Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism

In “Our Enemy, the State,” I explain that economic behavior is just an aspect of social behavior. The long-standing treatment of economics as a statistical-mathematical phenomenon exemplifies the rationalism that dominates “learned” discourse. It is my sad duty to report that “liberals” do not hold a monopoly on rationalism.

A rationalist, as Michael Oakeshott explains,

never doubts the power of his ‘reason … to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion or the propriety of an action. Moreover, he is fortified by a belief in a ‘reason’ common to all mankind, a common power of rational consideration….

… And having cut himself off from the traditional knowledge of his society, and denied the value of any education more extensive than a training in a technique of analysis, he is apt to attribute to mankind a necessary inexperience in all the critical moments of life, and if he were more self-critical he might begin to wonder how the race had ever succeeded in surviving. (“Rationalism in Politics,” pp. 5-7, as republished in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays)

Thomas Sowell puts it this way:

One of the things intellectuals [his rationalists] have been doing for a long time is loosening the bonds that hold a society [or a nation] together. They have sought to replace the groups into which people have sorted themselves with groupings created and imposed by the intelligentsia. Ties of family, religion, and patriotism, for example, have long been treated as suspect or detrimental by the intelligentsia….

Under the influence of the intelligentsia, we have become a society that rewards people with admiration for violating its own norms and for fragmenting that society into jarring segments. In addition to explicit denigrations of their own society for its history or current shortcomings, intellectuals often set up standards for their society which no society has ever met or is likely to meet. (Intellectuals and Society, pp. 303, 305)

Sowell’s attack is aimed at left-wing intellectuals, but it could just as well be aimed at pseudo-libertarian sophists.

Nowhere is the rationalist mindset more evident than in a contribution by “libertarian” Brink Lindsey to a Reason debate, “Where Do Libertarians Belong?” Lindsey argues that libertarians — as he defines them — should once and for all back away from Republicans and conservatives:

[A] clear-eyed look at conservatism as a whole reveals a political movement with no realistic potential for advancing individual freedom. The contemporary right is so deeply under the sway of its most illiberal impulses that they now define what it means to be a conservative.

What are those impulses?

First and foremost, a raving, anti-intellectual populism, as expressed by (among many, many others) Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Next, a brutish nationalism, as expressed in anti-immigrant xenophobia (most recently on display in Arizona) and it’s-always-1938-somewhere jingoism. And, less obvious now but always lurking in the background, a dogmatic religiosity, as expressed in homophobia, creationism, and extremism on beginning- and end-of-life issues. The combined result is a right-wing identity politics that feeds on the red meat of us versus them, “Real America” versus the liberal-dominated coasts, faith and gut instinct versus pointy-headed elitism.

Lindsey, in his next (metaphorical) breath, confirms his identity as a pointy-headed elitist and a rationalist, to boot:

This noxious stew of reaction and ressentiment is the antithesis of libertarianism. The spirit of freedom is cosmopolitan. It is committed to secularism in political discourse, whatever religious views people might hold privately. And it coolly upholds reason against the swirl of interests and passions. History is full of ironies and surprises, but there is no rational basis for expecting an outlook as benighted as the contemporary right’s to produce policy results that libertarians can cheer about.

And yet, just a few paragraphs earlier, Lindsey was cheering:

Without a doubt, libertarians should be happy that the Democrats’ power grabs have met with such vociferous opposition. Anything that can stop this dash toward dirigisme, or at least slow it down, is a good thing. Seldom has there been a better time to stand athwart history and yell “Stop!” So we should rejoice that at least some conservatives haven’t forgotten their signature move.

To put it baldly, Lindsey wants to piggy-back on conservatism’s renewed resistance to big government, but he wants to be sure that no one mistakes him for a Palin-esque, Beck-ish kind of conservative. Have no fear on that score, Mr. Lindsey, for you are not even a libertarian worthy of the name. You have revealed yourself as a politically correct, pseudo-libertarian, thought-nazi.

Is it not a tenet of libertarianism that people ought to be free to speak their minds, so that their listeners can make up their own minds about the issues under discussion? Why then, should anyone — libertarian or otherwise — stifle his views about religion and matters related thereto? In order to save you the embarrassment of hearing about things you don’t want to hear about? How libertarian of you!

Let us examine the robustness of Lindsey’s objections to the Palin-esque, Beck-ish side of conservatism:

  • “a raving, anti-intellectual populism” — I don’t know about the “raving,” but if it is anti-intellectual to resist and criticize the emissions of the leftist-dominated academy, the leading lights of which have resulted in the bloodless near-victory of communism, anti-intellectualism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
  • “a brutish nationalism, as expressed in anti-immigrant xenophobia (most recently on display in Arizona)” — If it is “nationalistic” to oppose illegal immigration and its consequences for the safety and tax burdens of citizens, let nationalism reign. Lindsey, like too many libertarians, wants a borderless world because he imagines that liberty is something that just happens, absent the protection of a limited government. It would surprise Lindsey and his ilk to learn that many Americans cling to “nationalism” precisely because they prize liberty and wish to preserve what little of it has been left to them.
  • “it’s-always-1938-somewhere jingoism” — Here’s another pseudo-libertarian theme: Only war-mongers prepare for war. Well, it was “1938” in 1941, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, encouraged by vocal isolationism and lac of preparedness on the part of the U.S.; in 1950, when Truman’s foreign policy invited North Korea to invade South Korea; in 1961, when JFK’s withdrawal of support for the anti-communist invasion of Cuba led to the installation there of Soviet missiles aimed at the U.S.; in 1979, when Iran’s radical Islamic regime took Americans hostage, knowing Jimmy Carter’s fecklessness; in 1993, when the bombing of the World Trade Center by terrorists was treated as a criminal matter and not as a hostile attack on the U.S.; in 2001, when the official U.S. response to the WTC bombing and other terrorist attacks emboldened Osama bin Laden.
  • “dogmatic religiosity, as expressed in homophobia, creationism, and extremism on beginning- and end-of-life issues” — I wonder if, in Lindsey’s brave new world of pure libertarianism, there would be any room for religion or the public expression of religious views. I wonder if he understands that the enforcement of “gay rights,” will most assuredly lead to the denial of the right of conscience, as has been the case with contraception and abortion. I wonder if he truly believes that it is “extreme” to defend life against arbitrary termination. Or should we leave our fate in the hands of the very kind of irreligious leftists that have brought about the near-victory of communism and who are itching to make the world (or at least the U.S.) safe for genetic cleansing through late-term abortion, post-term abortion (i.e., infanticide), genetic engineering, and death panels (i.e., single-payer health care)?

Then there is Lindsey’s charge that

[m]odern conservatism has always had an illiberal dark side. Recall the first great populist spasms of the postwar right—McCarthyism and opposition to desegregation—and recall as well that National Review founder William F. Buckley stoutly defended both.

McCarthyism” may have been excessive in its methods, but it was aimed in the right direction: the identification of a threat to Americans and their liberty. After all, to the Lindseys’ of this world, there are no threats, just the dire imaginings of those “jingos” for whom it’s always 1938. Inconveniently, for that point of view, the information unveiled by the Venona project

show[s] that the US and other nations were targeted in major espionage campaigns by the Soviet Union as early as 1942. Among those identified are Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; Alger Hiss; Harry Dexter White,[18] the second-highest official in the Treasury Department; Lauchlin Currie,[19] a personal aide to Franklin Roosevelt; and Maurice Halperin,[20] a section head in the Office of Strategic Services.

As for segregation, it is anti-libertarian when it is a government-ordered way of conducting one’s life and business. But segregation as a fact of life is just that, and nothing more. Lindsey practices a kind of segregation when he distances himself from Republicans and rightists. And, like the rest of us, he probably practices other kinds of segregation with respect to where he lives and with whom he associates.

Desegregation, properly carried out, removes the influence of government and renders it neutral with respect to race. But desegregation is neither neutral nor libertarian when it is used as an excuse for depriving persons of liberty by denying their freedom of association, freedom to work, and property rights. Is it any wonder that conservatives opposed the way government went about desegregation?

It’s interesting that Lindsey should point to what he calls the “illiberal dark side” of modern conservatism. Perhaps there’s a bit of projection at work there; in the next paragraph he recalls with fondness the “good old days” of censorship by the media cartel:

To be visible at all in the nation’s public debate, conservatism was forced to rely on intellectual champions whose sheer brilliance and sophistication caused the liberal gatekeepers in mass media to deem them suitable for polite company. People such as Buckley, George Will, and Milton Friedman thus became the public face of conservative ideology, while the rabble-rousers and conspiracy theorists were consigned to the shadow world of mimeographs, pamphlets, and paperbacks that nobody ever reviewed.

How “liberal” of you, Mr. Lindsey! It was all right for “liberal gatekeepers” — many of them beholden to the FCC — to inundate the unwashed with their left-wing views, as long as they kept those same unwashed from hearing conservatives of whom you disapprove. Perhaps you would like the federal government to suppress right-wing talk radio and equivalent web sites. Would you then find public discourse sufficiently civilized?

I have encountered Lindsey’s type before. It is left-libertarian, which is to say not libertarian at all. A left-libertarian wants “liberty,” but only if it yields outcomes favorable to certain groups, and to hell with the liberty and property rights of others. Theirs is a dangerous flirtation with political correctness (PCness), which includes unblinking support of open borders, head-in-the-sand opposition to defense spending, “gay rights,” and premature infanticide. (In what follows, I borrow heavily from an old post.)

Some “libertarians” have become apologists for PCness. Will Wilkinson, for example, suggests that

most PC episodes mocked and derided by the right are not state impositions. They are generally episodes of the voluntary social enforcement of relatively newly established moral/cultural norms.

Wilkinson grossly simplifies the complex dynamics of PCness. His so-called “newly established … norms” are, in fact, norms that have been embraced by insular élites (e.g., academics and think-tank denizens like Wilksinson) and then foisted upon “the masses” by the élites in charge of government and government-controlled institutions (e.g., tax-funded universities). Thus it is no surprise that proposals to allow same-sex marriage fare poorly when they are submitted to voters. Similarly, the “right” to an abortion, almost four decades after Roe v. Wade, remains far from universally accepted and meets greater popular resistance with the passage of time.

Roderick Long is another “libertarian” who endorses PCness:

Another issue that inflames many libertarians against political correctness is the issue of speech codes on campuses. Yes, many speech codes are daft. But should people really enjoy exactly the same freedom of speech on university property that they would rightfully enjoy on their own property? Why, exactly?

If the answer is that the purposes of a university are best served by an atmosphere of free exchange of ideas — is there no validity to the claim that certain kinds of speech might tend, through an intimidating effect, to undermine just such an atmosphere?…

At my university [Auburn], several white fraternity members were recently disciplined for dressing up, some in Klan costumes and others in blackface, and enacting a mock lynching. Is the university guilty of violating their freedom of expression? I can’t see that it is. Certainly those students have a natural right to dress up as they please and engage in whatever playacting they like, so long as they conduct themselves peacefully. But there is no natural right to be a student at Auburn University.

Long — who describes himself as a “left-libertarian market anarchist” (whatever that is) — makes a clever but fallacious argument. The purposes of a university have nothing to do with the case. Speech is speech, except when it really isn’t speech, as in sit-ins (trespass), child pornography (sexual exploitation of minors), and divulging military secrets (treason, in fact if not in name).

Long is rightly disgusted by the actions of the fraternity members he mentions, but disgust does not excuse the suppression of speech by a State university. It is true that there is no “natural right” to be a student at Auburn, but there is, likewise, no “natural right” not to be offended.

Steven Horwitz is a kindred spirit:

Yes, legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 involved some interference with private property and the right of association, but it also did away with a great deal of state-sponsored discrimination and was, in my view, a net gain for liberty.

Well, some parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, together with its progeny — the Civil Rights Acts of 1968 and 1991 — did advance liberty, but many parts did not. A principled libertarian would acknowledge that, and parse the Acts into their libertarian and anti-libertarian components. A moral scold who really, really wants the state to impose his attitudes on others would presume — as Horwitz does — to weigh legitimate gains (e.g., voting rights) against unconscionable losses (e.g., property rights and freedom of association). But presumptuousness comes naturally to Horwitz because he — like Lindsey, Wilkinson, and Long — stands high above reality, in his ivory tower.

Wilkinson is sympatico with Horwitz in the matter of state action:

Government attempts to guarantee the worth of our liberties by recognizing positive rights to a minimum income or certain services like health care often (but not always) undermine the framework of market and civil institutions most likely to enhance liberty over the long run, and should be limited. But this is really an empirical question about what really does maximize individuals’ chances of formulating and realizing meaningful projects and lives.

Within this framework, racism, sexism, etc., which strongly limit the useful exercise of liberty are clear evils. Now, I am ambivalent about whether the state ought to step in and do anything about it.

Wilkinson, like Horwitz, is quite willing to submit to the state (or have others do so), where state action passes some kind of cost-benefit test. (See “Utilitarianism vs. Liberty.”)

In any event, what more could the state do than it has done already? Well, there is always “hate crime” legislation, which (as Nat Hentoff points out) is tantamount to “thought crime” legislation. Perhaps that would satisfy Long, Horwitz, Wilkinson, and their brethren on the “libertarian” left. And, if that doesn’t do the trick, there is always Richard Thaler’s “libertarian” paternalism (with its statist slant), and Cass Sunstein’s proposal for policing thought on the internet. Sunstein, at least, doesn’t pretend to be a libertarian.

Pseudo-libertarianism — as it is found in the writings of Brink Lindsey, Will Wilkinson, Roderick Long, and Steven Horwitz (among others) — is no better than any other kind of rationalism. It simply posits a sterile, abstract standard of conduct — one that has nothing to do with the workaday world of humanity — and finds wanting everyone but those who pay lip-service to that standard of conduct.

That is not libertarianism. It is sophomoric dream-spinning.

Where is libertarianism to be found? In conservatism, of all places, because it is a reality-based political philosophy.

But what does conservatism have to do with libertarianism? I have in various posts essayed an answer to that question (here, here, here, and here, for example), but now I turn the floor over to John Kekes, who toward the end of “What Is Conservatism?” says this:

The traditionalism of conservatives excludes both the view that political arrangements that foster individual autonomy should take precedence over those that foster social authority and the reverse view that favours arrangements that promote social authority at the expense of individual autonomy. Traditionalists acknowledge the importance of both autonomy and authority, but they regard them as inseparable, interdependent, and equally necessary. The legitimate claims of both may be satisfied by the participation of individuals in the various traditions of their society. Good political arrangements protect these traditions and the freedom to participate in them by limiting the government’s authority to interfere with either.

Therein lies true libertarianism — true because it is attainable. Left-libertarians believe, foolishly, that liberty is to be found in the rejection of social norms. Liberty would be the first victim of the brave new disorder that they wish for.

It is fitting and proper to close this post with my version of Russel Kirk’s six “canons” of conservatism (summarized here):

  1. Belief that political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.
  2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and egalitarian and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.
  3. Conviction that civilized society requires order.
  4. Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress.
  5. Faith in traditional mores and distrust of “sophisters and calculators.” Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man’s anarchic impulse.
  6. Recognition that change and reform are not identical.

The Federal Pay Freeze

BHO supports a measure that would freeze the pay of federal employees for two years. That won’t do much to trim the deficit, but it might do some good things for the economy:

  • First, it would drive some competent federal employees into the private sector, where they would produce real things instead of messing around with the people and businesses who do.
  • Second, a freeze would slow the transfer of resources from people who do productive things in the private sector to people who do unproductive and counterproductive things in the public sector. If there were such a thing as social justice, that would be an example of it.

The next best thing would be to freeze the pay of civilian federal employees until their quit rate rises to the quit rate in the private sector. Then, pay parity will have been achieved.

After that? Get serious and eliminate all federal departments that perform unconstitutional functions, that is, most of them. Now we’re talking real money.

Our Enemy, the State

I have written much about the economic and social damage wrought by state action. In this post, I step back from particular instances of state action to explain, in general terms, how it damages the economic and social infrastructure that it is supposed to protect, in a so-called free nation.

I begin with tutorials about economic and social behavior and their intertwining. When I have laid that groundwork, I explain the destructiveness of state action when it goes beyond the protection of life, liberty, and property.


There is more to economic behavior than production and exchange, at arm’s length. But it is those aspects of economic behavior that usually come to mind when one refers to “economics.” In the narrow view, economic behavior has five facets:

  • Buyers allocate their disposable (after-tax) incomes among various goods (products and services, including forms of saving), according to their individual tastes and preferences, which are influenced by many things (e.g., socioeconomic status, family status, and cultural heritage).
  • Sellers choose the quantities and prices of goods that they offer to buyers, given the factors that affect their production costs and possibilities (e.g., resource prices, innovation, government intervention).
  • Buyers and sellers act — through the mechanism known as “the market,” which usually is not a physical place — to determine the mix of goods that changes hands.
  • The mix of goods exchanged varies across time, as tastes and preferences change; goods change because of  invention, innovation, and variations in resource prices; and government intervention varies in type and intensity (usually waxing rather than waning).
  • The general level of goods exchanged — as measured roughly by their aggregate monetary value — is affected by the foregoing.

All of these actions occur simultaneously and dynamically.

Aggregation has no validity unless it is grounded in an understanding and valid description of the disaggregated behavior of buyers and sellers. Even then, aggregation fails to depict the totality of economic activity because (a) much of it is unmeasured (e.g., so-called household production); (b) not all activity moves in the same direction at the same time; (c) tastes, preferences, and production possibilities are constantly changing; and, most importantly, (d) there is no valid way of aggregating the satisfaction, pleasure, happiness, or utility (call it what you will) that the fruits of economic activity impart to the unique individuals who partake of it.

In any event, the underlying characteristic of economic behavior is its transactional nature. Two or more parties agree to exchange things (goods, money, other stores of value) in an effort by each party to gain satisfaction, pleasure, happiness, or utility (call it what you will). Transactional behavior is a manifestation of social behavior, in that it is cooperative.


The kinds of economic behavior listed above typically are studied as “economics,” which — until recent decades — was limited mainly to the explicit exchange of goods for goods or goods for money. But such transactions are not the whole of economic behavior, and are far from the whole of social behavior.

Some kinds of transactional behavior are considered deeply personal — and they are deeply personal — but they involve exchange, nonetheless. One such behavior is friendship; another is sex; a third is loyalty:

  • Friendship is mutual, so its economic nature should need no explanation.
  • So is sex mutual, when it is consensual. It may be given for many reasons other than monetary gain, but its essential character is transactional: parties giving each other pleasure.
  • Loyalty arises from a kind of tacit exchange; that is, loyalty-inducing acts yield loyalty, which can be drawn upon (or not) at the behest of the person who commits loyalty-inducing acts. Loyalty may accompany friendship, but it also may exist apart from friendship.

These and other kinds of “personal” acts are not usually considered to be economic in nature, for three reasons: (a) the medium of exchange is far removed from money (or anything like it); (b) the transactions are so idiosyncratic as to defy the usual statistical-mathematical reductionism of economics; and (c) the transactions are far removed in character from, say, the buying and selling of potatoes.

The distinction between economic and social behavior has almost vanished in recent decades, with the rise of behavioral economics. This brand of economics focuses on the psychological determinants of economic behavior. There is much research and speculation about how and why individuals choose as they do, not only in the spending of money but also it other, more “personal,” types of social interaction.

Formal economics aside, the essential character of economic behavior is, as I have said, transactional. Economic transactions — even those that are deeply personal — are cooperative. But not all social behavior is transactional. In that subtle distinction lies the difference between economic behavior and “pure” social behavior.


What is “pure” social behavior? A good example can be found in religion. Certainly, religion has transactional aspects, as in the “giving” of one’s belief in the hope of a heavenly afterlife. But religion, for billions of persons, is much more than that. So is sex in a loving marriage. So friendship can be.

What is this deeper aspect of “pure,” non-transactional (non-economic) social behavior? It is rooted in the capacity of humans for self-generated emotional satisfaction. This can manifest itself as a uni-directional attachment to another person or being, an attachment that does not depend on the actions of its subject. A mundane but not all-encompassing term for it is “unconditional love.” A perhaps more apt term is “needing to belong” to someone or something.

A uni-directional attachment becomes a “pure” social relationship when individuals join to celebrate an attachment in common. To offer a short list of examples, the attachment may be to a family (nuclear or extended) as a family, apart from mutual attachments between individuals; religion; club; patriotic organization; or even a neighborhood, where the attachment is to the neighborhood itself, instead of or in addition to neighborly friendships. Membership in such organizations — the feeling of belonging to something “bigger” than oneself — can complement and heighten the underlying uni-directional attachment felt by each member.


Politics, as I use the term here, is simply an aspect of social behavior. It is the working out of the rules (signals, customs, taboos) and roles that individuals will follow and adopt in transactional and “pure” social relationships. Some rules may be confined to particular relationships; others may spread widely through emulation and necessity. Necessity arises when there is a network of transactional and “pure” social relationships that comprises disparate local sub-groups. Common rules, in such a case, help to ensure that members are recognized, and that their behavior is consistent with the purpose of the social network.

Rules range from the use of secret handshakes (to signal membership in a particular organization) to shunning (as a signal that the target has been ejected from a particular social organization). In between, there are things like the religious symbolism (e.g., the way in which the Sign of the Cross is made), deportment (stiff upper lip, and all that), the use of drugs (or not), and myriad other tokens of membership in the overlapping social groupings that comprise humanity. Such groupings include the fraternity of individualists, who despite their individualism, share an allegiance to it and variations on themes that justify it.

Roles denote one’s standing in a social group. Roles are determined by rules and signaled by the observance of certain of them. The role of a wife in many cultures, for example, was (and remains) overt subservience to the edicts of the husband. Subservience is signaled by the observance of rules that include, for example, standing while the husband eats his meal, and eating only when he has finished. The extent to which a particular wife is truly subservient to her husband — bowing to his political judgments or, alternatively, influencing them — is a political matter that lies between them and depends very much on the individuals involved.

Here, I must digress about the difference between voluntarily evolved social distinctions and dominance by force. Busybodies are quick to adopt the view that outward signs of subservience — and similar social phenomena that seem to create classes of individuals — indicate the forceful imposition of rules and roles. Busybodies, in other words, cannot (or do not wish to) tell the difference between something as abhorrent as slavery and a time-honored rule or role that, by facilitating social behavior, saves time and effort and reduces the likelihood of conflict. The role of a busybody is to question and challenge everything that is not done the way he would do it; a busybody, in other words, is a person of limited empathy and imagination. (For more about the proper role of the state with respect to social behavior, see “The Principles of Actionable Harm.”)


Everything I have discussed to this point involves real politics: transactions for mutual benefit, within a framework of voluntarily evolved rules and roles, without the imposition or threat of force by the state.

For example, the dietary laws of Judaism, when observed strictly (as they are in certain sects) affect the kinds of foodstuffs that observant Jews will grow, raise, or buy. Those of us who are old enough to remember when the three top-selling makes of automobile in the U.S. were Ford, Chevrolet, and Plymouth will also remember that the choice of which to buy was (in certain socioeconomic circles and age groups) a sign of membership in a loose affiliation of kindred auto owners. More generally, the demand for certain kinds of clothing, electronic equipment, beverages, automobiles, and so on is determined to some extent by socioeconomic status and group membership. Outsiders may mimic insiders in an effort to increase their standing with peers, to signal an aspiration to belong to a certain group, or as a sign of membership in an auxiliary group (e.g., a fan club, or whatever it is called now).

Thus we have real politics as the lubricant of social behavior. And we have economic behavior as an aspect of social behavior.

There is nevertheless a widely held view that economic behavior is distinct from social behavior. But when the state taxes or regulates “economic” activity, it shapes and channels related “social” activity. For example, the family that pays 25 percent of its income in taxes is that much less able to join and support organizations of its choice, to own and exhibit tokens of its socioeconomic status, to afford better education for its children, and so on. The immediate rejoinder will be that nothing has been changed if everyone is affected equally. But because of the complexity of tax laws and regulations, everyone is not affected equally. Moreover, even if everyone were deprived equally of the same kind of thing — a superior education, say — everyone would be that much worse off by having been deprived of opportunities to acquire remunerative knowledge and skills, productive relationships, and mental stimulation. Similarly, everyone would be that much worse off by being less well clothed, less well housed, and so on. Taxes and regulations, even if they could be applied in some absolutely neutral way (which they can’t be), have an inevitably deleterious effect on individuals.

In sum, there is no dividing line between economic and social behavior. What we call social and economic behavior are indivisible aspects of human striving to fulfill wants, both material and spiritual. The attempt to isolate and restrict one type of behavior is futile. It is all social behavior.


The activity that we usually call “politics” is not politics at all. Real politics, as I have said, is the voluntary working out of rules and roles, in the context of social behavior, which encompasses so-called economic behavior. With voice and exit, those who are unhappy with their lot can try to persuade the other members of their voluntary association to adopt different rules. If they fail, they can choose a more congenial social set (if one is available to them), which may involve moving to a different place. The ability to “vote with one’s feet” is an instrument of persuasion, as well, for it signals the group that one leaves (or credibly threatens to leave) of a defect that may cause others to leave, thus endangering the attainment  of the group’s common objective.

What we usually call “politics” is entirely different from true politics. I call it “power politics.” It amounts to this:

  • A state is established, either by force alone or through a combination of consent, by limited to certain social and/or interest groups, and force, imposed on dissenting and uninvolved persons.
  • The state enjoys a monopoly of force, which it may — in the beginning, at least — apply to limited purposes, usually the defense of its citizens from aggression, intimidation, fraud, and theft.
  • There is a constant struggle for control of the state, either by force or by the kind of “politics” endemic to the state. The “politics” amounts to non-violent contests between and among various social and/or interest groups. The contests are conducted according to formal rules established under the aegis of the state,  not a working-out of a modus vivendi in the normal course of real politics.
  • Control of the state enables the winners to override the rules that arise voluntarily through social cooperation. Rules imposed by the state come in the form of statutes, regulations, executive orders, judicial decrees, and administrative decisions (which may take a life of their own).
  • The effects of the various statutes, etc., are long-lasting because they often are not repealed when power changes hands. Instead, they remain in place, with the result that state power accrues and expands, while — as a result — the scope of social behavior shrinks and becomes less potent.

In other words, power in the hands of the state — and those who control it — is anti-social. Acts of the state are not acts of “society” or “community.” Those terms properly refer to consenting relationships among individuals — relationships that are shaped by real politics.

The state, in its ideal form, upholds and defends “society” and “community.” But when it oversteps its legitimate bounds, it commits the very acts of aggression, intimidation, fraud, and theft that it is supposed to deter and prevent. Moreover, it undoes the fabric of “society” and “community” by unraveling the voluntarily evolved social rules that bind them and guide them in peaceful cooperation.

A Modest (Passenger-Screening) Proposal

It seems that TSA allows some government officials to skip airport security. That’s fair enough; they’re probably trustworthy individuals, even if I wouldn’t want to have a beer with them or invite them to my home.

In their trustworthiness lies the solution to the screening brouhaha. Well, almost. Democrats aren’t trustworthy because they hang out with the likes of Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. (Belated repudiations don’t count.)

So, let’s start with high-ranking Republican officials. A good place to start would be with the 290 or so Republican members of the next Congress, the one that will convene in January. Let’s allow each of them to name 20 other trustworthy U.S. citizens. Assuming a duplication rate of 50 percent, the net result would be a list of 2,900 trustworthy persons (290 x 10). If each of them names 20 other trustworthy persons (of whom half are duplicates), the next round produces a list of 29,000 persons. The next round produces 290,000; the next, 2,900,000; and the next 29,000,000.

If, along the way, some of the Republicans name Democrats who are trustworthy — which is possible, I suppose — the next round would bring the total to 290,000,000 trustworthy persons. That’s certainly more than the number of U.S. citizens who would want to fly on a commercial aircraft.

So, in a matter of seven rounds, which should take only a few months to complete, TSA could have a list of all the citizens who don’t need to be screened for flights leaving the U.S. or bound for the U.S. Everyone else (in the U.S. or abroad) would have to endure a body scan, pat-down, or whatever else TSA can dream up to make them uncomfortable. Foreign-based flights wouldn’t be allowed to land in the U.S. unless passengers not on the trustworthy list are screened under TSA supervision.

P.S. To ensure that individuals give some thought to the trustworthiness of the persons they name, there would be a harsh penalty attached to the naming of a person who commits, or tries to commit, a terrorist act on an airplane or in an airport. The penalty? The prominent publication via the internet of the irresponsible person’s body scan — front, sides, and back — accompanied by the person’s mug shot and home address.

Is Jeter Worth It?

Rumor has it that the Yankees have offered Derek Jeter a three-year contract worth $45 million. The annual rate of $15 million would be a comedown from Jeter’s 2010 pay of $22.6 million (source), but in terms of on-field performance, Jeter would be grossly overpaid. And he wants to be more grossly overpaid, of course.

Let’s look at Jeter’s value to the Yankees since 1996, the first year for which his salary is known:

OPS+ per
Year Age OPS+ Salary $10 mn
1996 22 101 $130,000 0.07769
1997 23 103 $550,000 0.01873
1998 24 127 $750,000 0.01693
1999 25 153 $5,000,000 0.00306
2000 26 128 $10,000,000 0.00128
2001 27 123 $12,600,000 0.00098
2002 28 111 $14,600,000 0.00076
2003 29 125 $15,600,000 0.00080
2004 30 114 $18,600,000 0.00061
2005 31 125 $19,600,000 0.00064
2006 32 132 $20,600,000 0.00064
2007 33 121 $21,600,000 0.00056
2008 34 102 $21,600,000 0.00047
2009 35 125 $21,600,000 0.00058
2010 36 90 $22,600,000 0.00040
119 $205,430,000 0.00087

OPS+ is a measure of offensive performance. It is on-base percentage plus slugging average (OPS) adjusted for year and ballpark. An OPS+ of 100 represents the average for the league and year.

Jeter’s on-field value to the Yankees, as an offensive player, peaked in 1999, when his OPS+ reached a career-high 153. His OPS+ per $10 million of salary in that year was 0.00306. It has been all downhill since, both in terms of OPS+ (though there have been some good years since 1999) and OPS+ per $10 million of salary. The latter figure dwindled to 0.00040 in 2010, when Jeter’s OPS+ fell to 90, that is, 90 percent of the league average.

It is only reasonable to assume that Jeter’s productivity will decline further from its peak, even if he recovers somewhat from the 2010’s unusually weak performance. Even at $15 million per season, Jeter will be an over-priced commodity, given his likely on-field performance.

So, if Jeter is worth $15 million a year, or more, it’s only because of his leadership qualities (which can’t be measured) and his draw as a symbol of Yankee greatness. I suspect that Jeter’s leadership qualities will not be enough to reverse the Yankees’ evident decline. Further, that decline will more than offset whatever value Jeter has at the box office.

I look forward, with sadness, to some relatively lean years in the Bronx, and to buyer’s remorse on the part of the Yankees if they settle with Jeter for much more than $15 million a season.

More about the Quality of Films

In “The Quality of Films over the Decades,” I compare my ratings of 1,900-plus feature films with the ratings given those same films by IMDb users:

An obvious reason for the difference is that many IMDb users, unlike me, have a strong taste for films of the 1940s through the mid-1970s. I, on the other hand, generally prefer the films of 1932-1942 (the “Golden Age”) to what has been produced since. (My high marks for films of 1920-1931 are based on small samples, and should be ignored for purposes of this discussion.)

It is evident, however, that I am in step with IMDb users with regard to the average quality of films produced from 1975 to 1995. I am less enthusiastic than IMDb users about the output of the last 15 years. (The jump in my ratings for 2009-2010 reflects limited viewing.)

That I am selective in what I choose to view is born out by the following graph:

The blue bars denote the ratings given by IMDb viewers to some 113,000 feature films. The average rating assigned to all of those films is 5.8, in contrast with the 7.1 assigned by IMDb users to films I’ve rated (my average rating, 6.8). The distribution of the red and green bars, relative to the blue ones, attests to my selectivity in choosing films to watch.

It is the difference between the red bars and the green bars that I find most interesting. Because of my selective viewing habits, I have given ratings of 8, 9, or 10 to 13 percent of the films I’ve rated; whereas, IMDb users apply ratings of 8, 9, or 10 to less than 6 percent of the same features. The picture then changes. I am less generous with ratings between 5 and 7, and more willing to apply ratings below 5.

It gives me solace, for two reasons, to know that the average rating for all feature films at IMDb is only 5.8. First, it means that I haven’t missed much by being selective. Second, it means that the average viewer (at least the ones who rate films at IMDb) is willing and able (at least somewhat) to tell what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s indifferent.

Finally, there’s a good reason for being selective: It prevents a sad waste of time. If the average length of the 113,000 features rated at IMDb is 105 minutes (1.75 hours), it would take about 100 years (at five hours a day, five days a week) to watch every film all the way through. That’s a lot of popcorn.

A Grand Strategy for the United States

REVISED 11/22/10; UPDATED 04/06/14 (where indicated)

The title of this post is a play on Strategy for the  West (1954), by Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir John Cotesworth Slessor. Slessor was, by some accounts, a principal author of nuclear deterrence. Aside from his role in the development of a strategy for keeping the USSR at bay, Slessor is perhaps best known for this observation:

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

In keeping with that observation, my purpose here is to outline the requirements for the ultimate social service that the government of the United States can provide: the defense of Americans and their interests, at home and abroad.

The government of the United States was created to serve limited purposes, among them to “provide for the common defence … and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” The United States owes liberty to no one but its citizens, though the liberty of others may help to ensure the liberty of Americans.

A grand strategy that promotes the liberty of Americans cannot be complete unless all components of the federal government are aligned with it. What follows is a prescription for the “common defence” that is not restricted to the Department of Defense. The broader reach of this prescription becomes evident in the latter portions of this post.


Nuclear deterrence, as a strategy, was adequate for a particular place and time: to forestall Soviet aggression toward Europe in the 1950s. It was succeeded in the 1960s by the strategy of “flexible response,” that is, the deterrence or defeat of Soviet aggression in Europe with a combination of nuclear and “conventional” forces. The latter would be capable of waging a prolonged land-air-sea campaign against Soviet forces, while also dealing with threats to U.S. interests in other parts of the world.

A grand strategy, by contrast, anticipates an evolution of potential threats and points to a defense posture that is capable of dealing with their realization. In the context of World War II, for example, the defeat of Germany by Allied forces — beginning with victory in North Africa and the Atlantic, and culminating in the entrapment of German forces by Allied invasions from the west, south, and east — was a strategy. A grand Allied strategy, on the other hand, would have seen the possibility of Stalin’s post-war expansionism, and thwarted it by (a) excluding the USSR from the occupation of Germany and (b) maintaining large standing armies instead of rushing to demobilize. The failure of the Allies to adopt a grand strategy — despite Churchill’s premonitions about Stalin — can be ascribed to Roosevelt’s declining health, the  prevalence of “doves” (if not Soviet sympathizers) among his inner circle, and the rush to demobilize in the U.S. and Britain. Then, barely two months after the surrender of Germany, British voters turned Parliament upside-down, replacing Churchill’s Conservatives with Atlee’s Labourites. Atlee’s party

ran [and won] on promises to create full employment, a tax funded universal National Health Service, and a cradle-to-grave welfare state, with the campaign message ‘Let us face the future.’

In other words, the Great British Public (or a sizable portion of it) was eager to resume its ill-advised love affair with socialism.


Moving forward to the present, it is evident that the responsible officers of the United States have failed to articulate a grand strategy. Specifically, in a report issued earlier this year, the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel (a distinguished group of defense cognoscenti assembled at the behest of Congress) recommended the formation of a standing Independent Strategic Review Panel, which would (among other things) “provide to the Congress and the President its assessment of the strategic environment.” The National Security Council, in turn, would use that “assessment [to] develop a ‘grand strategy’ for the United States that would be formalized as the National Security Strategy.”

What now passes for a strategy is written in Barack Obama’s “National Security Strategy” of May 2010. Obama’s speech of August 31, 2010, about the end of combat operations in Iraq touches on many of the same points as his strategy statement. Regarding the Iraq speech, Kenneth Anderson, a student of defense affairs, says (in part):

Commenters have noted, some with puzzlement, as to why the domestic economy figured in this speech.  Seen through a domestic policy lens, it’s obvious — Americans, with upcoming elections, are worried about the domestic economy, and this foreign stuff, even when it is a major war, is merely a side-show and distraction from the domestic agenda that is, at bottom, both what American voters care about and what the Obama administration has always truly cared about, even if those two have sharply divergent views as to what the domestic policies should be, to judge by the polls.

Seen through a foreign policy lens, however, the answer is somewhat the same, but emphasizes a different point.  That point is that the Obama administration proposes that the United States should embark on an extended period of in-turned focus upon its domestic issues but that, seen from the standpoint of the rest of the world, friend and foe alike, it looks very much like America wants a good, long, global nap.  I’m a conservative critic of this whole idea; I don’t think that would work out very well for the United States, for our friends and allies, or really for anyone — including many of our enemies, active and passive — who rely on the US for the provision of certain basic public goods in both global security and the global economy.

But I would say that the way in which the President linked the foreign and domestic policies in last night’s speech — ambiguous, to be sure, but that, from this perspective, is part of the problem — is a modest indication of the Obama administration’s overall global strategic view that “multilateral engagement” is a rhetorical term for “American strategic withdrawal.”

It is clear (to me) that Obama is willing to take the risk that bad things won’t happen, and to paper over that risk with high-sounding hopes for diplomacy and “multinationalism”? Why is he willing to take that risk? So that he can push resources in the direction of his domestic agenda. Obama’s so-called strategy is nothing more than an excuse for the continuation of the American left’s ill-advised love affair with socialism.

In that regard, it is galling that secretary of defense Gates would lend himself to Obama’s purposes. But here he is, doing just that in a speech earlier this year:

  • The U.S. operates 11 large carriers, all nuclear powered.  In terms of size and striking power, no other country has even one comparable ship.
  • The U.S. Navy has 10 large-deck amphibious ships that can operate as sea bases for helicopters and vertical-takeoff jets.  No other navy has more than three, and all of those navies belong to pur allies or friends.  Our Navy can carry twice as many aircraft at sea as all the rest of the world combined.
  • The U.S. has 57 nuclear-powered attack and cruise missile submarines – again, more than the rest of the world combined.
  • Seventy-nine Aegis-equipped combatants carry roughly 8,000 vertical-launch missile cells.  In terms of total missile firepower, the U.S. arguably outmatches the next 20 largest navies.
  • All told, the displacement of the U.S. battle fleet – a proxy for overall fleet capabilities – exceeds, by one recent estimate, at least the next 13 navies combined, of which 11 are our allies or partners.
  • And, at 202,000 strong, the Marine Corps is the largest military force of its kind in the world and exceeds the size of most world armies.

As if certain numbers of ships, aircraft, missiles, displacement tons, and Marines can be thought of as “too many” without reference to potential and actual threats. As if those numbers should not be out of proportion to the numbers owned by prospective enemies. As if it were somehow wrong to possess a large Navy and Marine Corps, when the U.S. has far-flung interests to protect.

Mr. Gates would object that he is only trying to steer the Navy and Marine Corps away from their outmoded ways. That is the thrust of what he says later in the same speech:

Our Navy has to be designed for new challenges, new technologies, and new missions – because another one of history’s hard lessons is that, when it comes to military capabilities, those who fail to adapt often fail to survive.  In World War II, both the American and British navies were surprised by the speed with which naval airpower made battleships obsolete.  Because of two decades of testing and operations, however, both were well prepared to shift to carrier operations.  We have to consider whether a similar revolution at sea is underway today.

Potential adversaries are well aware of our overwhelming conventional advantage – which is why, despite significant naval modernization programs underway in some countries, no one intends to bankrupt themselves by challenging the U.S. to a shipbuilding competition akin to the Dreadnought race before World War I.

Instead, potential adversaries are investing in weapons designed to neutralize U.S. advantages – to deny our military freedom of action while potentially threatening America’s primary means of projecting power:  our bases, sea and air assets, and the networks that support them.

We know other nations are working on asymmetric ways to thwart the reach and striking power of the U.S. battle fleet.  At the low end, Hezbollah, a non-state actor, used anti-ship missiles against the Israeli navy in 2006.  And Iran is combining ballistic and cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, mines, and swarming speedboats in order to challenge our naval power in that region.

What will happen, of course, is that the “excess” forces will be pared, in sacrificial homage to deficit reduction. But it will be a long time — if ever — before the gaps are filled with more “relevant” forces. Even if Mr. Gates does not mean to help Obama achieve some kind of limited, unilateral disarmament, that is precisely the end that will be served by his facile and irrelevant comparisons.


When I say that a grand strategy “anticipates an evolution of threats and points to a defense posture that is capable of dealing with that evolution,” I do not mean that the nation’s security posture should be determined by a sequence of set-piece scenarios. These are easy enough to conjure — for the near future, at least — but they focus on known knowns. A grand strategy worth its name should yield a coherent defense posture that can accommodate unknown unknowns.

The current bureaucratic-political process, which eventuates in the passage of defense budgets by Congress, yields a defense posture that is neither coherent nor connected to a strategy, except by mere verbiage. I therefore prescribe an analytical-political process that moves from the development of a grand strategy to an open debate about the risks of failing to implement it:

1. Describe a complete defense-in-depth; that is, prepare an exhaustive outline of the ways in which the nation must be able to defend itself, even against threats that have not (and may not) materialize. The implausibility of a potential threat is no proof against its materialization.

2. Size the budget from which a complete defense-in-depth can be constructed. An “affordable” defense budget is not a figure picked out of the air by a president who is anxious to advance his domestic agenda. (By “defense budget,” I do not mean just the budget for the Department of Defense, but rather the budget for all military and civilian components of government that have a role to play in a complete defense-in-depth.) A failure to defend Americans and their interests carries a high price tag, in lives, limbs, and treasure. An “affordable” defense budget is one that is justified by the value of the lives, limbs, and treasure that it saves by deterring, thwarting, and defeating enemies. (I offer some benchmarks of “affordability” below.)

3. Test alternative defense postures against demanding and feasible scenarios, in various combinations. The main purpose of this step is to test the robustness of the “affordable” defense budget, that is, its ability to provide a complete defense-in-depth against a variety of threats, near-term and long-term. This step yields a baseline against which the effects of lower defense budgets can be compared.

4. Assess the effects of lower defense budgets, by testing the capabilities they afford against the baseline obtained in step 4.

5. Prepare a detailed multi-year defense program and describe the risks it entails, relative to a complete defense-in-depth.

6. Present the results of steps 1-5 to Congress and the public. Members of Congress with a “need to know” (e.g., members of the subcommittees for Department of Defense authorizations and appropriations) would have access to classified information. An unclassified version would be published and distributed via the internet.

6. The ensuing political debate — in the press, over the internet, and in Congress — would culminate in the adoption of a defense budget for the coming year and adjustments to the multi-year defense program.

7. Repeat the process every two years, but change the cast of characters involved in steps 1-4.

The rest of this post focuses on step 1.


The Essential Elements

A grand strategy should

  • be rooted in a conception of Americans’ interests (e.g., continued access to foreign oil  for as long as it remains an efficient source of energy);
  • take into account the present and likely future threats to those interests — threats both specific (e.g., Islamic terrorism) and generic (e.g., attacks on vital networks, such as transportation, energy generation and transmission, and telecommunications);
  • provide a template against which the adequacy of U.S. security programs defense forces can be assessed (e.g., adequate for conventional combat against organized armies but inadequate for damage control in the event of a cyber-attack on government computing networks);
  • point to specific, technologically feasible, program and budget recommendations for shoring up areas of weakness.

The Calculus of Global Engagement

It may be possible to devise and implement a grand strategy based on military disengagement from the wider world — one that focuses on homeland defense, rapid responses to emerging overseas threats, and nuclear retaliation. But disengagement is not the proper starting point.

Any strategy that cedes forward defenses and preemption can be viewed by an adversary as an invitation to seize (or be capable of seizing) critical masses of land, water, and space, to the grave disadvantage of Americans’ interests. Forward defenses and preemption — like them or not — can prove more effective and less costly than reactive defense postures.

Some enemies cannot and will not be deterred. They must be contained — and, when necessary — struck before they can strike or abet others with a penchant for anti-American violence.

The world is not our oyster, but it is the source of much that brings prosperity and enjoyment to Americans. Any administration that claims to value to well-being of Americans should be prepared to defend the overseas sources of goods and services enjoyed by Americans — and the air, sea, and space through which those goods and services must travel.

Enemies: Within and Without

America is more despised that loved, for reasons varying from resentment to envy to inculcated hatred. The particular reasons are less important than the fact — of which most Americans seem ignorant — that the downfall of America would be greeted in much of the world with glee. This is true even of peoples who owe their liberty to the force of American arms and their prosperity to trade with Americans.

I did not write “more feared than loved” because America is no longer feared. America would still be feared if, in the aftermath of 9/11, the forces of the United States had attacked terrorism and its state supporters relentlessly and decisively. But the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were too limited — in part because of the shrinkage of American forces in the preceding decade — and partly because Americans — led by a generation brought up on anti-war rhetoric — have lost whatever taste they once had for all-out, decisive warfare. Afghanistan and Iraq have been Korea and Vietnam all over again, complete with halfhearted leaders, second-guessing pundits, and backstabbing politicians.

Because America is both despised and no longer feared — and is unlikely to give the world a reason to fear it — its enemies are emboldened.

Many Europeans — especially so-called intellectuals — view Americans (collectively) as boors and bullies, whose values are inconsistent with “enlightened” Europeanism, where the state reigns supreme over the individual and peace reigns by dint of the sacrifices of Americans. It would, however, be a strategic mistake to abandon Europe to its own devices and to the ambitions of Russian imperialists,  UPDATE (04/06/14) which are (barely) repressed by the Russian leadership’s evident fear of NATO which are personified in Vladimir Putin (see this and this, for example).

A “European” view of America is shared by many Americans — especially so-called intellectuals, whose views have migrated to the mainstream of American political thought. They believe that enemies can be won over by diplomacy and gestures of friendship. They believe, in sum, that peace is a product of hope, not preparedness and the will to fight.

I make these points to emphasize another one: The search for a grand strategy should not and must not be diverted by the “strategy” of hope. That — as history proves time and again — is a strategy for retreat, if not defeat.


It is equally important to keep the question of “affordability” in its proper place. Members of the executive and legislative branches should first ask what must be done to assure, with a high degree of confidence, the defense of Americans and their interests. Only after having asked and answered that question should they consider how much it would cost to do the job. Then, and only then, should they consider spending less than the full amount, while assessing and acknowledging the risks of doing so.

A grand strategy — to be a real thing — must be more than a collection of words on paper. The true grand strategy will be whatever it is that can be accomplished by actual, well-trained human beings, equipped with reliable, state-of-the-art hardware and software, and backed by modern well-run installations, logistics, communications, and intelligence systems.

In the end, the “affordability” of a defense posture should be measured by the cost of failing to protect Americans and their interests, at home an abroad. (Cutting off oil is just as much an act of aggression as flying planes into the World Trade Center.)

“Affordability” can be measured by the costs of the Great Depression and World War II. The Great Depression was caused, in part, by an international trade war, triggered by protectionist impulses. Massive and successful attacks on telecommunications facilities, trade routes, and terminals could easily replicate the economic destruction wrought by the Great Depression. How costly was that destruction? In the United States, the Great Depression cost Americans about one-fourth of the GDP that they would otherwise have enjoyed during the years 1930-1940.

What happened next was even worse. It was necessary for the U.S. to enter World War II — Pearl Harbor or not — in order to prevent encirclement, impoverishment, and possibly enslavement by the Axis powers. But, had the U.S. (along with Britain and France) prepared sufficiently, the Axis powers might have been deterred. Even if they had not been deterred, the Allies would have won sooner and at a lower cost in lives and treasure. As it turned out, World War II consumed one-third of the GDP of the United States in the years 1942-1945, peaking at 43 percent in 1944.

In effect, the Great Depression continued through World War II and did not end until 1947, when defense spending dropped to 7.5 percent of GDP. And yet there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth nowadays because defense spending has recovered a bit from its suicidal, Clintonian, budget-balancing trick:

Derived from Bureau of Economic Analysis, Table 1.1.5. Gross Domestic Product, available here.

The current push to trim the defense budget is foolish on two counts. First, the huge deficits projected for the federal government arise mainly from commitments to continue and expand three major entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (Obamacare represents an expansion of all three). Second, the defense budget should be geared to external threats, not to the federal government’s fiscal problems. Cutting the defense budget to fund profligate spending on “social services” is like preparing for a street brawl by spending money on a new suit instead of brass knuckles.

There is, nevertheless, a tendency in political-punditry circles to bemoan the amounts spent on defense. Anti-defense zealots get it into their heads that the government spends “too much” on defense — period. What they mean, of course, is that the government spends money to execute wars of which they disapprove, and to prepare for wars that they would rather not think about. There is also the fear — now that the looming bankruptcy of entitlement programs cannot be denied — that money will be taken from “social services” rather than defense. On that score, it is well to remember that “the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free.”

Rather than take money from defense, our “leaders” should be thinking about how to spend more on defense. There is nothing more inviting to an aggressor than his intended victim’s lack of preparedness. As the man says, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” But if you choose to pay later, you will pay one hell of a higher price, if you are still alive to pay it.


A grand strategy, as I have suggested, is a defense-in-depth that extends across time. It should not be based on a particular scenario, or a particular set of them. It should be based on a catalog of feasible threats to Americans and their interests, as those threats may change with the evolution of technology. Which is not to say that a grand strategy should fixate on technological advances, for — as the events of 9/11, 3/11, and 7/7 (among many others) should remind us — there always will be much to fear from determined, resourceful, and fanatical enemies whose main weapon is their victims’ lack of preparedness and resolve. Moreover — given the possibility of recurrences of 9/11 on a much larger scale, and the ever-present threat of cyber-war — a grand strategy cannot be built on the assumption that there will be ample time in which to mobilize the resources of the United States.

I therefore submit that America’s posture vis-à-vis its actual and potential enemies must encompass the capabilities listed below. I am not equipped with the particular knowledge or expertise that would enable me to elaborate the points in detail. Accordingly, I restrict my commentary to arcane and off-beat aspects of a defense-in-depth.

1. Effective strategic and tactical intelligence, accompanied by effective counter-intelligence.

I have several thoughts on this aspect of a grand strategy:

  • Abolish the CIA’s analytical arm. Replace it with competing “red” teams, whose funding and eventual survival would depend on their accuracy in predicting developments that affect the security of the U.S.
  • Hire unsavory characters, as necessary, for analytical and operational work, but keep a close eye on them and “terminate” them at the first sign of treachery.
  • Monitor all international communications from sensors in space and overseas, under a legal grant of authority enacted by Congress. Everything else should be fair game, but only as authorized by “intelligence court” warrants under the scrutiny of a restricted number of executive officers and members of Congress.
  • Prosecute leakers and publishers of leaks to the fullest extent of the law, without fail and regardless of rank or influence. Establish a separate prosecutorial office, staffed by “untouchables,” for that purpose.

2. Secure, hardened, and redundant telecommunications, transportation, and energy networks.

There are lessons to be learned from the evolution of business communications:

  • Technology has eliminated, and will continue to eliminate, much of the need for business travel. This development is independent of the terrorist threat, though that threat may have accelerated an otherwise inevitable shift toward more productive means of business communication.
  • The broader point is that telecommunications, transportation, and energy networks will not retain their present configurations. Technological innovation can, and will, make them more efficient and — at the same time — less vulnerable. Government should be in the business of protecting the networks from the outside, but the design of the networks should evolve from the inside. Otherwise, the “tail” of security will wag the “dog” of efficiency.

As for energy:

  • Nuclear energy may or may not be more efficient than the alternatives, but it should be given a chance. If it really is “too risky,” why haven’t all existing plants been shut down?
  • Offshore drilling platforms and production facilities in “sacred” places like ANWR can be protected more readily than foreign fields. That is merely to point out the hypocrisy of the green crowd, which tends to oppose “blood for (foreign) oil” but also opposes the best substitute for it, which is the home-grown variety.
  • But I do not counsel government-dictated retreat from foreign oil; Americans are well served by market-based changes in energy supplies, and ill-served by tax-subsidized scams (e.g., ethanol). As long as foreign oil remains a competitive source of energy, the task of securing the energy network must include the protection of foreign fields and ports from terrorists and unfriendly regimes. The cost of that protection should not be assigned solely to the cost of obtaining foreign oil — contra libertarian isolationists — for the deterrent effect of a demonstrated willingness to defend Americans’ overseas interests is a plus for U.S. interests around the world.

Regarding terrorism, generally:

  • Although al Qaeda’s terroristic repertoire includes attacks on ground transportation and buildings, its favored way of terrorizing the U.S., beginning with 9/11, has involved the use and attempted destruction of commercial aircraft. This emphasis has, in turn, led U.S. officials to focus on the protection of scheduled passenger flights, with the result that the measures used to screen passengers have become so intrusive as to spark outrage in the U.S.
  • The terrorists have “won,” in the sense that they are spreading fear and imposing heavy costs on Americans. And there is more to come. (See, for example, “Al Qaeda affiliate threatens more small-scale bomb attacks,” The Washington Post, November 21, 2010.) At some point, before it is too late, the U.S. government must focus on the real threat, which is not the mass of American travelers but an overseas-based network of terrorists who share a religion (Islam) and a hatred of non-Islamic cultures.
  • In the meantime, other forms and nodes of transportation remain relatively unprotected. Low-cost threats against those forms and nodes will impose more costs on Americans. And then there are public buildings, shopping malls, energy production and transmission facilities, and water supplies.
  • A purely defensive posture will leave Americans hunkered down. It is time for a real war on terror, which requires far more than the more-or-less conventional operations on display in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the use of UAVs in targeted killing. Which leads to the observations under the next two headings.

3. Quick response (at home and abroad) to tactical intelligence via special operations units (including units equipped for cyber-war as well as shooting skirmishes).

I counsel an ounce (or more) of prevention:

  • Federal operations on U.S. soil, especially if they affect citizens and legal aliens, involve some tricky constitutional issues and real threats to liberty. But cunning enemies can exploit the demonstrated squeamishness of American governments, as we saw in the case of the “wall” between foreign intelligence and domestic operations that allowed the 9/11 attacks to proceed.
  • Accordingly, top priority ought to be given to the working out of protocols that enable intelligence (foreign and domestic)  to be collected and released to operational units — with proper authorization — in time for them to prepare and execute preventive action in the U.S.
  • Beyond that, there is preemptive action overseas…

4. The preemptive use of technological trickery (e.g., cyber-attacks), targeted killing, small-scale hit-and-run operations, and large-scale sea, land, and aerospace operations.

I offer three ideas:

  • Establish competing “dirty tricks” shops to develop cyber-war tools (e.g., Stuxnet), and enable the command authority to use the tools to disrupt the development of offensive capabilities by hostile regimes.
  • Enable lightning strikes overseas by maintaining various kinds of “presence,” ranging from carrier battle groups to special-operations units. “Presence” has the added benefit of deterring overtly hostile acts.
  • Wars are not won by air power alone. UAV strikes would be much more effective if complemented by the occasional hit-and-run, take-no-prisoners attack on known terrorist locations. If collateral damage, host-nation protests, and bad publicity bother you, you shouldn’t be in the business of defending Americans and their interests, you should be in the State Department or on Madison Avenue.

5. A large “standing army,” with a broad range of nuclear and conventional forces that are fully manned and trained, well-maintained and supplied, and technologically advanced.

I offer two words — competition and duplication:

  • Much verbiage has been emitted over the years about the supposedly deleterious effects of inter-service competition and the duplication of certain types of forces. A time-honored example is the insistence of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps (and the Army, to some extent) on maintaining their own (somewhat) duplicative) and (undoubtedly) competitive air forces.
  • Whether this so-called competition and duplication is actually detrimental to the nation’s defense posture is another matter. I have never seen a good case made that the money would have been better spent in other ways. (Yes, the pundits often have their favored ways, but don’t we all?)  The real problem seems to be  a certain lack of neatness. Methinks the critics of duplication and competition suffer a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder; they want the armed forces of the country to fit into neat, non-overlapping, perfectly balanced organizational boxes. Those critics should worry, instead, about the overall effectiveness of those forces vis-à-vis a broad range of potential threats.
  • There is a way to obtain more bang for the buck; it is called competition. For the past 40 years, each of the military departments has been given a set of multi-year budget constraints, within which the department must could construct and propose its multi-year program. It would be a healthy, invigorating, and informative exercise to ask each of the departments (and other major players in the defense arena) to offer competing multi-year programs for the entire defense effort, not just their slice of it. These would be considered and evaluated in the course of the new defense planning and budgeting process, described earlier.

In general, any serious effort to devise a defense-in-depth should assume that all present and prospective defense programs are candidates for modification or cancellation. Sunk costs are sunk; plans are not promises.


Again, a grand strategy is not mere words. It is what the forces, systems, procedures, and people of the defense establishment (broadly conceived) are able to do, given the resources at hand or in train, under the direction of a command authority that (one hopes) is far-seeing, imaginative, flexible, and — above all — determined.

The United States will not have an enduring, consistent, and effective grand strategy unless two things happen:

  • American voters consistently elect members of Congress and presidents who are committed to peace, prosperity, and liberty at home through swift, sure justice and military preparedness.
  • That condition will obtain only if there is a successful, bloodless revolution which ends the dominant role of the “progressive, one-world, hope-over-experience” crowd in the nation’s schools, universities, news outlets, and government bureaus. Their way is peace at any price but the price of preparedness. Their way is oppression at home (disguised as do-goodism) and capitulation abroad.

It is the prospect of realizing the second condition — and through it, the first — that gives me somewhat justified hope for the future of the nation.

In the alternative, there is this, this, and this.

Related posts: War and Peace

The Body-Scan Brouhaha


I am sympathetic to those who detest the thought — and intrusiveness — of body scans and pat-downs.

One solution — which has the ring of rationality — is to allow airlines to offer flights with varying degrees of preflight screening, and to price the flights accordingly. But that solution is unworkable; there just aren’t enough flights going to the same place at about the same time to afford the traveler a real choice for any particular trip.

It is evident that travelers are paying the price for political correctness, and that the price is getting too high for a lot of them. In a case like this, I take vociferous opposition by some travelers, together with the outraged outpourings of columnists and editorialists, as evidence that the silent majority is fed up. (See, for example, this, this, and this.) Now, the question is whether there will be enough outrage among members of Congress to put a stop to the foolishness and follow the lead of the Israelis.

On this issue, I blame Geogre W. Bush, who wanted to seem so even-handed toward Muslims that he wouldn’t overrule then-sectrary of transportation Norman Mineta’s anti-profiling policy. Once TSA’s screening policy headed in that direction, a Democrat administration certainly wasn’t about to reverse it.

The answer, it seems to me, is to adopt El Al’s way of doing things:

Passengers are asked to report three hours before departure. All El Al terminals around the world are closely monitored for security. There are plain-clothes agents and fully armed police or military personnel who patrol the premises for explosives, suspicious behavior, and other threats. Inside the terminal, passengers and their baggage are checked by a trained team. El Al security procedures require that all passengers be interviewed individually prior to boarding, allowing El Al staff to identify possible security threats. Passengers will be asked questions about where they are coming from, the reason for their trip, their job or occupation, and whether they have packed their bags themselves. The likelihood of potential terrorists remaining calm under such questioning is believed to be low (see microexpression).[38]

At the check-in counter, passengers’ passports and tickets are closely examined. A ticket without a sticker from the security checkers will not be accepted. At passport control passengers’ names are checked against information from the FBI, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Scotland Yard, Shin Bet, and Interpol databases. Luggage is screened and sometimes hand searched. In addition, bags are put through a decompression chamber simulating pressures during flight that could trigger explosives.[39] El Al is the only airline in the world that passes all luggage through such a chamber.[40] Even at overseas airports, El Al security agents conduct all luggage searches personally, even if they are supervised by government or private security firms.[41]


Critics of El Al note that its security checks on passengers include racial profiling[51] and have argued that such profiling is unfair, irrational, and degrading to those subject to such screening. Supporters of El Al argue that there is nothing inherently racist about passenger profiling and that special scrutiny of Muslims may often be necessary for security purposes.

The alternative — which, I gather, libertarian purists would prefer — is to drop screening altogether because, after all, how much risk is there, really? Well, libertarian purists are the kind of people who would have us disarm because, after all, no one is threatening to invade the country, right?

When I get on an airplane, everyone else on that plan (except my wife) is a potential threat to me. I am willing to put up with security measures of the right kind. I am not willing to put up with unnecessarily intrusive measures, which are inflicted on me and most of my fellow travelers simply because “our” government refuses to focus on the source of the threat.

An Encounter with a Marxist

A post by David Henderson at EconLog reminds me of an exchange I had with a former neighbor, who is among a circle of acquaintances whom my wife and I occasionally join for dinner. In the post, Henderson quotes Robert Heilbroner:

Indeed, the creation of socialism as a new mode of production can properly be compared to the moral equivalent of war–war against the old order, in this case–and will need to amass and apply the power commensurate with the requirements of a massive war. This need not entail the exercise of command in an arbitrary or dictatorial fashion, but certainly it requires the curtailment of the central economic freedom of bourgeois society, namely the right of individuals to own, and therefore to withhold if they wish, the means of production, including their own labor. [Italics added]

The former neighbor, who acquired a Ph.D. in economics in the early 1960s, is a Marxist who views the world through the lens of class conflict. His world is a world in which the “bad guys” — rich capitalists and their cronies in government — victimize the rest of us, often with the aid of duped victims.

Because, in the former neighbor’s view, everything is rigged by the “bad guys,” he is unable to acknowledge  that competition and mutually beneficial voluntary exchange, fueled by the continuous emergence of innovations and entrepreneurs,  prevents the very kind of rigged game that he rightly abhors. It is not free markets but state action — taxation and regulation — that stands in the way of economic progress and widespread prosperity

The former neighbor see the solution to the non-problem through his Marxist lens. That solution is to use the power of the state to do the right thing — as long as he is judge of what is right, of course.

I understand that point of view, even though I abhor and disrespect it. But my tolerance for Marxist rhetoric drops to zero when I am told — as the former neighbor told me — that state action to redistribute income (through Social Security, for example) is a matter of “sharing” within “the community.”

I pointed out, rather heatedly, that when government — which enjoys a monopoly of force — effectively puts a gun to my head and says “share,” that isn’t sharing. Nor does government represent a “community,” for a community — to be worthy of the name — must be a voluntary association, not a group of citizens bound by the power of government to compel “sharing.”

The discussion ended there. Not because I instantly converted a long-standing Marxist to libertarianism, but because he saw the fury in my eyes and the set of my jaw.

The quotation from Heilbroner reminded me of the contretemps with my former neighbor because of their shared attitude: We know what’s good for you, and we’re willing to use the power of the state to make it so. Such individuals can claim, with a straight face, to be on the side of “the people” only because their arrogance allows them to equate force with benevolence.

The American League’s Greatest Hitters: Part II


UPDATED 12/08/11

When last seen, the best of the American League’s greatest hitters were:

Adjusted Nominal Player Years in AL Batting average % change # change
rank* rank (all-caps, Hall of Fame; From To Nominal Adjusted in BA in rank
* indicates active)
1 12 Ichiro Suzuki* 2001 2010 .331 .353 6.2% 11
2 1 TY COBB 1905 1928 .366 .353 -3.9% -1
3 2 Shoeless Joe Jackson 1908 1920 .356 .351 -1.3% -1
4 10 NAP LAJOIE 1901 1916 .336 .333 -0.9% 6
5 3 TRIS SPEAKER 1907 1928 .345 .331 -4.0% -2
6 16 ROD CAREW 1967 1985 .328 .331 0.9% 10
7 11 EDDIE COLLINS 1906 1930 .333 .326 -2.2% 4
8 6 BABE RUTH 1914 1934 .343 .324 -6.1% -2
9 8 LOU GEHRIG 1923 1939 .340 .323 -5.4% -1
10 18 JOE DIMAGGIO 1936 1951 .325 .322 -0.7% 8
11 4 TED WILLIAMS 1939 1960 .344 .319 -7.9% -7
12 15 WADE BOGGS 1982 1999 .328 .319 -2.8% 3

I left the earlier post hanging on the question of how the top hitters would compare when their batting averages were adjusted further, for age. I now have some of the answers.

To get the answers, I quantified the relationship between adjusted batting average and age for the 120 hitters considered in the earlier post. (As a reminder, those hitters attained nominal lifetime averages of .285 or better in at least 5,000 plate appearances in the American League. Their averages take into account long-term and year-to-year changes in playing conditions, as well as differences among ballparks at a give time and over time.) Here is the relationship, in graphical form:

I used the equation shown on the graph to adjust each hitter’s annual batting average according to the age at which he attained the average. If the “normal” hitter peaks at 28, as the equation suggests, averages attained before and after the age of 28 are “understated.” That is, if a player hits .300 at the age of 20, that’s equivalent to hitting .315 at the age of 28; and if a player hits .300 at the age of 40, that’s equivalent to hitting .341 at the age of 28.

My analysis of age-adjusted batting average has yielded two key findings, thus far. The first finding, which is captured in the following graph and its accompanying table, is that the top averages for ages 18-41 were accomplished by just seven different players. This graph compares the year-by-year, age-adjusted averages for each of the seven players:

For ease of viewing, I omitted the five players (Speaker, Carew, Collins, Ruth, and Gehrig) who never hold the top spot at any age, despite their impressive career averages. The top hitters at each age are as follows:

Age Player BA
18 Cobb .267
19 Cobb .336
20 Cobb .369
21 Jackson .392
22 Cobb .395
23 Cobb .399
24 Cobb .387
25 Cobb .397
26 Cobb .391
27 Cobb .380
28 Cobb .379
29 Lajoie .383
30 Cobb .396
31 Cobb .387
32 Cobb .369
33 Suzuki .377
34 DiMaggio .362
35 Lajoie .414
36 Suzuki .364
37 Lajoie .373
38 Williams .398
39 Williams .343
40 Cobb .357
41 Boggs .343

Given that information, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Ty Cobb returns to the top of the heap when his single-season averages are age-adjusted, and weighted by his at-bats in each season, to obtain an age-adjusted lifetime average. Here is the age-adjusted list of top-12 career batting averages:

Batter Age-adjusted career BA
1 Ty Cobb .3639
2 Shoeless Joe Jackson .3559
3 Ichiro Suzuki* .3582
4 Nap Lajoie .3405
5 Tris Speaker .3313
6 Rod Carew .3307
7 Ted Williams .3306
8 Eddie Collins .3258
9 Babe Ruth .3236
10 Lou Gehrig .3228
11 Joe DiMaggio .3223
12 Wade Boggs .3190
* Through 2010 season; before .272 average in 2011 reduced career BA by .0054.

I have not extended my analysis to include the 2011 season, but it is clear that Suzuki now belongs in 3rd place. The loss of .0054 from his nominal career BA in 2011 is far greater than his age-adjusted lead (.0023) over Jackson through 2010.

Time Out

It’s not that I’m going “on hiatus” as they say in blogworld. It’s just that I have a couple of things to “share” that aren’t about politics or economics. I maintain, and occasionally update, a blog called Americana, Etc., which is about “baseball, history, humor, language, literature, movies, music, nature, nostalgia, philosophy, psychology, and other (mostly) apolitical subjects.” (Actually, I do address history, language, literature, music, philosophy, and psychology here, but not in an apolitical way.)

In a relative frenzy of activity at Americana, Etc., I added yesterday (after two weeks’ work) a post in which I compare the greatest hitters in the history of the American League. (That’s a baseball thing-y, in case you’re wondering.) The title of the post, oddly enough, is “The American League’s Greatest Hitters.” Here’s a teaser: Ichiro Suzuki supplants Ty Cobb as the best all-time hitter — batting-average-wise — in the history of the American League. To find out why, and to see the entire list of 120 top hitters, click on the link in the sentence before last. [UPDATE: With a further adjustment to take age into account, Ty Cobb reclaims his title as the all-time American League batting champion. Ichiro Suzuki drops to second place. Shoeless Joe Jackson remains in third place. Details here.]

Today’s entry is “The Quality of Films over the Decades,” in which I revisit and reaffirm earlier posts to the effect that movies have been in a long decline since 1942.

Thank you for your kind attention.


The Quality of Films over the Decades

I have written before about my judgment of the quality of films in various eras. In 2007, I characterized the eras from 1933 to then as follows:

  • the Golden Age (1933-1942) — 179 films seen, 96 favorites (54 percent)
  • the Abysmal Years (1943-1965) — 317 films seen, 98 favorites (31 percent)
  • the Vile Years (1966-present) — 1,496 films seen, 359 favorites (24 percent)

Favorites are films that I have rated 8, 9, or 10 on IMDb’s 10-point scale.

I offered the following explanation for what I saw as a steady decline in quality after 1942:

  • The Golden Age had deployed all of the themes that could be used without explicit sex, graphic violence, and crude profanity — none of which become an option for American movie-makers until the mid-1960s.
  • Prejudice got significantly more play after World War II, but it’s a theme that can’t be used very often without boring audiences.
  • Other attempts at realism (including film noir) resulted mainly in a lot of turgid trash laden with unrealistic dialogue and shrill emoting — keynotes of the Abysmal Years.
  • Hollywood productions sank to the level of TV, apparently in a misguided effort to compete with that medium. The garish technicolor productions of the 1950s often highlighted the unnatural neatness and cleanliness of settings that should have been rustic if not squalid.
  • The transition from abysmal to vile coincided with the cultural “liberation” of the mid-1960s, which saw the advent of the “f” word in mainstream films. Yes, the Vile Years have brought us more more realistic plots and better acting (thanks mainly to the Brits). But none of that compensates for the anti-social rot that set in around 1966: drug-taking, drinking and smoking are glamorous; profanity proliferates to the point of annoyance; sex is all about lust and little about love; violence is gratuitous and beyond the point of nausea; corporations and white, male Americans with money are evil; the U.S. government (when Republican-controlled) is in thrall to that evil; etc., etc. etc.

How do things look now? About the same, on the whole, after another look at my ratings, which now extend into 2010.

I compared my ratings of individual movies with the ratings given the same movies by hundreds, thousands, and (sometimes) tens of thousands of viewers. Here’s how our ratings compare, year by year and overall, from 1920 through 2010:

I’m not surprised that my ratings, on average, are lower than those of other viewers, on average. Assuming that the difference is merely a matter of tough grading on my part, I scaled up my ratings so that my overall average is the same as that of others who rated the same films. The result:

The band of vertical bars across the middle of the graph indicates the normal range of the annual ratings. Points above the vertical bands are in the upper 1/6 of my ratings; points below the vertical bands are in the bottom 1/6 of my ratings.

I find it a bit shocking to see that there is a period during the vile years with normalized ratings above 100 percent of the IMDb average, specifically, 1978 through 1997. On the other hand, the first graph shows that I considered the films of that period generally inferior to the films of earlier periods. Moreover, going back to the first graph, it is evident that there was a consensus (of which I was part) about the vileness of the Vile Years (give or take a few of them).

So, I will stick to my guns, with one amendment — the Golden Age began in 1932:

  • the Golden Age (1932-1942) — 184 films rated, 110 favorites (60 percent)
  • the Abysmal Years (1943-1965) — 284 films rated, 107 favorites (41 percent)
  • the Vile Years (1966-present) — 1,425 films rated, 416 favorites (29 percent)

Will movies ever get better? Only time — and a lot of movie-viewing — will tell.

Undermining the Free Society

Apropos my earlier post about “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare,” I note this review by Gerald J. Russello of Kenneth Minogue’s The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life. As he summarizes Minogue, Russello writes:

The push for equality and ever more rights—two of [democracy’s] basic principles—requires a ruling class to govern competing claims; thus the rise of the undemocratic judiciary as the arbiter of many aspects of public life, and of bureaucracies that issue rules far removed from the democratic process. Should this trend continue, Minogue foresees widespread servility replacing the tradition of free government.

This new servility will be based not on oppression, but on the conviction that experts have eliminated any need for citizens to develop habits of self-control, self-government, or what used to be called the virtues.

How has democracy led to “servility,” which is really a kind of oppression? Here is my diagnosis.

It is well understood that voters, by and large, vote irrationally, that is, emotionally, on the basis of “buzz” instead of facts, and inconsistently. (See this, this, and this, for example.) Voters are prone to vote against their own long-run interests because they do not understand the consequences of the sound-bite policies advocated by politicians. American democracy, by indiscriminately granting the franchise — as opposed to limiting it to, say, married property owners over the age of 30 who have children — empowers the run-of-the-mill politician who seeks office (for the sake of prestige, power, and perks) by pandering to the standard, irrational voter.

Rationality is the application of sound reasoning and pertinent facts to the pursuit of a realistic objective (one that does not contradict the laws of nature or human nature). I daresay that most voters are guilty of voting irrationally because they believe in such claptrap as peace through diplomacy, “social justice” through high marginal tax rates, or better health care through government regulation.

To be perfectly clear, the irrationality lies not in favoring peace, “social justice” (whatever that is), health care, and the like. The irrationality lies in uninformed beliefs in such contradictions as peace through unpreparedness for war, “social justice” through soak-the-rich schemes, better health care through greater government control of medicine, etc., etc., etc. Voters whose objectives incorporate such beliefs simply haven’t taken the relatively little time it requires to process what they may already know or have experienced about history, human nature, and social and economic realities.

Why is voters’ irrationality important? Does voting really matter? Well, it’s easy to say that an individual’s vote makes very little difference. But individual votes add up. Every vote cast for a winning political candidate enhances his supposed mandate, which usually is (in his mind) some scheme (or a lot of them) to regulated our lives more than they are already regulated.

That is to say, voters (not to mention those who profess to understand voters) overlook the slippery slope effects of voting for those who promise to “deliver” certain benefits. It is true that the benefits, if delivered, would temporarily increase the well-being of certain voters. But if one group of voters reaps benefits, then another group of voters wants to reap benefits as well. Why? Because votes are not won, nor offices held, by placating a particular class of voter; many other classes of them must also be placated.

The “benefits” sought by voters (and delivered by politicians) are regulatory as well as monetary. Many voters (especially wealthy, paternalistic ones) are more interested in controlling others than they are in reaping government handouts (though they don’t object to that either). And if one group of voters reaps certain regulatory benefits, it follows (as night from day) that other groups also will seek (and reap) regulatory benefits. (Must one be a trained economist to understand this? Obviously not, because most trained economists don’t seem to understand it.)

And then there is the “peaceat-any-priceone-worldcrowd, which is hard to distinguish from the crowd that demands (and delivers) monetary and regulatory “benefits.”

So, here we are:

  • Many particular benefits are bestowed and many regulations are imposed, to the detriment of investors, entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors, and people who simply are willing to work hard to advance themselves. And it is they who are responsible for the economic growth that bestows (or would bestow) more jobs and higher incomes on everyone, from the poorest to the richest.
  • A generation from now, the average American will “enjoy” about one-fourth the real output that would be his absent the advent of the regulatory-welfare state about a century ago.

Americans have, since 1932, voted heavily against their own economic and security interests, and the economic and security interests of their progeny. But what else can you expect when — for those same 78 years — voters have been manipulated into voting against their own interests by politicians, media, “educators,” and “intelligentsia”? What else can you expect when the courts have all too often ratified the malfeasance of those same politicians?

If this is democracy, give me monarchy.

Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The American League’s Greatest Hitters

Through a painstaking series of adjustments for changes in playing standards and conditions, and for differences among ballparks, I have reassessed the single-season and career batting averages of the American League’s top hitters. The reassessment covers 120 players whose career average in the American League is at least .285 in at least 5,000 plate appearances.

I will devote a future post to a detailed explanation of the adjustments. In this post, I give an overview of the adjustments and present a revised ranking of the 120 players. I also discuss — but do not adjust for — the effects of age on the revised batting averages and relative standing of players.

I make three kinds of adjustments to nominal (official) BA. One adjustment is a time constant, which captures gradual changes from 1901 to the present that have worked against batters. Such changes would be the improvement of fielding gloves (which have made it harder to get hits, while also raising fielding averages), the introduction of night baseball, and the gradual increase in proportion of games played at night.

A second adjustment is an annual factor that captures the up-and-down swings in the relative difficulty of hitting. These swings have occurred because of changes in the ball, the frequency of its replacement, the size of the strike zone, and the height of the pitching mound, and perhaps other factors.

A third adjustment — one that is unique to each team-park combination — reflects the relative ease or difficulty of hitting in the various parks that have been used in the American League. In many cases the adjustment factor for a given park changes during the years of its use because of significant changes in the dimensions of the field.

The following graph combines the effects of the first two adjustments into a single number for each season. A value greater than 1 means that each hitter’s nominal average for that season was increased to some degree. A value less than 1 means that each hitter’s average for that season was decreased to some degree.

The largest upward adjustments affect averages compiled in the “deadball” years of 1902-1909 and 1913-1916, and in the “era of the pitcher,” from 1962 through 1975. The largest downward adjustments affect averages compiled in the first two years of the AL’s existence and the “lively” ball era, which — judging from the numbers — began in 1919 and lasted through 1938.

The final adjustments — for differences in parks — range widely. For example, Red Sox hiiters (including Ted Williams) suffered a penalty of 5.9 percent for the 1934-2010 seasons, when Fenway Park acquired its present dimensions. By contrast, Yankees who played in the original Yankee Stadium from 1923 through 1973 earned a boost of 4 percent because the original park (despite its short foul lines) was inimical to batters (including Joe DiMaggio).

The following graph captures the total effect of the three adjustments. Each point represents one of the 120 hitters.

The pattern, which the curved line emphasizes, is consistent with the adjustments summarized in the first graph. The points don’t fall neatly on the curved line for three reasons: (1) variations in the length of players’ careers, (2) variations in the numbers of at-bats across seasons (and thus in the weight attached to a season in compiling a career average), and (3) the park-adjustment factor, which varies widely from park to park and (sometimes) for a particular park, if its configuration changed significantly.

How did the various adjustments affect the rankings? First, as would be expected because of the inflation of batting averages in the 1920s and 1930s, those decades are over-represented among the 120 hitters, as shown in the following table. (“Median year” refers to the decade in which a player’s median year occurs. For example, Ty Cobb’s career spanned 1905-1928, so he is counted as a member of the 1911-1920 decade in the following table and the one after it.)

Distribution of Hitters, by Decade
Median year Number Percent
1901-1910 2 1.7%
1911-1920 7 5.8%
1921-1930 17 14.2%
1931-1940 21 17.5%
1941-1950 8 6.7%
1951-1960 8 6.7%
1961-1970 3 2.5%
1971-1980 8 6.7%
1981-1990 10 8.3%
1991-2000 22 18.3%
2001-2010 14 11.7%
120 100%

The adjustments to nominal batting averages did a good job of rectifying the bias toward players of the 1920s and 1930s:

Average Rank, by Decade
Median year Nominal Adjusted Change*
1901-1910 28 17 11
1911-1920 22 23 -1
1921-1930 29 65 -36
1931-1940 44 83 -39
1941-1950 60 63 -3
1951-1960 84 54 30
1961-1970 83 43 40
1971-1980 86 49 37
1981-1990 79 52 27
1991-2000 79 64 15
2001-2010 58 79 -21
* Positive number represents improvement (higher average rank); negative number represents slippage (lower average rank).

Until someone convinces me otherwise, I conclude that the top hitters of the “deadball” era really were great by comparison with those who came later. They are not alone at the top, however. Among the top 10 in the following table are a contemporary player (Ichiro Suzuki), a player of recent memory (Rod Carew), and three Yankees who enjoyed great years in the 1920s and 1930s (Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio). Here, then, are all 120 hitters, listed in the order of adjusted rank:

Adjusted Nominal Player Years in AL Batting average % change # change
rank* rank (all-caps = Hall of Fame; asterisk = From To Nominal Adjusted in BA in rank
1 12 Ichiro Suzuki* 2001 2010 .331 .353 6.2% 11
2 1 TY COBB 1905 1928 .366 .353 -3.9% -1
3 2 Shoeless Joe Jackson 1908 1920 .356 .351 -1.3% -1
4 10 NAP LAJOIE 1901 1916 .336 .333 -0.9% 6
5 3 TRIS SPEAKER 1907 1928 .345 .331 -4.0% -2
6 16 ROD CAREW 1967 1985 .328 .331 0.9% 10
7 11 EDDIE COLLINS 1906 1930 .333 .326 -2.2% 4
8 6 BABE RUTH 1914 1934 .343 .324 -6.1% -2
9 8 LOU GEHRIG 1923 1939 .340 .323 -5.4% -1
10 18 JOE DIMAGGIO 1936 1951 .325 .322 -0.7% 8
11 4 TED WILLIAMS 1939 1960 .344 .319 -7.9% -7
12 15 WADE BOGGS 1982 1999 .328 .319 -2.8% 3
13 47 Don Mattingly 1982 1995 .307 .318 3.3% 34
14 74 MICKEY MANTLE 1951 1968 .298 .317 6.0% 60
15 7 HARRY HEILMANN 1914 1929 .342 .315 -8.9% -8
16 30 Derek Jeter* 1995 2010 .314 .314 0.1% 14
17 5 GEORGE SISLER 1915 1928 .344 .313 -9.8% -12
18 36 Edgar Martinez 1987 2004 .312 .312 0.1% 18
19 25 KIRBY PUCKETT 1984 1995 .318 .311 -2.1% 6
20 89 EDDIE MURRAY 1977 1997 .295 .311 5.1% 69
21 99 Thurman Munson 1969 1979 .292 .310 6.1% 78
22 53 PAUL MOLITOR 1978 1998 .306 .310 1.2% 31
23 35 Magglio Ordonez* 1997 2010 .312 .310 -0.6% 12
24 31 Harvey Kuenn 1952 1960 .313 .309 -1.4% 7
25 44 Roberto Alomar 1991 2004 .309 .308 -0.4% 19
26 9 AL SIMMONS 1924 1944 .337 .308 -9.3% -17
27 17 EARLE COMBS 1924 1935 .325 .308 -5.6% -10
28 68 Minnie Minoso 1949 1964 .300 .307 2.4% 40
29 70 Joe Judge 1915 1934 .299 .307 2.7% 41
30 45 SAM CRAWFORD 1903 1917 .309 .307 -0.5% 15
31 55 Tony Oliva 1962 1976 .304 .307 0.7% 24
32 92 Mickey Rivers 1970 1984 .295 .306 3.7% 60
33 38 Baby Doll Jacobson 1915 1927 .311 .305 -1.9% 5
34 83 Carl Crawford* 2002 2010 .296 .305 2.8% 49
35 67 Julio Franco 1983 1999 .301 .304 1.3% 32
36 54 GEORGE BRETT 1973 1993 .305 .304 -0.3% 18
37 56 Paul O’Neill 1993 2001 .303 .304 0.1% 19
38 48 HOME RUN BAKER 1908 1922 .307 .303 -1.2% 10
39 72 Cecil Cooper 1971 1987 .298 .303 1.7% 33
40 20 SAM RICE 1915 1934 .322 .303 -6.2% -20
41 14 HEINIE MANUSH 1923 1936 .331 .303 -9.1% -27
42 32 BILL DICKEY 1928 1946 .313 .303 -3.3% -10
43 101 Lou Piniella 1964 1984 .291 .302 3.9% 58
44 29 Cecil Travis 1933 1947 .314 .302 -3.9% -15
45 103 Carney Lansford 1978 1992 .290 .302 4.1% 58
46 41 LUKE APPLING 1930 1950 .310 .302 -2.8% -5
47 50 Stuffy McInnis 1909 1922 .307 .302 -1.7% 3
48 114 Bill Skowron 1954 1967 .286 .301 5.2% 66
49 98 Luis Polonia 1987 2000 .292 .301 3.0% 49
50 84 Garret Anderson 1994 2008 .296 .301 1.5% 34
51 79 AL KALINE 1953 1974 .297 .300 0.9% 28
52 52 GEORGE KELL 1943 1957 .306 .300 -2.2% 0
53 34 Manny Ramirez* 1993 2010 .312 .300 -4.1% -19
54 81 Bernie Williams 1991 2006 .297 .299 0.7% 27
55 64 Frank Thomas 1990 2008 .301 .299 -0.8% 9
56 13 JIMMIE FOXX 1925 1942 .331 .298 -11.1% -43
57 97 Mike Hargrove 1974 1985 .292 .298 1.8% 40
58 42 Bobby Veach 1912 1925 .310 .298 -4.2% -16
59 60 Alex Rodriguez* 1994 2010 .303 .297 -2.0% 1
60 91 Kevin Seitzer 1986 1997 .295 .297 0.6% 31
61 105 John Olerud 1989 2005 .289 .297 2.5% 44
62 102 NELLIE FOX 1947 1963 .290 .297 2.2% 40
63 107 Wally Joyner 1986 2001 .289 .296 2.4% 44
64 104 Harold Baines 1980 2001 .289 .296 2.2% 40
65 112 Carlos Guillen* 1998 2010 .286 .296 3.2% 47
66 116 ROBIN YOUNT 1974 1993 .285 .295 3.4% 50
67 119 Gene Woodling 1946 1962 .284 .295 3.6% 52
68 90 LOU BOUDREAU 1938 1952 .295 .294 -0.3% 22
69 111 Raul Ibanez 1996 2008 .286 .294 2.8% 42
70 120 YOGI BERRA 1946 1963 .284 .294 3.5% 50
71 86 Kenny Lofton 1992 2007 .296 .293 -1.0% 15
72 23 HANK GREENBERG 1930 1946 .319 .293 -8.8% -49
73 93 Albert Belle 1989 2000 .295 .293 -0.8% 20
74 94 Pete Runnels 1951 1962 .294 .292 -0.7% 20
75 82 Shannon Stewart 1995 2008 .297 .292 -1.5% 7
76 66 Ivan Rodriguez 1991 2009 .301 .292 -3.0% -10
77 110 Mickey Vernon 1939 1958 .287 .292 1.8% 33
78 95 Hal McRae 1973 1987 .293 .292 -0.4% 17
79 96 Tony Fernandez 1983 2001 .293 .292 -0.4% 17
80 115 Miguel Tejada* 1997 2010 .286 .292 2.0% 35
81 22 MICKEY COCHRANE 1925 1937 .320 .291 -10.0% -59
82 78 Mike Sweeney 1995 2010 .298 .291 -2.4% -4
83 21 CHARLIE GEHRINGER 1924 1942 .320 .290 -10.5% -62
84 80 Buddy Lewis 1935 1949 .297 .290 -2.5% -4
85 49 George Burns 1914 1929 .307 .289 -6.2% -36
86 26 GOOSE GOSLIN 1921 1938 .316 .289 -9.4% -60
87 58 Mike Greenwell 1985 1996 .303 .288 -5.1% -29
88 51 Johnny Pesky 1942 1954 .307 .287 -6.7% -37
89 24 EARL AVERILL 1929 1940 .318 .287 -10.8% -65
90 88 Juan Gonzalez 1989 2005 .295 .287 -3.0% -2
91 43 John Stone 1928 1938 .310 .287 -8.0% -48
92 19 Ken Williams 1918 1929 .324 .286 -13.1% -73
93 100 Ken Griffey 1989 2010 .291 .286 -1.8% 7
94 65 Billy Goodman 1947 1961 .301 .286 -5.2% -29
95 28 Bibb Falk 1920 1931 .314 .286 -10.0% -67
96 113 Willie Wilson 1976 1992 .286 .286 0.0% 17
97 108 Rafael Palmeiro 1989 2005 .288 .285 -0.8% 11
98 59 Buddy Myer 1925 1941 .303 .285 -6.1% -39
99 69 Michael Young* 2000 2010 .300 .285 -5.3% -30
100 73 JIM RICE 1974 1989 .298 .285 -4.6% -27
101 39 Bob Meusel 1920 1929 .311 .285 -9.2% -62
102 46 Gee Walker 1931 1941 .307 .283 -8.6% -56
103 62 Ben Chapman 1930 1941 .302 .282 -7.1% -41
104 27 Jack Tobin 1916 1927 .315 .282 -11.5% -77
105 117 Alan Trammell 1977 1996 .285 .282 -1.2% 12
106 76 Mo Vaughn 1991 2000 .298 .281 -5.8% -30
107 106 Chuck Knoblauch 1991 2002 .289 .281 -2.7% -1
108 33 JOE SEWELL 1920 1933 .312 .281 -11.0% -75
109 37 Bing Miller 1921 1936 .311 .281 -10.9% -72
110 85 Bob Johnson 1933 1945 .296 .280 -6.0% -25
111 109 Johnny Damon* 1995 2010 .287 .280 -2.8% -2
112 118 CARL YASTRZEMSKI 1961 1983 .285 .279 -2.2% 6
113 61 Hal Trosky 1933 1946 .302 .278 -8.6% -52
114 40 Joe Vosmik 1930 1944 .311 .278 -11.6% -74
115 71 Sam West 1927 1942 .299 .276 -8.2% -44
116 77 Pete Fox 1933 1945 .298 .276 -8.0% -39
117 75 Dom DiMaggio 1940 1953 .298 .276 -8.1% -42
118 63 JOE CRONIN 1928 1945 .302 .275 -9.7% -55
119 87 Doc Cramer 1929 1948 .296 .274 -7.9% -32
120 57 Charlie Jamieson 1915 1932 .303 .274 -10.8% -63
* The adjusted rank considers only the 120 players listed here. Players not listed could outrank some of the players near the bottom of the list.

The names of Hall-of-Famers are capitalized to draw your attention to several who were enshrined mainly on the strength of grossly inflated batting averages.

There is more work to be done, especially with respect to age. Consider, for example, Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose career ended at age 30. Had Jackson continued to play until he was 40, say, his career average would have declined, and with it his position on the list.

Ichiro Suzuki didn’t play in the U.S. until he was 27. Would his career average be even higher if he had crossed over the Pacific in his early 20s? He is atop the list because of his post-32 performance, relative to Ty Cobb’s.

Then there is the case of Ted Williams, whose average and ranking slipped markedly because he enjoyed the friendly confines of Fenway Park. But Williams, who also hit well in his “old age,” missed a lot of peak batting time during WWII and the Korean War.

I will end, for now, with this tantalizing comparison of Suzuki, Cobb, Jackson, and Williams:

Cobb’s consistent brilliance from age 22 to age 32 borders on the amazing. Williams was a great “old” hitter, as Suzuki is proving to be. It is evident that Jackson, despite the closeness of his average to Cobb’s, probably wouldn’t have caught Cobb, unless he had finished in a Suzuki-like manner.


Final, age-adjusted BA for the top-3 all-time AL hitters:

Cobb 0.363919
Suzuki 0.358241
Jackson 0.355946

Go here for details.

The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding

There are only three problems with the work of the Deficit Commission to date, as it has been revealed to us in the co-chairs’ briefing slides:

  • It will not survive the onslaught of special interests because it contains something to offend almost everyone, from homeowners, lenders, builders, and realtors (kill the mortgage interest deduction, indeed) to affluent retirees (bend the SS benefits curve downward, indeed).
  • It proposes higher taxes.
  • It aims at too many spending targets, and misses the elephant in the room: “entitelment” commitments, namely, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (and their promised expansion via Obamacare).

The looming debt crisis and the cycle of dependency on government can be solved and broken, respectively, through the straightforward act of announcing that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits will shrink steadily toward zero. The degree and rate of shrinkage would vary according to the age of the prospective recipient; for example:

  • Everyone now over the age of 55 would receive their current or currently promised benefits, as adjusted for inflation but not for wage growth (see next item).
  • The costly wage-parity feature of Social Security would be abolished. (Why should we subsidize retirees to keep up with the Joneses?)
  • Future benefits for persons aged 25 to 55 would be reduced on a sliding scale: from 95 percent for 55-year-olds to 5 percent for 25-year olds.
  • There would be no future benefits for persons under the age of 25.

The costs would be defrayed by a unified payroll tax, which would rise (initially) to cover persons who are older than 55 when the plan is adopted. The tax would decline — by law — as persons who are 55 and younger when the plan is adopted become eligible for benefits (or not, as the case may be).

How would individuals fund retirement and pay for health care when they have retired? A plan like the one I’ve outlined would be a great inducement to save more — and individuals could save more without sacrificing consumption as the payroll tax declines. Unlike the Social Security Ponzi scheme — where one’s “contributions’ merely pay off those who got in earlier — the higher rate of saving would generate economic growth and, thus, real returns on saving (as opposed to the phony returns on SS “contributions”). As for health care, insurance companies could get back into the business of competing to insure older Americans. And I have no doubt that joint ventures by insurance companies and health-care providers would lead to innovative and less costly ways of delivering medical care.

Following the tradition of William of Ockham, I shun the turgid, Rube-Goldbergish proposal of the Deficit Commission in favor of a frontal attack on the main cause of the deficit problem: “entitlement” commitments.

Related posts:
Economics – Growth & Decline
The Economic and Social Consequences of Government

More about the “Permanent Democrat Majority”

The following graphs underscore the point of the preceding post: Wishful thinking on the part of reality-based “progressives” to the contrary, there is no long-term trend toward a “permanent Democratic majority.” There is, if anything, a trend toward the GOP, which began in the 1950s.