The World Turned Upside Down

Of World War II and the Cold War, I once wrote:

The Third Reich and Empire of the Rising Sun failed to dominate the world only because of (a) Hitler’s fatal invasion of Russia, (b) Japan’s wrong-headed attack on Pearl Harbor, and (c) the fact that the United States of 1941 had time and space on its side…

[The subsequent Cold War was a] necessary, long, and costly “war” of deterrence through preparedness [that] enabled the U.S. to protect Americans’ legitimate economic interests around the world by limiting the expansion of the Soviet empire.

I now suspect that the Cold War was unnecessary, and therefore a vast waste of lives resources, because World War II took a wrong turn.

Bear in mind that the USSR, our Cold War enemy, survived World War II, went on to seize Eastern Europe, and became a power to be reckoned with largely because of

  • vast deliveries of American aid to the USSR during the war
  • the adoption of the policy of unconditional surrender, which probably prolonged the war in Europe, enabling the USSR to move its forces farther to the west
  • the Anglo-American invasion of Europe through northern France on D-Day, rather than through southern Europe earlier in the war, which also enabled Soviet forces to move farther to the west
  • FDR’s concessions to Stalin, late in the war at the Yalta Conference, which set the stage for the USSR’s seizure of Eastern Europe (the scope of which was ratified at the Potsdam Conference)
  • Soviet influence and espionage, exerted through and conducted by U.S. government officials, which abetted the foregoing and hastened the USSR’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

But there is more: several foregone opportunities to end the war early and turn the tide against the USSR.

The first such opportunity is related in a recent news story:

[Rudolf] Hess’s journey to Britain by fighter aircraft to Scotland has traditionally been dismissed as the deranged solo mission of a madman.

But Peter Padfield, an historian, has uncovered evidence he says shows that, Hess, the deputy Fuhrer, brought with him from Hitler, a detailed peace treaty, under which the Nazis would withdraw from western Europe, in exchange for British neutrality over the imminent attack on Russia.

The existence of such a document was revealed to him by an informant who claims that he and other German speakers were called in by MI6 to translate the treaty for Churchill….

The informant said the first two pages of the treaty detailed Hitler’s precise aims in Russia, followed by sections detailing how Britain could keep its independence, Empire and armed services, and how the Nazis would withdraw from western Europe. The treaty proposed a state of “wohlwollende Neutralitat” – rendered as “well wishing neutrality”, between Britain and Germany, for the latter’s offensive against the USSR. The informant even said the date of the Hitler’s coming attack on the east was disclosed….

Mr Padfield, who has previously written a biography of Hess as well as ones of Karl Dönitz and Heinrich Himmler, believes the treaty was suppressed at the time, because it would have scuppered Churchill’s efforts to get the USA into the war, destroyed his coalition of exiled European governments, and weakened his position domestically, as it would have been seized on by what the author believes was a sizeable “negotiated peace” faction in Britain at that time. At the same time, since the mission had failed, it also suited Hitler to dismiss Hess as a rogue agent….

Mr Padfield added….

“This was a turning point of the war. Churchill could have accepted the offer, but he made a very moral choice. He was determined that Hitler, who could not be trusted, would not get away with it. He wanted the US in the war, and to defeat Hitler.”

Mr Padfield has also assembled other evidence to support the existence of the treaty and its contents – as well as the subsequent cover-up….

For the rest of the story, see Jasper Copping’s article, “Nazis ‘Offered to Leave Western Europe in Exchange for Free Hand to Attack USSR’,” (The Telegraph, September 26, 2013).

Hess’s aborted mission took place in 1941, and — purportedly — with Hitler’s blessing. After the failure of Hess’s mission, however, a lot happened without Hitler’s blessing. What follows are excerpts of Diana West’s American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character (St. Martin’s Press, 2013):

… When Louis Lochner, for many years the AP bureau chief in Berlin, attempted to file a story on the activities of anti-Nazi Germans operating out of France in October 1944, U.S. military censors blocked the story. Why? “The government official in charge of censorship was forthcoming enough to confide to Lochner that there was a personal directive from the president of the United States ‘in his capacity of commander in chief forbidding all mention of the German resistance,’” writes Klaus P. Fischer in his 2011 book, Hitler and America. Drawing from Lochner’s 1956 memoir Always the Unexpected, Fischer quotes Lochner’s explanation for this seemingly inexplicable and outrageous censorship: “Stories of the existence of a resistance movement did not fit into the concept of Unconditional Surrender!” …

Turns out, Lochner knew Roosevelt personally, and both men had a mutual friend in Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Lochner had been in contact with the anti-Hitler opposition in Germany since 1939. In November 1941, German anti-Nazis asked Lochner, heading home on leave, to contact the president on their behalf, to ask Roosevelt to speak out about what form of government he would like to see take shape in post-Hitler Germany, and to provide the president with secret radio codes so that Americans and German anti-Nazis could communicate directly with each other. So writes Peter Hoffman in The History of the German Resistance, 1933– 1945, which first appeared in Germany in 1969, drawing from the 1955 German edition of Lochner’s memoir, certain details of which Hoffman says are not in the English version.

Lochner was interned by the Nazi regime at the outbreak of the war in December 1941 and didn’t reach Washington until the summer of 1942. This would have been shortly after “unconditional surrender” was affirmed and reaffirmed by the president’s postwar advisory council subcommittee, and shortly after Roosevelt had promised a “second front” to Soviet minister Molotov. Lochner immediately informed the White House that he had personal and confidential messages for the president from the prince “and secret information on resistance groups in Germany that he might not confide to anyone else.”

No answer. No interest.

Lochner’s attempts at gaining an audience in June 1942 failed. Lochner followed up with a letter and received no reply. Finally, he was informed by the White House through the AP bureau in Washington, Hoffman writes, that “there was no desire to receive his information and he was requested to refrain from further efforts to transmit it.” …

… Hoffman reveals an important piece of the puzzle in a footnote. Lochner’s final attempt to reach Roosevelt on June 19, 1942, was in a letter addressed to a trusted presidential aide. That aide was [Soviet agent] Lauchlin Currie….

***

In his 1958 memoir, Wedemeyer Reports!, General [Albert C.] Wedemeyer picks up on George H. Earle’s series of secret negotiations with the German underground, which began with [Hitler’s chief spy Adm. Wilhelm] Canaris….

According to Earle’s account, he sent Canaris’s initial query regarding a negotiated peace to the White House via diplomatic pouch in early 1943….

… Just before Earle departed the United States to become FDR’s special emissary in Istanbul (officially, naval attaché), he wrote the following letter on December 19, 1942, from New York City on Ritz-Carlton stationery.

Dear Harry: If you don’t mind I’m going to report to you direct my activities. I like the way your mind works and I know you will sort out what you think of importance enough for the President.

[Canaris’s query went nowhere, of course, given Hopkins’s position as a pro-Soviet agent of influence — de facto if not de jure.]

***

The next approach to Earle, also in that spring of 1943, came from Baron Kurt von Lersner, a German aristocrat of Jewish extraction who lived in virtual exile in Turkey. He, too, had a proposal for the Allies. Earle wrote, “According to Lersner— and I could not doubt him; he had placed his life in my hands— some of the highest officials in Germany, [ambassador to Turkey Franz von] Papen included, loved their country but hated Hitler. They wanted to end the war before he bled Germany of all her youth, all her strength and resources. At the same time, they were deeply concerned about Russia’s growing might and power.” …

Earle sent off another dispatch to FDR at the White House marked “Urgent.” Again, Earle received no reply. “I pressed the matter with every ounce of my persuasion and judgment,” Earle wrote, “but I sensed the old trouble. Lersner’s call for an overt stand against Communist expansion distressed Roosevelt.” …

Earle wrote that his German contacts came back to him with another more specific plan, laying out the involvement of Field Marshal Ludwig Beck; Count Wolf Heinrich von Helldorf, chief of police of Berlin; Prince Gottfried Bismarck, a Potsdam official and grandson of the “Iron Chancellor”; and a well-known cavalry officer, Freiherr von Boeselager. Again, the plan was to stage a coup, turn over Hitler and his top henchmen to the Allies, and bring about Germany’s “unconditional surrender, with one condition”: The Russians were not to be allowed into Central Europe, including Germany or territory at that time controlled by Germany.

Earle sent this dispatch off with high hopes, he wrote….

Earle doesn’t specify how much time went by, but finally an answer from the president came through. It was stiff and impersonal. “All such applications for a negotiated peace should be referred to the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower,” Roosevelt wrote…. Earle explains, “In diplomatic language, this was the final runaround. Even if we did get to Eisenhower, the matter would be referred back to Roosevelt for a decision. The President’s answer was therefore a clear indication of his complete disinterest in this plan to end the war….

As for “unconditional surrender”:

Quite notably, … the very first use of the phrase “unconditional surrender” at Casablanca was by Harry Hopkins himself. In a January 23, 1943, meeting, one day ahead of the president’s sensational announcement, Hopkins told the grand vizier of Morocco, “The war will be pursued until Germany, Italy, and Japan agree to unconditional surrender.” …

… [U]nconditional surrender may well be the policy that ensured Soviet dominion over half of Europe. It was also, as Ian Colvin noted in the preface to a 1957 edition of his Canaris biography, a “pivotal point” in the tragedy of the German underground. “Unconditional surrender” would set the strategy of “total war” (Allied) as the only appropriate response to “total guilt” (German). Such a strategy presumed, indeed, drew inspiration from, a belief in the unwavering, monolithic German support for Nazism and Hitler, which the very existence of a significant anti-Nazi German resistance movement belied. For the sake of the policy then, the significant anti-Nazi German resistance movement had to be denied, shut out. Otherwise, “total war,” and the total destruction it required, wasn’t justified. Otherwise, I say, Stalin wouldn’t win.

General Wedemeyer devotes an entire chapter of his memoir to making the devastating strategic case against unconditional surrender. The general did not mince words: “We annulled the prospect of winning a real victory by the Casablanca call for unconditional surrender,” he wrote. 39 Why? “Our demand for unconditional surrender naturally increased the enemy’s will to resist and forced even Hitler’s worst enemies to continue fighting to save their country.” …

Wedemeyer elaborated, “We failed to realize that unconditional surrender and the annihilation of German power would result in a tremendous vacuum in Central Europe into which the Communist power and ideas would flow.”

About that vacuum in Central Europe: Is it the case that “we” simply “failed” to realize that a vacuum would emerge? Or had enough of us instead bought the Moscow line that Stalin wanted “nothing more than security for his country,” as Roosevelt, invoking Harry Hopkins, told William Bullitt at this same fateful moment? What about those among us in positions of power who had already decided that Stalin in Europe would be a good thing?

Remember Hanson Baldwin’s Numero Uno “great mistake of the war”: the belief “that the Politburo had abandoned  … its policy of world Communist revolution and was honestly interested in the maintenance of friendly relations with capitalist governments.”

Where did that belief— propaganda— come from?

Wedemeyer explains, “We poisoned ourselves with our own propaganda and let the Communist serpent we took to our bosom envenom our minds and distort our ideals.” Baldwin is more matter-of-fact. “We became victims of our own propaganda,” he wrote. “Russian aims were good and noble. Communism had changed its spots.”

We were victims, all right, but not of “our own” propaganda; it was their propaganda. It was propaganda conceived in Moscow and disseminated by bona fide Kremlin agents, mouthpieces and organizers of Communist parties, fellow travelers, and many, many dupes (“ liberals,” “all the best people,” opinion makers, etc.). …

This puts a cap on it:

Now, the question: What if Lochner’s query had been received with natural interest and acted on in mid-1942? What if the U.S. government had initiated contact with the anti-Hitler opposition at that point and supported a successful coup against Hitler in Germany? Or, what if six months later, Canaris, Hitler’s secret opponent, had been encouraged to produce the defection of the German army and negotiate its surrender to the Allies? What if one of the subsequent, serious attempts that other opponents of Hitler made through various Anglo-American emissaries in 1942, 1943, and 1944 had been able to overthrow the Führer, close down the concentration camps, abort the Final Solution, thwart Soviet conquests in Europe and Asia, call off every battle from Monte Cassino to D-day to the Warsaw Uprising to the Battle of the Bulge, avoid the destruction of city centers from Hamburg to Dresden, and save the lives of millions and millions and millions of people in between? …

… [B]ut there it is: World War II could have ended years earlier had Communists working for Moscow not dominated Washington, quashing every anti-Nazi, anti-Communist attempt, beginning in late 1942, throughout 1943 and 1944, to make common cause with Anglo-American representatives….

It’s not as if the true nature and intentions of the Soviet regime were unknown. As West points out, the peace feelers from Canaris et al.

began … at about the same time former U.S. ambassador to the USSR William C. Bullitt presented FDR with his prophetic blueprint of what the postwar world would look like if Anglo-American appeasement of Stalin didn’t stop….

Specifically:

Bullitt’s first memo to FDR was written on January 29, 1943. It was, Bullitt told the president, “as serious a document as any I have ever sent you.” He began by acknowledging that many observers in the United States believed that Stalin shared the president’s post-war vision expressed in the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms. Bullitt countered that no “factual evidence” existed to support the view that Stalin was a changed man. “We find no evidence,” he wrote, “but we find in all democratic countries an intense wish to believe that Stalin has changed….” This view of a changed Stalin, therefore, was “a product of the fatal vice in foreign affairs—the vice of wishful thinking.” U.S. and British admiration for the valor demonstrated by the Russian people in the defense of their homeland was causing policymakers to overlook “both basic Russian Nationalist policy and Soviet Communist policy.”

“The reality,” Bullitt explained,

is that the Soviet Union, up to the present time, has been a totalitarian dictatorship in which there has been no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, and a travesty of freedom of religion; in which there has been universal fear of the O.G.P.U. [secret police] and Freedom from Want has been subordinated always to the policy of guns instead of butter.

Stalin controls “in each country of the world,” Bullit further explained, “a 5th column” composed of “public or underground Communist Parties.” Stalin uses this Fifth Column for “espionage, propaganda, character assassination of opponents, and political influence….”

“[T]here is no evidence,” Bullitt emphasized, “that [Stalin] has abandoned either the policy of extending communism or the policy of controlling all foreign communist parties.” The Soviet Union “moves where opposition is weak, [but] stops where opposition is strong.” The United States must, advised Bullitt,

demonstrate to Stalin—and mean it—that while we genuinely want to cooperate with the Soviet Union, we will not permit our war to prevent Nazi domination of Europe to be turned into a war to establish Soviet domination of Europe. We have to back democracy in Europe to the limit, and prove to Stalin that, while we have intense admiration for the Russian people and will collaborate fully with a pacific Soviet State, we will resist a predatory Soviet State just as fiercely as we are now resisting a predatory Nazi State.

Bullitt provided FDR with a brief history lesson to show that Russia had always been an expansionist power…. Therefore, Bullitt opined, “[e]ven if Stalin had become a mere Russian nationalist—which he has not—that would be no guarantee of pacific behavior; indeed, it would be a guarantee of aggressive imperialism.”

Bullitt then listed Stalin’s “avowed” aims, which included the annexation of Bukovina, eastern Poland, Besserabia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and parts of Finland, and his secret goals, which included establishing communist governments in Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Poland and northern Iran, and expanding the influence communist parties in France and Germany. Bullit feared that a Soviet Union victorious in Europe would try to take geopolitical advantage of the fact that the United States and Great Britain still had to contend with Japan in the Far East. In such circumstances, Bullit wrote, “[t]here will be no single power or coalition in Europe to counterbalance the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union will be in a position to devote all its strength to overrunning Europe….” He sketched the following scenario:

While the United States and Great Britain are engaged in defeating Japan, the Red Army … will sweep through Europe from east to west, being welcomed by the Soviet 5th columns already organized in every European country. Then will follow the familiar comedy. There will be no talk of “annexation by the Soviet Union.” There will be a “freely chosen form of government” (Soviet); “free expression of the people’s will” (under occupation by the Red Army); and out will be trotted again all the obscene lies that accompanied the “freely expressed desire of the Baltic Republics, to be received into the Soviet Union.”

To prevent Soviet domination of Europe after the war, Bullitt counseled, the United States must establish in “occupied or liberated countries in Europe democratic administrations which, working together, will be strong enough to provide the requisite defense against invasion by the Soviet Union.” … ” The United States, he advised Roosevelt, must “lay the ground work for a combination of democratic governments in Europe strong enough to preserve democracy in Europe and keep the Bolsheviks from replacing the Nazis as masters of Europe.”

The United States, argued Bullitt, should not rely on agreements with the Soviet Union to preserve peace and the balance of power in Europe and the world. “The onward flow of the Soviet Union,” he explained, “has never been impeded by any written agreement…. Soviet invasion finds barriers in armed strength, not in Soviet promises.” That armed strength, according to Bullitt, should consist of an integrated, democratic and armed Europe backed by Great Britain and the United States….

Four months later, on May 12, 1943, Bullitt wrote a short follow-up memo to the president. He urged FDR to get commitments from the Soviet Union and Britain to help us in our war against Japan, and repeated his call for a military invasion of the Balkans to liberate Eastern and Central Europe before Soviet forces occupied the region. U.S. power was at its zenith, according to Bullitt, so it was essential that we translate that power to achieve our political goals.

On August 10, 1943, Bullitt wrote a final letter to the president on this subject. Echoing the great theorist of war, Karl von Clausewitz, Bullitt emphasized to Roosevelt that “[w]ar is an attempt to achieve political objectives by fighting; and political objectives must be kept in mind in planning operations.” The political objectives of the United States, he explained, “require the establishment of British and American forces in the Balkans and eastern and central Europe. Their first objective should be the defeat of Germany, their second, the barring to the Red Army of the way into Europe….”

A Soviet dominated Europe would be as great a threat to the United States and Britain as a German dominated Europe, wrote Bullitt. The dilemma of U.S. policy was to find a way to “prevent the domination of Europe by the Moscow dictatorship without losing the participation of the Red Army in the war against the Nazi dictatorship.” The most important elements of such a policy were, he wrote, the “creation of a British-American line in Eastern Europe,” and the establishment of “democratic governments behind” that line. (From the entry for William Bullitt at the University of North Carolina’s site, American Diplomacy: Foreign Service Dispatches and Periodic Reports on U.S. Foreign Policy)

Roosevelt ignored Bullitt, and the rest is history. The war in Europe was prolonged, unnecessarily and at great cost in lives and treasure. (Bear in mind that if the war in Europe had ended sooner, the Allies could then have focused their efforts on the war in the Pacific — with the resultant saving of many more lives and much more treasure.)

