Utilitarianism and Psychopathy

From “No, Utilitarians Are Not Nice,” at Commentary:

The Economist reports two researchers from Columbia and Cornell have been studying the personalities of individuals who, in surveys, express a willingness to personally kill one human in the hope of saving more. Their conclusion is there is “a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas . . . and personalities that were psychopathic.” The Economist’s conclusion, in its usual slightly tongue-in-cheek style, is utilitarianism is a “plausible framework” for producing legislation, and the best legislators are therefore psychopathic misanthropes….

What is missing … in the Economist’s praise of law-making as expressing the will of the psychopath, is the point from Friedrich Hayek​ that Steve Hayward has been making on Power Line recently: “Central planning cannot work because it is trying to substitute an individual all-knowing intelligence for a distributed and fragmented system of localized but connected knowledge.”

I will resist the justifiable temptation to apply the label of psychopath to executive, legislative, and judicial law-makers. But I will call them deluded in the extreme if they believe in the possibility of determining the greatest good for the greatest number. Hayek’s objection to central planning hints at the fundamental problem with utilitarianism, but does not quite hit it dead-center.

The fundamental problem with utilitarianism, as it is practiced by governments, is that it relies on something called cost-benefit analysis. It is modern utilitarianism:

Governments often subject proposed projects and regulations (e.g., new highway construction, automobile safety requirements) to cost-benefit analysis. The theory of cost-benefit analysis is simple: If the expected benefits from a government project or regulation are greater than its expected costs, the project or regulation is economically justified. Luckily, most “justified” projects are scrapped or substantially altered by the intervention of political bargaining and budget constraints, but many of them are undertaken — only to cost far more than estimated and return far less than expected.

Here’s the problem with cost-benefit analysis — the problem it shares with utilitarianism: One person’s benefit can’t be compared with another person’s cost. Suppose, for example, the City of Los Angeles were to conduct a cost-benefit analysis that “proved” the wisdom of constructing yet another freeway through the city in order to reduce the commuting time of workers who drive into the city from the suburbs.

Before constructing the freeway, the city would have to take residential and commercial property. The occupants of those homes and owners of those businesses (who, in many cases would be lessees and not landowners) would have to start anew elsewhere. The customers of the affected businesses would have to find alternative sources of goods and services. Compensation under eminent domain can never be adequate to the owners of taken property because the property is taken by force and not sold voluntarily at a true market price. Moreover, others who are also harmed by a taking (lessees and customers in this example) are never compensated for their losses. Now, how can all of this uncompensated cost and inconvenience be “justified” by, say, the greater productivity that might (emphasize might) accrue to those commuters who would benefit from the construction of yet another freeway.

Yet, that is how cost-benefit analysis works. It assumes that group A’s cost can be offset by group B’s benefit: “the greatest amount of happiness altogether.”

The true psychopathy of (most) law-makers (and others) is not found in their utilitarianism per se but in their raw urge to control the lives of others. Utilitarianism is an excuse to exercise that raw urge, not the source of it.

Related posts:
Modern Utilitarianism
Peter Singer’s Fallacy
The Social Welfare Function
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Case of the Purblind Economist

Texas Does Retirement Better

Merrill Matthews writes about the alternative to Social Security that was adopted by three Texas counties decades ago (“Perry Is Right: There Is a Texas Model for Fixing Social Security“):

Since 1981 and 1982, workers in Galveston, Matagorda and Brazoria Counties have seen their retirement savings grow every year, even during the Great Recession. The so-called Alternate Plan of these three counties doesn’t follow the traditional defined-benefit or defined-contribution model….

As with Social Security, employees contribute 6.2% of their income, with the county matching the contribution (or, as in Galveston, providing a slightly larger share). Once the county makes its contribution, its financial obligation is done—that’s why there are no long-term unfunded liabilities.

The contributions are pooled, like bank deposits, and top-rated financial institutions bid on the money. Those institutions guarantee an interest rate that won’t go below a base level and goes higher when the market does well….

If a worker participating in Social Security dies before retirement, he loses his contribution (though part of that money might go to surviving children or a spouse who didn’t work). But a worker in the Alternate Plan owns his account, so the entire account belongs to his estate. There is also a disability benefit that pays immediately upon injury, rather than waiting six months plus other restrictions, as under Social Security.

Those who retire under the Texas counties’ Alternate Plan do much better than those on Social Security. According to First Financial’s calculations, based on 40 years of contributions:

• A lower-middle income worker making about $26,000 at retirement would get about $1,007 a month under Social Security, but $1,826 under the Alternate Plan.

• A middle-income worker making $51,200 would get about $1,540 monthly from Social Security, but $3,600 from the banking model.

• And a high-income worker who maxed out on his Social Security contribution every year would receive about $2,500 a month from Social Security versus $5,000 to $6,000 a month from the Alternate Plan….

The Alternate Plan could be adopted today by the six million public employees in the U.S.—roughly 25% of the total—who are part of state and local government retirement plans that are outside of Social Security (and are facing serious unfunded liability problems). Unfortunately this option is available only to those six million public employees, since in 1983 Congress barred all others from leaving Social Security.

If Congress overrides this provision, however, the Alternate Plan could be a model for reforming Social Security nationally. After all, it provides all the social-insurance benefits of Social Security while avoiding the unfunded liabilities that are crippling the program and the economy.

Just think of it: real saving to underwrite economic growth, no crushing burden on future generations, and more money for retirees.

It’s a shame that FDR, his successors, and many Congresses have been incapable of grasping basic economic concepts. They have been too busy “governmentizing” the economy and slowing economic growth through their “soak the rich” schemes.

Related posts:
Social Security Is Unconstitutional
Why It Makes Sense to Privatize Social Security
P.S. on Privatizing Social Security
That Mythical, Magical Social Security Trust Fund
The Real Social Security Issue
Social Security — Myth and Reality
Nonsense and Sense about Social Security
More about Social Security
Social Security Privatization and the Stock Market
Social Security: The Permanent Solution
Social Security Transition Costs, in a Nutshell
A Market Solution to the Social Security Mess?
Saving Social Security
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
PolitiFact Whiffs on Social Security

Unemployment and Economic Growth

I just found this at an old blog of mine and decided to re-post it, with a few editorial changes. Perhaps I’ll get around to updating it, but the results given here should be robust because the data set consists of 117 observations (1891-2007).

An increase an the rate of unemployment usually signifies slower economic growth, but it need not signify negative economic growth. Alternatively, slower economic growth need not lead to a higher rate of unemployment. Why is that?

The key to economic growth is greater output per worker. (A note to leftists: Greater output may be due to capital investments.) A sufficiently large increase in productivity can offset a decline in the proportion of workers employed (i.e., a rise in the unemployment rate), with the result that real GDP can rise even as the unemployment rate rises.

Here is the historical relationship between the change in real, per-capita GDP and the change in the unemployment rate:

Sources: Rates of real, per-capita GDP derived from What Was the U.S. GDP Then? (http://www.measuringworth.org/usgdp/). Unemployment rates taken from Statistical Abstracts of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970, Series D85-D86 (http://www2.census.gov/prod2/statcomp/documents/CT1970p1-05.pdf) and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Status of the Civilian Noninstitutional Population, 1942 to date (ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/lf/aat1.txt).

There is, as one would expect, a negative relationship between economic growth (as measured by year-over-year changes in real, per-capita GDP) and unemployment (as measured by year-over-year percentage-point changes in the unemployment rate). But, note that the unemployment rate must rise by 1 percentage point (i.e. reach +1 on the horizontal axis) before real, per-capita GDP begins to decline (i.e., drop below 0 on the vertical axis).

Or, to look at it the other way around, declining real growth need not lead to a rising unemployment rate. Only when the real growth rate drops below 2 percent does the unemployment rate begin to rise (i.e., the change is 0 or positive). Why is that? At a growth rate below 2 percent, businesses cannot absorb all new entrants to the labor market, given their (generally) low productivity relative to experienced workers.

The State of Morality

David Brooks — who sometimes resembles the conservative that he claims to be — writes about

a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America….

[A]nd the results are depressing….

The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers … you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so….

The default position, which most of them came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. “It’s personal,” the respondents typically said. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”…

[The researchers] found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism….

Allan Bloom and Gertrude Himmelfarb warned that sturdy virtues are being diluted into shallow values. Alasdair MacIntyre has written about emotivism, the idea that it’s impossible to secure moral agreement in our culture because all judgments are based on how we feel at the moment.

Charles Taylor has argued that morals have become separated from moral sources. People are less likely to feel embedded on a moral landscape that transcends self. James Davison Hunter wrote a book called “The Death of Character.” Smith’s interviewees are living, breathing examples of the trends these writers have described.

In most times and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit. A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people’s imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.

And where was morality “once revealed, inherited and shared”? In religion, of course. But, as I say here,

[t]he weakening of the Judeo-Christian tradition in America is owed to enemies within (established religions trying in vain to be “relevant”) and to enemies without (leftists and nihilistic libertarians who seek every opportunity to denigrate religion)….

I believe that the incessant attacks on religion have helped to push people — especially young adults — away from religion, to the detriment of liberty. It is not surprising that “liberals”  tend to be anti-religious, for — as [Theodore] Dalrymple points out [here] — they disdain the tenets of personal responsibility and liberty that are contained in the last six of the Ten Commandments. It is disheartening, however, when libertarians join the anti-religious chorus. They know not what they do when they join the left in tearing down a bulwark of civil society, without which liberty cannot prevail.

Humans need no education in aggression and meddling; those come to us naturally. But we do need to learn to take responsibility for our actions and to leave others alone — and we need to learn those things when we are young. Such things will not be taught in public schools. They could be taught in homes, but are less likely to be taught there as Americans drift further from their religious roots.

Related posts:
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Three Perspectives on Life: A Parable
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
The Thing about Science
Evolution and Religion
Words of Caution for Scientific Dogmatists
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
Science, Logic, and God
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Debunking “Scientific Objectivity”
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Big Bang and Atheism
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Einstein, Science, and God
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Evolution as God?
The Greatest Mystery
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
A Digression about Probability and Existence
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
The Atheism of the Gaps

Elizabeth Warren Is All Wet

Elizabeth Warren’s latest “liberal” bleat, in support of Obama’s plan to soak “the rich,” has caused ripples in the blogosphere (here and here, for example). The bleat? It goes like this:

I hear all this, you know, Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever. No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.

You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Who said anything about anyone getting rich on his own? But didn’t the factory owner — and other “malefactors of great wealth” — pay a “fair share”of the taxes that support roads, education, and police and fire forces? Yes.* Didn’t the factory owner pay his workers for their labor? Yes, and sometimes (in the case of union workers) at the expense of consumers and those workers who couldn’t find employment because unions effectively limit entry to the labor market.

If anyone owes “the rest of us” anything, it’s the workers who received subsidized educations that enabled them to earn good wages at factories that were built because factory owners, shareholders, bond holders, and (sometimes) venture capitalists put their own money at risk.

Workers and others (including Elizabeth Warren) ought to be grateful to the “malefactors of great wealth” who have — against heavy odds — enabled America’s prosperity.

Related posts:
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
“Buy Local”
Giving Back, Again
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
In Defense of Wal-Mart
Union Thuggery
* Even a union-dominated  lobbying organization, Citizens for Tax Justice, acknowledges (backhandedly) that “the rich” pay their “fair share” of all taxes — federal, State, and local:

I won’t vouch for the accuracy of the numbers. But, given the source, this can be taken as a “worst case” depiction of the distribution of the total tax burden. “The rich” are paying their “fair share,” and then some, unless you believe (as leftists seem to believe) that  “the rich” are supposed to take care of everyone else.

Why Stop at the Death Penalty?

Some prominent internet libertarians (I use the term to distinguish them from true libertarians) have their knickers in a twist on the subject of the death penalty. Their discomfort seems to have been caused by the allegedly wrongful but actually justified execution of cop-killer Troy Davis.

Jason Brennan weighs in with “Kill the Death Penalty,” a post that is sandwiched by two of Will Wilkinson’s: “The Killing of Troy Davis” and “Moral Progress and Arguments against the Death Penalty.”

