security assistance from Ukraine,” Van Hollen told the Washington Post.

They key phrase in Van Hollen’s statement is that the GAO’s report is simply an “opinion.” Rachel Semmel, director of communications for the Office of Management and Budget, said the GAO’s decision has no legal baring on the Trump administration.

“We disagree with GAO’s opinion. OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law,” Semmel said.

The GAO has a long history of attempting to stay relevant in the executive branch, even long before the current impeachment of President Trump. The GAO also has a record of flip-flops. They were forced to reverse a faulty opinion on legal grounds when they opposed the reimbursement of federal employee travel costs. They have consistently rushed to insert themselves into the impeachment discussion and the OMB is hopeful they will be forced to reverse their opinion again.

Notably, the Obama administration was also at fault under the GAO’s rules. A 2014 report found Obama broke the law when he failed to notify Congress about the impending prisoner swap between Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and five Taliban leaders.

There was no legal action taken against the Obama administration for not abiding by the GAO in 2014. That same precedent should be upheld during the Trump administration as well. The OMB and Trump administration have no legal duty to abide by the GAO and their legal opinions.

I can tell you, from experience, that the GAO is once again “attempting to stay relevant”, that is, to get the “right” answer — the answer sought by the politician who requested the investigation. In this case, the “right” answer was a finding against the Trump administration.

Almost 30 years ago, the “right” answer was a finding against a kind of think-tank known as a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC). FFRDCs are an outgrowth of the operations research groups that were formed in World War II. The groups were staffed by civilian scientists, who were given access to highly classified and sensitive information that enabled them to provide timely and objective evaluations of military systems, operations, and tactics. The perceived success of the groups led to their continuation and expansion after the war. Their privileged relationship with the various armed services was denoted by their designation as FFRDCs.

Almost everything government does is either unnecessary or wasteful. The glaring exceptions are the provision of justice (when it is in fact provided) and national defense (ditto). Until the early 1990s, FFRDCs had been an integral and valuable part of the defense effort. Their privileged relationship with the armed services enabled them to do something that I would not ordinarily admit: They were superior to private, for-profit analysis firms.

I emphasize were because something happened in the early 1990s to undermine that privileged relationship. The something was a GAO investigation, instigated by some members of Congress at the behest of the Professional Services Council, a lobbying organization that represents for-profit analysis firms.

As the chief financial officer of an FFRDC sponsored by the Navy, I — like many other FFRDC officials — had to respond to long, probing questionnaires from the GAO’s investigative team. There were subsequent interviews to probe the written answers, and I recall that my interview (in company with a Navy rep) lasted at least a few hours.

I was struck by the GAO team’s studied inability to grasp the value of the privileged relationship between FFRDCs and their sponsors. What was the relationship like? And why was it so valuable to the defense effort? To answer the first question is to answer the second one as well.

FFRDCs were “bucket funded”, meaning that most of their funding came in a lump sum instead of being fought for and won project by project The continuity of funding had several beneficial results:

  • Analysts could be hired for their analytical skills; sales skills were irrelevant. This meant, in practice, that Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in quantitative sciences were more prevalent at FFRCDs than at for-profit firms.
  • Analysts could devote their efforts to analysis instead of scrambling for new contracts, often in areas where they had no great expertise (if any).
  • Analysts could work on similar problems for long periods of time, developing expertise and accumulating valuable data along the way.
  • Clients (the offices for which particular projects were conducted) could call on analysts to address emerging issues without having to go through lengthy contracting processes.
  • Funding wasn’t controlled by clients, but by a separate office. Thus there was little if any pressure to get the “right” answers — those that the clients might have preferred.

But all of that was irrelevant to the GAO team, which was bent on emphasizing the obvious fact that FFRDCs didn’t have to compete for contracts. Regardless of the benefits of the arrangement — and the minuscule fraction of the defense budget allocated to FFRDCs — the Defense Department had to change it ways because FFRDCs had an “unfair” advantage over for-profit firms.

The rest is history: FFRDCs were forced into the mold of for-profit firms, and much of the valuable continuity and analyst-client trust was destroyed in the process. “We’re just another contractor now”, is a refrain now commonly heard at my old FFRDC.

And why? Because GAO — certainly not for the first or last time — got the “right” answer, that is, the answer sought by the congressional sponsor of the investigation.