Perhaps the failure to seize an early victory can be chalked up to stubbornness and near-sightedness. I would believe that if there had been only one failure, or even two of them. But several failures look like a pattern to me: a pattern of preference for the survival of the Communist regime in Russia, and a willingness to abide Communist expansion in Europe. The best that can be said is that FDR’s outlook was blinkered by his commitment to Germany’s unconditional surrender, and that his views about the long run were (a) unduly optimistic, (b) insouciant, or (c) actively pro-Soviet. Given the degree of influence wielded by Harry Hopkins with respect to unconditional surrender and Soviet success, I opt for (c). Dupe or not, FDR sat in the Oval Office and made the decisions that turned the world upside down.

The prolongation of World War II is perhaps the biggest government failure in the history of the United States. There is one other that might rival it, though its proximate cause was inadvertent.

“Ensuring America’s Freedom of Movement”: A Review

Ensuring America’s Freedom of Movement: A National Security Imperative to Reduce U.S. Oil Dependence was issued by CNA in October 2011. (CNA, in this case, is a not-for-profit analytical organization located in Alexandria, Virginia, and is not to be mistaken for the Chicago-based insurance and financial services company.) Ensuring America’s Freedom of Movement is a product of CNA’s Military Advisory Board (MAB), and is the fourth report issued by the MAB. Accordingly, I refer to it in the rest of this review as MAB4.

This review may be somewhat out of date in places, though not in its thrust. I began writing it almost two years ago, when Ensuring… was published. I have not been in a hurry to post this review because Ensuring… is an inconsequential bit of fluff and unlikely to influence policy. But post I must, because the existence of the MAB and MAB4 are affronts to the distinguished intellectual heritage claimed by CNA.

*     *     *

A critical reader — someone who is not seeking support for preconceived policy prescriptions — will be disappointed in MAB4. If there are valid arguments for government initiatives to foster the development and use of alternatives to oil, they do not leap out of the pages of MAB4.

The main point of MAB4 is to urge

government … action to promote the use of a more diverse mix of transportation fuels and to drive wider public acceptance of these alternatives. (p. xiv, emphasis added)

And on cue, a day after the issuance of Obama’s plan to combat “climate change,” the MAB released a statement that ends with this:

The CNA MAB supports the President’s plan to act now to address the worst effects of climate change and to improve our nations’ energy posture and competitive advantage in clean energy markets. The CNA MAB continues to identify the security implications of climate change and to protect and enhance our energy, climate and national security today and for our future generations. (June 26, 2013)

Despite token acknowledgement of the power of markets to do the job, the authors consistently invoke the power of government, in the name of “stability.”

There is much pointing-with-alarm at the instability caused by “dependence” on imported oil — with a focus on the Middle East. But the only “hard” estimate of the price of instability is a poorly documented, questionable estimate of the effects of a 30-day closure of the Strait of Hormuz on GDP and the output and employment of the U.S. trucking industry. Empirical estimates of the effects of sudden reductions in oil imports (oil shocks) are available, but the authors of MAB4 did not use them — or perhaps did not know about them.

It would have been instructive to compare the cumulative losses to GDP resulting from actual oil shocks with (a) the costs of maintaining forces in the Middle East to deter overtly hostile shocks (e.g., the closure of the Strait of Hormuz by Iran) and (b) the costs to taxpayers and consumers of government subsidies and edicts to promote the development and require the use of alternative energy sources. But no such comparison is offered, so the critical reader has no idea whether efforts to wean the U.S. from oil — especially imported oil — make economic sense.

Moreover, the authors of MAB4 reject the possibility of drawing down U.S. forces in the Middle East, for “strategic” reasons, which means that (in the authors’ view) taxpayers should continue to foot the bill for Middle East forces while coughing up additional sums to subsidize the development and use of alternative energy sources. I am all in favor of a forward strategy that is aimed at deterring and countering adventurism on the part of America’s enemies and potential enemies. It would be foolish in the extreme to allow our enemies and potential enemies to aggrandize their power by denying America’s access to a vital resource, such as oil. (Iran and China, I am looking at you.) It would be (and is) doubly foolish to throw bad money after good by also succumbing to the lobbying efforts of corn-growers, makers of solar panels, and kindred rent-seekers.

In sum, MAB4 is a piece of advocacy, not objective analysis. True believers in the wisdom and infallibility of government will rejoice in MAB4 and hope, pray, plead, and work for the adoption of its recommendations by the federal government. Critical readers will check their wallets and wonder at the naivete and presumptuousness of the 13 retired flag and general officers who constituted the MAB when CNA extruded MAB4.

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I will elaborate on the preceding observations in the rest of this review, which has six main parts:

  • I. Background: CNA and the MAB — This part is for the benefit of those readers — almost all of you, I’m sure — who know nothing of CNA or its Military Advisory Board.
  • II. An Overview of MAB4 — This part outlines the organization of MAB4 and summarizes its findings and recommendations, which come into play throughout the review.
  • III. The Hidden Foundation of MAB4 — MAB4’s findings and recommendations rest on a foundation of hidden assumptions — biases, if you will. Part III articulates those biases.
  • IV. The Analytical Superstructure of MAB4 — This part focuses on the facts and logic of the substantive portions of MAB4, namely, Chapters 1 and 2. They are found wanting.
  • V. MAB4 vs. CNA’s Standards — CNA proclaims itself an organization that upholds a long tradition of high standards and objectivity. Are the MAB and MAB4 consistent with that tradition? Part V answers that question in the negative.
  • VI. Summary Assessment —  A final 534 words, for the benefit of readers who want to skip the gory details.

(The rest of this very long review is below the fold.) Continue reading

Conservatism as Right-Minarchism

W. Winston Elliott III delivers an apt appreciation of Russell Kirk and conservatism:

[Kirk’s The Conservative Mind] does not supply its readers with a “conservative ideology”: for the conservative abhors all forms of ideology. An abstract rigorous set of political dogmata: that is ideology, a “political religion,” promising the Terrestrial Paradise to the faithful; and ordinarily that paradise is to be taken by storm. Such a priori designs for perfecting human nature and society are anathema to the conservative, who knows them for the tools and the weapons of coffeehouse fanatics.

For the conservative, custom, convention, constitution, and prescription are the sources of a tolerable civil social order. Men not being angels, a terrestrial paradise cannot be contrived by metaphysical enthusiasts; yet an earthly hell can be arranged readily enough by ideologues of one stamp or another. Precisely that has come to pass in a great part of the world, during the twentieth century.

Edward Feser puts it this way:

Tradition, being nothing other than the distillation of centuries of human experience, itself provides the surest guide to determining the most rational course of action. Far from being opposed to reason, reason is inseparable from tradition, and blind without it. The so-called enlightened mind thrusts tradition aside, hoping to find something more solid on which to make its stand, but there is nothing else, no alternative to the hard earth of human experience, and the enlightened thinker soon finds himself in mid-air…. But then, was it ever truly a love of reason that was in the driver’s seat in the first place? Or was it, rather, a hatred of tradition? Might the latter have been the cause of the former, rather than, as the enlightened pose would have it, the other way around?) (“Hayek and Tradition“)

As for conservative governance, I turn to Michael Oakeshott:

To some people, ‘government’ appears as a vast reservoir of power which inspires them to dream of what use might be made of it. They have favourite projects, of various dimensions, which they sincerely believe are for the benefit of mankind, and to capture this source of power, if necessary to increase it, and to use it for imposing their favourite projects upon their fellows is what they understand as the adventure of governing men. They are, thus, disposed to recognize government as an instrument of passion; the art of politics is to inflame and direct desire….

Now, the disposition to be conservative in respect of politics reflects a quite different view of the activity of governing. The man of this disposition understands it to be the business of a government not to inflame passion and give it new objects to feed upon, but to inject into the activities of already too passionate men an ingredient of moderation; to restrain, to deflate, to pacify and to reconcile; not to stoke the fires of desire, but to damp them down….

It is not, then, mere stupid prejudice that disposes a conservative to take this view of the activity of governing; nor are any highfalutin metaphysical beliefs necessary to provoke it or make it intelligible. It is connected merely with the observation that where activity is bent upon enterprise the indispensable counterpart is another order of activity, bent upon restraint, which is unavoidably corrupted (indeed, altogether abrogated) when the power assigned to it is used for advancing favourite projects. An ‘umpire’ who at the same time is one of the players is no umpire; ‘rules’ about which we are not disposed to be conservative are not rules but incitements to disorder; the conjunction of dreaming and ruling generates tyranny.

Political conservatism is, then, not at all unintelligible in a people disposed to be adventurous and enterprising, a people in love with change and apt to rationalise their affections in terms of ‘progress’…. Indeed, a disposition to be conservative in respect of government would seem to be pre-eminently appropriate to men who have something to do and something to think about on their own account, who have a skill to practise or an intellectual fortune to make, to people whose passions do not need to be inflamed, whose desires do not need to be provoked and whose dreams of a better world need no prompting. Such people know the value of a rule which imposes orderliness without irecting enterprise, a rule which concentrates duty so that room is left for delight…. (“On Being Conservative,” Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition., pp. 431-5)

Now, returning to Kirk, I redact his six “canons” of conservatism to conform to my “canons” of right-minarchism:

(1) Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience…. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems… (2) Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and equilitarianism and utilitarian aims of most radical systems. (3) Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes…. Society longs for leadership…. (4) Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic levelling is not economic progress…. (5) Faith in prescription [traditional mores] and distrust of “sophisters and calculators.” Man must put a control upon his will and his appetite…. Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man’s anarchic impulse. (6) Recognition that change and reform are not identical….

Religion isn’t necessary to right-minarchism, though neither is it ruled out. Basic religious precepts (as in the Ten Commandments) form the moral foundation of civil society, which depends not so much on orders and classes as it does on order (as opposed to lawlessness) and respect for the persons and property of others. There is little else on which to differ with Kirk.

Therefore, in my taxonomy of politics, Kirk’s conservatism is located in right-minarchism — which is a distinct branch of libertarianism. Right-minarchism rejects the nihilism and strident anti-religionism which are rampant in strains of libertarianism, namely, anarchism and left-minarchism. Anarchists and left-minarchists believe, foolishly, that liberty is to be found in the rejection of order and social norms. Liberty would be the first victim of the brave new disorder that they wish for.

So, here’s to right-minarchism, the nexus of true conservatism and true libertarianism.

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Related posts:
Democracy and Liberty
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
Rawls Meets Bentham
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
More about Consequentialism
Line-Drawing and Liberty
The Divine Right of the Majority
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Part I
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
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Fighting Modernity
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Defining Liberty

Defining Liberty

When philosophers get together, you can be sure of one thing: A lot of words will be spilled to little or no effect. This proposition is amply demonstrated by a virtual symposium on “The System of Liberty” at The Online Library of Liberty.

Thousands of words leave the reader in search of a useful definition of liberty — any definition of it, for that matter. This is as good as it gets:

[I]n conventional English, the words “liberty” and “freedom” appear to be used to refer to variety of related but not identical things. My view is that “freedom” and “liberty” are not in the first instance philosophical concepts, unlike, say, “epistemic justification” or “social contract.” Instead, these are conventional concepts in natural language, though they are concepts that philosophers appropriately take great interest in. Thus, there is a default presumption that philosophers should yield to common usage when discussing what “liberty” really means….

In closing, I think there are three main questions about liberty:

1. What is it? …

There’s a lot of hooey about Hobbes and Locke, and so on, but it’s all to no avail.

Well, what is liberty? Bereft as I am of indoctrination in the mumbo-jumbo of philosophy, I am especially qualified to tell you. It is a social construct that cannot be defined by a priori philosophizing.

Thus:

liberty — “do what you want, constrained only by the harm to others” — is an empty concept unless it rests on a specific definition of harm. Why? Because harm is not a fixed thing — like the number 1 or your house — it is a vague concept that has meaning only when it refers to specific types of act, which then may be judged as harmful by some and unharmful by others. But until harm is defined and agreed through mutual consent (explicit or implicit), liberty lacks real meaning.

Therefore:

Liberty … is a social construct, without a fixed meaning. Further, harm is not a single thing; it is many things, each of which is socially defined. Each harm refers to a right; the right not to be killed without (specified) cause, for example. The collection of rights (anti-harms) defines the scope of liberty in a particular society. Liberty is therefore divisible, to some extent; that is, a person might enjoy most of his socially agreed rights, but not all of them, because of this action by government or that action by a compatriot or enemy. (It is wrong, however, to assume that one can divide rights between social and economic categories; what is called economic activity is nothing more than a particular aspect of social activity, and the denial of certain economic rights is also a denial of social rights.)

However, when I say that

liberty is a social construct …. is a realistic position, not a morally relativistic one. I am quite prepared to be judgmental of societies and polities. There is a “best” morality. It was widely practiced in Old America [see this]. Though it is still practiced in the remnants of Old America, it is vanishing from the United States, mainly because government has sundered social bonds and usurped the role of  society as the arbiter of morality. The government of the United States and the governments of most of its political subdivisions are illegitimate because their legal impositions are, for the most part, rooted in envy and power-lust — and not in Judeo-Christian morality.

I am in danger of philosophizing, so I’ll leave you with a specific definition of liberty:

peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior

To sum up:

The problem with [the usual definitions of liberty] should … be obvious. Those definitions focus on the individual, whereas the relevant definition of liberty is a social one. That is to say, one cannot address social justice and its connection to liberty unless liberty is viewed as a modus vivendi for a group of individuals. There is no such thing as the ability to do as one pleases — the dominant motif of [the usual definitions] — unless

  • one lives in complete isolation from others, or
  • one lives in the company of others who are of identical minds, or
  • one rules others.

The first condition is irrelevant to the matter of social justice. The second is implausible. The third takes the point of view of a dictator, and omits the point of view of his subjects.

If you prefer to read thousands of words, go here:
On Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
What Is Conservatism?
Law and Liberty
Zones of Liberty
Society and the State
I Want My Country Back
The Golden Rule and the State
Government vs. Community
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Evolution and the Golden Rule
Understanding Hayek
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
Facets of Liberty
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Why Conservatism Works
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society

America’s Financial Crisis Is Now

A REISSUE (WITHOUT UPDATES) OF THE ORIGINAL POST DATED MAY 1, 2011

*     *     *

INTRODUCTION

Three Economic Charts That Will BLOW YOUR MIND,” at RightWing News, offers some tantalizing statistics about the relationship between federal tax receipts and GDP. The bottom line:

The key thing to take away from this is that the amount of revenue the government can bring in via the income tax is, for whatever reason, more inelastic than most people think. That’s yet another reason to put more emphasis on balancing the budget via spending cuts as opposed to trying to fix the problem with tax increases.

Now, if Hauser’s law is as spot-on as it has been in the past … it’s going to be difficult to raise the government’s revenue level much beyond the 20% mark….

I have no quibble with the proposition that the U.S. government has made unaffordable, unilateral “promises” about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits. But I must take issue with the focus on the income tax and Hauser’s law, which is

the proposition that, in the United States, federal tax revenues since World War II have always been approximately equal to 19.5% of GDP, regardless of wide fluctuations in the marginal tax rate.

It is necessary to step back from a myopic focus on the federal government and look at all government receipts and expenditures in the United States. The need to do so arises from two facts: (1) State and local spending is substantial, and (2) federal, State, and local finances have become tightly bound together since the advent of revenue sharing and block grants, and with the explosion of federal statutory and regulatory commands to the States.

I begin by looking at the historical record of government income and outgo. That leads me to the future, in which “entitlements” loom unaffordably large . There are three broad paths along which to proceed: cut “entitlements,” borrow considerably more, or tax considerably more. I explain why the second and third options are untenable and economically destructive. The only viable alternative is to cut “entitlements,” and to begin cutting now.

GOVERNMENT SPENDING AND RECEIPTS: THE HISTORICAL RECORD

Here is how State and local spending stacks up against federal spending:

Federal vs state and local spending pct GDP
Sources: Derived from U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) Tables: Table 3.2 Federal Government Current Receipts and Expenditures (lines 26 and 40-45) and Table 3.3 State and Local Government Current Receipts and Expenditures (line 33).

State and local spending is not insubstantial, and has risen in recent decades, with a lot of help from the federal government. Federal grants to State and local governments have risen steadily from almost zero in 1929 to upwards of 4 percent of GDP in recent years. (I have excluded those grants from federal spending to avoid double-counting.)

Here is an aggregate picture of federal, State, and local spending and receipts.

Combined government spending and receipts
Source: Derived from NIPA Table 3.1 Government Current Receipts and Expenditures (lines 7, 19, 30, and 33-39).

Despite Hauser’s “law,” government receipts, as a percentage of GDP, rose steadily from 1929 until 2000, peaking at 32 percent. The post-2000 decline can be attributed to slow economic growth (capped by the recession of 2008-2010) and the so-called Bush tax cuts (which Congress approved initially and again in 2010). I have nothing against the tax cuts, except for the fact that they were not matched by spending cuts. The real burden of government is measured by spending, which diverts resources from productive uses to ones that are less-productive (e.g., public education), counter-productive (e.g., regulation), and downright destructive (i.e., growth-retarding and inflationary). The fact that lenders have increasingly borne the monetary cost of the burden of government has not offset its egregious economic effects. And, as I discuss below, without drastic spending cuts (relative to GDP) there will come a day when lenders will shrug off the burden or demand a much higher price for bearing it.

In any event, regardless of generally diminishing receipts in the first decade of the 21st century, government spending rose as a percentage of GDP, for several reasons. First, there was (and is) slower economic growth, due in no small part to the preceding decades of governmental interference in economic affairs. On top of that, there was Obama’s “stimulus package,” which was meant to end the recession of 2008-2010 but did not (because it could not); the recession ended in the normal way, through the recovery of “animal spirits” and consumer confidence. Then there was (and is) a growing population of persons eligible for Social Security, Medicare (supplemented by “free” or “cheap” prescription drugs), and Medicaid — a population made all the more eager to claim its “entitlements,” given the state of the economy. Finally, and almost incidentally, two foreign wars were fought simultaneously (though with varying degrees of intensity) throughout the decade.

To focus only on federal spending, as I say, is myopic because State and local governments have a habit of raising State and local taxes when so-called federal grants are cut back. (I say “so-called” because the money for those grants is provided largely by taxpayers who are, of course, denizens of the States and their political subdivisions.) In addition to the possibility of higher State and local spending in reaction to cuts in federal largesse, taxpayers — not public-sector unions — should be up in arms about the above-market compensation of government employees. A significant portion of that above-market compensation comes in the form of cushy pension plans, which allow “public servants” to receive high fractions of their salary (sometimes as much as 100 percent) for life, and to begin receiving those payments when they are in their 40s and 50s, after having held a government job for 20 years or so. As a result of these obligations and other undisciplined spending habits, State and local governments have liabilities of more than $7 trillion.

Which brings me to the 500-pound gorilla: the federal government.

“ENTITLEMENTS”: THE SOURCE OF OUR PRESENT AND PROSPECTIVE WOES

Perhaps the most interesting lines in the second graph (above) are the three at the bottom. The gap between the cost of social programs (green line) and “contributions” to those programs (gold line) has risen markedly since the late 1990s. By 2010, the size of that gap — 8.5 percent of GDP — accounted for most deficit spending (red line) — 10.6 percent of GDP. And that is but a hint of things to come. The internet abounds with graphs and tables that depict future federal spending and revenues under various assumptions. They all point to the same conclusion: Spending “commitments” must be cut — and cut drastically — in order to avoid (a) economically disabling tax increases and (b) a day of reckoning in credit markets.

The online offerings include these from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO): “Impact of the President’s Proposals on the Budget Outlook” (blog summary), and “Long Term Analysis of a Budget Proposal by Chairman Ryan” (blog summary). The CBO analyses are somewhat dense and must be read in juxtaposition. They are neatly conjoined by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s “Analyzing the President’s New Budget Framework.” Here is an informative graphic from that analysis:

Debt projections under various fiscal reform plans

Obama’s “framework,” as the report emphasizes, is short on details. It is obviously a slap-dash response to Paul Ryan’s detailed plan (labelled “House Republicans” in the graphic), which is a serious proposal for long-term deficit reduction. To understand the bankruptcy of Obama’s actual budget and current law, which are about the same, one must look beyond 2021.

Drawing on CBO’s work, Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner take the long view in “Bankrupt: Entitlements and the Federal Budget.” Tanner leads off with this:

The U.S. government is about to exceed its statutory debt limit of $14.3 trillion. But that actually underestimates the size of the fiscal time bomb that this country is facing. If one considers the unfunded liabilities of programs such as Medicare and Social Security, the true national debt could run as high as $119.5 trillion.

Moreover, to focus solely on debt is to treat a symptom rather than the underlying disease. We face a debt crisis not because taxes are too low but because government is too big. If there is no change to current policies, by 2050 federal government spending will exceed 42 percent of GDP. Adding in state and local spending, government at all levels will consume nearly 60 percent of everything produced in this country. Whether financed through debt or taxes, government that large would be a crushing burden to our economy and our liberties. (p. 1)

Government spending now consumes almost 40 percent of everything produced in this country. Imagine the lives of your children and their children if and when government spending consumes almost 60 percent of everything produced in this country. But wait — it can get worse. Here, Tanner projects federal spending under current law, through 2080:

Long-term spending projections (Tanner)

Add State and local spending and, by 2080, you have an economy whose entire output is claimed by government entities. Some of that output would be directed to individuals for their sustenance, of course. But the form of that sustenance — along with everything else — would be dictated and allocated by politicians and bureaucrats. They — and their favored intellectuals, artists, and athletes — would live reasonably well (though not nearly as well as they could in a free-market system), while the proles would lead lives of hard work, hard drink, and hard deaths. It would be the USSR all over again. And, as with the USSR, the misdirection of economic activity by politicians and bureaucrats would ensure economic stagnation.

It may not come to that, if there are enough voters who understand the consequences of unbridled government spending, and who put liberty and true prosperity above the illusory promises of security offered by the big-government crowd. But as time goes by and more voters become accustomed to handouts, they will become “European” in their embrace of the welfare state. Slippery slopes and death-spirals lead to the same slough of despond (second definition).

That said, is there a way to have “our” cake and eat it, too? Can the U.S. government raise enough money through borrowing or taxation to fend off the day of reckoning and attain the left’s dream of attaining “Europeanism”?

BORROWING A SEA OF TROUBLES

In fact, financial markets may help to reign in government spending by sending signals that cannot be ignored — if the U.S. government borrows money from willing lenders instead of just printing it. (Economist Karl Smith explains why printing money — deliberate inflation — is an unlikely course of action. He refers to “structured default,” which is explained here.) As government spending rises, and as voters and politicians (in the main) reject significant tax increases, government debt will rise to unprecedented heights. Here, from The Heritage Foundation’s 2011 Budget Chart Book, is a retrospective and prospective look at the size of the federal government’s debt in relation to GDP:

National debt set to skyrocket

Financial markets will reject U.S. government debt — or charge a lot for carrying it — long before it reaches the levels shown above. The events of year ago, when Greece’s financial bind came to a head, gave a hint of the likely reaction of markets to continued fiscal profligacy. Then, earlier this month, there was a sharp, brief stock-market sell off in response to an announcement by Standard & Poor’s about U.S. government debt (“‘AAA/A-1+’ Rating On United States of America Affirmed; Outlook Revised To Negative“):

  • We have affirmed our ‘AAA/A-1+’ sovereign credit ratings on the United States of America.
  • The economy of the U.S. is flexible and highly diversified, the country’s effective monetary policies have supported output growth while containing inflationary pressures, and a consistent global preference for the U.S. dollar over all other currencies gives the country unique external liquidity.
  • Because the U.S. has, relative to its ‘AAA’ peers, what we consider to be very large budget deficits and rising government indebtedness and the path to addressing these is not clear to us, we have revised our outlook on the long-term rating to negative from stable.
  • We believe there is a material risk that U.S. policymakers might not reach an agreement on how to address medium- and long-term budgetary challenges by 2013; if an agreement is not reached and meaningful implementation is not begun by then, this would in our view render the U.S. fiscal profile meaningfully weaker than that of peer ‘AAA’ sovereigns.

If there is no serious effort to control the growth of the U.S. government’s debt by scaling back “entitlements,” two things will happen: Interest rates will rise, thus compounding the problem, and lenders will back away. Megan McArdle outlines a plausible scenario:

Right now, when Treasury goes to sell new bonds, it enters a fairly robust market, with not just the Fed but a bunch of fairly price-inelastic Asian central banks who are willing to take on our bonds at whatever the market offers. If China exits the market, we will either need to borrow less, or attract new lenders by offering higher interest rates. Even a noticeable decrease in volume would force us to pay more for our deficits….

… A lot of people tend to assume that there will be warning signs telling us that we need to get our fiscal house in order: China will slow down its bond purchases, interest rates will gradually rise. But in fact, the lesson of fiscal crises is that the “warning signs” we’re watching for often are the crisis. Unless interest rates increase (or debt buying decrease–which is really the same thing) in a very gradual, orderly fashion, then by the time your interest rates rise, it is already too late to do anything easy; your debt service burden forces you into dramatic fiscal measures, or default.

According to economist Carmen Reinhart, who has made an intensive study of crises, there’s no reason to expect the change to be orderly and gradual. She says the lesson of history is pretty unequivocal: interest rates are not a good predictor of who is about to tip into a crisis. People are willing to lend at decent rates, until suddenly they’re barely willing to lend at all.

When you look at how much of our debt comes due by the end of 2012, it’s easy to see how fast higher interest rates could turn into a real problem for us. To be sure, we’re no Japan–but that’s not necessarily a happy thought, because Japan finances something like 95% of its debt from its pool of thrifty (and nationalistic) savers. Their stock of lenders probably isn’t going anywhere. Ours might.

Lawrence Kotlikoff agrees:

…CBO’s baseline budget updates suggest the date for reaching what Carmen Reinhart, Kenneth Rogoff and other prominent economists believe is a critical insolvency threshold — a 90 percent ratio of federal debt held by the public to gross domestic product — has moved four years closer, in just nine months!…

And if foreigners balk at buying U.S. debt, why would Americans fill the breach? Is there a patriotic duty to finance socialism?

In summary, it seems unlikely that the U.S. can erect a full-blown welfare state on the backs of lenders. Can it be done on backs of taxpayers?

TAXING “THE RICH” — AND A LOT OF OTHERS, TOO?

The short answer to the preceding question is “no.” In evidence, I return to Michael Tanner’s “Bankrupt: Entitlements and the Federal Budget“:

Many observers suggest that we can simply tax the rich. For example, the Center for American Progress has recommended, among other things, imposing a 5–7 percent surtax on households with incomes above $500,000 per year, eliminating the cap on Social Security payroll taxes, increasing the estate tax, and raising the top marginal tax rate on capital gains and dividends.60 That would potentially raise the total marginal tax burden on some people to well above 50 percent.

Setting aside the simple immorality of government taking such an enormous portion of anyone’s income, there are many reasons to be skeptical of such an approach, starting with the fact that it may not actually generate any additional revenue….

…[I]ncentives matter. At some point taxes become high enough to discourage economic activity and therefore produce less revenue than would be predicted under a more static analysis….

But even if one assumes that taxes can be raised without having any impact on economic growth, taxing the rich still wouldn’t get us out of our budget hole—because the hole is quite simply bigger than the amount of revenue we could raise from taxing the rich even if there were no disincentives. To put it in admittedly oversimplified perspective: our current obligations, including both implicit and explicit debt, total more than 900 percent of GDP. The combined wealth of everyone in the United States who earns at least $1 million per year equals roughly 100 percent of GDP…. Therefore, you could confiscate the entire wealth of every millionaire in the United States and still barely make a dent in the amount we will owe.

Clearly, therefore, any tax increases would have to extend well beyond “the rich.” In fact, the Congressional Budget Office said in 2008 that in order to pay for all currently scheduled federal spending both the corporate tax rate and top income tax rate would have to be raised from their current 35 percent to 88 percent, the current 25 percent tax rate for middle-income workers to 63 percent, and the 10 percent tax bracket for low-income workers to 25 percent. It is likely, given increased spending since then, that the required tax levels would be even higher today.

Regardless of how one feels about taxing the rich, taxes at those levels would be devastating to future economic growth.

Harvard economist Martin Feldstein points out that the actual loss from tax increases to the private sector is a combination of the confiscated revenue as well as a hidden cost of the actual increase, known as deadweight loss. This hidden cost can be very expensive. Feldstein calculates that “the total cost per incremental dollar of government spending, including the revenue and the deadweight loss, is . . . a very high $2.65. Equivalently, it implies that the marginal excess burden per dollar of revenue is $1.65.” This means that for every 1 percent of GDP needed to be raised in revenue, the equivalent of 2.65 percent of GDP needs to be extracted from the private sector first.

Clearly, tax increases required to finance an increase in spending of more than 40 percent of GDP would place an impossible burden on the private economy. (pp. 13-4, source notation omitted)

One more thing (from Table 1 of the Tax Foundation’s “Fiscal Facts“): For 2008, federal income tax returns with adjusted gross incomes in the top 1 percent accounted for 38 percent of income taxes; the top 5 percent, 59 percent; the top 10 percent, 70 percent; the top 25 percent, 86 percent; and the top 50 percent, 97 percent. Not only that, but the top 10 percent of American taxpayers is taxed more heavily than the top 10 percent in other developed countries, including those “advanced” European countries that American leftists would like to emulate. (See “No Country Leans on Upper-Income Households as Much as U.S.” at the Tax Foundation’s Tax Policy Blog.) And the left has the gall to claim that America’s “rich” aren’t paying enough taxes!

VIVE LA RÉSISTANCE

It will not do simply to put an end to the U.S. government’s spending spree; too many State and local governments stand ready to fill the void, and they will do so by raising taxes where they can. As a result, some jurisdictions will fall into California- and Michigan-like death-spirals while jobs and growth migrate to other jurisdictions. Contemporary mercantilists to the contrary, the “winners” are “losers,” too. Even if Congress resists the urge to give aid and comfort to profligate States and municipalities at the expense of the taxpayers of fiscally prudent jurisdictions, the high taxes and anti-business regimes of California- and Michigan-like jurisdictions impose deadweight losses on the whole economy. If you believe otherwise, you believe in the broken-window fallacy, wherein an economically destructive force (natural or governmental) is credited with creating jobs and wealth because it leads to the visible expenditure of effort and resources.

So, the resistance to economically destructive policies cannot end with efforts to reverse the policies of the federal government. But given the vast destructiveness of those policies — “entitlements” in particular — the resistance must begin there. Every conservative and libertarian voice in the land must be raised in reasoned opposition to the perpetuation of the unsustainable “promises” currently embedded in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — and their expansion through Obamacare. To those voices must be added the voices of “moderates” and “liberals” who see through the proclaimed good intentions of “entitlements” to the economic and libertarian disaster that looms if those “entitlements” are not pared down to their original purpose: providing a safety net for the truly needy.

The alternative to successful resistance is stark: more borrowing, higher interest payments, unsustainable debt, higher taxes, and economic stagnation (at best).

Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth

UPDATED 12/13/14 — This update consists of a comment about my estimate of the Rahn curve. I have just published a much better estimate of the curve for the post-World War II era.

UPDATED 12/28/11 — This update incorporates GDP and government spending statistics for 2010 and corrects a minor discrepancy in the estimation of government spending. Also, there are new, easier-to-read graphs. The bottom line is the same as before: Government spending and everything that goes with it (including regulation) is destructive of economic growth.

UPDATED 09/19/13 — This version incorporates two later posts “Estimating the Rahn Curve: A Sequel” (01/24/12) and “More Evidence for the Rahn Curve” (05/27/12).

*     *     *

The theory behind the Rahn Curve is simple — but not simplistic. A relatively small government with powers limited mainly to the protection of citizens and their property is worth more than its cost to taxpayers because it fosters productive economic activity (not to mention liberty). But additional government spending hinders productive activity in many ways, which are discussed in Daniel Mitchell’s paper, “The Impact of Government Spending on Economic Growth.” (I would add to Mitchell’s list the burden of regulatory activity, which accumulates with the size of government.)

What does the Rahn Curve look like? Daniel Mitchell estimates this relationship between government spending and economic growth:

Rahn curve (2)

The curve is dashed rather than solid at low values of government spending because it has been decades since the governments of developed nations have spent as little as 20 percent of GDP. But as Mitchell and others note, the combined spending of governments in the U.S. was 10 percent (and less) until the eve of the Great Depression. And it was in the low-spending, laissez-faire era from the end of the Civil War to the early 1900s that the U.S. enjoyed its highest sustained rate of economic growth.

Here is a graphic look at the historical relationship between government spending and GDP growth:

(Source notes for this graph and those that follow are at the bottom of this post.)

The regression lines are there simply to emphasize the long-term trends. The relationship between government spending as a percentage of GDP (G/GDP) and real GDP growth will emerge from the following graphs. There are chronological gaps because the Civil War, WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII distorted the relationship between G/GDP and economic growth. Large wars inflate government spending and GDP. The Great Depression saw a large rise in G/GDP, by pre-Depression standards, even as the economy shrank and then sputtered to a less-than-full recovery before the onset of WWII.

Est Rahn curve 1792 1861

Est Rahn curve 1866 1917

Est Rahn curve 1792 1917

Est Rahn curve 1946-2010

The graphs paint a consistent picture: Higher G/GDP means lower growth. There is one inconsistency, however, and that is the persistence of growth in the range of 2 to 4 percent during the post-WWII era, despite G/GDP in the range of 25-45 percent. That is not the kind of growth one would expect, given the relationships that obtain in the earlier eras. (The extrapolated trend line for 1946-2009 comes into use below.)

There are at least five plausible — and not mutually exclusive — explanations for the discrepancy. First, there is the difficulty of estimating GDP for years long past. Second, it is almost impossible to generate a consistent estimate of real GDP spanning two centuries; current economic output is vastly greater in volume and variety than it was in the early days of the Republic. Third, productivity gains (advances in technology, management techniques, and workers’ skills) may offset the growth-inhibiting effects of government spending, to some extent. Fourth, government regulations and active interventions (e.g., antitrust activity, the income tax) have a cumulative effect that operates independently of G/GDP. Regulations and interventions may have had an especially strong effect in the early 1900s (see the second graph in this post). The effects of regulations and interventions may diminish with time because of  adaptive behavior (e.g., “capture” of regulatory bodies).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the shifting composition of government spending. At relatively low levels of G/GDP, G consists largely of government programs that usurp and interfere with private-sector functions by diverting resources from productive uses to uses favored by politicians, bureaucrats, and their patrons. Higher levels of G/GDP — such as those we in the United States have known since the end of WWII — are reached by the expansion of the welfare state. Government spending (at all levels) on so-called social benefits accounted for only 7 percent of G and 0.8 percent of GDP in 1929; in 2009, it accounted for 36 percent of G and 15 percent of GDP. The provision of “social benefits” brings government into the business of redistributing income, which discourages work, saving, and capital formation to some extent, but doesn’t impinge directly on commerce. Therefore, I would expect G to be less damaging to GDP growth at higher levels of G/GDP — which is the message to be found in the contrast between the experience of 1946-2009 and the experience of earlier periods.

With those thoughts in mind, I present this empirical picture of the relationship between G/GDP and GDP growth in the United States:

Est Rahn curve 1792-2010

The intermediate points, unfortunately, are missing because of the chronological gaps mentioned above. But, as indicated by the five earlier graphs, it is entirely reasonable to infer from the preceding graph a strong relationship between GDP growth and changes in G/GDP throughout the history of the Republic.

It is possible to obtain a rough estimate of the downward sloping portion of the Rahn curve by focusing on two eras: the post-Civil War years 1866-1890 — before the onset of “progressivism,” with its immediate and strong negative effects — and the post-WWII years 1946-2009. Thus:

Est Rahn curve rough sketch

My rough estimate is appropriately “fuzzy” and somewhat more generous than Daniel Mitchell’s, which is indicated by the heavy black line. In light of my discussion of the shifting composition of G as G/GDP becomes relatively large, I  have followed the slope of the trend line for 1792-2010; that is, every 1 percentage-point increase in G/GDP yields a decrease in the growth rate of about 0.07 percent. That seemingly small effect becomes a huge one when G/GDP rises over a long period of time (as has been the case for more than a century, with no end in sight).

For the record, the best fit through the “fuzzy” area is:

Annual rate of growth = -0.066(G/GDP) + 0.054.

[A revised and more realistic estimate for the post-World War II era is

Real rate of growth = -0.372(G/GDP) + 0.067(BA/GDP) + 0.080 ,

where the real rate of growth is the annualized rate over a 10-year period, G/GDP is the fraction of GDP spent by government (including social transfers) over the preceding 10-year period, and BA/GDP represents business assets as a fraction of GDP for the preceding 10-year period.]

Again, it’s the annualized rate of growth over a 10-year span, as a function of G/GDP (fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels) in the preceding 10 years. The new term, BA/GDP, represents the constant-dollar value of private nonresidential assets (i.e., business assets) as a fraction of GDP, averaged over the preceding 10 years. The idea is to capture the effect of capital accumulation on economic growth, which I didn’t do in the earlier analysis.

Maximum GDP growth seems to occur when G/GDP is 2-4  percent. That is somewhat less than the 7-percent share of GDP that was spent on national defense, public order, and safety in 2010. The excess represents additional “insurance” against predators, foreign and domestic. (The effectiveness of the additional “insurance” is a separate question, though I am inclined to err on the side of caution when it comes to defense and law enforcement. Those functions are not responsible for the economic woes facing America’s taxpayers.)

If G/GDP reaches 55 percent — which it will if present entitlement “commitments” are not curtailed — the “baseline” rate of growth will shrink further: probably to less than 2 percent. And thus America will remain mired in its Mega-Depression.

*     *     *

Source notes:

Estimates of real and nominal GDP, back to 1790, come from the feature “What Was the U.S GDP Then?” at MeasuringWorth.com.

Estimates of government spending (federal, State, and local) come from USgovernmentspending.com; Statistical Abstracts of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970: Part 2. Series Y 533-566. Federal, State, and Local Government Expenditures, by Function; and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Table 3.1. Government Current Receipts and Expenditures (lines 34, 35).

I found the amount spent by governments (federal, State, and local) on national defense and public order and safety by consulting BEA Table 3.17. Selected Government Current and Capital Expenditures by Function.

The BEA tables cited above are available here.

*     *     *

ADDENDUM: THE RAHN CURVE: A SEQUEL

In the original post (above) I note that maximum GDP growth occurs when government spends two to four percent of GDP. The two-to-four percent range represents the share of GDP claimed by American governments (federal, State, and local) throughout most of the 19th century, when government spending exceeded five percent of GDP only during the Civil War.

Of course, until the early part of the 20th century, when Progressivism began to make itself felt in Americans’ tax bills, governments restricted themselves (in the main) to the functions of national defense, public order, and safety — the terms used in national-income accounting. It is those functions — hereinafter called defense and justice — that foster liberty and economic growth because they protect peaceful, voluntary activity. Effective protection probably would cost more than four percent of GDP in these parlous times. But an adequate figure, except in the rare event of a major war, is probably no more than seven percent of GDP — the value for 2010, which includes the cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In any event, government spending — even on defense and justice — is impossible without private economic activity. It is that activity which yields the wherewithal for the provision of defense and justice. Once those things have been provided, the further diversion of resources by government is economically destructive. Specifically, from “Estimating the Rahn Curve” (above):

It is possible to obtain a rough estimate of the downward sloping portion of the Rahn curve by focusing on two eras: the post-Civil War years 1866-1890 — before the onset of “progressivism,” with its immediate and strong negative effects — and the post-WWII years 1946-2009. Thus:

Est Rahn curve rough sketch

My rough estimate is appropriately “fuzzy” and somewhat more generous than Daniel Mitchell’s [in “The Impact of Government Spending on Economic Growth”], which is indicated by the heavy black line. In light of my discussion of the shifting composition of G as G/GDP becomes relatively large, I  have followed the slope of the trend line for 1792-2010; that is, every 1 percentage-point increase in G/GDP yields a decrease in the growth rate of about 0.06 percent. That seemingly small effect becomes a huge one when G/GDP rises over a long period of time (as has been the case for more than a century, with no end in sight).

The following graphs offer another view of the devastation wrought by the growth of government spending — and regulation. (Sources are given in “Estimating the Rahn Curve.”) I begin with the share of GDP which is not spent by government:

Est Rahn curve sequel_priv GDP as pct total GDP

A note about my measure of government spending is in order. National-income accounting purists would insist that transfer payments (mainly Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) should not count as spending, even though I count them as such. But what does it matter whether money is taken from taxpayers and given to retired persons (as Social Security) or to government employees (as salary and benefits) or contractors (as reimbursement for products and services delivered to government)? All government spending represents the transfer of claims on resources from persons who earned those claims to other persons, who either did something of questionable value for the money (government employees and contractors) or nothing (e.g., retirees).

In any event, it is obvious that Americans enjoyed minimal government until the early 1900s, and have since “enjoyed” a vast expansion of government. Here is a closer look at the trend from 1900 onward:

Est Rahn curve sequel_private GDP pct total GDP since 1900

This is a good point at which to note that the expansion of government is understated by the growth of government spending, which only imperfectly captures the effects of the rapidly growing regulatory burden on America’s economy. The combined effects of government spending and regulation can be seen in this “before” and “after” depiction of growth rates:

Est Rahn curve sequel_growth rate of private GDP

(I omitted the major wars and the Great Depression because their inclusion would give an exaggerated view of economic growth in the aftermath of abnormally suppressed private economic activity.)

The marked diminution of growth  after 1900 has led to what I call America’s Mega-Depression. Note the similarity between the downward path of private sector GDP (two graphs earlier) and the downward path of the Mega-Depression in the following graph:

Est Rahn curve sequel_mega-depression

What is the Mega-Depression? It is a measure of the degree to which real GDP has fallen below what it would have been had economic growth continued at its post-Civil War pace. As I explain here, the Mega-Depression began in the early 1900s, when the economy began to sag under the weight of Progressivism (e.g., trust-busting, regulation, the income tax, the Fed). Then came the New Deal, whose interventions provoked and prolonged the Great Depression (see, for example, this, and this). From the New Deal and the Great Society arose the massive anti-market/initiative-draining/dependency-promoting schemes known as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The extension and expansion of those and other intrusive government programs has continued unto the present day (e.g., Obamacare), with the result that our lives and livelihoods are hemmed in by mountains of regulatory restrictions.

Regulation aside, government spending — except for defense and justice — is counterproductive. Not only does it fail to stimulate the economy in the short run, but it also robs the economy of the investments that are needed for long-run growth.

*     *     *

ADDENDUM: MORE EVIDENCE FOR THE RAHN CURVE

Here:

[W]e have some new research from the United Kingdom. The Centre for Policy Studies has released a new study, authored by Ryan Bourne and Thomas Oechsle, examining the relationship between economic growth and the size of the public sector.

The chart above compares growth rates for nations with big governments and small governments over the past two decades. The difference is significant, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The most important findings of the report are the estimates showing how more spending and more taxes are associated with weaker performance.

Here are some key passages from the study.

Using tax to GDP and spending to GDP ratios as a proxy for size of government, regression analysis can be used to estimate the effect of government size on GDP growth in a set of countries defined as advanced by the IMF between 1965 and 2010. …As supply-side economists would expect, the coefficients on the tax revenue to GDP and government spending to GDP ratios are negative and statistically significant. This suggests that, ceteris paribus, a larger tax burden results in a slower annual growth of real GDP per capita. Though it is unlikely that this effect would be linear (we might expect the effect to be larger for countries with huge tax burdens), the regressions suggest that an increase in the tax revenue to GDP ratio by 10 percentage points will, if the other variables do not change, lead to a decrease in the rate of economic growth per capita by 1.2 percentage points. The result is very similar for government outlays to GDP, where an increase by 10 percentage points is associated with a fall in the economic growth rate of 1.1 percentage points. This is in line with other findings in the academic literature. …The two small government economies with the lowest marginal tax rates, Singapore and Hong Kong, were also those which experienced the fastest average real GDP growth.

My own estimate (see above) for the United States, is that

every 1 percentage-point increase in G/GDP yields a decrease in the growth rate of about 0.07 percent. That seemingly small effect becomes a huge one when G/GDP rises over a long period of time (as has been the case for more than a century, with no end in sight).

In other words, every 10 percentage-point increase in the ratio of government spending to GDP causes a not-insignificant drop of 0.7 percentage points in the rate of growth. That is somewhat below the estimate quoted above (1.1 percentage points), but surely it is within the range of uncertainty that surrounds the estimate.

Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism

A REISSUE (WITHOUT UPDATES) OF THE ORIGINAL POST DATED DECEMBER 4, 2011

Robert Higgs quite rightly disparages “vulgar Keynesianism”:

Most of the people who purport to possess expertise about the economy rely on a common set of presuppositions and modes of thinking. I call this pseudo-intellectual mishmash vulgar Keynesianism. It’s the same claptrap that has passed for economic wisdom in this country for more than fifty years and seems to have originated in the first edition of Paul Samuelson’s Economics (1948), the best-selling economics textbook of all time and the one from which a plurality of several generations of college students acquired whatever they knew about economic analysis. Long ago, this view seeped into educated discourse and writing in the news media and in politics and established itself as an orthodoxy.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking about the economy’s operation, particularly its overall fluctuations, is a tissue of errors of both commission and omission. Most unfortunate have been the policy implications derived from this mode of thinking, above all the notion that the government can and should use fiscal and monetary policies to control the macroeconomy and stabilize its fluctuations. Despite having originated more than half a century ago, this view seems to be as vital in 2009 as it was in 1949.

Higgs then dissects “the six most egregious aspects of this unfortunate approach to understanding and dealing with economic booms and busts.” These are the aggregation of myriad and disparate economic actions, failure to take into account changes in relative prices, misunderstanding of the meaning and economic role of interest rates, disregard for the importance of capital, blind “money pumping” as a “solution” to recessions, and disregard for the disincentivizing effects of government activism on the private sector.

I agree with everything said by Higgs, and I have said many of the same things (in my own way) at this blog and its predecessor.  However, GDP — an aggregate measure of economic activity — is a useful construct, as flawed as it may be. It is an indicator of the general direction and magnitude of economic activity. Other aggregate measures — such as employment, jobs added and lost, unemployment rate — are also useful in that regard. If, for example, constant-dollar GDP per capita was twice as high in 2010 than it was 40 years earlier, in 1970 (computed here), it indicates that most Americans enjoyed a significantly higher standard of living in 2010 than they and their predecessors did in 1970. Further, the difference is so significant that it overshadows the difficulty of aggregating the value of billions of disparate transactions and separating the effects of price inflation from quality improvements.

What is special about 1970? It marks a turning point in the economic history of the U.S., which I discussed in a post that is now two-and-a-half years old:

Can we measure the price of government intervention [in the economy]? I believe that we can do so, and quite easily. The tale can be told in three graphs, all derived from constant-dollar GDP estimates available here. The numbers plotted in each graph exclude GDP estimates for the years in which the U.S. was involved in or demobilizing from major wars, namely, 1861-65, 1918-19, and 1941-46. GDP values for those years — especially for the peak years of World War II — present a distorted picture of economic output….

The trend line in the first graph indicates annual growth of about 3.7 percent over the long run, with obviously large deviations around the trend. The second graph contrasts economic growth through 1907 with economic growth since: 4.2 percent vs. 3.6 percent. But lest you believe that the economy of the U.S. somehow began to “age” in the early 1900s, consider the story implicit in the third graph:

  • 1790-1861 — annual growth of 4.1 percent — a booming young economy, probably at its freest
  • 1866-1907 — annual growth of 4.3 percent — a robust economy, fueled by (mostly) laissez-faire policies and the concomitant rise of technological innovation and entrepreneurship
  • 1908-1929 — annual growth of 2.2 percent — a dispirited economy, shackled by the fruits of “progressivism” (e.g., trust-busting, regulation, the income tax, the Fed) and the government interventions that provoked and prolonged the Great Depression (see links in third paragraph)
  • 1970-2008 — annual growth of 3.1 percent –  [2.8 percent for 1970-2010] an economy sagging under the cumulative weight of “progressivism,” New Deal legislation, LBJ’s “Great Society” (with its legacy of the ever-expanding and oppressive welfare/transfer-payment schemes: Medicare, Medicaid, a more generous package of Social Security benefits), and an ever-growing mountain of regulatory restrictions.

Taking the period 1970-2010 as a distinctive era — that of the full-fledged regulatory-welfare state — it may be possible to discern some aggregate relationships that were stable during that era (and may well continue to hold). The relationship that I want to explore is suggested by Higgs’s discussion of the vulgar Keynesian view of aggregate demand and the role of capital in economic production:

Because the vulgar Keynesian has no conception of the economy’s structure of output, he cannot conceive of how an expansion of demand along certain lines but not along others might be problematic. In his view, one cannot have, say, too many houses and apartments. Increasing the spending for houses and apartments is, he thinks, always good whenever the economy has unemployed resources, regardless of how many houses and apartments now stand vacant and regardless of what specific kinds of resources are unemployed and where they are located in this vast land. Although the unemployed laborers may be skilled silver miners in Idaho, it is supposedly still a good thing if somehow the demand for condos is increased in Palm Beach, because for the vulgar Keynesian, there are no individual classes of laborers or separate labor markets: labor is labor is labor. If someone, whatever his skills, preferences, or location, is unemployed, then, in this framework of thought, we may expect to put him back to work by increasing aggregate demand, regardless of what we happen to spend the money for, whether it be cosmetics or computers.

This stark simplicity exists, you see, because aggregate output is a simple increasing function of aggregate labor employed:

Q = f (L), where dQ/dL > 0.

Note that this “aggregate production function” has only one input, aggregate labor. The workers seemingly produce without the aid of capital! If pressed, the vulgar Keynesian admits that the workers use capital, but he insists that the capital stock may be taken as “given” and fixed in the short run. And ― which is highly important ― his whole apparatus of thought is intended exclusively to help him understand this short run. In the long run, he may insist, we are, as Keynes quipped, “all dead”; or he may simply deny that the long run is what we get when we place a series of short runs back to back. The vulgar Keynesian in effect treats living for the moment, and only for it, as a major virtue. At any given time, the future may safely be left to take care of itself.

In fact, the Keynesian-Marxian view of capital is about 180 degrees from the truth:

1. A broad array of capital goods (e.g., metal presses and railroad cars) will produce the same outputs (e.g., auto body parts of a certain quality and a certain number of passenger-miles) despite wide variations in the intelligence, education, and motor skills of their operators.

2. That is to say, capital leverages labor (especially unskilled labor).

3. Rewards justifiably — if unpredictably — flow to those who invent capital goods, innovate improvements in capital goods, invest in the production of such goods, and take the risk of owning businesses that use such goods in the production of consumer goods and services.

4. The activities of those inventors, innovators, investors, and entrepreneurs constitute a form of labor, but it is a very special form. It is not the brute force kind of labor envisaged by Marx and his intellectual progeny. It is a kind of labor that involves mental acuity, special knowledge, a penchant for risk-taking, and — yes, at times — hard work.

Without capital, labor would produce far less than it does. Capital, by the same token, enables labor of a given quality to produce more than it otherwise would.

(By “invest in the production of capital goods,” I mean to include individuals whose saving — whether or not it goes directly into the purchases of stocks and corporate bonds — helps to fund the purchases of capital goods by businesses.)

With that in mind, look at the aggregate relationship between the stock of private non-residential capital and private-sector GDP (GDP – G) for the period 1970-2010:

GDP - G vs net private capital stock, 1970-2010
Notes:  Current-dollar values for GDP and G are from Bureau of Economic Analysis, Table 1.1.5. Gross Domestic Product (available here). Capital stock estimates are from Bureau of Economic Analysis, Table 4.1. Current-Cost Net Stock of Private Nonresidential Fixed Assets by Industry Group and Legal Form of Organization (available here). Current-dollar values for GDP – G and capital stock were adjusted to 1982-84 dollars by constructing and applying deflators from CPI-U statistics for 1913-present (available here).

Variations around the trend line indicate fluctuations in economic activity. I treat the difference between “actual” GDP and the trend line as a residual to be explained by factors other than the aggregate value of the private, nonresidential capital stock. Measures of employment or unemployment will not do the job; they are simply proxies for aggregate output. The best measure that I have found is the value of new investment in the current year, relative to the value of the capital stock at the end of the prior year:

Residual vs new invest per PY capital stock
Notes: Residual GDP – G derived from Fig. 1, as discussed in text. Estimates of new investment in private capital stock are from Bureau of Economic Analysis, Table 4.7. Investment in Private Nonresidential Fixed Assets by Industry Group and Legal Form of Organization (available here); adjusted for inflation as discussed in notes for Fig. 1.

Using the trendline equation from Fig. 2, I adjusted the estimates derived from the trendline equation of Fig. 1, with this result:

Adjusted GDP - G vs. net private capital stock

There is precious little for labor to do but to show up for work and apply itself to the tools provided by capitalism:

Change in priv emply vs change in real GDP

*   *   *

Knowledgeable readers will understand that I have taken some statistical liberties. And I have done so as a way of satirizing the view that prosperity depends on labor and its correlate, consumption spending. But my point is a serious one: Capital should not be denigrated. Those who denigrate it give aid and comfort to the enemies of economic growth, that is, to the “progressives” who are the real enemies of the poor, of labor, and of liberty.

Why Are Interest Rates So Low?

A REISSUE (WITHOUT UPDATES) OF THE ORIGINAL POST DATED DECEMBER 7, 2011

Interest rates reflect the supply of and demand for funds. Money is tighter now than it was in the years immediately before the onset of the Great Recession. Tim Congdon explains:

In the three years to October 2008, the quantity of money soared from $10,032 billion to $14,186 billion, with a compound annual growth rate of just over 12 per cent. The money growth rate in this period was the highest since the early 1970s. Indeed, 1972 and 1973 had many similarities to 2006 and 2007, with bubbling asset markets, buoyant consumer spending and incipient inflationary pressures. On the other hand, in the three years from October 2008 the quantity of money was virtually unchanged. (It stood at $14,340 billion in October 2011.) In other words, in the three years of the Great Recession the quantity of money did not increase at all.

But if money is relatively tight, why are interest rates so low? For example, as of October 2011, year-over-year inflation stood at 3.53 percent (derived from CPI-U estimates, available here). In October, Aaa bond yields averaged 3.98 percent, for a real rate of about 0.4 percent; Baa bond yields averaged 5.37 percent, for a real rate of about 1.8 percent; and conventional mortgages averaged 4.07 percent, for a real rate of about 0.5 percent. By contrast, in 1990-2000, when the CPI-U rose at an annual rate of 3.4 percent, real Aaa, Baa, and conventional mortgage rates hovered in the 4-6 percent range. (Real rates are derived from interest rate statistics available here.)

The reason for these (and other) low rates is that borrowers have become less keen about borrowing; that is, they lack confidence about future prospects for income (in the case of households) and returns on investment (in the case of businesses). Why should that be?

If the post-World War II trend is any indication — and I believe that it is — the American economy is sinking into stagnation. Here is the long view:

  • 1790-1861 — annual growth of 4.1 percent — a booming young economy, probably at its freest
  • 1866-1907 — annual growth of 4.3 percent — a robust economy, fueled by (mostly) laissez-faire policies and the concomitant rise of technological innovation and entrepreneurship
  • 1970-2010 — annual growth of 2.8 percent – sagging under the cumulative weight of “progressivism,” New Deal legislation, LBJ’s “Great Society” (with its legacy of the ever-expanding and oppressive welfare/transfer-payment schemes: Medicare, Medicaid, a more generous package of Social Security benefits), and an ever-growing mountain of regulatory restrictions.

(From this post, as updated in this one.)

And here is the post-World War II view:

Annual change in real GDP 1948-2011

This trend cannot be reversed by infusions of “stimulus spending” or “quantitative easing.” It reflects an underlying problem that cannot be cured by those simplistic macroeconomic “fixes.”

The underlying problem is not “tight money,” it is that American businesses are rightly pessimistic about an economic future that is dominated by a mountain of debt (in the form of promised “entitlements”) and by an ever-growing regulatory burden. Thus business investment has been a decline fraction of private-sector GDP:

Non-household GPDI fraction GDP - G
Derived from Bureau of Economic Analysis, Table 1.1.5. Gross Domestic Product (available here). The numerator is gross private domestic investment (GPDI, line 7) less the residential portion (line 12). The denominator is GDP (line 1) less government consumption expenditures and gross investment (line 21).

As long as business remains (rightly) pessimistic about the twin burdens of debt and regulation, the economy will sink deeper into stagnation. The only way to overcome that pessimism is to scale back “entitlements” and regulations, and to do so promptly and drastically.

In sum, the present focus on — and debate about — conventional macroeconomic “fixes” (fiscal vs. monetary policy) is entirely misguided. Today’s economists and policy-makers should consult Hayek, not Keynes or Friedman or their intellectual descendants. If economists and policy-makers would would read and heed Hayek — the Hayek of 1944 onward, in particular — they would understand that our present and future economic morass is entirely political in origin: Failed government policies have led to more failed government policies, which have shackled both the economy and the people.

Economic and political freedoms are indivisible. It will take the repeal of the regulatory-welfare state to restore prosperity and liberty to the land.

The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union

As empires die, the barbarians usually gather at the gates, preparing a final rush. Unfortunately our savages are already inside. They are in the public schools, the universities, and downtown in the cities. They make our movies, set social policy from afar, instill appropriate values in our children. They do not know that they are savages. They now rule us, and there is nothing we can do about it.

Except watch. Vast disasters make splendid theater. This one is going to be a doozy.

— Fred Reed (Nekkid in Austin, iUniverse, 2002)

Reed is right. He must be right because he agrees with me about America’s future. (See “Well-Founded Pessimism” and “America: Past, Present, and Future.”) Reed also agrees with me about the causes of that future.

Some would say that “we” have done it to ourselves. But that is wrong. The truth is that some of “us” have done it to the rest of “us.”

Who are the doers? Reed gets it partly right, but he (like most social observers) overlooks the “secret” ingredient: leftist lying and treachery. (Though he is alert and scathing about one of its powerful instruments: political correctness.*)

Leftists lie to themselves and to others. The purpose of these lies is to advance collectivism, and to do so at the expense of America’s economic and military security.

By collectivism, I mean not just the obvious things (e.g., government control of the economy, income redistribution). Collectivism also embraces forced egalitarianism, regardless of differences in ability, skill, and effort — and to the detriment of freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights.

As for the willingness (eagerness) of leftists to forgo economic and military security, consider just a few examples: It is the left that opposes free trade. It is the left that constantly calls for higher taxes on “the rich,” to punish success and deter growth-producing investments. It was the left that sniveled about Reagan’s “dangerous and provocative” arms buildup — the buildup that brought the USSR to its knees. It is the left that, since the “McGovern revolution” of 1972 has turned the Democrat Party into a party of military weakness and appeasement — appeasement of Soviet and Chinese Communism, of Islamic terrorism, and of any other “ism” but American patriotism.

Leftists lie to themselves (engage in magical thinking) in order to justify (to themselves and the gullible) their upside-down woldview. Thus, for example, they embrace the pseudo-sciences of climatology and macroeconomics, which justify costly and aggrandizing state action (e.g., limitations on the use of fossil fuels, the conscription of scarce resources by government in the name of “stimulus”). Perhaps the biggest lie that leftists tell themselves is that they really believe in collectivism and egalitarianism, when they patently do not.

Leftists lie to others — usually deploying the lies they tell themselves  — in order to advance egalitarian collectivism and weaken America. There are the straightforward lies about policy matters as the need to combat man-made global warming by adopting expensive and inefficient “solutions” (think “green” energy, for example), and the effectiveness of “stimulus” spending. Beyond that, there are hoaxes and the Big LIe about Communism, the effects of which burden America more than two decades after the purported demise of Communism. (Note to reader: Hitler, inventor of the Big Lie, was a leftist — not a demented conservative, as later Big Liars would have you believe.)

Before I elaborate on the Big Lie and its accompanying treachery, I will set the stage by say a bit about a kind of “little lie” that appeals to leftists: the hoax.

What kind of political gain accrues to a hoax? Sympathy for a favored “minority group” — usually blacks, women, and persons suffering from real or feigned gender confusion. Beyond sympathy, of course, there is the hope of favored treatment through changes in social norms, forced and reinforced by codes of conduct, and statutes. Favored treatment means more-than-equal treatment for a “minority group” and less-than-equal treatment for persons not in the “minority group” — for example, the erosion of rights (property, speech, and association), and the loss of jobs, promotions, and university admissions.

Prominent, politically inspired/exploited hoaxes of recent times include:

  • The “rape” of Tawana Brawley, a black female
  • The fatal beating of Matthew Shepard, supposedly because of his homosexuality (more here)
  • The “rape” of a black female members of Duke University’s lacrosse team

What about the Big Lie? Well, the aim is the same: to twist the truth and advance the left’s domestic agenda:

the repudiation of ordered liberty of the kind that arises from evolved social norms, and the replacement of that liberty by sugar-coated oppression. The bread and circuses of imperial Rome have nothing on Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, Obamacare, and the many other forms of personal and corporate welfare that are draining America of its wealth and élan. All of that “welfare” has been bought at the price of economic and social liberty (which are indivisible). (For a broad enumeration, see this post.)

In foreign affairs, the left’s agenda is the erosion of America’s military and economic might, because (insert one or more of the following morally relativistic-politically “realistic” positions):

  • No other country [at present] poses a military challenge to the U.S. [As if this were a permanent condition which would survive prolonged decimation of America’s armed forces.]
  • it is wrong for America to attack other countries. [Always? Even when those other countries are hotbeds of terrorism?]
  • Other countries (e.g., Iran) ought to have nuclear weapons if they want them; after all, the U.S. has them. [Well, why didn’t we offer the A-bomb to Japan instead of using it to end World War II and save millions of lives?]
  • America is nothing special and doesn’t deserve to be stronger and richer than other countries. [Easily said when you are protected by America’s strength and benefit from its quasi-free and still potent economic system, but would you really weaken and impoverish America — and yourself — just to be “no better” than, say, a sub-Saharan country?]
  • “We” must rely in international institutions instead of being the word’s policeman and/or bully. [Rely on ‘international institutions’ even if they are controlled by states that wish ill on America, states that promote ideals other than America’s (professed) ones of liberty and equality of opportunity.
  • The inevitable “convergence” of Communism and capitalism will lead America down the path of socialism and accommodation with the USSR, so we might as well relax and enjoy it.

Reasonable people may disagree about the necessary size and shape of America’s defenses. Reasonable people may disagree about the wisdom of a particular military operation. Reasonable people may disagree about the threat posed by Iran. But reasonable people will not hold the preceding convictions as absolutely and fervently as they are held by leftists, without regard for the facts or the consequences for the liberty and prosperity of Americans.

For decades, the left indulged in one of its biggest Big Lies — a lie perpetrated with the clear purpose of fostering collectivism and military weakness — anti-anti-Communism:

… Whittaker Chambers experienced this [Big Lie] at its punishing extreme. Chambers, probably the most famous American ex-Communist ever, was a former courier for Soviet military intelligence, subsequently an editor at Time magazine, and, in passing, curiously, the English translator of the 1923 Austrian novel Bambi, which became the 1942 Disney cartoon. His exceedingly wise decision to retain hard evidence attesting to his espionage work in the 1930s helped convict, most sensationally, Alger Hiss— the Ivy-educated, well-connected former State Department official and progenitor of the United Nations, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and all-around poster boy of the Liberal Establishment. Starting in 1950, Hiss served four years in jail for perjury charges related to Soviet espionage.

Then what happened? Did a thankful President Truman crown Chambers in laurels and congratulate him on behalf of a grateful nation for exposing a Communist conspiracy metastasizing at the highest levels of the federal government?

Never has a simple “no” been less adequate…. At one point in his testimonial [Witness], Chambers encapsulates the physics of anti-anti-Communism this way: “I had been warned repeatedly that the brunt of official wrath was directed, not against Alger Hiss as a danger, but against me for venturing to testify to the danger.”

It bears restating: Officialdom was enraged not by the danger posed by Hiss, a Soviet military intelligence agent “continuously since 1935,” but by Chambers for testifying to the danger….

… When did anti-Communism itself— the philosophical and political drive against state domination of the individual— become a radioactive inheritance of perceived bigotry and mass hysteria to be passed down, gingerly, generation to generation? …

The so-called McCarthy Era is the obvious place to search for answers, since the narrative we can all recite tells us that the Red-hunting Republican senator from Wisconsin was himself singlehandedly responsible for the evisceration of ideological opposition to Communism— anti-Communism— rendering said anti-Communism into a kind of disease. The remedy was said to be a steadying dose of anti-anti-Communism, despite the often heavy pro-Communist side effects. McCarthy accomplished all of this, the same narrative goes, with his crude zealotry and wild overreach, hectoring and destroying American innocents who had the misfortune to be dragged before his investigatory Senate committee for nothing. “Name one Communist or Soviet agent ever identified by McCarthy,” goes the perpetual challenge to this day, regardless of evidence from both Soviet and American archives that corroborate FBI reports, sworn testimonies, and other facts amassed in support of innumerable McCarthy investigations into the Soviet penetration of the federal government…. (Diana West, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character, St. Martin’s Press, 2013**)

What was the Big Lie of anti-anti-Communism? The story line went like this: Communism stands for a noble ideal (regardless of what Communism invariably looks like in practice), and the Soviet Union’s expansionism is merely defensive. Any criticism of the Soviet Union — including criticism of its espionage and infiltration of the U.S. government — is therefore bad. Anti-Soviet (anti-Communist) views must therefore be discredited.

This story line was advanced by Communist agents working inside the U.S. government, with the help of the usual suspects: academics, show-biz types (with a few notable and ostracized exceptions), and politicians and bureaucrats — many of whom agreed with the story line and others of whom sought election and advancement by placating the left and, at the same time, adopting the “sophisticated” posture of moral relativism and political realism.

By 1995, when the collectivist cause needed no special protection — having advanced from FDR’s New Deal to LBJ’s Great Society, and having been consolidated in the years since — the U.S. government finally released materials amassed by the Venona project,

a long-running secret collaboration of the United States and United Kingdom intelligence agencies involving cryptanalysis of messages sent by intelligence agencies of the Soviet Union, the majority of them during World War II….

During the initial years of the Cold War, the Venona project was a source of information on Soviet intelligence-gathering activity that was directed at the Western military powers. Although unknown to the public, and even to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, these programs were of importance concerning crucial events of the early Cold War….

… Sometime in 1945, the existence of the Venona program was revealed to the Soviet Union by the NKVD agent and United States Army SIGINT analyst and cryptologist Bill Weisband….

To what extent the various individuals were involved with Soviet intelligence is a topic of dispute. While a number of academics and historians assert that most of the individuals mentioned in the Venona decrypts were most likely either clandestine assets and/or contacts of Soviet intelligence agents, others argue that many of those people probably had no malicious intentions and committed no crimes [emphasis added].

Well, of course, “many of those people” were innocent. But many were not. Among the many non-innocents:

And that’s just a sample of a long list of known Soviet agents. Did you notice the presence on the list of the Rosenbergs, as well as a large number of government officials (Alger Hiss among them)? Protestations and “proof” of the innocence of the Rosenbergs, Hiss, and others were key components of the Big anti-anti-Communist Lie.

America’s hollow victory in the Cold War brought with it the end of anti-Communism and anti-anti-Communism as political preoccupations. But the Big Lie lives on, in the service of a collectivist and weak America. How could that have happened if America “won” the Cold War? The bitter truth is that every living person of influence in the U.s. was raised during the reign of the Big (anti-anti-Communist) Lie or in the succeeding generations that were (and are) dominated “educators” who persist unto this day in spreading  the gospel of collectivism at home and weakness abroad. (It is not a sign of strength to kill a few terrorists at long distance with armed drones or to back with words and deeds the efforts of anti-American insurgents aiming to replace one kind of tyranny with their own.)

The lamentable truth is that America’s political elites, their enablers in the academy and the media, their financial backers, and their constituents and dupes (the “masses”) have together succeeded in yoking America with “soft” despotism:

Soft despotism is simply a more polite term than fascism (or socialism) for pervasive government control of our affairs:

Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by “a network of small complicated rules” might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called ‘hard despotism’) in the sense that it is not obvious to the people. Soft despotism gives people the illusion that they are in control, when in fact they have very little influence over their government. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Soft despotism is “soft” only in that citizens aren’t dragged from their houses at night and executed for imaginary crimes against the state — though they are hauled into court for not wearing seatbelts, for smoking in bars, and for various other niggling offenses to the sensibilities of nanny-staters.

Despite the absence of arbitrary physical punishment, soft despotism is despotism, period. It can be nothing but despotism when the state holds sway over your paycheck, your retirement plan, your medical care, your choice of associates, and thousands of other details of your life — from the drugs you may not buy to the kind of car you can’t drive, from where you can build a house to the features that your house must include.

“Soft despotism,” in other words, is too soft a term for the regime under which we live. I therefore agree with Tom Smith: “Fascism” is a good descriptor of our present condition, so I’ll continue to use it.

Consider Obamacare, which — unlike Hillarycare — may survive:

When Obama was campaigning on behalf of his health care law one mantra was repeated ad nauseam: If you like your current plan, you can keep it. To put it gently, this hasn’t turned out to be the case, as more and more employers are opting to drop health coverage for their employees, pushing them onto the insurance exchanges…. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Instead of subsidizing retiree health premiums directly, IBM will give retirees an annual contribution via a health retirement account that they can use to buy Medicare Advantage plans and supplemental Medicare policies on the exchange, as well as pay for other medical expenses. Retirees who don’t enroll in a plan through Extend Health won’t receive the subsidy. […]

Few employees can now count on big companies to provide retirement health care. Only 28% of large companies that offer health benefits to employees offered retiree coverage in 2013, down from 34% in 2006 and 66% in 1988, according to a 2013 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This is huge. Far from being a status quo law, Obamacare has become a weapon of mass destruction against traditional employer plans…. (“Obamacare Is Destroying Employer-Based Health Plans,” Via Media, September 9, 2013)

Anyone who knew anything about the likely effects of Obamacare knew that it was sold with this purpose in mind: To undermine employer-based plans and, thus, to garner support for single-payer (i.e., government-provided) health insurance. That, in turn, would practically complete government’s takeover of health care in the U.S., given its control of everything else involved in health care through regulation and the power over providers that accompanies Medicare and Medicaid. (This, too, probably shall not pass.)

And healthcare is but one aspect of an economy that has been commandeered by government spending and regulation, in the name of and for “the people.” For it is well known that most Americans oppose government spending and regulation, in the abstract, while supporting those very things when push comes to shove. (See, for example, this and this.)

Not that the state of the economy will matter much when America is no longer able to effectively defend its citizens and their legitimate overseas interests:

… The fate of the free world no longer rests with the US. It now rests with Putin. He and the mullahs in Iran, presented with the spectacle of the preening narcissist in the White House gazing in rapt adoration at his own reflection, are surely laughing fit to bust.

And why shouldn’t the First Narcissist preen? For he has achieved precisely what he wanted, his true goal that I described in this blog when Obama first ran for President: to extend the reach of the state over peoples’ lives at home, to emasculate the power of America abroad, and to make the free white world the slave of those he falsely characterised as the victims of that white world’s oppression…. (Melanie Phillips, “Putin Checkmates America,” Melanie’s Blog, September 15, 2013)

(Norman Podhoretz delivers a more elaborate version of Phillips’s thesis at “Obama’s Successful Foreign Failure,” The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2013.)

And the Big Lie continues, transmogrified from anti-anti-Communism to anti-anti-Islamism:

[S]hortly after 9/11, a time when some among us were beginning to realize that what we were all hearing 24/7 on cable, on NPR, in The New York Times, from all the experts … was out of sync with what we were watching before our eyes. In other words, the narrative—“ Islam is peace”— was not supported by the evidence: Islam is violence. Islam is slavery (Sudan). Islam is forced conversion (Egypt). Islam is child rape (Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, South Yorkshire, too). Islam is pillage (Somalia). Islam is religious cleansing (Iraq). Islam is death for apostasy (Swat Valley, Harvard University, too8). Islam is censorship (everywhere). Islam is conquest (Cyprus, Israel, Kosovo, Philippines, the 751 government-ID’d no-go zones of France). Such fact-based observations, of course, trigger charges of that sin of sins—“ Islamophobia” (“ racism” being its domestic twin)— but does mere name-calling (“ Islamophobe”) make these serious crimes and their real victims go away? In our world, yes. Over nearly a century of Big Lies we have learned to discount fact and disable logic. As in a frustration dream, the crimes, the victims, and their suffering vanish in today’s magic word, “Islamophobia.” What remains— slanderous allegations of “prejudice,” permanent brands of “bias”— triggers the revulsion reflex in the postmodern brain, still programmed to be vigilant against racism, lynch mobs, the KKK, and the like.

Extant or not, functional or not, these usually faux stimuli create outrage Islam exploits as “Islamophobia.” … This pattern is very old. In pre-McCarthy times, the all-powerful word that stopped the logic process cold was “Red-baiter.” …

… Islam, we are told, has nothing to do with anything bad. How could it? Islam means “peace,” said the forty-third president of the United States. No, in fact, Islam means “submission.” There’s a huge difference, and it explains why Islam celebrated the fall of the Twin Towers in Gaza, Kabul, and Queens. Dhimmitude, already evident in our society, goes a long way to explain why we didn’t dare show that we had noticed.

What we were witnessing was the marshaling forces of the latest, greatest Big Lie…. I saw how … this Big Lie was actively pressed on us by cadres of agents of Islam and their own armies of useful fools: members of the Muslim Brotherhood fobbed off as advocates of a pluralistic, American Islam, the Iran Lobby, Saudi princelings, the international Islamic bloc now known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Bush administration, the Obama administration, practically anyone on a TV soundstage. All “reasonable people,” they peddled the same Big Lie: Islam is a religion of peace.

The history of the decade that followed, then, became a stuttering story of mongrel words and phrases (from “Islamofascism” to “violent extremism”) and morphing suffixes (“ ist,” “ism”). It was a time of now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t terminology (jihad, jihadist, sharia, mujahideen, shahid, taqqiyya, jizya, caliphate). Apt phrases became verboten (“ Islamic terrorism,” “Muslim violence,” “Islamic jihad”), as did concepts uniquely or characteristically Islamic: religious supremacism, censorship, slavery, pederasty, “honor killings,” “grooming,” and totalitarianism, among others. We may have intuited that “apostasy” did not go out with Galileo, and that beheadings did not end with the French Revolution, but  … Islam is a religion of peace. The real threat, we decided to believe, or thought we had no choice but to believe (or just didn’t think), is “violent extremism.”…

Limiting our brains to this empty phrase, however, has done extreme violence to our thought processes…. After all, if the problem is “violent extremism,” what’s the problem? Have a nice flight….

Islam is the totalitarian threat of today. However, because we continue the “deceit and double-speak” we adopted in response to Communism, we are unable to deal with the new threat— the new Communism of today. We deal with Islam the same way we dealt with Communism: Having been subverted and undermined, we apologize and converge.

As [Geert] Wilders asked, What is wrong with modern Western man? Did something happen to him? I think the answer is yes: Communism happened to him. Solomon aside, there was something novel under the Communist sun; under the shorter-lived Nazi sun, too. In his 1998 book Century of Horrors: Communism, Nazism, and the Uniqueness of the Shoah, Alain Besançon explains what that was: “Communism and Nazism set out to change something more fundamental than mores— that is, the very rule of morality, of our sense of good and evil. And in this, they committed acts unknown in prior human experience.”

And in this, our world was transformed….

Where “good” and “evil” are old-fashioned and laughable (and bracketed by quotation marks), moral relativism takes hold— Lenin’s universal legacy. Solzhenitsyn wondered what would happen next: “But if we are to be deprived of the concepts of good and evil, what will be left? Nothing but the manipulation of each other.”

The manipulation of each other through the manipulation of narratives….

… All these decades later, no one wants information or to open their eyes to the Muslim Brotherhood’s self-described “civilization jihad,” either. It hurts our heads. It exhausts our limited lexicon of ideology…. (Diana West, op. cit.)

*     *     *

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the ascendancy of FDR, his “Brain Trust,” and the New Deal. It is an anniversary to be mourned, not celebrated. Mourned because it means that Americans’ prosperity and liberty have been eroded and imperiled by eight decades of leftist lies and treachery.

Thus the land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of the handout-seeker and the home of the appeaser. That is the unfortunate state of the Union in 2013.

*     *     *

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
M. Stanton Evans, “In Defense of Diana West,” cnsnews.com, September 13, 2013

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Course of the Mainstream
FDR and Fascism
An FDR Reader
The People’s Romance
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Fascism
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Is Statism Inevitable?
Inventing “Liberalism”
The Shape of Things to Come
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
Is Liberty Possible?
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Where We Are, Economically
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Obamanomics: A Report Card
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Well-Founded Pessimism
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
America: Past, Present, and Future
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy
__________
* From Fred Reed (op. cit.):

Feminists wanted congress to pass a vast program of funding for every left-wing cause that incited enthusiasm in the sterile nests of NOW. They called it the Violence Against Women Act, and men deferentially gave it to them. Of course to vote against it, no matter what it actually said (and almost no one knew) would have been to seem to favor violence against women. A law to exterminate orphans, if called the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, would pass without demur.

There followed yet more male deference to female desires. When women wanted to go into the military to have babies, or a Soldier Experience, men couldn’t bring themselves to say no.

When the women couldn’t perform as soldiers, men graciously lowered standards so they could appear to. It was the equivalent of helping a woman over a log in the park, the legal and institutional parallel of murmuring, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about a thing.”

On and on it went. The aggregate effect has been that women have gained real power, while (or by) managing in large part to continue to exact deference and, crucially, to avoid the accountability that should come with power. A minor example is women who want the preferential treatment that women now enjoy, and yet expect men to pay for their dates. In today’s circumstances, this is simple parasitism.

Today men are accountable for their behavior. Women are not. The lack of accountability, seldom clearly recognized, is the bedrock of much of today’s feminist misbehavior, influence, and politics. Its pervasiveness is worth pondering.

** West’s book is controversial — to put it mildly — even among conservatives. Key charges and counter-charges about American Betrayal can be found here:

Ronald Radosh, “McCarthy on Steroids,” FrontPage Mag, August 7, 2013

John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, “Was Harry Hopkins a Soviet Spy?,” FrontPage Mag, August 16, 2013

Diana West, “Published: The Rebuttal in Three Parts [links provided],” dianawest.net, September 10, 2013

West’s style — breathless, repetitive, discursive, often logic-challenged — should not blind you to the essence of her argument, which I have tried to capture in the quotations from her book. Read American Betrayal, read the entries in the debate, consult your own knowledge of America’s past 80 years (if you have much knowledge of those times), and judge for yourself. But don’t commit what I call the fallacy of particularism, which is to discredit an entire thesis because the supporting argument is incorrect in some particulars. (That’s how O.J. got off: “If it [a glove left near the murder scene] doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”) West may not be right about every detail; she has, in my estimation, got the big picture right. For example, even if West is wrong in her assertion that FDR’s right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, was a Soviet agent, she is right about his baleful influence on the foreign and domestic policies of the U.S. government. And his influence lives on.

Annoyances

A curmudgeon (of which caste I am a member), makes it the work of a lifetime to eschew social intercourse that doesn’t derive from an emotional, intellectual, or transactional relationship. Among the many kinds of social intercourse that I strive to avoid are these:

  1. Junk mail
  2. Junk calls
  3. E-mail spam
  4. Blog spam.

The volume of junk mail has declined markedly in recent years, thanks to the internet. The remnant is easily dealt with: I throw it out.

I long ago brought junk calls under control by (a) monitoring incoming calls, (b) letting most of them go to my answering machine, and (c) using a call blocker to prevent recurring calls from solicitors, political campaigns, and other pestilences.

E-mail spam became so annoying at a former e-mail address that I changed my address, with excellent results.

My blog has no comment spam because I don’t allow comments. But despite countermeasures against trackback spam, I have been unable to eliminate it on a few posts. I’m not content to delete it; I want to prevent it. Like junk mail, junk calls, and other forms of spam, trackback spam is an offense against civilization, and those who emit it should be boiled in oil.

Why do I continue to receive trackback spam on a few posts, and what will I do about it? I suspect that spammers infected those posts while they were open to trackbacks; that is, the spammers implanted code that enables them to continue to post trackback spam despite my countermeasures against it. So here’s what I will do about it: Reissue the infected posts using new, uninfected text and images. (Stay tuned for three See the four old/new posts in the coming days dated September 19, 2013.)

Will that work? I fervently hope so, because I like spam about as much as I like cockroaches. The only good cockroach is a dead one. The only good spammer is one who has been drawn, quartered, and bludgeoned.

Next on my coping menu: Austin’s drivers, and bicyclists who insist on acting as if roads were built for them. I can’t avoid driving, so I can’t avoid other drivers and bicyclists. Perhaps I shall buy a tank.

After that? “I’ve Got a Little List.”

September 11 — A Roundup

Some previous posts about 9/11, its roots, and its politics:

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown

Prologue

This is about the broader implications of the riotous reaction of Muslims to cartoons that ran in a Danish newspaper last October. For the full story, with commentary and plenty of relevant links, go to Michelle Malkin’s blog and start with her post of January 30, “Support Denmark: Why the Forbidden Cartoons Matter,” then read on to the present.

My jumping-off point is this kind of news:

Protesters in Pakistan Target West

LAHORE, Pakistan – Thousands of protesters rampaged through two cities Tuesday, storming into a diplomatic district and torching Western businesses and a provincial assembly in Pakistan’s worst violence against the Prophet Muhammad drawings, officials said. At least two people were killed and 11 injured.

Three Killed in Massive Cartoon Protests

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Gunfire and rioting erupted Wednesday as tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Pakistan’s third straight day of violent protests over the Prophet Muhammad cartoons. Three people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy.

The second story continues with this:

The European Union condemned both the cartoons, first printed in a Danish newspaper in September, and what it called “systematic incitement to violence” against European diplomatic missions by some unidentified governments.

Bruce Bawer has more about European groveling, and isolated acts of courage, here. Michelle Malkin has plenty to say about the groveling of major American media outlets at her blog (e.g., here). A recent story from the zone of political correctness the academy, reports the suspension of the editors of the Daily Illini (the “independent” student newspaper of the University of Illinois) for having reproduced the cartoons.

The reactions on the part of the EU, much of America’s press, and (I safely assert) most of academia are manifestations of a widespread urge to appease fanatical Islam, about which appeasement I will say more later in this post.

I write here without animus toward Islam, as a religion. My attitude toward Islam as a cultural amalgam of the religious and the social is expressed ably by Occam’s Carbuncle:

. . . What little I know of [Islam] isn’t very appealing at all. It’s rather medieval if you ask me. Not that I hate Muslims. . . . I just don’t care. . . . I don’t believe what they believe and I’m not about to start. Ever. More importantly, I will read what I want to read and I will express myself as I see fit, not within the strictures of Sharia [the code of law based on the Koran], but according to my rights as a citizen of a liberal democracy. That means Muslims do not have the right to impose upon me their own views of what is or is not proper, what is or is not sacrilege or blasphemy. . . . They may not damage my property or my person as reprisal for anything I might say or write. They may express themselves as freely as I. They may insult me. They may shun me. They might even consider ignoring me. But they may not threaten me. They may not do harm in furtherance of the precepts of their religion, just as I may not do harm to show my objection to their dogma.

The following concepts are central to my analysis of Islamic culture, as a force in the affairs of the world:

Despair: To be overcome by a sense of futility or defeat.

Paranoia: Extreme, irrational distrust of others.

Now, on with the post.

Executive Summary

A sense of futility or defeat can be inflicted upon a people by its enemies, or it can be self-inflicted by the culture of the people. A mass culture that prizes mysticism at the expense of rationality and industriousness will, if only subconsciously, come to envy cultures that profit from rationality and industriousness. But the people of the mystical culture will disavow their envy, because to do so would be to admit the inferiority of their culture. They will, instead, take the paranoid view that their backwardness is somehow caused by other cultures — cultures that are “out to get them.” This paranoia focuses the despair of the backward culture, so that its emerges in the form of rage against the culture’s supposed enemies.

The paranoid leaders of a paranoid culture pose an especial danger because of their ability to marshal weapons of mass destruction, and to deploy those weapons in a “righteous” war. In the case of Islamic paranoia, the handwriting is on the wall — and writ in blood.

The West can either act to prevent repititions of 9/11, Madrid, and London — on a larger scale — or it can do nothing and, in doing nothing, invite the conflagration. The choice is nigh. The will to act is in doubt.

Islam: A Culture of Despair and Paranoia

I am struck by the similarity of the Muslim riots — in France last year and in the Middle East this year — to the riots in the “ghettos” of Detroit, Los Angeles, etc. Those riots, like the Muslim ones, were sparked by specific events (e.g., the murder of MLK Jr. and the beating of Rodney King). But those sparks caused explosions because they touched the volatile fuel of desperation.

Whence that fuel? It is created by the chronic illness of the underlying culture. A chronically ill person experiences stress because of his inability to function normally. Prolonged stress can lead to frustration, anger, hopelessness, and, at times, depression. The chronic, self-generated illness of the Muslim culture is similar to that of the black and white “redneck” culture:

There have always been large disparities, even within the native black population of the U.S. Those blacks whose ancestors were “free persons of color” in 1850 have fared far better in income, occupation, and family stability than those blacks whose ancestors were freed in the next decade by Abraham Lincoln.

What is not nearly as widely known is that there were also very large disparities within the white population of the pre-Civil War South and the white population of the Northern states. Although Southern whites were only about one-third of the white population of the U.S., an absolute majority of all the illiterate whites in the country were in the South. . . .

Disparities between Southern whites and Northern whites extended across the board from rates of violence to rates of illegitimacy. American writers from both the antebellum South and the North commented on the great differences between the white people in the two regions. So did famed French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville.

None of these disparities can be attributed to either race or racism. . . . The people who settled in the South came from different regions of Britain than the people who settled in the North–and they differed as radically on the other side of the Atlantic as they did here–that is, before they had ever seen a black slave.

Slavery also cannot explain the difference between American blacks and West Indian blacks living in the United States because the ancestors of both were enslaved. When race, racism, and slavery all fail the empirical test, what is left?

Culture is left.

The culture of the people who were called “rednecks” and “crackers” before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity. That culture had its own way of talking, not only in the pronunciation of particular words but also in a loud, dramatic style of oratory with vivid imagery, repetitive phrases and repetitive cadences.

Although that style originated on the other side of the Atlantic in centuries past, it became for generations the style of both religious oratory and political oratory among Southern whites and among Southern blacks–not only in the South but in the Northern ghettos in which Southern blacks settled. . . .

The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today’s ghettos is regarded by many as the only “authentic” black culture–and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct. (Thomas Sowell, at OpinionJournal, paraphrasing his essay “Black Rednecks and White Liberals,” from the eponymous book.)

Islamic culture, broadly speaking, seems much like redneck culture in its preference for mysticism or ritual over rationality and industriousness — as well as in its attitude toward women. The adherents of an irrational, indolent culture who have any exposure to other cultures must know that their culture holds them back materially, and that they would be better off if they were to adopt the rational and industrious ways of other cultures. (The closely held wealth of the oil sheikhs has nothing to do with Islam; it is a fortuitous artifact of the geology of the Middle East and the industry of the West.) But to adopt the ways of wealthier cultures is to admit the shortcomings of one’s own culture — and to break with one’s family, friends, and authority figures.

Thus the adherents of the backward culture remain mired in their self-inflicted despair and, instead of blaming themselves and their culture for their backwardness, they blame the outsiders whose relative success they envy. And when their despair erupts in rage it is (in the paranoid view) legitimate to attack the blameworthy — “city folk,” “honkies,” Korean and Jewish merchants, “infidels,” and so on — because they are responsible for keeping us down.

Islamic Paranoia Writ Large

Paranoia is bad enough when it motivates (sometimes organized) mobs to kill, plunder, and destroy. Paranoia is far worse when it motivates leaders who command (or seek to command) the technology of mass destruction — leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, bin Laden, and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad is perhaps best known to Americans for his “alleged” involvement in the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979 and for his utterances about the United States and Israel; for example:

The establishment of the occupying regime of Qods [Jerusalem]was a major move by the world oppressor [the United States] against the Islamic world. . . .

The Palestinian nation represents the Islamic nation [Umma] against a system of oppression, and thank God, the Palestinian nation adopted Islamic behavior in an Islamic environment in their struggle and so we have witnessed their progress and success. . . .

Our dear Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] said that the occupying regime [Israel] must be wiped off the map and this was a very wise statement. We cannot compromise over the issue of Palestine. Is it possible to create a new front in the heart of an old front. This would be a defeat and whoever accepts the legitimacy of this regime [Israel] has in fact, signed the defeat of the Islamic world. Our dear Imam targeted the heart of the world oppressor in his struggle, meaning the occupying regime. I have no doubt that the new wave that has started in Palestine, and we witness it in the Islamic world too, will eliminate this disgraceful stain from the Islamic world. But we must be aware of tricks.

For over 50 years the world oppressor tried to give legitimacy to the occupying regime and it has taken measures in this direction to stabilize it. . . .

Recently they [the Israelis] tried a new trick. They want to show the evacuation from the Gaza strip, which was imposed on them by Palestinians [oh, really?], as a final victory for the Palestinians and end the issue of Palestine. . . .

I warn all leaders of the Islamic world that they should be aware of this trick. Anyone who recognizes this regime [Israel] because of the pressure of the World oppressor, or because of naiveté or selfishness, will be eternally disgraced and will burn in the fury of the Islamic nations. (From a speech given in Tehran, Iran, on October 16, 2005, to an Islamic Student Associations conference on “The World Without Zionism.”)

The Culture Clash and the Final Showdown

Ahmadinejad, like bin Laden, whips despair into rage, a rage that is aimed at the imagined “enemies” of Islam. Bin Laden, of course, has succeeded in turning some of those imagined enemies into real ones by attacking them. Ahmadinejad seems bent on following bin Laden’s lead, but on a larger scale.

It is too late to appease such fanatics — much as some Westerners would like to try appeasement — because The West (the United States, in particular) has “insulted” Islamic fanatics in three fundamental ways: by the creation of Israel, by the “exploitation” of the Middle East’s geology, and by the defense of Israel and those Middle Eastern governments that permit the “exploitation.” Given that history, the only way to appease paranoid Islamists is for Americans to don the raiment of mystical asceticism, which might appeal to a select circle of self-flagellants, but to very few others of us.

What I am saying, really, is that a final showdown with fundamentalist Islam is inevitable. Most Americans did not understand the inevitability of that showdown until September 11, 2001 — and many Americans (including most “intellectuals” and many politicians who should know better) still refuse to acknowledge the significance of that day’s events. The doubters seem to be trapped in 1938, waiting for the UN or a Democrat president to announce “peace in our time,” or in 1939-40, unwilling to believe that America could be the target of a fanatical ideology.

It is futile to hope that hard-core Islam can be deflected through political correctness (e.g., banning speech that might offend Muslims), diplomatic maneuverings, support for dissidents, or other such transparently weak responses to aggression, terrorism, and the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, such responses are worse than futile; they encourge what they seek to discourage because they display weakness — just as displays of weakness on the part of the United States from 1979 onward encouraged the events of September 11, 2001.

The next stage of the showdown, if it is allowed to happen, will come when al Qaeda (or one of its ilk) acquires and uses weapons of mass destruction in Europe or the United States. The following stage of the showdown, if it is allowed to come to that, will come when Iran acquires nuclear weapons.

I repeat: The question is not whether those events will happen, but when they will happen if they are not thwarted by intelligence-gathering, clandestine operations, conventional military operations, and massive strikes against hard military targets (including nuclear “power” facilities). Force is the only thing that will stop Islamic fanatics; force is the only response that they will heed — just as the Japanese, fanatical as they were, had no choice in the end but to abandon their fanatical ways.

It Is a Question of Will

We had better get used to that idea that war is the answer, and see to it that adequate force is used, sooner rather than later. Those who would use force against us will heed only force. Whether, in defeat, they will respect us or “merely” fear us is irrelevant. We are not engaged in a popularity contest, we are engaged in a clash of civilizations, which Norman Podhoretz rightly calls World War IV.

On our present political course, however, we will suffer grave losses before we get serious about winning that war. The Left (or the Opposition, as I now call it), seems insensitive to the danger that faces us. The voices of doubt and division are many and loud. They range from librarians, academicians and celebrities (too numerous to link), and hypocrites in the media to former vice president Gore and many current members of Congress (e.g., these), some of whom would prefer to impeach President Bush for defending us through a constitutional surveillance program than face up to the enemy without. Their preferred vision of government — strength at home and weakness in foreign affairs — is precisely opposite the vision of the Framers of the Constitution.

Ben Shapiro goes too far in suggesting “that Congress ought to revivify sedition prosecutions,” but he is right about the likely effect of the Opposition’s outpourings; for example:

Let us consider . . . the probable consequences of Gore’s mea culpa [before a Saudi audience] on behalf of the “majority” of his countrymen. No doubt his words will fuel the massive tide of propaganda spewing forth from Muslim dictatorships around the globe. No doubt his words will be used to bolster the credibility of horrific disinformation like the Turkish-made, Gary-Busey-and-Billy Zane-starring monstrosity “Valley of the Wolves: Iraq,” which accuses American troops of war atrocities and depicts a Jewish-American doctor (Busey) slicing organs out of Arab victims and shipping the body parts off to New York, London and Israel. No doubt Gore’s speech will precipitate additional violence against Americans in Iraq and around the globe.

(Not to mention the media’s constant re-hashing of Abu Ghraib.)

Thomas Sowell, as usual, gets to the heart of the matter:

With Iran advancing step by step toward nuclear weapons, while the Europeans wring their hands and the United Nations engages in leisurely discussion, this squeamishness about tapping terrorists’ phone contacts in the United States is grotesque.

Has anyone been paying attention to the audacity of the terrorists? Some in the media seem mildly amused that Palestinian terrorists are threatening Denmark because of editorial cartoons that they found offensive.

Back in the 1930s, some people were amused by Hitler, whose ideas were indeed ridiculous, but by no means funny.

This was not the first threat against a Western country for exercising their freedom in a way that the Islamic fanatics did not like. Osama bin Laden threatened the United States on the eve of our 2004 elections, if we didn’t vote the way he wanted.

When he has nuclear weapons, such threats cannot be ignored, when the choice is between knuckling under or seeing American cities blasted off the face of the earth.

That is the point of no return — and we are drifting towards it, chattering away about legalisms and politics.

Which leads me to the ultimate question, which James Q. Wilson addresses in “Divided We Stand: Can a Polarized Nation Win a Protracted War?” Wilson concludes:

A final drawback of polarization is more profound. Sharpened debate is arguably helpful with respect to domestic issues, but not for the management of important foreign and military matters. The United States, an unrivaled superpower with unparalleled responsibilities for protecting the peace and defeating terrorists, is now forced to discharge those duties with its own political house in disarray.

We fought World War II as a united nation, even against two enemies (Germany and Italy) that had not attacked us. We began the wars in Korea and Vietnam with some degree of unity, too, although it was eventually whittled away. By the early 1990s, when we expelled Iraq from Kuwait, we had to do so over the objections of congressional critics. In 2003 we toppled Saddam Hussein in the face of catcalls from many domestic leaders and opinion-makers. Now, in stabilizing Iraq and helping that country create a new free government, we have proceeded despite intense and mounting criticism, much of it voiced by politicians who before the war agreed that Saddam Hussein was an evil menace in possession of weapons of mass destruction and that we had to remove him.

Denmark or Luxembourg can afford to exhibit domestic anguish and uncertainty over military policy; the United States cannot. A divided America encourages our enemies, disheartens our allies, and saps our resolve–potentially to fatal effect. What Gen. Giap of North Vietnam once said of us is even truer today: America cannot be defeated on the battlefield, but it can be defeated at home. Polarization is a force that can defeat us.

Let us hope — against hope, I fear — that the Opposition comes to its senses before it is too late.

*****

The Next 9/11?

Obama has released a paper titled “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.” It ends — as one would expect of a screed bearing Obama’s imprimatur — with a statement of “guiding principles”:

We must continually enhance our understanding of the threat posed by violent extremism and the ways in which individuals or groups seek to radicalize Americans, adapting our approach as needed….

We must do everything in our power to protect the American people from violent extremism while protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of every American….

We must build partnerships and provide support to communities based on mutual trust, respect, and understanding….

We must use a wide range of good governance programs—including those that promote immigrant integration and civic engagement, protect civil rights, and provide social services—that may help prevent radicalization that leads to violence….

We must support local capabilities and programs to address problems of national concern….

Government officials and the American public should not stigmatize or blame communities because of the actions of a handful of individuals….

Strong religious beliefs should never be confused with violent extremism….

Though we will not tolerate illegal activities, opposition to government policy is neither illegal nor unpatriotic and does not make someone a violent extremist….

That must set a record for the highest number of treacly, politically correct, operationally useless and self-defeating statements made in the span of a typewritten page.

If this is how the Obama administration sets about protecting Americans from terrorism, I fear that the next 9/11 isn’t far off.

For example, I challenge the administration to tell me that the following has not happened and cannot happen in the United States:

  • A large but dispersed collection of improvised weapons for improvised, mortar-style attacks has been gathered in and around major U.S. cities and transportation and energy nodes.
  • These weapons are positioned so that their activation, on a massive scale would create havoc and panic — and might well disrupt transportation and communication networks. (With a massive salvo, not every weapon must reach its target.)
  • These weapons can be activated remotely — perhaps through signals transmitted from a single point — so that they can be fired in coordinated waves. Each successive wave disrupts and complicates rescue and recovery efforts that ensue from preceding waves, heightens confusion and panic, and lays the groundwork for economic disaster and political repression.

Obama’s political correctness, I fear, goes hand-in-hand with his demonstrated fecklessness in matters of national security. The intelligence and special operations forces of the United States should be capable of detecting and dismantling a threat of the kind outlined above. But will they be given the necessary resources and leeway? I doubt it.

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET, NEVER RELENT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought

The war on terror encompasses more than military action, but military action is a necessary part of it. However, as with the Vietnam War, the military response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, have been half-hearted and therefore inconclusive. What should have been done? The answers are given in two recent essays at the Claremont Review of Books.

In “The Lost Decade” (October 20, 2011), Angelo M. Codevilla writes:

America’s ruling class lost the “War on Terror.” During the decade that began on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government’s combat operations have resulted in some 6,000 Americans killed and 30,000 crippled, caused hundreds of thousands of foreign casualties, and spent—depending on various estimates of direct and indirect costs—somewhere between 2 and 3 trillion dollars. But nothing our rulers did post-9/11 eliminated the threat from terrorists or made the world significantly less dangerous. Rather, ever-bigger government imposed unprecedented restrictions on the American people and became the arbiter of prosperity for its cronies, as well as the manager of permanent austerity for the rest. Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as “the world’s only superpower,” ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the “new normal.” How did this happen?…

America’s current ruling class, the people who lost the War on Terror, monopolizes the upper reaches of American public life, the ranks of those who make foreign and domestic policy, including the leadership of the Republican and Democratic parties. It is more or less homogeneous socially and intellectually. In foreign affairs, the change from the Bush to the Obama Administrations was barely noticeable. In domestic matters, the differences are more quantitative than qualitative. Dissent from the ruling class is rife among the American people, but occurs mostly on the sidelines of our politics. If there is to be a reversal of the ongoing defeats, both foreign and domestic, that have discredited contemporary America’s bipartisan mainstream, heretofore marginal people will have to generate it, applying ideas and practices recalled from America’s successful past.

The world of 2011 is even less congenial to America and Americans than it was on September 10, 2001. The U.S. government is not responsible for all the ways in which the world was menacing then and is menacing now, of course. Regardless of what America did, China’s challenge to the post-1945 Peace of the Pacific was going to become more serious. Vladimir Putin’s neo-Soviet Russia was not and could not be anything but a major bother. Western Europe would be living off civilizational capital it had lost the will to replenish, irrespective of any American deeds or entreaties. The Muslim world would be choking on the dysfunctions inherent in its government and cultures.

But U.S. policy has made things worse because the liberal internationalists, realists, and neoconservatives who make up America’s foreign policy Establishment have all assumed that Americans should undertake the impossible task of changing such basic facts, rather than confining themselves to the difficult but vital work of guarding U.S. interests against them. For the Establishment, 9/11 meant opportunities to press for doing more of what they had always tried to do….

After 9/11 President George W. Bush told the American people to go shopping and behave normally. In short: forget that you will never again be free to live as before. Think about money. This advice followed naturally from the government’s decision to persist in its ways instead of lifting terrorism’s burden from America. What might have happened if, instead, Bush had told Americans that the terror threat would not last forever, because their government would now undertake some expensive military operations that would soon allow normal life to resume? To support those operations the government would have had to cut back other spending and perhaps raise some taxes. No doubt, in fall 2001 the American people would have accepted these sacrifices. But they would have demanded results. Since the administration was not about to try that, it sought to satisfy the American people with the pretend-safety of “homeland security,” with images of U.S. troops in combat, and perhaps above all with domestic prosperity fueled by record-low interest rates and massive deficit-spending.

This pretend-prosperity aimed not only to anesthetize criticism of endless war, but also to feed both political parties’ many constituencies—the ruling class’s standard procedure. Both parties joined in expanding federal guarantees for sub-prime mortgages, subsidies for education, alternative fuels, and countless activities dear to well-connected players. Both parties congratulated themselves for establishing new entitlements for prescription drugs and for medical care for children. When the “great recession” began in 2007 Democrats blamed Republicans’ excessive spending on “the wars,” while Republicans blamed it on Democrats’ excessive spending on everything else. Both are correct, and both are responsible….

What should have been done? Mark Helprin gives the prescription, in “The Central Proposition” (same source, September 13, 2011):

True shock and awe following upon September 11, when the world was with us, could have pitched the Middle East (and beyond, including the Islamists) into something resembling its torpor under European domination or its shock after the Arab-Iraeli War of 1967. That is to say, pacified for a time, with attacks on the West subsiding. And if the West could have resisted the arrogance of the victor and been magnanimous, who knows for how long such a period would have been extended? Instead, we exhibit the generosity of the soon-to-be defeated, otherwise known as concession and surrender.

Comporting with the idea that if you’re going to have a war it’s a good idea to win it, and with the Powell Doctrine, General Eric Shinseki’s recommendations, the lessons of military history, the American way of war, and simple common sense, an effective response to September 11 would have required an effort of greater scale than that of the Gulf War—i.e., all in. With a full and fully prepared “punch through,” we could have reached Baghdad in three days, and instead of staying there for a decade or more put compliant officials or generals in power (which is more or less what we’re doing now) and wheeled left to Damascus, smashing the Syrian army against the Israeli anvil and putting another compliant regime in place before returning to the complex of modern military bases at the northern borders of Saudi Arabia. There, our backs to the sea, which we control, and our troops hermetically sealed by the desert and safe from insurgency, we could have occupied the center of gravity in the heart of the Middle East, able to sprint with overwhelming force within a few days to either Baghdad, Damascus, or Riyadh.

Having suffered very few casualties, our forces would have been rested, well-trained, ready for deployment in other parts of the world, and able to dictate to (variously and where applicable) the Syrians, Iraqis, and Saudis that they eradicate their terrorists, stay within their borders, abandon weapons of mass destruction, break alliances with Iran and Hezbollah, keep the oil price down, and generally behave themselves. These regimes live for power, do anything for survival, and have secret police who can flush out terrorists with ruthless efficiency. Such strategy, had we adopted it, would have been demanding and imperious, yes, but not as demanding and imperious as ten years of war across much of the Middle East. Our own economy and alliances need not have been disrupted, our polity not so severely divided, and far fewer people would have suffered.

What happened between World War II and September 11, 2001, to change the American way of war from tenacity to pusillanimity? A lot of what happened has to do with the ascendancy of leftism, which too many conservatives seem bent on accommodating for fear of seeming mean-spirited and (in the case of too many conservative politicians) for the sake of gaining office.

Beyond that, and more importantly, there is the decline of willpower. On that point, I turn to Andrew Klavan:

A book called Willpower has been making a splash lately and will, I’m told, appear on the New York Times bestseller list next week. I have not read the book yet, but while in New York last week at the behest of the Manhattan Institute, I attended an MI-sponsored presentation by the book’s authors, psychology researcher Roy F. Baumeister and science writer John Tierney.

Willpower surpasses even intelligence as a predictor of success in life. And Baumeister has performed a number of experiments that convinced him that willpower is something like a muscle:  it can be strengthened, conserved, and fatigued. Like a muscle, it also needs to be fueled. Baumeister’s assertion that glucose in the blood is essential to willpower has featured in the headlines about the book.

But in the question period after the presentation, I asked Baumeister how else, aside from eating well, could willpower be strengthened. His response was this:  Exercise strengthens willpower just as it strengthens muscles. Even a meaningless exercise of will — training yourself to use your left hand for a task instead of your right, for instance — can make the will stronger over time. He added — I quote from memory: “When I was a boy, I used to be baffled by the idea of profanity. I used to wonder why there should be all these words that everyone knew but nobody used. But now I understand:  that strengthens willpower.”

Well, right. In other words, behaving well, behaving responsibly, learning the norms of politeness and refusing to abandon them without good reason tend to make you a more self-controlled, successful, and finally better person.

This is precisely the wisdom my generation threw away. Their promiscuity, adolescent foul-mouthedness, bad manners, and disregard for tradition — all of which they claimed were a new kind of freedom — were in fact the precursors to the very oldest kind of slavery:  slavery to one’s own impulses and desires…. (“‘Willpower’ and the Suckiest Generation” (Klavan on the Culture, September 26, 2011)

In so many words, a lack of staying power. If one goes through life expecting to be rewarded at every turn for having done nothing, one acquires a habit of mind that precludes doing what is necessary to remain alive and free.

Drone warfare is not wrong (as leftists and extreme libertarian would have it) because it uses technology to kill our enemies. But drown warfare is symptom of the moral torpor that has overtaken most Americans, especially our so-called leaders. It is an (illusory) easy way out of a situation that defies an easy solution and demands the application of vastly more military might than our so-called leaders have been willing to muster.

*****

The Next 9/11?

Obama has released a paper titled “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.” It ends — as one would expect of a screed bearing Obama’s imprimatur — with a statement of “guiding principles”:

We must continually enhance our understanding of the threat posed by violent extremism and the ways in which individuals or groups seek to radicalize Americans, adapting our approach as needed….

We must do everything in our power to protect the American people from violent extremism while protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of every American….

We must build partnerships and provide support to communities based on mutual trust, respect, and understanding….

We must use a wide range of good governance programs—including those that promote immigrant integration and civic engagement, protect civil rights, and provide social services—that may help prevent radicalization that leads to violence….

We must support local capabilities and programs to address problems of national concern….

Government officials and the American public should not stigmatize or blame communities because of the actions of a handful of individuals….

Strong religious beliefs should never be confused with violent extremism….

Though we will not tolerate illegal activities, opposition to government policy is neither illegal nor unpatriotic and does not make someone a violent extremist….

That must set a record for the highest number of treacly, politically correct, operationally useless and self-defeating statements made in the span of a typewritten page.

If this is how the Obama administration sets about protecting Americans from terrorism, I fear that the next 9/11 isn’t far off.

For example, I challenge the administration to tell me that the following has not happened and cannot happen in the United States:

  • A large but dispersed collection of improvised weapons for improvised, mortar-style attacks has been gathered in and around major U.S. cities and transportation and energy nodes.
  • These weapons are positioned so that their activation, on a massive scale would create havoc and panic — and might well disrupt transportation and communication networks. (With a massive salvo, not every weapon must reach its target.)
  • These weapons can be activated remotely — perhaps through signals transmitted from a single point — so that they can be fired in coordinated waves. Each successive wave disrupts and complicates rescue and recovery efforts that ensue from preceding waves, heightens confusion and panic, and lays the groundwork for economic disaster and political repression.

Obama’s political correctness, I fear, goes hand-in-hand with his demonstrated fecklessness in matters of national security. The intelligence and special operations forces of the United States should be capable of detecting and dismantling a threat of the kind outlined above. But will they be given the necessary resources and leeway? I doubt it.

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET, NEVER RELENT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Mission Not Accomplished

From Walter Russell Mead’s “Al-Qaeda Is Alive and Well“:

Contrary to exclamations from the Obama administration and the mainstream press, Al-Qaeda is not dead, not gone, and not “on its last legs.” In fact, the regional groups that together make up “Al-Qaeda” have had different fortunes in recent months, as Daveed Gartenstein-Ross reports for Foreign Policy, but its fighters are still out there….

It seems that Al-Qaeda willingly hid from public view, regrouped, explored new areas of operation, trained, and gathered recruits, all before the 9/11/12 attack in Benghazi—and all amid repeated spiking of the football in Washington over the killings of Osama bin Laden and Abu Yahya al-Libi, among others….

Americans have a pattern of prematurely declaring victory in these kinds of long, drawn-out struggles. Think back to Lyndon Johnson’s “light at the end of the tunnel” in Vietnam, the “death throes” of the Iraqi insurgency that Vice President Cheney thought he saw, and the triumphal crowing after bin Laden’s death that Al-Qaeda was on the verge of strategic defeat. We ought to be more careful declaring victory, especially when we aren’t exactly sure to begin with what victory would even look like.

As if to underscore Mead’s warning, here is a tidbit from The Telegraph:

Al-Qaeda has been blamed for a recent series of forest fires across Europe, as the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service claimed they were set by arsonists as part of the group’s low-cost attack strategy.

“One should note that setting fires to forests in the countries of the European Union is a new tendency in al-Qaeda’s strategy of a ‘thousand cuts’,” Alexander Bortnikov said, according to state news agency RIA Novosti, at a meeting of heads of security agencies.

“This method allows (al-Qaeda) to inflict significant economic and moral damage without serious preliminary preparations, technical equipment or significant expenses.”

In linking al-Qaeda to the deadly wildfires, Mr Bortnikov pointed to calls to launch a “forest jihad” by various extremist websites which he said also publish detailed instructions about how and where to best carry out arson.

He said it was very difficult for special services to find and prosecute such arsonists.

Deadly fires have swept through forest land in EU countries such as Portugal and Spain over the past few months, killing scores of people and forcing thousands to evacuate. (“Al-Qaeda blamed for Europe-wide forest fires,” October 4, 2012)

It seems to me that someone ought to be taking seriously the kind of scenario that I laid out in “The Next 9/11?”:

…I challenge the [Obama] administration to tell me that the following has not happened and cannot happen in the United States:

  • A large but dispersed collection of improvised weapons for improvised, mortar-style attacks has been gathered in and around major U.S. cities and transportation and energy nodes.
  • These weapons are positioned so that their activation, on a massive scale would create havoc and panic — and might well disrupt transportation and communication networks. (With a massive salvo, not every weapon must reach its target.)
  • These weapons can be activated remotely — perhaps through signals transmitted from a single point — so that they can be fired in coordinated waves. Each successive wave disrupts and complicates rescue and recovery efforts that ensue from preceding waves, heightens confusion and panic, and lays the groundwork for economic disaster and political repression.

Obama’s political correctness, I fear, goes hand-in-hand with his demonstrated fecklessness in matters of national security. The intelligence and special operations forces of the United States should be capable of detecting and dismantling a threat of the kind outlined above. But will they be given the necessary resources and leeway? I doubt it.

I wrote that more than a year before the murders of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans. Murders that underscore Obama’s insouciant incompetence in the face of a determined enemy.

The Good, the Bad, and the Abominable

This brief guide to leftist orthodoxy is prompted by current reading (to be discussed in a future post):

GOOD BAD
Marxist socialist mass-murderers (Stalin, Mao) National socialist mass-murderer (Hitler)
Socialism Capitalism
Homosexuality & gender confusion Unalloyed heterosexuality
Shacking up (in any combination of sexes) Traditional marriage
Female Male
Persons of color (but not “yellow”) Whites
Dribbles & scribbles Representational art
Noise, dissonance, atonality Melody, harmony, rhythm
Public schools (except for one’s own children) Home schooling
Illegal immigrants (especially when they work cheap) Voter ID laws
Laid back (lazy) Ambitious
Spontaneous (impulsive) Disciplined
Europe, Islam America (before the left seized it)
Big government, high taxes Small government, low taxes
Political correctness Free (but non-treasonous) speech
“Disadvantaged” criminals Cops
Killing babies Killing killers

*****

Related posts:
How to Deal with Left-Wing Academic Blather
The Case Against Campus Speech Codes
The Illogical Left, via Leiter
Like a Fish in Water
Apropos Academic Freedom and Western Values
Singer Said It
Why So Few Free-Market Economists?
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
How to Combat Beauty-ism
Defining Treasonous Speech
Sexist Nonsense
The Firing of Juan Williams
The Politically Correct Cancer: Another Weapon in the War on Straight White Males
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
“Buy Local”
“Net Neutrality”
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness
Giving Back, Again
The Left’s Agenda
Peter Presumes to Preach
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Union-Busting
The Left and Its Delusions
In Defense of Wal-Mart
An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly
Union Thuggery
Elizabeth Warren Is All Wet
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Another Entry in the Sunstein Saga
Are You in the Bubble?
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Obesity and Statism
Political Correctness vs. Civility
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition

Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness

The appearance last year of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos greatly irked atheistic materialists (a.k.a. naturalists). They need not have been irked, for Nagel’s argument fails to negate materialism.

To begin at the beginning, I turn to Andrew Ferguson’s recounting of the reactions of prominent atheistic materialists to Mind and Cosmos:

… The naturalistic project has been greatly aided by neo-Darwinism, the application of Darwin’s theory of natural selection to human behavior, including areas of life once assumed to be nonmaterial: emotions and thoughts and habits and perceptions….

… Thomas Nagel is a prominent and heretofore respected member of the country’s intellectual elite. And such men are not supposed to write books with subtitles like the one he tacked onto Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False….

Nagel’s tone is measured and tentative, but there’s no disguising the book’s renegade quality. There are flashes of exasperation and dismissive impatience. What’s exhilarating is that the source of Nagel’s exasperation is, so to speak, his own tribe: the “secular theoretical establishment and the contemporary enlightened culture which it dominates.” The establishment today, he says, is devoted beyond all reason to a “dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the teeth against attacks from religion.” …

Nagel follows the materialist chain of reasoning all the way into the cul de sac where it inevitably winds up…. He has no doubt that “we are products of the long history of the universe since the big bang, descended from bacteria through millions of years of natural selection.” And he assumes that the self and the body go together. “So far as we can tell,” he writes, “our mental lives, including our subjective experiences, and those of other creatures are strongly connected with and probably strictly dependent on physical events in our brains and on the physical interaction of our bodies with the rest of the physical world.” To believe otherwise is to believe, as the materialists derisively say, in “spooky stuff.” …

Materialism, then, is fine as far as it goes. It just doesn’t go as far as materialists want it to. It is a premise of science, not a finding. Scientists do their work by assuming that every phenomenon can be reduced to a material, mechanistic cause and by excluding any possibility of nonmaterial explanations….

… From a fruitful method, materialism becomes an axiom: If science can’t quantify something, it doesn’t exist, and so the subjective, unquantifiable, immaterial “manifest image” of our mental life is proved to be an illusion.

Here materialism bumps up against itself. Nagel insists that we know some things to exist even if materialism omits or ignores or is oblivious to them. Reductive materialism doesn’t account for the “brute facts” of existence—it doesn’t explain, for example, why the world exists at all, or how life arose from nonlife…. On its own terms, materialism cannot account for brute facts. Brute facts are irreducible, and materialism, which operates by breaking things down to their physical components, stands useless before them. “There is little or no possibility,” he writes, “that these facts depend on nothing but the laws of physics.” …

Among these remarkable, nonaccidental things are…. [c]onsciousness itself….

In a recent review in the New York Review of Books of Where the Conflict Really Lies, by the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, Nagel told how instinctively he recoils from theism, and how hungry he is for a reasonable alternative. “If I ever found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is true,” he wrote, “the most likely explanation would be that I was losing my mind, not that I was being granted the gift of faith.” He admits that he finds the evident failure of materialism as a worldview alarming—precisely because the alternative is, for a secular intellectual, unthinkable. He calls this intellectual tic “fear of religion.”

“I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear,” he wrote not long ago in an essay called “Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion.” “I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

Nagel believes this “cosmic authority problem” is widely shared among intellectuals, and I believe him. It accounts for the stubbornness with which they cling to materialism—and for the hostility that greets an intellectual who starts to wander off from the herd. Materialism must be true because it “liberates us from religion.” The positive mission Nagel undertakes in Mind and Cosmos is to outline, cautiously, a possible Third Way between theism and materialism, given that the first is unacceptable—emotionally, if not intellectually—and the second is untenable. Perhaps matter itself has a bias toward producing conscious creatures. Nature in that case would be “teleological”—not random, not fully subject to chance, but tending toward a particular end. Our mental life would be accounted for—phew!—without reference to God. (“The Heretic,” The Weekly Standard, March 25, 2013)

Nagel’s admission — “I hope there is no God!” — is admirable for its candor. Most atheistic materialists rationalize their disbelief by assuming that science can explain everything, including (quite wrongly) the mystery of existence. The false assumption that science can explain everything undermines (or should undermine) the credibility of every atheistic materialist. No one who assumes the answer for which he claims to be searching deserves to be taken seriously.

That said, I lend no more credence to Nagel’s “Third Way” than I do to the out-and-out materialism of Nagel’s critics. That is to say, Nagel and his critics are all incredible, in the proper meaning of that word.

Ironically, when it comes to consciousness, there’s no need for a nonmaterialistic explanation. To understand why, let us begin with Nagel’s reason for rejecting a materialistic accounting of consciousness:

… Since our mental lives evidently depend on our existence as physical organisms, especially on the functioning of our central nervous systems, it seems natural to think that the physical sciences can in principle provide the basis for an explanation of the mental aspects of reality as well — that physics can aspire finally to be a theory of everything.

However, I believe this possibility is ruled out by the conditions that have defined the physical sciences from the beginning. The physical sciences can describe organisms like ourselves as parts of the objective spatio-temporal order – our structure and behavior in space and time – but they cannot describe the subjective experiences of such organisms or how the world appears to their different particular points of view. There can be a purely physical description of the neurophysiological processes that give rise to an experience, and also of the physical behavior that is typically associated with it, but such a description, however complete, will leave out the subjective essence of the experience – how it is from the point of view of its subject — without which it would not be a conscious experience at all…. (“The Core of ‘Mind and Cosmos’,” The New York Times, August 18, 2013)

Nagel make too much of subjectivity. Every person’s experience of any phenomenon is, of course, subjective. Why? Because every person is unique, and no instrument yet devised (or likely to be devised) is capable of capturing the unique way in which a particular person experiences something.

But this uniqueness has nothing to do with the essentially material basis of experience. It just means that no two persons can have the same “inner” experiences, just as no two persons (it is said) can have the same fingerprints.

I don’t mean to minimize the difficulty of finding a clear and convincing material explanation of consciousness. But such an explanation is possible, at least in outline; for example:

One way to think about the relationship between brain and consciousness is to break it down into two mysteries. I call them Arrow A and Arrow B. Arrow A is the mysterious route from neurons to consciousness. If I am looking at a blue sky, my brain doesn’t merely register blue as if I were a wavelength detector from Radio Shack. I am aware of the blue. Did my neurons create that feeling?

Arrow B is the mysterious route from consciousness back to the neurons. Arrow B attracts much less scholarly attention than Arrow A, but it is just as important. The most basic, measurable, quantifiable truth about consciousness is simply this: we humans can say that we have it. We can conclude that we have it, couch that conclusion into language and then report it to someone else. Speech is controlled by muscles, which are controlled by neurons. Whatever consciousness is, it must have a specific, physical effect on neurons, or else we wouldn’t be able to communicate anything about it. Consciousness cannot be what is sometimes called an epiphenomenon — a floating side-product with no physical consequences — or else I wouldn’t have been able to write this article about it.

Any workable theory of consciousness must be able to account for both Arrow A and Arrow B. Most accounts, however, fail miserably at both. Suppose that consciousness is a non-physical feeling, an aura, an inner essence that arises somehow from a brain or from a special circuit in the brain. The ‘emergent consciousness’ theory is the most common assumption in the literature. But how does a brain produce the emergent, non-physical essence? And even more puzzling, once you have that essence, how can it physically alter the behaviour of neurons, such that you can say that you have it? ‘Emergent consciousness’ theories generally stake everything on Arrow A and ignore Arrow B completely.

The attention schema theory does not suffer from these difficulties. It can handle both Arrow A and Arrow B. Consciousness isn’t a non-physical feeling that emerges. Instead, dedicated systems in the brain compute information. Cognitive machinery can access that information, formulate it as speech, and then report it. When a brain reports that it is conscious, it is reporting specific information computed within it. It can, after all, only report the information available to it. In short, Arrow A and Arrow B remain squarely in the domain of signal-processing. There is no need for anything to be transmuted into ghost material, thought about, and then transmuted back to the world of cause and effect.

Some people might feel disturbed by the attention schema theory. It says that awareness is not something magical that emerges from the functioning of the brain. When you look at the colour blue, for example, your brain doesn’t generate a subjective experience of blue. Instead, it acts as a computational device. It computes a description, then attributes an experience of blue to itself. The process is all descriptions and conclusions and computations. Subjective experience, in the theory, is something like a myth that the brain tells itself. The brain insists that it has subjective experience because, when it accesses its inner data, it finds that information. (Michael Graziano, “How the Light Gets Out,” Aeon, August 21, 2013)

I applaud Nagel’s skepticism about materialism. He is right to say that it doesn’t account for the “brute facts” of existence. But Nagel overshoots the mark, and discredits himself, when he tries to enlist consciousness and its products (e.g., emotions, moral reasoning) as “brute facts.”

Materialism is valid insofar as it extends to the workings of the universe and its components (human consciousness included). Materialism falls short when it comes to explaining how the universe came to be, and why its workings seem to obey “laws.”

*****

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

AGW: The Death Knell

UPDATED 02/12/14 (related reading added)

I am loath to write again about AGW, so convinced am I that it is a “scientific” myth. But the myth has a large, vociferous, politically motivated, and almost-unshakeable following. So here goes…

Watt’s Up With That? notes

a Technical University of Denmark press release [about] what looks to be a significant confirmation of [Henrik] Svensmark’s theory of temperature modulation on Earth by cosmic ray interactions. The process is that when there are more cosmic rays, they help create more microscopic cloud nuclei, which in turn form more clouds, which reflect more solar radiation back into space, making Earth cooler than what it normally might be. Conversely, [fewer] cosmic rays mean less cloud cover and a warmer planet as indicated here.  The sun’s magnetic field is said to deflect cosmic rays when its solar magnetic dynamo is more active, and right around the last solar max, we were at an 8000 year high, suggesting more deflected cosmic rays, and warmer temperatures. Now the sun has gone into a record slump, and there are predictions of cooler temperatures ahead….

The new paper is:

Response of cloud condensation nuclei (>50 nm) to changes in ion-nucleation” H. Svensmark, Martin B. Enghoff, Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen, Physics Letters A 377 (2013) 2343–2347….

FULL PAPER LINK PROVIDED IN THE PRESS RERLEASE: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/51188502/PLA22068.pdf (open access PDF)

LOCAL COPY: (for those having trouble with link above):  Svensmark_PLA22068 (PDF)

What about the seemingly high rate of increase in temperatures in recent decades? As I say here,

It should be quite evident by now that the warming trend of the past thirty-odd years merely coincides with the rise in human activity (as measured by population) but is not explained by the “greenhouse” effect…. There are alternative and compelling alternative explanations for the warming trend, including the influence of solar activity summarized above….

What else explains the apparent (but exaggerated) warming trend of the past thirty-odd years (a “trend” that ended more than 15 years ago)? Poorly sited weather stations and urban heating are the two main culprits.

P.S. So much for the prematurely predicted disappearance of the Arctic ice cap: here and here.

*****

Recommended book: Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Calder, The Chilling Stars: A New Theory of Climate Change, Totem Books, 2003

Related reading:
Anthony Watts, “The EPA Is Challenged in the Supreme Court over Greenhouse Gas Regulations,” Watts Up With That?, December 17, 2013
Chet Richards, “A Few Easy Tests to Debunk Global Warming Hysteria,” American Thinker, January 1, 2014
Ronald Bailey, “Ugly Climate Models,” reason.com, January 2014
Christopher Monckton, “IPCC Silently Slashes Its Global Warming Predictions in the Final AR5 Draft,” Watts Up With That?, January 1, 2014
Anthony Watts, “Could This Study on Honesty and Government Service Explain the EPA Climaterr Fraud and ‘Climategate’?,” Watts Up With That, January 6, 2014
Don J. Easterbrook, “Setting the Record Straight on the ‘Cause of the Pause’ in Global Warming’,” Watts Up With That?, January 21, 2014
Vincent Gray, “The Scientific Method and Climate Science,” Watts Up With That?, January 21, 2014

Related posts:
Hemibel Thinking
Climatology (a term that I use to distinguish phony climate science from the real thing)
Global Warming: Realities and Benefits
Another Blow to Climatology?
Another Blow to Chicken-Little Science
Global Warming and Life
Remember the “Little Ice Age”?
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
More Bad News for Global-Warming Zealots
“Warmism”: The Myth of Anthropogenic Global Warming
More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming
Yet More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming
Modeling Is Not Science
Anthropogenic Global Warming Is Dead, Just Not Buried Yet
Demystifying Science
Analysis for Government Decision-Making: Demi-Science, Hemi-Demi-Science, and Sophistry