Brennan writes:

For a state to have the right to kill criminals, it must make decisions about guilt and hear appeals in a fair, competent, and reliable manner. It must have rules that reliably let the innocent–or those whose guilt is reasonably in doubt–go free. The American criminal justice system fails to meet these standards. Perhaps a government of smart angels should be granted the right to kill.

It’s the old Nirvana fallacy at work: If it ain’t perfect, it’s no good. Well, by Brennan’s “logic,” the state should never exact punishment for anything. After all, how certain can cops, prosecutors, judges, and juries be about anything? Radar guns aren’t perfect; what looks light the running of a red light can be chalked up to parallax; eyewitness testimony is notoriously flawed; etc., etc., etc.

Let’s just do away with punishment, starting with capital punishment and running the gamut to smacking an unruly child. Why not go whole hog and reward anti-social behavior?

Wilkinson makes a more subtle case against capital punishment, in the second-linked post:

I have here advance proofs of Steven Pinker’s forthcoming book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. It’s a smorgasbord of data on liberalizing moral change. Pinker shows that modernity brought about a stunning shift in norms, including attitudes toward capital punishment….

[graphs indicating steep declines in the use of capital punishment]

In the face of such a decisive trend in moral culture, we can say a couple different things. We can say that this is just change and says nothing in particular about what is really right or wrong, good or bad. Or we can take take say this is evidence of moral progress, that we have actually become better. I prefer the latter interpretation for basically the same reasons most of us see the abolition of slavery and the trend toward greater equality between races and sexes as progress and not mere morally indifferent change. We can talk about the nature of moral progress later. It’s tricky. For now, I want you to entertain the possibility that convergence toward the idea that execution is wrong counts as evidence that it is wrong. This would suggest that those American states yet to abolish the death penalty are cases of arrested development. Looking at these trends, it seems overwhelmingly probable that we will look back on the death penalty as a shameful bit of lingering of savagery. And we won’t be wrong. If our smarter, more angelic future selves wouldn’t concede, even just for the sake of argument, that capital punishment is okay, why concede it now?

I would count convergence toward the idea that execution is wrong as evidence that it is wrong, if … that idea were (a) increasingly held by individuals who (b) had arrived at their “enlightenment” unnfluenced by operatives of the state (legislatures and judges), who take it upon themselves to flout popular support of the death penalty. What we have, in the case of the death penalty, is moral regress, not moral progress.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Abortion and Crime (from a different angle than the earlier post of the same name)
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
What Is Justice?

Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism

Michael Shermer writes about political philosophy and human nature in “Liberty and Science” at Cato Unbound:

In the Realistic Vision, human nature is relatively constrained by our biology and evolutionary history, and therefore social and political systems must be structured around these realities, accentuating the positive and attenuating the negative aspects of our natures. A Realistic Vision rejects the blank slate model that people are so malleable and responsive to social programs that governments can engineer their lives into a great society of its design, and instead believes that family, custom, law, and traditional institutions are the best sources for social harmony. The Realistic Vision recognizes the need for strict moral education through parents, family, friends, and community because people have a dual nature of being selfish and selfless, competitive and cooperative, greedy and generous, and so we need rules and guidelines and encouragement to do the right thing….

[T]he evidence from psychology, anthropology, economics, and especially evolutionary theory and its application to all three of these sciences supports the Realistic Vision of human nature….

6. The power of family ties and the depth of connectedness between blood relatives. Communities have tried and failed to break up the family and have children raised by others; these attempts provide counter evidence to the claim that “it takes a village” to raise a child. As well, the continued practice of nepotism further reinforces the practice that “blood is thicker than water.”

7. The principle of reciprocal altruism—I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine”—is universal; people do not by nature give generously unless they receive something in return, even if what they receive is social status.

8. The principle of moralistic punishment—I’ll punish you if you do not scratch my back after I have scratched yours—is universal; people do not long tolerate free riders who continually take but almost never give….

11. The almost universal nature of within-group amity and between-group enmity, wherein the rule-of-thumb heuristic is to trust in-group members until they prove otherwise to be distrustful, and to distrust out-group members until they prove otherwise to be trustful.

12. The almost universal desire of people to trade with one another, not for the selfless benefit of others or the society, but for the selfish benefit of one’s own kin and kind; it is an unintended consequence that trade establishes trust between strangers and lowers between-group enmity, as well as produces greater wealth for both trading partners and groups.

So far, so good. But Shermer then goes off track: “I believe that the Realistic Vision of human nature is best represented by the libertarian political philosophy….” He defines that philosophy earlier:

Libertarianism is grounded in the Principle of Equal Freedom: All people are free to think, believe, and act as they choose, so long as they do not infringe on the equal freedom of others. Of course, the devil is in the details of what constitutes “infringement”….

(See also the Harm Principle, which is a corollary of the Principle of Equal Freedom.)

Yes, the devil is in the details, as Will Wilkinson explains in “The Indeterminacy of Political Philosophy“:

[E]very conception of freedom or liberty when stated in broad outlines is relatively indeterminate. In order to arrive at a recognizably “libertarian” version of a conception of freedom requires filling out the conception in not-at-all obvious ways. This is true even of the classic libertarian conception of liberty as non-coercion. Generally, libertarians rely on a tendentiously loaded conception of coercion that simply stipulates that commonsense forms of emotional, psychological, and social coercion aren’t really coercive in the relevant sense.

Wilkinson goes too far when he indicts “emotional, psychological, and social coercion,” which he does at greater length here. It would not be far-fetched to say that Wilkinson finds coercion everywhere, even in the exercise of property rights, which are so well established that only a Marxist (I had thought) would consider them an instrument of coercion. It seems that Wilkinson — like most of the so-called libertarians who frequent the internet — yearns for super-human beings who are devoid of basic human traits and impulses.

The fact is that — psychopaths and dictators excepted — we are all “coerced,” not in Wilkinson’s sense of the word but in the sense that we must often constrain our behavior and make compromises with others (i.e., become “socialized”) if we are to live in liberty. This is a point that I made in my first post at this blog (“On Liberty“), and which I have repeated many times:

[T]he general observance of social norms … enables a people to enjoy liberty, which is:

peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior

That, simply stated, is liberty or something as close to it as can be found on Earth.

Peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior can occur only among actual human beings, with all of their inborn traits and impulses. Yes, peaceful coexistence requires human beings to curb those traits and impulses, to some degree, but those traits and impulses cannot be suppressed entirely. If they could, there would be no need for discussions of this kind: “When men are pure, laws are useless….” (Benjamin Disraeli).

And so, coexistence is shaped by human traits and impulses, just as spacetime is shaped by the masses of gravitational bodies. The conditions of coexistence are as inseparable from human nature as the curvature of spacetime is from its contents. If liberty is to be more than a slogan, it must account for human beings as they really are. That is to say, liberty must account for human beings as Michael Shermer describes them. Thus:

  • Liberty is a modus vivendi, not a mysterious essence with an independent, timeless existence (like a Platonic ideal).
  • Liberty arises from in-group solidarity, which is based on shared customs, beliefs (including religious ones), and a moral code that defines harmful acts and requires voluntary, peaceful cooperation among members of the group. (This means that there are many groups whose customs, beliefs, and moral codes are not libertarian, even though such groups may evince solidarity and cooperation.)
  • Liberty is possible (but problematic) where there are many such interconnected groups under the aegis of a minimal state — one that exacts justice for acts that all groups consider harmful (e.g., murder, theft, rape), keeps the peace among groups, and protects all groups from external predators. (The federalism of the original Constitution fostered liberty, but only to the extent that individual States enforced their Bills of Rights, enabled local governance, and forbade slavery.)
  • By virtue of geography, a state’s client groups may include some that are predatory, either economically and socially (seeking subsidies and other privileges) or criminally (acting violently toward other groups and their members). A minimal state that is dedicated to liberty will deny privileges and give no quarter to violence.
  • Resistance to trade and immigration across international boundaries — as social stances taken in full knowledge of the potential benefits of trade and immigration — are legitimate political positions, except when they are held by trade unionists and their political allies, who seek to deprive other Americans of the benefits of trade and immigration. (Economists who presume to lecture about the wisdom of trade and immigration are guilty of reducing what can be deep social issues to shallow economic ones.)
  • Because liberty is a manifestation of in-group solidarity, it is legitimate for groups that are comprised in a state to question and resist actions by the state that require the acceptance, on equal terms, of persons and groups (a) whose mores are not in keeping with those of extant groups and (b) whose influence could result in the enforcement by the state of anti-libertarian measures.
  • Liberty, in a phrase, begins “at home” (the state willing) and extends only as far as the social boundaries of a group that coheres in mutual trust, respect, forbearance, and aid. There is a slim possibility of state-fostered liberty, but it can realized only where the state exacts justice for acts that all groups consider harmful, keeps the peace among groups, and protects all groups from external predators. (In those respects, there is a promise of liberty — but a promise not kept — in the Constitution of the United States.)
  • But liberty is less likely to be found “at home” (or anywhere) because the social fabric has been sundered by the state’s impositions (e.g., usurping charitable functions and discouraging them by progressive taxation, the anti-religion trajectory of judicial holdings, the undermining of swift and sure justice by outlawing the death penalty and making it difficult to enforce, allowing abortion that borders on infanticide, mocking and undermining the institution of marriage).

Liberty, in other words, is a product of social intercourse, not of abstract principles, and certainly not of ratiocination. The last-mentioned, which often yields agreement between “liberals” and “libertarians” on such matters as abortion, defense, immigration, and homosexual “marriage,” also finds them deeply divided on such matters as property rights, regulation, and various forms of redistribution (Social Security, Medicare, humanitarian aid in the U.S. and overseas, and so on). Ratiocination, in other words, is unlikely to transcend the temperament of the ratiocinator. (Wilkinson essentially agrees, in “The Indeterminacy of Political Philosophy,” but seems not to heed himself.)

To put it another way, the desirability or undesirability of state action has nothing to do with the views of “liberals,” “libertarians,” or any set of pundits, “intellectuals,” “activists,” and seekers of “social justice.” As such, they have no moral standing, which one acquires only by being — and acting as — a member of a cohesive social group with a socially evolved moral code that reflects the lessons of long coexistence. The influence of “intellectuals,” etc., derives not from the quality of their thought or their moral standing but from the influence of their ideas on powerful operatives of the state.

In short, the only truly libertarian intellectual stance is anti-rationalism. As Michael Oakeshott explains, a rationalist

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)

An anti-rationalist refuses to view life through the formalistic lens of  “rights, freedoms and personal empowerment,” to lift a phrase from Leon Kass’s “The Wisdom of Repugnance.” An anti-rationalist trusts the wisdom that is accrued in social norms, and thinks very carefully before trying to change those norms. As Kass puts it, in the context of cloning,

repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom, beyond reason’s power fully to articulate it….

Repugnance … revolts against the excesses of human willfulness, warning us not to transgress what is unspeakably profound. Indeed, in this age in which everything is held to be permissible so long as it is freely done, in which our given human nature no longer commands respect, in which our bodies are regarded as mere instruments of our autonomous rational wills, repugnance may be the only voice left that speaks up to defend the central core of our humanity. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.

Related posts:
On Liberty
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
The Principles of Actionable Harm
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
Accountants of the Soul
The Unreality of Objectivism
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
Rawls Meets Bentham
More about Consequentialism
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
Society and the State
Undermining the Free Society
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Government vs. Community
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
In Defense of Marriage
Understanding Hayek
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time

More Fool He

David Brooks, The New York Times‘s ersatz conservative, writes:

When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill….

This wasn’t a speech to get something done. This was the sort of speech that sounded better when Ted Kennedy was delivering it. The result is that we will get neither short-term stimulus nor long-term debt reduction anytime soon, and I’m a sap for thinking it was possible.

Yes, I’m a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around….

Being a sap, I still believe that the president’s soul would like to do something about the country’s structural problems. I keep thinking he’s a few weeks away from proposing serious tax reform and entitlement reform. But each time he gets close, he rips the football away.

No s***, Sherlock. Being a bit smarter than Charlie Brown isn’t exactly a mark of distinction.

Welcome to the party David, even if it has taken you three years to get here.

