The Fallacy of Human Progress

Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined is cited gleefully by leftists and cockeyed optimists as evidence that human beings, on the whole, are becoming kinder and gentler because of:

  • The Leviathan – The rise of the modern nation-state and judiciary “with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force,” which “can defuse the [individual] temptation of exploitative attack, inhibit the impulse for revenge, and circumvent…self-serving biases.”
  • Commerce – The rise of “technological progress [allowing] the exchange of goods and services over longer distances and larger groups of trading partners,” so that “other people become more valuable alive than dead” and “are less likely to become targets of demonization and dehumanization”;
  • Feminization – Increasing respect for “the interests and values of women.”
  • Cosmopolitanism – the rise of forces such as literacy, mobility, and mass media, which “can prompt people to take the perspectives of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them”;
  • The Escalator of Reason – an “intensifying application of knowledge and rationality to human affairs,” which “can force people to recognize the futility of cycles of violence, to ramp down the privileging of their own interests over others’, and to reframe violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won.”

I can tell you that Pinker’s book is hogwash because two very bright leftists — Peter Singer and Will Wilkinson — have strongly and wrongly endorsed some of its key findings. Singer writes:

Pinker argues that enhanced powers of reasoning give us the ability to detach ourselves from our immediate experience and from our personal or parochial perspective, and frame our ideas in more abstract, universal terms. This in turn leads to better moral commitments, including avoiding violence. It is just this kind of reasoning ability that has improved during the 20th century. He therefore suggests that the 20th century has seen a “moral Flynn effect, in which an accelerating escalator of reason carried us away from impulses that lead to violence” and that this lies behind the long peace, the new peace, and the rights revolution. Among the wide range of evidence he produces in support of that argument is the tidbit that since 1946, there has been a negative correlation between an American president’s I.Q. and the number of battle deaths in wars involving the United States.

I disposed of this staggeringly specious correlation here:

There is the convenient cutoff point of 1946. Why 1946? Well, it enables Pinker-Singer to avoid the inconvenient fact that the Civil War, World War I, and World War II happened while the presidency was held by three men who [purportedly] had high IQs: Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR….

If you buy the brand of snake oil being peddled by Pinker-Singer, you must believe that the “dumbest” and “smartest” presidents are unlikely to get the U.S. into wars that result in a lot of battle deaths, whereas some (but, mysteriously, not all) of the “medium-smart” presidents (Lincoln, Wilson, FDR) are likely to do so….

Let us advance from one to two explanatory variables. The second explanatory variable that strongly suggests itself is political party. And because it is not good practice to omit relevant statistics (a favorite gambit of liars), I estimated an equation based on “IQ” and battle deaths for the 27 men who served as president from the first Republican presidency (Lincoln’s) through the presidency of GWB….

In other words, battle deaths rise at the rate of 841 per IQ point (so much for Pinker-Singer). But there will be fewer deaths with a Republican in the White House (so much for Pinker-Singer’s implied swipe at GWB)….

All of this is nonsense, of course, for two reasons: [the] estimates of IQ are hogwash, and the number of U.S. battle deaths is a meaningless number, taken by itself.

… [The] estimates of presidents’ IQs put every one of them — including the “dumbest,” U.S. Grant — in the top 2.3 percent of the population. And the mean of Simonton’s estimates puts the average president in the top 0.1 percent (one-tenth of one percent) of the population. That is literally incredible.

As for Wilkinson, he praises statistics adduced by Pinker that show a decline 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.

My observation:

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.

Moral regress because the abandonment of the death penalty puts innocent lives at risk. Capital punishment sends a message, and the message is effective when it is delivered: it deters homicide. And even if it didn’t, it would at least remove killers from our midst, permanently. By what standard of morality can one claim that it is better to spare killers than to protect innocents? For that matter, by what standard of morality is it better to kill innocents (in the womb) than to spare killers? Proponents of abortion (like Singer and Wilkinson) — who by and large oppose capital punishment — are completely lacking in moral authority.

Returning to Pinker’s thesis that violence has declined, I quote a review at Foseti:

Pinker’s basic problem is that he essentially defines “violence” in such a way that his thesis that violence is declining becomes self-fulling. “Violence” to Pinker is fundamentally synonymous with behaviors of older civilizations. On the other hand, modern practices are defined to be less violent than newer practices.

A while back, I linked to a story about a guy in my neighborhood who’s been arrested over 60 times for breaking into cars. A couple hundred years ago, this guy would have been killed for this sort of vandalism after he got caught the first time. Now, we feed him and shelter him for a while and then we let him back out to do this again. Pinker defines the new practice as a decline in violence – we don’t kill the guy anymore! Someone from a couple hundred years ago would be appalled that we let the guy continue destroying other peoples’ property without consequence. In the mind of those long dead, “violence” has in fact increased. Instead of a decline in violence, this practice seems to me like a decline in justice – nothing more or less.

Here’s another example, Pinker uses creative definitions to show that the conflicts of the 20th Century pale in comparison to previous conflicts. For example, all the Mongol Conquests are considered one event, even though they cover 125 years. If you lump all these various conquests together and you split up WWI, WWII, Mao’s takeover in China, the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, the Russian Civil War, and the Chinese Civil War (yes, he actually considers this a separate event from Mao), you unsurprisingly discover that the events of the 20th Century weren’t all that violent compared to events in the past! Pinker’s third most violent event is the “Mideast Slave Trade” which he says took place between the 7th and 19th Centuries. Seriously. By this standard, all the conflicts of the 20th Century are related. Is the Russian Revolution or the rise of Mao possible without WWII? Is WWII possible without WWI? By this consistent standard, the 20th Century wars of Communism would have seen the worst conflict by far. Of course, if you fiddle with the numbers, you can make any point you like.

There’s much more to the review, including some telling criticisms of Pinker’s five reasons for the (purported) decline in violence. That the reviewer somehow still wants to believe in the rightness of Pinker’s thesis says more about the reviewer’s optimism than it does about the validity of Pinker’s thesis.

That thesis is fundamentally flawed, as Robert Epstein points out in a review at Scientific American:

[T]he wealth of data [Pinker] presents cannot be ignored—unless, that is, you take the same liberties as he sometimes does in his book. In two lengthy chapters, Pinker describes psychological processes that make us either violent or peaceful, respectively. Our dark side is driven by a evolution-based propensity toward predation and dominance. On the angelic side, we have, or at least can learn, some degree of self-control, which allows us to inhibit dark tendencies.

There is, however, another psychological process—confirmation bias—that Pinker sometimes succumbs to in his book. People pay more attention to facts that match their beliefs than those that undermine them. Pinker wants peace, and he also believes in his hypothesis; it is no surprise that he focuses more on facts that support his views than on those that do not. The SIPRI arms data are problematic, and a reader can also cherry-pick facts from Pinker’s own book that are inconsistent with his position. He notes, for example, that during the 20th century homicide rates failed to decline in both the U.S. and England. He also describes in graphic and disturbing detail the savage way in which chimpanzees—our closest genetic relatives in the animal world—torture and kill their own kind.

Of greater concern is the assumption on which Pinker’s entire case rests: that we look at relative numbers instead of absolute numbers in assessing human violence. But why should we be content with only a relative decrease? By this logic, when we reach a world population of nine billion in 2050, Pinker will conceivably be satisfied if a mere two million people are killed in war that year.

The biggest problem with the book, though, is its overreliance on history, which, like the light on a caboose, shows us only where we are not going. We live in a time when all the rules are being rewritten blindingly fast—when, for example, an increasingly smaller number of people can do increasingly greater damage. Yes, when you move from the Stone Age to modern times, some violence is left behind, but what happens when you put weapons of mass destruction into the hands of modern people who in many ways are still living primitively? What happens when the unprecedented occurs—when a country such as Iran, where women are still waiting for even the slightest glimpse of those better angels, obtains nuclear weapons? Pinker doesn’t say.

Pinker’s belief that violence is on the decline reminds me of “it’s different this time,” a phrase that was on the lips of hopeful stock-pushers, stock-buyers, and pundits during the stock-market bubble of the late 1990s. That bubble ended, of course, in the spectacular crash of 2000.

Predictions about the future of humankind are better left in the hands of writers who see human nature whole, and who are not out to prove that it can be shaped or contained by the kinds of “liberal” institutions that Pinker so obviously favors.

Consider this, from an article by Robert J. Samuelson at The Washington Post:

[T]he Internet’s benefits are relatively modest compared with previous transformative technologies, and it brings with it a terrifying danger: cyberwar. Amid the controversy over leaks from the National Security Agency, this looms as an even bigger downside.

By cyberwarfare, I mean the capacity of groups — whether nations or not — to attack, disrupt and possibly destroy the institutions and networks that underpin everyday life. These would be power grids, pipelines, communication and financial systems, business record-keeping and supply-chain operations, railroads and airlines, databases of all types (from hospitals to government agencies). The list runs on. So much depends on the Internet that its vulnerability to sabotage invites doomsday visions of the breakdown of order and trust.

In a report, the Defense Science Board, an advisory group to the Pentagon, acknowledged “staggering losses” of information involving weapons design and combat methods to hackers (not identified, but probably Chinese). In the future, hackers might disarm military units. “U.S. guns, missiles and bombs may not fire, or may be directed against our own troops,” the report said. It also painted a specter of social chaos from a full-scale cyberassault. There would be “no electricity, money, communications, TV, radio or fuel (electrically pumped). In a short time, food and medicine distribution systems would be ineffective.”

But Pinker wouldn’t count the resulting chaos as violence, as long as human beings were merely starving and dying of various diseases. That violence would ensue, of course, is another story, which is told by John Gray in The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths. Gray’s book — published  18 months after Better Angels — could be read as a refutation of Pinker’s book, though Gray doesn’t mention Pinker or his book.

The gist of Gray’s argument is faithfully recounted in a review of Gray’s book by Robert W. Merry at The National Interest:

The noted British historian J. B. Bury (1861–1927) … wrote, “This doctrine of the possibility of indefinitely moulding the characters of men by laws and institutions . . . laid a foundation on which the theory of the perfectibility of humanity could be raised. It marked, therefore, an important stage in the development of the doctrine of Progress.”

We must pause here over this doctrine of progress. It may be the most powerful idea ever conceived in Western thought—emphasizing Western thought because the idea has had little resonance in other cultures or civilizations. It is the thesis that mankind has advanced slowly but inexorably over the centuries from a state of cultural backwardness, blindness and folly to ever more elevated stages of enlightenment and civilization—and that this human progression will continue indefinitely into the future…. The U.S. historian Charles A. Beard once wrote that the emergence of the progress idea constituted “a discovery as important as the human mind has ever made, with implications for mankind that almost transcend imagination.” And Bury, who wrote a book on the subject, called it “the great transforming conception, which enables history to define her scope.”

Gray rejects it utterly. In doing so, he rejects all of modern liberal humanism. “The evidence of science and history,” he writes, “is that humans are only ever partly and intermittently rational, but for modern humanists the solution is simple: human beings must in future be more reasonable. These enthusiasts for reason have not noticed that the idea that humans may one day be more rational requires a greater leap of faith than anything in religion.” In an earlier work, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, he was more blunt: “Outside of science, progress is simply a myth.”

…Gray has produced more than twenty books demonstrating an expansive intellectual range, a penchant for controversy, acuity of analysis and a certain political clairvoyance.

He rejected, for example, Francis Fukuyama’s heralded “End of History” thesis—that Western liberal democracy represents the final form of human governance—when it appeared in this magazine in 1989. History, it turned out, lingered long enough to prove Gray right and Fukuyama wrong….

Though for decades his reputation was confined largely to intellectual circles, Gray’s public profile rose significantly with the 2002 publication of Straw Dogs, which sold impressively and brought him much wider acclaim than he had known before. The book was a concerted and extensive assault on the idea of progress and its philosophical offspring, secular humanism. The Silence of Animals is in many ways a sequel, plowing much the same philosophical ground but expanding the cultivation into contiguous territory mostly related to how mankind—and individual humans—might successfully grapple with the loss of both metaphysical religion of yesteryear and today’s secular humanism. The fundamentals of Gray’s critique of progress are firmly established in both books and can be enumerated in summary.

First, the idea of progress is merely a secular religion, and not a particularly meaningful one at that. “Today,” writes Gray in Straw Dogs, “liberal humanism has the pervasive power that was once possessed by revealed religion. Humanists like to think they have a rational view of the world; but their core belief in progress is a superstition, further from the truth about the human animal than any of the world’s religions.”

Second, the underlying problem with this humanist impulse is that it is based upon an entirely false view of human nature—which, contrary to the humanist insistence that it is malleable, is immutable and impervious to environmental forces. Indeed, it is the only constant in politics and history. Of course, progress in scientific inquiry and in resulting human comfort is a fact of life, worth recognition and applause. But it does not change the nature of man, any more than it changes the nature of dogs or birds. “Technical progress,” writes Gray, again in Straw Dogs, “leaves only one problem unsolved: the frailty of human nature. Unfortunately that problem is insoluble.”

That’s because, third, the underlying nature of humans is bred into the species, just as the traits of all other animals are. The most basic trait is the instinct for survival, which is placed on hold when humans are able to live under a veneer of civilization. But it is never far from the surface. In The Silence of Animals, Gray discusses the writings of Curzio Malaparte, a man of letters and action who found himself in Naples in 1944, shortly after the liberation. There he witnessed a struggle for life that was gruesome and searing. “It is a humiliating, horrible thing, a shameful necessity, a fight for life,” wrote Malaparte. “Only for life. Only to save one’s skin.” Gray elaborates:

Observing the struggle for life in the city, Malaparte watched as civilization gave way. The people the inhabitants had imagined themselves to be—shaped, however imperfectly, by ideas of right and wrong—disappeared. What were left were hungry animals, ready to do anything to go on living; but not animals of the kind that innocently kill and die in forests and jungles. Lacking a self-image of the sort humans cherish, other animals are content to be what they are. For human beings the struggle for survival is a struggle against themselves.

When civilization is stripped away, the raw animal emerges. “Darwin showed that humans are like other animals,” writes Gray in Straw Dogs, expressing in this instance only a partial truth. Humans are different in a crucial respect, captured by Gray himself when he notes that Homo sapiens inevitably struggle with themselves when forced to fight for survival. No other species does that, just as no other species has such a range of spirit, from nobility to degradation, or such a need to ponder the moral implications as it fluctuates from one to the other. But, whatever human nature is—with all of its capacity for folly, capriciousness and evil as well as virtue, magnanimity and high-mindedness—it is embedded in the species through evolution and not subject to manipulation by man-made institutions.

Fourth, the power of the progress idea stems in part from the fact that it derives from a fundamental Christian doctrine—the idea of providence, of redemption….

“By creating the expectation of a radical alteration in human affairs,” writes Gray, “Christianity . . . founded the modern world.” But the modern world retained a powerful philosophical outlook from the classical world—the Socratic faith in reason, the idea that truth will make us free; or, as Gray puts it, the “myth that human beings can use their minds to lift themselves out of the natural world.” Thus did a fundamental change emerge in what was hoped of the future. And, as the power of Christian faith ebbed, along with its idea of providence, the idea of progress, tied to the Socratic myth, emerged to fill the gap. “Many transmutations were needed before the Christian story could renew itself as the myth of progress,” Gray explains. “But from being a succession of cycles like the seasons, history came to be seen as a story of redemption and salvation, and in modern times salvation became identified with the increase of knowledge and power.”

Thus, it isn’t surprising that today’s Western man should cling so tenaciously to his faith in progress as a secular version of redemption. As Gray writes, “Among contemporary atheists, disbelief in progress is a type of blasphemy. Pointing to the flaws of the human animal has become an act of sacrilege.” In one of his more brutal passages, he adds:

Humanists believe that humanity improves along with the growth of knowledge, but the belief that the increase of knowledge goes with advances in civilization is an act of faith. They see the realization of human potential as the goal of history, when rational inquiry shows history to have no goal. They exalt nature, while insisting that humankind—an accident of nature—can overcome the natural limits that shape the lives of other animals. Plainly absurd, this nonsense gives meaning to the lives of people who believe they have left all myths behind.

In the Silence of Animals, Gray explores all this through the works of various writers and thinkers. In the process, he employs history and literature to puncture the conceits of those who cling to the progress idea and the humanist view of human nature. Those conceits, it turns out, are easily punctured when subjected to Gray’s withering scrutiny….

And yet the myth of progress is so powerful in part because it gives meaning to modern Westerners struggling, in an irreligious era, to place themselves in a philosophical framework larger than just themselves….

Much of the human folly catalogued by Gray in The Silence of Animals makes a mockery of the earnest idealism of those who later shaped and molded and proselytized humanist thinking into today’s predominant Western civic philosophy.

There was an era of realism, but it was short-lived:

But other Western philosophers, particularly in the realm of Anglo-Saxon thought, viewed the idea of progress in much more limited terms. They rejected the idea that institutions could reshape mankind and usher in a golden era of peace and happiness. As Bury writes, “The general tendency of British thought was to see salvation in the stability of existing institutions, and to regard change with suspicion.” With John Locke, these thinkers restricted the proper role of government to the need to preserve order, protect life and property, and maintain conditions in which men might pursue their own legitimate aims. No zeal here to refashion human nature or remake society.

A leading light in this category of thinking was Edmund Burke (1729–1797), the British statesman and philosopher who, writing in his famous Reflections on the Revolution in France, characterized the bloody events of the Terror as “the sad but instructive monuments of rash and ignorant counsel in time of profound peace.” He saw them, in other words, as reflecting an abstractionist outlook that lacked any true understanding of human nature. The same skepticism toward the French model was shared by many of the Founding Fathers, who believed with Burke that human nature isn’t malleable but rather potentially harmful to society. Hence, it needed to be checked. The central distinction between the American and French revolutions, in the view of conservative writer Russell Kirk, was that the Americans generally held a “biblical view of man and his bent toward sin,” whereas the French opted for “an optimistic doctrine of human goodness.” Thus, the American governing model emerged as a secular covenant “designed to restrain the human tendencies toward violence and fraud . . . [and] place checks upon will and appetite.”

Most of the American Founders rejected the French philosophes in favor of the thought and history of the Roman Republic, where there was no idea of progress akin to the current Western version. “Two thousand years later,” writes Kirk, “the reputation of the Roman constitution remained so high that the framers of the American constitution would emulate the Roman model as best they could.” They divided government powers among men and institutions and created various checks and balances. Even the American presidency was modeled generally on the Roman consular imperium, and the American Senate bears similarities to the Roman version. Thus did the American Founders deviate from the French abstractionists and craft governmental structures to fit humankind as it actually is—capable of great and noble acts, but also of slipping into vice and treachery when unchecked. That ultimately was the genius of the American system.

But, as the American success story unfolded, a new collection of Western intellectuals, theorists and utopians—including many Americans—continued to toy with the idea of progress. And an interesting development occurred. After centuries of intellectual effort aimed at developing the idea of progress as an ongoing chain of improvement with no perceived end into the future, this new breed of “Progress as Power” thinkers began to declare their own visions as the final end point of this long progression.

Gray calls these intellectuals “ichthyophils,” which he defines as “devoted to their species as they think it ought to be, not as it actually is or as it truly wants to be.” He elaborates: “Ichthyophils come in many varieties—the Jacobin, Bolshevik and Maoist, terrorizing humankind in order to remake it on a new model; the neo-conservative, waging perpetual war as a means to universal democracy; liberal crusaders for human rights, who are convinced that all the world longs to become as they imagine themselves to be.” He includes also “the Romantics, who believe human individuality is everywhere repressed.”

Throughout American politics, as indeed throughout Western politics, a large proportion of major controversies ultimately are battles between the ichthyophils and the Burkeans, between the sensibility of the French Revolution and the sensibility of American Revolution, between adherents of the idea of progress and those skeptical of that potent concept. John Gray has provided a major service in probing with such clarity and acuity the impulses, thinking and aims of those on the ichthyophil side of that great divide. As he sums up, “Allowing the majority of humankind to imagine they are flying fish even as they pass their lives under the waves, liberal civilization rests on a dream.”

And so it goes. On the left there are the ichtyophils of America, represented in huge numbers by “progressives” and their constituents and dupes (i.e., a majority of the public). They are given aid and comfort by a small but vociferous number of pseudo-libertarians (as discussed here, for example). On the right stands a throng of pseudo-conservatives — mainly identified with the Republican Party — who are prone to adopt the language and ideals of progressivism, out of power-lust and ignorance. Almost entirely muted by the sound and fury emanating from left and right — and relatively few in number — are the true libertarians: Burkean conservatives.

And so Leviathan grows, crushing the liberty envisioned by our Burkean Founders in the name of “progress” (i.e., social and economic engineering). And as Robert Samuelson points out, the growth of Leviathan doesn’t ensure our immunity to chaos and barbarity in the event of a debilitating attack on our fragile infrastructure. It is ironic that we would be better able to withstand such an attack without descending into chaos and barbarity had not Leviathan weakened and sundered many true social bonds, in the name of “progress.”

Our thralldom to an essentially impotent Leviathan is of no importance to Pinker, to “progressives,” or the dupes and constituents of “progressivism.” They have struck their Faustian bargain with Leviathan, and they will pay the price, sooner or later. Unfortunately, all of us will pay the price — even those of us who despise and resist Leviathan.

*     *     *

Related reading: Wesley Morganston, “The Long, Slow Collapse: What Whig History Can’t Explain,” Theden, October 26, 2014

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Driving and Politics (2)

In an earlier post I described 16 bad-driving habits that are common in Austin, and concluded that

the prevalence of bad-driving behavior in Austin — where “liberalism” is hard-left and dominant — reflects the essentially anti-social character of “liberalism.” Despite the lip-service that “liberals” give to such things as compassion, community, and society, they worship the state and use its power to do their will — without thought or care for the lives and livelihoods thus twisted and damaged.

I can now test my hypothesis, having learned of Allstate Insurance Company’s Annual Best Drivers Report. According to this page at Allstate’s web site, the report “ranks America’s 200 largest cities in terms of car collision frequency to identify which cities have the safest drivers.” (Actually, the report cover 195 cities, not 200, but that discrepancy doesn’t affect my analysis.)

Allstate rates each city according to the difference between the accident rate for Allstate-insured drivers in that city and the national average for Allstate-insured drivers. The report also gives each city’s rank on the accident-rate measure, its population, its population rank, and the average number of years between accidents.

The report has some limitations, which are described here (in the sixth paragraph). But the main limitation seems to be the exclusion of Massachusetts — and therefore Boston, with its notoriously bad drivers and predominantly Democrat voters — because Allstate (wisely) doesn’t operate in that State. That relationship is consistent with my hypothesis. But as I am about to show, the hypothesis is well-supported despite the absence of Boston.

To test the hypothesis, I compared Allstate’s 20 best cities and 20 worst cities, after excluding three very large ones (New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia) from the sample of worst cities. I did that because — as one would expect — a city’s accident rate is positively correlated with its population; the more drivers there are in an area, the greater the likelihood that they’ll run into each other. This is true for the 195 cities covered by Allstate’s report, though the correlation is only 0.198. (This is actually a rather weak correlation, and with a standard error of 0.069, it barely manages to be significantly greater than zero.)

In any event, the 20 best cities had an average accident rate 18 percent below the national average; the 20 worst cities (excluding NYC, LA, and Philly) had an average accident rate 57 percent above the national average. The average populations of the two samples — 247,000 and 280,000 — are not significantly different; that is, the comparison isn’t biased by the use of two essentially different samples (with respect to population).

The 20 best cities, with an average accident rate 18 percent below the national average, are situated in counties* whose voters gave Mitt Romney 48 percent of the popular vote in 2012. The 20 worst cities, with an average accident rate 57 above the national average, are situated in counties that gave Mitt Romney only 32 percent of the popular vote in 2012. Taking the lower Romney percentage as an indication of a city’s leftishness, these results strongly support my hypothesis that bad driving and left-wing politics go together.

To put it another way, a jerk’s a jerk — in the voting booth and on the highway.
__________
* I obtained voting percentages from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections, where county-level voting records are readily available. I used counties as proxies for the cities on Allstate’s list, except where city-level records were given for cities that are coterminous with counties, and for cities that are independent of counties.

“Conversing” about Race

UPDATED BELOW, 08/04/13

The “conversation” about race so devoutly wished by Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and their ilk (of all colors) doesn’t seem to be on the track that they have in mind. That track, as some have noted, is for Obama, Holder, et al. to tell us white folks how to think about black folks, and thenceforth to think and act accordingly.

It seems that it has become acceptable for commentators outside what are known as “racialist” circles to acknowledge openly certain facts of life that are strongly tied to race. Thus, on July 20, we have Ron Unz declaring that

if we examine the official FBI arrest statistics, we find that these seem to support the most straightforward interpretation of our racial crime correlations.  For example, blacks in America were over six times as likely to be arrested for homicide in 2011 as non-blacks and over eight times as likely to be arrested for robbery; the factors for previous years were usually in a similar range.  The accuracy of this racial pattern of arrests is generally confirmed by the corresponding racial pattern of victim-identification statements, also aggregated by the FBI.

This declaration of facts is especially noteworthy, coming from Unz, who is a firm disbeliever in the proposition that intelligence has a strong genetic component. (I have addressed Unz’s treatise at length — and negatively — in this post.)

Then, along came Victor Davis Hanson on July 25, writing at National Review Online — the organ whose editor had fired John Derbyshire for his infelicitous comments about race (in another venue). Among other tidbits about young black males and crime, Hanson offered this:

I suspect — and statistics would again support such supposition — that [Attorney General Eric ]Holder privately is more worried that his son is in greater danger of being attacked by other black youths than by either the police or a nation of white-Hispanic George Zimmermans on the loose.

Will Hanson go the way of Derbyshire and be fired by NRO? It seems unlikely. Hanson is far more temperate than Derbyshire, as Derbyshire gladly demonstrates in his commentary on Hanson’s column; for example:

The race issue in America is a tadpole, with black/nonblack the mighty head and everything else an inconsequential tail.

In per capita intensity of feeling, black hatred of nonblacks is about an 8 out of 10, nonblack dislike of blacks about a 3 or 4, and any other antagonism you care to name—Hispanic hostility to East Asians, Hmong feelings about Native Americans, whatever—well down below 1.

And in the sheer amount of sturm und drang generated, the conflict is, as I keep telling you, really just between two big blocs of white people who loathe each other, the liberal bloc recruiting nonwhites as not-much-trusted support troops—a Cold Civil War.  As Prof. Hanson said, the liberal bloc personally avoids the great mass of blacks as much as they can—except when a latrine trench needs digging.

That’s more like it. And there’s a lot more where that came from. (UPDATE: Derbyshire’s followup, in which he tackles Hanson’s distortions of his views, is here.)

Well, I can be as inflammatory as Mr. Derbyshire, and so I will quote a recent bit of advice about how to be stupid:

… Intelligence is largely potential and theoretical, but stupidity is practical….

The key ingredient in applied stupidity is lack of effort….

Teachers often blame poor educational performance on the home lives of their students, insisting that lack of parental involvement deprives the children of motivation, and keeps good study habits from taking root….

Stupid behavior correlates fairly well with childish behavior, because let’s face it, kids do a lot of silly things.  This is to be expected – they’re children, after all.  They have limited experience, they have trouble staying focused, and they can’t control their impulses.  An adult who displays these traits on a constant basis will reliably behave stupidly.  Acting in a mature manner – seeking information, staying focused, delaying immediate gratification, and remaining patient – is therefore a good strategy for avoiding stupidity.  Courteous behavior, the hallmark of adult communication, is a combination of these behaviors.  The acolyte of stupidity should therefore be short-tempered, rude, impatient, and hostile at all times.

Anyone can make mistakes, but consistency is the difference between error and folly.  Smart people make mistakes and learn from them.  Stupid people make the same mistakes over and over again.  That’s not necessarily because they can’t learn from their mistakes.  Sometimes they refuse to learn…..

Apathy is another sinkhole for energy.  Apathetic people don’t care, so they don’t try.  The result is functionally equivalent to stupidity.  A mind pumped full of despair, and convinced the world is hopelessly stacked against it, loses the enthusiasm necessary to process information and make good decisions.

The inability to express yourself clearly may lead others to conclude you are stupid.  This could be viewed as yet another manifestation of apathy and carelessness.  The basic rules of grammar and syntax are durable, fairly straightforward, and taught repeatedly to children during every year of their primary education.  Someone who doesn’t make the effort to express themselves using those basic rules of clear speech, knowing that listeners expect them to be followed, is either being lazy or arrogant, which for the purposes of stupidity engineering have similar practical results….

Most people have the neural capacity to conduct themselves in a reasonably intelligent and expressive manner, so if you want to be stupid, the key technique is to avoid putting any effort into thinking.  Tell yourself that you shouldn’t have to try hard, or that the rest of the world should accommodate your indolence.  Insist that it’s unfair to expect patience or diligence from you. Share your raw emotional reactions with the world around you, in the most crudely impassioned manner possible…. Rely on aggression instead of co-operation, demands instead of persuasion, and nihilism over optimism.  Focus on what you deserve, not what you have earned.  Accept responsibility for nothing, because that’s the first step in learning from your mistakes, and you can’t afford a single step in that direction, if you wish to remain stupid.

There’s plenty of such stupidity to go around, but too much of it seems to find its way into black communities. Thomas Sowell would say that this is mainly due to what he calls “black redneck” culture — a position that I have addressed by saying:

If “black redneck” culture is the cause of the inter-racial gap in IQ, and if blacks choose to perpetuate the “black redneck” culture, then the perpetuation of the IQ gap might as well be genetic. For, it will be the result of blacks’ self-imposed servitude to the forces of ignorance.

That is the kind of “conversation” about race which Obama, Holder, and their ilk ought to initiate. Bill Cosby tried, and for his pains has been vilified, and his message has been ignored by spineless, race-baiting politicians — black and “liberal” white, alike.

UPDATE — Related reading: Bill Vallicella, “Cleveland Heights Coventry Art Fair Canceled Again,” Maverick Philosopher, August 4, 2013

Related posts:
Diversity
Putting Hate Crimes in Perspective
The Cost of Affirmative Action
The Face of America
Race and Acceptance
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Affirmative Action, One More Time
A Contrarian View of Segregation
Much Food for Thought
A Law Professor to Admire
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
A Black Bigot Speaks
More Anti-Black Bigotry from the Left
Societal Suicide
A “Taste” for Segregation
Black Terrorists and “White Flight”
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited

It’s the Little Things That Count
A Footnote to a Footnote
Let Me Be Perfectly Clear…
Racism among the Deracinated
Crime, Explained
Lock ‘Em Up
Conspicuous Consumption and Race
I Want My Country Back
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance (item 3)
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Obama’s Latest Act of Racism
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Not-So-Random Thoughts (III) (second item)
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Lincoln
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case

Baseball Statistics and the Consumer Price Index

Faithful readers of this blog will have noticed that I like to invoke baseball when addressing matters far afield from America’s pastime. (See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.) It lately occurred to me that baseball statistics, properly understood, illustrate the inherent meaninglessness of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

What does the CPI purport to measure? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) — compiler of the index — says that it “is a measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.” Read that statement carefully. The CPI does not measure the average change in prices of the goods and services purchased by every urban consumer; it measures the prices of a “market basket” of goods and services that is thought to represent the purchases of a “typical” consumer. Further, the composition of that “market basket” is assumed to change, over time, in accordance with the preferences of the “typical” consumer. (There is more about the CPI in the note at the bottom of this post.)

To understand the arbitrariness of the CPI — as regards the construction of the “market basket” and the estimation of the prices of its components — one must read no further than the Bureau’s own list of questions and answers, some of which I have reproduced in the footnote. As a measure of your cost of living — at any time or over time — the CPI is as useful as the statement that the average depth of a swimming pool is 5 feet; a non-swimmer who is 6 feet tall puts himself in danger of drowning if he jumps into the deep end of such a pool.

The BLS nevertheless computes one version CPI back to January 1913. If you believe that prices in 1913 can be compared with prices in 2013, you must believe that baseball statistics yield meaningful comparisons of the performance of contemporary players and the players of bygone years. I enjoy making such comparisons, but I do not endorse their validity. As I will discuss later in this post, my reservations about cross-temporal comparisons of baseball statistics apply also to cross-temporal comparisons of prices.

Let us begin our journey into baseball statistics with three popular measures of batting prowess: batting average (BA), slugging percentage (SLG), and on-base plus slugging (OPS). The “normal” values of these statistics have varied widely:

Average major league batting statistics_1901-2012
Source: League Year-by-Year Batting at Baseball-Reference.com.

Aside from the upward trends of SLG and OPS, which are unsurprising to anyone with a passing knowledge of baseball’s history, the most striking feature of these statistics is their synchronicity. Players (and fans) of the 1920s and 1930s enjoyed an upsurge in BA, SLG, and OPS that was echoed in the 1980s and 1990s. How can the three statistics rise in lockstep when BA usually suffers with emphasis on the long ball (captured in SLG and OPS)? The three statistics can rise in lockstep only because of changes in the conditions of play that allow batters to hit for a better average while also getting more long hits. By the same token, changes in conditions of play can have the opposite effect of causing offensive statistics to fall, across the board. But given constant conditions of play, there usually is a tradeoff between batting average and long hits. A key point, to which I will return, is the essential incommensurability of statistics gathered under different conditions of play (or economic activity).

There are many variations in the conditions of play that have resulted in significant changes in offensive statistics. Among those changes are the use of cleaner and more tightly wound baseballs, the advent of night baseball, better lighting for night games, bigger gloves, lighter bats, bigger and stronger players, the expansion of the major leagues in fits and starts, the size of the strike zone, the height of the pitching mound, and — last but far from least in this list — the integration of black and Hispanic players into major league baseball. In addition to these structural variations, there are others that mitigate against the commensurability of statistics over time; for example, the rise and decline of each player’s skills, the skills of teammates (which can boost or depress a player’s performance), the characteristics of a player’s home ballpark (where players generally play half their games), and the skills of the opposing players who are encountered over the course of a career.

Despite all of these obstacles to commensurability, the urge to evaluate the relative performance of players from different teams, leagues, seasons, and eras is irrepressible. Baseball-Reference.com is rife with such evaluations; the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) revels in them; many books offer them (e.g., this one); and I have succumbed to the urge more than once.

It is one thing to have fun with numbers. It is quite another thing to ascribe meanings to them that they cannot support. Consider the following cross-temporal comparison of baseball statistics:

Top-25 single-season offensive records
Source: Derived from the Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com. (Most baseball fans will recognize all of the names but one: Cy Seymour. His life and career are detailed in this article.)

Take, for example, the players ranked 17-25 in single-season BA. The range of BA for those 9 seasons (.384 to .388) is insignificantly small; it represents a maximum difference of only 4 hits per 1,000 times at bat. Given the vastly different conditions of play — and of the players — what does it mean to say that Rod Carew in 1977 and George Brett in 1980 had essentially the same BA as Honus Wagner in 1905 and 1908? It means nothing. The only thing that is essentially the same is the normalized BA that I concocted to represent those (and other) seasons. Offering normalized BA in evidence is to beg the question. In fact, any cross-temporal comparison of BA (or SLG or OPS) is essentially meaningless.

By the same token, it means nothing to say that prices in 2013 are X times as high as prices in 1913, when — among many other things — consumers in 2013 have access to a vastly richer “market basket” of products and services. Further, the products and services of 2013 that bear a passing resemblance to those of 1913 (e.g., houses, automobiles, telephone service) are demonstrably superior in quality.

So, it is fun to play with numbers, but when it comes to using them to make cross-temporal comparisons — especially over a span of decades — be very wary. Better yet, resist the temptation to make those cross-temporal comparisons, except for the fun of it.
____________
A SELECTION OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT THE CPI, FROM THIS PAGE AT THE WEBSITE OF THE BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS:

Whose buying habits does the CPI reflect?

The CPI reflects spending patterns for each of two population groups: all urban consumers and urban wage earners and clerical workers. The all urban consumer group represents about 87 percent of the total U.S. population. It is based on the expenditures of almost all residents of urban or metropolitan areas, including professionals, the self-employed, the poor, the unemployed, and retired people, as well as urban wage earners and clerical workers. Not included in the CPI are the spending patterns of people living in rural nonmetropolitan areas, farm families, people in the Armed Forces, and those in institutions, such as prisons and mental hospitals. Consumer inflation for all urban consumers is measured by two indexes, namely, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) and the Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U)….

The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) is based on the expenditures of households included in the CPI-U definition that also meet two requirements: more than one-half of the household’s income must come from clerical or wage occupations, and at least one of the household’s earners must have been employed for at least 37 weeks during the previous 12 months. The CPI-W population represents about 32 percent of the total U.S. population and is a subset, or part, of the CPI-U population….

Does the CPI measure my experience with price change?

Not necessarily. It is important to understand that BLS bases the market baskets and pricing procedures for the CPI-U and CPI-W populations on the experience of the relevant average household, not of any specific family or individual. It is unlikely that your experience will correspond precisely with either the national indexes or the indexes for specific cities or regions….

How is the CPI market basket determined?

The CPI market basket is developed from detailed expenditure information provided by families and individuals on what they actually bought. For the current CPI, this information was collected from the Consumer Expenditure Surveys for 2007 and 2008. In each of those years, about 7,000 families from around the country provided information each quarter on their spending habits in the interview survey. To collect information on frequently purchased items, such as food and personal care products, another 7,000 families in each of these years kept diaries listing everything they bought during a 2-week period….

What goods and services does the CPI cover?

The CPI represents all goods and services purchased for consumption by the reference population (U or W) BLS has classified all expenditure items into more than 200 categories, arranged into eight major groups. Major groups and examples of categories in each are as follows:

  • FOOD AND BEVERAGES (breakfast cereal, milk, coffee, chicken, wine, full service meals, snacks)
  • HOUSING (rent of primary residence, owners’ equivalent rent, fuel oil, bedroom furniture)
  • APPAREL (men’s shirts and sweaters, women’s dresses, jewelry)
  • TRANSPORTATION (new vehicles, airline fares, gasoline, motor vehicle insurance)
  • MEDICAL CARE (prescription drugs and medical supplies, physicians’ services, eyeglasses and eye care, hospital services)
  • RECREATION (televisions, toys, pets and pet products, sports equipment, admissions);
  • EDUCATION AND COMMUNICATION (college tuition, postage, telephone services, computer software and accessories);
  • OTHER GOODS AND SERVICES (tobacco and smoking products, haircuts and other personal services, funeral expenses)….

For each of the more than 200 item categories, using scientific statistical procedures, the Bureau has chosen samples of several hundred specific items within selected business establishments frequented by consumers to represent the thousands of varieties available in the marketplace. For example, in a given supermarket, the Bureau may choose a plastic bag of golden delicious apples, U.S. extra fancy grade, weighing 4.4 pounds to represent the Apples category….

How do I read or interpret an index?

An index is a tool that simplifies the measurement of movements in a numerical series. Most of the specific CPI indexes have a 1982-84 reference base. That is, BLS sets the average index level (representing the average price level)-for the 36-month period covering the years 1982, 1983, and 1984-equal to 100. BLS then measures changes in relation to that figure. An index of 110, for example, means there has been a 10-percent increase in price since the reference period; similarly, an index of 90 means a 10-percent decrease….

Can the CPIs for individual areas be used to compare living costs among the areas?

No, an individual area index measures how much prices have changed over a specific period in that particular area; it does not show whether prices or living costs are higher or lower in that area relative to another. In general, the composition of the market basket and the relative prices of goods and services in the market basket during the expenditure base period vary substantially across areas….

The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy

UPDATED BELOW

Ilya Somin describes it and gives an example:

People fall prey to the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy any time they make an argument to the effect that “bad people believe X, therefore X must be wrong.” The flaw in this reasoning is that bad people can still be right about some things. In the abstract, almost everyone recognizes that. But many still fall prey to the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy in practice, even if they understand its flaws in theory.

Unfortunately, the Reverse Mussolini Fallacy often crops up in conservative and libertarian reactions to PC excesses on the left. I suspect it’s an additional reason for the sympathy that some libertarians and conservatives display towards the Confederacy, especially if they do so out of ignorance. It’s easy for such people to decide that if PC leftists hate the Confederacy, that must mean that the Confederacy was actually a good thing.

It’s not that simple.

PC leftists hate the Confederacy not only because of slavery (a hatred shared by anyone entitled to call himself a libertarian or conservative), but also because the Confederacy stands for hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government.

It is the idea of secession from such a government that rightly attracts many libertarians and conservatives. And it is that idea which rightly leads those libertarians and conservatives to detest PC leftists, whose anti-Confederacy stance is really a cynical defense of statism.

UPDATE:

Somin, in an addendum to his post, says that my response, which he quotes in full, “exemplifies the very fallacy the post [his post] criticizes.” He continues:

Even if PC leftists have dubious motives for hating the Confederacy, that does not prove that the hatred is unjustified or that the Confederacy is somehow good. Moreover, as I discuss here, the Confederates did not in fact oppose having “an unconstitutionally powerful central government.” They had not problem with constitutionally dubious federal power so long as that power was used to bolster slavery, as in the case of the Fugitive Slave Act. And they also didn’t have a principled commitment to state autonomy, as witness their efforts to coerce Kentucky and Missouri into joining the Confederacy, despite the fact that the majority of the population (including even the white population) in those states wanted to stay in the Union. Finally, as I have emphasized on several occasions (e.g. here), Confederate secession can only be considered a “rightful” exercise of popular sovereignty if you completely discount the views of the black population of the seceding states. If you count them as part of the people whose consent was required for secession, then it becomes clear that secession from the Union did not have majority support in any state in the South.

There is no doubt that some libertarians and conservatives are guilty of a reverse-Mussolini fallacy, as described by Somin. But he seems to have missed my main point, probably because I didn’t make it clearly enough.

I certainly said nothing to indicate that “the Confederacy is somehow good.” What I said was that “the Confederacy stands for hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government.” I should have made it clear that the Confederacy stands for (symbolizes) hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government because it represents a course of action (secession) with which many libertarians and conservatives sympathize, given the unconstitutional power wielded by today’s central government. I did not mean to say — and did not say — that the Confederacy itself stood for hatred of an unconstitutionally powerful central government.

Nor did I say — or mean to say — that the hatred of PC leftists for the Confederacy is unjustified, to the extent that it is legitimate. But it is a facile hatred, on a par with hating Hitler and Stalin. I give little credence to facile hatred when it is directed at a symbol of resistance to the very kind of government that PC leftists admire.

Further, it seems to me that PC leftists deliberately commit a logical fallacy when they make the following claim (as many of them do): Libertarians and conservatives want a government that is as limited in its power as, say, the government of the late 1800s; therefore, those libertarians and conservatives want to revert to the racial and sexual oppression that was rampant in that era.

Logical fallacies abound. But I didn’t commit one in my original post.

UPDATE 2:

To make explicit a point that is implicit in what I’ve said, admiration for what the Confederacy symbolizes — becoming free of an unconstitutionally powerful central government — is animated by hatred of that government. I very much doubt that admiration for what the Confederacy symbolizes has anything to do with the views of PC leftists.

As for my own view of the Confederacy:

1. I believe that secession was (and is) legal (see this, for example). But that doesn’t absolve the Confederacy of its sins …

2. The defeat of the Confederacy was salutary because it meant the end of slavery in the United States.

If some libertarians and conservatives actually admire the Confederacy, I am confident that they are in the vast minority among libertarians and conservatives. (I dismiss pro-Confederacy-Stars-and-Bars-waving yahoos, who no more deserve to be called “conservative” than today’s leftists deserve to be called “liberal.”)

UPDATE 3:

I should add that when it comes to secession, Somin and I seem to agree about the importance of separating legality (which is one issue) from cause (which is a separate ssue). (See the first section of this post.) Further, on the whole, I have bee favorably impressed by Somin’s writings at The Volokh Conspiracy. (See also this, this, and this.)

Economic Horror Stories: The Great “Demancipation” and Economic Stagnation

UPDATED 08/03/13

Alternate title: “What We Can Learn from the Labor-Force Participation Rate”

The wholesale entry of women into the labor force after 1960 was considered (and still is, by many) to be a key sign women’s “emancipation.” Because of the baleful effects of that “emancipation,” I prefer to call it “demancipation.” What baleful effects? I begin with this, from a post that I wrote more than eight years ago:

Monetary measures of GDP exclude a lot of things that might be captured in the term “quality of life”; for example:

[F]ailing to account for the output produced within households may lead to misleading comparisons of economy-wide production, as conventionally measured. The female labor force participation rate in the United States has grown enormously since the early part of the 20th century. To the extent that the entry of women into paid employment has reduced the effort women devote to household production, the long-term trend in output, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), may exaggerate the true growth in national output. [Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT), Designing Nonmarket Accounts for the United States: Interim Report (2003), p. 9 in HTML version]

The “effort that women devote to household production” involves a lot more than shopping, cooking, cleaning, and all of the other activities usually associated with the term “housewife.” Not the least among those activities is the raising of children. Child-rearing (a quaint but still meaningful phrase) includes more than feeding, bathing, and toilet training. Parents — and especially mothers — impart lessons about civility — lessons that are neglected when children are left on their own to disport with friends, watch TV, and imbibe the nihilistic lyrics that pervade popular music.Yet, the apparently robust growth of real GDP per capita between owes much to the huge increase in the proportion of women seeking work outside the home. The labor-force participation rate for women of “working age” (14 and older in 1900, 16 and older in 2000) grew from 19 percent in 1900 to 60 percent in 2000, while the rate for men dropped only slightly, from 80 percent to 75 percent. Who knows how much damage society has suffered — and will yet suffer — because of the exodus into the workforce of women with children at home?

I went on, in that post and in later ones, to address the damage.

As it turned out, both the female participation rate and the overall rate peaked around 2000 (details here, Table 585). Here is a picture of the overall rate since 1960:

Labor force participation rate_Jan 1960 - Jul 2013
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate (LNS11300000).

The end of demancipation around 2000 wasn’t necessarily an unmixed blessing. Why? Because the graph points to another horror story: economic stagnation.

Look at relationship of the labor-force participation rate and recessions, which are represented by the gray columns in the chart. (The recessionary periods are those defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research, here.) Each recession has marked a reduction or leveling off of the labor force participation rate. This is an unsurprising relationship because dimmed prospects for employment will deter persons from joining or rejoining the labor force.

But the decline since 2000 — and especially since 2009 — is eloquent testimony to a growing lack of faith in the country’s economic prospects. That lack of faith is entirely justified, as I have explained in many of the following related posts:
The Laffer Curve, “Fiscal Responsibility,” and Economic Growth
The Causes of Economic Growth
In the Long Run We Are All Poorer
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
The Price of Government
The Price of Government Redux
The Mega-Depression
As Goes Greece
Ricardian Equivalence Reconsidered
The Real Burden of Government
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
Unemployment and Economic Growth
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
The Real Multiplier
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
The Commandeered Economy
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
In Defense of the 1%
The Real Multiplier (II)
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
The Burden of Government
Economic Growth Since World War II
More Evidence for the Rahn Curve
The Economy Slogs Along
The Obama Effect: Disguised Unemployment
The Stock Market as a Leading Indicator of GDP
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Where We Are, Economically
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Obamanomics: A Report Card

Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case

I’ll begin with some samples of loony left-libertarianism (to which I will not link lest I inflame a loon). This one, for example, is simply loaded with misstatements of fact and interpretation, all of which I’ve bolded:

I am appalled to see that some of my fellow Libertarians are supporting accused murderer George Zimmerman, in the wake of the end of his trial for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin.

As Libertarians we should be advancing the cause of civil rights and standing up against the racists in this country. The last thing we should do is echo the Republicans who are praising Zimmerman.

Facebook and Twitter continue to urge citizens to stand up for Trayvon Martin through protest: Sunday marks the National Blackout Day in angry response to Zimmerman’s freedom, according to Policymic.

Here are some of the demonstrations taking place around the country today, in opposition to the court ruling that freed Zimerman – and made it legal to sta[l]k and accost unarmed teens and shoot them to death[.]

Zimmerman isn’t a racist. Some Republicans may be pleased by the outcome of the trial because Zimmerman was unjustly prosecuted, but they aren’t “praising” Zimmerman for having shot Martin. And just how does acquittal for an obvious act of self-defense make it “legal to stalk and accost unarmed teens and shoot them to death”?

Another left-libertarian is coherent, up to a point, but then:

The fact is far too many black men fail in our country, being raised in dysfunction households, attending dysfunctional schools, and living in dysfunctional communities. Prior to the expansion of the welfare state during the 1960s, blacks had about the same unemployment rate and about the same level of family instability as whites. They just earned less. But, even with regard to earnings, blacks – with hardly any outside help – moved from 30 percent of white earnings at the time of emancipation to 85 percent by the 1960s. Since then, there has been no further progress in narrowing the income gap, and the black family and community, the inner city public schools and the inner city economy have all fallen apart.

What does any of that have to do with the essential facts of the case, which are that Trayvon Martin attacked George Zimmerman, who justifiably felt that his life was in danger?  The foregoing sociological recitation may (may, I say) have something to do with Martin’s actions, but it doesn’t contain a glimmer of an excuse for those actions.

The painful fact is that the rampant dysfunctionality among young black men, in black households, and in black communities is the predictable product of black genes, black culture, and government meddling. (For much more, go here, and scroll down to “Affirmative Action, Race, and Immigration.” See also Maverick Philosopher‘s “The Importance of Self-Control,” and item 3 at “A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance.”)

Then there is Will Wilkinson, whose penchant for wrong-headedness I have often addressed (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). In a post at The Economist (“Getting Away With It“), Wilkinson writes:

Now, I don’t know it, but I seriously doubt Mr Zimmerman needed to shoot Mr Martin, even if Mr Martin did attack him. And I seriously doubt Mr Martin would have been shot if he hadn’t been a black kid. In my heart of hearts, I too think Mr Zimmerman did something terribly wrong, and that this misdeed reflects a number of things that are terribly wrong in our culture.

The only supportable statement in that passage is Wilkinson’s admission that he doesn’t know that Zimmerman didn’t need to shoot Martin. The rest is knee-jerk. leftist. second-guessing. When Zimmerman’s head was being pounded on concrete and his face was being pummeled, do you suppose that he had a good reason to believe that Martin would relent before his (Zimmerman’s) jaw or skull had been fractured or he had suffered a debilitating concussion, if not worse?

Given the circumstances, the only reason that Martin wouldn’t have been shot if he hadn’t been black (“kid” is a bit of misdirection) is that if he had been white it is less likely that Zimmerman would have been suspicious of his behavior. Therefore, if Martin had been white, Zimmerman would less likely have followed him and been confronted by him. But Martin’s blackness — coupled with his age, dress, and demeanor — would matter to a bona-fide member of a neighborhood watch patrol, as Zimmerman was, and one with no discernible animus toward blacks. Zimmerman was doing his job, and for his pains was attacked by a violent, drug-ingesting punk who — unsurprisingly — was a young, black male.

Last — and least, in merit — is today’s performance by Barack Obama, wherein he plays not just one race card but a whole deck of them; for example:

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.  That includes me.  There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me — at least before I was a senator.  There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.  That happens often.

Well, it’s no wonder, is it? Who’s to blame (if blame is the right word), whites who don’t want to be victims or the dysfunctional, government-abetted, culture of violence that pervades black communities?

Obama almost acknowledges the fact of pervasive violence:

Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.  It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.  They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

But guess where the blame for that violence lands? On long-dead Southern bigots, of course. It’s as if the white-on-black violence of 50 to 250 years ago was somehow imprinted indelibly on blacks. Come again? Why is it that black-on-white violence — now far more common that its opposite — hasn’t caused whites to become more violent?

I am just plain sick and tired of leftists (“libertarian” and otherwise) and black race-baiters (Obama, Holder, Jackson, Sharpton, etc.) who cannot and will not honestly face up to the dysfunctionality of black culture and the role of government in compounding that dysfunctionality. A pox on all of you.

The only (potentially) good news to come out of Obama’s performance is the hint that Gauleiter Holder will not instigate a federal civil-rights charge against Zimmerman:

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here.  Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code.  And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

But I’m not holding my breath waiting for Obama and his minions to do the right thing.

Related page: My Moral Profile (See especially the final section, “Implicit Racial Preferences,” to know that I write about blacks without bias or animus toward them.)

Related reading: Heather Mac Donald, “Obama Strikes Out,” City Journal, July 22, 2013

Related posts:
Diversity
Putting Hate Crimes in Perspective
The Cost of Affirmative Action
The Face of America
Race and Acceptance
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
Race, Intelligence, and Affirmative Action
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy
Affirmative Action, One More Time
A Contrarian View of Segregation
Much Food for Thought
A Law Professor to Admire
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
A Black Bigot Speaks
More Anti-Black Bigotry from the Left
Societal Suicide
A “Taste” for Segregation
Black Terrorists and “White Flight”
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited

It’s the Little Things That Count
A Footnote to a Footnote
Let Me Be Perfectly Clear…
Racism among the Deracinated
Crime, Explained
Lock ‘Em Up
Conspicuous Consumption and Race
I Want My Country Back
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance (item 3)
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Race and Reason: The Derbyshire Debacle
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Not-So-Random Thoughts (III) (second item)
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Lincoln

Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians

(Pseudo) libertarians like to demonstrate their bogus commitment to liberty by proclaiming loudly their support for unfettered immigration, unfettered speech, unfettered abortion, unfettered same-sex coupling (and legal recognition thereof as “marriage’), and unfettered you-name-it.. In the minds of these moral relativists, liberty is a dream world where anything goes — anything of which they approve, that is.

The aim of today’s sermon is to embellish what I’ve said previously in many of the posts listed at the bottom of this one on the subject of (pseudo) libertarians and (pseudo) libertarianism. I begin with Bryan Caplan.

My disdain for Caplan’s (pseudo) libertarian, pacifistic, one-worldishness is amply documented: here, here, here, here, here, and here (second item). Caplan has been at it again, in recent posts about immigration (as in opening the floodgates thereto).

Consider this post, for example, where Caplan tries (in vain) to employ Swiftian hyperbole in defense of unfettered immigration. In the following block quotation, each of Caplan’s “witty” proposals is followed by my observations (in brackets and bold type):

Libertarians’ odd openness to using immigration restrictions to protect American freedom has me thinking.  There are many statist policies that could indirectly lead to more libertarian policy.  If you’re open to one, you should logically be open to all.

Here are just a few candidates:

1. Make public schools teach libertarianism.  Sure, public education should be abolished.  But as long as public education exists, wouldn’t it be better if the schools taught children about the value of freedom and the wonder of markets?

[Well, yes, our course it would. But public schools don’t do that — and won’t do that — because they were long ago taken over by leftist “educators.” Next stupid idea…]

2. Discourage fertility of less libertarian groups.  If you really think that Muslims or Hispanics are unusually statist, their high birth rates should worry you.  Indeed, any birth rate above zero should worry you.  A moderate step would be to offer members of these groups extra subsidies for birth control.  From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to subsidized sterilization, tax penalties, or a selective One Child Policy.

[But why allow the immigration of statist-leaning groups in the first place? In fact, it would be a good idea to encourage them — and others — to leave. If the encouragement were financial, it would be a good investment.]

3. Censor statist ideas.  Sure, Paul Krugman has a right to free speech.  But the rest of us have a right to not be ruled by people swayed by Krugman.  It’s childish to deny the trade-off, no?

[It is childish to deny the trade-off. That’s why idiots like Caplan deny it. They believe that theft is wrong, but they don’t believe in preventing (or reducing) the amount of theft committed by government because statist ideas have been and are allowed to flourish. See below for more on this point.]

4. Subsidize vacations for less libertarian groups on election day.  Suppose the government gave members of unlibertarian groups free trips to Cancun that conveniently coincided with election day.  While some of the eligible would file an absentee ballot, there is little doubt that this would heavily depress turnout.  So why not?

[Better yet — and far less expensive — establish meaningful eligibility standards for voting; for example, being at least 30 years of age, owning one’s home, and being able to read and write at the 12th-grade level. This might empower more “liberals” than conservatives, give the tendency of educated persons to adhere to statism. But their power would be constrained by the sensible prohibition of speech that advocates theft in the name of the state.]

The first link in the block quotation is to an earlier post by Caplan, in which, for practical purposes, he joins with Don Boudreaux in proclaiming (psuedo) libertarian absolutism on such other matters as freedom of speech. As Boudreaux puts it,

Freedom may well destroy itself.  That’s a risk I’m willing to take, especially if the proposed means of saving freedom is to restrict it.

This reminds me of “it was necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.” It’s a position that defies logic; thus:

  1. Freedom is not merely literal freedom from captivity; it is the enjoyment of that freedom through the peaceful pursuit of happiness. (Freedom, as a general condition, is possible only if everyone’s pursuit of happiness is peaceful with respect to other persons and their property.)
  2. It is wrong to deny any person his freedom, regardless of his demonstrated enmity toward freedom as defined in 1. (This is Boudreaux’s stated position, which — taken literally — precludes the imprisonment of convicted murderers, rapists, thieves, and others whose acts deny to others the peaceful pursuit of happiness.)
  3. Freedom, therefore, consists only of literal freedom. (This conclusion, which contradicts the full definition of freedom given in 1, is the logical consequence of Boudreaux’s position. And yet, Boudreaux would be the last person to accept this limited definition of freedom.)

It doesn’t matter whether the person whose demonstrated hostility toward freedom (properly defined) is a thief or a socialist. One is the same as the other when it comes to the defense of freedom (properly defined). Boudreaux and his ilk would be consistent (though wrong) if they were to say that thieves shouldn’t be imprisoned, but I doubt that they would say such a thing because they are staunch defenders of property rights. Why then, do they defend the right of statists to spread the gospel of government control over our lives and livelihoods, which is nothing but government-sponsored theft and demonstrably more damaging than garden-variety theft?

As I say at the end of this post,

Liberty is lost when the law allows “freedom of speech, and of the press” to undermine the civil and state institutions that enable liberty.

There is a very good case for the view that the First Amendment sought to protect only those liberties necessary for the preservation of republican government. The present statist regime is a long way from the kind of republican government envisioned by the Framers.

Another staple of (pseudo) libertarian thought is a slavish devotion to privacy — when that devotion supports a (pseudo) libertarian position. Economists like Caplan and Boudreaux are cagy about abortion. But other (pseudo) libertarians are less so; for example:

I got into a long conversation yesterday with a [Ron] Paul supporter who took me to task for my criticisms of Paul’s positions. For one thing, he insisted, Paul’s position on abortion wasn’t as bad as I made it out, because Paul just thinks abortion is a matter for the states. I pointed out that in my book, saying that states can violate the rights of women [emphasis added] is no more libertarian than saying that the federal government can violate the rights of women.

Whence the “right” to abort an unborn child? Here, according to the same writer:

I do believe that abortion is a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment….

This train of “logic” is in accord with the U.S. Supreme Court’s manufactured “right” to an abortion under the Fourteenth (or was it the Ninth?) Amendment, which I have discussed in various places, including here. All in the name of “privacy.”

Here, again, we see devotion to a value for its own sake, regardless of the implications for liberty. As I say here,

if privacy were an absolute right, it would be possible to get away with murder in one’s home simply by committing murder there. In fact, if there are any absolute rights, privacy certainly isn’t one of them.

(Psuedo) libertarians choose not to characterize abortion as murder. They prefer to think of it as a form of control over one’s own body. But an unborn child is not “one’s own body” — it is its own body, created (in the overwhelming majority of cases) by consensual sex between the mother and a male person. Abortion is nothing more than a murderous flight from personal responsibility, which is a trait highly praised (in the abstract) by (pseudo) libertarians. And it is a long step down a very slippery eugenic slope.

It is no wonder that many (pseudo) libertarians like to call themselves liberaltarians. It is hard to distinguish (pseudo) libertarians from “liberals,” given their shared penchant for decrying and destroying freedom of association and evolved social norms. It is these which underlie the conditions of mutual respect, mutual trust, and forbearance that enable human beings to coexist peacefully and cooperatively. That is to say, in liberty.

Related posts:
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Abortion and the Slippery Slope
Privacy: Variations on the Theme of Liberty
An Immigration Roundup
Illogic from the Pro-Immigration Camp
On Liberty
Illegal Immigration: A Note to Libertarian Purists
Inside-Outside
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
The Folly of Pacifism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
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
Rethinking the Constitution: Freedom of Speech and of the Press
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Why I Am Not an Extreme Libertarian
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Privacy Is Not Sacred
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
The Libertarian-Conservative Fusion Is Alive and Well
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Prohibition, Abortion, and “Progressivism”
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Cato, the Kochs, and a Fluke
Conservatives vs. “Liberals”
Not-So-Random Thoughts (II)
Why Conservatism Works
The Pool of Liberty and “Me” Libertarianism
Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists
Enough with the Bleeding Hearts, Already
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?

Coming Out

I blogged under my own name some years ago. As my blogging became more provocative, I adopted the pseudonym of Fritz (nickname for Friedrich, as in Friedrich Hayek, an intellectual hero). I then switched, briefly, to HLM, for Henry Louis Mencken (another intellectual hero).

Anonymity is impossible given the ubiquity of the NSA. I have therefore posted my own picture on this blog, and identified myself by my true initials (TEA). Anyone with more than an ounce of sleuthing skill will discover my full name and where I live. The NSA certainly has done so, or will do so after reading my earlier post of today (see #8).

That’s all there is to the title of this post. It has nothing to do with my sexuality, which is decidedly and happily orthodox.

Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead

Despite the narrowness of Barack Obama’s victory last November, there is much cause for despair by the remnant of liberty-loving Americans. Given the broad and bipartisan dependency of Americans on the welfare state, the overthrow of that state by an electoral revolution seems unlikely.

The entrenchment of the welfare state also means the entrenchment of the regulatory state. The two go hand-in-hand; both are born of economic illiteracy by way of power-lust. To put it another way, both are tools of “scientific” governance, which has no place for liberty, which is voluntary — and mutually beneficial — social and economic intercourse.

With that preamble in mind, let us consider the options (not all of which are mutually exclusive):

1. Business as usual — This will lead to more and more government control of our lives and livelihoods, that is, to less and less freedom and prosperity (except for our technocratic masters, of course).

2. Rear-guard action — This option is exemplified by the refusal of some States to expand Medicaid and to establish insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. This bit of foot-dragging doesn’t cure the underlying problem, which is accretion of illegitimate power by the central government. Further, it can be undone by fickle voters and fickle legislatures, as they succumb to the siren-call of “free” federal funds.

3. Geographic sorting — The tendency of “Blue” States to become “bluer” and “Red” States to become “redder” suggests that Americans are sorting themselves along ideological lines. As with rear-guard action, however, this tendency — natural and laudable as it is — doesn’t cure the underlying problem: the accretion of illegitimate power by the central government. Lives and livelihoods in every State, “Red” as well as “Blue,” are controlled by the edicts of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central government. There is little room for State and local discretion. Moreover, much of the population shift toward “Red” must be understood as opportunistic (e.g., warmer climates, right-to-work laws) and not as an endorsement of “Red” politics. (There is a refinement of this option that I call “Zones of Liberty,” which also holds limited promise. Another variation, the Free State Project, is similarly unpromising.)

4. Civil disobedience — Certainly called for, but see option 5.

5. Underground society and economy — Think “EPA-DOL-FBI-IRS-NSA,” and then dismiss this as a serious option for most Americans.

6. A negotiated partition of the country — An unlikely option (discussed in this post and in some of the posted linked to therein) because “Blue” will not countenance the loss of control over millions of lives and livelihoods.

7. Secession — This is legal and desirable — as long as the New Republic of free states is truly free — but (a) it is likely to be met with force and therefore (b) unlikely to attract a critical mass of States.

8. Coup — Suggested several years ago by Thomas Sowell:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

Military personnel (careerists, in particular) are disciplined, have direct access to the tools of power, and many of them are trained in clandestine operations. Therefore, a cadre of properly motivated careerists might possess the wherewithal necessary to seize power. But a plot to undertake a coup is easily betrayed. (Among other things, significant numbers of high-ranking officers are shills for the regulatory-welfare state.) And a coup, if successful, might deliver us from a relatively benign despotism into a decidedly malign despotism. But given the nation’s present trajectory, a coup is our best bet for the restoration of liberty and prosperity under a government that is true to the Constitution.

Related reading:
Mark Thiessen, “The People Have Spoken … and They Must Be Punished,” AEIdeas, November 7, 2012
Jeffrey Lord, “Twinkicide: Death by Liberalism,” The American Spectator, November 20, 2012
Bill Vallicella, “A Case for Voluntary Segregation,” Maverick Philosopher, November 20, 2012
Patrick J. Buchanan, “Stirrings of Secession,” Taki’s Magazine, November 30, 2012
Gary Genelin, “On Secession: An Analysis of Texas v. White,” American Thinker, January 10, 2013

Related posts (listed chronologically):
How to Think about Secession
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Secession
The Interest-Group Paradox
Is Statism Inevitable?
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
Secession Redux
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
A New Cold War or Secession?
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
The Census of 2010: Bring It On
The Near-Victory of Communism
A Declaration of Independence
Tocqueville’s Prescience
First Principles
The Shape of Things to Come
The Real Burden of Government
Zones of Liberty
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
A Conversation with Uncle Sam
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Re-Forming the United States
The Southern Secession Reconsidered
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
The Repealer
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
Constitutional Confusion
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
More Evidence for the Rahn Curve
Secession, Anyone?
Obamacare, Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death-Spiral of Liberty
Another Thought or Two about the Obamacare Decision
Obamacare and Zones of Liberty
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
Secession for All Seasons
A New Constitution for a New Republic
A Zone of Liberty in the Making?
The Price of Government, Once More
America: Past, Present, and Future

Good news …

… for a change.

Despite my pessimism about America, the pathway to the future sometimes rises.

First:

The Texas Senate late Friday passed tough new abortion restrictions after weeks of protests, sending them to Gov. Rick Perry to sign into law. (Source)

George Zimmerman has been acquitted of all charges in the February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.

Thus my week ends on a high note.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (VII)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

UPDATED 07/14/13

In “The Reality of the Wartime Economy,” Steven Horwitz and Michael J. McPhillips bang the drum for Robert Higgs’s account of the role of World War II in ending the Great Depression. Horwitz and McPhillips conclude:

The debate over World War II’s role in ending the Great Depression has enormous relevance in connection with the current anemic recovery from the Great Recession. We have offered evidence to support Robert Higgs’s argument that the wartime macroeconomic data significantly overstated the degree of genuine economic recovery. Higgs’s evidence rests on his reinterpretation of several traditional macroeconomic indicators to compensate for the distinct features of a wartime economy. We show that if one digs below the aggregates and looks at how American households lived during the war, as shown in the media, letters, and journals, Higgs’s case appears to be even stronger. Whatever the war’s effects on seemingly booming conventional macroeconomic aggregates, it entailed a retrogression in the average American’s living standards, and that disconnect should alert us to those aggregates’ limitations. Whenever government commands resources, those who finance this acquisition, whether through taxation or purchase of government bonds, incur opportunity costs. Whether the diverted resources go toward building tanks and guns or toward repairing bridges and roads does not alter this fact. As we continue to debate the effectiveness of large-scale government expenditure to speed recovery from the Great Recession, we should not be looking at the wartime experience of the 1940s as a guide.

I quite agree with the bottom line. (See especially my posts “A Keynesian Fantasy Land” and “The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty.”) But there is reason to believe that the glut of saving during World War II helped to fuel the post-war recovery. (See my posts “How the Great Depression Ended” and “Does ‘Pent Up’ Demand Explain the Post-War Recovery?“)

*     *     *

Highly recommended: “What Difference Would Banning Guns Make?” at Political Calculations. The answer is “not much, if any.” Violence will out, especially when the demographics are right (or wrong, if you will). Which leads to my post “Crime, Explained.”

*     *    *

A Bipartisan Nation of Beneficiaries” (The Pew Report, December 18, 2012) suggests (unsurprisingly) that

a majority of Americans (55%) have received government benefits from at least one of the six best-known federal entitlement programs.

The survey also finds that most Democrats (60%) and Republicans (52%) say they have benefited from a major entitlement program at some point in their lives. So have nearly equal shares of self-identifying conservatives (57%), liberals (53%) and moderates (53%).

What choice is there when the state (a) robs us blind and (b) penalizes initiative and success? In those conditions, most of us respond as one would expect — by feeding at the public trough. See, for example, “The Interest-Group Paradox.”

*     *     *

An increasingly regulated economy, that’s what we have, according to “Counting All the U.S. Government’s Regulations” (Political Calculations, October 18, 2012). And a heavy price we pay for it, as I’ve documented in “The Price of Government, Once More,” and the many posts linked to therein.

*     *     *

UPDATES:

Rich Lowry of National Review, famous mainly for having fired John Derbyshire, continues his attack on what Timothy Sandefur calls “Doughface libertarians”:

… Lincoln said, “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races.” How could he say such a thing? Well, he said it in his debates with Stephen Douglas, when he was playing defense…. (“The Rancid Abraham Lincoln-Haters of the Libertarian Right,” The Daily Beast, June 17, 2013)

Not so fast, Mr. Lowry. Lincoln wasn’t just playing defense. See “The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln,” wherein Lincoln’s plan for the colonization of blacks is discussed.

*     *     *

From Michael Ruse’s “Does Life Have a Purpose?” (Aeon, June 24, 2013):

… Today’s scientists are pretty certain that the problem of teleology at the individual organism level has been licked. Darwin really was right. Natural selection explains the design-like nature of organisms and their characteristics, without any need to talk about final causes. On the other hand, no natural selection lies behind mountains and rivers and whole planets. They are not design-like. That is why teleological talk is inappropriate….

This reminds me of Sandefur’s post, “Teleology without God,” which I addressed in “Evolution, Human Nature, and ‘Natural Rights’” and “More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology.”

America: Past, Present, and Future

This post (promised here) is my assessment of the past 50 years of life in America. I have opted for brevity instead of essaying a detailed analysis of cultural, political, and economic changes of the past 50 years. There is, after all, nothing fundamentally unique about the events of the past 50 years, which — in most respects — merely extend and amplify trends that began earlier.

The present condition of America owes much, for example, to the struggle between the proponents of limited government and the proponents of statism — a struggle that began in earnest with the onset of the “progressive” movement in the latter part of the 19th century. The Great Depression and World War II solidified the devotion of most Americans — and especially over-educated elites — to the cult of the state. Relief from the privations of the Great Depression, when it finally came after World War II, fostered the cult of the child and financed the growth of institutions whose denizens (politicians, bureaucrats, professors, and purveyors of entertainment) grew increasingly detached from the vicissitudes of daily life and increasingly attached to utopian schemes for the betterment of the unwashed masses from who they eagerly distance themselves.

I could go on (and on) in that vein, but I promised to be brief, and I shall be. The America of the past 50 years was shaped largely by the following, interwoven trends:

  • state-sponsored and state-imposed abandonment of personal responsibility (with special dispensations for criminals, incompetents, and “protected” groups, accompanied by penalties for private initiative and success)
  • usurpation and negation of private social and economic arrangements by the state (from charity to marriage, and much in between, most notably free markets)
  • state sponsorship of socially and economically subversive institutions, and the related growth of the “technocratic” class (unions, “educators,” and bureaucracies, for a start)
  • technocratic control of the state, in the service of “progressivism” (from the ICC in 1887 to today’s plethora of regulatory agencies and their hired guns)
  • denial of human nature and the limits it imposes on the effectiveness of technocratic “solutions” (magical thinking about the perfectibility of humans and the wonderfulness of government action)
  • growing gap between “real people” and their technocratic masters (third item in “Related Reading,” below)
  • cult of the child and prolongation of childhood (too little discipline, too much dependency — poor lessons for living with others)
  • decline of decorum and civility (as mirrored in and encouraged by “entertainment” that is loud, lewd, and crude in the nth degree).

If America was ever close to being a nation united and free, it has drifted far from that condition — arguably, almost as far as it  had by 1861. And America’s condition will only worsen unless leaders emerge who will set the nation (or a large, independent portion of it) back on course. Barring the emergence of such leaders, America will continue to slide into baseness, divisiveness, and servitude.

That is my view of America’s past 50 years, its present condition, and its future — barring drastic remedial action.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Arnold Kling, “Our New Technocratic Masters,” Askblog, February 3, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Glue Holding America Together,” RealClearPolitics, June 28, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson,”Liberal Apartheid,” RealClearPolitics, July 8, 2013

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Shape of Things to Come
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Secession
A New, New Constitution
Secession Redux
A New Cold War or Secession?
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Secession for All Seasons
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Where We Are, Economically
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Obamanomics: A Report Card
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
Lock ‘Em Up
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Well-Founded Pessimism
The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Lincoln
A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Dan Quayle Was (Almost) Right
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity

Obama and Obamacare, Back in the Dumps

Were it not for the fickleness of voters, we would be rid of Obama and Obamacare. Rasmussen’s latest poll results yield a net rating of -22 for Obama and a net rating of -27 for Obamacare. Compare those numbers with the ratings that prevailed from mid-2009 until late summer of 2012; contrast those numbers with Obama’s pre-election surge and short-lived post-election honeymoon:
Obama and Obamacare_approval-disapproval ratings
Sources: Rasmussen Reports, Obama Approval Index History and Health Care Law. Obama’s net disapproval rating measures the percentage of respondents who strongly approve of his performance, minus the percentage of respondents who strongly disapprove of his performance. The ratings for Obamacare are constructed as follows: For the period before Obamacare was signed into law on March 23, 2010, the numbers represent the percentage of respondents who strongly favored the passage of Obamacare, less the percentage of respondents who strongly opposed the passage of Obamacare. From the enactment of Obamacare to the present, the numbers represent the percentage of respondents who have strongly opposed the repeal of Obamacare, minus the percentage of respondents who have strongly favored the repeal of Obamacare.

A Golden Anniversary

I started my first “real” job on this date in 1963. It was a real job because, for the first time in my life, I became fully responsible for my fate and no longer dependent on parents and institutions of learning.

The job was in the D.C. area, a 600-mile drive from the university where I had recently ended my schooling. I had been to the D.C. area only once before, when I interviewed for the job. Though I was naturally anxious about “making it” in the big city, I exulted in my independence and the rich variety of experiences that could be mine.

What have I learned about life, love, and humanity in the past fifty years? I will essay an answer in a future post.

The Price of Government, Once More

I was pleased to read a recent post by Mark Perry, “Federal regulations have lowered real GDP growth by 2% per year since 1949 and made America 72% poorer.” It wasn’t the message that pleased me; it was the corroboration of what I have been saying for several years.

Regulation is one of the many counterproductive activities that is financed by government spending. The main economic effect of government spending, aside from regulation, is the deadweight loss it imposes on the economy; that is, it moves resources from productive uses to less productive, unproductive, and counterproductive ones. And then there is taxation (progressive and otherwise), which penalizes success and deters growth-producing investment.

All in all, the price of government is extremely high. But most voters are unaware of the price, and so they continue to elect and support the very “free lunch” politicians who are, in fact, robbing them blind.

Consider, for example, these posts by James Pethokoukis:
Is the Era of Fast U.S. Economic Growth Coming to an End?AEIdeas, July 13, 2013
My Counter: Why U.S. Economic Growth Doesn’t Have to Come to an End,” AEIdeas, August 23, 2012

Pethokoukis’s thesis, with which I agree, is that government — not lack of opportunity — is the main obstacle to the resumption of a high rate of growth.

For much more, see:
The Price of Government
The Price of Government Redux
The Mega-Depression
Ricardian Equivalence Reconsidered
The Real Burden of Government
The Rahn Curve at Work
The “Forthcoming Financial Collapse”
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
The Stagnation Thesis
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
More Evidence for the Rahn Curve

 

Socialist Romanticism

Jean-Jacques Rousseau:

If then we discard from the social compact what is not of its essence, we shall find that it reduces itself to the following terms—

“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”

Barack Obama, echoing Jean-Jacques Rousseau (and his progeny, from Marx to Castro):

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Max Eastman, deflating Rousseauvian-Obamian romanticism:

A false and undeliberated conception of what man is lies at the bottom … of the whole bubble-castle of socialist theory. Although few seem to realize it, Marxism rests on the romantic notion of Rousseau that nature endows men with the qualities necessary to be a free, equal, fraternal, family-like living together…. (Quoted in The Great Quotations, p. 876.)

State-imposed “togetherness” is a kind of imprisonment in which the inmates suffer the illusion of freedom.

I’ve Got a Little List …

… of irritating persons to be taken out and shot,
And who never would be missed–who never would be missed!
There’s the pestilential nuisances who shout into their phones,
Baring inner secrets at the volume of  trombones –
All people who wear stubbly beards and iridescent tats –
All children who are petulant and whiny little brats –
All drivers who in changing lanes do so without a glance –
And others who stare at green lights as if in lost a trance –
They’d none of ‘em be missed–they’d none of ‘em be missed!

CHORUS. He’s got ‘em on the list–he’s got ‘em on the list;
And they’ll none of ‘em be missed–they’ll none of
‘em be missed.

There’s the rap and hip-hop devotee, and the others of his ilk,
And the break-dance enthusiast–I’ve got him on the list!
And the people who eat a sushi roll and puff it in your face,
They never would be missed–they never would be missed!
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
Films that don’t have endings, and all races but his own;
And the “lady” in the leotard, who looks just like a guy,
And who doesn’t need to marry, but would rather like to
try;
And that singular anomaly, the wealthy socialist–
I don’t think he’d be missed–I’m sure he’d not he missed!

CHORUS. He’s got him on the list–he’s got him on the list;
And I don’t think he’ll be missed–I’m sure
he’ll not be missed!

And that jurisprudential malcontent, who just now is rather rife,
The loose constructionist–I’ve got him on the list!
All perfumed fellows, girly men, and dykes who seek a “wife”–
They’d none of ‘em be missed–they’d none of ‘em be missed.
And apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind,
Such as–What d’ye call him–Thing’em-bob, and
likewise–Never-mind,
And ‘St–’st–’st–and What’s-his-name, and also You-know-who–
The task of filling up the blanks I’d rather leave to you.
But it really doesn’t matter whom you put upon the list,
For they’d none of ‘em be missed–they’d none of ‘em be
missed!

CHORUS. You may put ‘em on the list–you may put ‘em on the list;
And they’ll none of ‘em be missed–they’ll none of
‘em be missed!
__________
Adapted from W.S. Gilbert’s lyrics for “I’ve Got a Little List,” which is sung by the character Ko-Ko in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado (1885).  The original lyrics, with annotations, may be found here. The last seven lines of the final verse are unchanged, Gilbert’s remarks about “statesmen” being timeless.

The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated

The 80-20 rule “states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.” This rule seems to hold with respect to wealth; that is, about 20 percent of individuals own about 80 percent of the wealth of the world. It’s not that the 20 percent “claim” 80 percent of the wealth (as some would have it), but that the 20 percent have earned 80 percent of the wealth. (The extent of inherited wealth is vastly overstated. And, besides, the prospect of leaving money to one’s heirs — and to charities — stimulates the accumulation of wealth and the beneficial economic activities that give rise to it.)

A good illustration of the 80-20 rule is found in baseball statistics. In the past 50 seasons (1963-2012), there were 1,370 baseball players who compiled one or more seasons in which they appeared at the plate often enough to qualify for a batting championship. Of those 1,370 players, it took only 19.2 percent (264 of them) to compile 80 percent of the single-season batting averages of .300 or higher. (For those of you who live on a remote planet, a batting average of .300 or more — 3 or more hits in every 10 times at bat — has long been considered an outstanding performance in baseball.)

Further, the 1,370 players compiled a total of 6,724 seasons in which they qualified for a batting title. But only 21.4 percent of those seasons resulted in a batting average of .300 or higher. The 19.2 percent of players who accounted for 80 percent of the .300-plus seasons compiled them while playing a total of 1,153 championship-qualifying seasons — 17.4 percent of the 6,724 championship-qualifying seasons played.

Excellence really is a relatively rare (and non-random) commodity. It should be celebrated and emulated. “Progressive” levelers, however, envy those who attain excellence, and use the power of government (i.e., taxation and regulation) to discourage it and penalize its fruits.