Month: June 2016

Big Losers and Donald Trump

Republican William Howard Taft lost his bid for re-election in 1912 to Democrat Woodrow Wilson , thanks to the candidacy of former Republican president Theodore Roosevelt, who ran on the Progressive ticket. Because of TR’s entry into the race, Taft won only 23 percent of the popular vote (he took 52 percent in the election of 1908), against Wilson’s 42 percent and TR’s 35 percent. Taft’s reverse coattails helped the GOP lose ground in the House and Senate. The GOP, which had won 41 percent of House seats in the election of 1910, dropped to 31 percent in 1912. And in the Senate the GOP went from 54 percent to 46 percent.

The next big loser was Democrat James Cox, who took only 34 of the popular vote in 1920, while Republican Warren G. Harding took 60 percent. With Harding’s big win, the GOP ran its House majority from 55 percent to 69 percent, and its Senate majority from 51 percent to 61 percent.

Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt won re-election in 1936 with 61 percent of the popular vote. FDR’s Republican opponent, Alfred Landon, won only 37 percent. The GOP’s share of House seats dropped from 24 percent to 20 percent. In the Senate, the GOP went from 26 percent to 17 percent. Both results are low-water marks for Republican representation in Congress.

Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson duplicated FDR’s feat by winning in 1968 with 61 percent of the popular vote. Republican Barry Goldwater garnered only 38 percent. The GOP’s shares of House and Senate dropped by 8 percentage points (from 40 percent to 32 percent) and 2 percentage points (from 34 percent to 32 percent).

Republican Richard Nixon won re-election in 1972, taking 61 percent of the popular vote to Democrat George McGovern’s 38 percent. Nixon’s win led to a mild GOP resurgence in the House, from 41 percent to 44 percent. But the GOP lost ground in the Senate, dropping from 45 percent to 43 percent.

The  most recent election that resembled a landslide victory was in 1984, when Republican Ronald Reagan won re-election with 59 percent of the popular vote. Democrat Walter Mondale managed 41 percent. Reagan’s big win helped the GOP increase its share of House seats from 38 percent to 42 percent. But the Senate went the other way, with the GOP share dropping from 55 percent to 53 percent.

It seems that ticket-splitting has become more usual. And that’s a good thing if, as expected, Donald Trump loses to Hillary Clinton in November. It doesn’t seem, as of now, that Trump will be a loser on the scale of Taft, et al., but a loser nonetheless (in two meanings of loser). The only thing that will keep Trump from joining the really big losers is the identity of his opponent, who in saner times would already be in jail — with her husband.

There’s still hope that the Republican convention will yield a nominee other than Trump, but that’s a faint hope at this point.

Beyond the Far Horizon

Several years ago I began to track some celebrities who had attained the age of 90. The rather quirky list of notables now looks like this:

Luise Rainer 104, George Beverly Shea 104, Charles Lane 102Irwin Corey 101, Herman Wouk 101, George Kennan 101, Olivia de Havilland 100 (on July 1*), Gloria Stuart 100Eddie Albert 99, Michael DeBakey 99, Zsa Zsa Gabor 99, Vera Lynn 99, Mitch Miller 99, Max Schmeling 99, Risë Stevens 99, John Wooden 99Tony Martin 98, Dale Messick 98, Eli Wallach 98John Kenneth Galbraith 97, Ernest Gallo 97, Billy Graham 97, Estée Lauder 97, Art Linkletter 97, Al Lopez 97Karl Malden 97, John Mills 97, Kitty Carlisle 96Monte Irvin 96, Jack LaLanne 96, Kevin McCarthy 96, Harry Morgan 96, Fay Wray 96Jane Wyatt 96, Joseph Barbera 95, Ernest Borgnine 95, Henri Cartier-Bresson 95Herbert Lom 95, Peter Rodino, Jr 95, Sargent Shriver 95, Patty Andrews 94, Sammy Baugh 94, Constance Cummings 94, Lady Bird Johnson 94, Robert Mondavi 94, Byron Nelson 94, Les Paul 94, Ruth Hussey 93, Frankie Laine 93, Robert McNamara 93, Artie Shaw 93,  Richard Widmark 93, Oleg Cassini 92, Ralph Edwards 92Bob Feller 92, Ernie Harwell 92, Lena Horne 92Julia Child 91, Archibald Cox 91, Geraldine Fitzgerald 91, Frances Langford 91, John Profumo 91, William Westmoreland 91Jane Wyman 90.

I was reminded of this list by a name in the “Today’s Birthdays” feature of the newspaper: actress June Lockhart 91. Because only six members of my original list remain among the living, I’m adding Lockhart to the list, as well as these notables of interest to me: baseball player Bobby Doerr 98, justice John Paul Stevens 96, economist and secretary of state George Shultz 95, prince consort Philip Mountbatten 95, actress Betty White 94, secretary of defense Melvin Laird 93, baseball player Red Schoendienst 93, actress Rose Marie 92, physicist Freeman Dyson 92, president George H.W. Bush 92, and actor Hal Holbrook 91.