Oh, but wait…

The White House has decided to wage the campaign as fighting liberals. I guess I understand the choice, but I still believe in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. I may be the last one. I’m a sap.

Fool David once, Obama’s to blame. Fool David twice, David’s to blame. Fool David thrice (at least), and you know that David’s no sap — he’s a fool.

True Libertarianism, One More Time

I recently engaged a left-libertarian (oxymoron) in the comments section of “What Is Libertarianism.” The exchange prompts me to offer a condensed treatment of true libertarianism vs. pseudo-libertarianism. The former is really a kind of conservatism, which is why I call it Burkean libertarianism. The latter — which is the kind of “libertarianism” much in evidence on the internet — rests on the Nirvana fallacy and posits dangerously false ideals.

A “true” libertarian respects socially evolved norms because those norms evidence and sustain the mutual trust, respect, forbearance, and voluntary aid that — taken together — foster willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. And what is liberty but willing peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior?

If socially evolved norms include the condemnation of abortion (because it involves the murder of a living human being) and the rejection of same-sex “marriage” (because it mocks and undermines the institution through which children are born and raised by an adult of each gender, fate willing), the “true” libertarian will accept those norms as part and parcel of the larger social order — as long as it is a peaceful, voluntary order.

The “pseudo” libertarian — in my observation — will reject those norms because they interfere with the “natural rights” (or some such thing) of the individuals who want to abort fetuses and/or grant same-sex “marriage” the same status as heterosexual marriage. But to reject and reverse norms as fundamental as the condemnation of abortion and same-sex “marriage”  is to create strife and distrust, therefore undermining the conditions upon which liberty depends.

The pseudo-libertarian looks down upon society as a self-appointed judge, then swoops in to admonish society when its members do not embrace his particular views about rights. How a pseudo-libertarian, who is usually an atheist, can do this has long been a mystery to me. He cannot refer to Divine writ; his religion-substitute is “natural rights,” whose composition is known to him, but not to lesser beings. The source of his knowledge of “natural rights” is either innate in his superior intellect (how convenient) or else it arises from a strained interpretation of human evolution. The latter, somehow, has yielded up a set of inborn natural rights, the contours of which the pseudo-libertarian is privileged to perceive. (None of this is meant to denigrate Judeo-Christianity, the foundational tenets of which foster liberty.)

The pseudo-libertarian, in other words, is afraid to admit that the long evolution of rules of conduct by human beings who must coexist  might just be superior to the rules that he would arbitrarily impose, reflecting as they do his “superior” sensibilities. I say “arbitrarily” because pseudo-libertarians have not been notably critical of the judicial impositions that have legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, or of the legislative impositions that have corrupted property rights in the pursuit of “social justice.”

All in all, it seems that pseudo-libertarians believe in the possibility of separating the warp and woof of society without causing the disintegration of the social fabric. The pseudo-libertarian, in that respect, mimics the doctrinaire socialist who wants prosperity but rejects one of its foundation stones: property rights.

A true libertarian will eschew the temptation to prescribe the details of social conduct. He will, instead, take the following positions:

  • The role of the state is to protect individuals from deceit, coercion, and force.
  • The rules of social conduct are adopted voluntarily within that framework are legitimate and libertarian.

*   *   *

The foregoing is a terse summary of the detailed analysis of liberty and rights that I have offered in many posts, including these:

On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Democracy and Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
Inventing “Liberalism”
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
The Principles of Actionable Harm
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Beware of Libertarian Paternalists
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
Tocqueville’s Prescience
The Mind of a Paternalist
Accountants of the Soul
The Unreality of Objectivism
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
Rawls Meets Bentham
More about Consequentialism
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Line-Drawing and Liberty
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
Nature Is Unfair
Social Justice
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
The Left’s Agenda
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Peter Presumes to Preach
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
On Self-Ownership and Desert
In Defense of Marriage
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Empathy Is Overrated
Understanding Hayek
The Left and Its Delusions
Corporations, Union, and the State
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Crimes against Humanity
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
Blackmail, Anyone?
The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard
About Democracy
The Arrogance of (Some) Economists
What Is Libertarianism?

Where’s the (Intellectual) Beef?

That’s what Virgina Postrel asks, in effect (“Harvard Pledge Values ‘Kindness’ Over Learning“):

When the members of the class of 2015 arrived at Harvard College this fall, they encountered a novel bit of moral education. Their dorm proctors — the grad students who live with freshmen to provide guidance and enforce discipline — invited each student to sign a pledge developed by the Freshman Dean’s Office. It reads, in full:

“At Commencement, the Dean of Harvard College announces to the President, Fellows, and Overseers that ‘each degree candidate stands ready to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society.’ That message serves as a kind of moral compass for the education Harvard College imparts. In the classroom, in extracurricular endeavors, and in the Yard and Houses, students are expected to act with integrity, respect, and industry, and to sustain a community characterized by inclusiveness and civility.

“As we begin at Harvard, we commit to upholding the values of the College and to making the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.”…

Kindness isn’t a public or intellectual virtue, but a personal one. It is a form of love. Kindness seeks, above all, to avoid hurt. Criticism — even objective, impersonal, well- intended, constructive criticism — isn’t kind. Criticism hurts people’s feelings, and it hurts most when the recipient realizes it’s accurate. Treating “kindness” as the way to civil discourse doesn’t show students how to argue with accuracy and respect. It teaches them instead to neither give criticism nor tolerate it….

Consider a common argument in favor of the pledge. It starts with a survey last spring in which then-freshmen were asked to indicate how they believed Harvard ranked various values, and then to do the same ranking for themselves….

Where in the list of ranked values are curiosity, discovery, reason, inquiry, skepticism or truth? (Were these values even options?) Where is critical thinking? No wonder the pledge talks about “attainment.” Attainment equals study cards and good grades — a transcript to enable the student to move on to the next stage. Attainment isn’t learning, questioning or criticizing. It’s getting your ticket punched.

Harvard is the strongest brand in American higher education, and its identity is clear. As its students recognize, Harvard represents success. But, it seems, Harvard feels guilty about that identity and wishes it could instead (or also) represent “compassion.” These two qualities have a lot in common. They both depend on other people, either to validate success or serve as objects of compassion. And neither is intellectual.

