Month: December 2016

Unorthodox Economics: 2. Pitfalls

This is the second entry in what I hope will become a book-length series of posts. That result, if it comes to pass, will amount to an unorthodox economics textbook. Here are the chapters that have been posted to date:

1. What Is Economics?
2. Pitfalls
3. What Is Scientific about Economics?
4. A Parable of Political Economy

A person who wants to learn about economics should be forewarned about pernicious tendencies and beliefs — often used unthinkingly and expressed subtly — that lurk in writings and speeches about economics and economic issues. This chapter treats seven such tendencies and beliefs:

  • misuse of probability
  • reductionism
  • nirvana fallacy
  • social welfare
  • romanticizing the state
  • paternalism
  • judging motives instead of results

MISUSE OF PROBABILITY

Probability is seldom invoked in non-technical economics. But when it is, beware of it. A statement about the probability of an event is either (a) a subjective evaluation (“educated” guess) about what is likely to happen or (b) a strict, mathematical statement about the observed frequency of the occurrence of a well-defined random event. I will bet you even money that the first meaning applies in at least six of the next ten times that you read or hear a statement about probability or its cognate “chance,” as in 50-percent chance of rain. And my subjective evaluation is that I have a 90-percent probability of winning the bet.

Let’s take the chance of rain (or snow or sleet, etc.). You may rely heavily on a weather forecaster’s statement about the probability that it will rain today. If the stated probability is high, you may postpone an outing of some kind, or take an umbrella when you leave the house, or wear a water-repellent coat instead of a cloth one, and so on. That’s prudent behavior on your part, even though the weather forecaster’s statement isn’t really probabilistic.

What the weather forecaster is telling you (or relaying to you from the National Weather Service) is a subjective evaluation of the “chance” that it will rain in a given geographic area, based on known conditions (e.g., wind direction, presence of a nearby front, water-vapor imagery). The “chance” may be computed mathematically, but its computation rests on judgments about the occurrence of rain-producing events, such as the speed of a front’s movement and the direction of water-vapor flow. In the end, however, you’re left with only a weather forecaster’s judgment, and it’s up to you to evaluate it and act accordingly.

What about something that involves “harder” numbers, such as the likelihood of winning a lottery (where there’s good information about the number of tickets sold) or casting the deciding vote in an election (where there’s good information about the number of votes that will be cast)? I will continue with the case of voting, which is discussed in chapter 1 as an example of the extent to which economics has spread beyond its former preoccupations with buyers, sellers, and the aggregation of their activities.

An economist named Bryan Caplan has written a lot about voting. For example, he says the following in “Why I Don’t Vote: The Honest Truth” (EconLog, September 13, 2016):

Aren’t we [economists] always advising people to choose their best option, even when their best option is bleak?  Sure, but abstention [from voting] is totally an option.  And while politicians have a clear incentive to ignore we abstainers, only remaining aloof from our polity gives me inner peace.

You could respond, “Inner peace at what price?”  It is only at this point that I invoke the miniscule probability of voter decisiveness.  If I had a 5% chance of tipping an electoral outcome, I might hold my nose, scrupulously compare the leading candidates, and vote for the Lesser Evil.  Indeed, if, like von Stauffenberg, I had a 50/50 shot of saving millions of innocent lives by putting my own in grave danger, I’d consider it.  But I refuse to traumatize myself for a one-in-a-million chance of moderately improving the quality of American governance.  And one-in-a-million is grossly optimistic.

Caplan links to a portion of his lecture notes for a course in the logic of collective action. The notes include this mathematical argument:

III. Calculating the Probability of Decisiveness, I: Mathematics

A. When does a vote matter? At least in most systems, it only matters if it “flips” the outcome of the election.

B. This can only happen if the winner wins by a single vote. In that case, each voter is “decisive”; if one person decided differently, the outcome would change.

C. In all other cases, the voter is not decisive; the outcome would not change if one person decided differently.

D. It is obvious that the probability of casting the decisive vote in a large electorate is extremely small….

H. Now suppose that everyone but yourself votes “for” with probability p – and “against” with probability (1-p).

I. Then from probability theory: caplan-on-voting-probability-of-tie

J. From this formula, we can see that the probability of a tie falls when the number of voters goes up….

K. Intuitively, the more people there are, the less likely one person makes a difference….

IV. Calculating the Probability of Decisiveness, II: Examples

A. What is neat about the above formula is that it allows us to say not just how the probability of decisiveness changes, but how much….

I. Upshot: For virtually any real-world election, the probability of casting the decisive vote is not just small; it is normally infinitesimal. The extreme observation that “You will not affect the outcome of an election by voting” is true for all practical purposes.

J. Even if you were to play around with the formula to increase your estimate a thousand-fold, your estimated answer would remain vanishingly small.

What Caplan and other economists who write in the same vein ignore is the influence of their point of view. It’s self-defeating because it appeals to extremely rationalistic people like Caplan. One aspect of their rationalism is a cold-eyed view of government, namely, that it almost always does more harm than good. That’s a position with which I agree, but it’s a reason to vote rather than abstain. If rationalists like Caplan abstain from voting in large numbers, their abstention may well cause some elections to be won by candidates who favor more government rather than less.

Moreover, Caplan’s argument against voting is really a way of rationalizing his disdain for voting. This is from “Why I Don’t Vote: The Honest Truth”:

My honest answer begins with extreme disgust.  When I look at voters, I see human beings at their hysterical, innumerate worst.  When I look at politicians, I see mendacious, callous bullies.  Yes, some hysterical, innumerate people are more hysterical and innumerate than others.  Yes, some mendacious, callous bullies are more mendacious, callous, and bully-like than others.  But even a bare hint of any of these traits appalls me.  When someone gloats, “Politifact says Trump is pants-on-fire lying 18% of the time, versus just 2% for Hillary,” I don’t want to cheer Hillary.  I want to retreat into my Bubble, where people dutifully speak the truth or stay silent.

Thus demonstrating the confirmation bias in Caplan’s mathematical “proof” of the futility of voting.

Nor is his “proof” really probabilistic. A single event — be it an election, a lottery drawing, of the toss of a fair coin — doesn’t have a probability.  What does it mean to say, for example, that there’s a probability of 0.5 (50 percent) that a tossed coin will come up heads (H), and a probability of 0.5 that it will come up tails (T)? Does such a statement have any bearing on the outcome of a single toss of a coin? No, it doesn’t. The statement is only a shorthand way of saying that in a sufficiently large number of tosses, approximately half will come up H and half will come up T. The result of each toss, however, is a random event — it has no probability. You may have an opinion (or a hunch or a guess) about the outcome of a single coin toss, but it’s only your opinion (hunch, guess). In the end, you have to bet on a discrete outcome.

An election that hasn’t taken place can’t have a probability. There will be opinion polls — a lot of them in the case of a presidential election — but choosing to vote (or not) because of opinion polls can be self-defeating. Take the recent presidential election. Almost all of the polls, including those that forecast the electoral vote as well as the popular vote, had Mrs. Clinton winning over Mr. Trump.

But despite the high “probability” of a victory by Mrs. Clinton, she lost. Why? Because the “ignorant” voters in several swing States turned out in large numbers, while too many pro-Clinton voters evidently didn’t bother to vote. It’s possible that she lost some crucial States because of the abstention of voters who believed the high “probability” that she would win.

The election of 2016 — like every other election — isn’t even close to being something as simple as the toss of a fair coin. And, despite its mathematical precision, a statement about the probability of the next toss of a fair coin is meaningless. It will come up H or it will come up T, but it will not come up 0.5 H or T.

REDUCTIONISM

This subject is more important than probability, so I will say far less about it.

Reductionism is the adoption of a theory or method which holds that a complex idea or system can be completely understood in terms of its simpler components. Most reductionists will defend their theory or method by agreeing that it is simple, if not simplistic. But they will nevertheless adhere to that theory or method because it’s “the best we have.” That claim should remind you of the hoary joke about the drunk who searched for his keys under a street light because he could see the ground there, even though he had dropped the keys half a block away.

Caplan’s adherence to the simplistic, mathematical analysis of voting is a good example of reductionism. Why? Because it omits the crucial influence of group behavior. It also omits other reasons for voting (or not). It certainly omits Caplan’s real reason, which is his “extreme disgust” for voters and the candidates from whom they must choose. Finally, it omits the psychic value of voting — its “feel good” effect.

Economists also are guilty of reductionism when they suggest that persons act rationally only when they pursue the maximization of income or wealth. I’ll say more about that when I get to paternalism.

NIRVANA FALLACY

The nirvana fallacy is the logical error of comparing actual things with unrealistic, idealized alternatives. The actual things usually are the “somethings” about which government is supposed to “do something.” The unrealistic, idealized alternatives are the outcomes sought by the proponents of a particular course of government action.

There is also a pervasive nirvana fallacy about government itself. Government — which is a mere collection of fallible, squabbling, power-lusting humans — is too often thought and spoken of as if it were a kind of omniscient, single-minded, benevolent being that can overcome the forces of nature and human nature which give rise, in the first place, to the “something” about which “something must be done.”

Specific examples of the nirvana fallacy will arise in later chapters of this book.

SOCIAL WELFARE

Wouldn’t you like to arrange the world so that everyone is better off? If you would — and I suspect that most people would — you’d have to define “better off.” Happier, healthier, and wealthier make a good starting point. Of course, you’d have to arrange it so that everyone would be happier and healthier and wealthier in the future as well as in the present. That is, for example, you couldn’t arrange greater happiness at the cost of greater wealth, or at the cost of the greater happiness or wealth of those living today or their descendants.

It’s a tall order isn’t it? In fact, it’s an impossibility. (You might even call it a state of nirvana.) In the real world of limited resources, the best that can happen is that a change of some kind (e.g., the invention of an anti-polio vaccine, hybridization to produce healthier and more abundant crops) makes it possible for many people to be better off — but at a price. There is no free lunch. Someone must bear the costs of devising and implementing beneficial changes. In market economies, those costs are borne by the people who reap the benefits because they (the beneficiaries) voluntarily pay for whatever it is that makes their lives better.

Enter government, whose agents decide such things what lines of medical research to fund, and how much to spend on each line of research. A breakthrough in a line of research might be a boon to millions of Americans. But other millions of Americans — many more millions, in fact — won’t benefit from the breakthrough, though a large fraction of them will have funded the underlying research through taxes extracted from them by force. I say by force because tax collections would decline sharply if it weren’t for the credible threat of heavy fines and imprisonment tax collections.

A voluntary exchange results when each of the parties to the exchange believes that he will be better off as a result of the exchange. An honest voluntary exchange — one in which there is no deception or material lack of information — therefore improves the well-being (welfare) of all parties. An involuntary exchange, as in the case of tax-funded medical research, cannot result make all parties better off. No government agent — or economist, pundit, or politician — can look into the minds of millions of people and say that each of them would willingly donate a certain amount of money to fund this or that government program. And yet, that is the presumption which lies behind government spending.

That presumption is the fallacious foundation of cost-benefit analysis undertaken to evaluate government programs. If the “social benefit” of a program is said to equal or exceed its cost, the program is presumably justified because the undertaking of it would cause “social welfare” to increase. But a “social benefit” — like a breakthrough in medical research — is a always a benefit to some persons, while the taxes paid to elicit the benefit are nothing but a burden to other persons, who have their own problems and priorities.

Why doesn’t the good outweigh the bad? Think of it this way: If a bully punches you in the nose, thus deriving much pleasure at your expense, who is to say that the bully’s pleasure outweighs your pain? Do you believe that there’s a third party who is entitled to say that the result of your transaction with the bully is a heightened state of social welfare? Evidently, there are a lot of voters, economists, pundits, and politician who act as if they believe it.

ROMANTICIZING THE STATE

This section is a corollary to the preceding one.

It is a logical and factual error to apply the collective “we” to Americans, except when referring generally to the citizens of the United States. Other instances of “we” (e.g., “we” won World War II, “we” elected Barack Obama) are fatuous and presumptuous. In the first instance, only a small fraction of Americans still living had a hand in the winning of World War II. In the second instance, Barack Obama was elected by amassing the votes of fewer than 25 percent of the number of Americans living in 2008 and 2012. “We the People” — that stirring phrase from the Constitution’s preamble — was never more hollow than it is today.

Further, the logical and factual error supports the unwarranted view that the growth of government somehow reflects a “national will” or consensus of Americans. Thus, appearances to the contrary (e.g., the adoption and expansion of national “social insurance” schemes, the proliferation of cabinet departments, the growth of the administrative state) a sizable fraction of Americans (perhaps a majority) did not want government to grow to its present size and degree of intrusiveness. And a sizable fraction (perhaps a majority) would still prefer that it shrink in both dimensions. In fact, The growth of government is an artifact of formal and informal arrangements that, in effect, flout the wishes of many (most?) Americans. The growth of government was not and is not the will of “we Americans,” “Americans on the whole,” “Americans in the aggregate,” or any other mythical consensus.

PATERNALISM

Paternalism arises from the same source as “social welfare”; that is, it reflects a presumption that there are some persons who are competent to decide what’s best for other persons. That may be true of parents, but it is most assuredly not true of so-called libertarian paternalists.

Consider an example that’s used to explain libertarian paternalism. Some workers choose “irrationally” — according to libertarian paternalists — when they decline to sign up for an employer’s 401(k) plan. The paternalists characterize the “do not join” option as the default option. In my experience, there is no default option: An employee must make a deliberate choice between joining a 401(k) or not joining it. And if the employee chooses not to join it, he or she must sign a form certifying that choice. That’s not a default, it’s a clear-cut and deliberate choice which reflects the employee’s best judgment, at that time, as to the best way to allocate his or her income. Nor is it an irrevocable choice; it can be revisited annually (or more often under certain circumstances).

But to help employees make the “right” choice, libertarian paternalists would find a way to herd employees into 401(k) plans (perhaps by law). In one variant of this bit of paternalism, an employee is automatically enrolled in a 401(k) and isn’t allowed to opt out for some months, by which time he or she has become used to the idea of being enrolled and declines to opt out.

The underlying notion is that people don’t always choose what’s “best” for themselves. Best according to whom? According to libertarian paternalists, of course, who tend to equate “best” with wealth maximization. They simply disregard or dismiss the truly rational preferences of those who must live with the consequences of their decisions.

Libertarian paternalism incorporates two fallacies. One is what I call the rationality fallacy (a kind of reductionism), the other is the fallacy of central planning.

As for the rationality fallacy, there is simply a lot more to maximizing satisfaction than maximizing wealth. That’s why some couples choose to have a lot of children, when doing so obviously reduces the amount of wealth that they can accumulate. That’s why some persons choose to retire early rather than stay in stressful jobs. Rationality and wealth maximization are two very different things, but a lot of laypersons and too many economists are guilty of equating them.

Nevertheless, many economists do equate rationality and wealth maximization, which leads them to propose schemes for forcing us to act more “rationally.” Such schemes, of course, are nothing more than central planning, dreamt up by self-anointed wise men who seek to impose their preferences on the rest of us. They are, in other words, schemes to maximize that which can’t be maximized: social welfare.

JUDGING MOTIVES INSTEAD OF RESULTS

If a person commits what seems to be an altruistic act, that person may seem to sacrifice something (e.g., a life, a fortune) but the “sacrifice” was that person’s choice. An altruistic act serves an end: the satisfaction of one’s personal values — nothing more, nothing less. There is nothing inherent in a supposedly altruistic act that makes it morally superior to profit-seeking, which is usually thought of as the opposite of altruism.

To illustrate my point I resort to the following bits of caricature:

1. Suppose Mother Teresa’s acts of “sacrifice” were born of rebellion against parents who wanted her to take over their business empire. That is, suppose Mother Teresa derived great satisfaction in defying her parents, and it is that which drove her to impoverish herself and suffer many hardships. The more she “suffered” the more her parents suffered and the happier she became.

2. Suppose Bill Gates really wanted to become a male version of Mother Teresa but his grandmother, on her deathbed, said “Billy, I want you to make the world safe from the Apple computer.” So, Billy went out and did that, for his grandmother’s sake, even though he really wanted to be the male Mother Teresa. Then he wound up being immensely wealthy, much to his regret. But Billy obviously put his affection for or fear of his grandmother above his desire to become a male version of Mother Teresa. He satisfied his personal values. And in doing so, he make life better for millions of people, many millions more than were served by Mother Teresa’s efforts. It’s just that Billy’s efforts weren’t heart-rending, and were seemingly motivated by profit-seeking.

Now, tell me, who is the altruist, my fictional Mother Teresa or my fictional Bill Gates? You might now say Bill Gates. I would say neither; each acted in accordance with her and his personal values. One might call the real Mother Teresa altruistic because her actions seem altruistic, in the common meaning of the word. But one can’t say (for sure) why she took those actions. Suppose that the real Mother Teresa acted as she did not only because she wanted to help the poor but also because she sought spiritual satisfaction or salvation. Would that negate her acts? No, her acts would still be her acts, regardless of their motivation. The same goes for the real Bill Gates.

Results matter more than motivations. (“The road to hell,” and all that.) It is arguable that profit-seekers like the real Bill Gates — and the real John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and their ilk — brought more happiness to humankind than did Mother Teresa and others of her ilk.

That insight is at least 240 years old. Adam Smith put it this way in The Wealth of Nations (1776):

By pursuing his own interest [a person] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.

A person who makes a profit makes it by doing something of value for others.

A Downside of Empathy

When you can keep your head when others about you are losing theirs, maybe you don’t understand the gravity of the situation.

It’s a funny line, but it also points to a downside of empathy. Empathy is defined as “the power of entering into another’s personality and imaginatively experiencing his feelings.” Extreme empathy puts the empathizer in the same panicked condition as those around him. Which means that the empathizer is probably unable to view the situation unemotionally and react to it rationally.

Unorthodox Economics: 1. What Is Economics?

This is the first entry in what I hope will become a book-length series of posts. That result, if it comes to pass, will amount to an unorthodox economics textbook. This first chapter gives a hint of things to come. Here are the chapters that have been posted to date:

1. What is Economics?
2. Pitfalls
3. What Is Scientific about Economics?
4. A Parable of Political Economy

A book about economics should begin by explaining what the author means by the word. Many economists have given many definitions of economics. You can look them up.

Regardless of where it started, economics seems to have become the study of how human beings make choices and how those choices affect them directly (e.g., the demand for and supply of new automobiles, enrollment in an employer’s retirement plan) and indirectly (e.g., the effects of government actions on the income available for the purchase of new automobiles or on the benefits paid out by retirement plans). The parenthetical examples are about choices that usually come with dollar signs attached. And most non-economists probably think of economics as having something (or everything) to do with money – earning it, spending it, making a profit (or not) by making and selling things, adding up the dollar value of items bought and sold to arrive at an estimate of aggregate economic activity, and understanding why the aggregate grows and shrinks, for example.

But there are many economists nowadays who have taken the study of choice into areas that would seem strange to economists of yore. Here’s just one example: voting, as in whether or not to vote and how much time (if any) to spend in the pursuit of information about the candidates or issues on the ballot. Some economists tackle voting as they would any other aspect of economics: by arguing (pro or con) that voting is rational (or irrational) given the amount of time involved (time that could spent on other pursuits, such as making money), the vanishingly small chance that an individual vote will tip the balance in an election (at least in an election where there are more than a few hundred voters), and the effect of the election results on the individual voter’s well-being (usually in terms of money).

On the other hand (as economists are supposedly fond of saying), there are economists who recognize that casting a ballot is a “feel good” act, and that voting is therefore rational if it makes one happier. But that’s only a local, short-run effect. Some economists understand that voting leads to the enactment of policies that harm voters (or many of them), regardless of why they choose to vote. This points to two conclusions: (1) Voting should be discouraged, and (2) the power of government should be curbed so that voters can feel good without causing harm (or as much of it as they do now).

So, which is it? Is voting a waste of time or is it a good use of time if it makes the voter feel good? And is it worse than a waste of time if it leads to harm? This conundrum illustrates a key point about economics (and analysis in general): It leads to conclusions that are built into the assumptions (usually implicit) that guide the economist who studies an issue. If the economist cares about liberty, he is likely to tackle the issue of voting as it affects persons other than the voter. If the economist isn’t interested in liberty – or if he sees it only as a peripheral issue — he is likely to tackle the issue of voting as it affects the voter.

Unfortunately, too many economists take the view that if government can do something to promote economic well-being, it ought to be empowered to do so. But economic well-being is in the eye of the beholder. And in this era of massive redistribution, one person’s benefit is another person’s cost. Who, other than an arrogant economist, presumes to weigh one person’s benefit against another person’s cost? My list begins with the greedy voter who believes that he can get something for nothing; the smug pundit; and the power-hungry, vote-buying politician.

There is much more to be said about the wayward paths taken by economists, and the essays in this book say a lot of it. But more than that, this book is a defense of liberty against economists who – wittingly or not – undermine it. And, ironically, the diminution of liberty results in the diminution of prosperity, which economists claim to love.

In sum economics is fraught with dangerous error. This book is meant as a warning and antidote.

Economics from the Bottom Up

This is the sixth entry in a series of loosely connected posts on economics. Previous entries are here, here, here, here, and here.

NEEDS AND WANTS

What human beings want and what they need are popularly thought to be distinguishable things. Needs are said to be those things that sustain life: food (the minimum daily requirement, with no frills), clothing (just enough to protect us from the elements), and shelter (ditto). Wants are generally thought to be everything else.

But individuals vary in their perceptions of what they need; one person’s need is another person’s luxury. If a rich playboy “needs” a $300,000 Lamborghini, that’s for him to say. Accountants of the soul — moralists who believe that they know how the world should be ordered — will assert that the rich playboy can make do with a $10,000 Kia. But if that’s true, everyone can make do with a $10,000 Kia. And if that’s true, why not a bus token? (Only the older folks will remember those.)

Once the accountants of the soul are loosed, the people are allowed to need (or want) whatever the accountants of the soul approve. Except for those people who are in the good graces of the accountants of the soul. If you suspect that I’m alluding to places like the the former Soviet Union, the former German Democratic (sic) Republic, and the present Cuba and Venezuela, you’re right.

Given that “need” is a loaded word, I use the less-loaded “want.” Thus the rich playboy wants a $300,000 Lamborghini. Whether he needs it is not for economists or accountants of the soul to determine. It’s for the rich playboy to determine as he allocates his available income and wealth to competing products, services, and investment vehicles.

Wants are limitless. I may want a $300,000 Lamborghini (though I am not a rich playboy), a villa on the Mediterranean, and a collection of Rembrandts. Those wants lie far beyond my reach, and the reach of most human beings.

The main attribute of wants, other than their inherent limitlessness, is their vast variety and changeableness. Wants and their ordering can change from minute to minute, depending on what a person was doing a minute ago, what he happens to be doing now, where he happens to be doing it, the conditions in which he is doing it, who or what happens to impinge on his consciousness, how he is feeling (emotionally and physically), and so on. It takes free markets — not command economies run by soul-accountants — to respond to the vast variety and changeableness of wants.

TASTES AND PREFERENCES

A particular want is sometimes referred to as a taste. My taste for ice cream has persisted for more than seven decades. But I may, at various times, want different kinds of ice cream. And I may, at various times, prefer a certain ice cream to, say, chocolate cake, or vice versa.

To take another example, a middle-aged man may have only a residual taste for action movies; that is, he rarely wants to view one, given the alternative ways in which in can use his time and given his recently acquired taste for technical non-fiction books. Yet, twenty years earlier, when he had a strong taste for action movies, the now middle-aged man had no interest in technical non-fiction; it didn’t enter into his thoughts when he pondered whether to watch an action film or do something else.

If tastes represent the kinds of things wanted by a person, preferences are the order in which a person wishes to satisfy those tastes. Preferences, like tastes, change with time (often rapidly), and are also situation-dependent. For example, when I’ve finished eating a large bowl of chocolate ice cream, I’m likely to prefer a glass of cold root beer to another bowl of chocolate ice cream.

The preference for a glass of cold root beer rather than another bowl of ice cream doesn’t necessarily mean that the second bowl of ice cream would give me less satisfaction than the first bowl. It might or might not. But, in the circumstances, I would enjoy a glass of cold root beer more than another bowl of ice cream. (The concept of diminishing marginal utility may apply to particular things at particular times, but it is neither generally true nor a valid reason for redistributing income by force.)

UTILITY AND DEMAND

There are two classic microeconomic constructs that reduce wants, tastes, and preferences to discrete quantities: indifference curves and demand curves.

An indifference curve is said to depict the rate at which a consumer is willing to exchange units of product X for units of other products, while holding constant his level of satisfaction (utility) and his preferences (ordering of wants). Given the rapidity with which preferences can change, I see little utility in indifference curves — except as a pedagogic device.

A demand curve for X can be derived from indifference curves by showing how the amount of X preferred by the consumer varies with the price of X, where (at each price) the consumer chooses the mix of X and other economic goods that maximize his utility. (I use economic goods to stand for products — material items — and services, which require the use of material items but which aren’t material (e.g., a haircut, the use of a credit card to make a purchase).

But an individual’s wants, tastes, and preferences are fuzzy at any given time. So, an individual’s demand for X at any given time is fuzzy — and then it changes, in fuzzy ways.

The summation of all consumers’ demand curves for X yields, in theory, an aggregate or market demand for X at an instant in time — holding constant wants, preferences, income, and the prices of other goods. In other words, the demand for a given economic good is very fuzzy. It may be possible to estimate approximately the demand for a particular economic good for a brief period of time, though the approximation will necessarily come with a range of uncertainty.

SUPPLY: THE SATISFACTION OF WANTS

If demand is one blade of a scissor, supply is the other blade. By supply I mean the ways in which human beings contrive to satisfy at least some of their wants some of the time. Supply comes in three basic forms: individual action, cooperative behavior, and voluntary exchange.

Individual action is just that: what each of us does to satisfy his wants without the help of others, and without recourse to the exchange of one’s resources for the resources of others.  Needless to say, individual action is limited mainly to Robinson Crusoe cases: situations in which a person must fend for himself, to the best of his ability and given the resources at hand.

Cooperative behavior is more relevant to the satisfaction of wants. It is the kind of behavior that wasn’t uncommon in the rural America of decades past, when each farm family operated as an economic unit. The combined efforts of a family — joined at times by neighbors — yielded shelter, food, and (sometimes) clothing, all of which were shared within the family.

To the extent that the family’s efforts failed to yield all of the kinds of food and clothing wanted by the family, it would then turn to voluntary exchange. It would trade some of its products (or labor) in order to acquire things that it could not produce or — this is a key point — could not produce as efficiently as another family or business. Voluntary exchange is of course today’s main mechanism for satisfying wants.

Voluntary exchange in a complex economy is a roundabout process, through which persons with marketable skills (e.g., real accountants) trade their services for monetary income, which enables them to choose from myriad products, services, and investment vehicles.

SUPPLY CREATES DEMAND (BUT NOT VICE VERSA)

Say’s law — popularly rendered as “supply creates its own demand” — is explained by Steven Horwitz in “Understanding Say’s Law of Markets“:

In the passage where he gets at the insight behind the notion that supply creates its own demand, Say writes: “it is production which opens a demand for products. . . . Thus the mere circumstance of the creation of one product immediately opens a vent for other products.” Put another way, Say was making the claim that production is the source of demand. One’s ability to demand goods and services from others derives from the income produced by one’s own acts of production.

Can demand exist without supply? Only if the person who wants something but lacks the wherewithal to pay for it is able to finance his purchase in one of three lawful ways:

  • He may receive a gift of money. But that gift reduces the purchasing power of the giver, either directly as a subtraction from his income or indirectly as a subtraction from his wealth. So the net effect on the demand for all goods may be zero.
  • He may receive a subsidy from government. But the subsidy reduces the purchasing power of the persons who are compelled to finance it through taxes, or the purchasing power persons or companies who are able to borrow less because government borrowing (to finance the subsidy) displaces their borrowing.
  • He may receive credit, either from the seller or a third party. Credit usually will be extended on the basis of the borrower’s prospective future earnings.

The third case is the only one that clearly results in an additional demand for goods. And it is the one in which demand is financed by supply. Demand creates supply only when demand is financed by a claim on the demander’s future supply of economic goods. The ability of a creditor to finance demand rests ultimately on the creditor’s previous production (and sale) of economic goods.

The Keynesian proposition that demand can create supply of thin air, simply by throwing money at unemployed resources, is a fantasy perpetuated by mathematical trickery.

MEANINGLESS AGGREGATION

Are you better off, as a consumer, than you were 5, 10, or 15 years ago? That’s a question which only you can answer. And the answer won’t necessarily depend on your rate of spending today as compared with your rate of spending 5, 10, or 15 years ago. It will depend on how you — and only you — feel about the enjoyment that you derive from your expenditures.

Like you, A and B will derive different kinds and amounts of enjoyment the goods that they buy. And those different kinds and amounts of enjoyment cannot be summed because they are unique to A and to B, just as they are unique to you. If meaningful aggregation is impossible for A and B, how can it be possible for an economy that consists of millions of economic actors and an untold variety of goods and services? And how is it possible when technological change yields results such as this?

GDP, in other words, is nothing more than what it seems to be on the surface: an estimate of the dollar value of economic output. It is not a measure of “social welfare” because there is no such thing.

Not Just for Baseball Fans

I have substantially revised “Bigger, Stronger, and Faster — But Not Quicker?” I set out to test Dr. Michael Woodley’s hypothesis that reaction times have slowed since the Victorian era:

It seems to me that if Woodley’s hypothesis has merit, it ought to be confirmed by the course of major-league batting averages over the decades. Other things being equal, quicker reaction times ought to produce higher batting averages. Of course, there’s a lot to hold equal, given the many changes in equipment, playing conditions, player conditioning, “style” of the game (e.g., greater emphasis on home runs), and other key variables over the course of more than a century.

I conclude that my analysis

says nothing definitive about reaction times, even though it sheds a lot of light on the relative hitting prowess of American League batters over the past 116 years. (I’ll have more to say about that in a future post.)

It’s been great fun but it was just one of those things.

Sandwiched between those statements you’ll find much statistical meat (about baseball) to chew on.

Not-So Random Thoughts (XIX)

ITEM ADDED 12/18/16

Manhattan Contrarian takes on the partisan analysis of economic growth offered by Alan Blinder and Mark Watson, and endorsed (predictably) by Paul Krugman. Eight years ago, I took on an earlier analysis along the same lines by Dani Rodrik, which Krugman (predictably) endorsed. In fact, bigger government, which is the growth mantra of economists like Blinder, Watson, Rodrik, and (predictably) Krugman, is anti-growth. The combination of spending, which robs the private sector of resources, and regulations, which rob the private sector of options and initiative, is killing economic growth. You can read about it here.

*     *     *

Rania Gihleb and Kevin Lang say that assortative mating hasn’t increased. But even if it had, so what?

Is there a potential social problem that will  have to be dealt with by government because it poses a severe threat to the nation’s political stability or economic well-being? Or is it just a step in the voluntary social evolution of the United States — perhaps even a beneficial one?

In fact,

The best way to help the people … of Charles Murray’s Fishtown [of Coming Apart] — is to ignore the smart-educated-professional-affluent class. It’s a non-problem…. The best way to help the forgotten people of America is to unleash the latent economic power of the United States by removing the dead hand of government from the economy.

*     *     *

Anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a zombie-like creature of pseudo-science. I’ve rung its death knell, as have many actual scientists. But it keeps coming back. Perhaps President Trump will drive a stake through its heart — or whatever is done to extinguish zombies. In the meantime, here’s more evidence that AGW is a pseudo-scientific hoax:

In conclusion, this synthesis of empirical data reveals that increases in the CO2 concentration has not caused temperature change over the past 38 years across the Tropics-Land area of the Globe. However, the rate of change in CO2 concentration may have been influenced to a statistically significant degree by the temperature level.

And still more:

[B]ased on [Patrick[ Frank’s work, when considering the errors in clouds and CO2 levels only, the error bars around that prediction are ±15˚C. this does not mean—thankfully— that it could be 19˚ warmer in 2100. rather, it means the models are looking for a signal of a few degrees when they can’t differentiate within 15˚ in either direction; their internal errors and uncertainties are too large. this means that the models are unable to validate even the existence of a CO2 fingerprint because of their poor resolution, just as you wouldn’t claim to see DnA with a household magnifying glass.

And more yet:

[P]oliticians using global warming as a policy tool to solve a perceived problem is indeed a hoax. The energy needs of humanity are so large that Bjorn Lomborg has estimated that in the coming decades it is unlikely that more than about 20% of those needs can be met with renewable energy sources.

Whether you like it or not, we are stuck with fossil fuels as our primary energy source for decades to come. Deal with it. And to the extent that we eventually need more renewables, let the private sector figure it out. Energy companies are in the business of providing energy, and they really do not care where that energy comes from….

Scientists need to stop mischaracterizing global warming as settled science.

I like to say that global warming research isn’t rocket science — it is actually much more difficult. At best it is dodgy science, because there are so many uncertainties that you can get just about any answer you want out of climate models just by using those uncertianties as a tuning knob.

*     *     *

Well, that didn’t take long. lawprof Geoffrey Stone said something reasonable a few months ago. Now he’s back to his old, whiny, “liberal” self. Because the Senate failed to take up the nomination of Merrick Garland to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court — which is the Senate’s constitutional prerogative, Stone is characterizing the action (or lack of it) as a “constitutional coup d’etat” and claiming that the eventual Trump nominee will be an “illegitimate interloper.” Ed Whelan explains why Stone is wrong here, and adds a few cents worth here.

*     *     *

BHO stereotypes Muslims by asserting 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….

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).

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that there’s a lot of truth in stereotypes:

A stereotype is a preliminary insight. A stereotype can be true, the first step in noticing differences. For conceptual economy, stereotypes encapsulate the characteristics most people have noticed. Not all heuristics are false.

Here is a relevant paper from Denmark.

Emil O. W. Kirkegaard and Julius Daugbjerg Bjerrekær. Country of origin and use of social benefits: A large, preregistered study of stereotype accuracy in Denmark. Open Differential Psychology….

The high accuracy of aggregate stereotypes is confirmed. If anything, the stereotypes held by Danish people about immigrants underestimates those immigrants’ reliance on Danish benefits.

Regarding stereotypes about the criminality of immigrants:

Here is a relevant paper from the United Kingdom.

Noah Carl. NET OPPOSITION TO IMMIGRANTS OF DIFFERENT NATIONALITIES CORRELATES STRONGLY WITH THEIR ARREST RATES IN THE UK. Open Quantitative Sociology and Political Science. 10th November, 2016….

Public beliefs about immigrants and immigration are widely regarded as erroneous. Yet popular stereotypes about the respective characteristics of different groups are generally found to be quite accurate. The present study has shown that, in the UK, net opposition to immigrants of different nationalities correlates strongly with the log of immigrant arrests rates and the log of their arrest rates for violent crime.

The immigrants in question, in both papers, are Muslims — for what it’s worth.

UPDATE 06/02/17: There’s new material of relevance at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMSRZQ1usDc and http://buff.ly/2qyO2yy.

* * *

ADDED 12/18/16:

I explained the phoniness of the Keynesian multiplier here, derived a true (strongly negative) multiplier here, and added some thoughts about the multiplier here. Economist Scott Sumner draws on the Japanese experience to throw more cold water on Keynesianism.

My Original Blog

My original blog was Liberty Corner (March 2004 – July 2009). It began in 1997 as a pre-Blogspot home page, which linked to topical pages. Here’s how it looked on December 12, 1998 (courtesy of Wayback Machine), though the links don’t work:



On the light side

Short Stuff offers quips and comments about national affairs (and affaires).

“A Sideways Glance” exposes the silly side of business, politics, and society in the late Twentieth Century. In A Sideways Glance, vol. 1 you’ll find:

  • Busy-ness As Usual (the socially-conscious CEO)
  • Who’s in Charge Here? (secrets of the Pentagon)
  • Biz-Buzz (late-Twentieth Century business-speak)
  • Whoppers (lies our wannabe Presidents tell us)
  • Cutting the Price of Pork (there’s never a free lunch)

A Sideways Glance, vol. 2 brings you:

  • The Cocoon Age (litigating womb-to-grave security)
  • Justice in TV-land (crime and punishment in prime time)
  • Righting Wrongs by Wronging Rights (zealots vs. the Bill of Rights)
  • Ten Commandments of Bad Management (how to emulate the pointy-haired boss)
  • To Pay or Not to Pay (Shakespeare on taxes)

Now appearing in A Sideways Glance, vol. 3:

  • Through a Crystal Ball, Murkily (political life, after Clinton)
  • Flunking Out of Electoral College (the “disastrous” consequences of the College)
  • Bill and Al’s Egregious Adventure (a moral lesson about running for dog-catcher)
  • Don’t Blame Me (the criminal as victim, from Brutus to Bill Clinton)

Serious business

Let Reason Reign: Conversations With Myself tackles science and truth, the nature of humankind, and other big questions:

  • Truth, Science, and Religion
  • The Nature of Human-ness: Consciousness, Purpose, and Morality
  • The Constitution and the Role of the Federal Government
  • Law and Society
  • Gender, Race, and Envy
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Ethics and Everyday Leadership

In Brief consists of epigrams and observations on life, liberty, and the Constitution.

Restoring the Constitutional Contract explains the central purpose of the Constitution; its meaning for the respective powers and rights of the federal government, States, and citizens; and the ways in which we have drifted from that purpose and from the intended distribution of powers and rights.

A Restored Constitutional Contract offers a proposed Constitution that is faithful to the purpose of the original Constitution, and which restores the powers and rights of the federal government, States, and citizens to their proper balance.



A later incarnation went by the name Uncommon Sense, though I switched back to Liberty Corner when I began using Blogspot in March 2004. This is the latest archived version of Uncommon Sense, from July 21, 2001; the links work:



Uncommon Sense


The rational person's guide to
politics, the economy, and society


Politics and Government

With a Light Touch

Political Parlance a jaunty glossary that exposes the sham of political jargon and the shame of political icons

Short Stuff quips and comments about national affairs — and affaires

Who’s in Charge Here? secrets of the Pentagon

Whoppers lies our wannabe Presidents tell us

Cutting the Price of Pork there’s never a free lunch

Through a Crystal Ball Murkily political life after Clinton

Flunking Out of Electoral College the “disastrous” consequences of the College

Bill and Al’s Egregious Adventure a moral lesson about running for dog-catcher

The Trials of William Jefferson Whatsit a farce in three acts

A Serious Look at Government and the Constitution

Why Do We Have Government? where government fails, and where it is necessary

In Brief epigrams and observations on life, liberty, and the Constitution

Restoring the Constitutional Contract the purpose of the Constitution; its meaning for the respective powers and rights of the federal government, States, and citizens; and the ways in which we have drifted from that purpose and from the intended distribution of powers and rights

The Constitution and the Role of the Federal Government misperceptions about the federal government’s proper role in our affairs

Combatting Constitutional Cancer the cancer within the Constitution itself — namely, those Amendments that have caused great harm to the Republic — and the need for a constitutional convention to remove the cancer

A Restored Constitutional Contract a revised Constitution that is faithful to the purpose of the original, and which restores the powers and rights of the federal government, States, and citizens to their proper balance


Economics and Business

Speaking Seriously

Ethics and Everyday Leadership

Tongue in Cheek

Busy-ness As Usual a satire on the socially conscious CEO

Biz-Buzz new-millennium business-speak

Ten Commandments of Bad Management how to emulate the point-haired boss

To Pay or Not to Pay Shakespeare on the Ides of April

The Economy Works, in Spite of Zany Economists the title says it all


Society and Its Trappings

More Serious Matters

Law and Society

Gender, Race, and Envy

Crime and Punishment

Truth, Science, and Religion

The Nature of Human-ness: Consciousness, Purpose, and Morality

And a Few Laughs, to Boot

The Cocoon Age litigating womb-to-grave security

Justice in TV-land crime and punishment in prime time

Righting Wrongs by Wronging Rights zealots vs. the Bill of Rights

Don’t Blame Me the criminal as victim, from Brutus to Bill Clinton

Out with the Old, In with the Older a report card for America’s Twentieth Century

 

The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump

I don’t believe it but — according to many leftists, Democrats, pundits, and media outlets — Donald Trump is a fascist, a Nazi, a Hitler-in-the making. That’s the scare story that’s been peddled since it began to look as if Trump had a serious chance of becoming the GOP nominee. (Please excuse the superfluity of synonyms for “leftists” in the first sentence.)

There’s something about Republicans that causes leftists to invoke the “H” word — Hitler, that is — and its close substitutes: Nazi and fascist. I have a little story that illustrates the tendency and suggests its cause. I was visiting Austin years ago and fell into a discussion with my brother-in-law and his wife, who were and are both ardent leftists and active in local Democrat politics. They had recently moved to the affluent Northwest Hills section of the city, ostensibly to enable their daughter to attend the schools in that part of the city, which are by reputation better than the ones in South Austin, where they had been living. Northwest Hills is mostly white; many of the whites are Jewish; and the non-white population is mainly of East Asian origin and descent. Blacks and Hispanics are seldom seen in Northwest Hills, except as employees of the city and businesses in the area, and as nannies and yard men. South Austin is much less affluent than Northwest Hills, and far more heavily populated by Hispanics.

The brother-in-law and his wife were apologetic about their move. Though they didn’t put it this way, they had revealed themselves as hypocrites about ethnic diversity and their supposed sympathy with the “less fortunate.” But their hypocrisy was excused by their concern for their daughter’s education. (A classic example of leftist hypocrisy, in the same mold as Democrat presidents — Clinton and Obama most recently — who sent their children to private schools in mostly black D.C.) They were especially chagrined because they (and their leftist ilk) referred to the denizens of their new neighborhood the Northwest Nazis. The appellation arose from the fact that Northwest Hills was then (and still is) markedly more Republican than the surrounding parts of heavily Democrat Austin.

I thought to myself at the time, how utterly wrong-headed it is for leftists — who are ardent fans of dictatorial statism — to refer to Republicans as Nazis. Republicans generally oppose the left’s dictatorial schemes. (I chose to keep my observation to myself rather than incite a fruitless and possibly acrimonious discussion). But leftists like my brother-in-law and his wife — who are given to equating Republicans with fascists, Nazis, and Hitlers — are themselves ardent proponents of the expansion of the fascistic state that has been erected, almost without pause, since the New Deal. (See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this.) It’s Through the Looking Glass logic:

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’

The “logic” of applying such labels as Hitler, fascist, and Nazi to Republicans strikes me as psychological projection. That’s not a new explanation, but it’s a sound one, as you’ll see.

The following quotations are excerpted from two blog posts (here and here) by Australian psychologist John J. Ray, who has done a lot of research and writing about the left and its delusions:

I have been looking at the differences between the Left and the Right of politics since 1968, when I submitted my Master’s dissertation  on that subject.  And my aim has been to understand WHY Leftists behave like SoBs so much of the time. How is it that implementing Leftist policies always results in harm and destruction of some sort, if not mass murder?

So my interest has been not only in Leftist claims and policies but also in their underlying psychology.  I think, in fact, that it is only at the psychological level that Leftism can be understood.  And, in that, I find myself in a degree of agreement with Leftist psychologists.  Leftists never stop offering accounts of the psychology of conservatives, adverse accounts, of course. It is one of the more popular fields of research in psychology.  So Leftists are most emphatic that you need to delve into the psychological realm to understand politics.  In any argument on the facts they will be defeated by conservatives so impugning the motives of their opponent is essentially all that they have left.

I am VERY familiar with the Leftist claims in that regard. Most of my 200+ academic journal articles were devoted to showing that the research they relied on in support of their claims was flawed, often hilariously so.

But there was one redeeming feature in their research.  In purporting to describe conservatives they usually were quite clearly describing themselves!  An accusation that they never seem able to let go of, despite much contrary evidence, is that conservatives are “authoritarian”….

*     *     *

The concept of “authoritarianism” as an explanation for conservatism has been like catnip to Leftist psychologists.  They cannot leave it alone.  It first arose among a group of Jewish Marxists in the late 1940s and was published in a 1950 book called “The authoritaian personality” under the lead authorship of a prominent Marxist theoretician, Theodor Wiesengrund, who usually used as his surname the stage name of his Spanish dancer mother — Adorno.

The theory underlying it failed in all sorts of ways so it fell out of favour after the ’60s, though it still got an occasional mention. For more on the Adorno work see here.

In the first half of his first book in 1981, “Bob” Altemeyer gave a comprehensive summary of the problems with the Adorno theory and submitted that it had to be discarded.  He then went on to put forward a slightly different theory and measuring instrument of his own that rebooted the concept of authoritarianism as an explanation of conservative thinking.

That theory and its accompanying measuring instrument (the RWA scale) also soon ran aground, however.  Altemeyer himself admitted that scores on the RWA scale were just about as high among Leftist voters as Rightist voters — which rather ruined it as an explanation of conservatism.  The death knell came when it was revealed that the highest scorers on the RWA scale were in fact former Russian Communists!  Right wing Communists??  For more on Altemeyer’s confusions see here. Or more concisely here.

So the RWA scale lost most of its interest after that, though it is still cautiously used on some occasions — e.g here.

But … Leftist psychologists did not give up.  A group of them including Karen Stenner, Stanley Feldman, Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler revived the old ideas and invented a new questionnaire to measure the concept.  And reading their “new” theory is like a trip back into the 1940’s.  Conservatives are still said to be sad souls who live in a state of constant and unreasonable  fear.

The amusing thing is that there is some reality behind their theory.  The key word is “unreasonable”.  How much fear is “unreasonable”?  Is all fear “unreasonable”?  Obviously not.  Fear is an important survival mechanism.  We would all be eaten by lions etc. without it.  And conservatives do fear the probable results of the hare-brained schemes put forward by Leftists.  Conservatives are nothing if not cautious but to the superficial thinkers of the Left, that caution seems like fear.  So from a conservative viewpoint Leftists are not fearful enough.  They do not fear the “unforeseen” and adverse side effects that invariably accompany any implementation of their schemes.

So, despite the laughable psychometric characteristics of their new measuring instrument, which I set out yesterday, they have in fact achieved some grasp of reality.  They have just not grasped that caution can be a good thing and have not thought deeply enough about the distinction, if any, between caution and fear.  So all their writings amount to little more than an adverse value judgment of things that are in fact probably desirable.

So why all the mental muddle from them?  Why does the old “authoritarianism” catnip keep them coming back to that dubious concept?  Why have they not learnt from its past failures?  Easy:  It’s all Freudian projection.  They see their own faults in conservatives.  The people who REALLY ARE authoritarian are Leftists themselves.  Communist regimes are ALWAYS authoritarian and in democracies the constant advocates of more and more government control over everything are the Left.  The Left are the big government advocates, not conservatives.  What could be more authoritarian than Obama’s aim to “fundamentally transform” America? It is the Left who trust in big brother while conservatives just want to be left alone.

It’s true that conservatives have respect for authority, which isn’t the same thing as authoritarianism. Respect for authority, where it’s earned by authority, means respect for the civilizing norms that are represented in a lawful institution when it acts within its traditional bounds. For example, conservatives respect presidents when they strive to restore and sustain the constitutional order; conservatives therefore disrespect presidents who blatantly violate that order.

What about Mussolini and Hitler, who are usually thought of as right-wing dictators and therefore labeled as conservative? I return to John Ray, who has this to say about Mussolini:

Let us listen initially to some reflections on the early days of Fascism by Mussolini himself — first published in 1935 (See the third chapter in Greene, 1968).

“If the bourgeoisie think they will find lightning conductors in us they are the more deceived; we must start work at once …. We want to accustom the working class to real and effectual leadership“.

And that was Mussolini quoting his own words from the early Fascist days. So while Mussolini had by that time (in his 30s) come to reject the Marxist idea of a class-war, he still saw himself as anti-bourgeois and as a saviour and leader of the workers. What modern-day Leftist could not identify with that?…

“If the 19th century has been the century of the individual (for liberalism means individualism), it may be conjectured that this is the century of the State.

This is Mussolini’s famous prophecy about the 20th century in the Enciclopedia Italiana….

“Laissez faire is out of date.”

To this day the basic free market doctrine of “laissez faire” is virtually a swear-word to most Leftists. Quoted from Smith (1967, p. 87)….

And Mussolini’s “Fascist Manifesto” of 1919 (full translation by Vox Day here) includes in Fascist policy such socialist gems as (I quote):
* The nationalization of all the arms and explosives factories.
* A strong progressive tax on capital that will truly expropriate a portion of all wealth.
* The seizure of all the possessions of the religious congregations and the abolition of all the bishoprics, which constitute an enormous liability on the Nation and on the privileges of the poor.
* The formation of a National Council of experts for labor, for industy, for transportation, for the public health, for communications, etc. Selections to be made from the collective professionals or of tradesmen with legislative powers, and elected directly to a General Commission with ministerial powers.
* A minimum wage.
* The participation of workers’ representatives in the functions of industry commissions.

Elsewhere, Ray says this about Mussolini and his aims:

“Fascism” is a term that was originally coined by the Italian dictator Mussolini to describe his adaptation of Marxism to the conditions of Italy after World War I. Lenin in Russia made somewhat different adaptations of Marxism to the conditions in Russia during the same period and his adaptations came to be called Marxism/Leninism. Mussolini stayed closer to Marx in that he felt that Italy had to go through a capitalist stage before it could reach socialism whereas Lenin attempted to push Russia straight from semi-feudalism into socialism. Mussolini’s principal modification of Marxism was his rejection of the notion of class war, something that put him decisively at odds with Lenin’s “Reds”….

Mussolini’s ideas and system were very influential and he had many imitators — not the least of which was Adolf Hitler….

…Mussolini was quite intellectual and his thinking was in fact much more up-to-date than that would suggest. He was certainly influenced by Marx and the ancient world but he had a whole range of ideas that extended beyond that. And where did he turn for up-to-date ideas? To America, of course! And the American ideas that influenced him were in fact hard to miss. They were the ideas of the American “Progressives”. And who was the best known Progressive in the world at that time? None other than the President of the United States — Woodrow Wilson….

Ray takes up FDR’s resemblance to Mussolini, and defers to Srdja Trifkovic’s “FDR and Mussolini: A Tale of Two Fascists,” which includes these observations:

Genuine conservatives … may argue that FDR and Mussolini were in fact rather similar. They will point out both men’s obsessive focus on strong, centralized government structures, their demagoguery, and especially their attempt to overcome the dynamics of social and economic conflict through the institutions of the corporate state.

For all their apparent similarities, however, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a more deleterious figure than Benito Mussolini, and his legacy proved to be more damaging to America than Il Duce’s was to Italy. This is not a case of good versus bad, or of two equal evils, but of bad versus even worse: Roosevelt was a more efficient, and certainly more successful, fascist than Mussolini.

(See my “FDR and Fascism” and also follow the links therein.)

As for Hitler, I return to John Ray and his monograph, “Hitler Was a Socialist“:

It is very easy to miss complexities in the the politics of the past and thus draw wrong conclusions about them. To understand the politics of the past we need to set aside for a time our own way of looking at things and try to see how the people involved at the time saw it all. Doing so is an almost essential step if we wish to understand the similarities and differences between Nazism and Marxism/Leninism. The following excerpt from James P. O’Donnell’s THE BUNKER (1978, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, pp. 261-262) is instructive. O’Donnell is quoting Artur Axmann, the Nazi youth leader, recalling a conversation with Goebbels in the Hitler bunker on Tuesday, May 1, 1945, the same day Goebbels and his wife would kill themselves after she killed their children.

“Goebbels stood up to greet me. He soon launched into lively memories of our old street-fighting days in Berlin-Wedding, from nineteen twenty-eight to thirty-three. He recalled how we had clobbered the Berlin Communists and the Socialists into submission, to the tune of the “Horst Wessel” marching song, on their old home ground.He said one of the great accomplishments of the Hitler regime had been to win the German workers over almost totally to the national cause. We had made patriots of the workers, he said, as the Kaiser had dismally failed to do. This, he kept repeating, had been one of the real triumphs of the movement. We Nazis were a non-Marxist yet revolutionary party, anticapitalist, antibourgeois, antireactionary….

Starch-collared men like Chancellor Heinrich Bruening had called us the “Brown Bolsheviks,” and their bourgeois instincts were not wrong.

It seems inconceivable to modern minds that just a few differences between two similar ideologies — Marxism and Nazism — could have been sufficient cause for great enmity between those two ideologies. But the differences concerned were important to the people involved at the time. Marxism was class-based and Nazism was nationally based but otherwise they were very similar. That’s what people said and thought at the time and that explains what they did and how they did it.

And a quote from Hitler himself:

“Stalin and I are the only ones who envisage the future and nothing but the future. Accordingly, I shall in a few weeks stretch out my hand to Stalin at the common German-Russian frontier and undertake the redistribution of the world with him.”

…Consider this description by Edward Feser of someone who would have been a pretty good Presidential candidate for the modern-day U.S. Democratic party:

He had been something of a bohemian in his youth, and always regarded young people and their idealism as the key to progress and the overcoming of outmoded prejudices. And he was widely admired by the young people of his country, many of whom belonged to organizations devoted to practicing and propagating his teachings. He had a lifelong passion for music, art, and architecture, and was even something of a painter. He rejected what he regarded as petty bourgeois moral hang-ups, and he and his girlfriend “lived together” for years. He counted a number of homosexuals as friends and collaborators, and took the view that a man’s personal morals were none of his business; some scholars of his life believe that he himself may have been homosexual or bisexual. He was ahead of his time where a number of contemporary progressive causes are concerned: he disliked smoking, regarding it as a serious danger to public health, and took steps to combat it; he was a vegetarian and animal lover; he enacted tough gun control laws; and he advocated euthanasia for the incurably ill.

He championed the rights of workers, regarded capitalist society as brutal and unjust, and sought a third way between communism and the free market. In this regard, he and his associates greatly admired the strong steps taken by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to take large-scale economic decision-making out of private hands and put it into those of government planning agencies. His aim was to institute a brand of socialism that avoided the inefficiencies that plagued the Soviet variety, and many former communists found his program highly congenial. He deplored the selfish individualism he took to be endemic to modern Western society, and wanted to replace it with an ethic of self-sacrifice: “As Christ proclaimed ‘love one another’,” he said, “so our call — ‘people’s community,’ ‘public need before private greed,’ ‘communally-minded social consciousness’ — rings out.! This call will echo throughout the world!”

The reference to Christ notwithstanding, he was not personally a Christian, regarding the Catholicism he was baptized into as an irrational superstition. In fact he admired Islam more than Christianity, and he and his policies were highly respected by many of the Muslims of his day. He and his associates had a special distaste for the Catholic Church and, given a choice, preferred modern liberalized Protestantism, taking the view that the best form of Christianity would be one that forsook the traditional other-worldly focus on personal salvation and accommodated itself to the requirements of a program for social justice to be implemented by the state. They also considered the possibility that Christianity might eventually have to be abandoned altogether in favor of a return to paganism, a worldview many of them saw as more humane and truer to the heritage of their people. For he and his associates believed strongly that a people’s ethnic and racial heritage was what mattered most. Some endorsed a kind of cultural relativism according to which what is true or false and right or wrong in some sense depends on one’s ethnic worldview, and especially on what best promotes the well-being of one’s ethnic group

There is surely no doubt that the man Feser describes sounds very much like a mainstream Leftist by current standards. But who is the man concerned? It is a historically accurate description of Adolf Hitler. Hitler was not only a socialist in his own day but he would even be a mainstream socialist in MOST ways today. Feser does not mention Hitler’s antisemitism above, of course, but that too seems once again to have become mainstream among the Western-world Left in the early years of the 21st century.

I have barely scratched the surface of Ray’s writings about fascism, Nazism, and the left. Based on the writings of Ray (and others), and on my own observations, I have no doubt that the American left — from Woodrow Wilson (if not Teddy Roosevelt) to the present day — is aligned with the political aims of Mussolini and Hitler.

Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been a few dictators who may rightly be called conservatives because of their defense of traditional institutions and their willingness to suppress real threats to those institutions, namely, socialism and communism. Franco and Pinochet spring to mind as leading examples of such dictators. But compared with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, they were rank amateurs in the arts of repression and murder. Had they not come to power, the people of Spain and Chile would have suffered under regimes similar to those of Castro and Chavez, which have impoverished and repressed the people of Cuba and Venezuela.

What about Donald Trump? Based on his appointments to date — with the possible exception of Steve Bannon — he seems to be taking a solidly conservative line. He isn’t building a government of bomb-throwers, but rather a government of staunch conservatives who, taken together, have a good chance at rebuilding America’s status in the world while dismantling much of Obama’s egregious “legacy”: onerous energy regulations (due to Obama’s embrace of the AGW hoax), Obamacare, the push for a higher minimum wage, opposition to school choice, racial politics in the Justice Department, the reinflation of the low-income housing bubble, and other meddlesome manifestations of Obama’s hopey-changey war on America.

I said some nasty things about Trump during his campaigns for the GOP nomination and the presidency. On the basis of his performance since the election, it seems likely that I was wrong about him as a prospective president (though perhaps not as a person). Like so many of his critics, I was put off by his vulgarity, his seeming dismissal of constitutional values, his “liberal” reputation, and his apparent ignorance of the details of many issues. All of that may have been well-designed electoral camouflage — a way of distracting the left-dominated media while he smuggled in a conservative agenda that could restore America’s standing in the world, revitalize its economy, and reweave its shredded liberty.

Will Donald Trump be a perfect president, if perfection is measured by adherence to the Constitution? Probably not, but who has been? It now seems likely, however, that Trump will be a far less fascistic president than Barack Obama has been and Hillary Clinton would have been. He will certainly be far less fascistic than the academic thought-police, whose demise cannot come too soon for the sake of liberty.

In sum, Trump’s emerging agenda seems to resemble my own decidedly conservative one.

The Crown

I recently watched The Crown. It’s a Netflix series of ten episodes that span the years 1947-1955 in the life of Elizabeth II, with flashbacks to the time of Edward VIII‘s abdication and the succession of Elizabeth’s father, George VI, in 1936. (It seems that more episodes are in the works, and that they will focus on the latter years of the Queen’s reign.) Whatever the merits or demerits of The Crown — and there are both — it got me to thinking about the history of the monarchs of England, their lineage in particular.

The lineage can be found in many sources, which are usually complex depictions, replete with spouses and siblings. (See this and this, for example.) The best simplified version that I have found is this one at Wikipedia, which omits the spouses and siblings and focuses on the line of descent from Alfred the Great (reigned 871-899) to Elizabeth II.

I have concocted a variant of the simplified version that more vividly represents intra- and inter-generational shifts in the descent of monarchs. Further, it begins with the monarchs of Wessex, from whom Alfred the Great is descended. That is, it stretches back to Cardic, King of Wessex 519-534. From Cardic to Elizabeth II (House of Windsor, formerly Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) there have 82 monarchs, counting split reigns as separate monarchies and dual reigns as single monarchies. The 82 monarchies span 49 generations, including 3 generations unrepresented by a monarch.

Elizabeth II is 15 generations removed from Elizabeth I (House of Tudor, reigned 1558-1603); that is, Elizabeth II is Elizabeth I’s niece 14 generations removed.  Elizabeth II is 30 generations removed from William the Conqueror (House of Normandy, reigned 1066-1087), and 33 generations removed from her most remote ancestor in the lineage, Sewyn (House of Knitynga, reigned 1013-1014), who was the 34th monarch and William’s great-grandfather.

Although there’s no blood line between Cardic and Elizabeth II, there are family ties. Sewyn’s son Cnut the Great (House of Knitynga, reigned 1016-1035) was married to the widow of Aethelred the Unready (House of Wessex, reigned 978-1013, 1014-1016). Aethelred was Cardic’s nephew 15 generations removed.

It’s one big (happy?) family. You can view its lineage by going to “Monarchs of England.”

 

Much Ado about Civilian Control of the Military

I would like to retire the phrase “civilian control of the military.” It’s become a scare phrase without real meaning. Of course there’s civilian control of the military; it’s built into the Constitution and tradition. All it means is that the armed forces are subordinate to the president, who is the commander-in-chief. And, by tradition, the president is a civilian. But there’s nothing in the Constitution that prevents a an active-duty military person from acceding to the presidency. And the presidency has been held by several retired generals, some of them not many years out of uniform (e.g., Washington, Grant, Eisenhower).

The real point of civilian control is the preservation of the constitutional pecking order: the president is in charge of the military, not the other way around. But presidents have varied greatly in their military experience and rank, in their trust (or lack thereof) of military leaders, in their effectiveness at maintaining appropriate military strength, and — most of all — in their effectiveness at using the military. “Civilian control” doesn’t even being to capture those essential aspects of the relationship between the presidency and the military.

The presence of retired military persons (i.e., civilians with military backgrounds) in high positions may be a bad idea (or a good one), depending on the qualifications of the retired military persons, but it is irrelevant to the question of civilian control. A weak president may rely too much on generals (retired or active), but he may just as easily rely too much on lawyers, media consultants, or experts in international affairs (of which there are approximately zero).

Civilian control of the military is a phony issue. The real issue is the character of the president, and especially his willingness to stand up for Americans and their legitimate overseas interests. It would be refreshing, after eight years of Obama, to have such a president. Donald Trump’s appointments of retired generals suggest that he may just be such a president.

The Problem with Political Correctness

UPDATED BELOW 12/09/16

Why do conservatives and (some) libertarians cringe and react negatively to political correctness? I mean by political correctness “language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to particular groups in society.” Further, critics of p.c. use the term “as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive,” not to mention the language and measures of p.c.-ness.

There are several reasons to reject p.c.-ness:

  1. It is often condescending toward the identity groups it is meant to protect and advance.
  2. It is meant to hide the truth about common characteristics of such groups.
  3. It implies that those persons who don’t join in p.c.-ness are racist bigots with minds that are closed to reality (which is exactly what 1 and 2 say about proponents of p.c.-ness).
  4. The policies and measures that flow from p.c.-ness usually go beyond “avoiding disadvantage to particular groups” to confer advantage on particular groups.
  5. Such policies and measures are therefore anti-libertarian, and often are costly and ineffective (even counterproductive).
  6. Such policies and measures tend to penalize persons who have had nothing to do with any real disadvantages that may have befallen various identity groups.

I can’t speak for conservatives as a group — though they should be a “protected group” (I write sarcastically). But I can tell you that my rejection of p.c.-ness is based on all six of those reasons. And the sum of the six is a devastating attack on social comity (or what’s left of it), even-handed treatment of all persons under the law, freedom of speech, freedom of association, property rights, and the economic well-being of the nation. Other than that, there’s nothing wrong with p.c.-ness.

Whatever merit there is in p.c.-ness, it is canceled by the bad odor that surrounds it. P..c.-ness is a variant of crying wolf: The more often it’s invoked, the less believable it becomes. There’s a corollary: The more people who require p.c. treatment, the fewer people who are left to be blamed for the conditions that p.c.-ness is meant to remedy. Or, if almost everyone is a “victim,” almost no one is a “victim.”

Unless you believe, of course, that straight, white males of European descent are to blame for every bad thing that has befallen every other identity group. Or unless you believe that it’s simply “unfair” for straight, white males of European descent to have been so dominant for so long in so many fields of endeavor.

Was it “unfair” of Newton and Einstein to have been the greatest of physicists? Was in “unfair” of Abraham Lincoln to have been the president who conquered the South and thereby put an end to slavery? Is it “unfair” that there seems to be something in the genetic makeup of East Asians that gives them higher IQs on average than whites, who have higher IQs on average than blacks? (Why aren’t whites complaining about the “unfairness” of the distribution of IQs?) Is it “unfair” that (in the United States, at least) whites, who are on average smarter than blacks, earn more than blacks on average? If that is “unfair,” why is it “fair” that the NBA is dominated by black athletes whose IQs are lower than the IQs of white physicists but who earn many, many times as much as white physicists do?

The problem with “fairness,” which is at the heart of p.c.-ness, is that it is a reality-free concept. It doesn’t take account of the facts of life, such as those alluded to in the preceding paragraph. It assumes that differences in outcomes (e.g., relative earnings, literary fame, scientific achievements, political advancement) are due mainly to one’s membership (or lack thereof) in an identity group. P.c.-ness leaves no room for reality. It leaves no room for individual responsibility. It seeks special treatment for groups of people, regardless of the mental, physical, or moral capacity of each member of a group. (It’s just a variant of white supremacy.)

Which brings me to the deeper reason why conservatives and (some) libertarians instinctively cringe and react negatively to political correctness. Conservatives and libertarians are big on personal responsibility. It’s at the center of libertarianism. It plays an important role in conservatism, where personal responsibility includes not only responsibility for one’s self and for one’s role in society (properly understood), but also responsibility for the observance and continuance of time-tested social norms.

Political correctness casts personal responsibility aside and replaces it with identity politics. That’s the deeper reason why conservatives and (some) libertarians cringe and react negatively to it.

UPDATE 12/09/16

Travis Scott focuses on one (of many) counterproductive effects of political correctness in “The Science Says Putting Women into Combat Endangers National Security” (The Federalist, December 9, 2016). Title of the article speaks for itself. I will quote two passages. The first is about the apprehension of an intruder who climbed over a fence at the White House:

In 2014, a veteran named Omar Gonzalez jumped a fence and rushed the White House. He had a weapon, and made it all the way across the green lawn and into the White House. He was first confronted in the White House by a lone guard, whom he overpowered with ease. He ran through the White House and was not apprehended until he got to the East Room.

Many of the news reports failed to mention that the guard Gonzalez overpowered was a female member of the Secret Service, and that the people who apprehended Gonzalez were males. While the president’s life may have been put in jeopardy by putting a female guard between him and a knife-wielding wild man (a guard the Secret Service had deemed physically fit enough to defend the president), other issues were addressed instead, such as “added layers” of security to the lawn of the White House.

That’s just a single illustration of the folly of the politically correct position which says that women can do everything that men can do. (Most men — conservatives ones, at least — wouldn’t think of claiming that they can do everything that women can do.) More generally, with respect to gender integration of combat forces, Scott writes about the Marine Corps study:

Coinciding with all previous research and scientific findings, in military training also women fail at incredibly higher rates at physically demanding tasks. In 2015, the Marine Corps concluded a yearlong study of how de-sexing units would affect combat readiness. They found: “all-male units were faster, more lethal and able to evacuate casualties in less time… All-male squads, the study found, performed better than mixed gender units across the board. The males were more accurate hitting targets, faster at climbing over obstacles, better at avoiding injuries.” Similar studies within our military, and even from other countries, reinforce these findings.

Irrationally, government officials in the Obama administration have opted to ignore all available scientific data to forward their own politically correct agenda. This suggests they didn’t care what the science said to begin with. It means they are willing to degrade the quality of the military’s effectiveness to artificially advance women who can’t compete by the same standards, and by doing this they are knowingly putting our soldiers at greater risk for injury and death. For this, their actions are condemnable before God and all the men of their country.

While some nitpick the all-male versus mixed-sex units study, no one has suggested studying how effective all-male units would be against all-female units. Not only are there simply not enough women capable and willing to fill such roles, but nobody thinks all-female units could be as effective as all-male units. It should stand to reason that because we know women are weaker then men on a biological level, that it should be obvious that integrating women into all-male units would tactically weaken those units. When you take these plain truths and put them together, the Marine Corps findings aren’t all that surprising.

Sgt. Maj. Justin D. Lehew, who was a part of this Marine Corps study, lashed back at critics who claimed “better women could have been picked,” and that the evaluators’ mindsets were “biased” against women from the start:

We selected our best women for this test unit, selected our most mature female leaders as well. The men (me included) were the most progressive and open minded that you could get… The best women in The GCEITF as a group in regard to infantry operations were equal or below in most all cases to the lowest 5 percent of men as a group in this test study. They are slower on all accounts in almost every technical and tactical aspect and physically weaker in every aspect across the range of military operations… Listen up folks. Your senior leadership of this country does not want to see America overwhelmingly succeed on the battlefield, it wants to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to pursue whatever they want regardless of the outcome on national security…There is nothing gender biased about this, it is what it is. You will never see a female Quarterback in the NFL, there will never be a female center on any NHL team and you will never see a female batting in the number 4 spot for the New York Yankees. It is what it is.

What it comes down to is this: Conservatives are realists. Politically correct “liberals” are fantasists.

Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance

Freedom of speech is at the heart of the war between the friends and enemies of liberty. The Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech is misunderstood. The social order that underlies liberty has been undermined by the Supreme Court’s free-speech absolutism. At the same time, the kind of speech that should be protected by the First Amendment is increasingly suppressed by the enemies of liberty, who will find succor in Justice Kennedy’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The restoration of freedom of speech, properly understood, will take a long time and determined action by conservatives. It will require a counter-revolution against the insidious, decades-long spread of leftist doctrines by “educators” and the media.

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE AWAY FROM REASONED DISSENT

Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher) characteristically asks a tough question, and answers it:

Ought flag burning come under the rubric of protected speech?  Logically prior question: Is it speech at all?  What if I make some such rude gesture in your face as ‘giving you the finger.’  Is that speech?  If it is, I would like to know what proposition it expresses.  ‘Fuck you!’ does not express a proposition.  Likewise for the corresponding gesture with the middle finger.  And if some punk burns a flag, I would like to know what proposition the punk is expressing.
The Founders were interested in protecting reasoned dissent, but the typical act of flag burning by the typical leftist punk does not rise to that level.  To have reasoned or even unreasoned dissent there has to be some proposition that one is dissenting from and some counter-proposition that one is advancing, and one’s performance has to make more or less clear what those propositions are.  I think one ought to be skeptical of arguments that try to subsume gestures and physical actions under speech.

The only reasonable objection to Vallicella’s position is that a government which can outlaw flag-burning or finger-flipping can outlaw any form of expression. The objection is a slippery-slope argument: allow X (suppression of certain forms of expression) and Y (suppression of any kind of expression, at the whim of government) is sure to follow.

What has happened, in fact, is the opposite: Forms of expression (i.e., speech and symbolic acts) that had been outlawed have been made legal by the U.S. Supreme Court. Examples are the showing of films that the authorities of a State considered obscene, the utterance or publication of statements advocating the overthrow of government, and flag-burning. The Court has developed something like an absolute position regarding freedom of speech — or, more accurately, freedom of expression.

For example, only where advocacy of and organization for an overthrow of government is deemed to be a “clear and present danger” can such advocacy or organization be curbed. Which is somewhat like waiting to shoot at an enemy armed with a long-range rifle until you are able to see the whites of his eyes. Or, perhaps more aptly in the 21st century, waiting until a terrorist strikes before acting against him. Which is too late, of course, and impossible in the usual case of suicide-cum-terror.

And therein lies the dangerous folly of free-speech absolutism. A general and compelling case against the current reign of absolutism is made by David Lowenthal in No Liberty for License: The Forgotten Logic of the First Amendment. Lowenthal’s case is summarized in Edward J. Erler’s review of the book (“The First Amendment and the Theology of Republican Government,” Interpretation, Spring 2000):

The thesis of David Lowenthal’s [book] is as bold as it is simple: “the First Amendment, intended as a bulwark of the republic, has become a prime agent of its destruction” (p. xiv). Lowenthal rightly argues that the First Amendment was adopted for a political purpose; it sought to protect only those liberties necessary for the preservation of republican government. Today, however, the focus of the First Amendment is on “individual rights” rather than the common good, at it is this “over-expansion of individual liberty” that Lowenthal believes has led to the vast decline of the “moral and political health of the republic,” a decline that undermines the very foundations of liberty itself. Indeed, the Supreme Court has “made individual freedom its god — at the expense of the moral, social, and political needs of ordered society” (p. xiv).

Lowenthal argues that this corruption in First Amendment jurisprudence was caused by the deliberate departure from the intentions of its framers: “the great impetus for movement in the direction of extreme liberty came not from within the system but from new philosophies and theories, mostly imported from abroad…. The main culprit here, according to Lowenthal, is John Stuart Mill who, in the hands of Justices Holmes and Brandeis, became the intellectual guide for a “second, hidden founding” (pp. 54, 45, 248, 250, 253, 267, 273). It was Mill who “supplied a new theoretical foundation for liberty, calling for its vast expansion in the name of freedom of thought,” and by the middle of the twentieth century, those forces set in motion by modernity, “relativism and subjectivism,” had become the dominant mode of thought informing constitutional interpretation (p. 267). Mill and his epigones replaced the founders as the source for understanding the Constitution.

The efforts of Holmes and Brandeis, of course, were part of the larger Progressive movement. The explicit goal of Progressivism was to free the Constitution from its moorings of the founding, most particularly from the “static” doctrines of the Declaration of Independence and its reliance on the permanent truths of the “laws of nature and nature’s God.” Progressivism itself was only one strain of modernity, but it shared with the other strains the depreciation of both reason and revelation as sources of moral and political authority. Progressivism was phenomenally successful in it debunking of the founding and its reformist zeal appealed wholly to the passions. It sought to liberate the passions from the constraints of morality, whereas the founders appealed to the “reason … of the public” (The Federalist, No. 49 [Rossiter, ed.] p. 317) as the foundation of moral and political order. The appeal to reason will always be more difficult than the appeal to passion, especially when the appeal to passion has itself assumed a kind of “moral” authority. It should not be surprising therefore that the success of the “Holmes-Brandeis school of jurisprudence,” in Lowenthal’s estimation, “is wholly out of keeping with its intrinsic merits” (p. 61).

Progressivism was a wholly alien doctrine; it derived not from any thought of the founding, but from Continental thought, principally of Hegel. The result was moral relativism verging on nihilism. But Lowenthal rightly questions “whether any alien doctrines, any doctrines other than those of the founders and framers, written into the language of the Constitution, should be so employed” (p. 54). Lowenthal supports original intent jurisprudence because the ideas of the framers and founders “remain constitutionally, politically, and morally superior to those that have displaced them” (p. xxii). Lowenthal does not minimize the difficulty of restoring the founding to its rightful place; he believe the republic is in grave danger and the danger is more than abundantly evident in the current understanding of the First Amendment. Lowenthal’s account is not that of a mere intellectual; it is written with a verve, moral passion, and deep understanding that is almost unknown among intellectuals.

The First Amendment, in the hands of the Supreme Court, has become inimical to the civil and state institutions that enable liberty. The Court has been so busy protecting the right of the media to subvert the national defense, that it hasn’t spared the time to extend its free-speech absolutism by striking down speech codes at taxpayer-funded universities. That’s perverse because, among many things, speech codes are intended to suppress the very kind of political dissent that the First Amendment was meant to protect. It isn’t protected because it’s conservative dissent from “liberal” orthodoxy.

ENTER THE AMORPHOUS HARM PRINCIPLE

One aspect of that orthodoxy, which Lowenthal addresses, is John Stuart Mill’s harm principle:

[T]he 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. [John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1869), Chapter I, paragraph 9.]

This is empty rhetoric. Theodore Dalrymple exposes its emptiness in “The Simple Truth about J.S. Mill’s Simple Truth” (Library of Law and Liberty, July 20, 2015). Dalrymple writes about the legalization of drugs, but his indictment of the harm principle is general:

I can do as I please, and take what I like, so long as I harm no others.

One can easily sympathize with this attempt to delimit the relations between the individual and the state or other powerful authorities. Every government today is in practice vastly more oppressive than that of George III in the American colonies. Which of us does not feel an increasing weight on him of regulation, prohibition, and compulsion from on high—most of it nowadays supposedly for our own good—to help us lead a better or a longer life whether we want it or not? How are we to hold back the flood of official intrusion into our lives without a principle to distinguish legitimate from illegitimate intrusion?…

The objections to the Millian premise of the call to drug legalization are well-known. Man is a social as well as a political animal, and except for the very few who live in genuine isolation, almost all that we do affects someone else….

We may, indeed we ought to, have a bias or presumption in favor of individual liberty, and we should also have a lively appreciation of the fact that interference with liberty to prevent harm to others may actually cause more harm than it prevents. Moreover, because liberty is a good in itself, loss of liberty is a harm in itself, always to be taken into account.

None of this means that there is a very clear principle that can lay down in advance the limits of liberty, such as Mill wants (and the would-be legalizers of drugs rely upon)….

The libertarian position with regard to drugs would be more convincing if the costs of the choices of those who took them could be brought home to them alone. We know that, in practice, they are shared….

In short, there is no “very simple principle” of the kind that Mill enunciated, with an eloquence that disguised a certain hollowness, that establishes as inherently wrong the forbidding of citizens to take whatever drugs they like. By the same token, there is no very simple principle that will determine which drugs should be permitted and which banned.

If it is right to begin permitting the consumption of a heretofore banned drug, it must, therefore, be on other grounds than 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.” As Einstein said, a theory should be as simple as possible, but not simpler than possible.

(See also: “Toleration Extremism: Notes on John Stuart Mill“, Maverick Philosopher, January 14, 2015.)

THE SUBVERSION OF SOCIAL NORMS IS THE SUBVERSION OF LIBERTY

Harm must be defined. And its definition must arise from voluntarily evolved social norms. Such norms evince and sustain the mutual trust, respect, forbearance, and voluntary aid that — taken together — foster willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior. And what is liberty but willing, peaceful coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior?

Behavior is shaped by social norms. Those norms once were rooted in the Ten Commandments and time-tested codes of behavior. They weren’t nullified willy-nilly in accordance with the wishes of “activists,” as amplified through the megaphone of the mass media, and made law by the Supreme Court. What were those norms? Here are some of the most important ones:

Marriage is a union of one man and one woman. Nothing else is marriage, despite legislative, executive, and judicial decrees that substitute brute force for the wisdom of the ages.

Marriage comes before children. This is not because people are pure at heart, but because it is the responsible way to start life together and to ensure that one’s children enjoy a stable, nurturing home life.

Marriage is until “death do us part.” Divorce is a recourse of last resort, not an easy way out of marital and familial responsibilities or the first recourse when one spouse disappoints or angers the other.

Children are disciplined — sometimes spanked — when they do wrong. They aren’t given long, boring, incomprehensible lectures about why they’re doing wrong. Why not? Because they usually know they’re doing wrong and are just trying to see what they can get away with.

Drugs are taken for the treatment of actual illnesses, not for recreational purposes.

Income is earned, not “distributed.” Persons who earn a lot of money are to be respected. If you envy them to the point of wanting to take their money, you’re a pinko-commie-socialist (no joke).

People should work, save, and pay for their own housing. The prospect of owning one’s own home, by dint of one’s own labor, is an incentive to work hard and to advance oneself through the acquisition of marketable skills.

Welfare is a gift that one accepts as a last resort, it is not a right or an entitlement, and it is not bestowed on persons with convenient disabilities.

Sexism (though it isn’t called that) is nothing more than the understanding — shared by men and women — that women are members of a different sex (the only different one); are usually weaker than men; are endowed with different brain chemistry and physical skills than men (still a fact); and enjoy discreet admiration (flirting) if they’re passably good-looking, or better. Women who reject those propositions — and who try to enforce modes of behavior that assume differently — are embittered and twisted.

A mother who devotes time and effort to the making of a good home and the proper rearing of her children is a pillar of civilized society. Her life is to be celebrated, not condemned as “a waste.”

Homosexuality is a rare, aberrant kind of behavior. (And that was before AIDS proved it to be aberrant.) It’s certainly not a “lifestyle” to be celebrated and shoved down the throats of all who object to it.

Privacy is a constrained right. It doesn’t trump moral obligations, among which are the obligations to refrain from spreading a deadly disease and to preserve innocent life.

Addiction isn’t a disease; it’s a surmountable failing.

Justice is for victims. Victims are persons to whom actual harm has been done by way of fraud, theft, bodily harm, murder, and suchlike. A person with a serious disease or handicap isn’t a victim, nor is a person with a drinking or drug problem.

Justice is a dish best served hot, so that would-be criminals can connect the dots between crime and punishment. Swift and sure punishment is the best deterrent of crime. Capital punishment is the ultimate deterrent because an executed killer can’t kill again.

Peace is the result of preparedness for war; lack of preparedness invites war.

The list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s certainly representative. The themes are few and simple: respect others, respect tradition, restrict government to the defense of society from predators foreign and domestic. The result is liberty: A regime of mutually beneficial coexistence based on mutual trust and respect. That’s all it takes — not big government bent on dictating new norms just because it can.

But by pecking away at social norms that underlie mutual trust and respect, “liberals” have sundered the fabric of civilization. There is among Americans the greatest degree of mutual enmity (dressed up as political polarization) since the Civil War.

The mutual enmity isn’t just political. It’s also racial, and it shows up as crime. Heather Mac Donald says “Yes, the Ferguson Effect Is Real,” and Paul Mirengoff shows that “Violent Crime Jumped in 2015.” I got to the root of the problem in “Crime Revisited,” to which I’ve added “Amen to That” and “Double Amen.” What is the root of the problem? A certain, violence-prone racial minority, of course, and also under-incarceration (see “Crime Revisited”).

The Ferguson Effect is a good example of where the slippery slope of free-speech absolutism leads. More examples are found in the violent protests in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory. The right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” has become the right to assemble a mob, disrupt the lives of others, destroy the property of others, injure and kill others, and (usually) suffer no consequences for doing so — if you are a leftist or a member of one of the groups patronized by the left, that is.

THE REVERSE SLIPPERY-SLOPE

But that’s not the end of it. There’s a reverse slippery-slope effect when it comes to ideas opposed by the left. There are, for example, speech codes at government-run universities; hate-crime laws, which effectively punish speech that offends a patronized group; and penalties in some States for opposing same-sex “marriage” (a recent example is documented here).

Justice Kennedy’s egregious majority opinion in Obergefell v.Hodges lays the groundwork for more suppression. This is from Chief Justice Roberts’s dissent (references omitted):

Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for religious practice. The majority’s decision imposing same-sex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion.Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.

Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.

Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of today’s decision is the extent to which the majority feels compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate. The majority offers a cursory assurance that it does not intend to disparage people who, as a matter of conscience, cannot accept same-sex marriage. That disclaimer is hard to square with the very next sentence, in which the majority explains that “the necessary consequence” of laws codifying the traditional definition of marriage is to “demea[n]or stigmatiz[e]” same-sex couples. The majority reiterates such characterizations over and over. By the majority’s account, Americans who did nothing more than follow the understanding of marriage that has existed for our entire history—in particular, the tens of millions of people who voted to reaffirm their States’ enduring definition of marriage—have acted to “lock . . . out,” “disparage,”“disrespect and subordinate,” and inflict “[d]ignitary wounds” upon their gay and lesbian neighbors. These apparent assaults on the character of fairminded people will have an effect, in society and in court. Moreover, they are entirely gratuitous. It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s “better informed understanding” as bigoted.

Justice Alito, in his dissent, foresees that the majority opinion

will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion,the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.

Perhaps recognizing how its reasoning may be used, the majority attempts, toward the end of its opinion, to reassure those who oppose same-sex marriage that their rights of conscience will be protected. We will soon see whether this proves to be true. I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.

I expect Roberts and Alito to be proved right unless the election of Donald Trump soon results in a conservative majority on the Court, that is, the replacement of Kennedy or one of his allies in Obergefell v. Hodges.

In sum, there is no longer such a thing as the kind of freedom of speech intended by the Framers of the Constitution. There is on the one hand license for “speech” that subverts and flouts civilizing social norms — the norms that underlie liberty. There is on the other hand a growing tendency to suppress speech that supports civilizing social norms.

A WAR BY ANY OTHER NAME

What I have just described is a key component of the left’s continuing and relentless effort to reshape the world to its liking. Leftists don’t care about the licentious consequences of free-speech absolutism because they’re insulated from those consequences (or so they believe). Their motto should be “I’m all right, Jack.”

But leftists do care about making government big and all-powerful, so that it can enact the programs and policies they favor. To that end, leftists seek to suppress political dissent and to subvert voluntary cooperative behavior, which is found not only in evolved social norms but also in free markets. The people must be brought to heel at the command of big brother, who knows best.

It is war, in other words, and more than a culture war. It’s a war between the enemies of liberty and those who want liberty, not license. The problem is that too many of those who want liberty don’t know that there is a war. For one thing, those who want liberty aren’t necessarily self-described libertarians; rather, they’re traditional conservatives (Burkean libertarians) who, by nature, are attuned to beneficial cooperation, not ideological conflict. For another thing, many of those who want liberty have been brainwashed into believing that leftists also want liberty but are misguided about how to attain it.

It may be too late to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. But while there is still freedom to challenge the enemies of liberty there is still hope for the restoration of constitutional governance.

I would return to first principles. The United States was reconstituted in 1788 when the Constitution was ratified. As stated in the preamble to the Constitution, one of the purposes for reconstituting the nation was to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

Why, then, should the government of the United States tolerate the promulgation of anti-libertarian views? It is evident that in practice the free-speech slippery slope really leads away from liberty not toward it. I’m referring not just to riotous, licentious behavior that flouts civilizing norms and undermines them. I’m also referring to something much deeper and more subversive than that: the toleration of speech that has turned the Constitution on its head by converting the central government from a miserly, non-interfering night watchman to a partisan, micro-managing nanny with deep pockets into which almost everyone is allowed to dip.

This means, at a minimum, and end to free-speech absolutism, which has become a license for two-percent tyranny and the destruction of civilizing social norms. It also means taking a hard line with respect to advocates of big, intrusive government. It will be a cold day in hell before there is a president and a Congress and a Supreme Court who consistently and concertedly take a hard line — and carry it into action. Donald Trump is preferable to Hillary Clinton, but he is a far cry from Ronald Reagan, let alone Calvin Coolidge (my favorite president). The Republican majorities in Congress are infested with special pleaders who will log-roll until the cows come home. The Supreme Court will continue to be the Kennedy Court until Trump is able to replace Kennedy or one of the leftists with whom he allies increasingly often — assuming that Trump will stay true to his word about the conservative character of his nominees.

In sum, there’s no prospect of quick or certain victory in the war to restore constitutional governance to Washington and liberty to the land.

THE LONG WAR AHEAD

Conservatives must be prepared for and committed to a long war, with the aim of changing the character of the institutions that — in addition to family — hold the most sway over the minds of future leaders and the voters who will select those leaders: public schools, universities, and the media.

The long war will be a war to transform fundamentally the prevailing ethos of a nation that has sunk gradually into decadence and despotism. (Barack Obama’s “fundamental transformation” was nothing more than the proverbial frosting on the proverbial cake.) How does one even begin to wage such a war?

I would begin by following a key maxim of war-fighting: concentration of force. Roll up one enemy unit at a time instead of attacking on a broad front. As each enemy unit falls, the rest become relatively weaker by having fewer friendly units to call on for support.

Imagine, for example, a conservative takeover of several major universities,* which might be abetted by a concentrated campaign by conservative trustees with the support of friendly forces within the universities, and a few sympathetic media outlets, all backed by a loud and sustained chorus of supportive reporting, commentary, and outright propaganda emanating from the blogosphere. University administrators, as we have seen, are especially sensitive to changes in the prevailing direction of opinion, especially if that opinion is fomented within universities. Thus, if one major university were to move sharply in a conservative direction, it would take less effort to move a second one, even less effort to move a third one, and so on.

With universities falling into line, it would be a fairly simple task to remake the face of public education. It is universities, after all, which are mainly responsible for the left-wing indoctrination that most public-school teachers and administrators have been spreading throughout most of the land for many decades. It wouldn’t take a generation for the new, conservative disposition to spread. It would spread almost like wildfire for the same reasons that it would spread rapidly among universities: the desire to be “on the right side of history,” no matter what side it is. It would become more or less permanent, however, as new waves of students leave the universities that have converted to conservatism and begin to spread its gospel in public schools.

The conversion of the media would proceed in parallel with the conversion of public schools. It would be a self-inflicted conversion, born of the desire to please an audience that is becoming more and more conservative. The act of pleasing that audience would, in turn, result in the dissemination of stories with a conservative slant, which would help to speed the conversion of the as-yet unconverted members of the audience.

As for how to arrange a conservative takeover of a major university, I would begin with those few that have shown themselves ripe for conversion. Perhaps it’s one of the 27 universities that is a rated a “green-light institution” by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The University of Chicago is a recent and prominent addition to that list.

Wherever the campaign begins, it should begin with a university whose trustees, sources of income, faculty, and current ideological balance make it ready to be pushed into the ranks of conservative institutions. Perhaps it would be a matter of electing a few more conservative trustees, with the help of a major donation from a conservative source. Perhaps a key department could be moved to the conservative side of the ledger by the hiring of a few faculty members. Perhaps the university needs only a slight push to become a leader in the refutation of speech codes, “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and in the open embrace of conservative speakers and movements.

The devil is in the details, and I’m not conversant enough with the state of any university to suggest how or where to begin the campaign. But begin it must — and soon, before it’s too late to reverse the incoming tide of leftist regimentation of all aspects of our lives.
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* A takeover is better than a startup. A takeover not only means that there’s one less “enemy” to fight, but it also means that some “enemy” forces have been converted to friendly ones, which sets a precedent for more takeovers. Fox News Channel is a case in point. Its creation didn’t reduce the number of left-wing outlets. And the growth of FNC’s market share at the expense of left-wing outlets (mainly CNN) merely tapped into a ready market for a somewhat conservative outlet; it didn’t create that market. Further, FNC isn’t “serious” in the way that a university is, and so its slant is more easily dismissed as propaganda than would be the emanations from a major university.

The Transgender Fad and Its Consequences

Revised on 12/05/16, with the addition of the penultimate paragraph, a related reading, and two more links under “other related posts.” Revised on 12/07/16 with the addition of this statement:

I have turned off comments, pingbacks, and likes for this post. It seems to have attracted the attention of persons with a neo-Nazi political agenda. This post is emphatically not about the suppression of any person or group of persons because of his or her sexual preferences. It is about the regrettable decisions that some young persons make about their sexuality. And it is about the cheerleading for transgenderism on the part of “liberals,” pundits, and politicians who seem not to care one whit about the destructive social consequences of the policies that they wish to ram down the throats of the 99.4 percent of Americans who are not transgendered.

You know what “hateful discriminatory” speech is. It’s speech that offends a leftist’s precious prejudices. A good example is found in a recent post here, “The IQ of Nations.” The post is based on facts, insofar as they can be ascertained, about the average IQs of the people of 159 countries. But because the post contradicts what leftists want to believe, or profess to believe, about the correlation between race and intelligence, it is — by their definition — “hateful and discriminatory.”

It’s also “hateful and discriminatory” to suggest that transgenderism is, for the most part, a fad. Worse than that, it’s a fad that will leave much harm in its wake while further diminishing the liberty of Americans. I hereby plead guilty, in advance, to the propagation of “hateful and discriminatory” speech facts.

Among the subjects addressed by Drs. Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh in “Sexuality and Gender” (The New Atlantis No. 50, Fall 2016) is gender identity. The executive summary of Part Three, which addresses that subject, gives these findings:

● The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence.

● According to a recent estimate, about 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as a gender that does not correspond to their biological sex.

● Studies comparing the brain structures of transgender and non-transgender individuals have demonstrated weak correlations between brain structure and cross-gender identification. These correlations do not provide any evidence for a neurobiological basis for cross-gender identification.

● Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.

● Children are a special case when addressing transgender issues. Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.

● There is little scientific evidence for the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents, although some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification. There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender.

Denise Shick takes a longer view in “Why We Should Have Seen the Transgender Craze Coming” (The Federalist, November 28, 2016):

Alfred Kinsey planted the sexual-revolution seed when his book, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” was published in 1948. The book caused quite a stir back then. Although the majority of the men Kinsey surveyed for his study were prison inmates whose sexual proclivities didn’t accurately represent the overall male population, the book gained support and propelled the culture in a decidedly permissive direction.

Then, when the first birth-control pill hit the market in 1960, the sexual revolution hit the fast track. Within a few years, rates of premarital and extramarital sex skyrocketed. “Sex is natural and fun,” people said. “Why confine it to heterosexual sex within marriage?”

In the 1950s, prior to the introduction of contraceptive pills, 60 percent of women were still virgins on their wedding day. By the late ’70s, that figure had dropped to 20 percent. In a matter of a few decades, premarital and extramarital sexual activity went from relatively rare to commonplace.

But extramarital heterosexual sex wasn’t enough for the newly liberated. So the push for homosexual normalization began. Prior to the late ’60s, those who engaged in homosexual activity understood they were on the fringe, recognizing that the vast majority of Americans wouldn’t accept their activities. So they kept their behaviors quiet and hidden.

Then, following the Stonewall rebellion in 1969, homosexuals began to “come out of the closet,” and increasingly pushed for the normalization of their way of life. By 2000, only those viewed as religious zealots held out against the push for legitimization of homosexual practices and homosexual marriage. With that battle won, the sexual libertines moved on to conquer the next sexual frontier: transgenderism.

In the early ’50s, George William Jorgensen Jr., an American man, flew to Denmark, where medical specialists surgically altered him. Jorgensen returned to America as Christine, and when the story hit American news outlets, most Americans were shocked and dismayed.

Aiming to temper the average American’s dismay, physician Harry Benjamin published “The Transsexual Phenomenon” in 1966. Eleven years later, the New York Supreme Court ruled that Renée Richards, a transgender woman who played professional tennis, was eligible to play at the 1977 United States Open as a woman. The normalization of another long-held taboo was by then well underway. By 2002, the Transgender Law Center opened its first office in San Francisco, and there was no turning back.

So here we are, in 2016, looking at our gender-confused children and asking what happened and what can we do.

Whence gender confusion? This is from Professor (of psychiatry) Richard B. Corradi’s “‘Transgenderism’ Is Mass Hysteria Similar to 1980s-Era Junk Science” (The Federalist, November 17, 2016):

Transgenderism would refute the natural laws of biology and transmute human nature. The movement’s philosophical foundation qualifies it as a popular delusion similar to the multiple-personality craze, and the widespread “satanic ritual abuse” and “recovered memory” hysterias of the 1980s and ‘90s. These last two involved bizarre accusations of child abuse and resulted in the prosecution and ruined lives of the falsely accused.

Such popular delusions are characterized by a false belief unsupported by any scientific or empirical evidence and have a contagious quality that overrides rational thinking and even common sense. This all-too-human tendency to suspend individual critical judgment and go along with the crowd is greatly facilitated by social media. Most important, however, the cause has received the imprimatur of “experts.” The very people who should know better have bought into the hysteria. Just as “mental health professionals” a generation ago supported the child abuse delusions, and even participated in prosecuting the unjustly accused, so too have they fueled the fire of the transgender delusion.

The transgender movement was greatly energized when The American Psychiatric Association (APA) in its 2013 revised edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders” (DSM-5) delisted “Gender Identity Disorder” as a psychiatric “disorder,” reclassifying it as “Gender Dysphoria.” However, rather than providing a scientific validation of the transgender agenda, the APA’s action was a remarkable abrogation of professional responsibility in the interest of political correctness.

Unlike medical diseases, psychiatric disorders have no diagnostic biologic markers—no physical findings, laboratory tests, or imaging studies. Psychiatric diagnoses consist of symptom checklists determined by committee consensus. It should come as no surprise that the process is exquisitely reactive to prevailing cultural and political winds. Absent biomarkers that define illnesses, there is no end to the mental and emotional conditions that can be called psychiatric disorders. It can be extremely profitable for an activist special-interest movement to succeed in getting its cause legitimized as a mental disorder, not least for a pharmaceutical industry poised to retarget psychotropic drugs to treat any new mental illness….

Only prelogical children and psychotic adults believe in magical thinking, that “wishing can make it so.” Yet “gender dysphoria” is characterized as “gender incongruence:” a feeling of dissatisfaction with one’s “assigned” (birth) gender, and a wish to be otherwise-gendered, makes one a different person. To reclaim one’s true (desired) gender identity may require sex-reassignment surgery, a treatment for the “new diagnostic class” of gender dysphoria sanctioned by the APA. The torturous vocabulary the DSM manufactured to label the possible gender spectrum variations would be laughable were it not so tragic….

Anorexia and “gender dysphoria” are among the many manifestations of psychological conflict that may occur during the “identity crisis” of adolescence, an important developmental milestone in identity formation. It is a time of rapid physical changes and strong sexual urges. Gender confusion—the wish to be the opposite sex, or even to be no sex at all (non-gendered)—can simply be a young person’s temporary pause in resolving the conflict between the safety of secure parental attachments and the compelling but frightening urges of adult sexuality and autonomy….

The success of the transgender rights crusade, based as it is on the cultural delusion of denying biologic difference between the sexes, would suggest there are no limits to the movement’s goal of reshaping American culture and its institutions….

Any religious or moral opposition to the [transgender] movement is reflexively characterized as hateful and discriminatory. Nowhere to be seen are the accounts of disillusionment and depression by those who regret having had surgery….

Along with the media, the political left has warmly embraced the LGBT movement’s apparent goal to reshape the social fabric and cultural traditions of American life and to reconstruct society to suit its demands. There appears to be no limit to efforts to silence dissenters. Religious believers are being demonized, and many fear even freedom of the pulpit is in jeopardy. There is no hesitation in using courts to impose the will of a tiny minority on the general public, even to the extent of changing the bathroom practices of the entire nation….

Historically, contagious popular delusions that deny common sense and fly in the face of reality eventually run their course. This will likely be the fate of the transgender craze. But before it collapses under its own weight, many people will suffer irreparable harm.

Harm will come not only to  those who fall prey to the transgender delusion, but also to those who oppose its inevitable manifestations:

  • mandatory sex mingling in bathrooms, locker rooms, and dorm rooms — an invitation to predators and a further weakening of the norms of propriety that help to instill respect toward other persons
  • quotas for hiring self-described transgender persons, and for admitting them to universities, and for putting them in the ranks of police and armed forces, etc.
  • government-imposed penalties for saying “hateful and discriminatory” things about gender, the purpose of which will be to stifle dissent about the preceding matters
  • government-imposed penalties for attempts to exercise freedom of association, which is an unenumerated right under the Constitution that, properly understood, includes the right to refuse business from anyone at any time and for any reason (including but far from limited to refusing to serve drug-addled drag queens whose presence will repel other customers).

How did America get from the pre-Kinsey view of sex as a private matter, kept that way by long-standing social norms, to the let-it-all-hang-out (literally) mentality being pushed by elites in the media, academy, and government?

I attribute much of it to the capitalist paradox. Capitalism — a misnomer for an economic system that relies mainly on free markets and private-property rights — encourages innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. One result is that a “capitalist” economy eventually produces enough output to support large numbers of persons who don’t understand that living off the system and regulating it heavily will bring it down. Thus the sad story of declining economic growth since the 1960s and its proximate causes: government spending and regulation of the economy. But the unproductive leeches — whose numbers include most academics, pundits, and politicians — don’t understand or don’t care, and so “capitalism” becomes less and less able to support them. Or, rather, it becomes less and less able to reward productivity because such a large fraction of its output is claimed by the leeches. Which is a recipe for a death-spiral into stagnation and negative growth.

The social paradox is analogous to the capitalist paradox. Social relations are enriched and made more productive by the toleration of some new behaviors. But to ensure that a new behavior is enriching and productive, it must be tested in the acid of use.* Shortcuts — activism cloaked in academese, punditry, and political posturing — lead to the breakdown of the processes by which behaviors become accepted because they are enriching and productive.

In sum, the capitalist paradox breeds the very people who are responsible for the social paradox: those who are rich enough to be insulated from the vicissitudes of daily life, where living among and conversing with similar folk reinforces a distorted view of the real world. (Being “rich enough” just means being in the top-10 or top-20 percent of America’s income distribution, which allows you to live more luxuriously than almost everyone who has ever lived.) As Fred Reed puts it, in a different but related context, there is a

sharp dividing line between who read the New York Times and those for whom it is the house organ of a class of people they detest. This is the Trumpo-Hillarian Chasm. New York, which controls the country with Washington as its action arm, is not particularly cognizant of what goes on in the rest of the US. The imposition of  political correctness prevents New York from hearing anything it doesn’t like, but also prevents it from knowing the extent to which people believe things New York doesn’t want to hear.

New York is merely the ornament atop the radical-chic bubble, which encompasses The Washington Post, most of the other dying big-city newspapers, the major TV networks, PBS, and the well-insulated upper crust of most major cities in America.

It is the cossetted beneficiaries of capitalism who lead the way in forcing Americans to accept as “natural” and “of right” behavior that in saner times was rarely engaged in and even more rarely flaunted. That restraint wasn’t just a matter of prudery. It was a matter of two things: respect for others, and the preservation of norms that foster restraint.

How quaint. Avoiding offense to others, and teaching one’s children that normal behavior helps them to gain the acceptance and trust of others. Underlying those understood motivations was a deeper one: Children are susceptible creatures, easily gulled and led astray — led into making mistakes that will haunt them all their lives. There was, in those days, an understanding that “one thing leads to another.”

The relaxation of standards of behavior merely invites more relaxation, as we have seen with a series of Supreme Court decisions that legalized homosexual sodomy, barred the federal government from declaring that marriage is a heterosexual union, and then overruled thousands of years of social tradition by declaring the legality of homosexual “marriage.” If the Kennedy Court of Social Upheaval continues to hold sway, its next “logical” steps  will be to declare the illegality of sexual identifiers and the prima facie qualification of any person for any job regardless of “its” mental and physical fitness for the job.

Returning to my main point after that satisfying rant, the parents of yesteryear didn’t have to worry about the transgender fad, but they did have to worry about drinking, drug-taking, and sex. Not everyone who “experimented” with those things went on to live a life of dissolution, shame, and regret. But many did. And so, too, will the many young children, adolescents, and young adults who succumb to the fad of transgenderism.

I bear no animus toward those few persons who are truly conflicted about their sexuality. But I have no sympathy for juvenile faddishness and the unseemly (and temporarily halted) eradication of privacy in the name of “gender equality.” It’s as if time-honored codes of conduct have somehow become unnecessary and unduly discriminatory. (Where have we heard that before?)

When did it all begin to go wrong? See “1963: The Year Zero.”
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* I owe “tested in the acid of use” to Philip M. Morse and George E. Kimball, Methods of Operations Research (Washington, B.C.: Operations Evaluation Group, 1946), p. 10.

*     *     *

Related readings:
Hadley Arkes, “The Lost Structures of Civility,” City Journal, Autumn 2016
Catholic Hulk, “Political Vaginae,” Rightly Considered, November 30, 2016

Other related posts:
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Same-Sex “Marriage”
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual “Marriage”
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
In Defense of Marriage
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
Two-Percent Tyranny
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
And the Truth Shall Set You Free
How America Has Changed

Hayek’s Anticipatory Account of Consciousness

I have almost finished reading F.A. Hayek‘s The Sensory Order, which was originally published in 1952. Chapter VI is Consciousness and Conceptual Thought. In the section headed the Functions of Consciousness, Hayek writes:

6.29.  …[I]t will be the pre-existing excitatory state of the higher centres [of the central nervous system] which will decide whether the evaluation of the new impulses [arising from stimuli external to the higher centres] will be of the kind characteristic of attention or consciousness. It will depend on the predisposition (or set) how fully the newly arriving impulses will be evaluated or whether they will be consciously perceived, and what the responses to them will be.

6.30.  It is probable that the processes in the highest centres which become conscious require the continuous support from nervous impulses originating at some source within the nervous system itself, such as the ‘wakefuleness center’ for whose existence a considerable amount of physiological evidence has been found. If this is so, it would seem probable also that it is these reinforcing impulses which, guided by the expectations evoked by pre-existing conditions, prepare the ground and decide on which of the new impulses the searchlight beam of full consciousness and attention will be focued. The stream of impulses which is thus strengthened becomes capable of dominating the processes in the highest centre, and of overruling and shutting out from full consciousness all the sensory signals which do not belong to the object on which attention is fixed, and which are not themselves strong enough (or perhaps not sufficiently in conflict with the underlying outline picture of the environment) to attract attention.

6.31.  There would thus appear to exist within the central nervous system a highest and most comprehensive center at which at any one time only a limited group of coherent processes can be fully evaluated; where all these processes are related to the same spatial and temporal framework; where the ‘abstract’ or generic relations for a closely knit order in which individual objects are placed; and where, in addition, a close connexion with the instruments of communication has not only contributed a further and very powerful means of classification, but has also made it possible for the individual to participate in a social or conventional representation of the world which he shares with his fellows.

Now, 64 years later, comes a report which I first saw in an online article by Fiona MacDonald, “Harvard Scientists Think They’ve Pinpointed the Physical Source of Consciousness” (Science Alert, November 8, 2016):

Scientists have struggled for millennia to understand human consciousness – the awareness of one’s existence. Despite advances in neuroscience, we still don’t really know where it comes from, and how it arises.

But researchers think they might have finally figured out its physical origins, after pinpointing a network of three specific regions in the brain that appear to be crucial to consciousness.

It’s a pretty huge deal for our understanding of what it means to be human, and it could also help researchers find new treatments for patients in vegetative states.

“For the first time, we have found a connection between the brainstem region involved in arousal and regions involved in awareness, two prerequisites for consciousness,” said lead researcher Michael Fox from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre at Harvard Medical School.

“A lot of pieces of evidence all came together to point to this network playing a role in human consciousness.”

Consciousness is generally thought of as being comprised of two critical components – arousal and awareness.

Researchers had already shown that arousal is likely regulated by the brainstem – the portion of the brain that links up with the spinal cord – seeing as it regulates when we sleep and wake, and our heart rate and breathing.

Awareness has been more elusive. Researchers have long thought that it resides somewhere in the cortex – the outer layer of the brain – but no one has been able to pinpoint where.

Now the Harvard team has identified not only the specific brainstem region linked to arousal, but also two cortex regions, that all appear to work together to form consciousness.

A full account of the research is given by David B. Fischer M.D. et al. in “A Human Brain Network Derived from Coma-Causing Brainstem Lesions” (Neurology, published online November 4, 2016, ungated version available here).

Hayek isn’t credited in the research paper. But he should be, for pointing the way to a physiological explanation of consciousness that finds it centered in the brain and not in that mysterious emanation called “mind.”