_________
* By my reckoning, of the dozens (or hundreds) of actors who starred in Hollywood films before World War II, only Olivia de Havilland survives. She attained star billing in 1935, at the age of 19, for her role in Captain Blood. Other pre-war films in which she starred include The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and Gone with the Wind (1939).

Revisiting the “Marketplace” of Ideas

In “The ‘Marketplace’ of Ideas” I observe that

[u]nlike true markets, where competition usually eliminates sellers whose products and services are found wanting, the competition of ideas often leads to the broad acceptance of superstitions, crackpot notions, and plausible but mistaken theories. These often find their way into government policy, where they are imposed on citizens and taxpayers for the psychic benefit of politicians and bureaucrats and the monetary benefit of their cronies.

The “marketplace” of ideas is replete with vendors who are crackpots, charlatans, and petty tyrants. They run rampant in the media, academia, and government.

Caveat emptor.

Theodore Dalrymple reminds us just how easily crackpot ideas gain wide acceptance:

Rather against my better judgment, and that of my wife, I allowed myself to be persuaded to take part recently in a debate, or public conversation, about prostitution….

The two women on the panel with me took different views of the matter, though both were somewhat opposed to me. The question supposedly before us was, fortunately, soon forgotten. The first of the women was a representative of a prostitutes’ organised pressure group, and herself a prostitute, and the second a sociologist….

The spokeswoman for the prostitutes of England … believed that prostitution was an evil brought about by the current economic dispensation. Women, many of them single mothers, had no choice but to prostitute themselves. They could earn much more by prostitution than in respectable jobs; increasing poverty and desperation drove them to it.

I asked her whether she was saying that all women in a certain situation were prostitutes, having no choice in the matter: in which case there would surely be millions more than there are?…

She replied that in an ideal world there would be no prostitution, but that so long as many people had to do jobs at low pay in occupations that they detested, prostitution was a reasonable choice. (The fact that prostitution in her opinion was undesirable suggested that she did not agree with the sociologist that it was a job like any other, that there was something intrinsically wrong or degrading about it.)

What she was really asking for, then, was a world in which everyone did a job, other than for reasons of pay, that he or she found agreeable and conformable to their wishes. This was a kind of Marxist Utopia, as expressed in The German Ideology [by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels], in which

nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

I said that what the prostitute wanted, in effect, was the abolition of both the division of labour and the labour market. To my surprise, a portion of the audience, far from taking this as absurd, was extremely enthusiastic about it. They wanted (at least in theory) the abolition of the division of labour and the labour market. Furthermore, as members of the bourgeoisie themselves, in its intellectual branch, they benefited from precisely what they wanted to abolish.

This suggested to me what in fact I had long suspected, namely that victories in the field of social, economic and philosophical thought are never final, but that the battles have to be fought over and over again, no matter what experiences Mankind has gone through in the meantime.

And so it is that ideas which are not only preposterous but also anti-libertarian take root and destroy liberty. As I have said:

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

Now for Texit, and More

Unless the parliament of the so-called United Kingdom double-crosses the majority of English, Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish voters who approved Brexit, the UK will officially withdraw from the European Union. That’s good news for those of us who oppose dictatorship by distant bureaucrats.

There’s a parallel movement known as Texit, which is dedicated to the secession of Texas from the union known as the United States. Some backers of Texit believe wrongly that the Treaty of Annexation which made Texas a State has an escape clause. It doesn’t, but secession is nevertheless legal, not only for Texas but for all States.

It is telling — and encouraging — that even Donald Trump, the non-conservative and weak prospective GOP nominee, seems likely (at this date) to win the electoral votes of 20 States. In numbers there is strength. A secession movement would have a greater chance of success if it encompassed several States.

Sign me up.

The Stock Market 15 Years from Now

I won’t bore you with a bunch of tables and graphs. I’ll just tell you that I’ve played around with inflation-adjusted stock-market indices (the Wilshire 5000 Total Return and the S&P Composite), and have discovered the following:

  • Internal relationships (future performance vs. prior performance) suggest that 15 years from now real stock prices will have risen at a compounded annual rate of +5 to +10 percent.
  • External relationships (future performance vs. current AAA corporate bond rate) suggest that 15 years from now real stock prices will have dropped at a compounded annual rate of about -5 percent.

The second result is based on a positive long-run relationship between the bond rate and stock-market performance. Why would there be such a relationship if an interest-rate hike usually causes stock prices to drop? Well, that’s a short-run phenomenon. But over the long run, higher interest rates mean more demand for money, which means that companies are making investments to generate higher profits. And over a period of sufficient length, like 15 years, those higher profits are realized and reflected in stock prices.

In sum, low interest rates signal sluggish business activity. Interest rates are at historically low levels, and have remained stubbornly low for a simple reason. It’s not just that inflation is low. It’s also that the demand for money is weak because the regulatory regime makes it more increasingly difficult and unprofitable for businesses to form and expand.

I see no hope for true regulatory reform, which would involve the beheading of almost every government bureaucrat in the United States. Therefore, my bet is on negative stock-market performance over the next 15 years — and beyond.