Harvard’s emphasis on “kindness” reminds me that empathy is overrated:

[T]here is a crying need for unsociable introverts, who tend (more than other types) to be thinkers, strivers, organizers, defenders, and justice-dispensers. If we did not exist, the world would be full of ill-fed, ill-housed, untutored savages. I suspect that their vaunted empathy would not survive the stress of existence and coexistence.

Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment

“Supply creates its own demand,” or so goes the popular interpretation of Say’s law. (More about that, below.) But if what you have on offer is not in demand by others, you are out of luck.

That is the point of Megan McArdle’s post, “The New New New Economy.” McArdle writes:

One of my first jobs out of school, way back in 1994, was as a secretary.  I’d be shocked to find that any of the executives at that organization still have secretaries–maybe the executive director, but maybe not even him.  Already at the time there wasn’t really enough for me to do; my boss had a secretary because, well, people in his position did.  That’s not because the work was being outsourced to Bangalore, but because computers and the internet were eliminating much of the coolie labor that secretaries used to take care of.  And of course, the recession is accelerating the pace of change–and leaving the people who are displaced fewer options to transition.

Government interventions that destroy jobs — the minimum wage, capital gains taxes, progressive taxation, etc. — exacerbate the problem because they prevent low-skilled workers (teenagers, mainly) from stepping onto the bottom rung of the employment ladder and eventually acquiring skills (or the money with which to acquire skills) that enable them to compete in an increasingly cyber-mated economy.

Which brings me back to Say’s law, explained succinctly by Steven Horwitz in “Understanding Say’s Law of Markets“:

Say was making the claim that production is the source of demand. One’s ability to demand goods and services from others derives from the income produced by one’s own acts of production. Wealth is created by production not by consumption. My ability to demand food, clothing, and shelter derives from the productivity of my labor or my nonlabor assets. The higher (lower) that productivity, the higher (lower) is my power to demand.

When a firm adopts a more productive technology — one that enables it to reduce the price of a product or service and/or offer a better product or service for the same price — the firm benefits and its customers and potential customers benefit. The firm can reap higher profits (if it is in a competitive position to do so) by “sharing” the productivity gains with customers through its pricing strategy. Customers and potential customers, by the same token reap the benefit of a better and/or less expensive product or service.

Who is made worse off? The workers whose skills are such that they cannot produce things that are valued by consumers. Or, if they can produce them, they cannot produce them as cheaply as, say, an automated system. And that system may well have been introduced because government policies of the kind mentioned above make it less profitable for firms to employ labor.

Whose “fault” is that? In a free-market economy, it would be no one’s fault; it would be what it is: an unfortunate subset of the populace lacking the wherewithal to produce what others want. It follows that governmental interventions have created a large (and growing) additional subset of the populace who could — and should — blame their fate upon the minimum wage; capital gains taxes; progressive taxation; regulations that restrict inputs, processes, and outputs; and all other government policies that discourage employment, saving, capital formation, and business expansion.

Related posts:
The Causes of Economic Growth
Economic Growth since WWII
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
The Price of Government
Gains from Trade
Does the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?
The Commandeered Economy
The Price of Government Redux
The Mega-Depression
The Real Burden of Government
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
The Rahn Curve at Work
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
Competition Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Word
The Stagnation Thesis
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given

The Planning Fallacy

David Brooks, sounding (unusually) like the conservative that he claims to be, writes about the planning fallacy:

…Most people overrate their own abilities and exaggerate their capacity to shape the future….

The planning fallacy is failing to think realistically about where you fit in the distribution of people like you….

Over the past three years, the [government of the: ED] United States has been committing the planning fallacy on stilts. The world economy has been slammed by a financial crisis. Countries that are afflicted with these crises typically experience several years of high unemployment. They go deep into debt to end the stagnation, but the turnaround takes a while.

This historical pattern has been universally acknowledged and universally ignored. Instead, leaders in both parties have clung to the analogy that the economy is like a sick patient who can be healed by the right treatment.

The Democrats, besotted by the myth that the New Deal ended the Great Depression, have consistently overestimated their ability to turn the economy around….

Combine the planning fallacy with the Nirvana fallacy — comparing actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives– and you have governance at its worst: politicians making an inevitably imperfect and messy world even less perfect and messier.

Creepy Doings at BarackObama.com

Obama for America is “an Authorized Committee of a Candidate For the Office of President or Vice President.” The website barackobama.com is “paid for by Obama for America.” There is (as of this writing) a post at barackobama.com dated September 13, 2011, “Launching AttackWatch.com,” which announces a “new resource,” namely AttackWatch.com. Among the features of that site is Report an attack:

This rather unsophisticated stab at compiling an enemies list will come back to haunt the O. Although the effort has just begun, it already has garnered some attention. I expect the snowball effect to kick in tomorrow.

P.S. I will be proud if I am placed on the enemies list, though I will leave it to the creeps at barackobama.com to find for themselves the large number of attacks that I have posted on this blog. Grrrr.

P.P.S. (09/23/11) It seems that Attack Watch was mortally wounded by the attacks (and ridicule) it drew.


For an egregious view of 9/11 and events since, see Robin Hanson’s post,”Forget 9/11.” Read my comment.* And then forget Robin Hanson. What a jerk.

P.S. Hanson can shove Krugman up his a**, and vice versa. They make a nice couple. Bill Vallicella, on the other hand, is a voice of reason, as is another Hanson (Victor Davis).

P.P.S. See also my previous post about 9/11, “September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of ‘Unity’.”

P.P.P.S. If you wonder why I react so strongly to Hanson and Krugman, see “September 11: A Remembrance.” I despise the likes of Hanson and Krugman, whose extreme libertarianism and extreme statism seem unbounded by taste and reality.
* Defense against terrorists, not solidarity with victims, explains the “pissing away” of three trillion dollars. But you are not in a position to say that it was “pissed away,” unless you happen to know, with some certainty, just how much or how little physical and economic security was bought with the three trillion dollars. I detect a bias on your part against defense spending. Or do you believe that the U.S. wouldn’t have been attacked if only (insert your favorite gripe against U.S. foreign policy here)?

