Freedom of Speech, to What End?

The left, in its drive to impose its agenda on the nation, has become censor-at-large. (See, for example, this, this, this, this, this, and this. Also, this, which addresses Google’s slanting of search results about climate research. YouTube is at it, too.)

If you have followed this blog for many years, you will know that I am not a free-speech absolutist. (See this, this, and this, for example.) Nor do I subscribe to the conceit that the “best” ideas will emerge triumphant in the so-called marketplace of ideas. (See this and this.) The “marketplace of ideas” ensures only that the most popular ideas or those with the strongest political backing will prevail. Nor is science immune to persistent error.

Regarding freedom of speech, I draw on James Burnham‘s The Struggle for the World:

Democracy in practice has never, and could never, interpret the right of free speech in an absolute and unrestricted sense. No one, for example, is allowed to advocate, and organize for, mass murder, rape, and arson. No one feels that such prohibitions are anti-democratic….

We may generalize as follows. The principles of an organized society cannot be interpreted in practice in such a way as to make organized society impossible. The special principles of a special form of government, in this case democratic government, cannot be interpreted in practice in such a way as to make that form of government impossible.

Here is Burnham again, in Suicide of the West:

Liberalism [of the kind that prevailed in the early 1960s] defines free speech and the related freedoms of assembly and association, as it does “peace” and “disarmament,” in abstraction, without tying them to specific persons and circumstance. For liberalism, these freedoms are the procedural rules sustaining a democratic society that rests on the will of the majority and solves its internal conflicts of interest and opinion through continuous discussion, negotiation and compromise. But this meaning of free speech and the related freedoms is significant and operable only for those who share the wish or at least willingness to have and preserve some sort of free and constitutional society. For those others— and they are not few among us— whose aim is to subvert, overthrow and replace free and constitutional society, these freedoms of speech, assembly and the rest are merely convenient levers to use in accomplishing their purpose.

The liberal ideologue is thus caught in the inescapable dilemma of his own making that we have previously examined. If he extends the freedoms to the subverters, they will use them, as they have done in one nation after another, to throw the free society into turmoil and in the end to destroy it. But if he denies the freedoms to anyone, he will feel, does feel, that he has betrayed his own principles, “imitated the methods of the enemy,” and thus joined the company of subverters. So, when a showdown with the subverters comes, as it comes from time to time to all nations, the liberals are demoralized in advance, if they do finally forget ideology and decide to resist, by the guilt generated from this feeling of self-betrayal. Let us note that this is a purely ideological trap. Common sense, unlike ideology, understands that you can play a game only with those who accept the rules; and that the rules’ protection does not cover anyone who does not admit their restrictions and penalties.

Bear in mind that Burnham was writing when “liberals” actually subscribed to the notion of unfettered speech — in principle, at least. The ACLU, a leading “liberal” institution, had consistently defended the speech rights of so-called hate groups and political figures deemed unpalatable by the left. I say “had” because the ACLU has joined the ban-wagon against “hate” speech, that is, speech which offends the sensitivities of “liberals”.

If there is one idea that today’s “liberals” (leftists) share with conservatives, it is that absolute freedom of speech can undermine liberty. The rub is that leftists mean something other than liberty when they use the word. Their idea of liberty includes, among many anti-libertarian things (e.g., coerced redistribution of income), the rejection and suppression of facts and opinions just because they are disagreeable to the left. (In addition to the items linked to in the first paragraph, see this item about the reaction to the mayor of Chicago’s statement about the cause of the high homicide rate in his city, and this small sample of relevant posts: here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

In sum, the left’s stance on freedom of speech has nothing to do with the preservation of liberty and everything to do with the advancement of an anti-libertarian agenda.

Here’s the game plan:

  • Define opposition to illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and other kinds violent and anti-social behavior as “hate“.
  • Associate “hate” with conservatism.
  • Watch as normally conservative politicians, business people, and voters swing left rather than look “mean” and put up a principled fight for conservative values.
  • Watch as Democrats play the “hate” card to retake the White House and Congress.

With the White House in the hands of a left-wing Democrat (is there any other kind now?) and an aggressive left-wing majority in Congress, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights will become not-so-distant memories. “Affirmative action” (a.k.a. “diversity”) will be enforced on an unprecedented scale of ferocity. The nation will become vulnerable to foreign enemies while billions of dollars are wasted on the hoax of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and “social services” for the indolent. The economy, already buckling under the weight of statism, will teeter on the brink of collapse as the regulatory regime goes into high gear and entrepreneurship is all but extinguished by taxation and regulation.

All of that will be secured by courts dominated by left-wing judges — from here to eternity.

The left’s game plan is threatened by those who speak against illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, etc.; for freedom of association, property rights, etc.; and for the right to speak about such things. Thus the left’s virulent, often violent, and increasingly conspiratorial attacks on conservatives and the suppression of conservative discourse.

This all came to pass because of free-speech absolutism. Unfettered speech isn’t necessary to liberty. In fact, it can undermine it, given that liberty, properly understood, is not a spiritual state of bliss. It is, as I have written,

a modus vivendi, not the result of a rational political scheme. Though a rational political scheme, such as the one laid out in the Constitution of the United States, could promote liberty.

The key to a libertarian modus vivendi is the evolutionary development and widespread observance of social norms that foster peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Unfettered speech, obviously, can undermine the modus vivendi. It can do so directly, by shredding social norms — the bonds of mutual trust, respect, and forbearance that underlie the modus vivendi that is liberty. And it can do so indirectly by subverting the institutions that preserve the modus vivendi. One of those institutions, in the United States, is the rule of law under a Constitution that was meant to limit the power of government, leaving people free to govern themselves in accordance with the norms of civil society. The steady rise of governmental power has in fact shredded social norms and subverted civil society. Which is precisely what the left wants, so that it can remake “society” to its liking.

It follows, therefore, that liberty can be rescued only by suppressing the left’s anti-libertarian actions. If that seems anti-libertarian, I refer you back to James Burnham.

Winning and preserving liberty is not for the faint of heart, or for free-speech absolutists whose rationalism clouds their judgment. They are morally equivalent to pacifists who declare that preemptive war is always wrong, and who would wait until the enemy has struck a mortal blow before acting against the enemy — if then.

The left is at war against liberty, and has been for a long time. Preemptive war against the left is therefore long overdue. If the left wins, will there be freedom of speech and a “marketplace of ideas” (however flawed)? Of course not.

Ironically, leftists subscribe to the view that “extremist ideas” should be suppressed. This is from a piece at The Verge by Laura Hudson (writing before Twitter joined the ban-wagon against Alex Jones):

While many, including [Jack] Dorsey [co-founder of Twitter] seem to fear that striking Jones down from media platforms will only make him more powerful, media manipulation research lead Joan Donovan at the research institute Data & Society tells The Verge that throughout her work, she has observed the opposite: once you remove the biggest megaphones from bad actors, their power diminishes and their ability to attract larger audiences and sow disinformation decreases. Instead of promoting no-holds-barred speech, he might instead embrace the principle suggested by Boyd and Donovan in their case for quarantining extremist ideas: “all Americans have the right to speak their minds, but not every person deserves to have their opinions amplified, particularly when their goals are to sow violence, hatred and chaos.”

The second link in that quotation leads to an article at The Guardian by Arwa Mahdawi. She begins with the American Nazi Party of George Lincoln Rockwell:

Campus by campus, from Harvard to Brown to Columbia, [Rockwell] would use the violence of his ideas and brawn of his followers to become headline news. To compel media coverage….

Contemporary Jewish community groups challenged journalists to consider not covering white supremacists’ ideas. They called this strategy “quarantine”….

In regions where quarantine was deployed successfully, violence remained minimal and Rockwell was unable to recruit new party members….

Strategic silence is not a new idea. The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s considered media coverage their most effective recruitment tactic and accordingly cultivated friendly journalists. According to Felix Harcourt, thousands of readers joined the KKK after the New York World ran a three-week chronicle of the group in 1921. Catholic, Jewish and black presses of the 1920s consciously differed from Protestant-owned mainstream papers in their coverage of the Klan, conspicuously avoiding giving the group unnecessary attention. The black press called this use of editorial discretion in the public interest “dignified silence”, and limited their reporting to KKK follies, such as canceled parades, rejected donations and resignations. Some mainstream journalists also grew suspicious of the KKK’s attempts to bait them with camera-ready spectacles. Eventually coverage declined….

The emphasis of strategic silence must be placed on the strategic over the silencing. Every story requires a choice and the recent turn toward providing equal coverage to dangerous, antisocial opinions requires acknowledging the suffering that such reporting causes. Even attempts to cover extremism critically can result in the media disseminating the methods that hate groups aim to spread, such as when Virginia’s Westmoreland News reproduced in full a local KKK recruitment flier on its front page. Media outlets who cannot argue that their reporting benefits the goal of a just and ethical society must opt for silence.

Newsrooms must understand that even with the best of intentions, they can find themselves being used by extremists. By contrast, they must also understand they have the power to defy the goals of hate groups by optimizing for core American values of equality, respect and civil discourse. All Americans have the right to speak their minds, but not every person deserves to have their opinions amplified, particularly when their goals are to sow violence, hatred and chaos [emphasis added].

I agree completely with the italicized passage. Leftists are violent and hateful toward those who disagree with them. Their return to power and the success of their agenda, which may not be far away, will result in the complete destruction of the social norms and civilizing institutions that held this country more or less together between the end of the Civil War and the 1960s. The left’s return to power will result in the suppression and criminalization of anything and anyone standing in the way of its destructive agenda.

Will a new civil war result if (when) the left takes full control of the central government? There is much talk about the possibility, accompanied by inflated rhetoric about the people with guns (mainly conservatives) “kicking ass” of the people without guns (mainly leftists). But that is wishful and possibly suicidal thinking. If a new civil war comes it will come only after the left has assumed control of the central government and begun its reign of terror. It will then control surveillance systems, troops, and weapons for which a mostly untrained “army” of rifle-toting zealots will be no match. Terrorist acts by the zealots, unless carefully aimed at government installations and troops actually engaged in suppressive operations, will only backfire and cause the silent majority to scurry into the protective arms of the central government.

I counsel a step back from the brink of civil war. But it’s a step that can be taken only while there is a Republican president in the White House. The left is right about strategic silence. And it works both ways. The left’s censorious ways must be , for liberty’s sake. Here is how to do it, constitutionally.

“Liberalism” and Virtue-Signaling

I am reading the real Suicide of the West (1964), by James Burnham — as opposed to Jonah Goldberg’s ersatz (2018) version. I will in due course publish a review of Burnham’s book. It will be a long review because the book if chock-full of wisdom and spot-on observations.

Burnham’s book is subtitled An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism, though it is far more than an essay. By “liberalism” Burnham means the modern kind that gradually replaced the “classical” kind in the 19th and 20th centuries. (See my post, “Inventing Liberalism“.) Burnham’s explanation of the change is one of the topics I will take up in my review.

In the meantime, I can’t resist quoting Burnham on the subject of virtue-signaling. He doesn’t use that term, which seems to be of recent vintage, but he describes the phenomenon perfectly:

Let us consider the situation of a member of our affluent society, and let us assume him to be from the more rather than less affluent half, who is no longer deeply committed in spirit to the interlocked Christian doctrines of Original Sin, the Incarnation and Redemption, which constitute the Christian solution. His guilt nevertheless exists; he is conscious of it, and feels the anxiety that it generates. What is he going to do about it, and think about it?

Liberalism permits him to translate his guilt into the egalitarian, anti-discrimination, democratist, peace-seeking liberal principles, and to transform his guilty feeling into that “passion for reform” of which Professor [J. Salwyn] Schapiro speaks [in Liberalism: Its Meaning and History]. If he is an activist, he can actually sign on as a slum clearer, Freedom Rider, Ban the Bomber or Peace Corpsman, or join a Dr. Schweitzer or Dr. Dooley in the jungle. But activists of that literal sort are always a minority. The more significant achievement of liberalism, by which it confirms its claim to being considered a major ideology, is its ability to handle the problem of guilt for large numbers of persons without costing them undue personal inconvenience. This it does by elevating the problem to representational, symbolic and institutional levels. It is not necessary for me to go in person to the slum, jungle, prison, Southern restaurant, state house or voting precinct and there take a direct hand in accomplishing the reform that will unblock the road to peace, justice and well-being. Thanks to the reassuring provisions of the liberal ideology, I can go about my ordinary business and meanwhile take sufficient account of my moral duties by affirming my loyalty to the correct egalitarian principles, voting for the correct candidates, praising the activists and contributing to their defense funds when they get into trouble, and joining promptly in the outcry against reactionaries who pop up now and then in a desperate effort to preserve power and privilege.

“Liberalism”, as Burnham defines it in Suicide of the West, has changed in some particulars since 1964, particulars that I will address in my review. But, in the main, Burnham has nailed it, as “they” say nowadays. If you are in the market for a sound analysis of “liberalism”, skip Goldberg and go with Burnham.

Wildfires and “Climate Change”

Regarding the claim that there are more wildfires because of “climate change”:

In case the relationship isn’t obvious, here it is:

Estimates of the number of fires are from National Fire Protection Association, Number of Fires by Type of Fire. Specifically, the estimates are the sum of the columns for “Outside of Structures with Value Involved but no vehicle (outside storage crops, timber, etc) and “Brush, Grass, Wildland (excluding crops and timber), with no value or loss involved”.

Estimates of the global temperature anomalies are annual averages of monthly satellite readings for the lower troposphere, published by the Earth Science System Center of the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XXII)

This is a long-overdue entry; the previous one was posted on October 4, 2017. Accordingly, it is a long entry, consisting of these parts:

Censorship and Left-Wing Bias on the Web

The Real Collusion Story

“Suicide” of the West

Evolution, Intelligence, and Race

Will the Real Fascists Please Stand Up?

Consciousness

Empathy Is Over-Rated

“Nudging”



CENSORSHIP AND LEFT-WING BIAS ON THE WEB

It’s a hot topic these days. See, for example, this, this, this, this, and this. Also, this, which addresses Google’s slanting of search results about climate research. YouTube is at it, too.

A lot of libertarian and conservative commentators are loath to demand governmental intervention because the censorship is being committed by private companies: Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube, et al. Some libertarians and conservatives are hopeful that libertarian-conservative options will be successful (e.g., George Gilder). I am skeptical. I have seen and tried some of those options, and they aren’t in the same league as the left-wingers, which have pretty well locked up users and advertisers. (It’s called path-dependence.) And even if they finally succeed in snapping up a respectable share of the information market, the damage will have been done; libertarians and conservatives will have been marginalized, criminalized, and suppressed.

The time to roll out the big guns is now, as I explain here:

Given the influence that Google and the other members of the left-wing information-technology oligarchy exert in this country, that oligarchy is tantamount to a state apparatus….

These information-entertainment-media-academic institutions are important components of what I call the vast left-wing conspiracy in America. Their purpose and effect is the subversion of the traditional norms that made America a uniquely free, prosperous, and vibrant nation….

What will happen in America if that conspiracy succeeds in completely overthrowing “bourgeois culture”? The left will frog-march America in whatever utopian direction captures its “feelings” (but not its reason) at the moment…

Complete victory for the enemies of liberty is only a few election cycles away. The squishy center of the American electorate — as is its wont — will swing back toward the Democrat Party. With a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat-controlled Congress, and a few party switches in the Supreme Court, the dogmas of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex will become the law of the land….

[It is therefore necessary to] enforce the First Amendment against information-entertainment-media-academic complex. This would begin with action against high-profile targets (e.g., Google and a few large universities that accept federal money). That should be enough to bring the others into line. If it isn’t, keep working down the list until the miscreants cry uncle.

What kind of action do I have in mind?…

Executive action against state actors to enforce the First Amendment:

Amendment I to the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech”.

Major entities in the telecommunications, news, entertainment, and education industries have exerted their power to suppress speech because of its content. (See appended documentation.) The collective actions of these entities — many of them government- licensed and government-funded — effectively constitute a governmental violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech (See Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) and Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946).)

And so on. Read all about it here.



THE REAL COLLUSION STORY

Not quite as hot, but still in the news, is Spygate. Collusion among the White House, CIA, and FBI (a) to use the Trump-Russia collusion story to swing the 2016 election to Clinton, and (b) failing that, to cripple Trump’s presidency and provide grounds for removing him from office. The latest twist in the story is offered by Byron York:

Emails in 2016 between former British spy Christopher Steele and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr suggest Steele was deeply concerned about the legal status of a Putin-linked Russian oligarch, and at times seemed to be advocating on the oligarch’s behalf, in the same time period Steele worked on collecting the Russia-related allegations against Donald Trump that came to be known as the Trump dossier. The emails show Steele and Ohr were in frequent contact, that they intermingled talk about Steele’s research and the oligarch’s affairs, and that Glenn Simpson, head of the dirt-digging group Fusion GPS that hired Steele to compile the dossier, was also part of the ongoing conversation….

The newly-released Ohr-Steele-Simpson emails are just one part of the dossier story. But if nothing else, they show that there is still much for the public to learn about the complex and far-reaching effort behind it.

My take is here. The post includes a long list of related — and enlightening — reading, to which I’ve just added York’s piece.



“SUICIDE” OF THE WEST

Less “newsy”, but a hot topic on the web a few weeks back, is Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West. It received mixed reviews. It is also the subject of an excellent non-review by Hubert Collins.

Here’s my take:

The Framers held a misplaced faith in the Constitution’s checks and balances (see Madison’s Federalist No. 51 and Hamilton’s Federalist No. 81). The Constitution’s wonderful design — containment of a strictly limited central government through horizontal and vertical separation of powers — worked rather well until the Progressive Era. The design then cracked under the strain of greed and the will to power, as the central government began to impose national economic regulation at the behest of muckrakers and do-gooders. The design then broke during the New Deal, which opened the floodgates to violations of constitutional restraint (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare,  the vast expansion of economic regulation, and the destruction of civilizing social norms), as the Supreme Court has enabled the national government to impose its will in matters far beyond its constitutional remit.

In sum, the “poison pill” baked into the nation at the time of the Founding is human nature, against which no libertarian constitution is proof unless it is enforced resolutely by a benign power.



EVOLUTION, INTELLIGENCE, AND RACE

Evolution is closely related to and intertwined with intelligence and race. Two posts of mine (here and here) delve some of the complexities. The latter of the two posts draws on David Stove‘s critique of evolutionary theory, “So You Think You Are a Darwinian?“.

Fred Reed is far more entertaining than Stove, and no less convincing. His most recent columns on evolution are here and here. In the first of the two, he writes this:

What are some of the problems with official Darwinism? First, the spontaneous generation of life has not been replicated…. Nor has anyone assembled in the laboratory a chemical structure able to metabolize, reproduce, and thus to evolve. It has not been shown to be mathematically possible….

Sooner or later, a hypothesis must be either confirmed or abandoned. Which? When? Doesn’t science require evidence, reproducibility, demonstrated theoretical possibility? These do not exist….

Other serious problems with the official story: Missing intermediate fossils–”missing links”– stubbornly remain missing. “Punctuated equilibrium,” a theory of sudden rapid evolution invented to explain the lack of fossil evidence, seems unable to generate genetic information fast enough. Many proteins bear no resemblance to any others and therefore cannot have evolved from them. On and on.

Finally, the more complex an event, the less likely it is to  occur by chance. Over the years, cellular mechanisms have been found to be  ever more complex…. Recently with the discovery of epigenetics, complexity has taken a great leap upward. (For anyone wanting to subject himself to such things, there is The Epigenetics Revolution. It is not light reading.)

Worth noting is that  that the mantra of evolutionists, that “in millions and millions and billions of years something must have evolved”–does not necessarily hold water. We have all heard of Sir James Jeans assertion that a monkey, typing randomly, would eventually produce all the books in the British Museum. (Actually he would not produce a single chapter in the accepted age of the universe, but never mind.) A strong case can be made that spontaneous generation is similarly of mathematically vanishing probability. If evolutionists could prove the contrary, they would immensely strengthen their case. They haven’t….

Suppose that you saw an actual monkey pecking at a keyboard and, on examining his output, saw that he was typing, page after page, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with no errors.

You would suspect fraud, for instance that the typewriter was really a computer programmed with Tom. But no, on inspection you find that it is a genuine typewriter. Well then, you think, the monkey must be a robot, with Tom in RAM. But  this too turns out to be wrong: The monkey in fact is one. After exhaustive examination, you are forced to conclude that Bonzo really is typing at random.

Yet he is producing Tom Sawyer. This being impossible, you would have to conclude that something was going on that you did not understand.

Much of biology is similar. For a zygote, barely visible, to turn into a baby is astronomically improbable, a suicidal assault on Murphy’s Law. Reading embryology makes this apparent. (Texts are prohibitively expensive, but Life Unfolding serves.) Yet every step in the process is in accord with chemical principles.

This doesn’t make sense. Not, anyway, unless one concludes that something deeper is going on that we do not understand. This brings to mind several adages that might serve to ameliorate our considerable arrogance. As Haldane said, “The world is not only queerer than we think, but queerer than we can think.” Or Fred’s Principle, “The smartest of a large number of hamsters is still a hamster.”

We may be too full of ourselves.

On the subject of race, Fred is no racist, but he is a realist; for example:

We have black football players refusing to stand for the national anthem.  They think that young black males are being hunted down by cops. Actually of  course black males are hunting each other down in droves but black football players apparently have no objection to this. They do not themselves convincingly suffer discrimination. Where else can you get paid six million green ones a year for grabbing something and running? Maybe in a district of jewelers.

The non-standing is racial hostility to whites. The large drop in attendance of games, of television viewership, is racial blowback by whites. Millions of whites are thinking, that, if America doesn’t suit them, football players can afford a ticket to Kenya. While this line of reasoning is tempting, it doesn’t really address the problem and so would be a waste of time.

But what, really, is the problem?

It is one that dare not raise its head: that blacks cannot compete with whites, Asians, or Latin-Americans. Is there counter-evidence? This leaves them in an incurable state of resentment and thus hostility. I think we all know this: Blacks know it, whites know it, liberals know it, and conservatives know it. If any doubt this, the truth would be easy enough to determine with carefully done tests. [Which have been done.] The furious resistance to the very idea of measuring intelligence suggests awareness of the likely outcome. You don’t avoid a test if you expect good results.

So we do nothing while things worsen and the world looks on astounded. We have mob attacks by Black Lives Matter, the never-ending Knockout Game, flash mobs looting stores and subway trains, occasional burning cities, and we do nothing. Which makes sense, because there is nothing to be done short of restructuring the country.

Absolute, obvious, unacknowledged disaster.

Regarding which: Do we really want, any of us, what we are doing? In particular, has anyone asked ordinary blacks, not black pols and race hustlers. “Do you really want to live among whites, or would you prefer a safe middle-class black neighborhood? Do your kids want to go to school with whites? If so, why? Do you want them to? Why? Would you prefer black schools to decide what and how to teach your children? Keeping whites out of it? Would you prefer having only black police in your neighborhood?”

And the big one: “Do you, and the people you actually know in your neighborhood, really want integration? Or is it something imposed on you by oreo pols and white ideologues?”

But these are things we must never think, never ask.

Which brings me to my most recent post about blacks and crime, which is here. As for restructuring the country, Lincoln saw what was needed.

The touchy matter of intelligence — its heritability and therefore its racial component — is never far from my thoughts. I commend to you Gregory Hood’s excellent piece, “Forbidden Research: How the Study of Intelligence is Crippled by Ideology“. Hood mentions some of the scientists whose work I have cited in my writings about intelligence and its racial component. See this page, for example, which give links to several related posts and excerpts of relevant research about intelligence.

As for the racial component, my most recent post on the subject (which provides links to related posts) addresses the question “Why study race and intelligence?”. Here’s why:

Affirmative action and similar race-based preferences are harmful to blacks. But those preferences persist because most Americans do not understand that there are inherent racial differences that prevent blacks, on the whole, from doing as well as whites (and Asians) in school and in jobs that require above-average intelligence. But magical thinkers (like [Professor John] McWhorter) want to deny reality. He admits to being driven by hope: “I have always hoped the black–white IQ gap was due to environmental causes.”…

Magical thinking — which is rife on the left — plays into the hands of politicians, most of whom couldn’t care less about the truth. They just want the votes of those blacks who relish being told, time and again, that they are “down” because they are “victims”, and Big Daddy government will come to their rescue. But unless you are the unusual black of above-average intelligence, or the more usual black who has exceptional athletic skills, dependence on Big Daddy is self-defeating because (like a drug addiction) it only leads to more of the same. The destructive cycle of dependency can be broken only by willful resistance to the junk being peddled by cynical politicians.

It is for the sake of blacks that the truth about race and intelligence ought to be pursued — and widely publicized. If they read and hear the truth often enough, perhaps they will begin to realize that the best way to better themselves is to make the best of available opportunities instead of moaning abut racism and relying on preferences and handouts.



WILL THE REAL FASCISTS PLEASE STAND UP?

I may puke if I hear Trump called a fascist one more time. As I observe here,

[t]he idea … that Trump is the new Hitler and WaPo [The Washington Post] and its brethren will keep us out of the gas chambers by daring to utter the truth (not)…. is complete balderdash, inasmuch as WaPo and its ilk are enthusiastic hand-maidens of “liberal” fascism.

“Liberals” who call conservatives “fascists” are simply engaging in psychological projection. This is a point that I address at length here.

As for Mr. Trump, I call on Shawn Mitchell:

A lot of public intellectuals and writers are pushing an alarming thesis: President Trump is a menace to the American Republic and a threat to American liberties. The criticism is not exclusively partisan; it’s shared by prominent conservatives, liberals, and libertarians….

Because so many elites believe Trump should be impeached, or at least shunned and rendered impotent, it’s important to agree on terms for serious discussion. Authoritarian means demanding absolute obedience to a designated authority. It means that somewhere, someone, has unlimited power. Turning the focus to Trump, after 15 months in office, it’s impossible to assign him any of those descriptions….

…[T]here are no concentration camps or political arrests. Rather, the #Resistance ranges from fervent to rabid. Hollywood and media’s brightest stars regularly gather at galas to crudely declare their contempt for Trump and his deplorable supporters. Academics and reporters lodged in elite faculty lounges and ivory towers regularly malign his brains, judgment, and temperament. Activists gather in thousands on the streets to denounce Trump and his voters. None of these people believe Trump is an autocrat, or, if they do they are ignorant of the word’s meaning. None fear for their lives, liberty, or property.

Still, other elites pile on. Federal judges provide legal backup, contriving frivolous theories to block administrations moves. Some rule Trump lacks even the authority to undo by executive order things Obama himself introduced by executive order. Governors from states like California, Oregon and New York announce they will not cooperate with administration policy (current law, really) on immigration, the environment, and other issues.

Amidst such widespread rebellion, waged with impunity against the constitutionally elected president, the critics’ dark warnings that America faces a dictator are more than wrong; they are surreal and damnable. They are what amounts to the howl of that half the nation still refusing to accept election results it dislikes.

Conceding Trump lacks an inmate or body count, critics still offer theories to categorize him in genus monsterus. The main arguments cite Trump’s patented belligerent personality and undisciplined tweets, his use of executive orders; his alleged obstruction in firing James Comey and criticizing Robert Mueller, his blasts at the media, and his immigration policies. These attacks weigh less than the paper they might be printed on.

Trump’s personality doubtless is sui generis for national office. If he doesn’t occasionally offend listeners they probably aren’t listening. But so what? Personality is not policy. A sensibility is not a platform, and bluster and spittle are not coercive state action. The Human Jerk-o-meter could measure Trump in the 99th percentile, and the effect would not change one law, eliminate one right, or jail one critic.

Executive Orders are misunderstood. All modern presidents used them. There is nothing wrong in concept with executive orders. Some are constitutional some are not. What matters is whether they direct executive priorities within U.S. statutes or try to push authority beyond the law to change the rights and duties of citizens. For example, a president might order the EPA to focus on the Clean Air Act more than the Clean Water Act, or vice versa. That is fine. But, if a president orders the EPA to regulate how much people can water their lawns or what kind of lawns to plant, the president is trying to legislate and create new controls. That is unconstitutional.

Many of Obama’s executive orders were transgressive and unconstitutional. Most of Trump’s executive orders are within the law, and constitutional. However that debate turns out, though, it is silly to argue the issue implicates authoritarianism.

The partisan arguments over Trump’s response to the special counsel also miss key points. Presidents have authority to fire subordinates. The recommendation authored by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein provides abundant reason for Trump to have fired James Comey, who increasingly is seen as a bitter anti-Trump campaigner. As for Robert Mueller, criticizing is not usurping. Mueller’s investigation continues, but now readily is perceived as a target shoot, unmoored from the original accusations about Russia, in search of any reason to draw blood from Trump. Criticizing that is not dictatorial, it is reasonable.

No doubt Trump criticizes the media more than many modern presidents. But criticism is not oppression. It attacks not freedom of the press but the credibility of the press. That is civically uncomfortable, but the fact is, the war of words between Trump and the media is mutual. The media attacks Trump constantly, ferociously and very often inaccurately as Mollie Hemingway and Glenn Greenwald document from different political perspectives. Trump fighting back is not asserting government control. It is just challenging media assumptions and narratives in a way no president ever has. Reporters don’t like it, so they call it oppression. They are crybabies.

Finally, the accusation that Trump wants to enforce the border under current U.S. laws, as well as better vet immigration from a handful of failed states in the Middle East with significant militant activity hardly makes him a tyrant. Voters elected Trump to step up border enforcement. Scrutinizing immigrants from a handful of countries with known terrorist networks is not a “Muslim ban.” The idea insults the intelligence since there are about 65 majority Muslim countries the order does not touch.

Trump is not Hitler. Critics’ attacks are policy disputes, not examples of authoritarianism. The debate is driven by sore losers who are willing to erode norms that have preserved the republic for 240 years.

Amen.



CONSCIOUSNESS

For a complete change of pace I turn to a post by Bill Vallicella about consciousness:

This is an addendum to Thomas Nagel on the Mind-Body Problem. In that entry I set forth a problem in the philosophy of mind, pouring it into the mold of an aporetic triad:

1) Conscious experience is not an illusion.

2) Conscious experience has an essentially subjective character that purely physical processes do not share.

3) The only acceptable explanation of conscious experience is in terms of physical properties alone.

Note first that the three propositions are collectively inconsistent: they cannot all be true.  Any two limbs entail the negation of the remaining one. Note second that each limb exerts a strong pull on our acceptance. But we cannot accept them all because they are logically incompatible.

This is one hard nut to crack.  So hard that many, following David Chalmers, call it, or something very much like it, the Hard Problem in the philosophy of mind.  It is so hard that it drives some into the loony bin. I am thinking of Daniel Dennett and those who have the chutzpah to deny (1)….

Sophistry aside, we either reject (2) or we reject (3).  Nagel and I accept (1) and (2) and reject (3). Those of a  scientistic stripe accept (1) and (3) and reject (2)….

I conclude that if our aporetic triad has a solution, the solution is by rejecting (3).

Vallicella reaches his conclusion by subtle argumentation, which I will not attempt to parse in this space.

My view is that (2) is false because the subjective character of conscious experience is an illusion that arises from the physical properties of the central nervous system. Consciousness itself is not an illusion. I accept (1) and (3). For more, see this and this.



EMPATHY IS OVER-RATED

Andrew Scull addresses empathy:

The basic sense in which most of us use “empathy” is analogous to what Adam Smith called “sympathy”: the capacity we possess (or can develop) to see the world through the eyes of another, to “place ourselves in his situation . . . and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence from some idea of his sensations, and even feel something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them”….

In making moral choices, many would claim that empathy in this sense makes us more likely to care about others and to consider their interests when choosing our own course of action….

Conversely, understanding others’ feelings doesn’t necessarily lead one to treating them better. On the contrary: the best torturers are those who can anticipate and intuit what their victims most fear, and tailor their actions accordingly. Here, Bloom effectively invokes the case of Winston Smith’s torturer O’Brien in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, who is able to divine the former’s greatest dread, his fear of rats, and then use it to destroy him.

Guest blogger L.P. addressed empathy in several posts: here, here, here, here, here, and here. This is from the fourth of those posts:

Pro-empathy people think less empathetic people are “monsters.” However, as discussed in part 2 of this series, Baron-Cohen, Kevin Dutton in The Wisdom of Psychopaths, and other researchers establish that empathetic people, particularly psychopaths who have both affective and cognitive empathy, can be “monsters” too.

In fact, Kevin Dutton’s point about psychopaths generally being able to blend in and take on the appearance of the average person makes it obvious that they must have substantial emotional intelligence (linked to cognitive empathy) and experience of others’ feelings in order to mirror others so well….

Another point to consider however, as mentioned in part 1, is that those who try to empathize with others by imagining how they would experience another’s situation aren’t truly empathetic. They’re just projecting their own feelings onto others. This brings to mind Jonathan Haidt’s study on morality and political orientation. On the “Identification with All of Humanity Scale,” liberals most strongly endorsed the dimension regarding identification with “everyone around the world.” (See page 25 of “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The psychological roots of an individualist ideology.”) How can anyone empathize with billions of persons about whom one knows nothing, and a great number of whom are anything but liberal?

Haidt’s finding is a terrific example of problems with self-evaluation and self-reported data – liberals overestimating themselves in this case. I’m not judgmental about not understanding everyone in the world. There are plenty of people I don’t understand either. However, I don’t think people who overestimate their ability to understand people should be in a position that allows them to tamper with, or try to “improve,” the lives of people they don’t understand….

I conclude by quoting C. Daniel Batson who acknowledges the prevailing bias when it comes to evaluating altruism as a virtue. This is from his paper, “Empathy-Induced Altruistic Motivation,” written for the Inaugural Herzliya Symposium on Prosocial Motives, Emotions, and Behavior:

[W]hereas there are clear social sanctions against unbridled self-interest, there are not clear sanctions against altruism. As a result, altruism can at times pose a greater threat to the common good than does egoism.



“NUDGING”

I have addressed Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s “libertarian” paternalism and “nudging in many posts. (See this post, the list at the bottom of it, and this post.) Nothing that I have written — clever and incisive as it may be — rivals Deirdre McCloskey’s take on Thaler’s non-Nobel prize, “The Applied Theory of Bossing“:

Thaler is distinguished but not brilliant, which is par for the course. He works on “behavioral finance,” the study of mistakes people make when they talk to their stock broker. He can be counted as the second winner for “behavioral economics,” after the psychologist Daniel Kahneman. His prize was for the study of mistakes people make when they buy milk….

Once Thaler has established that you are in myriad ways irrational it’s much easier to argue, as he has, vigorously—in his academic research, in popular books, and now in a column for The New York Times—that you are too stupid to be treated as a free adult. You need, in the coinage of Thaler’s book, co-authored with the law professor and Obama adviser Cass Sunstein, to be “nudged.” Thaler and Sunstein call it “libertarian paternalism.”*…

Wikipedia lists fully 257 cognitive biases. In the category of decision-making biases alone there are anchoring, the availability heuristic, the bandwagon effect, the baseline fallacy, choice-supportive bias, confirmation bias, belief-revision conservatism, courtesy bias, and on and on. According to the psychologists, it’s a miracle you can get across the street.

For Thaler, every one of the biases is a reason not to trust people to make their own choices about money. It’s an old routine in economics. Since 1848, one expert after another has set up shop finding “imperfections” in the market economy that Smith and Mill and Bastiat had come to understand as a pretty good system for supporting human flourishing….

How to convince people to stand still for being bossed around like children? Answer: Persuade them that they are idiots compared with the great and good in charge. That was the conservative yet socialist program of Kahneman, who won the 2002 Nobel as part of a duo that included an actual economist named Vernon Smith…. It is Thaler’s program, too.

Like with the psychologist’s list of biases, though, nowhere has anyone shown that the imperfections in the market amount to much in damaging the economy overall. People do get across the street. Income per head since 1848 has increased by a factor of 20 or 30….

The amiable Joe Stiglitz says that whenever there is a “spillover” — my ugly dress offending your delicate eyes, say — the government should step in. A Federal Bureau of Dresses, rather like the one Saudi Arabia has. In common with Thaler and Krugman and most other economists since 1848, Stiglitz does not know how much his imagined spillovers reduce national income overall, or whether the government is good at preventing the spill. I reckon it’s about as good as the Army Corps of Engineers was in Katrina.

Thaler, in short, melds the list of psychological biases with the list of economic imperfections. It is his worthy scientific accomplishment. His conclusion, unsupported by evidence?

It’s bad for us to be free.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred to Thaler’s philosophy as “paternalistic libertarianism.” The correct term is “libertarian paternalism.”

No, the correct term is paternalism.

I will end on that note.

Whither the Stock Market?

Drawing on the database maintained by Robert Shiller, author of Irrational Exuberance, I estimated the constant-dollar value of the S&P Composite Index (S&P) with dividends reinvested. The validity of my estimate is confirmed by comparing it with the Wilshire 5000 Total Return Index (WLX), which is based on the reinvestment of dividends in the underlying stocks:

FIGURE 1

“Real” means that the underlying values are inflation-adjusted. The indices are equated to 1 in December 1970 because that is the first month of the WLX.

Shiller uses a cyclically adjusted price-earnings ratio (CAPE) based on the inflation-adjusted value of S&P and earnings on the constituent stocks. Specifically, he uses the current inflation-adjusted price divided by the average of inflation-adjusted earnings for the preceding 10 years. Accordingly, he calls it CAPE-10:

FIGURE 2

What is the relationship between the value of CAPE-10 for a particular month and the total return on the S&P over an extended period? Shiller’s database (which is reconstructed, of course) goes back to January 1871. January 1881 is therefore the date of his earliest CAPE-10 value. This graph shows the relationship between CAPE-10 and total returns for all 15-year periods beginning January 1881 and ending June 2018:

FIGURE 3

There’s an inverse relationship, as you would expect. But it’s a loose one because of marked shifts in the value of CAPE-10.

There’s a much tighter relationship for the “modern” financial era. I trace the beginning of this era to about 1982, when the stock market bottomed (see Figures 1 and 2) while inflation was receding from its post-World War II peak in 1980:

FIGURE 4

Here’s the relationship between CAPE-10 and real, annualized 15-year returns on the S&P since 1982:

FIGURE 5

The current value of CAPE-10 is about 32. If the relationship in Figure 5 holds true for the next 15 years, investors can expect real, annualized returns (with dividends reinvested) of 2 percent to 4 percent on broadly diversified mutual funds and stock portfolios.

Not great, you say? Well, the current real return on Baa-rated corporate bonds is about 1.5 percent. It’s less than that for Aaa-rated bonds, Treasury issues, most CDs, money-market funds, and deposit accounts. So if you’re into buy-and-hold, the stock market isn’t a bad bet. Alternatively, you can try to pick the next “big thing” — Tesla, for example.

“MAD, Again”: A Footnote

MAD, Again“draws on my correspondence with a colleague of yore who had asked me to review a couple of papers he has written about U.S. naval strategy. My reviews were hard-nosed but kind. I did not tell him that he is one of the

analysts of the hand-wringing kind who believed that Reagan’s defense buildup would bring on World War III. What it did, of course, was bring about the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

That’s from “Mad, Again”, and it describes my colleague to a T. “MAD, Again” addresses his fear that the mere peacetime expression of a threat to Russia’s ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) would prove destabilizing. I say, for example, that

it would be taken as given by Russian leaders that the U.S. could wage an anti-SSBN campaign, even if the U.S. didn’t advertise its ability or intention to do so. If the possibility of an anti-SSBN campaign somehow threatened MAD, it would be logical for the U.S. to deprive itself of the ability to conduct it. But the continued ownership by the U.S. of a fleet of SSNs doesn’t seem to have sparked strategic instability.

By the same token, it would be logical to reduce NATO’s war-fighting capability so that a European war would end in a draw, with no need for Russia to escalate to tactical-nuclear or strategic-nuclear warfare to prevent defeat in a conventional war.

But MAD negates the kind of logic adduced above. MAD renders it most unlikely that the U.S. would undertake an anti-SSBN campaign unless the nuclear-warfare genie had already slipped out of the bottle through some horrendous mistake or work of sabotage.

Similarly, it is most unlikely that Russia would go nuclear in the event of an impending defeat in Europe – as long as the Russian homeland weren’t threatened – given the suicidal consequences of doing so….

U.S. discussions and demonstrations of an anti-SSBN capability amount to nothing more than saber-rattling, which is a useful reminder (if any were needed) of the power and reach of U.S. forces.

His response to my argument was to defend his hand-wringing with some beside the point hand-waving:

[Y]our assessment of the likely (small, “saber-rattling”) weight of strategic ASW seems persuasive – except from a Soviet point of view. Their SSBN strategic reserve was of the utmost importance in their plans for World War III. Being able to threaten it was thus potentially a genuine source of strategic leverage for the US.

In any event,  and despite my rash characterization of U.S. saber-rattling as possibly counter-productive because it uses resources that might be put to better military use, I am whole-heartedly in favor of aggressive displays of U.S. military prowess to remind the world that America is no longer the patsy that it was under Obama. Daniel Greenfield puts it this way:

On October 1962, destroyers from the Second Fleet streamed out to intercept Russian vessels suspected of delivering missiles to Cuba. Under the shadow of DEFCON 2, Vice Admiral Alfred Ward, commander of the Second Fleet, watched over a blockade of Cuba. The Navy men putting Russian ships under their guns knew that they were the tip of the spear in what might at any moment become the next world war.

The Russians had ordered their ships to keep going. It was up to the Second Fleet to hold the line….

On September 2011, under the leftist politico whose admirers tried to sell him as another JFK, the flag of the Second Fleet was taken down. The fleet that had taken point against the Russians was no more….

These days, Obama’s party is mired in a haze of Russian paranoia. But it was their leader who dismantled our first lines of defense and Trump who is restoring our military deterrence.

Seven years after Obama shuttered the Second Fleet, its flag is flying again…. And it will watch over the East Coast and the Atlantic to checkmate Russian subs.

The shutdown of the Second Fleet was part of Obama’s failed pivot to Asia which ended with a humiliating apology to China for flying a plane too close to one of the Communist dictatorship’s fake South China Sea islands. (Trump has since dispatched B-52s, outraging China, with no apology.)

That was December 2015.

On January 2016, the complete collapse of naval credibility led Iran to seize two United States Navy boats, steal classified information, hold their crews hostage and humiliate them on television.

Obama had forced the Navy to grovel to China. Why not Iran?

Instead of taking decisive action against this second Iran hostage crisis, the appeasement administration instead used it to spin the success of the Iran Deal. The humiliation of the Navy was complete.

But the humiliation of the United States Navy and the United States of America ended on Jan 20, 2017.

The restoration of the Second Fleet is an important step in the revival of America’s Navy. But the full scope of the harm Obama inflicted on our readiness will take generations of hard work to repair….

The great dismantling of our military fueled Chinese, Russian and Islamic aggressive expansionism. But now the Second Fleet will be headquartered in Norfolk along with NATO’s Joint Force Command for the Atlantic. While media pundits wailed about Trump’s commitment to NATO, Norfolk sends a clear and direct message to the Russians and to NATO about American capabilities and determination.

Under Obama, Russian attack subs and spy ships showed up on our coastlines, approaching naval bases, coming close to our waters, occasionally passing undetected, testing our capabilities and our nerve. While Obama did nothing about the threat to our naval forces, Trump shut down the Russian consulate in Seattle to stop its spying on Naval Base Kitsap, one of the homes of our underwater nuclear arsenal.

Our capabilities have room to regrow, but no matter how much the media lies, our nerve is not lacking….

“American ships will sail the seas, American planes will soar the skies, American workers will build our fleets,” President Trump had declared at the dedication of the USS Gerald R. Ford.

Ford brings the Navy up to 11 carriers. Obama took the Navy below its mandated minimum strength. Now for the first time since those terrible years of appeasement, American naval power is recovering.

By the time Trump is ready to leave office, the Navy should be back up to twelve carriers again. A few years later, the People’s Republic of China expects to have four carriers. Its advanced new vessels will likely rely on stolen technology ripped off by Chinese hackers in the weak and feckless Obama years.

These include the Littoral Combat Ship and Aegis system designs.

The Democrats and the media howling about the national security threat from Russian hackers remain uninterested in the Chinese hacks that stole some of our most vital and advanced national security secrets. They expect us to believe that hacking John Podesta and Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s emails, and posting spam on Facebook, was a bigger threat than China making off with the F-35 plans.

China’s ambitious new supercarrier designs take advantage of our failures during the Obama era. These carriers show that the People’s Republic is thinking of projecting force beyond its territories and islands.

And China has worked closely together with Russia. Its first carrier is an unfinished Russian model. Russian and Chinese vessels are also participating in joint naval maneuvers because they know that seapower hasn’t, despite Obama’s assertions, gone the way of the era of horses and bayonets.

Not a day goes by without Democrat politicians and media ranting that President Trump is failing to protect us from Russian attacks. The return of the Second Fleet is an example of how Trump is doing just that. It doesn’t take the military to protect Democrat email accounts from hackers….

While Obama cut the US Navy, the Russians added warships with cruise missiles. They’re adding an amphibious assault ship capable of carrying 13 tanks. Their missile patrol boats are being hailed for their innovative designs. Putin has announced 26 new ships will be added to the Russian Navy this year.

Where are all the Democrats who shout about how we need to challenge Russia? Nowhere.

In 2016, a Russian warship made it to within 300 yards of the USS Gravely. The Gravely was protecting the USS Harry S. Truman. The warship pointed at the Truman. As usual, Obama did nothing.

These days, the Harry S. Truman Carrier Group is already sending a message to Russian subs in the Atlantic. If the Democrats want to see Trump standing up to Russia, they can look to the waves. [“Trump Confronts Russia with the Fleet Obama Sank“, Frontpage Mag, August 2, 2018]


Related posts:
Defense as the Ultimate Social Service
How to View Defense Spending
Liberalism and Sovereignty
The Decision to Drop the Bomb
A Grand Strategy for the United States
Transnationalism and National Defense
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Defense Spending: One More Time
Presidential Treason
“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”
Today’s Lesson in Economics: How to Think about War
It’s a MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD World
MAD, Again

Trump Defies Gravity

UPDATED 08/14/18

I was against Trump until he was nominated by the GOP. I became pro-Trump once he was nominated because the alternative was a Democrat. I have become increasingly pro-Trump as I have watched his deeds and ignored (most of) his words.

How is Trump doing with the electorate, despite the internet-media-academic complex? Trump’s strong approval rating remains above Obama’s at the same stage of of his presidency. It is truly amazing that Trump is doing so well given the successive waves of anti-Trump hysteria that emanate from the media. Dennis Prager, Ned Ryun, and Alex Castellanos see it for what it is. This is from Castellanos:

There is evidence [that] Trump has the power to defy gravity: When this president slips, he doesn’t fall, he floats. It is frustrating the establishment to no end.

President Trump went to Helsinki, made Vladimir Putin look the taller man, and undermined his own country’s intelligence agencies. He came home and resentfully explained he misspoke, only to reverse that and then face accusations of silencing an affair with a Playboy model. All this while separating immigrant parents from children. And continuing his street fight with Iran’s mullahs. And Twitter-bombing the Russia investigation. For anyone else, it would not have been a stellar week, but Trump’s polls ratings rose….

To understand, Washington may have to imagine an unfamiliar nation, the America that exists beyond the Beltway. There, Trump’s mistakes are not “screw-ups.” His “gaffes” are the reason he was handed the highest public office in the land.

Remember why Trump thrashed both big political parties and won the election….

When Trump rends the fabric of the establishment’s universe, he is doing exactly what his supporters want him to do. Instead of being shocked, disappointed, or offended, his fans cling to him. They pray, “Please God, help him do it again.”

Which tells us several things:

1. Millions of Americans remain repulsed with the Washington status quo and find its return so perilous that they prefer the human embodiment of nitroglycerin in the White House, even with its attendant collateral damage, rather than taste again the malignant gruel Washington was serving them. They judge that the explosive ingredient in dynamite is safer than the stew of venomous elitism that fed the decline of their country. Trump’s steadfast support is an appraisal: It measures how America feels about Washington, D.C….

2. Nothing has changed in Washington since Donald Trump was elected. The D.C. establishment and the creaky, old political parties and legacy media have not learned anything from the beating this outsider gave them. As long as they hold enormous power, Trump voters will continue to cheer the bull in Washington’s china shop, as he breaks the remaining tea cups in the establishment’s precious displays.

3. Until someone in Washington does change and provides an acceptable alternative, Trump can not only shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, he can get caught in the Kremlin on Vladimir Putin’s desk with a goat, and his supporters won’t care….

Yet, every time Trump disrupts and disturbs norms, the establishment faints and reaches for the smelling salts. They are convinced that this time he’s gone too far. In a desperate bout of establishment thinking, for example, Joe Scarborough writes, “Trump may finally be feeling gravity’s unforgiving pull as one summer scandal bleeds into another.”

Fat chance, Joe. Trump’s job approval in The Real Clear Politics poll average has moved all the way from 43 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove the day he sat with Putin, to 43.2 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove in the latest sampling. Trump’s poll ratings are flatter than Kansas, the state scientifically proven to be flatter than a pancake. [“How Trump Has Managed to Defy Gravity”, RealClearPolitics, July 31, 2018]

Thus:

FIGURE 1
Figure 1Derived from Rasmussen Reports approval ratings for Trump.

Lest you believe that Trump’s current and recent numbers are week, consider this:

FIGURE 2
Figure 2 and widget imageDerived from Rasmussen Reports approval ratings for Obama and Trump.

In this age of polarization, it’s hard for any president to routinely attain high marks:

FIGURE 3
Figure 3Source: Same as Figure 2.

Ratios of the ratios in Figure 2 yield enthusiasm ratios: the strength of strong approval ratings relative to overall approval ratings:

FIGURE 4
Figure 4Source: Same as Figure 2.

Despite a retreat from the spike at the time of the Singapore summit, Trump’s enthusiasm ratio remains high, relative to Obama’s.

There is a different poll that is more revealing of Trump’s popularity. Every week since the first inauguration of Obama, Rasmussen Reports has asked 2,500 likely voters whether they see the country as going in the “right direction” or being on the “wrong track”. The following graph shows the ratios of “right direction”/”wrong track” for Trump and Obama:

FIGURE 5
Figure 5Source: Rasmussen Reports, “Right Direction or Wrong Track“.

The ratio of “right direction” to “wrong track” averaged about 0.5 during Obama’s eight years in office; that is, about one-third of respondents said “right direction” and about two-thirds said “wrong track”. The ratio for Trump, after a quick honeymoon start, fell into the same range as Obama’s. But it jumped with the passage of the tax cut in December 2017. It has stayed relatively high since then, despite the faux scandals concocted by the leftist media and their concerted attack on Trump.

Trump’s relatively high enthusiasm ratio suggests that the squishy center is lining up behind him, despite the incessant flow of negative “reporting” about him and his policies. His base is with him all the way.

Trump’s coattails will be decisive in November. As of now, I expect the GOP to lose no more than a handful of House seats, and to gain seats in the Senate.

Word Spark

I downloaded Word Spark to my Fire tablet on March 19. (It’s also available for iOS and Android devices.) There are 600 puzzles in all, grouped in 30 packs of 20 puzzles each. Working at the rate of about 4 puzzles a day, I completed the 600th puzzle today.* That puts me among the 0.02 percent of Word Spark users who have completed the entire set.

This is a game for you if you have a good vocabulary (though arcane words are avoided), are good at pattern recognition, and are tenacious. That last condition is the crucial one. It separates the doers (conservatives) from the theoreticians (leftists).

The puzzles consist of letters arranged in squares, beginning with 4 x 4 squares and going up to 7 x 7 squares. Here’s 6 x 6 puzzle:

Here’s how to play the game:

1. Trace contiguous letters to form words. There are many possible words, but only a specific set of correct ones for each puzzle. Almost all of the words are singular common nouns and adjectives. There are many words that can also be used as verbs (e.g., park, scratch, walk). Rarely is there a word that is used only as a verb; proper nouns are equally rare; and adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositions aren’t used at all (as far as I can recall). You will save a lot of time by confining yourself to singular common nouns and adjectives. Don’t bother with plurals, they aren’t used.

2. When a correct word is traced, the letters of the word move to the corresponding group of spaces below the array. (There are five correct words and corresponding groups of spaces in the image above.)

3. If a correct word includes letters that are below the top of the array, the letters above drop to fill the gaps left when the letters of the correct word drop to the answer spaces. This is important because…

4. To complete a puzzle it is necessary not only to find the correct words but also to trace them in the correct order. Finding a later word before an earlier one may make it impossible to find the earlier one because of the rearrangement of letters, as described above. You may be alerted of this by the counter-clockwise movement of the reload button, but you may not be alerted — the game seems to be quirky about these alerts. If you are stuck, make an ordered list of the words you’ve found (noting any gaps between them), and hit the reload button. Sometimes it’s necessary to do this several times during the course of a puzzle, especially at the end. Forming a correct word with the “wrong” letter(s) will throw everything off. (A “wrong” letter is a letter that belongs in the word but is chosen from the wrong cell in the array of letters. There’s often more than one way of tracing out a correct word, and it’s easy to chose the wrong way.)

5. If you are really stuck, use a hint. (A hint gives you the first letter of a word; you’re on your own after that.) You start out with 50 of them and gain 3 for every 20-pack that you complete. You can also gain a hint a day (until you reach the last 2 puzzles) by playing a 4 x 4 daily-exercise puzzle. (I didn’t discover this feature until I was in the next-to-last 20-pack of puzzles.) You can also buy hints, though I didn’t have to do that. You should have plenty of hints to work with if you start doing the daily-exercise puzzle when you start playing Word Spark. Beware: Using hints too frequently may cause you to lose your edge, with the result that you have to use more hints. I found that I resorted to hints more often when I started earning an extra hint a day.
__________
* Proof:

The solution to the 600th puzzle is:

ENVELOPE
LOSS
COCONUT
SHOCK
SPIDER
ORANGE
SCREEN
HARVEST

This isn’t a spoiler. If you’re sharp enough and tenacious enough to reach the 600th puzzle, you will be able to figure this out on your own.

The Renaming Mania Hits a New Low

I live in Austin, Texas. That is to say, I am physically present in Austin most of the time, but spiritually distant from it. One of the reasons for my spiritual distance is evident in the recent suggestion by the city’s ethics office to rename Austin because its namesake, Stephen F. Austin, was “conflicted” about slavery. (Abraham Lincoln was un-conflicted in his disdain for blacks, but that somehow isn’t held against him.)

“Austin” is just a name, like “dung” and “rattlesnake”. The full name of its namesake rarely passes through the mind of an Austiner. (“Austinite” is preferred, but it seems pretentious to me, like “Manhattanite”. “Sodomite” has a certain ring, however.) Still less frequently will an Austiner give a thought to S.F. Austin’s “conflicted” views about slavery. Only in the fevered imagination of a left-wing Austiner (which is most of them), will the views of a man who died three years before Austin acquired its name be taken as a besmirchment of the upstanding city’s pure, virtue-signaling character. (It is hard to find a city away from the Left Coast whose denizens — that’s the word — are more puffed about their city and its mythical virtues. See this post and the list at the bottom of it.)

Anyway, back to the renaming mania.

With all of the disappeared statutes, street names, names of buildings and institutions — things formerly known as Davis, Jefferson, Jackson (Andy and Stonewall), Lee, etc. etc., etc. — why have Washington and Lincoln survived? Washington was a slave-owner; Lincoln, as I have intimated, held blacks in low esteem despite his (belated) anti-slavery views.

Mine is not to reason why, or why not. Mine is to suggest that all of this unpleasantness might be avoided if all persons, places, and things were assigned unique, randomly generated alphanumeric codes.

Or perhaps new unpleasantness would simply erupt because of objections if an alphanumeric code includes certain number sequences (666, for example) or letter sequences like RWR, GWB, or DJT.

You can please some of the people none of the time (i.e., leftists). They are just born to bitch.

Perfect vs. Good

One of the many things — perhaps the essential thing — that separates conservatives and leftists (“liberals“) is their outlook on life. (You can also call it temperament or disposition.)

Leftists seem to be addicted to bad news. Injustice and disaster are everywhere. Why? Because they see life through the lens of what should be, in an unattainable, perfect world. In their zeal to right “wrongs” — most of which are just Nature and benign human nature in action — they create bigger problems: sluggish economic growth, racial resentment, loss of property rights, suppression of speech, etc. etc. etc.

The leftist mentality exemplifies the adage that “perfect is the enemy of good“. The conservative instinctively knows this. He achieves the good by starting with what exists and improving it in ways that do not defy Nature or human nature. (The latter includes some predilections that are scorned by — and shared by — leftists; for example, ambition, acquisitiveness, and “tribalism”.)

It is the sad fate of conservatives to be cast as “mean” and “selfish” for resisting the left’s nostrums, even despite their demonstrable damage to social comity and economic well-being.

The Spygate Story

EDITED ON 08/05/18 AND 08/13/18, BUT NOT SUBSTANTIVELY — THE HYPOTHESIS REMAINS AS IT WAS ON FIRST PUBLICATION. I CONTINUE TO UPDATE THE READING LIST AT THE END OF THIS POST.

Here is my hypothesis, which Mr. Mueller will have to disprove to my satisfaction.

Neither Donald Trump nor anyone acting on his behalf colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The original story about collusion, the Steele Dossier, was cooked up by the White House and the Clinton campaign. The story was then used to launch a three-pronged attack on Trump and the Trump campaign. The first prong was to infiltrate and spy on the campaign, seeking (a) to compromise campaign officials and (b) learn what “dirt” the campaign had on Clinton. The second prong was to boost Clinton’s candidacy by casting Trump as a dupe of Putin. The third prong was to discredit Trump, should he somehow win the election, in furtherance of the already-planned resistance to a Trump administration.

The  investigation led by Robert Mueller is a continuation and expansion of FBI investigations that had been aimed at “proving” a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller’s investigation was expanded to include the possibility that Trump obstructed justice by attempting to interfere with the FBI investigations. All of this investigatory activity was and is intended to provide ammunition for Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. That would leave a Republican in the White House, but — as with the forced resignation of Nixon — it would weaken the GOP, cause a “Blue wave” election in 2018, and result in the election of a Democrat president in 2020.

(Aside: The effort to brand Trump as a dupe of Russia is ironic, given the anti-anti-communist history of the Democrat party, Barack Obama’s fecklessness in his dealings with Russia, and his stated willingness to advance Russia’s interests while abandoning traditional European allies. Then there was FDR, who was surrounded and guided by Soviet agents.)

Why was it important to defeat Trump if possible, and to discredit or remove him if — by some quirk of fate — he won the election?

  • First, Obama wanted to protect his “legacy”, which included the fraudulent trifecta of Obamacare, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Paris climate accord. The massive increase in the number of federal regulations under Obama was also at risk, along with his tax increase, embrace of Islam, and encouragement of illegal immigration (and millions of potential Democrat voters).
  • Second, members of the Obama administration, including Obama himself, were anxious to thwart efforts by the Trump campaign to obtain derogatory information about Hillary Clinton. Such information included, but was not limited to, incriminating e-mails that Russians had retrieved from the illegal private server set up for Clinton’s use. That Obama knew about the private server implicated him in the illegality.

In sum, helping Hillary win — with the aid of the CIA, Justice Department, and FBI — was supposed to protect Obama and his “legacy”. One way of doing that was to ensure a victory by Hillary. (The Obama-directed whitewash of her illegal e-mail operation was meant to defuse that issue.) The other way of protecting Obama’s “legacy” was to cripple Trump’s presidency, should he somehow manage to win, and thus hinder Trump’s effectiveness. The media could be counted out to fan the flames of resistance, as they have done with great vigor.

The entire Spygate operation is reminiscent of Obama’s role in the IRS’s persecution of conservative non-profit groups. Obama spoke out against “hate groups” and Lois Lerner et al. got the message. Lerner’s loyalty to Obama was rewarded with a whitewash by Obama’s. Department of Justice and FBI.

In the case of Spygate, Obama expressed his “concern” about Russia’s attempt to influence the election. Obama’s “concern” was eagerly seized upon by hyper-partisan members of his administration, including (but not limited to):

Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s confidante and chief strategist

CIA Director John (the Red) Brennan (probably Obama’s action officer for the operation)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper

National Security Adviser Susan Rice

Attorney General Loretta Lynch

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who became Acting Attorney General in the first weeks of the Trump administration, and who was fired for refusing to defend Trump’s “travel ban” (which the Supreme Court ultimately upheld)

Deputy Associate Attorney General Bruce Ohr, a subordinate of Sally Yates and Christopher Steele’s contact in the Department of Justice

Nelli Ohr, wife of Bruce Ohr, who was hired by Fusion GPS to do opposition research for the Clinton campaign

Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe

FBI General Counsel James Baker, in charge of FISA requests and leaker of the Steele Dossier

Peter Strzok, chief of the FBI’s counterintelligence section;

Lisa Page, the FBI attorney (and Strzok’s paramour), who (with Strzok) was assigned to the Mueller investigation.

(What about FBI Director James Comey? He was an outsider, a nominal Republican in a Democrat administration, and possibly a willing dupe [see the piece by VDH dated August 7, 2018]. Remember when he clashed with Obama about the Ferguson effect? Comey wasn’t part of the conspiracy, and had to be reeled in when he jeopardized Hillary’s prospective victory by announcing that the e-mail investigation was still ongoing; it was miraculously wrapped up a week later. Having since been fired by Trump, he is now an outspoken fan of efforts to unseat Trump, and has urged the election of a Democrat-controlled Congress.)


Related reading, in chronological order:

Wikipedia, “Timeline of Russian Interference in the 2016 United States Elections” (somewhat useful for the chronology, but otherwise biased to the left)

Paul Roderick Gregory, “The Timeline of IRS Targeting of Conservative Groups“, Forbes, June 25, 2013

Jay Sukelow, “Obama’s Fingerprints All Over IRS Tea Party Scandal“, FoxNews Opinion, October 20, 2013

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Obama’s Growing Conflict of Interest in the Clinton E-mail Scandal“, National Review, February 3, 2016

Miles Terry, “President Obama’s IRS Scandal: Seven Years & Counting“, ACLJ, August 2016

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Obama’s Conflict Tanked the Clinton E-mail Investigation — As Predicted“, National Review, September 26, 2016

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Was the Steele Dossier the FBI’s ‘Insurance Policy’?“, National Review, December 23, 2017

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Clinton-Obama E-mails: The Key to Understanding Why Hillary Wasn’t Indicted“, National Review, January 23, 2018

George Parry, “Did Fusion GPS’s Anti-Trump Researcher Avoid Surveillance With A Ham Radio?“, The Federalist, March 2, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “In Politicized Justice Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures“, National Review, May 19, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “The Real Origination Story of the Trump-Russia Investigation“, National Review, May 22, 2018

Sharyl Atkisson, “8 Signs Pointing to a Counterintelligence Operation Deployed Against Trump’s Campaign“, The Hill, May 23, 2018

Julie Kelly, “The Open Secret of the FBI’s Investigation of Trump’s Campaign“, American Greatness, May 25, 2018

Roger Kimball, “For Your Eyes Only: A Short History of Democrat-Spy Collusion“, Spectator USA, May 25, 2018

Daniel John Sobieski, “Jarrett and Obama Are Behind Spygate“, American Thinker, May 26, 2018

Francis Menton, “‘Russia’: Bona Fide Basis for Investigation or Preposterous Cover Story?“, Manhattan Contrarian, May 27, 2018

Michael Barone, “Obama’s Spying Scandal Is Starting to Look a Lot Like Watergate“, New York Post, May 27, 2018

C. Michael Shaw, “Spygate Is a Bigger Scandal Than Watergate“, The New American, May 28, 2018

David Harsanyi, “Obama Says ‘I Didn’t Have Scandals.’ So What Are All These?“, The Federalist, May 29, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “The Obama Administration’s Hypocritical Pretext for Spying on the Trump Campaign“, National Review, May 29, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Yes, the FBI Was Investigating the Trump Campaign When It Spied“, National Review, May 30, 2018

Scott Johnson, “The Curious Case of Mr. Downer“, PowerLine, June 1, 2018

C. Michael Shaw, “FBI’s Violation of Rules in Spying on Trump Campaign Further Exposes Deep State“, The New American, June 1, 2018

Jason Veley, “Confirmed: Barack Obama Was Running the Entire Spygate Operation That Violated Federal Law to Spy on Trump Campaign Officials“, Natural News, June 1,  2018

MJA, “Peter Strzok Asks Lisa Page: ‘You Get All Your OCONUS Lures Approved?’“, iOTWReport.com, June 5, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Clinton E-mails: What the IG Report Refuses to Admit“, National Review, June 19, 2018

George Neumayr, “Mueller Has Strzok Out“, The American Spectator, June 20, 2018

Alex Swoyer, “Sen. Lindsey Graham Quizzes Inspector General over Peter Strzok’s ‘Insurance Policy’ Text“, The Washington Times, June 21, 2018

George Neumayr, “Hillary’s Fiends in High Places“, The American Spectator, June 22, 2018

Lee Smith, “Seven Mysterious Preludes to the FBI’s Trump-Russia Probe“, RealClearInvestigations, June 26, 2018

John Solomon, “Memos Detail FBI’s ‘Hurry the F Up Pressure’ to Probe Trump Campaign“, The Hill, July 6, 2018

Scott Johnson, “The Brennan Factor Revisited“, PowerLine, July 20, 2018

John Hinderaker, “First Thoughts on the Carter Page FISA Application“, PowerLine, July 21, 2018

John Hinderaker, “The Associated Press Lies about the FISA Application“, PowerLine, July 22, 2018

Michael Ledeen, “Why Are the Democrats and the Spooks Suddenly So Ferociously Anti-Putin?PJ Media, July 22, 2018

Thomas Lifson, “Ten Problems with the Release of the Heavily Redacted FISA Warrants on Carter Page“, American Thinker, July 22, 2018

Hans A. von Spakovsky, “The Clinton State Department Major Security Breach That Everyone Is Ignoring“, The Heritage Foundation, July 22, 2018

Steve Byas, “Does Strzok Have a Perjury Problem?“, The New American, July 23, 2018

Daniel J. Flynn, “Did the FBI Lie to the FISA Court?“, The American Spectator, July 23, 2018

Victor Davis Hanson, “Just How Far Will the Left Go?“, American Greatness, July 23, 2018

Scott Johnson, “Devin Nunes Vindicated“, PowerLine, July 23, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “FISA Applications Confirm: The FBI Relied on the Unverified Steele Dossier“, National Review, July 23, 2018

Ed Morrissey, “Reuters: Butina Met with Two ‘Senior’ Government Officials — in 2015“, Hot Air, July 23, 2015

Jason Beale, “James Comey’s Own Words Suggest FBI, DOJ Hid Dossier Funding From The FISA Judge“, The Federalist, July 24, 2018

Victor Davis Hanson, “Russianism“, National Review, July 24, 2018

Dennis Prager, “The Greatest Hysteria in American History“, RealClearPolitics, July 24, 2018

Ned Ryun, “None Dared Call It Treason … When It Was a Democrat“, American Greatness, July 24, 2018

Katarina Trinko, “What the Carter Page FISA Warrant Reveals about the Trump-Russia Investigation“, The Daily Signal, July 24, 2018

Jason Beale, “It’s Suspicious That The FBI And DOJ Didn’t Check Into Christopher Steele’s Leaks To The Press“, The Federalist, July 25, 2018

Julie Kelly, “Vindication for Carter Page“, American Greatness, July 25, 2018

Mollie Hemingway, “Media Gaslighting Can’t Hide Fact Trump Campaign Was Spied On“, The Federalist, July 26, 2018

Paul Mirengoff, “What the FBI Didn’t Tell the FISA Court“, PowerLine, July 27, 2018

Scott Johnson, “The Story So Far“, PowerLine, July 29, 2018

Willis Krumholz, “The Facts Behind The Trump Tower Meeting Are Incriminating, But Not For Trump“, The Federalist, July 30, 2018

Dan Perkins, “The FBI, Hillary’s Computers, and the Russians“, American Thinker, July 30, 2018

Ned Ryun, “Americans Need Clear Answers on FISA Abuse“, American Greatness, July 30, 2018

Scott Johnson, “Contra the Dross of Doss (3)“, PowerLine, July 31, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “If You Inspect The FISA Applications Closely, More Mysteries Arise About Joseph Mifsud“, The Federalist, August 2, 2018

George Neumayr, “Never Forget the Brennan-Brit Plot to Nail Trump“, The American Spectator, August 3, 2018

Byron York, “!2 Times Christopher Steel Fed Trump-Russia Allegations to the FBI after the Election“, Washington Examiner, August 3, 2018

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Police Were Not Policed“, National Review, August 7, 2018

Byron York, “Emails Show 2016 Links among Steele, Ohr, Simpson — with Russian Oligarch in Background“, Washington Examiner, August 8, 2016

John Solomon, “The Handwritten Notes Exposing What Fusion GPS Told DOJ About Trump“, The Hill, August 9, 2018

George Neumayr, “Strzok Out, Ohr In“, The American Spectator, August 13, 2018

Lee Smith, “2016 Trump Tower Meeting Looks Increasingly Like a Setup by Russian and Clinton Operatives“, RealClearInvestigations, August 13, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “New Info Indicates Clinton-Funded Oppo Research Launched FBI’s Trump Investigation“, The Federalist, August 14, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “Notes Suggest FBI Employees Plotted To Keep Using Steele After He Broke FBI Rules“, The Federalist, August 14, 2018

Chuck Ross, “Fusion GPS Founder Shared ‘False Story’ About GOP Lawyer In Meeting With DOJ’s Bruce Ohr“, The Daily Caller, August 14, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “How Bruce Ohr Could Implicate High-Ranking Obama Officials In Spygate“, The Federalist, August 15, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “New Details Show Firing Strzok Didn’t Remove All The Compromised FBI Agents Involved In Russiagate“, The Federalist, August 15, 2018

Adam Mill, “Bruce Ohr May Have Broken More Than The Law By Pushing His Wife’s Opposition Research To The FBI“, The Federalist, August 16, 2018

Steve Baldwin, “Did Trump Really Save America from Socialism?“, The American Spectator, August 16, 2018

Kimberley Strassel, “What Was Bruce Ohr Doing?“, The Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2018

Catherine Herridge, “DOJ’s Bruce Ohr Wrote Christopher Steele Was ‘very concerned about Comey’s firing — afraid they will be exposed’“, FoxNews, August 17, 2018

George Neumayr, “John Brennan, a Security Risk from the Start“, The American Spectator, August 17, 2018

The Pretence of Knowledge

Updated, with links to a related article and additional posts, and republished.

Friedrich Hayek, in his Nobel Prize lecture of 1974, “The Pretence of Knowledge,” observes that

the great and rapid advance of the physical sciences took place in fields where it proved that explanation and prediction could be based on laws which accounted for the observed phenomena as functions of comparatively few variables.

Hayek’s particular target was the scientism then (and still) rampant in economics. In particular, there was (and is) a quasi-religious belief in the power of central planning (e.g., regulation, “stimulus” spending, control of the money supply) to attain outcomes superior to those that free markets would yield.

But, as Hayek says in closing,

There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success” … to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

I was reminded of Hayek’s observations by John Cochrane’s post, “Groundhog Day” (The Grumpy Economist, May 11, 2014), wherein Cochrane presents this graph:

The fed's forecasting models are broken

Cochrane adds:

Every serious forecast looked like this — Fed, yes, but also CBO, private forecasters, and the term structure of forward rates. Everyone has expected bounce-back growth and rise in interest rates to start next year, for the last 6 years. And every year it has not happened. Welcome to the slump. Every year, Sonny and Cher wake us up, and it’s still cold, and it’s still grey. But we keep expecting spring tomorrow.

Whether the corrosive effects of government microeconomic and regulatory policy, or a failure of those (unprintable adjectives) Republicans to just vote enough wasted-spending Keynesian stimulus, or a failure of the Fed to buy another $3 trillion of bonds, the question of the day really should be why we have this slump — which, let us be honest, no serious forecaster expected.

(I add the “serious forecaster” qualification on purpose. I don’t want to hear randomly mined quotes from bloviating prognosticators who got lucky once, and don’t offer a methodology or a track record for their forecasts.)

The Fed’s forecasting models are nothing more than sophisticated charlatanism — a term that Hayek applied to pseudo-scientific endeavors like macroeconomic modeling. Nor is charlatanism confined to economics and the other social “sciences.” It’s rampant in climate “science,” as Roy Spencer has shown. Consider, for example, this graph from Spencers’s post, “95% of Climate Models Agree: The Observations Must Be Wrong” (Roy Spencer, Ph.D., February 7, 2014):

95% of climate models agree_the observations must be wrong

Spencer has a lot more to say about the pseudo-scientific aspects of climate “science.” This example is from “Top Ten Good Skeptical Arguments” (May 1, 2014):

1) No Recent Warming. If global warming science is so “settled”, why did global warming stop over 15 years ago (in most temperature datasets), contrary to all “consensus” predictions?

2) Natural or Manmade? If we don’t know how much of the warming in the longer term (say last 50 years) is natural, then how can we know how much is manmade?

3) IPCC Politics and Beliefs. Why does it take a political body (the IPCC) to tell us what scientists “believe”? And when did scientists’ “beliefs” translate into proof? And when was scientific truth determined by a vote…especially when those allowed to vote are from the Global Warming Believers Party?

4) Climate Models Can’t Even Hindcast How did climate modelers, who already knew the answer, still fail to explain the lack of a significant temperature rise over the last 30+ years? In other words, how to you botch a hindcast?

5) …But We Should Believe Model Forecasts? Why should we believe model predictions of the future, when they can’t even explain the past?

6) Modelers Lie About Their “Physics”. Why do modelers insist their models are based upon established physics, but then hide the fact that the strong warming their models produce is actually based upon very uncertain “fudge factor” tuning?

7) Is Warming Even Bad? Who decided that a small amount of warming is necessarily a bad thing?

8) Is CO2 Bad? How did carbon dioxide, necessary for life on Earth and only 4 parts in 10,000 of our atmosphere, get rebranded as some sort of dangerous gas?

9) Do We Look that Stupid? How do scientists expect to be taken seriously when their “theory” is supported by both floods AND droughts? Too much snow AND too little snow?

10) Selective Pseudo-Explanations. How can scientists claim that the Medieval Warm Period (which lasted hundreds of years), was just a regional fluke…yet claim the single-summer (2003) heat wave in Europe had global significance?

11) (Spinal Tap bonus) Just How Warm is it, Really? Why is it that every subsequent modification/adjustment to the global thermometer data leads to even more warming? What are the chances of that? Either a warmer-still present, or cooling down the past, both of which produce a greater warming trend over time. And none of the adjustments take out a gradual urban heat island (UHI) warming around thermometer sites, which likely exists at virtually all of them — because no one yet knows a good way to do that.

It is no coincidence that leftists believe in the efficacy of central planning and cling tenaciously to a belief in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. The latter justifies the former, of course. And both beliefs exemplify the left’s penchant for magical thinking, about which I’ve written several times (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here).

Magical thinking is the pretense of knowledge in the nth degree. It conjures “knowledge” from ignorance and hope. And no one better exemplifies magical thinking than our hopey-changey president.


Related reading: Walter E. Williams, “The Experts Have Been Wrong About a Lot of Things, Here’s a Sample“, The Daily Signal, July 25, 2018

Related posts:
Modeling Is Not Science
The Left and Its Delusions
Economics: A Survey
AGW: The Death Knell
The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
“The Science Is Settled”
Is Science Self-Correcting?
“Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings”
“Science” vs. Science: The Case of Evolution, Race, and Intelligence
Modeling Revisited
Bayesian Irrationality
The Fragility of Knowledge
Global-Warming Hype
Pattern-Seeking
Babe Ruth and the Hot-Hand Hypothesis
Hurricane Hysteria
Deduction, Induction, and Knowledge
Much Ado about the Unknown and Unknowable
A (Long) Footnote about Science
The Balderdash Chronicles
The Probability That Something Will Happen
Analytical and Scientific Arrogance

MAD, Again

Mutually assured destruction (MAD)

is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two or more opposing sides would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender…. It is based on the theory of deterrence, which holds that the threat of using strong weapons against the enemy prevents the enemy’s use of those same weapons. The strategy is a form of Nash equilibrium in which, once armed, neither side has any incentive to initiate a conflict or to disarm.

MAD has for 70 years kept the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia from shooting directly at each other. There have been confrontations and skirmishes involving proxy states on the periphery of the two countries’ spheres of influence. But no shooting war between them has occurred or seems likely to occur — as long as MAD is in place.

As I argue in “It’s a MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD World“, MAD remained intact during the Cold War and remains intact today despite all manner of provocative peacetime statements, doctrines, system developments, and military exercises. One such provocation is the possibility of a campaign by U.S. nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) against Russian ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs). These are harbored in sea bastions near Russia’s northern and eastern coasts, and are protected by various defensive systems and forces.

The possibility an anti-SSBN campaign has long been a staple of peacetime writings about U.S. naval strategy. And over the years there have been exercises to demonstrate the ability of SSNs to operate in extremely cold water of the kind in which Russia’s SSBNs are harbored.

Mere talk, in peacetime, of an anti-SSBN campaign is a source of worry to analysts of the hand-wringing kind who believed that Reagan’s defense buildup would bring on World War III. What it did, of course, was bring about the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

In any event, it would be taken as given by Russian leaders that the U.S. could wage an anti-SSBN campaign, even if the U.S. didn’t advertise its ability or intention to do so. If the possibility of an anti-SSBN campaign somehow threatened MAD, it would be logical for the U.S. to deprive itself of the ability to conduct it. But the continued ownership by the U.S. of a fleet of SSNs doesn’t seem to have sparked strategic instability.

By the same token, it would be logical to reduce NATO’s war-fighting capability so that a European war would end in a draw, with no need for Russia to escalate to tactical-nuclear or strategic-nuclear warfare to prevent defeat in a conventional war.

But MAD negates the kind of logic adduced above. MAD renders it most unlikely that the U.S. would undertake an anti-SSBN campaign unless the nuclear-warfare genie had already slipped out of the bottle through some horrendous mistake or work of sabotage.

Similarly, it is most unlikely that Russia would go nuclear in the event of an impending defeat in Europe – as long as the Russian homeland weren’t threatened – given the suicidal consequences of doing so.

What would it take to undermine MAD? Something like this: The U.S. launches an almost-instantaneous coordinated attack on Russia’s strategic-nuclear forces, using only ICBMs or ICBMs and strategic bombers, while holding SSBNs in reserve. The coordinated attack includes the detonation of nuclear devices above and in the bastions, as well as strikes on Russia’s ICBM and strategic-bomber bases. In the most optimistic (or pessimistic) view of this Dr. Strangelove scenario, Russia is deprived of its strategic-nuclear arsenal without having had time to launch more than a fraction of its missiles and bombers. That fraction is destroyed in flight by a combination of anti-missile and anti-aircraft defenses. MAD would have failed, and (in this far-fetched example) the U.S. would have prevailed.

The example is improbable, to say the least. But it is the improbability (and unthinkable cost) of “victory” by one side or the other that keeps the nuclear peace between the U.S. and Russia.

By contrast with an almost-instantaneous coordinated attack, an anti-SSBN campaign conducted by U.S. SSNs would unfold relatively slowly. It might well run its course having left several Russian SSBNs unscathed and ready to fire SLBMs. Peacetime talk of an anti-SSBN campaign, if it is anything, is just another form of saber-rattling – the kind of thing that U.S. and Soviet/Russian leaders have been doing for 70 years.

An anti-SSBN campaign might be destabilizing if it were actually conducted – as opposed to being talked about, simulated, or merely understood (by the Russians) as a possibility. But the actual conduct of an anti-SSBN campaign, should it come to pass, is unlikely to be undertaken, for the reasons given above. And if it were undertaken, it wouldn’t be the thing that triggered a strategic-nuclear war. It would more likely be an episode in such a war.

U.S. discussions and demonstrations of an anti-SSBN capability amount to nothing more than saber-rattling, which is a useful reminder (if any were needed) of the power and reach of U.S. forces. It may well be counter-productive saber-rattling, in that it represents the waste of a lot of time, effort, and money. That is to say, it incurs enormous opportunity costs. But it strikes me as no more destabilizing than the possibility that Russian cruise-missile subs are patrolling the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.

Misplaced Blame

George D. Montgomery laments “What the 2016 Election Has Done to My Family” (American Thinker, July 17, 2018):

… Trump Derangement Syndrome and the resulting “Resistance” are bad enough, with hundreds of administration posts unfilled and Democrats in Congress, the Department of Justice, and other agencies providing true obstruction of the president’s agenda.

What’s worse is that my own family has been torn apart.  I’m sure this has played out in many other families across the country.

The first indication of how bad it could get was when my sister declined to attend the Thanksgiving dinner I had prepared following the election in November 2016….

Alas, she held me personally responsible for getting Trump elected….

We have since managed to keep a cordial and mostly respectful relationship….

The situation with my other sister is worse.  Here you have an intelligent, educated  (master’s degree), and otherwise rational individual who has been completely unhinged by Trump’s election.  She too blames me personally and has sent me harassing and disparaging emails and texts in spite of my repeated requests that she stop.

Apparently, she is unable to logically accept the reality that Trump will be president for another two years (at least).  And like many progressives, she feels compelled to share the misery she must be experiencing in her own life, so she is directing her outrage at me, impugning my character, intellect, and morals.

The final straw came when her latest text “congratulated” me since “we now kidnap children and put them in cages,” among other accusations.  I had already stopped responding to her provocations; now I have blocked any future calls, texts, and emails.

Sounds like a personal problem to me. The election didn’t cause his sisters to lose their minds. Persistent rage signifies an underlying psychological disorder.

Not everyone is lucky enough to be born with a sunny, conservative disposition.


Related reading:
Jeffrey Lord, “Unmasked: America’s Real Fascists“, The American Spectator, June 26, 2018
Gabrielle Okun, “Study: Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals“, The Daily Signal, July 13, 2018

Related post and page:
The Left and Violence
Leftism

Unorthodox Economics: 5. Economic Progress, Microeconomics, and Microeconomics

This is the fifth entry in what I hope will become a book-length series of posts. That result, if it comes to pass, will amount to an unorthodox economics textbook. Here are the chapters that have been posted to date:

1. What Is Economics?
2. Pitfalls
3. What Is Scientific about Economics?
4. A Parable of Political Economy
5. Economic Progress, Microeconomics, and Macroeconomics

What is economic progress? It is usually measured as an increase in gross domestic product (GDP) or, better yet, per-capita GDP. But such measures say nothing about the economic status or progress of particular economic units. In fact, the economic progress of some economic units will be accompanied by the economic regress of others. GDP captures the net monetary effect of those gains and losses. And if the net effect is positive, the nation under study is said to have made economic progress. But that puts the cart of aggregate measures (macroeconomics) before the horse of underlying activity (microeconomics). This chapter puts them in the right order.

The economy of the United States (or any large political entity) consists of myriad interacting units. Some of them contribute to the output of the economy; some of them constrain the output; some of them are a drain upon it. The contributing units are the persons, families, private charities, and business (small and large) that produce economic goods (products and services) which are voluntarily exchanged for the mutual benefit of the trading parties. (Voluntary, private charities are among the contributing units because they help willing donors attain the satisfaction of improving the lot of persons in need. Voluntary charity — there is no other kind — is not a drain on the economy.)

Government is also a contributing unit to the extent that it provides a safe zone for the production and exchange of economic goods, to eliminate or reduce the debilitating effects of force and fraud. The safe zone is international as well as domestic when the principals of the U.S. government have the wherewithal and will to protect Americans’ overseas interests. The provision of a safe zone is usually referred to as the “rule of law”.

Most other governmental functions constrain or drain the economy. Those functions consist mainly of regulatory hindrances and forced “charity,” which includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal, State, and local “welfare” programs. In “The Rahn Curve Revisited,” I estimate the significant negative effects of regulation and government spending on GDP.

There is a view that government contributes directly to economic progress by providing “infrastructure” (e.g., the interstate highway system) and underwriting innovations that are adopted and adapted by the private sector (e.g., the internet). Any such positive effects are swamped by the negative ones (see “The Rahn Curve Revisited”). Diverting resources to government uses in return for the occasional “social benefit” is like spending one’s paycheck on lottery tickets in return for the occasional $5 winner. Moreover, when government commandeers resources for any purpose — including the occasional ones that happen to have positive payoffs — the private sector is deprived of opportunities to put those resources to work in ways that more directly advance the welfare of consumers.

I therefore dismiss the thrill of occasionally discovering  a gold nugget in the swamp of government, and turn to the factors that underlie steady, long-term economic progress: hard work; smart work; saving and investment; invention and innovation; implementation (entrepreneurship); specialization and trade; population growth; and the rule of law. These are defined in the first section of “Economic Growth Since World War II“.

It follows that economic progress — or a lack thereof — is a microeconomic phenomenon, even though it is usually treated as a macroeconomic one. One cannot write authoritatively about macroeconomic activity without understanding the microeconomic activity that underlies it. Moreover, macroeconomic aggregates (e.g., aggregate demand, aggregate supply, GDP) are essentially meaningless because they represent disparate phenomena.

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

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

  • A produces 10 units of clothing a week, 5 of which he trades to B for 5 units of food a week, 4 of which he uses each week, and 1 of which he saves for an emergency.
  • B, like A, uses 4 units of clothing each week and saves 1 for an emergency.
  • B produces 10 units of food a week, 5 of which she trades to A for 5 units of clothing a week, 4 of which she consumes each week, and 1 of which she saves for an emergency.
  • A, like B, 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 A and B’s economic lives — though not the essential facts of their lives, which include (but are far from limited to) the degree of satisfaction that A and B 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 is 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 is that A and B will derive different kinds and amounts of enjoyment from clothing and food, and those different kinds and amounts of enjoyment cannot be summed in any meaningful way. If meaningful aggregation is impossible for A and B, how can it be possible for an economy that consists of millions of economic actors and an untold, constantly changing, often improving variety of goods and services?

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. It is not a measure of “social welfare” because there is no such thing. (See “Social Welfare” in Chapter 2). And yet it is a concept that infests microeconomics and macroeconomics.

Aggregate demand and aggregate supply are nothing but aggregations of the dollar values of myriad transactions. Aggregate demand is an after-the-fact representation of the purchases made by economic units; aggregate supply is an after-the-fact representation of the sales made by economic units. There is no “aggregate demander” or “aggregate supplier”.

Interest rates, though they tend to move in concert, are set at the microeconomic level by lenders and borrowers. Interest rates tend to move in concert because of factors that influence them: inflation, economic momentum, and the supply of money.

Inflation is a microeconomic phenomenon which is arbitrarily estimated by sampling the prices of defined “baskets” of products and services. The arithmetic involved doesn’t magically transform inflation into a macroeconomic phenomenon.

Economic momentum, as measured by changes in GDP, is likewise a microeconomic phenomenon disguised as a macroeconomic, as previously discussed.

The supply of money, over which the Federal Reserve has some control, is the closest thing there is to a truly macroeconomic phenomenon. But the Fed’s control of the supply of money, and therefor of interest rates, is tenuous.

Macroeconomic models of the economy are essentially worthless because they can’t replicate the billions of transactions that are the flesh and blood of the real economy. (See “Economic Modeling: A Case of Unrewarded Complexity“.) One of the simplest macroeconomic models — the Keynesian multiplier — is nothing more than a mathematical trick. (See “The Keynesian Multiplier: Fiction vs. Fact”.)

Macroeconomics is a sophisticated form of mental masturbation — nothing more, nothing less.

Econ 101

Whether you call it economics, econ, or eco — and whether the course number is 1, 10, 101, or something similar — one of the first things you learn (or did learn before PC-ness set in) was that unionization and the minimum wage reduce employment. Why? Because the objective of unionization and the minimum wage is to dictate a wage that is higher than workers would otherwise attain. The result, of course, is that employers will hire fewer workers than they would otherwise hire.

Ed Rensi, former CEO of McDonald’s USA, offers this testimony:

As of 2020, self-service ordering kiosks will be implemented at all U.S. McDonald’s locations. Other chains, including fast-casual brands like Panera and casual-dining brands like Chili’s, have already embraced this trend. Some restaurant concepts have even automated the food-preparation process; earlier this year, NBC News profiled “Flippy,” a robot hamburger flipper. Other upcoming concepts include virtual restaurants which eliminate the need for full-service restaurants (and staff) by only offering home delivery….

My concern about this is personal. Without my opportunity to start as a grill man, I would have never ended up running one of largest fast food chains in the world. I started working at McDonald’s making the minimum wage of 85 cents an hour. I worked hard and earned a promotion to restaurant manager within just one year, then went on to hold almost every position available throughout the company, eventually rising to CEO of McDonalds USA.

The kind of job that allowed me and many others to rise through the ranks is now being threatened by a rising minimum wage that’s pricing jobs out of the market. Without sacrificing food quality or taste, or abandoning the much-loved value menu, franchise owners must keep labor costs under control. One way to combat rising labor costs is by reducing the amount of employees needed.

Low-skill workers have to start somewhere. Unionization and the minimum wage kill entry-level jobs. This should be taught in 9th grade social studies (or whatever it’s called now), but it won’t be because the unionized lefties who control public schools wouldn’t allow it. They are greedy, hypocritical idiots who proclaim compassion for the poor while ensuring that they stay poor.

(H/T Dyspepsia Generation)


Related posts:
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Does the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?
The Public-School Swindle (a parallel treatment of the effects of unionization on teachers’ wages and employment)
Why I Am Anti-Union

Suicide or Destiny?

The list of related reading at the bottom of this post is updated occasionally.

The suicide to which I refer is the so-called suicide of the West, about which Jonah Goldberg has written an eponymous book. This is from Goldberg’s essay based on the book, “Suicide of the West” (National Review, April 12, 2018):

Almost everything about modernity, progress, and enlightened society emerged in the last 300 years. If the last 200,000 years of humanity were one year, nearly all material progress came in the last 14 hours. In the West, and everywhere that followed our example, incomes rose, lifespans grew, toil lessened, energy and water became ubiquitous commodities.

Virtually every objective, empirical measure that capitalism’s critics value improved with the emergence of Western liberal-democratic capitalism. Did it happen overnight? Sadly, no. But in evolutionary terms, it did….

Of course, material prosperity isn’t everything. But the progress didn’t stop there. Rapes, deaths by violence and disease, slavery, illiteracy, torture have all declined massively, while rights for women, minorities, the disabled have expanded dramatically. And, with the exception of slavery, which is a more recent human innovation made possible by the agricultural revolution, material misery was natural and normal for us. Then suddenly, almost overnight, that changed.

What happened? We stumbled into a different world. Following sociologist Robin Fox and historian Ernest Gellner, I call this different world “the Miracle.”…

Why stress that the Miracle was both unnatural and accidental? Because Western civilization generally, and America particularly, is on a suicidal path. The threats are many, but beneath them all is one constant, eternal seducer: human nature. Modernity often assumes that we’ve conquered human nature as much as we’ve conquered the natural world. The truth is we’ve done neither….

The Founders closely studied human nature, recognizing the dangers of despots and despotic majorities alike. They knew that humans would coalesce around common interests, forming “factions.” They also understood that you can’t repeal human nature. So, unlike their French contemporaries, they didn’t try. Instead, they established our system of separated powers and enumerated rights so that no faction, including a passionate majority, could use the state’s power against other factions.

But the Founders’ vision assumed many preconditions, the two most important of which were the people’s virtue and the role of civil society. “The general government . . . can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people,” George Washington argued.

People learn virtue first and most importantly from family, and then from the myriad institutions family introduces them to: churches, schools, associations, etc. Every generation, Western civilization is invaded by barbarians, Hannah Arendt observed: “We call them children.” Civil society, starting with the family, civilizes barbarians, providing meaning, belonging, and virtue.

But here’s the hitch. When that ecosystem breaks down, people still seek meaning and belonging. And it is breaking down. Its corruption comes from reasons too numerous and complex to detail here, but they include family breakdown, mass immigration, the war on assimilation, and the rise of virtual communities pretending to replace real ones.

First, the market, as Joseph Schumpeter argued, maximizes efficiency with relentless rationality, tending to break down the sinews of tradition and the foundations of civil society that enable and instill virtue. Yet those pre-rational virtues make capitalism possible in the first place.

Second, capitalism also creates a mass class of resentful intellectuals, artists, journalists, and bureaucrats who are professionally, psychologically, and ideologically committed to undermining capitalism’s legitimacy (as noted by Schumpeter and James Burnham, the author of another book titled “Suicide of the West”). This adversarial elite is its own coalition.

Thus, people increasingly look to Washington and national politics for meaning and belonging they can’t find at home. As Mary Eberstadt recently argued, the rise in identity politics coincided with family breakdown, as alienated youth looked to the artificial tribes of racial or sexual solidarity for meaning. Populism, which always wants the national government to solve local problems, is in vogue on left and right precisely because local institutions and civil society generally no longer do their jobs. Indeed, populism is its own tribalism, because “We the People” invariably means “my people.” As Jan-Werner Müller notes in his book What Is Populism?: “Populism is always a form of identity politics.”

A video at the 2012 Democratic National Convention proclaimed that “government is the only thing we all belong to.” For conservatives, this was Orwellian. But for many Americans, it was an invitation to belong. That was the subtext of “The Life of Julia” and President Obama’s call for Americans to emulate SEAL Team Six and strive in unison — towards his goals….

The American Founding’s glory is that those English colonists took their cousins’ tradition, purified it into a political ideology, and extended it farther than the English ever dreamed. And they wrote it down, thank God. The Founding didn’t apply these principles as universally as its rhetoric implied. But that rhetoric was transformative. When the Declaration of Independence was written, some dismissed the beginning as flowery boilerplate; what mattered was the ending: Independence! But the boilerplate became a creed, and America’s story is the story of that creed — those mere words — unfolding to its logical conclusion….

It seems axiomatic to me that whatever words can create, they can destroy. And ingratitude is the destroyer’s form. We teach children that the moral of the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg is the danger of greed. But the real moral of the story is ingratitude. A farmer finds an animal, which promises to make him richer than he ever imagined. But rather than nurture and protect this miracle, he resents it for not doing more. In one version, the farmer demands two golden eggs per day. When the goose politely demurs, he kills it out of a sense of entitlement — the opposite of gratitude.

The Miracle is our goose. And rather than be grateful for it, our schools, our culture, and many of our politicians say we should resent it for not doing more. Conservatism is a form of gratitude, because we conserve only what we are grateful for. Our society is talking itself out of gratitude for the Miracle and teaching our children resentment. Our culture affirms our feelings as the most authentic sources of truth when they are merely the expressions of instincts, and considers the Miracle a code word for white privilege, greed, and oppression.

This is corruption. And it is a choice. Collectively, we are embracing entitlement over gratitude. That is suicidal.

I would put it this way: About 300 years ago there arose in the West the idea of innate equality and inalienable rights. At the same time, and not coincidentally, there arose the notion of economic betterment through free markets. The two concepts — political and economic liberty — are in fact inseparable. One cannot have economic liberty without political liberty; political liberty — the ownership of oneself — implies the ownership of the fruits of one’s own labor and the right to strive for prosperity. This latter striving, as Adam Smith pointed out, works not only for the betterment of the striver but also for the betterment of those who engage in trade with him. The forces of statism are on the march (and have been for a long time). The likely result is the loss of liberty and the vibrancy and prosperity that arises from it.

I want to be clear about liberty. It is not a spiritual state of bliss. It is, as I have written,

a modus vivendi, not the result of a rational political scheme. Though a rational political scheme, such as the one laid out in the Constitution of the United States, could promote liberty.

The key to a libertarian modus vivendi is the evolutionary development and widespread observance of social norms that foster peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Liberty, in sum, is not an easy thing to attain or preserve because it depends on social comity: mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual forbearance. These are hard to inculcate and sustain in the relatively small groupings of civil society (family, church, club, etc.). They are almost impossible to attain or sustain in a large, diverse nation-state. Interests clash and factions clamor and claw for ascendancy over other factions. (It is called tribalism, and even anti-tribalists are tribal in their striving to impose their values on others). The Constitution, as Goldberg implies, has proved unequal to the task of preserving liberty, for reasons to which I will come.

I invoke the Constitution deliberately. This essay is about the United States, not the West in general. (Goldberg gets to the same destination after a while.) Much of the West has already committed “suicide” by replacing old-fashioned (“classical“) liberalism with oppressive statism. The U.S. is far down the same path. The issue at hand, therefore, is whether America’s “suicide” can be avoided.

Perhaps, but only if the demise of liberty is a choice. It may not be a choice, however, as Goldberg unwittingly admits when he writes about human nature.

On that point I turn to John Daniel Davidson, writing in “The West Isn’t Committing Suicide, It’s Dying of Natural Causes” (The Federalist, May 18, 2018):

Perhaps the Miracle, wondrous as it is, needs more than just our gratitude to sustain it. Perhaps the only thing that can sustain it is an older order, one that predates liberal democratic capitalism and gave it its vitality in the first place. Maybe the only way forward is to go back and rediscover the things we left behind at the dawn of the Enlightenment.

Goldberg is not very interested in all of that. He does not ask whether there might be some contradictions at the heart of the liberal order, whether it might contain within it the seeds of its undoing. Instead, Goldberg makes his stand on rather narrow grounds. He posits that the Enlightenment Miracle can be defended in purely secular, utilitarian terms, which he supposes are the only terms skeptics of liberal democratic capitalism will accept.

That forces him to treat the various illiberal ideologies that came out of Enlightenment thought (like communism) as nothing more than a kind of tribalism rather than a natural consequence of the hyper-rational scientism embedded in the liberal order itself. As Richard M. Reinsch II noted last week in an excellent review of Goldberg’s book over at Law and Liberty, “If you are going to set the Enlightenment Miracle as the standard of human excellence, one that we are losing, you must also clearly state the dialectic it introduces of an exaltation of reason, power, and science that can become something rather illiberal.”

That is to say, we mustn’t kid ourselves about the Miracle. We have to be honest, not just about its benefits but also its costs….

What about science and medical progress? What about the eradication of disease? What about technological advances? Isn’t man’s conquest of nature a good thing? Hasn’t the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution and the invention of liberal democratic capitalism done more to alleviate poverty and create wealth than anything in human history? Shouldn’t we preserve this liberal order and pass it on to future generations? Shouldn’t we inculcate in our children a profound sense of gratitude for all this abundance and prosperity?

This is precisely Goldberg’s argument. Yes, he says, man’s conquest of nature is a good thing. It’s the same species of argument raised earlier this year in reaction to Patrick Deneen’s book, “Why Liberalism Failed,” which calls into question the entire philosophical system that gave us the Miracle….

[Deneen] is not chiefly interested in the problems of the modern progressive era or the contemporary political Left. He isn’t alarmed merely by political tribalism and the fraying of the social order. Those things are symptoms, not the cause, of the illness he’s diagnosing. Even the social order at its liberal best—the Miracle itself—is part of the illness.

Deneen’s argument reaches back to the foundations of the liberal order in the sixteenth  and seventeenth centuries—prior to the appearance of the Miracle, in Goldberg’s telling—when a series of thinkers embarked on a fundamentally revisionist project “whose central aim was to disassemble what they concluded were irrational religious and social norms in the pursuit of civil peace that might in turn foster stability and prosperity, and eventually individual liberty of conscience and action.”

The project worked, as Goldberg has chronicled at length, but only up to a point. Today, says Deneen, liberalism is a 500-year-old experiment that has run its course and now “generates endemic pathologies more rapidly and pervasively than it is able to produce Band-Aids and veils to cover them.”

Taking the long view of history, Deneen’s book could be understood as an extension of Lewis’s argument in “The Abolition of Man.” The replacement of moral philosophy and religion with liberalism and applied science has begun, in our lifetimes, to manifest the dangers that Lewis warned about. Deneen, writing more than a half-century after Lewis, declares that the entire liberal project manifestly has failed.

Yes, the Miracle gave us capitalism and democracy, but it also gave us hyper-individualism, scientism, and communism. It gave us liberty and universal suffrage, but it also gave us abortion, euthanasia, and transgenderism. The abolition of man was written into the Enlightenment, in other words, and the suicide of the West that Goldberg warns us about isn’t really a suicide at all, because it isn’t really a choice: we aren’t committing suicide, we’re dying of natural causes.

Goldberg is correct that we have lost our sense of gratitude, that we don’t really feel like things are as good as all that. But a large part of the reason is that the liberal order itself has robbed us of our ability to articulate what constitutes human happiness. We have freedom, we have immense wealth, but we have nothing to tell us what we should do with it, nothing to tell us what is good.

R.R. Reno, in “The Smell of Death” (First Things, May 31, 2018), comes at it this way:

At every level, our elites oppose traditional regulation of behavior based on clear moral norms, preferring a therapeutic and bureaucratic approach. They seek to decriminalize marijuana. They have deconstructed male and female roles for children. They correct anyone who speaks of “sex,” preferring to speak of “gender,” which they insist is “socially constructed.” They have ushered in a view of free speech that makes it impossible to prevent middle school boys from watching pornography on their smart phones. They insist upon a political correctness that rejects moral correctness.

The upshot is American culture circa 2018. Our ideal is a liquid world of self-definition, characterized by plenary acceptance and mutual affirmation. In practice, the children of our elites are fortunate: Their families and schools carefully socialize them into the disciplines of twenty-first-century meritocratic success while preaching openness, inclusion, and diversity. But the rest are not so fortunate. Most Americans gasp for air as they tread water. More and more drown….

Liberalism has always been an elite project of deregulation. In the nineteenth century, it sought to deregulate pre-modern economies and old patterns of social hierarchy. It worked to the advantage of the talented, enterprising, and ambitious, who soon supplanted the hereditary aristocracy.

In the last half-century, liberalism has focused on deregulating personal life. This, too, has been an elite priority. It makes options available to those with the resources to exploit them. But it has created a world in which disordered souls kill themselves with drugs and alcohol—and in which those harboring murderous thoughts feel free to act upon them.

The penultimate word goes to Malcolm Pollack (“The Magic Feather“, Motus Mentis, July 6, 2018):

Our friend Bill Vallicella quoted this, from Michael Anton, on Independence Day:

For the founders, government has one fundamental purpose: to protect person and property from conquest, violence, theft and other dangers foreign and domestic. The secure enjoyment of life, liberty and property enables the “pursuit of happiness.” Government cannot make us happy, but it can give us the safety we need as the condition for happiness. It does so by securing our rights, which nature grants but leaves to us to enforce, through the establishment of just government, limited in its powers and focused on its core responsibility.

Bill approves, and adds:

This is an excellent statement. Good government secures our rights; it does not grant them. Whether they come from nature, or from God, or from nature qua divine creation are further questions that can be left to the philosophers. The main thing is that our rights are not up for democratic grabs, nor are they subject to the whims of any bunch of elitists that manages to insinuate itself into power.

I agree all round. I hope that my recent engagement with Mr. Anton about the ontology of our fundamental rights did not give readers the impression that I doubt for a moment the importance of Americans believing they possess them, or of the essential obligation of government to secure them (or of the people to overthrow a government that won’t).

My concerns are whether the popular basis for this critically important belief is sustainable in an era of radical and corrosive secular doubt (and continuing assault on those rights), and whether the apparently irresistible tendency of democracy to descend into faction, mobs, and tyranny was in fact a “poison pill” baked into the nation at the time of the Founding. I am inclined to think it was, but historical contingency and inevitability are nearly impossible to parse with any certainty.

Arnold Kling (“Get the Story Straight“, Library of Economics and Liberty, July 9, 2018) is more succinct:

Lest we fall back into a state of primitive tribalism, we need to understand the story of the Miracle. We need to understand that it is unnatural, and we should be grateful for the norms and institutions that restrained human nature in order to make the Miracle possible.

All of the writers I have quoted are on to something, about which I have written in “Constitution: Myths and Realities“. I call it the Framers’ fatal error.

The Framers’ held a misplaced faith in the Constitution’s checks and balances (see Madison’s Federalist No. 51 and Hamilton’s Federalist No. 81). The Constitution’s wonderful design — containment of a strictly limited central government through horizontal and vertical separation of powers — worked rather well until the Progressive Era. The design then cracked under the strain of greed and the will to power, as the central government began to impose national economic regulation at the behest of muckrakers and do-gooders. The design then broke during the New Deal, which opened the floodgates to violations of constitutional restraint (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare,  the vast expansion of economic regulation, and the destruction of civilizing social norms), as the Supreme Court has enabled the national government to impose its will in matters far beyond its constitutional remit.

In sum, the “poison pill” baked into the nation at the time of the Founding is human nature, against which no libertarian constitution is proof unless it is enforced resolutely by a benign power.

Barring that, it is may be too late to rescue liberty in America. I am especially pessimistic because of the unraveling of social comity since the 1960s, and by a related development: the frontal assault on freedom of speech, which is the final constitutional bulwark against oppression.

Almost overnight, it seems, the nation was catapulted from the land of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver to the land of the free- filthy-speech movement, Altamont, Woodstock, Hair, and the unspeakably loud, vulgar, and violent offerings that are now plastered all over the air waves, the internet, theater screens, and “entertainment” venues.

The 1960s and early 1970s were a tantrum-throwing time, and many of the tantrum-throwers moved into positions of power, influence, and wealth, having learned from the success of their main ventures: the end of the draft and the removal of Nixon from office. They schooled their psychological descendants well, and sometimes literally on college campuses. Their successors on the campuses of today — students, faculty, and administrators — carry on the tradition of reacting with violent hostility toward persons and ideas that they oppose, and supporting draconian punishments for infractions of their norms and edicts. (For myriad examples, see The College Fix.)

Adherents of the ascendant culture esteem protest for its own sake, and have stock explanations for all perceived wrongs (whether or not they are wrongs): racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, hate, white privilege, inequality (of any kind), Wall  Street, climate change, Zionism, and so on. All of these are to be combated by state action that deprives citizens of economic and social liberties.

In particular danger are the freedoms of speech and association. The purported beneficiaries of the campaign to destroy those freedoms are “oppressed minorities” (women, Latinos, blacks, Muslims, the gender-confused, etc.) and the easily offended. The true beneficiaries are leftists. Free speech is speech that is acceptable to the left. Otherwise, it’s “hate speech”, and must be stamped out. Freedom of association is bigotry, except when it is practiced by leftists in anti-male, anti-conservative, pro-ethnic, and pro-racial causes. This is McCarthyism on steroids. McCarthy, at least, was pursuing actual enemies of liberty; today’s leftists are the enemies of liberty.

The organs of the state have been enlisted in an unrelenting campaign against civilizing social norms. We now have not just easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that feature disease, promiscuity, and familial instability.

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

If there are unifying themes in this petite histoire, they are the death of common sense and the rising tide of moral vacuity. The history of the United States since the 1960s supports the proposition that the nation is indeed going to hell in a handbasket.

In fact, the speed at which it is going to hell seems to have accelerated since the Charleston church shooting and the legal validation of  same-sex “marriage” in 2015. It’s a revolution (e.g., this) piggy-backing on mass hysteria. Here’s the game plan:

  • Define opposition to illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and other kinds violent and anti-social behavior as “hate“.
  • Associate “hate” with conservatism.
  • Watch as normally conservative politicians, business people, and voters swing left rather than look “mean” and put up a principled fight for conservative values. (Many of them can’t put up such a fight, anyway. Trump’s proper but poorly delivered refusal to pin all of the blame on neo-Nazis for the Charlottesville riot just added momentum to the left’s cause because he’s Trump and a “fascist” by definition.)
  • Watch as Democrats play the “hate” card to retake the White House and Congress.

With the White House in the hands of a left-wing Democrat (is there any other kind now?) and an aggressive left-wing majority in Congress, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights will become not-so-distant memories. “Affirmative action” (a.k.a. “diversity”) will be enforced on an unprecedented scale of ferocity. The nation will become vulnerable to foreign enemies while billions of dollars are wasted on the hoax of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and “social services” for the indolent. The economy, already buckling under the weight of statism, will teeter on the brink of collapse as the regulatory regime goes into high gear and entrepreneurship is all but extinguished by taxation and regulation.

All of that will be secured by courts dominated by left-wing judges — from here to eternity.

And most of the affluent white enablers dupes of the revolution will come to rue their actions. But they won’t be free to say so.

Thus will liberty — and prosperity — die in America.

And it is possible that nothing can prevent it because it is written in human nature; specifically, a penchant for the kind of mass hysteria that seems to dominate campuses, the “news” and “entertainment” media, and the Democrat Party.

Christopher Booker describes this phenomenon presciently in his book about England and America of the 1950s and 1960s, The Neophiliacs (1970):

[T]here is no dream so powerful as one generated and subscribed to by a whole mass of people simultaneously — one of those mass projections of innumerable individual neuroses which we may call a group fantasy. This is why the twentieth century has equally been dominated by every possible variety of collective make-believe — whether expressed through mass political movements and forms of nationalism, or through mass social movements….

Any group fantasy is in some sense a symptom of social disintegration, of the breaking down of the balance and harmony between individuals, classes, generations, the sexes, or even nations. For the organic relationships of a stable and secure community, in which everyone may unself-consciously exist in his own separate place and right, a group fantasy substitutes the elusive glamor of identification with a fantasy community, of being swept along as part of a uniform mass united in a common cause. But the individuals making up the mass are not, of course, united in any real sense, except through their common dress, catch phrases, slogans, and stereotyped attitudes. Behind their conformist exteriors they remain individually as insecure as ever — and indeed become even more so, for the collective dream, such as that expressed through mass advertising or the more hysterical forms of fashion, is continually aggravating their fantasy-selves and appealing to them through their insecurities to merge themselves in the mass ever more completely….

This was the phenomenon of mass psychology which was portrayed in an extreme version by George Orwell in his 1984…. But in fact the pattern described was that of every group fantasy; exactly the same that we can see, for instance, in the teen age subculture of the fifties and sixties, … or that of the left-wing progressive intellectuals, with their dream heroes such as D. H. Lawrence or Che Guevera and their ritual abuse of the “reactionaries”….

… Obviously no single development in history has done more to promote both social disintegration and unnatural conformity than the advance and ubiquity of machines and technology. Not only must the whole pressure of an industrialized, urbanized, mechanized society tend to weld its members into an ever more rootless uniform mass, by the very nature of its impersonal organization and of the processes of mass-production and standardization. But in addition the twentieth century has also provided two other factors to aggravate and to feed the general neurosis; the first being the image-conveying apparatus of films, radio, television, advertising, mass-circulation newspapers and magazines; the second the feverishly increased pace of life, from communications and transport to the bewildering speed of change and innovation, all of which has created a profound subconscious restlessness which neurotically demands to be assuaged by more speed and more change of every kind….

The essence of fantasy is that it feeds on a succession of sensations or unresolved images, each one of which arouses anticipation, followed by inevitable frustration, leading to the demand for a new image to be put in its place. But the very fact that each sensation is fundamentally unsatisfying means that the fantasy itself becomes progressively more jaded…. And so we arrive at the fantasy spiral.

Whatever pattern of fantasy we choose to look at … she shall find that it is straining through a spiral of increasingly powerful sensations toward some kind of climax…. What happens therefore is simply that, in its pursuit of the elusive image of life, freedom, and self-assertion, the fantasy pushes on in an ever-mounting spiral of demand, ever more violent, more dream-like and fragmentary, and ever more destructive of the framework of order. Further and further pushes the fantasy, always in pursuit of the elusive climax, always further from reality — until it is actually bringing about the very opposite of its aims.

That, of course, is what will happen when the left and its dupes bring down the Constitution and all that it was meant to stand for: the protection of citizens and their voluntary institutions and relationships from predators, including not least governmental predators and the factions they represent.

The Constitution, in short, was meant to shield Americans from human nature. But it seems all too likely that human nature will destroy the shield.

Thus my call for a “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War“.


Related reading:
Fred Reed, “The Symptoms Worsen”, Fred on Everything, March 15, 2015
Christopher Booker, Global Warming: A Case Study in Groupthink, Global Warming Policy Foundation, 2018
Michael Mann, “Have Wars and Violence Declined?“, Theory and Society, February 2018
John Gray, “Steven Pinker Is Wrong about Violence and War”, The Guardian, March 13, 2015
Nikita Vladimirov, “Scholar Traces Current Campus Intolerance to 60’s Radicals“, Campus Reform, March 14, 2018
Nick Spencer, “Enlightenment and Progress: Why Steven Pinker Is Wrong” Mercatornet, March 19, 2018
Steven Hayward, “Deja Vu on Campus?“, PowerLine, April 15, 2018
William A. Nitze, “The Tech Giants Must Be Stopped“, The American Conservative, April 16, 2018
Steven Hayward, “Jonah’s Suicide Hotline, and All That Stuff“, PowerLine, May 15, 2018
Jeff Groom, “40 Years Ago Today: When Solzhenitsyn Schooled Harvard“, The American Conservative, June 8, 2018
Graham Allison, “The Myth of the Liberal Order: From Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom“, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2018
Gilbert T. Sewall, “The America That Howard Zinn Made“, The American Conservative, July 10, 2018
Mary Eberstadt, “Two Nations, Revisited“, National Affairs, Summer 2018

Related posts and pages:
Constitution: Myths and Realities
Leftism
The Psychologist Who Played God
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
Society and the State
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
The Fallacy of Human Progress
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
1963: The Year Zero
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
Turning Points
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Social Justice vs. Liberty
The Left and “the People”
Liberal Nostrums
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Equality
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What’s Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Disposition and Ideology
Down the Memory Hole
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error
Abortion, the “Me” Generation, and the Left
Abortion Q and A
Whence Polarization?
Negative Rights, Etc.
Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration
Order vs. Authority
Can Left and Right Be Reconciled?
Rage on the Left
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and Leviathan

Driving Is an IQ Test

An automobile is a deadly weapon. Driving carelessly — in ways that are dangerous or confusing to others — signifies either a death-wish (a rare thing) or stupidity (much more likely).

I would estimate a driver’s a real-life IQ by deducting 5 points for each of the following habits from the driver’s pencil-and-paper IQ:

1. driving in the middle of a street or parking-lot lane, even as another vehicle approaches

2. waiting until the last split-second to cross or turn onto a street, despite an oncoming vehicle which has the right-of-way

3. ignoring stop signs, not just by failing to stop at them but also failing to look before not stopping

4. failing to plan a trip, which often leads to the practice of turning abruptly without giving a signal

5. looping to the left for a right turn, and looping to the right for a left turn

6. changing lanes or crossing lanes of traffic without looking around …

7. or without signaling

8. crossing the center line while taking a curve

9. taking a corner by cutting across the oncoming lane of traffic

10. zipping through a parking lot as if no child, other pedestrian, or vehicle might suddenly appear

11. yielding the right of way to a driver who doesn’t have it

12. parking off-center in a parking space when there’s not an off-center vehicle in an adjacent space

13. tailgating

14 & 15. (double points) using a cell-phone while driving (even if it’s a hands-off phone)

There are many drivers whose habits would put them in the class of moron, imbecile, or idiot. They are rightly called such names — and worse.


Related posts (with some bonus material thrown in because bad driving and Austin seem to be synonymous):
Driving and Politics (1)
Life in Austin (1)
Life in Austin (2)
Life in Austin (3)
Driving and Politics (2)
AGW in Austin?
Democracy in Austin
AGW in Austin? (II)
The Hypocrisy of “Local Control”

The Keynesian Multiplier: Fiction vs. Fact

There are a few economic concepts that are widely cited (if not understood) by non-economists. Certainly, the “law” of supply and demand is one of them. The Keynesian (fiscal) multiplier is another; it is

the ratio of a change in national income to the change in government spending that causes it. More generally, the exogenous spending multiplier is the ratio of a change in national income to any autonomous change in spending (private investment spending, consumer spending, government spending, or spending by foreigners on the country’s exports) that causes it.

The multiplier is usually invoked by pundits and politicians who are anxious to boost government spending as a “cure” for economic downturns. What’s wrong with that? If government spends an extra $1 to employ previously unemployed resources, why won’t that $1 multiply and become $1.50, $1.60, or even $5 worth of additional output?

What’s wrong is the phony math by which the multiplier is derived, and the phony story that was long ago concocted to explain the operation of the multiplier.

MULTIPLIER MATH

To show why the math is phony, I’ll start with a derivation of the multiplier. The derivation begins with the accounting identity  Y = C + I + G, which means that total output (Y) = consumption (C) + investment (I) + government spending (G). I could use a more complex identity that involves taxes, exports, and imports. But no matter; the bottom line remains the same, so I’ll keep it simple and use Y = C + I  + G.

Keep in mind that the aggregates that I’m writing about here — Y , C , I , G, and later S  — are supposed to represent real quantities of goods and services, not mere money. Keep in mind, also, that Y stands for gross domestic product (GDP); there is no real income unless there is output, that is, product.

Now for the derivation (right-click to enlarge this and later images):

Derivation of investment-govt spending multiplier

So far, so good. Now, let’s say that b = 0.8. This means that income-earners, on average, will spend 80 percent of their additional income on consumption goods (C), while holding back (saving, S) 20 percent of their additional income. With b = 0.8, k = 1/(1 – 0.8) = 1/0.2 = 5.  That is, every $1 of additional spending — let us say additional government spending (∆G) rather than investment spending (∆I) — will yield ∆Y = $5. In short, ∆Y = k(∆G), as a theoretical maximum. (Even if the multiplier were real, there are many things that would cause it to fall short of its theoretical maximum; see this, for example.)

How is it supposed to work? The initial stimulus (∆G) creates income (don’t ask how), a fraction of which (b) goes to C. 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). (What happens to S, the portion of income that isn’t spent? That’s part of the complicated phony story that I’ll examine in a future post.)

Note well, however, that the resulting ∆Y 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.

An aside is in order here: Proponents of big government like to trumpet the supposedly stimulating effects of G on the economy when they propose programs that would lead to permanent increases in G, holding other things constant. And other things (other government programs) are constant (at least) because they have powerful patrons and constituents, and are harder to kill than Hydra. If the proponents of big government were aware of the economically debilitating effects of G and the things that accompany it (e.g., regulations), most of them would simply defend their favorite programs all the more fiercely.

WHY MULTIPLIER MATH IS PHONY MATH

Now for my exposé of the phony math. I begin with Steven Landsburg, who borrows from the late Murray Rothbard:

. . . We start with an accounting identity, which nobody can deny:

Y = C + I + G

. . . Since all output ends up somewhere, and since households, firms and government exhaust the possibilities, this equation must be true.

Next, we notice that people tend to spend, oh, say about 80 percent of their incomes. What they spend is equal to the value of what ends up in their households, which we’ve already called C. So we have

C = .8Y

Now we use a little algebra to combine our two equations and quickly derive a new equation:

Y = 5(I+G)

That 5 is the famous Keynesian multiplier. In this case, it tells you that if you increase government spending by one dollar, then economy-wide output (and hence economy-wide income) will increase by a whopping five dollars. What a deal!

. . . [I]t was Murray Rothbard who observed that the really neat thing about this argument is that you can do exactly the same thing with any accounting identity. Let’s start with this one:

Y = L + E

Here Y is economy-wide income, L is Landsburg’s income, and E is everyone else’s income. No disputing that one.

Next we observe that everyone else’s share of the income tends to be about 99.999999% of the total. In symbols, we have:

E = .99999999 Y

Combine these two equations, do your algebra, and voila:

Y = 100,000,000

That 100,000,000 there is the soon-to-be-famous “Landsburg multiplier”. Our equation proves that if you send Landsburg a dollar, you’ll generate $100,000,000 worth of income for everyone else.

The policy implications are unmistakable. It’s just Eco 101!! [“The Landsburg Multiplier: How to Make Everyone Rich”, The Big Questions blog, June 25, 2013]

Landsburg attributes the nonsensical result to the assumption that

equations describing behavior would remain valid after a policy change. Lucas made the simple but pointed observation that this assumption is almost never justified.

. . . None of this means that you can’t write down [a] sensible Keynesian model with a multiplier; it does mean that the Eco 101 version of the Keynesian cross is not an example of such. This in turn calls into question the wisdom of the occasional pundit [Paul Krugman] who repeatedly admonishes us to be guided in our policy choices by the lessons of Eco 101. [“Multiple Comments”, op. cit,, June 26, 2013]

It’s worse than that, as Landsburg almost acknowledges when he observes (correctly) that Y = C + I + G is an accounting identity. That is to say, it isn’t a functional representation — a model — of the dynamics of the economy. Assigning a value to b (the marginal propensity to consume) — even if it’s an empirical value — doesn’t alter that fact that the derivation is nothing more than the manipulation of a non-functional relationship, that is, an accounting identity.

Consider, for example, the equation for converting temperature Celsius (C) to temperature Fahrenheit (F): F = 32 + 1.8C. It follows that an increase of 10 degrees C implies an increase of 18 degrees F. This could be expressed as ∆F/∆C = k* , where k* represents the “Celsius multiplier”. There is no mathematical difference between the derivation of the investment/government-spending multiplier (k) and the derivation of the Celsius multiplier (k*). And yet we know that the Celsius multiplier is nothing more than a tautology; it tells us nothing about how the temperature rises by 10 degrees C or 18 degrees F. It simply tells us that when the temperature rises by 10 degrees C, the equivalent rise in temperature F is 18 degrees. The rise of 10 degrees C doesn’t cause the rise of 18 degrees F.

Similarly, 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.

PHONY MATH DOESN’T EVEN ADD UP

Recall the story that’s supposed to explain how the multiplier works: The initial stimulus (∆G) creates income, a fraction of which (b) goes to C. 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). So, if b = 0.8, k = 5, and ∆G = $1 trillion, the resulting cumulative ∆Y = $5 trillion (in the limit). And it’s all in addition to the output that would have been generated in the absence of ∆G, as long as many conditions are met. Chief among them is the condition that the additional output in each round is generated by resources that had been unemployed.

In addition to the fact that the math behind the multiplier is phony, as explained above, it also yields contradictory results. If one can derive an investment/government-spending multiplier, one can also derive a “consumption multiplier”:

Derivation of consumption multiplier

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.

CAN AN INCREASE IN G HELP IN THE SHORT RUN?

Can an exogenous increase in G spending really yield a short-term, temporary increase in GDP? Perhaps, but there’s many a slip between cup and lip. The following example goes beyond the bare theory of the Keynesian multiplier to address several practical and theoretical shortcomings (some which are discussed  “here” and “here“):

  1. Annualized real GDP (Y) drops from $16.5 trillion a year to $14 trillion a year because of the unemployment of resources. (How that happens is a different subject.)
  2. Government spending (G) is temporarily and quickly increased by an annual rate of $500 billion; that is, ∆G = $0.5 trillion. The idea is to restore Y to $16 trillion, given a multiplier of 5 (In standard multiplier math: ∆Y = (k)(∆G), where k = 1/(1 – MPC); k = 5, where MPC = 0.8.)
  3. The ∆G is financed in a way that doesn’t reduce private-sector spending. (This is almost impossible, given Ricardian equivalence — the tendency of private actors to take into account the long-term, crowding-out effects of government spending as they make their own spending decisions. The closest approximation to neutrality can be attained by financing additional G through money creation, rather than additional taxes or borrowing that crowds out the financing of private-sector consumption and investment spending.)
  4. To have the greatest leverage, ∆G must be directed so that it employs only those resources that are idle, which then acquire purchasing power that they didn’t have before. (This, too, is almost impossible, given the clumsiness of government.)
  5. A fraction of the new purchasing power flows, through consumption spending (C), to the employment of other idle resources. That fraction is called the marginal propensity to consume (MPC), which is the rate at which the owners of idle resources spend additional income on so-called consumption goods. (As many economists have pointed out, the effect could also occur as a result of investment spending. A dollar spent is a dollar spent, and investment  spending has the advantage of directly enabling economic growth, unlike consumption spending.)
  6. A remainder goes to saving (S) and is therefore available for investment (I) in future production capacity. But S and I are ignored in the multiplier equation: One story goes like this: S doesn’t elicit I because savers hoard cash and investment is discouraged by the bleak economic outlook. Here is a more likely story: The multiplier would be infinite (and therefore embarrassingly inexplicable) if S generated an equivalent amount of I, because the marginal propensity to spend (MPS) would be equal to 1, and the multiplier equation would look like this: k = 1/(1 – MPS) = ∞, where MPS = 1.
  7. In any event, the initial increment of C (∆C) brings forth a new “round” of production, which yields another increment of C, and so on, ad infinitum. If MPC = 0.8, then assuming away “leakage” to taxes and imports, the multiplier = k = 1/(1 – MPC), or k = 5 in this example.  (The multiplier rises with MPC and reaches infinity if MPC = 1. This suggests that a very high MPC is economically beneficial, even though a very high MPC implies a very low rate of saving and therefore a very low rate of growth-producing investment.)
  8. Given k = 5,  ∆G = $0.5T would cause an eventual increase in real output of $2.5 trillion (assuming no “leakage” or offsetting reductions in private consumption and investment); that is, ∆Y = [k][∆G]= $2.5 trillion. However, because G and Y usually refer to annual rates, this result is mathematically incoherent; ∆G = $0.5 trillion does not restore Y to $16.5 trillion.
  9. In any event, the increase in Y isn’t permanent; the multiplier effect disappears after the “rounds” resulting from ∆G have played out. If the theoretical multiplier is 5, and if transactional velocity is 4 (i.e., 4 “rounds” of spending in a year), more than half of the multiplier effect would be felt within a year from each injection of spending, and about two-thirds would be felt within two years of each injection. It seems unlikely, however, that the multiplier effect would be felt for much longer, because of changing conditions (e.g., an exogenous boost in private investment, private reemployment of resources, discouraged workers leaving the labor force, shifts in expectations about inflation and returns on investment).
  10. All of this ignores that fact that the likely cause of the drop in Y is not insufficient “aggregate demand”, but a “credit crunch” (Michael D. Bordo and Joseph G. Haubrich in “Credit Crises, Money, and Contractions: A Historical View”, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Working Paper 09-08, September 2009). “Aggregate demand” doesn’t exist, except as an after-the-fact measurement of the money value of goods and services comprised in Y. “Aggregate demand”, in other words, is merely the sum of millions of individual transactions, the rate and total money value of which decline for specific reasons, “credit crunch” being chief among them. Given that, an exogenous increase in G is likely to yield a real increase in Y only if the increase in G leads to an increase in the money supply (as it is bound to do when the Fed, in effect, prints money to finance it). But because of cash hoarding and a bleak investment outlook, the increase in the money supply is unlikely to generate much additional economic activity.

So much for that.

THE THEORETICAL MAXIMUM

A somewhat more realistic version of multiplier math — as opposed to the version addressed earlier — yields a maximum value of k = 1:

More rigorous derivation of Keynesian multiplier

How did I do that? In step 3, I made C a function of P (private-sector GDP) instead of Y (usually taken as the independent variable). Why? C is more closely linked to P than to Y, as an analysis of GDP statistics will prove. (Go here, download the statistics for the post-World War II era from tables 1.1.5 and 3.1, and see for yourself.)

THE TRUE MULTIPLIER

In fact, a sustained increase in government spending will have a negative effect on real output — a multiplier of less than 1, in other words.

Robert J. Barro of Harvard University opens an article in The Wall Street Journal with the statement that “economists have not come up with explanations … for multipliers above one”. Barro continues:

A much more plausible starting point is a multiplier of zero. In this case, the GDP is given, and a rise in government purchases requires an equal fall in the total of other parts of GDP — consumption, investment and net exports….

What do the data show about multipliers? Because it is not easy to separate movements in government purchases from overall business fluctuations, the best evidence comes from large changes in military purchases that are driven by shifts in war and peace. A particularly good experiment is the massive expansion of U.S. defense expenditures during World War II. The usual Keynesian view is that the World War II fiscal expansion provided the stimulus that finally got us out of the Great Depression. Thus, I think that most macroeconomists would regard this case as a fair one for seeing whether a large multiplier ever exists.

I have estimated that World War II raised U.S. defense expenditures by $540 billion (1996 dollars) per year at the peak in 1943-44, amounting to 44% of real GDP. I also estimated that the war raised real GDP by $430 billion per year in 1943-44. Thus, the multiplier was 0.8 (430/540). The other way to put this is that the war lowered components of GDP aside from military purchases. The main declines were in private investment, nonmilitary parts of government purchases, and net exports — personal consumer expenditure changed little. Wartime production siphoned off resources from other economic uses — there was a dampener, rather than a multiplier….

There are reasons to believe that the war-based multiplier of 0.8 substantially overstates the multiplier that applies to peacetime government purchases. For one thing, people would expect the added wartime outlays to be partly temporary (so that consumer demand would not fall a lot). Second, the use of the military draft in wartime has a direct, coercive effect on total employment. Finally, the U.S. economy was already growing rapidly after 1933 (aside from the 1938 recession), and it is probably unfair to ascribe all of the rapid GDP growth from 1941 to 1945 to the added military outlays. [“Government Spending Is No Free Lunch”, The Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2009]

This is from a paper by Valerie A. Ramsey:

… [I]t appears that a rise in government spending does not stimulate private spending; most estimates suggest that it significantly lowers private spending. These results imply that the government spending multiplier is below unity. Adjusting the implied multiplier for increases in tax rates has only a small effect. The results imply a multiplier on total GDP of around 0.5. [“Government Spending and Private Activity”, National Bureau of Economic Research, January 2012]

There is a key component of government spending which usually isn’t captured in estimates of the multiplier: transfer payments, which are mainly “social benefits” (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid). In fact, actual government spending in the U.S., including transfer payments, is about double the nominal amount that is represented in G, the standard measure of government spending (the actual cost of government operations, buildings, equipment, etc.). But transfer payments — like other government spending — are subsidized by directing resources from persons who are directly productive (active worker) and whose investments are directly productive (innovators, entrepreneurs, stockholders, etc.) to persons who (for the most part) are economically unproductive and counterproductive. It follows that real economic output must be affected by transfer payments.

Other factors are also important to economic growth, namely, private investment in business assets, the rate at which regulations are being issued, and inflation. The combined effects of these factors and aggregate government spending have been estimated:. I borrow from that estimate, with a slight, immaterial change in nomenclature:

gr = 0.0275 -0.347F + 0.0769A – 0.000327R – 0.135P

Where,

gr = real rate of GDP growth in a 10-year span (annualized)

F = fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels during the preceding 10 years [including transfer payments]

A = the constant-dollar value of private nonresidential assets (business assets) as a fraction of GDP, averaged over the preceding 10 years

R = average number of Federal Register pages, in thousands, for the preceding 10-year period

P = growth in the CPI-U during the preceding 10 years (annualized).

The r-squared of the equation is 0.73 and the F-value is 2.00E-12. The p-values of the intercept and coefficients are 0.099, 1.75E-07, 1.96E-08, 8.24E-05, and 0.0096. The standard error of the estimate is 0.0051, that is, about half a percentage point.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that F rises while the other independent variables remain unchanged. A rise in F from 0.24 to 0.33 (the actual change from 1947 to 2007) would reduce the real rate of economic growth by 0.031 percentage points. The real rate of growth from 1947 to 1957 was 4 percent. Other things being the same, the rate of growth would have dropped to 0.9 percent in the period 2008-2017. It actually dropped to 1.4 percent, which is within the standard error of the equation. And the discrepancy could be the result of changes in the other variables — a disproportionate increase in business assets (A), for example.

Given that rg = -0.347F, other things being the same, then

Y1 = Y0(c – 0.347F)

Where,

Y1 = real GDP in the period after a change in F, other things being the same

Y0 = real GDP in the period during which F changes

c = a constant, representing the sum of 1 + 0.025 + the coefficients obtained from fixed values of A, R, and P

The true F multiplier, kT, is therefore negative:

kT = ∆Y/∆F = -0.347Y0

For example, with Y0 = 1000 , F =0 , and other things being the same,

∆Y = [1000 – (0)(1000)] = 1000, when F = 0

∆Y = [1000 – (-0.347)(1000)] = 653, when F = 1

Keeping in mind that the equation is based on an analysis of successive 10-year periods, the true F multiplier should be thought of as representing the effect of a change in the average value of F in a 10-year period on the average value of Y in a subsequent 10-year period.

This is not to minimize the deleterious effect of F (and other government-related factors) on Y. If the 1947-1957 rate of growth (4 percent) had been sustained through 2017, Y would have risen from $1.9 trillion in 1957 to $20 trillion in 2017. But because F, R, and P rose markedly over the years, the real rate of growth dropped sharply and Y reached only $17.1 trillion in 2017. That’s a difference of almost $3 trillion in a single year.

Such losses, summed over several decades, represent millions of jobs that weren’t created, significantly lower standards of living, greater burdens on the workers who support retirees and subsidize their medical care, and the loss of liberty that inevitably results when citizens are subjugated to tax collectors and regulators.

ADDENDUM: A REAL ECONOMIC EXPLANATION FOR THE INEFFECTIVENESS OF “STIMULUS” SPENDING

Consider a static, full-employment economy, in which the same goods and services are produced year after year, yielding the same incomes to the same owners of the same factors of production, which do not change in character (capital goods are maintained and replaced in kind). The owners of the factors of production spend and save their incomes in the same way year after year, so that the same goods and services are produced year after year, and those goods and services encompass the maintenance and in-kind replacement of capital goods. Further, the production cycle is such that all goods and services become available to buyers on the last day of the year, for use by the buyers during the coming year. (If that seems far-fetched, just change all instances of “year” in this post to “month”, “week”, “day”, “hour”, “minute”, or “second.” The analysis applies in every case.)

What would happen if there were a sudden alteration in this circular flow of production (supply), on the one hand, and consumption and investment (demand), on the other hand? Specifically, suppose that a component of the circular flow is a bilateral exchange between a gunsmith and a dairyman who produces butter: one rifle for ten pounds of butter. If the gunsmith decides that he no longer wants ten pounds of butter, and therefore doesn’t produce a rifle to trade for butter, the dairyman would reduce his output of butter by ten pounds.

A Keynesian would describe the situation as a drop in aggregate demand. There is no such thing as “aggregate demand”, of course; it’s just an abstraction for the level of economic activity, which really consists of a host of disparate transactions, the dollar value of which can be summed. Further, those disparate transactions represent not just demand, but demand and supply, which are two sides of the same coin.

In the case of the gunsmith and the dairyman, aggregate output drops by one rifle and ten pounds of butter. The reduction of output by one rifle is voluntary and can’t be changed by government action. The reduction of output by ten pounds of butter would be considered involuntary and subject to remediation by government – in the Keynesian view.

What can government do about the dairyman’s involuntary underemployment? Keynesians would claim that the federal government could print some money and buy the dairyman’s butter. This would not, however, result in the production of a rifle; that is, it would not restore the status quo ante. If the gunsmith has decided not to produce a rifle for reasons having nothing to do with the availability of ten pounds of butter, the government can’t change that by buying ten pounds of butter.

But … a Keynesian would say … if the government buys the ten pounds of butter, the dairyman will have money with which to buy other things, and that will stimulate the economy to produce additional goods and services worth at least as much as the rifle that’s no longer being produced. The Keynesian would have to explain how it’s possible to produce additional goods and services of any kind if only the gunsmith and dairyman are underemployed (one voluntarily, the other involuntarily). The gunsmith has declined to produce a rifle for reasons of his own, and it would be pure Keynesian presumption to assert that he could be lured into producing a rifle for newly printed money when he wouldn’t produce it for something real, namely, ten pounds of butter.

Well, what about the dairyman, who now has some newly printed money in his pocket? Surely, he can entice other economic actors to produce additional goods and services with the money, and trade those goods and services for his ten pounds of butter. The offer of newly printed money might entice some of them to divert some of their production to the dairyman, so that he would have buyers for his ten pounds of butter. Thus the dairyman might become fully employed, but the diversion of output in his direction would cause some other economic actors to be less than fully employed.

Would the newly printed money entice the entry of new producers, some combination of whom might buy the dairyman’s ten pounds of butter and restore him to full employment? It might, but so would private credit expansion in the normal course of events. The Keynesian money-printing solution would lead to additional output only where (a) private credit markets wouldn’t finance new production and (b) new production would be forthcoming despite the adverse conditions implied by (a). And the fact would remain that economic output has declined by one rifle, which fact can’t be changed by deficit spending or monetary expansion.

This gets us to the heart of the problem. Deficit spending (or expansionary monetary policy) can entice additional output only if there is involuntary underemployment, as in the case of the dairyman who would prefer to continue making and selling the ten pounds of butter that he had been selling to the gunsmith. And how do resources become involuntarily underemployed? Here are the causes, which aren’t mutually exclusive:

  • changes in perceived wants, tastes, and preferences, as in the case of the gunsmith’s decision to make one less rifle and forgo ten pounds of butter
  • reductions in output that are occasioned by forecasts of lower demand for particular goods and services
  • changes in perceptions of or attitudes toward risk, which reduce producers’ demand for resources, buyers’ demand for goods and services, or financiers’ willingness to extend credit to producers and buyers.

I am unaware of claims that deficit spending or monetary expansion can affect the first cause of underemployment, though there is plenty of government activity aimed at changing wants, tastes, and preferences for paternalistic reasons.

What about the second and third causes? Can government alleviate them by buying things or making more money available with which to buy things? The answer is no. What signal is sent by deficit spending or monetary expansion? This: Times are tough, demand is falling, credit is tight, In those circumstances, why would newly printed money in the pockets of buyers (e.g., the dairyman) or in the hands of banks entice additional production, purchases, lending, or borrowing?

The evidence of the Great Recession suggests strongly that printing money and spending it or placing it with banks does little if any good. The passing of the Great Recession — and of the Great Depression seventy years earlier — was owed to the eventual restoration of the confidence of buyers and sellers in the future course of the economy. In the case of the Great Depression, confidence was restored when the entry of the United States into World War II put an end to the New Deal, which actually prolonged the depression

In the case of the Great Recession, confidence was restored (though not as fully) by the end of “stimulus” spending. The lingering effort on the part of the Fed to stimulate the economy through quantitative easing probably undermined confidence rather than restoring it. In fact, the Fed announced that it would begin to raise interest rates in an effort to convince the business community that the Great Recession is really coming to an end.


Related reading:

Robert Higgs, “Regime Uncertainty: Why the Great Depression Lasted So Long and Why Prosperity Resumed after the War”, Independent Review, Spring 1997

Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian, “New Deal Policies and the Persistence
of the Great Depression: A General Equilibrium Analysis”, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Working Paper 597, revised May 2001 (later published in the Journal of Political Economy, August 2004)

Casey B. Mulligan, “Simple Analytics and Empirics of the Government Spending Multiplier and Other ‘Keynesian’ Paradoxes”, National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 15800, March 2010

Daniel J. Mitchell, “Data in New World Bank Report Shows that Large Public Sectors Reduce Economic Growth“, Cato at Liberty, February 9, 2012

Steven Kates et al., “Reassessing the Political Economy of John Stuart Mill”, Online Library of Liberty, July 2015

Related posts:

A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
The Rahn Curve Revisited

Utilitarianism vs. Liberty

Utilitarianism is an empty concept. And it is inimical to liberty.

What is utilitarianism, as I use the term? This:

1. (Philosophy) the doctrine that the morally correct course of action consists in the greatest good for the greatest number, that is, in maximizing the total benefit resulting, without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens

To maximize the total benefit is to maximize social welfare, which is the well-being of all persons, somehow measured and aggregated. A true social-welfare maximizer would strive to maximize the social welfare of the planet. But schemes to maximize social welfare usually are aimed at maximizing it for the persons in a particular country, so they really are schemes to maximize national welfare.

National welfare may conflict with planetary welfare; the former may be increased (by some arbitrary measure) at the expense of the latter. Suppose, for example, that Great Britain had won the Revolutionary War and forced Americans to live on starvation wages while making things for the enjoyment of the British people. A lot of Britons would have been better off materially (though perhaps not spiritually), while most Americans certainly would have been worse off. The national welfare of Great Britain would have been improved, if not maximized, “without regard to the distribution of benefits and burdens.” On a contemporary note, anti-globalists assert (wrongly) that globalization of commerce exploits the people of poor countries. If they were right, they would at least have the distinction of striving to maximize planetary welfare. (Though there is no such thing, as I will show.)

THE UTILITARIAN WORLD VIEW

A utilitarian will favor a certain policy if a comparison of its costs and benefits shows that the benefits exceed the costs — even though the persons bearing the costs are often not the persons who accrue the benefits. That is to say, utilitarianism authorizes the redistribution of income and wealth for the “greater good”. Thus the many governmental schemes that are redistributive by design, for example, the “progressive” income tax (i.e., the taxation of income at graduated rates), Social Security (which yields greater “returns” to low-income workers than to high-income workers, and which taxes current workers for the benefit of retirees), and Medicaid (which is mainly for the benefit of persons whose tax burden is low or nil).

One utilitarian justification of such schemes is the fallacious and short-sighted assertion that persons with higher incomes gain less “utility” as their incomes rise, whereas the persons to whom that income is transferred gain much more “utility” because their incomes are lower. This principle is sometimes stated as “a dollar means more to a poor man than to a rich one”.

That is so because utilitarians are accountants of the soul, who believe (implicitly, at least) that it is within their power to balance the unhappiness of those who bear costs against the happiness of those who accrue benefits. The precise formulation, according to John Stuart Mill, is “the greatest amount of happiness altogether” (Utilitarianism, Chapter II, Section 16.)

UTILITARIANISM AS ECONOMIC FALLACY, ARROGANCE, AND HYPOCRISY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UTILITARIANISM VS. LIBERTY

I have defined liberty as

the general observance of social norms that enables a people to enjoy…peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

Where do social norms come into it? The observance of social norms — society’s customs and morals — creates mutual trust, respect, and forbearance, from which flow peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. In such conditions, only a minimal state is required to deal with those who will not live in peaceful coexistence, that is, foreign and domestic aggressors. And prosperity flows from cooperative economic behavior — the exchange of goods and services for the mutual benefit of the parties who to the exchange.

Society isn’t to be confused with nation or any other kind of geopolitical entity. Society — true society — is

3a :  an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.

A close-knit group, in other words. It should go without saying that the members of such a group will be bound by culture: language, customs, morals, and (usually) religion. Their observance of a common set of social norms enables them to enjoy peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior.

Free markets mimic some aspects of society, in that they are physical and virtual places where buyers and sellers meet peacefully (almost all of the time) and willingly, to cooperate for their mutual benefit. Free markets thus transcend (or can transcend) the cultural differences that delineate societies.

Large geopolitical areas also mimic some aspects of society, in that their residents meet peacefully (most of the time). But when “cooperation” in such matters as mutual aid (care for the elderly, disaster recovery, etc.) is forced by government; it isn’t true cooperation, which is voluntary.

In any event, the United States is not a society. Even aside from the growing black-white divide, the bonds of nationhood are far weaker than those of a true society (or a free market), and are therefore easier to subvert. Even persons of the left agree that mutual trust, respect, and forbearance are at a low ebb — probably their lowest ebb since the Civil War.

Therein lies a clue to the emptiness of utilitarianism. Why should a qualified white person care about or believe in the national welfare when, in furtherance of national welfare (or something), a job or university slot for which the white person applies is given, instead, to a less qualified black person because of racial quotas that are imposed or authorized by government? Why should a taxpayer care about or believe in the national welfare if he is forced by government to share the burden of enlarging it through government-enforced transfer payments to those who don’t pay taxes? By what right or gift of omniscience is a social engineer able to intuit the feelings of 300-plus million individual persons and adjudge that the national welfare will be maximized if some persons are forced to cede privileges or money to other persons?

Consider Robin Hanson’s utilitarian scheme, which he calls futarchy:

In futarchy, democracy would continue to say what we want, but betting markets would now say how to get it. That is, elected representatives would formally define and manage an after-the-fact measurement of national welfare, while market speculators would say which policies they expect to raise national welfare….

Futarchy is intended to be ideologically neutral; it could result in anything from an extreme socialism to an extreme minarchy, depending on what voters say they want, and on what speculators think would get it for them….

A betting market can estimate whether a proposed policy would increase national welfare by comparing two conditional estimates: national welfare conditional on adopting the proposed policy, and national welfare conditional on not adopting the proposed policy.

Get it? “Democracy would say what we want” and futarchy “could result in anything from an extreme socialism to an extreme minarchy, depending on what voters say they want.” Hanson the social engineer believes that the “values” to be maximized should be determined “democratically,” that is, by majorities (however slim) of voters. Further, it’s all right with Hanson if those majorities lead to socialism. So Hanson envisions national welfare that isn’t really national; it’s determined by what’s approved by one-half-plus-one of the persons who vote. Scratch that. It’s determined by the politicians who are elected by as few as one-half-plus-one of the persons who vote, and in turn by unelected bureaucrats and judges — many of whom were appointed by politicians long out of office. It is those unelected relics of barely elected politicians who really establish most of the rules that govern much of Americans’ economic and social behavior.

Hanson’s version of national welfare amounts to this: whatever is is right. If Hitler had been elected by a slim majority of Germans, thereby legitimating him in Hanson’s view, his directives would have expressed the national will of Germans and, to the extent that they were carried out, would have maximized the national welfare of Germany.

Hanson’s futarchy is so bizarre as to be laughable. Ralph Merkle nevertheless takes the ball from Hanson and runs with it:

We choose to be more specific [than Hanson] about the definition of what we shall call the “collective welfare”, for the very simple reason that “voting on values” retains the dubious voting mechanism as a core component of futarchy….

We can create a DAO Democracy capable of self-improvement which has unlimited growth potential by modifying futarchy to use an unmodifiable democratic collective welfare metric, adapting it to work as a Decentralized Autonomous Organization, implementing an initial system using simple components (these components including the democratic collective welfare metric, a mechanism for adopting legislation (bills)) and using a built-in prediction market to filter through and adopt proposals for improved components….

1) Anyone can propose a bill at any time….

8) Any existing law can be amended or repealed with the same ease with which a new law can be proposed….

13) The only time this governance process would support “the tyranny of the majority” would be if oppression of some minority actually made the majority better off, and the majority was made sufficiently better off that it outweighed the resulting misery to the minority.

So, for example, we should trust that the super-majority of voters whose incomes are below the national median wouldn’t further tax the voters whose incomes are above the national median? And we should assume that the below-median voters would eventually notice that the heavy-taxation policy is causing their real incomes to decline? And we should assume that those below-median voters would care in any event, given the psychic income they derive from sticking it to “the rich”? What a fairy tale. The next thing I would expect Merkle to assert is that the gentile majority of Germans didn’t applaud or condone the oppression of the Jewish minority, that Muslim hordes that surround Israel aren’t scheming to annihilate it, and on into the fantasy-filled night.

How many times must I say it? There is no such thing as a national, social, cosmic, global, or aggregate welfare function of any kind. (Go here for a long but probably not exhaustive list of related posts.)

To show why there’s no such thing as an aggregate welfare function, I usually resort to a homely example:

  • A dislikes B and punches B in the nose.
  • A is happier; B is unhappier.
  • Someone (call him Omniscient Social Engineer) somehow measures A’s gain in happiness, compares it with B’s loss of happiness, and declares that the former outweighs the latter. Thus it is a socially beneficial thing if A punches B in the nose, or the government takes money from B and gives it to A, or the government forces employers to hire people who look like A at the expense of people who look like B, etc.

If you’re a B — and there are a lot of them out there — do you believe that A’s gain somehow offsets your loss? Unless you’re a masochist or a victim of the Stockholm syndrome, you’ll be ticked off about what A has done to you, or government has done to you on A’s behalf. Who is an Omniscient Social Engineer — a Hanson or Merkle — to say that your loss is offset by A’s gain? That’s just pseudo-scientific hogwash, also known as utilitarianism. But that’s exactly what Hanson, Merkle, etc., are peddling when they invoke social welfare, national welfare, planetary welfare, or any other aggregate measure of welfare.

What about GDP as a measure of national welfare? Even economists — or most of them — admit that GDP doesn’t measure aggregate happiness, well-being, or any similar thing. To begin with, a lot of stuff is omitted from GDP, including so-called household production, which is the effort (not to mention love) that Moms (it’s usually Moms) put into the care, feeding, and hugging of their families. And for reasons hinted at in the preceding paragraph, the income that’s earned by A, B, C, etc., not only buys different things, but A, B, C, etc., place unique (and changing) values on those different things and derive different and unmeasurable degrees of happiness (and sometimes remorse) from them.

If GDP, which is is relatively easy to estimate (within a broad range of error), doesn’t measure national welfare, what could? Certainly not systems of the kind proposed by Hanson or Merkle, both of which pretend to aggregate that which can’t be aggregated: the happiness of an entire population. (Try it with one stranger, and see if you can arrive at a joint measure of happiness.)

The worst thing about utilitarian schemes and their real-world counterparts (regulation, progressive taxation, affirmative action, etc.) is that they are anti-libertarian. As I say here,

utilitarianism compromises liberty because it accords no value to individual decisions about preferred courses of action. Decisions, to a utilitarian, are valid only if they comply with the views of the utilitarian, who feigns omniscience about the (incommensurable) happiness of individuals.

No system can be better than the “system” of liberty, in which a minimal government protects its citizens from each other and from foreign enemies — and nothing else. Liberty was lost in the instant that government was empowered not only to protect A from B (and vice versa) but to inflict A’s preferences on B (and vice versa).

Futarchy — and every other utilitarian scheme — exhibits total disregard for liberty, and for the social norms on which it ultimately depends. That’s no surprise. Social or national welfare is obviously more important to utilitarians than liberty. If half of all Americans (or American voters) want something, all of us should have it, by God, even if “it” is virtual enslavement by the regulatory-welfare state, a declining rate of economic growth, and fewer jobs for young black men, who then take it out on each other, their neighbors, and random whites.

Patrick Henry didn’t say “Give me maximum national welfare or give me death,” he said “Give me liberty or give me death.” Liberty enables people to make their own choices about what’s best for them. And if they make bad choices, they can learn from them and go on to make better ones.

No better “system” has been invented or will ever be invented. Those who second-guess liberty — utilitarians, reformers, activists, social justice warriors, and all the rest — only undermine it. And in doing so, they most assuredly diminish the welfare of most people just to advance their own smug view of how the world should be arranged.

UTILITARIANISM AND GUN CONTROL VS. LIBERTY

Gun control has been much in the news in recent years and decades. The real problem isn’t guns, but morality, as discussed here. But arguments for gun control are utilitarian, and gun control is a serious threat to liberty.

Consider the relationship between guns and crime. Here is John Lott’s controversial finding (as summarized at Wikipedia several years ago):

[A]llowing adults to carry concealed weapons significantly reduces crime in America. [Lott] supports this position by an exhaustive tabulation of various social and economic data from census and other population surveys of individual United States counties in different years, which he fits into a large multifactorial mathematical model of crime rate. His published results generally show a reduction in violent crime associated with the adoption by states of laws allowing the general adult population to freely carry concealed weapons.

Suppose Lott is right. (There is good evidence that he isn’t wrong. RAND’s recent meta-study is laughably subjective.)

If more concealed weapons lead to less crime, then the proper utilitarian policy is for governments to be more lenient about owning and bearing firearms. A policy of leniency would also be consistent with two tenets of libertarian-conservatism:

  • the right of self-defense
  • taking responsibility for one’s own safety beyond that provided by guardians (be they family, friends, passing strangers, or minions of the state), because guardians can’t be everywhere, all the time, and aren’t always effective when they are present.

Only a foolish, extreme pacifist denies the first tenet. No one (but the same foolish pacifist) can deny the second tenet in good faith.

However, if Lott is right and government policy were to veer toward greater leniency, it is possible that more innocent persons will be killed by firearms than would otherwise be the case. The incidence of accidental shootings could rise, even as the rate of crime drops.

Which is worse, more crime or more accidental shootings? Not even a utilitarian can say, because no formula can objectively weigh the two things. (Not that that will stop a utilitarian from making up some weights, to arrive at a formula that supports his prejudice in the matter.) Both have psychological aspects (victimization, wound, grief) that defy quantification. The only reasonable way out of the dilemma is to favor liberty and punish wrong-doing where it occurs. The alternative — more restrictions on gun ownership — punishes many (those who would defend themselves), instead of punishing actual wrong-doers.

Suppose Lott is wrong, and more guns mean more crime. Would that militate against the right to own and bear arms? Only if utilitarianism is allowed to override liberty. Again, I would favor liberty, and punish wrong-doing where it occurs, instead of preventing some persons from defending themselves.

In sum, the ownership and carrying of guns isn’t a problem that’s amenable to a utilitarian solution. (Few problems are, and none of them involves government.) The ownership and carrying of guns is an emotional issue (and not only on the part of gun-grabbers). The natural reaction to highly publicized mass-shootings is to “do something”.

In fact, the “something” isn’t within the power of government to do, unless it undoes many policies that have subverted civil society over the past several decades. Mass shootings — and mass killings, in general — arise from social decay. Mass killings will not stop, or slow to a trickle, until the social decay stops and is reversed — which may be never.

So when the next restriction on guns fails to stop mass murder, the next restriction on guns (or explosives, etc.) will be adopted in an effort to stop it. And so on until self-defense, personal responsibility — and liberty — are fainter memories than they already are.

My point is that it doesn’t matter whether Lott is right or wrong. Utilitarianism has no place in it for liberty. My right to self-defense and my willingness to take personal responsibility for it —  given the likelihood that government will fail to defend me — shouldn’t be compromised by hysterical responses to notorious cases of mass murder. The underlying aim of the hysterics (and the left-wingers who encourage them) is the disarming of the populace. The necessary result will be the disarming of law-abiding citizens, so that they become easier prey for criminals and psychopaths.

A proper libertarian* eschews utilitarianism as a basis for government policy. The decision whether to own and carry a weapon for self-defense belongs to the individual, who (by his decision) accepts responsibility for his actions**. The role of the state in the matter is to deter aggressive acts on the part of criminals and psychopaths by visiting swift and certain justice upon them when they commit such acts.

CONCLUSION

Utilitarianism compromises liberty because it accords no value to the abilities, knowledge, and preferences of individuals. Decisions, to a utilitarian, are valid only if they serve to increase collective happiness, which is a mere fiction. Utilitarianism is nothing more than an excuse for imposing the utilitarian’s prejudices about the way the world ought to be.


* Libertarianism, by my reckoning, spans anarchism and the two major strains of minarchism: left-minarchism and right-minarchism. The internet-dominant strains of libertarianism (anarchism and left-minarchism) are, in fact, antithetical to liberty because they denigrate civil society. (For more on the fatuousness of  the dominant strains of “libertarianism,” see “On Liberty” and “The Meaning of Liberty”.) The conservative traditionalist (right-minarchist) is both a true libertarian and a true conservative.

** Criminals and psychopaths accept responsibility de facto, as persons subject to the laws that forbid the acts that they perform. Sane, law-abiding adults accept responsibility knowingly and willinglly. Restricting the ownership of firearms necessarily puts sane, law-abiding adults at the mercy of criminals and psychopaths.