It can happen here if it can happen in Japan, where the Nikkei 225 index stands at 42 percent of its nominal level on December 1, 1989. Adjusted for inflation, the index probably has dropped about 75 percent in 27 years, which is a real  decline of -5 percent a year.

*     *     *

Related reading: Jon Hilsenrath, “Yellen Points to Slow Growth and Low Rates in the Long Run,” The Wall Street Journal, June 21, 2016

Related posts:
Economic Growth Since World War II (with links to many more related posts)
Bonds for the Long Run?
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?

Obama Stereotypes Muslims

Obama says that Trump’s proposal to bar immigration by Muslims would make Americans less safe. How? Because more Muslims would become radicalized and acts of terrorism would therefore become more prevalent. Why would there be more radicalized Muslims? Because the Islamic State (IS) would claim that America has declared war on Islam, and this would not only anger otherwise peaceful Muslims but draw them to IS. Therefore, there shouldn’t be any talk of barring immigration by Muslims, nor any action in that direction.

Perhaps there’s something to what Obama says. It’s too late to bar the door to Muslims because there are already enough of them in this country to commit (at least) tens of thousands of terrorist attacks, if they’re bent on doing so.

By the same token, it’s too late to clamp down on gun sales in this country because there are already enough guns to enable radicalized Muslims (and others) to commit tens of thousands of murders, if they’re bent on doing so.

Aha, leftist gun-grabbers will say, the obvious answer is to take guns away from everyone but those who “need” them — officers of the law and private bodyguards for affluent leftists, for example. There are several problems with the “obvious” answer:

  • There are so many unregistered weapons that it would impossible to confiscate enough to ensure that only the “good guys” have them.
  • A lot of registered weapons would be conveniently “lost” or “stolen” before the arrival of confiscatory agents.
  • Because gun ownership is so prevalent in this country, there’s almost no chance that Congress would enact confiscation.
  • The confiscation of guns — were it feasible — would be counterproductive; the widespread ownership of guns enables “average” citizens to thwart terrorists as well as “everyday” thieves and murderers.
  • Firearms aren’t the only weapons of use to terrorists who are bent on killing dozens to thousands of people at a time.

Gun-grabbing is just a leftist’s erotic fantasy. It’s not an actual possibility or an antidote to violence. Terrorists who are bent on terrorizing Americans can readily readily resort to home-made explosives, toxic chemicals, and sabotage.

Where does that leave us? Any attempt to ban guns will be futile, and banning guns wouldn’t prevent terrorism. But banning Muslims might well prevent a lot of terrorism, though it wouldn’t prevent terrorist acts by crypto-Muslims (e.g., white boys who join IS and similar outfits) or those who sympathize with Muslims because they’re “victims” of something or other. (Leftists love “victims.”)

What about the fear that many Muslims will be offended by the idea that (some) Americans want to protect themselves from terrorism (a Muslim-dominated enterprise) by banning immigration by Muslims, and that more Muslims will therefore commit acts of terrorism. This is nothing more than a kind of racist stereotyping. Who ever heard of large numbers of a racial or ethnic group rising up in violence because they were offended by an act of self-defense? The next thing you know, someone will say that blacks are disproportionately responsible for violent crime in the United States.

Because Obama is a semi-black leftist — and “therefore” not a racist — he can stereotype Muslims with impunity. To put it another way, Obama can speak the truth about Muslims without being accused of racism (though he’d never admit to the truth about blacks and violence).

Which brings me to the crucial question: What is Obama doing about the ever-present threat of domestic terrorism? Pandering to leftists’ gun-control fantasy and attacking Donald Trump. That’s about it as far as I can tell.

*      *      *

Related reading:

Arnold Ahlert, “Progressive Insanity Endangers America,” Patriot Post, June 16, 2016

Fred Reed, “Hussein Obama, 50; America, 0: More Adventures in Multiculturalism,” Fred on Everything, June 16, 2016

Wikipedia, “List of Islamist Terror Attacks

Related posts:

The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Presidential Treason
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Pacifism

The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote

Liberalism of the modern variety is a manifestation of authoritarianism — a statement that will surprise no one but a liberal (a.k.a. progressive) and many libertarians. Libertarians? Yes, because there are many who side with modern liberals in wishing to use the power of the state to impose an agenda that suppresses freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights. (In the rest of this post, I use “modern liberals” and “modern liberalism” to refer to leftists and leftism, by whatever name.)

Modern liberalism attracts persons who wish to exert control over others. The stated reasons for exerting control amount to “because I know better” or “because it’s good for you (the person being controlled)” or “because ‘social justice’ demands it.” Such attitudes would seem to flout the central tenet of classical liberalism — the “harm principle” enunciated in John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (Chapter I, paragraph 9):

That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

Mill’s sophomoric version of liberalism gave way to modern liberalism, a fascistic creed that mocks the root meaning of liberal.

What happened to Millian (classical) liberalism? Arnold Kling quotes Kim R. Holmes’s The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left:

American progressives and classical liberals [i.e., Millians] started parting company in the late 19th century. Progressives initially clung to freedom of expression and the right to dissent from the original liberalism, but under the influence of socialism and social democracy they gradually moved leftward. Today, they largely hold classic liberalism—especially as manifested in small-government conservatism and libertarianism—in contempt. Thus, what we call a “liberal” today is not historically liberal at all but a progressive social democrat, someone who clings to the old liberal notion of individual liberty when it is convenient (as in supporting abortion or decrying the “national security” state), but who more often finds individual liberties and freedom of conscience to be barriers to building the progressive welfare state….

[A]lliances between libertarians and leftists… can be found in most policy areas, in fact, except for economics….

The postmodern left … embraces principles, attitudes, and practices that sanction the use of coercive methods, either through legal means or public shaming rituals, to deny certain people their rights and civil liberties, particularly freedom of speech and conscience, in ways that undermine American democracy and the rule of law.

[Earlier progressives] could not have imagined an unending conflict between identity tribes trying to capture the state for their own narrow group interests… [They] were still liberal enough to believe in universal justice. Multiculturalism, for example, stands completely opposed to the progressive vision of community. It promises not to build a common vision for everyone but to tear the community apart in an ethnic and racial conflict of all against all.

I agree with Holmes’s characterizations but not with his reification. There were undoubtedly some classical liberals who turned leftward in the late 19th century and early 20th century, but today’s leftists — modern liberals, progressives, and left-libertarians — were never classical liberals. They are made of authoritarian cloth. They are the intellectual heirs of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an 18th century herald of Marxism. This is from an old version of Wikipedia‘s entry about Rousseau:

Perhaps Rousseau’s most important work is The Social Contract, which outlines the basis for a legitimate political order. Published in 1762 and condemned by the Parlement of Paris when it appeared, it became one of the most influential works of abstract political thought in the Western tradition. Building on his earlier work, such as the Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau claimed that the state of nature eventually degenerates into a brutish condition without law or morality, at which point the human race must adopt institutions of law or perish. In the degenerate phase of the state of nature, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men whilst at the same time becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According to Rousseau, by joining together through the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law. Whilst Rousseau argues that sovereignty should thus be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between sovereign and government. The government is charged with implementing and enforcing the general will and is composed of a smaller group of citizens, known as magistrates…Much of the subsequent controversy about Rousseau’s work has hinged on disagreements concerning his claims that citizens constrained to obey the general will are thereby rendered free….

Rousseau was one of the first modern writers to seriously attack the institution of private property, and therefore is often considered a forebearer of modern socialism and communism (see Karl Marx, though Marx rarely mentions Rousseau in his writings). Rousseau also questioned the assumption that the will of the majority is always correct. He argued that the goal of government should be to secure freedom, equality, and justice for all within the state, regardless of the will of the majority.

In other words, the magistrates decide what’s best for the people. And so it is with modern liberals. To enforce their will they (yes, even so-called libertarians) invoke the vast power of the “technocratic” state that emerged in the 20th century, and which has found its greatest champion yet in Barack Obama. The “technocrats,” under the influence of pundits and academicians, define the “general will” of the people. There is, of course, no such thing as the general will or collective consciousness or “We the People.” The technocrats are simply bent on imposing their personal preferences and those of the pundits and academicians from whom they draw inspiration — with ample support from much of the citizenry (for venal reasons, to which I will come).

Modern liberalism didn’t begin to flourish until a century after Rousseau’s death. And when it did begin to flourish, it was due in large part to the capitalist paradox, which enables the interest-group paradox.

What do I mean? I begin with a post at Imlac’s Journal (no longer available) that includes this quotation from Matt McCaffrey’s “Entrepreneurs and Investment: Past, Present, … Future?” (International Business Times, December 9, 2011]:

Schumpeter argued [that] the economic systems [which] encourage entrepreneurship and development will eventually produce enough wealth to support large classes of individuals who have no involvement in the wealth-creation process. This generates apathy or even disgust for market institutions, which leads to the gradual takeover of business by bureaucracy, and eventually to full-blown socialism.

This, of course, is the capitalist paradox. The author of Imlac’s Journal concludes with these observations:

[U]nder statist regimes, people’s choices are limited or predetermined. This may, in theory, obviate certain evils. But as McCaffrey points out, “the regime uncertainty” of onerous and ever changing regulations imposed on entrepreneurs is, ironically, much worse than the uncertainties of the normal market, to which individuals can respond more rapidly and flexibly when unhampered by unnecessary governmental intervention.

The capitalist paradox is made possible by the “comfort factor” invoked by Schumpeter. It is of a kind with the foolishness of extreme libertarians who decry defense spending and America’s “too high” rate of incarceration, when it is such things that keep them free to utter their foolishness.

The capitalist paradox also arises from the inability and unwillingness of politicians and voters to see beyond the superficial aspects of legislation and regulation. In Frédéric Bastiat’s words (“What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen“),

a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

The unseen effects — the theft of Americans’ liberty and prosperity — had been foreseen by some (e.g., Tocqueville and Hayek). But their wise words have been overwhelmed by ignorance and power-lust. The masses and their masters are willfully blind and deaf to the dire consequences of the capitalist paradox because of what I have called the interest-group paradox:

The interest-group paradox is a paradox of mass action….

Pork-barrel legislation exemplifies the interest-group paradox in action, though the paradox encompasses much more than pork-barrel legislation. There are myriad government programs that — like pork-barrel projects — are intended to favor particular classes of individuals. Here is a minute sample:

  • Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, for the benefit of the elderly (including the indigent elderly)
  • Tax credits and deductions, for the benefit of low-income families, charitable and other non-profit institutions, and home buyers (with mortgages)
  • Progressive income-tax rates, for the benefit of persons in the mid-to-low income brackets
  • Subsidies for various kinds of “essential” or “distressed” industries, such as agriculture and automobile manufacturing
  • Import quotas, tariffs, and other restrictions on trade, for the benefit of particular industries and/or labor unions
  • Pro-union laws (in many States), for the benefit of unions and unionized workers
  • Non-smoking ordinances, for the benefit of bar and restaurant employees and non-smoking patrons.

What do each of these examples have in common? Answer: Each comes with costs. There are direct costs (e.g., higher taxes for some persons, higher prices for imported goods), which the intended beneficiaries and their proponents hope to impose on non-beneficiaries. Just as importantly, there are indirect costs of various kinds (e.g., disincentives to work and save, disincentives to make investments that spur economic growth)….

You may believe that a particular program is worth what it costs — given that you probably have little idea of its direct costs and no idea of its indirect costs. The problem is millions of your fellow Americans believe the same thing about each of their favorite programs. Because there are thousands of government programs (federal, State, and local), each intended to help a particular class of citizens at the expense of others, the net result is that almost no one in this fair land enjoys a “free lunch.” Even the relatively few persons who might seem to have obtained a “free lunch” — homeless persons taking advantage of a government-provided shelter — often are victims of the “free lunch” syndrome. Some homeless persons may be homeless because they have lost their jobs and can’t afford to own or rent housing. But they may have lost their jobs because of pro-union laws, minimum-wage laws, or progressive tax rates (which caused “the rich” to create fewer jobs through business start-ups and expansions).

The paradox that arises from the “free lunch” syndrome is…. like the paradox of panic, in that there is a  crowd of interest groups rushing toward a goal — a “pot of gold” — and (figuratively) crushing each other in the attempt to snatch the pot of gold before another group is able to grasp it. The gold that any group happens to snatch is a kind of fool’s gold: It passes from one fool to another in a game of beggar-thy-neighbor, and as it passes much of it falls into the maw of bureaucracy.

Then there are the state-dictated programs of social engineering so beloved of modern liberals, such as affirmative action, same-sex marriage, and open borders. (The second and third of these occasion the “liberaltarian” alliance.) These and similar causes are undertaken in the name of “victims” (without regard for the rights and well-being of blameless non-victims), but are really undertaken for the sake of upending a pluralistic social order that offends the sensitivities of modern liberals.

The upshot of all this is not just the loss of essential aspects of liberty — freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights — but the insidious erosion of America’s prosperity through government spending and regulation. The greatest costs of government spending and regulation are unseen; beneficial economic activity is aborted before it is born. Thus most Americans have been lulled into believing in the proverbial free lunch — that big government somehow makes them richer and freer, when the opposite is true.

The alternative to modern liberalism — the only viable and truly libertarian alternative — is traditional conservatism. I turn to Michael Oakeshott’s essay “On Being Conservative (Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, New and Expanded Edition):

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. In short, governing is understood to be just like any other activity — making and selling a brand of soap, exploiting the resources of a locality, or developing a housing estate — only the power here is (for the most part) already mobilized, and the enterprise is remarkable only because it aims at monopoly and because of its promise of success once the source of power has been captured….

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. And all this, not because passion is vice and moderation virtue, but because moderation is indispensable if passionate men are to escape being locked in an encounter of mutual frustration. A government of this sort does not need to be regarded as the agent of a benign providence, as the custodian of a moral law, or as the emblem of a divine order. What it provides is something that its subjects (if they are such people as we are) can easily recognise to be valuable; indeed, it is something that, to some extent, they do for themselves in the ordinary course of business or pleasure…. Generally speaking, they are not averse from paying the modest cost of this service; and they recognize that the appropriate attitude to a government of this sort is loyalty … , respect and some suspicion, not love or devotion or affection. Thus, governing is understood to be a secondary activity; but it is recognised also to be a specific activity, not easily to be combined with any other…. The subjects of such a government require that it shall be strong, alert, resolute, economical and neither capricious nor over-active: they have no use for a referee who does not govern the game according to the rules, who takes sides, who plays a game of his own, or who is always blowing his whistle; after all, the game’s the thing, and in playing the game we neither need to be, nor at present are disposed to be, conservative.

But there is something more to be observed in this style of governing than merely the restraint imposed by familiar and appropriate rules. Of course, it will not countenance government by suggestion or cajolery or by any other means than by law…. But the spectacle of its indifference to the beliefs and substantives activities of its subjects may itself by expected to provoke a habit of restraint. Into the heat of our engagements, into the passionate clash of beliefs, into our enthusiasm for saving the souls of our neighbours or of all mankind, a government of this sort injects an ingredient, not of reason … , but of the irony that is prepared to counteract one vice by another, of the raillery that deflates extravagance without itself pretending to wisdom: indeed, it might be said that we keep a government of this sort to do for us the scepticism we have neither the time nor the inclination to do for ourselves. It is like the cool touch of the mountain that one feels in the plain even on the hottest summer day. Or, to leave metaphor behind, it is like the ‘governor’ which, by controlling the speed at which its marts move, keeps an engine from racketing itself to pieces.

It is not, then, mere stupid prejudice 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’ what 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’. And one does not need to think that the belief in ‘progress’ is the most cruel and unprofitable of all beliefs, arousing cupidity without satisfying it, in order to think it inappropriate for a government to be conspicuously ‘progressive’. 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.

Contrast the conservative disposition to the attitude of left-wing intellectuals, do-gooders, and politicians to whom government “appears as a vast reservoir of power which inspires them to dream of what use might be made of it.” It may be true, as Oakeshott charitably asserts, that some of them “sincerely believe [that their favorite projects] are for the benefit of mankind.” But, in my observation, the left is largely animated by power-lust.

*     *     *

Related reading:

John J. Ray, “Authoritarianism Is Leftist, Not Rightist” (the complete version of an article later published in truncated form as “Explaining the Left/Right Divide,” Society, Vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 70-78)

John N. Gray, “Mill on the Priority of Liberty as Autonomy: Laissez-faire, Private Property, and Socialism,” Literature of Liberty. Vol. ii, no. 2, pp. 7-37. Arlington, VA: Institute for Humane Studies (as reproduced at the Library of Economics and Liberty)

Ed Fuelner, “Liberal in Name Only,” The Washington Times, May 9, 2016

Arnold Kling, “Liberalism and Its Enemies,” Library of Economics and Liberty, June 6, 2016

Steven Hayward, “Epic Correction of the Decade,” PowerLine, June 8, 2016

*     *     *

Related posts (listed in chronological order):

Conservatism, Libertarianism, and the Authoritarian Personality
The F Scale Revisited
Intellectuals and Capitalism
Liberal Fascism
On Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Inventing “Liberalism”
The Indivisibility of Social and Economic Liberty
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
Illegal Immigration: A Note to Libertarian Purists
Enough of “Social Welfare”
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
Intellectuals and Society: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
Bootleggers, Baptists, and Pornography
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Understanding Hayek
The Left and Its Delusions
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
What Is Libertarianism?
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
The Myth that Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Why (Libertarian) Conservatism Works
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
“We the People” and Big Government
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
Politics & Prosperity, “target=”_blank”>The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Romanticizing the State
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Bleeding Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists (Redux)
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
My View of Libertarianism
The Rahn Curve Revisited
A Cop-Free World?
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
Tolerance
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
Democracy, Human Nature, and America’s Future
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
The Gaystapo at Work
The Gaystapo and Islam
The Perpetual Nudger
Academic Ignorance
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Euphemism Conquers All
Pop Logic
How Democracy Works
Superiority
The “Marketplace” of Ideas
Thinkers vs. Doers
The War on Conservatism
Whiners
From Each According to His Ability…
America’s Political Profile
A Dose of Reality
“Cheerful” Thoughts
Assuming a Pretzel-Like Shape
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Immigration and Crime
Turning Points
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty

Mister Hockey, R.I.P.

Gordie Howe, the greatest goal-scorer in NHL history, has died at the age of 88. It was my privilege to watch Howe in action during the several years when I lived within range of the WXYZ, the Detroit TV station whose play-by-play announcer was Budd Lynch.

Why do I say that Howe was the greatest goal-scorer? Wayne Gretzky scored more career goals than Howe, and had nine seasons in which his goal-scoring surpassed Howe’s best season. I explained it 10 years ago. The rest of this post is a corrected version of the original.

Wayne (The Great One) Gretzky holds the all-time goal-scoring record for major-league hockey:

  • 894 goals in 1,487 regular-season games in the National Hockey League (1979-80 season through 1998-99 season)
  • Another 46 regular-season goals in the 80 games he played in the World Hockey Association (1978-79 season)
  • A total of 940 goals in 1,567 games, or 0.600 goals per game.

The raw numbers suggest that Gretzky far surpassed Gordie (Mr. Hockey) Howe, who finished his much longer career with the following numbers:

  • 801 regular-season goals in 1,767 NHL games (1946-47 through 1970-71 and 1979-80)
  • Another 174 goals and 419 games in the WHA (1973-74 through 1978-79)
  • A total of 975 goals in 2,186 games, or 0.446 goals per game.

That makes Gretzky the greater goal scorer, eh? Not so fast. Comparing Gretzky’s raw numbers with those of Howe is like comparing Pete Rose’s total base hits (4,256) with Ty Cobb’s (4,189), without mentioning that Rose compiled his hits in far more at-bats (14,053) than Cobb (11,434). Thus Cobb’s lifetime average of .366 far surpasses Rose’s average of .303. Moreover, Cobb compiled his higher average in an era when batting averages were generally lower than they were in Rose’s era.

Similarly, Howe scored most of his goals in an era when the average team scored between 2.5 and 3 goals a game; Gretzky scored most of his goals in an era when the average team scored between 3.5 and 4 goals a game. The right way to compare Gretzky and Howe’s goal-scoring prowess is to compare the number of goals they scored in each season to the average output of a team in that season. This following graph does just that.

Howe vs. Gretzky
Sources: Howe’s season-by-season statistics; Gretzky’s season-by-season statistics; gateway to NHL and WHA season-by-season league statistics.

Gretzky got off to a faster start than Howe, but Howe had the better record from age 24 onward. Gretzky played 20 NHL seasons, the first ending when he was 19 years old and the last ending when he was 38 years old. Over the comparable 20-season span, Howe scored 4.3 percent more adjusted goals than did Gretzky. Moreover, Howe’s adjusted-goal total for his entire NHL-WHA career (32 seasons) exceeds Gretzky’s (21 seasons) by 43 percent. Howe not only lasted longer, but his decline was more gradual than Gretzky’s.

And Howe — unlike Gretzky — played an all-around game. He didn’t need an enforcer for protection; he was his own enforcer, as many an opponent learned the hard way.

Gordie Howe was not only Mister Hockey, he was also Mister Goal Scorer. “No doot aboot it.”

With Gordie Howe and Ty Cobb, Detroit’s major-league hockey and baseball franchises can claim the greatest players of their respective sports.

Unwatchable Movies on the Rise

I’ve explained my movie-rating scale here. The lowest rating (on a 1-10 scale) is a 1, which means that I found it unwatchable. But I watched enough of it to form an opinion of it. Why abandon a film after 5-15 minutes of viewing? Here are some of the reasons: trite, pompous, or boring dialogue; leaden satire; blatantly leftist political propaganda; juvenalia aimed at teenyboppers and twenty-somethings; and cringeworthy acting.

I’ve assigned a rating of 1 to 56 of the 2,121 feature films that I recall having seen. Here’s the list of titles, with year of release and average rating given by users at the Internet Movie Database (IMDB):

Unwatchable movies_list

If you strongly disagree with me about one or more of these movies, let me know. In any event, the frequency of movies that I find unwatchable is on the rise:

Unwatchable movies_graph

That’s consistent with the downward trend in the quality of films, as I see it:

Movie ratings_annual and overall

What about the recent upward trend in ratings assigned by IMDb users? As I say here:

  • IMDb users, on the whole, have overrated films released from the early 1940s to about 1980, and from the late 1990s to the present. The ratings for films released in the latter period undoubtedly reflect the dominance of younger viewers who “grew up” with IMDb, who prefer novelty to quality, and who have little familiarity with earlier films. On the other hand, I have rated 852 films that were released in 1996-2014, and 1,248 films from 1920-1995 [now 868 films from 1996-2015 and 1,253 from 1920-1995].
  • My ratings, based on long experience and exacting standards, indicate that movies not only are not better than ever, they are generally getting worse as the years roll on.

How exacting are my standards? Hundreds of thousands of IMDb users give higher ratings to the films I choose to watch than to films in general:

Ratings of films ive seen vs ratings of all films
Note: “All films” represents 65,290 films designated by IMDb as “English-language,” of which I have seen 2,200. (I have seen 2,424 but IMDb lists only 2,200 of them.)

*      *      *

Related posts:
A Hollywood Circle
Movies
Christmas Movies
Pride and Prejudice on Film
The Movies: (Not) Better Than Ever
At the Movies: The Best and Worst Years
My Year at the Movies (2007)
Forgotten Stars
The Quality of Films over the Decades
More about the Quality of Films
The Movies: Not Better than Ever (II)
The Longevity of Stars
2013: A Bad Year at the Movies
A Trip to the Movies
Another Trip to the Movies

The Basic Income Guarantee (BIG): Or, How to Make Government Bigger

The Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), also known as Universal Basic Income (UBI), is the latest fool’s gold of “libertarian” thought. John Cochrane devotes too much time and blog space to the criticism and tweaking of the idea. David Henderson cuts to the chase by pointing out that even a “modest” BIG — $10,000 per adult American per year — would result in “a huge increase in federal spending, a huge increase in tax rates, and a huge increase in the deadweight loss from taxes.”

Aside from the fact that BIG would be a taxpayer-funded welfare program — to which I generally object — it would necessarily add to the already heavy burden on taxpayers, even though it is touted as a substitute for many (all?) extant welfare programs. The problem is that the various programs are aimed at specific recipients (e.g., women with dependent children, families with earned incomes below a certain level). As soon as a specific but “modest” proposal is seriously floated in Congress, various welfare constituencies will find that proposal wanting because their “entitlements” would shrink. A BIG bill would pass muster only if it allowed certain welfare programs to continue, in addition to BIG, or if the value of BIG were raised to a level that such that no welfare constituency would be a “loser.”

In sum, regardless of the aims of its proponents — who, ironically, tend to call themselves libertarians — BIG would lead to higher welfare spending and more enrollees in the welfare state.

A Rather Normal Distribution

I found a rather normal distribution from the real world — if you consider major-league baseball to be part of the real world. In a recent post I explained how I normalized batting statistics for the 1901-2015 seasons, and displayed the top-25 single-season batting averages, slugging percentages, and on-base-plus-slugging percentages after normalization.

I have since discovered that the normalized single-season batting averages for 14,067 player-seasons bear a strong resemblance to a textbook normal distribution:

Distribution of normalized single-season batting averrages

How close is this to a textbook normal distribution? Rather close, as measured by the percentage of observations that are within 1, 2, 3, and 4 standard deviations from the mean:

Distribution of normalized single-season batting averrages_table

Ty Cobb not only compiled the highest single-season average (4.53 SD above the mean) but 5 of the 12 single-season averages more than 4 SD above the mean:

Ty Cobb's normalized single-season batting_SD from mean

Cobb’s superlative performances in the 13-season span from 1907 through 1919 resulted in 12 American League batting championships. (The unofficial number has been reduced to 11 because it was later found that Cobb actually lost the 1910 title by a whisker — .3834 to Napoleon Lajoie’s .3841.)

Cobb’s normalized batting average for his worst full season (1924) is better than 70 percent of the 14,067 batting averages compiled by full-time players in the 115 years from 1901 through 2015. And getting on base was only part of what made Cobb the greatest player of all time.

Baseball’s Greatest and Worst Teams

When talk turns to the greatest baseball team of all time, most baseball fans will nominate the 1927 New York Yankees. Not only did that team post a won-lost record of 110-44, for a W-L percentage of .714, but its roster featured several future Hall-of-Famers: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Earl Combs, and Tony Lazzeri. As it turns out, the 1927 Yankees didn’t have the best record in “modern” baseball, that is, since the formation of the American League in 1901. Here are the ten best seasons (all above .700), ranked by W-L percentage:

Team Year G W L W-L%
Cubs 1906 155 116 36 .763
Pirates 1902 142 103 36 .741
Pirates 1909 154 110 42 .724
Indians 1954 156 111 43 .721
Mariners 2001 162 116 46 .716
Yankees 1927 155 110 44 .714
Yankees 1998 162 114 48 .704
Cubs 1907 155 107 45 .704
Athletics 1931 153 107 45 .704
Yankees 1939 152 106 45 .702

And here are the 20 worst seasons, all below .300:

Team Year G W L W-L%
Phillies 1945 154 46 108 .299
Brown 1937 156 46 108 .299
Phillies 1939 152 45 106 .298
Browns 1911 152 45 107 .296
Braves 1909 155 45 108 .294
Braves 1911 156 44 107 .291
Athletics 1915 154 43 109 .283
Phlllies 1928 152 43 109 .283
Red Sox 1932 154 43 111 .279
Browns 1939 156 43 111 .279
Phillies 1941 155 43 111 .279
Phillies 1942 151 42 109 .278
Senators 1909 156 42 110 .276
Pirates 1952 155 42 112 .273
Tigers 2003 162 43 119 .265
Athletics 1919 140 36 104 .257
Senators 1904 157 38 113 .252
Mets 1962 161 40 120 .250
Braves 1935 153 38 115 .248
Athletics 1916 154 36 117 .235

But it takes more than a season, or even a few of them, to prove a team’s worth. The following graphs depict the best records in the American and National Leagues over nine-year spans:

Centered nine-year W-L record, best AL

Centered nine-year W-L record, best NL

For sustained excellence over a long span of years, the Yankees are the clear winners. Moreover, the Yankees’ best nine-year records are centered on 1935 and 1939. In the nine seasons centered on 1935 — namely 1931-1939 — the Yankees compiled a W-L percentage of .645. In those nine seasons, the Yankees won five American League championships and as many World Series. The Yankees compiled a barely higher W-L percentage of .646 in the nine seasons centered on 1939 — 1935-1943. But in those nine seasons, the Yankees won the American League championship seven times — 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942, and 1943 — and the World Series six times (losing to the Cardinals in 1942).

Measured by league championships, the Yankees compiled better nine-year streaks, winning eight pennants in 1949-1957, 1950-1958, and 1955-1963. But for sheer, overall greatness, I’ll vote for the Yankees of the 1930s and early 1940s. Babe Ruth graced the Yankees through 1934, and the 1939 team (to pick one) included future Hall-of-Famers Bill Dickey, Joe Gordon, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehring (in his truncated final season), Red Ruffing, and Lefty Gomez.

Here are the corresponding worst nine-year records in the two leagues:

Centered nine-year W-L record, worst AL

Centered nine-year W-L record, worst NL

The Phillies — what a team! The Phillies, Pirates, and Cubs should have been demoted to Class D leagues.

What’s most interesting about the four graphs is the general decline in the records of the best teams and the general rise in the records of the worst teams. That’s a subject for another post.