What does the fact that half a billion persons have died since 9/11 have to do with the deaths of the three thousand victims of 9/11? If your spouse was murdered, I suppose you’d say “Oh well, people die every day.” Same thing, right?

Were long-standing legal principles trashed? Maybe. But the ACLU is hardly an unbiased judge of such things. Try this for some balance: http://originalismblog.typepad.com/the-originalism-blog/2011/09/comment-on-911.html.

Finally, I second Adam’s comment that you are looking down on a natural human reaction to what was seen (quite properly) as a dramatic event. Actually, “dramatic” is an understatement. It was a concerted act of barbarism, not the everyday occurrence that you liken it to.

September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”

This is my 9/11 post, a day early. For my remembrance of 9/11, go here.

I reluctantly watched George W. Bush’s post-9/11 speech before a joint session of Congress. I say “reluctantly” because I cannot abide the posturing, pomposity, and wrong-headedness that are the usual ingredients of political speeches — even speeches that follow events like the attack on Pearl Harbor and the atrocities of 9/11. (Churchill’s rallying speeches during World War II are another thing: masterworks of inspirational oratory.)

In any event, Bush’s performance was creditable (thanks, no doubt, to his writers and ample preparation). And I found nothing to fault in what he said, inasmuch as I am a libertarian hawk. The vigorous and evidently sincere applause that greeted Bush’s applause lines — applause that arose from Democrats as well as Republicans — seemed to confirm the prevailing view that Americans (or their political leaders, at least) were defiantly united in the fight against terrorism.

But I noted then, and have never forgotten, the behavior of Hillary Clinton, who was a freshman senator. Some of Clinton’s behavior is captured in this video clip, from 11:44 to 12: 14. The segment opens with Bush saying

Terror unanswered can not only bring down buildings, it can threaten the stability of legitimate governments. And you know what, we’re not going to allow it.

The assemblage then rises in applause. The camera zooms to Hillary Clinton, who seems aware of it and stares at the camera briefly while applauding tepidly. (Compare her self-centered reaction with that of the noted camera-hog Chuck Shumer, who is standing next to her, applauding vigorously, and looking toward Bush.) Clinton then turns away from the camera and, while still applauding tepidly, directs a smirk at someone near her. I also noted — but cannot readily find on video — similar behavior, include eye-rolling, at the conclusion of Bush’s speech.

Clinton — as a veteran political campaigner who knew that her behavior would draw attention — was sending a clear signal of her reluctance to support Bush because … because why? Because he had an opportunity for leadership that her husband had squandered through his lame responses to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the downing of U.S. helicopters in Somalia, and the bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa? Because Bush was a Republican who had won the presidency after great controversy? Because she resented not being at the center of attention after having been there for eight years, as an influential FLOTUS?

Yes Clinton was “hawkish” on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But I will always suspect that her hawkishness was, in part, a kind of atonement for her public display of disdain for George W. Bush on an occasion when such a display was inappropriate. No president should be given leave to do as he will, for any reason, but neither should his unexceptionable remarks on a solemn occasion be mocked.

Regardless of Clinton’s later stances, her behavior on January 20, 2011, signaled that the war on terror would become a partisan feast for Democrats and head-in-the clouds pseudo-libertarians. And it became just that.

The Repealer

The State of Kansas this year established the office of State Repealer. The Repealer’s job is to

  1. …investigate the system of governance of the State of Kansas including its laws, regulations, and other governing instruments to determine instances in which those laws, regulations, or other governing instruments are unreasonable, unduly burdensome, duplicative, onerous, or in conflict.
  2. … cause to be created at the earliest possible date a system for receiving public comment suggesting various laws, regulations, and other governing instruments to be considered for possible repeal by the Office of the Repealer.  This system shall include an online portal for the receipt of such public comment [here].
  3. …cause a recommendation for either outright repeal or for modification to be delivered to the originating body of such law, regulation, or other governing instrument [which meets the standard set forth in paragraph 1 above]…. The recommendation shall set forth with specificity the justification for the requested repeal or modification.  Any recommendation made by the … Repealer shall carry the full weight and force of this Administration.
  4. …implement a tracking system to follow the action taken by any originating body on any recommendation made by the State Repealer in order to prepare regular reports to the Office of the Governor regarding the progress of repeal or modification.

I wonder if the idea of a Repealer was stimulated by my proposal to establish a Keeper of the U.S. Constitution (go here and scroll down to Article VII). It is true that the Keeper of the Constitution, as I define the job, would have considerably more power than the Kansas Repealer; to wit:

A. Responsibility and Authority

1. The responsibility for ensuring that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches adhere to this Constitution in the exercise of their respective powers shall be vested in a Keeper of the Constitution. The Keeper may review acts of Congress, the executive branch, and judicial branch that have the effect of making law and appropriating monies. The term “making law” includes — but is not limited to — a legislative, executive, or judicial interpretation of an existing law or laws. Covered acts of the judicial branch include — but are not limited to — denials of appeals or writs of certiorari. The Keeper’s purview does not extend to the ratification of or amendments to this Constitution; the admission of States to the Union, or the secession of States from it; declarations of war; statutes, appropriations, regulations, or orders pertaining directly to the armed forces or intelligence services of the United States; or the employment of the armed forces or intelligence services of the United States. Nor does the Keeper’s purview extend to appointments made by or with the consent of the legislative, executive, or judicial branches.

2. The Keeper may revoke any act that lies within his purview, as defined in section A.1 of this Article VII, provided that the act occurred no more than one year before the date on which he nullifies it. The Keeper shall signify each revocation by informing the Speaker of the House of Representatives, President pro tempore of the Senate, President of the United States, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of his decision and the reason(s) therefor. The Keeper shall, at the same time, issue a public notice of his decision and the reason(s) therefor.

3. The affected branch(es) of government shall, in each case, act promptly to implement the Keeper’s decision. Each implementing act shall be subject to review, as specified in sections A.1 and A.2 of this Article VII.

The establishment of the office of Repealer is, nevertheless, a step in the right direction. Perhaps the idea will spread, and perhaps a State’s constitution will be amended to give a Repealer the kind of authority that I would vest in the Keeper of the Constitution. That would be a bold and instructive experiment in governance.

