Not with a Bang

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Elliot, The Hollow Men

It’s also the way that America is ending. Yes, there are verbal fireworks aplenty, but there will not be a “hot” civil war. The country that my parents and grandparents knew and loved — the country of my youth in the 1940s and 1950s — is just fading away.

This would not necessarily be a bad thing if the remaking of America were a gradual, voluntary process, leading to time-tested changes for the better. But that isn’t the case. The very soul of America has been and is being ripped out by the government that was meant to protect that soul, and by movements that government not only tolerates but fosters.

Before I go further, I should explain what I mean by America, which is not the same thing as the geopolitical entity known as the United States, though the two were tightly linked for a long time.

America was a relatively homogeneous cultural order that fostered mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual forbearance — or far more of those things than one might expect in a nation as populous and far-flung as the United States. Those things — conjoined with a Constitution that has been under assault since the New Deal — made America a land of liberty. That is to say, they fostered real liberty, which isn’t an unattainable state of bliss but an actual (and imperfect) condition of peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

The attainment of this condition depends on social comity, which depends in turn on (a) genetic kinship and (b) the inculcation and enforcement of social norms, especially the norms that define harm.

All of that is going by the boards because the emerging cultural order is almost diametrically opposite that which prevailed in America. The new dispensation includes:

  • casual sex
  • serial cohabitation
  • subsidized illegitimacy
  • abortion on demand
  • easy divorce
  • legions of non-mothering mothers
  • concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males
  • gender-confusion as a burgeoning norm
  • “alternative lifestyles” that foster disease, promiscuity, and familial instability
  • normalization of drug abuse
  • forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights)
  • suppression of religion
  • rampant obscenity
  • identity politics on steroids
  • illegal immigration as a “right”
  • “free stuff” from government (Social Security was meant to be self-supporting)
  • America as the enemy
  • all of this (and more) as gospel to influential elites whose own lives are modeled mostly on old America.

As the culture has rotted, so have the ties that bound America.

The rot has occurred to the accompaniment of cacophony. Cultural coarsening begets loud and inconsiderate vulgarity. Worse than that is the cluttering of the ether with the vehement and belligerent propaganda, most of it aimed at taking down America.

The advocates of the new dispensation haven’t quite finished the job of dismantling America. But that day isn’t far off. Complete victory for the enemies of America is only a few election cycles away. The squishy center of the electorate — as is its wont — will swing back toward the Democrat Party. With a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat-controlled Congress, and a few party switches in the Supreme Court (of the packing of it), the dogmas of the anti-American culture will become the law of the land; for example:

Billions and trillions of dollars will be wasted on various “green” projects, including but far from limited to the complete replacement of fossil fuels by “renewables”, with the resulting impoverishment of most Americans, except for comfortable elites who press such policies).

It will be illegal to criticize, even by implication, such things as abortion, illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, anthropogenic global warming, or the confiscation of firearms. These cherished beliefs will be mandated for school and college curricula, and enforced by huge fines and draconian prison sentences (sometimes in the guise of “re-education”).

Any hint of Christianity and Judaism will be barred from public discourse, and similarly punished. Islam will be held up as a model of unity and tolerance.

Reverse discrimination in favor of females, blacks, Hispanics, gender-confused persons, and other “protected” groups will be required and enforced with a vengeance. But “protections” will not apply to members of such groups who are suspected of harboring libertarian or conservative impulses.

Sexual misconduct (as defined by the “victim”) will become a crime, and any male person may be found guilty of it on the uncorroborated testimony of any female who claims to have been the victim of an unwanted glance, touch (even if accidental), innuendo (as perceived by the victim), etc.

There will be parallel treatment of the “crimes” of racism, anti-Islamism, nativism, and genderism.

All health care in the United States will be subject to review by a national, single-payer agency of the central government. Private care will be forbidden, though ready access to doctors, treatments, and medications will be provided for high officials and other favored persons. The resulting health-care catastrophe that befalls most of the populace (like that of the UK) will be shrugged off as a residual effect of “capitalist” health care.

The regulatory regime will rebound with a vengeance, contaminating every corner of American life and regimenting all businesses except those daring to operate in an underground economy. The quality and variety of products and services will decline as their real prices rise as a fraction of incomes.

The dire economic effects of single-payer health care and regulation will be compounded by massive increases in other kinds of government spending (defense excepted). The real rate of economic growth will approach zero.

The United States will maintain token armed forces, mainly for the purpose of suppressing domestic uprisings. Given its economically destructive independence from foreign oil and its depressed economy, it will become a simulacrum of the USSR and Mao’s China — and not a rival to the new superpowers, Russia and China, which will largely ignore it as long as it doesn’t interfere in their pillaging of respective spheres of influence. A policy of non-interference (i.e., tacit collusion) will be the order of the era in Washington.

Though it would hardly be necessary to rig elections in favor of Democrats, given the flood of illegal immigrants who will pour into the country and enjoy voting rights, a way will be found to do just that. The most likely method will be election laws requiring candidates to pass ideological purity tests by swearing fealty to the “law of the land” (i.e., abortion, unfettered immigration, same-sex marriage, freedom of gender choice for children, etc., etc., etc.). Those who fail such a test will be barred from holding any kind of public office, no matter how insignificant.

Are my fears exaggerated? I don’t think so, given what has happened in recent decades and the cultural revolutionaries’ tightening grip on the Democrat party. What I have sketched out can easily happen within a decade after Democrats seize total control of the central government.

Will the defenders of liberty rally to keep it from happening? Perhaps, but I fear that they will not have a lot of popular support, for three reasons:

First, there is the problem of asymmetrical ideological warfare, which favors the party that says “nice” things and promises “free” things.

Second, What has happened thus far — mainly since the 1960s — has happened slowly enough that it seems “natural” to too many Americans. They are like fish in water who cannot grasp the idea of life in a different medium.

Third, although change for the worse has accelerated in recent years, it has occurred mainly in forums that seem inconsequential to most Americans, for example, in academic fights about free speech, in the politically correct speeches of Hollywood stars, and in culture wars that are conducted mainly in the blogosphere. The unisex-bathroom issue seems to have faded as quickly as it arose, mainly because it really affects so few people. The latest gun-control mania may well subside — though it has reached new heights of hysteria — but it is only one battle in the broader war being waged by the left. And most Americans lack the political and historical knowledge to understand that there really is a civil war underway — just not a “hot” one.

Is a reversal possible? