Rethinking Free Trade II

I ended “Rethinking Free Trade” with this:

To put it bluntly but correctly, the national government exists not for the benefit of the people of the whole world or any part of it outside the United States, but for the benefit of the citizens of the United States.

Yes, some Americans benefit from free trade… But not all Americans do. And it is the job of the national government to serve all of the people. A balance needs to be struck. And those who pay the price of free trade … must be compensated in some way.

How and how much? Those are questions that I will grapple with in future posts.

I must first acknowledge some rather good points that I made in “Gains from Trade“, a nine-year-old post in which I address objections to free trade made by Keith Burgess-Jackson (KBJ):

How is “free trade” a “disaster for this country” [as KBJ puts it] when, thanks to the lowering of barriers to trade, but not their abandonment (thus “free trade”), millions of Americans now own better automobiles, electronic gadgets, and other goodies than they had access to before “free trade.” Not only that, but they have been able to purchase those goodies to which they had access before “free trade” at lower real prices than in the days before “free trade.” On top of that, millions of Americans make a better living than than they did before “free trade” because of their employment in industries that became stronger or rose up because of “free trade.”…

… KBJ seems to acknowledge as much in a [later] post … , where he gives a bit more ground:

Free trade is efficient, in the sense that it increases (or even maximizes) aggregate material welfare. The key words are “aggregate” and “material.” As for the first of these words, free trade produces losers as well as gainers. The gainers could compensate the losers, but they are not made to do so. I’m concerned about the losers. In other words, I care about justice (how the pie is distributed) as well as efficiency (how big the pie is). As for the second word, there is more to life than material welfare. Free trade has bad effects on valuable nonmaterial things, such as community, culture, tradition, and family. As a conservative, I care very much about these things.

… KBJ focuses on American losers, but there are many, many American gainers from free trade, as discussed above. Are their communities, cultures, traditions, and families of no import to KBJ? It would seem so. On what basis does he prefer some Americans to others?…

… KBJ seems to ignore the fundamental fact of life that human beings try to better their lot in ways that often, and inescapably, result in change….

Perhaps (in KBJ’s view) it was a mistake for early man to have discovered fire-making, which undoubtedly led to new communal alignments, cultural totems, traditions, and even familial relationships. Methinks, in short, that KBJ has been swept away by a kind of self-indulgent romanticism for a past that was not as good as we remember it. (I’ve been there and done that, too.)…

“Free trade” works because there are gains to all participants. If that weren’t the case, Americans wouldn’t buy foreign goods and foreigners wouldn’t buy American goods. Moreover, “free trade” has been a boon to American consumers and workers (though not always the workers KBJ seems to be worried about). To the extent that “wealthy American entrepreneurs” have gained from “free trade,” it’s because they’ve risked their capital to create jobs (in the U.S. and overseas) that have helped people (in the U.S. and overseas) attain higher standards of living. The “worldwide pool of cheap labor” is, in fact, a worldwide pool of willing labor, which earns what it does in accordance with the willingness of Americans (and others) to buy its products….

If “free trade” is such a bad thing, I wonder if KBJ buys anything that’s not made in Texas, where he lives. Trade between the States, after all, is about as “free” as it gets (except when government bans something, of course). Suppose Texas were to be annexed suddenly by Mexico. Would KBJ immediately boycott everything that’s made in the remaining 49 States? Would it have suddenly become unclean?…

Putting an end to “free trade” would make Americans poorer, not richer. And I doubt that it would do anything to halt the natural evolution of “community, culture, tradition, and family” away from the forms sentimentalized by KBJ and toward entirely new but not necessarily inferior forms.

The biggest threat to “community, culture, tradition, and family” lies in the non-evolutionary imposition of new social norms by the Left. That’s where the ire of KBJ and company should be directed.

There are a few chinks in my argument.

First, there will be in the short run (and sometimes even in the long run) a downward shift in the demand for labor in some sectors of the economy due to actions taken by foreign governments. Those actions consist of direct subsidies to industries that export goods to the U.S., and indirect subsidies in the form of tariffs and quotas on goods imported from the U.S.

I have seen “libertarian” economists justify direct subsidies because they benefit American consumers. (The same economists are glaringly silent about the disbenefits to American workers whose jobs are lost because of the subsidies.) It is jarring to read justifications of that kind from “libertarians”, who are usually quick to put Americans and foreigners on the same plane; for example, by promoting and praising “open borders” despite considerable disbenefits to some Americans. (I am thinking of  those whose neighborhoods are threatened by gangs of illegals. I am also thinking of those who pay higher taxes to subsidize the education, shelter, sustenance, and schooling of illegals — but who, unlike more affluent Americans, don’t engage the services of low-priced nannies and yard workers.)

And I must point out that those foreign-government subsidies aren’t free. They’re paid for, one way or another, by the citizens of foreign countries. Why would a “libertarian” transnationalist overlook such a thing? To justify “free trade” I guess.

It’s only fair to note that the U.S. government subsidizes American industries in ways that harm foreigners, that is, through direct subsidies, tariffs on imports, and import quotas. But any gains to workers in the industries thus subsidized do not offset the harm that foreign-government subsidies do to workers in other American industries.

All in all, international trade is a real mess. (So is domestic trade, given the myriad distortions wrought by taxes and regulations.) But it’s fair to say that some American workers are harmed by what can only be called unfair practices in international trade. The harm to them isn’t offset by the gains to other Americans. Only an economist or socialist would think otherwise.

In sum, I have come around to Mr. Trump’s view of this issue. Trade should be conducted on a level playing field. Given that that won’t happen soon — if ever — what should be done for American workers who are harmed by unfair trade? Stay tuned.

Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown

The list of related readings is updated occasionally.

The history of the United States since the 1960s supports the proposition that the nation is going to hell in a handbasket. And hell includes not just mass shootings, but mass murder by various means.

As Malcolm Pollock points out, in the context of mass shootings,

When I was a boy, all the households around me had a gun or two. We boys used to stack up hay-bales and put targets on them (a charcoal briquette was a favorite choice) to shoot at with a .22. Schools and scout-troops often had rifle ranges; I myself got a marksmanship Merit Badge while at summer camp with the Boy Scouts. I don’t recall being aware of any gun laws at all; you could buy ammo at the general store. (Gun safety was a big deal, though, and kids were taught to handle firearms carefully and respectfully.)

This was the state of normal (non-urban, middle-class, predominantly white) American culture half a century ago. Guns were an unexceptional part of that bygone world, and were easily accessible to all of us (you could order pretty much any gun you liked through the mail, by sending cash in an envelope!). Somehow, though, we hardly ever murdered each other, and mass shootings were very, very rare.

Something has changed, obviously. And it isn’t access to guns.

What is it? Malcolm has answers. As do the many other writers whose articles and posts are also listed below in “related reading”.  Here’s a sample of Andrew Klavan’s analysis:

It was after a school shooting near Spokane last September that Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich addressed a clutch of reporters:

When I was in high school, every one of those rigs in the high school parking lot had a gun in the gun rack. Why? We went hunting on the way home. None of those guns ever walked into a school, none of those guns ever shot anybody… Did the gun change or did you as a society change? I’ll give you odds it was you as a society. Because you started glorifying cultures of violence. You glorified the gang culture, you glorified games that actually gave you points for raping and killing people. The gun didn’t change, we changed.

It seems clear to me the sheriff was speaking about rap music with its hateful, violent and misogynistic lyrics, and video games like Grand Theft Auto, where you can have sex with a prostitute then strangle her or pull an innocent person out of a car, beat him, then steal his vehicle.

… I don’t argue that there’s a straight line between any specific cultural creation and bad acts. But surely, a culture in which those in authority approve of and argue for things like gangsta rap and GTA — and indeed for the use of violence to silence speech that offends them — well, such a culture becomes a machine for transforming madness into murder….

The left wants to defend gangstas and “transgressive” art and antifa thugs — but when the shooting starts, they blame the guns….

Now the left wants to legitimize disrespect for the flag and for Christianity. They want to ignore the rule of law at the border and silence protests against Islamic ideas that are antithetical to every good thing the west stands for….

For fifteen years and more, I have been complaining that the right is silenced in our culture — blacklisted and excluded and ignored in entertainment, mainstream news outlets, and the universities. But the flip side of that is this: the degradation of our culture is almost entirely a leftist achievement. Over the last fifty years, it’s the left that has assaulted every moral norm and disdained every religious and cultural restraint.

The left owns the dismal tide. They don’t like the results? They’re looking for someone or something to blame? Maybe they should start by hunting up a mirror.

There are other counts that I would add to Klavan’s indictment. Here are some of them:

  • governmental incentives to act irresponsibly, epitomized by the murder of unborn children as a form of after-the-fact birth control, and more widely instituted by the vast expansion of the “social safety net”
  • treatment of bad behavior as an illness (with a resulting reliance on medications), instead of putting a stop to it and punishing it
  • the erosion and distortion of the meaning of justice, beginning with the virtual elimination of the death penalty, continuing on to the failure to put down and punish riots, and culminating in the persecution and prosecution of persons who express the “wrong” opinions
  • governmental encouragement and subsidization of the removal of mothers from the home to the workplace
  • the decline of two-parent homes and the rise of illegitimacy
  • the complicity of government officials who failed to enforce existing laws and actively promoted leniency in their enforcement (see this and this, for example).

It all adds up to more violence than would otherwise have occurred in this country. Mass murder gets a lot of attention because, like the crash of a commercial airliner, it is a dramatic event that claims many lives at once. But even in the worst year on record (1995) the number of deaths in mass murders (180, mostly in the Oklahoma City bombing) accounted for only 8/10 of 1 percent of that year’s deaths by murder and non-negligent manslaughter.

It is therefore entirely reasonable to suggest that mass murder — as a “marginal” phenomenon — is of a piece with violence in America, which increased rapidly after 1960 and has been contained only by dint of massive incarceration. Violence in general and mass-murder in particular flow from the subversion and eradication of civilizing social norms, which began in earnest in the 1960s. The numbers bear me out.

Drawing on Wikipedia, I compiled a list of 317 incidents of mass murder in the United States from the early 1800s through 2017. (I excluded 2018 because it is still early in the year.) My consolidated list encompasses school massacres; familicides; religious, political, or racial crimes; workplace killings; and two miscellaneous categories of rampage killings (here and here). I omitted two incidents that are wrongly included by Wikipedia: the 1944 circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut, and the 2013 fertilizer-plant explosion in West, Texas.

These graphs are derived from the consolidated list of incidents:


The vertical scale is truncated to allow for a better view of the variations in the casualty rate. In 1995, there were 869 casualties in 3 incidents (an average of 290); about 850 of the casualties resulted from the Oklahoma City bombing.

The federal assault weapons ban — really a ban on the manufacture of new weapons of certain kinds — is highlighted because it is often invoked as the kind of measure that should be taken to reduce the incidence of mass murders and the number of casualties they produce. Even Wikipedia — which is notoriously biased toward the left — admits (as of today) that “the ban produced almost no significant results in reducing violent gun crimes and was allowed to expire.”

There is no compelling, contrary evidence in the graphs. The weapons-ban “experiment” was too limited in scope and too-short lived to have had any appreciable effect on mass murder. For one thing, mass-murderers are quite capable of using weapons other than firearms. The years with the three highest casualty rates (second graph) are years in which most of the carnage was caused by arson (1958) and bombing (1995 and 2013).

The most obvious implication of this analysis is found in the upper graph. The incidence of mass murders was generally declining from the early 1900s to the early 1960s. Then all hell broke loose.

I rest my case.


Related reading:
Bill Vallicella, “Deriving Gun Rights from the Right to Life“, Maverick Philosopher, November 10, 2009
Crime Prevention Research Center, “Comparing Murder Rates and Gun Ownership Across Countries“, March 31, 2014
Jayman, “Guns & Violence, Again…“, The Unz Review, June 11, 2014
Malcolm Pollack, “Troubleshooting Gun Violence“, Motus Mentis, July 4, 2015
J. Christian Adams, “Flashback 30 Years: Guns Were in Schools … and Nothing Happened“, PJ Media, February 15, 2018
Dov Fischer, “When Do We Get to Talk About the Other Reasons?“, The American Spectator, February 16, 2018
Andrew Klavan, “The Left Is Reaping the Whirlwind of the Culture They Made“, PJ Media, February 16, 2018
Malcolm Pollack, “Reaping the Whirlwind“, Motus Mentis, February 16, 2018
Susan L.M. Goldberg, “When Will We Have the Guts to Link Fatherlessness to School Shootings?“, PJ Media, February 17, 2018
Steve Chapman, “A Cure for Mass Shootings Doesn’t Exist“, Reason.com, February 18. 2018
Karen Townsend, “Shocker: WaPo Fact Check Agrees with Rubio’s Statement on New Gun Laws“, Hot Air, February 18, 2018
Dave Bohon, “A Common-Sense Strategy for Protecting Schools“, New American, February 19, 2018
Rafael Mangual, “Second, Third, and Fourth Chances — at What Price?“, City Journal, February 20, 2018
Mark Meckler, “Of the 27 Deadliest Mass Shooters, 26 of Them Had One Thing in Common“, Patheos, February 20, 2018
Fred Reed, “Kids: Now and Then“, Fred on Everything, February 21, 2018
Brandon J. Weichert, “Toxic Liberalism Created Nikolas Cruz“, The American Spectator, February 21, 2018
Melissa Mackenzie, “Twenty Reasons Mass Killings Happen“, The American Spectator, February 23, 2018
Daniel Greenfield, “Muslim Terrorists Topped Mass Shootings in 2 Out Of 3 Years“, Frontpage Mag, February 26, 2018
Allie Nicodemo and Lia Petronio, “Schools Are Safer than They Were in the 90s, and School Shootings Are Not More Common than They Used to Be, Researchers Say“, News@Northeastern, February 26, 2018
Lloyd Billingsley, “Enabling Killer Cruz“, Frontpage Magazine, February 27, 2018
Dennis Prager, “Why the Left Opposes Arming Teachers“, American Greatness, February 27, 2018
Brandon J. Weichert, “Our Kids Are Not All Right“, The American Spectator, February 27, 2018
David Kopel, “The History of the ‘Assault Weapon’ Hoax. Part I: The Crime That Started It All“, The Volokh Conspiracy, March 2, 2018
George Neumayr, “Relativistic America: Neither Safe nor Free“, The American Spectator, March 2, 2018
Bruce Heiden, “Utopia, Pacifism, and Guns“, American Greatness, March 3, 2018
Larry Elder, “How Many Lives Are Saved by Guns, and Why Don’t Gun Controllers Care?“, Frontpage Mag, March 6, 2018
Greg Jones, “Political Correctness Is to Blame for Parkland“, The American Spectator, March 6, 2018
Mark Overstreet,” Safety Is Not the Reason Democrats Are Pushing Gun Control“, American Greatness, March 17, 2018
Ironman, “Firearms, Homicides, and Suicides in America“, Political Calculations, June 27, 2018


Related posts:
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Crime Revisited
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
The Opposition and Crime
How America Has Changed
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Death of a Nation
Leftism
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
Scapegoating in Baltimore
As the World Lurches
A Not-So-Stealthy Revolution

Austin Mystery Solved

The City of Austin, the blue boil on the butt of Texas, recently hired a new city manager. The previous city manager, who left for greener pastures 15 months earlier, was a black man.

Austin’s “leaders” (the sneer quotes mean that they’re not my leaders) are nothing if not au courant in politically correct virtue-signaling. But their political correctness stops at the water’s edge of transparency. Austin’s taxpayers were kept in the dark about the candidates being considered for the city manager’s job until near the very end, when two finalists were unveiled:

Two white males. How could it be?

Never fear. Austin’s “leaders” salvaged their reputation for politically correct virtue-signaling by choosing the one on the left, who has a husband. The one on the right is married to a woman who has produced children and is therefore an actual female*. How boring.

And so the day was saved for “diversity” in Austin. But not for diversity of thought, of which there’s precious little here.
__________
* As opposed to a delusional male who “identifies as” a female, or an impressionable boy-child whose criminally negligent parents have convinced him that he is really a girl. I “identify as” a 6’6″, 250-pound bodybuilder with X-ray vision who is able to leap the Freedom Tower in a single bound and understands the mysteries of the Universe. Alas, what I “identify as” and what I really am are entirely different things.


Related posts:
Driving and Politics (1)
Life in Austin (1)
Life in Austin (2)
Life in Austin (3)
Driving and Politics (2)
AGW in Austin?
Democracy in Austin
AGW in Austin? (II)
The Hypocrisy of “Local Control”
Amazon and Austin

“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection

It is no secret — except to leftists — that they engage in psychological projection of their own authoritarianism when they try to pin the authoritarian label on conservatives. (See this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this, for example.)

Another label — which so-called libertarians also like to throw at conservatives — is “tribalists”.  And another one is “haters”. The usual targets of these labels are white, heterosexual, conservative males of European descent.

Yes, aren’t we just so, so tribal and hate-driven? Unlike (not) like Black Muslims, Hispanic reconquistas, feminazis, queer persecutors of cake-makers, illiberal-arts professors, campus radicals, “liberal” yuppies in their chi-chi enclaves, MSM and Hollywood hypocrites, Silicon Valley smuglies, and many another identity-group that takes advantage of America’s liberty and prosperity to spew hate against increasingly powerless white, heterosexual, conservative males of European descent.

It’s psychological projection on steroids.

California Dreaming

EDITED 02/15/18

It is my long-held view that States have a constitutional right to secede from the union without the approval of other States or the central government. (See this post, for example.) If the Yes California movement succeeds, the political benefits to the rest of the United States (or at least the conservative parts of it) will be substantial; for example:

The last presidential election in which the GOP candidate won California’s electoral votes was in 1988. There wouldn’t have been a Bush-Gore controversy in 2000 with California out of the picture. And in 2016, Hillary would have lost the nationwide popular-vote tally by 1.4 million, thus putting to rest another baseless claim that the Democrat candidate was “robbed”.

The GOP would hold a bigger majority in the Senate (4 seats instead of 2) and House (74 seats instead of 47), thus enabling Republicans to move national policy to the right with less interference from RINOs.

Illegal immigrants will flock in greater numbers to welcoming California, thus reducing tax burdens and crime rates in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the many States farther north that also absorb illegal immigrants.

According to the Yes California campaign, federal receipts from California are about equal to (perhaps a bit higher than) federal spending in California. Even a slight deficit would be worth it. That could easily be covered by spending cuts that might not otherwise occur because of the California Democrats in Congress.

And even more importantly, as commenter Timoid says, California’s wacky environmentalists wouldn’t be setting policy for the rest of the nation.

Last but best, Nancy Pelosi would no longer be a Congress-critter.

Rethinking Free Trade

I have long supported free trade as beneficial. But I have also long derided utilitarianism, which is the doctrinal basis for claiming that free trade is beneficial. And I have long opposed the idea of open borders, in part because of the utilitarian claims of its supporters. It is time for me to resolve these contradictions.

Which way should I go? Should I sustain my anti-utilitarian position and oppose free trade as well as open borders? Or should I become a consistent utilitarian and support both free trade and open borders?

A digression about utilitarianism is in order. Utilitarianism, in this context, implies a belief in an aggregate social-welfare function (SWF) — a mystical summing of the states of happiness (or unhappiness) of myriad persons over an infinite series of points in time. It is the aim of utilitarians (who are mainly leftists and economists, though the categories overlap) to push SWF upward, toward (imaginary) collective nirvana. In so doing, the utilitarian makes himself the judge of whether an increase in A’s happiness at the expense of B (e.g., income redistribution) will result in an increase or decrease in SWF. An argument for this presumption (which is familiar mainly to economists), is based on the hypothesis of diminishing marginal utility (DMU) — a hypothesis that I have refuted at length. Suffice it to say that if A gains pleasure by poking B in the eye, no one — not even a Ph.D. economist — can prove that A’s pleasure outweighs B’s pain. In fact, common sense — which is embedded in eons of tradition — tells us that the act that brings pleasure to A should be punished precisely because of the way in which that pleasure is gained.

How does all of that pertain to free trade and open borders? Like this: Economists defend free trade and open borders because, in the aggregate, such things — in the long run — lead to greater economic efficiency and thus to greater total output (measured in constant dollars). And they are right about that. I have no doubt of it. But, to paraphrase John Maynard Keynes, in the long run we are all dead, and in the meantime some of us pay for the betterment of others.

Moreover, there are economists and others who like to conjoin the economic truth about the long-run consequences of free trade and open borders with statements about liberty: People ought to be free to exchange goods and services voluntarily. People ought to be free to live where they like.

Only a jejune anarchist will take such pronouncements as absolutes. Murder for hire is almost almost universally disapproved, as are many other crimes, even in this “enlightened”age. And I am unaware of a movement among affluent leftists to open their living rooms to the homeless, nor to repeal laws against trespass.

The question is, as always, where to strike a balance between the interests of those who benefit from free trade and open borders, and the interests of those for whom such things mean loss of income or higher taxes. How do the gains that accrue to some (e.g., less-expensive Lexi and abundant, low-priced nanny services) offset the burdens borne by working-class taxpayers whose jobs move overseas and whose school taxes rise to cover the costs of educating migrant children?

I ask these questions in connection with a broader issue: the purpose of our national government. It exists precisely for the reasons stated in the Preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

To put it bluntly but correctly, the national government exists not for the benefit of the people of the whole world or any part of it outside the United States, but for the benefit of the citizens of the United States.

Yes, some Americans benefit from free trade, and some Americans benefit from massive immigration. But not all Americans do. And it is the job of the national government to serve all of the people. A balance needs to be struck. And those who pay the price of free trade and massive immigration must be compensated in some way.

How and how much? Those are questions that I will grapple with in future posts.


Related posts:
Liberalism and Sovereignty
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Gains from Trade
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty (II)
Not-So-Random Thoughts (XVIII) – third item
Prosperity Isn’t Everything

Living Baseball Hall-of-Famers

In case you were wondering:


Derived from the Play Index (subscription required) at Baseball-Reference.com. Players with the same birth year may not be listed in birth order; for example, Hank Aaron was born in February 1934, and Al Kaline was born in December 1934, but Kaline is listed ahead of Aaron.

A personal note: I am older than 70 percent of the living hall-of-famers, and I have seen every one of them play in real time — mainly on TV but also at ballparks in Detroit and Baltimore.

Andrew Sullivan Almost Gets It

Andrew Sullivan writes:

When elite universities shift their entire worldview away from liberal education as we have long known it toward the imperatives of an identity-based “social justice” movement, the broader culture is in danger of drifting away from liberal democracy as well. If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large….

If voicing an “incorrect” opinion can end your career, or mark you for instant social ostracism, you tend to keep quiet. This silence on any controversial social issue is endemic on college campuses, but it’s now everywhere…. This is compounded by the idea that only a member of a minority group can speak about racism or homophobia, or that only women can discuss sexual harassment. The only reason this should be the case is if we think someone’s identity is more important than the argument they might want to make. And that campus orthodoxy is now the culture’s as a whole….

Microaggressions? How else do you explain how the glorious defenestration of horrific perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment so quickly turned into a focus on an unwanted hug or an off-color remark?…

Privacy? Forget about it. Traditionally, liberals have wanted to see politics debated without regard for the private lives of those in the fray — because personal details can distract from the cogency of the argument. But cultural Marxists see no such distinction. In the struggle against patriarchy, a distinction between the public and private makes no sense. In fact, policing private life — the personal is political, remember — is integral to advancing social justice….

Due process? Real life is beginning to mimic college tribunals. When the perpetrator of an anonymous list accusing dozens of men of a whole range of sexual misdeeds is actually celebrated by much of mainstream media (see this fawning NYT profile), you realize that we are living in another age of the Scarlet Letter….

Treating people as individuals rather than representatives of designated groups? Almost every corporation now has affirmative action for every victim-group in hiring and promotion. Workplace codes today read like campus speech codes of a few years ago. Voice dissent from this worldview and you’ll be designated a bigot and fired (see James Damore at Google). The media is out front on this too. Just as campuses have diversity tsars, roaming through every department to make sure they are in line, we now have a “gender editor” at the New York Times, Jessica Bennett….

Objective truth? Ha! The culture is now saturated with the concept of “your own truth” — based usually on your experience of race and gender. In the culture, it is now highly controversial for individuals in one racial/gender group to write about or portray anyone outside it — because there is no art that isn’t rooted in identity….

Look: I don’t doubt the good intentions of the new identity politics — to expand the opportunities for people previously excluded. I favor a politics that never discriminates against someone for immutable characteristics — and tries to make sure that as many people as possible feel they have access to our liberal democracy. But what we have now is far more than the liberal project of integrating minorities. It comes close to an attack on the liberal project itself. Marxism with a patina of liberalism on top is still Marxism — and it’s as hostile to the idea of a free society as white nationalism is. So if you wonder why our discourse is now so freighted with fear, why so many choose silence as the path of least resistance, or why the core concepts of a liberal society — the individual’s uniqueness, the primacy of reason, the protection of due process, an objective truth — are so besieged, this is one of the reasons.

Sullivan stumbles twice in that otherwise laudable indictment of today’s virulent brand of leftism.

First, he “doesn’t doubt the good intentions of … identity politics”. I most certainly do. There’s a lot of humbug, preening, tribalism (of the wrong kind), and virtue-signaling in identity politics. Above all, the main intention of identity politics is to seize power and wield it like a club against one’s perceived enemies — those who are different. Talk about discrimination.

Which lead to Sullivan’s second stumble. There ought to be discrimination (of a kind) with respect to certain “immutable characteristics”. Intelligence and strength are immutable characteristics. Learning and practice matter, but there are at bottom wide disparities in the distribution of intelligence and strength among races and sexes.

But it has become “wrong” for the more intelligent to enjoy greater success than the less intelligent (leftists excluded, of course) because intelligence isn’t equally distributed across races and socioeconomic classes. Thus blacks and Hispanics are given university admissions, jobs, and promotions that wold belong to whites, with the result that (a) those favored are set up for failure and (b) the needs of consumers (including blacks and Hispanics) aren’t fulfilled by those best-qualified to fulfill them. Do you want to be operated on by an affirmative-action surgeon?

Another immutable characteristic is gender — which is a real thing, not something assigned at birth. There are demonstrably large differences between the sexes with respect to the distribution of strength and the aptitude for abstract thinking. But, again, it is “wrong” to admit such things and to discriminate on the basis of actual differences. There must be “fair shares” of women in STEM fields, occupations requiring analytical skills, and occupations that (traditionally) have required superior strength (e.g., soldiering, policing, and firefighting). Who suffers? The women who fail on merit — though that is increasingly barred by  “political correctness” — and the consumers and taxpayers who get less value for their money.

“Conservative” Confusion

Keith Burgess-Jackson is a self-styled conservative with whom I had a cordial online relationship about a dozen years ago. Our relationship foundered for reasons that are trivial and irrelevant to this post. I continued to visit KBJ’s eponymous blog occasionally (see first item in “related posts”, below), and learned of its disappearance when I I tried to visit it in December 2017. It had disappeared in the wake of a controversy that I will address in a future post.

In any event, KBJ has started a new blog, Just Philosophy, which I learned of and began to follow about a week ago. The posts at Just Philosophy were unexceptionable until February 5, when KBJ posted “Barry M. Goldwater (1909-1998) on the Graduated Income Tax”.

KBJ opens the post by quoting Goldwater:

The graduated [income] tax is a confiscatory tax. Its effect, and to a large extent its aim, is to bring down all men to a common level. Many of the leading proponents of the graduated tax frankly admit that their purpose is to redistribute the nation’s wealth. Their aim is an egalitarian society—an objective that does violence both to the charter of the Republic and [to] the laws of Nature. We are all equal in the eyes of God but we are equal in no other respect. Artificial devices for enforcing equality among unequal men must be rejected if we would restore that charter and honor those laws.

He then adds this “note from KBJ”:

The word “confiscate” means “take or seize (someone’s property) with authority.” Every tax, from the lowly sales tax to the gasoline tax to the cigarette tax to the estate tax to the property tax to the income tax, is by definition confiscatory in that sense, so what is Goldwater’s point in saying that the graduated (i.e., progressive) income tax is confiscatory? He must mean something stronger, namely, completely taken away. But this is absurd. We have had a progressive (“graduated”) income tax for generations, and income inequality is at an all-time high. Nobody’s income or wealth is being confiscated by the income tax, if by “confiscated” Goldwater means completely taken away. Only in the fevered minds of libertarians (such as Goldwater) is a progressive income tax designed to “bring down all men to a common level.” And what’s wrong with redistributing wealth? Every law and every public policy redistributes wealth. The question is not whether to redistribute wealth; it’s how to do so. Either we redistribute wealth honestly and intelligently or we do so with our heads in the sand. By the way, conservatives, as such, are not opposed to progressive income taxation. Conservatives want people to have good lives, and that may require progressive income taxation. Those who have more than they need (especially those who have not worked for it) are and should be required to provide for those who, through no fault of their own, have less than they need.

Yes, Goldwater obviously meant something stronger by applying “confiscatory” to the graduated income tax. But what he meant can’t be “completely taken away” because the graduated income tax is one of progressively higher marginal tax rates, none of which has ever reached 100 percent in the United States. And as KBJ acknowledges, a tax of less than 100 percent, “from the lowly sales tax to the gasoline tax to the cigarette tax to the estate tax to the property tax to the income tax, is by definition confiscatory in [the] sense” of “tak[ing] or seiz[ing] (someone’s property) with authority”. What Goldwater must have meant — despite KBJ’s obfuscation — is that the income tax is confiscatory in an especially destructive way, which Goldwater elucidates.

KBJ asks “what’s wrong with redistributing wealth?”, and justifies his evident belief that there’s nothing wrong with it by saying that “Every law and every public policy redistributes wealth.” Wow! It follows, by KBJ’s logic, that there’s nothing wrong with murder because it has been committed for millennia.

Government policy inevitably results in some redistribution of income and wealth. But that is an accident of policy in a regime of limited government, not the aim of policy. KBJ is being disingenuous (at best) when he equates an accidental outcome with the deliberate, massive redistribution of income and wealth that has been going on in the United States for more than a century. It began in earnest with the graduated income tax, became embedded in the fabric of governance with Social Security, and has been reinforced since by Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, etc., etc., etc. Many conservatives (or “conservatives”) have been complicit in redistributive measures, but the impetus for those measures has come from the left.

KBJ then trots out this assertion: “Conservatives, as such, are not opposed to progressive income taxation.” I don’t know which conservatives KBJ has been reading or listening to (himself, perhaps, though his conservatism is now in grave doubt). In fact, the quotation in KBJ’s post is from Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative. For that is what Goldwater considered himself to be, not a libertarian as KBJ asserts. Goldwater was nothing like the typical libertarian who eschews the “tribalism” of patriotism. Goldwater was a patriot through-and-through.

Goldwater was a principled conservative — a consistent defender of liberty within a framework of limited government, which defends the citizenry and acts a referee of last resort. That position is the nexus of classical liberalism (sometimes called libertarianism) and conservatism, but it is conservatism nonetheless. It is a manifestation of  the conservative disposition:

A conservative’s default position is to respect prevailing social norms, taking them as a guide to conduct that will yield productive social and economic collaboration. Conservatism isn’t merely a knee-jerk response to authority. It reflects an understanding, if only an intuitive one, that tradition reflects wisdom that has passed the test of time. It also reflects a preference for changing tradition — where it needs changing — from the inside out, a bit at a time, rather from the outside in. The latter kind of change is uninformed by first-hand experience and therefore likely to be counterproductive, that is, destructive of social and economic cohesion and cooperation.

The essential ingredient in conservative governance is the preservation and reinforcement of the beneficial norms that are cultivated in the voluntary institutions of civil society: family, religion, club, community (where it is close-knit), and commerce. When those institutions are allowed to flourish, much of the work of government is done without the imposition of taxes and regulations, including the enforcement of moral codes and the care of those who unable to care for themselves.

In the conservative view, government would then be limited to making and enforcing the few rules that are required to adjudicate what Oakeshott calls “collisions”. And there are always foreign and domestic predators who are beyond the effective reach of voluntary social institutions and must be dealt with by the kind of superior force wielded by government.

By thus limiting government to the roles of referee and defender of last resort, civil society is allowed to flourish, both economically and socially. Social conservatism is analogous to the market liberalism of libertarian economics. The price signals that help to organize economic production have their counterpart in the “market” for social behavior. That behavior which is seen to advance a group’s well-being is encouraged; that behavior which is seen to degrade a group’s well-being is discouraged.

Finally on this point, personal responsibility and self-reliance are core conservative values. Conservatives therefore oppose state actions that undermine those values. Progressive income taxation punishes those who take personal responsibility and strive to be self-reliant, while encouraging and rewarding those who shirk personal responsibility and prefer dependency on others.

KBJ’s next assertion is that “Conservatives want people to have good lives, and that may require progressive income taxation.” Conservatives are hardly unique in wanting people to have good lives. Though most leftists, it seems, want to control other people’s lives, there are some leftists who sincerely want people to have good lives, and who strongly believe that this does require progressive income taxation. Not only that, but they usually justify that belief in exactly the way that KBJ does:

Those who have more than they need (especially those who have not worked for it) are and should be required to provide for those who, through no fault of their own, have less than they need.

Did I miss KBJ’s announcement that he has become a “liberal”-“progressive”-pinko? It is one thing to provide for the liberty and security of the populace; it is quite another — and decidedly not conservative — to sit in judgment as to who have “more than they need” and who have “less than they need”, and whether that is “through no fault of their own”. This is the classic “liberal” formula for the arbitrary redistribution of income and wealth. There’s not a conservative thought in that formula.

KBJ seems to have rejected, out of hand (or out of ignorance), the demonstrable truth that everyone would be better offfar better off — with a lot less government involvement in economic (and social) affairs, not more of it. That is my position, as a conservative, and it is the position of the many articulate conservatives whose blogs I read regularly.

It is a position that is consistent with the values of personal responsibility and self-reliance. Conservatives embrace those values not only because they bestow dignity on those who observe them, but also because the observance fosters general as well as personal prosperity. This is another instance of the wisdom that is embedded in traditional values.

Positive law often conflicts with and undermines traditional values. That is why it is a conservative virtue to oppose, resist, and strive to overturn positive law of that kind (e.g., Roe v. Wade, Obergefell v. Hodges, Obamacare). It is a “conservative” vice to accept it just because it’s “the law of the land”.

I am left wondering if KBJ is really a conservative, or just a “conservative“.


Related reading: Yuval Levin, “The Roots of a Reforming Conservatism“, Intercollegiate Review, Spring 2015

Related posts:
Gains from Trade (A critique of KBJ’s “conservative” views on trade)
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
My View of Libertarianism
The War on Conservatism
Another Look at Political Labels
Rescuing Conservatism
If Men Were Angels
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
Disposition and Ideology

Presidential Approval Ratings: Trump vs. Obama

BHO delivered his second state of the union (SOTU) address in the evening of January 27, 2010. On the morning of that day, BHO’s presidential approval rating at Rasmussen Reports stood at -15 (percentage of likely voters strongly approving minus percentage strongly disapproving).

DJT delivered his second SOTU address in evening of January 30, 2018. On the morning of that day, DJT’s presidential approval rating at Rasmussen Reports also stood at -15.

Here’s what happened to the ratings in the days immediately following the SOTUs:


Rasmussen stopped polling on weekends about three years ago.

DJT’s SOTU bounce arrived more quickly and was stronger than BHOs. Moreover, looking at the big picture — approval ratings by day of presidency, as reported by Rasmussen — DJT’s strong approval rating has been running ahead of BHO’s for more than a month:

Stay tuned for updates in the coming months and years.

As the World Lurches

Pew Research Center offers “17 Striking Findings from 2017“. I have the impression that some of the findings are bad news to the Pew folk. But many of the findings are good news to me, as you will see in the following commentary. Pew pearls, in italics, are followed by my demurrers, in bold:

1. Partisan divides dwarf demographic differences on key political values. The average gap between the views of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents across 10 political values has increased from 15 percentage points in 1994 to 36 points today.

The growing divide is unsurprising given the sharp leftward lurch among Democrats since the days of Bill Clinton’s “triangulation”. The good news is that there are still a lot of Americans who haven’t lurched leftward lemming-like.

2. Donald Trump’s presidency has had a major impact on how the world sees the United States. A global median of just 22% have confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs, according to a survey conducted last spring. The image of the U.S. abroad also suffered a decline: Just 49% have a favorable view, down from 64% at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.

This is excellent news, inasmuch as America is loved by foreigners only when Americans are being killed or taxed on their behalf.

3. About four-in-ten Americans say they live in a gun-owning household, while three-in-ten say they personally own a gun. Protection tops the list of reasons for owning a gun.

But if you were to believe the leftist media (about which, more below), you would think that the main reason for owning a gun is to kill people — randomly and in large numbers. I own a 12-gauge, bolt-action shotgun, which stands ready to be used (with 00 shot) against an intruder. I am merely representative of the vast, gun-owning majority who — unlike a lot of gun-grabbing politicians — don’t live in a virtual fortress or have armed bodyguards (paid for by taxing the likes of me).

4. Democrats and Republicans disagree now more than ever on the news media’s “watchdog” role. Roughly nine-in-ten Democrats say news media criticism keeps political leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done, compared with 42% of Republicans ­who say this – the widest gap in Pew Research Center surveys conducted since 1985. This stands in stark contrast to early 2016, when similar shares of Democrats (74%) and Republicans (77%) supported the media’s watchdog role.

How (not) surprising is this finding, given the media’s transformation from leftist puppet to frothing-at-the-mouth, leftist, anti-Trump, attack dog? For a longer view of the public’s lack of confidence in the media, see the graph here. There was a sharp rise in the fraction expressing “hardly any” confidence in the media at about the time that Bill Clinton became an accidental president, thanks to Ross Perot’s candidacy. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

5. Muslims are projected to be the world’s fastest-growing major religious group in the decades ahead. By 2035, the number of babies born to Muslims is projected to modestly exceed births to Christians, mostly due to Muslims’ relatively young population and high fertility rates.

This points to another reason why Democrats want to open the borders to “political refugees”. Whether they’re Muslim or Central American, they breed faster than gringos and are much more likely to vote for Democrats.

6. In the U.S., Hispanic identity fades across generations as distance from immigrant roots grows. High intermarriage rates and declining immigration are changing how some Americans with Hispanic ancestry see their identity. Most U.S. adults with Hispanic ancestry self-identify as Hispanic, but 11%, or 5 million, do not. While nearly all immigrant adults from Latin America or Spain say they are Hispanic, this share decreases by the third and fourth or higher generations.

Nothing new under the sun. The same was true of the vast waves of European immigrants of the 1800s and early 1900s. Probably even more true of them, come to think of it. But they weren’t enticed to America by tax-funded benefits, as are so many Hispanic immigrants. I say that with great respect for the hard-working Hispanic immigrants whom I have encountered.

7. Americans see fundamental differences between men and women, but men and women have different views on the cause of these differences. Majorities of women who see gender differences in the way people express their feelings, excel at work and approach parenting say differences between men and women are mostly based on societal expectations. Men who see differences in these areas tend to believe biology is the root.

Thus does the emotion-based reaction of most women neatly contrast with the fact-based reaction of most men.

8. Many Americans expect certain professions to be dominated by automation in their lifetime – but few see their own jobs at risk. Roughly three-quarters of Americans think it’s realistic that robots and computers might one day do many jobs currently done by humans, and sizable majorities expect jobs such as fast food workers and insurance claims processors to be performed by machines within their lifetimes. Yet just 30% of American workers expect their own jobs or professions to become automated.

The final sentence confirms the prevalence of irrationality. Which is why I have been happy with the rise of automation. To take just one example, it is easier, faster, cheaper, and more pleasant to buy many things online than it is to schlep to a store and be “helped” by an indifferent, inarticulate ignoramus (too often bedecked in tattoos, piercings, weird garb, and outré hairdo). Vive l’automation!

9. The share of Republicans who hold negative views of the effect of colleges and universities on the country has grown significantly since 2015. Nearly six-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (58%) now say colleges have a negative effect. Two years ago, by contrast, 54% of Republicans said colleges were having a positive effect. Democrats and Democratic leaners have consistently held positive views of the effect of colleges on the U.S.; 72% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say this today.

Thanks to the “resistance”, the true nature of the academy has been exposed to the view of people who had been blissfully ignorant of it. If the GOP holds and builds a majority in the central government and in State governments, its next big initiative should be to slash subsidies for the enemies of liberty who “profess” and are “professed to” at to colleges across the land.

10. Immigrants are projected to play the primary role in the growth of the American working-age population in the coming decades. The number of working-age immigrants is projected to increase from 33.9 million in 2015 to 38.5 million by 2035, with new immigrant arrivals accounting for all of that gain. Absent these new arrivals, the total projected U.S. working-age population would fall.

But automation will more than take up  the slack. Who needs more immigrants? Democrat politicians, that’s who.

11. News stories about President Trump’s first 60 days in office offered far more negative assessments than they did of prior administrations. About six-in-ten stories on Trump’s early days in office had a negative assessment, about three times more than in early coverage for Obama and roughly twice that of Bush and Clinton. Coverage of Trump’s early time in office moved further away from a focus on the policy agenda and more toward character and leadership.

See #1 and #4.

12. In the past 10 years, the share of U.S. adults living without a spouse or partner has increased. This rise in “unpartnered” Americans, from 39% in 2007 to 42% today, has been most pronounced among young adults: Roughly six-in-ten adults younger than 35 are now living without a spouse or partner. The share of “unpartnered” adults also has risen more sharply among those who are not employed.

Pew ignores the really bad news, which is that “unpartnered” Americans give birth to children, who are then raised in (generally) unstable, poor households without a father. Perhaps it’s time to re-institute the shotgun wedding.

13. About half of 2.2 million people who sought asylum in Europe during the 2015 and 2016 refugee surge were still in limbo at the end of 2016 and did not know if they would be allowed to stay.

Another glaring omission: Mention of the Europeans who would be on the hook to support the asylum-seekers, most of whom would probably side with the politicians who want to give them “free” stuff.

14. About eight-in-ten Americans say they understand the risks and challenges of police work, but 86% of police say the public does not understand. This is one of several areas where the views of police and those of the public diverge significantly. For example, while half of the public says the country still needs to make changes to give blacks equal rights with whites, this view is shared by just 16% of police. Law enforcement officers and the public are broadly in agreement on other issues, such as making private gun sales and gun show sales subject to background checks.

How could 80 percent of Americans possibly understand the risks and challenges of police work? By watching TV shows about cops or reading crime novels? Cops, by the way, aren’t upholders of gun rights because (a) every gun is potentially turned against a cop and (b) a gun-wielding citizenry is a threat to cops’ law-enforcement monopoly.

15. About six-in-ten Americans ages 18 to 29 say the primary way they watch television now is with streaming services on the internet. Much smaller shares of older Americans cite online streaming services as their primary way of watching TV; older Americans tend to rely on cable connections. Overall, just 28% of Americans cite streaming services as the primary way they watch TV.

I’m with the streamers, despite my advanced age. I have cut the cord, and use an indoor antenna to get local TV stations, which I watch about 5 minutes a day for the local weather forecast. Even that is only a residual habit; I can get the same thing any time of the day from the internet. Most of my TV viewing is devoted to programs that I stream via Netflix and Amazon Video. Vive l’automation!

16. Views on whether whites benefit from societal advantages that blacks do not have are split sharply along racial and partisan lines. Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (78%) say white people benefit at least a fair amount from advantages that blacks do not have. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 72% say whites do not benefit much or at all from these advantages. An overwhelming majority of blacks (92%) say whites benefit from societal advantages, while just 46% of whites say the same.

Whites are generally smarter and more law-abiding than blacks, which accounts for most of the “advantages” enjoyed by whites. Only a Democrat (or worse) could believe in the unfairness of the situation.

17. Science knowledge is closely related to expectations for harm from climate change among Democrats, but not among Republicans. In 2016, Democrats with high science knowledge were far more likely than Democrats with low science knowledge to say a series of environmental impacts would be very likely to occur as a result of climate change, including rising sea levels and intensifying storms. But there are only modest or no differences among Republicans with different levels of science knowledge in their expectations of harm to the Earth’s ecosystems.

Almost all Democrats with high knowledge about science say climate change is mostly due to human activity (93%); a much smaller share of Democrats with low science knowledge (49%) say the same. Among Republicans, there are no significant differences by science knowledge about the causes of climate change.

All of which just goes to show the wisdom in the adage that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, especially when it’s harnessed to an ideological agenda. Communism was (and still is, I suppose) a “scientific” political theory. Ditto Hitler’s brand of National Socialism, with its “scientific” attitude toward Jews. All those marchers for science weren’t marching for science, they were marching to demonstrate their (hysterical and generally uninformed) belief in AGW. That belief, in fact, arises from a neo-Puritan mindset, and serves as an excuse to subjugate and impoverish other Americans (though many of the neo-Puritans are loath to give up their SUVs, large homes, and extensive air travel).