The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given

The following actions will restore jobs by giving confidence to America’s businesses, will ensure robust economic growth over the long haul, and will ensure that future generations are not burdened with crushing debt:

  • Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (and the expansions known as Obamacare) should be phased out. By the time today’s youngest workers are ready for retirement, those programs would no longer exist. The ability of individuals to enjoy comfortable, healthy retirement years would depend on their assiduous prudence, financially and physically. (I am not a stranger’s keeper, and vice versa.) Private financial institutions and insurers would be allowed to compete across State lines for the savings and premiums of newly empowered individuals. States and municipalities would maintain any “safety net” for the truly needy (including those who cannot afford the care associated with serious illnesses and disabilities). Profligate grants of aid, leading to higher State and local taxes, would be  punished at the ballot box and by emigration to locales where income and property are not targets of opportunity for demagogic politicians.
  • All other activities of the federal government that are not authorized by the Constitution should be phased out within ten years. That is to say, all “independent” agencies (especially including the Federal Reserve) would be abolished, along with every department but Defense, Justice, State, and Treasury. Any legitimate functions of the other departments and agencies would be folded into the four that remain, and those four would be thoroughly cleansed of illegitimate functions.
  • The preceding actions would negate most regulatory authority. That which remains would revert to Congress, which would no longer be able to delegate law-making to the executive branch, and which would have to make law strictly within the four corners of the Constitution. Specific targets for termination: regulation of resource extraction, “anti-discrimination” programs that in fact discriminate in favor of certain classes of individuals, environmental regulation (except for truly major environmental threats, and only then as authorized by an amendment to the Constitution), anything having to do with “global warming.” the Food and Drug Administration, and federal involvement in occupational licensing.
  • The streamlining of the federal government would be accompanied by a sale of all assets not required for the execution of constitutional functions. Thus would land and buildings become available for private use, personal and commercial.
  • The federal budget would be in balance — at a much lower level — within a decade. A tough balanced-budget amendment would keep it there. Such an amendment would cap federal spending at 10 percent of GDP, with a minimum of 6 percent of GDP going to defense. There would be an exception for a war (or wars) authorized by Congress, if the combat deployment of more than one-fourth of the personnel of the U.S. armed forces. Then, federal spending could exceed 10 percent of GDP, but only to the extent of the additional costs of the authorized war (or wars). Federal revenues would have to match spending in every 10-year period, plus or minus 1 percent of GDP.

By taking immediate steps to initiate these changes, we will be telling Americans — individuals and businesspersons — two important things. First, they are at long last free in their “pursuit of Happiness.” Second, because they are free, they do not have to worry about government changing the “rules of the game” capriciously or swooping in to take away what they’ve earned.

Only with such freedom and certainty can Americans, once again, confidently strive to make better lives for themselves and, in so doing, help their compatriots to make better lives.

Union Thuggery…

…of which there has been so much in recent months, seems to be spreading.

The development comes as no surprise to this unprivileged native of Michigan, where unions have long held disproportionate power, due (in part) to their ability to inflict financial and physical harm. I was a “beneficiary” of that power in the 1950s when, as a 16- and 17-year old, I was required to join the Retail Clerks International Union so that I could bag groceries after school and on weekends for the munificent wage of about 90 cents an hour. I went to one union meeting, out of curiosity, and even my 16- or 17-year old self was amused by the sight of grown men calling each other “brother,” like members of the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge. Most of those present at the meeting were employees of low-grade, low-margin grocery chains, whose mostly working-class customers they sought to gouge for higher wages. (Of course, the union members didn’t think of it in that way.) The chorus of “brotherhood” was led by a handful of full-time union officials (including a decidedly shifty character), whose customer-financed salaries undoubtedly exceeded the earnings of the workers whom they purported to represent.

Henry Ford was a man of many parts, not all of them praiseworthy, but he was right about labor unions:

Ford was adamantly against labor unions. He explained his views on unions in Chapter 18 of My Life and Work.[33] He thought they were too heavily influenced by some leaders who, despite their ostensible good motives, would end up doing more harm than good for workers. Most wanted to restrict productivity as a means to foster employment, but Ford saw this as self-defeating because, in his view, productivity was necessary for any economic prosperity to exist.

He believed that productivity gains that obviated certain jobs would nevertheless stimulate the larger economy and thus grow new jobs elsewhere, whether within the same corporation or in others. Ford also believed that union leaders (particularly Leninist-leaning ones) had a perverse incentive to foment perpetual socio-economic crisis as a way to maintain their own power. Meanwhile, he believed that smart managers had an incentive to do right by their workers, because doing so would maximize their own profits. (Ford did acknowledge, however, that many managers were basically too bad at managing to understand this fact.) But Ford believed that eventually, if good managers such as he could fend off the attacks of misguided people from both left and right (i.e., both socialists and bad-manager reactionaries), the good managers would create a socio-economic system wherein neither bad management nor bad unions could find enough support to continue existing.

Given that the Wagner Act was an unconstitutional usurpation of property rights, I cannot entirely condemn Ford’s bare-knuckles method of dealing with union organizers, who were bare-knuckles men themselves.

And then there were Jimmy Hoffa and his namesake son, to name but a few “icons” of the “peaceful” labor movement and its habit of wrenching above-market wages and lucrative pensions from the honest workers of America.

*   *   *

Related posts: here and here.

Can Obama Erase the Deficit?

I don’t mean the federal government’s deficit or the jobs deficit. I mean Obama’s popularity deficit, which is s-o-o big:

Derived from Rasmussen Reports, Daily Presidential Tracking Poll.

When it comes to jobs, Don Boudreaux pegs it:

The problem isn’t that consumers aren’t spending; it’s that businesses aren’t investing.  And businesses aren’t investing because Congress and, especially, the administration exhibit a ceaseless fetish for top-down, command-and-control, debt-financed ‘governance’ of the economy – an enterprise-quashing recipe made only more poisonous by Mr. Obama’s soak-the-rich speechifying.

But that won’t keep the O from speechifying about “the rich” and trying to spend and regulate his way out of a recession that he has made worse by enlarging government and its reach, instead of shrinking both.

Related posts:
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
The Great Recession Is Not Over
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate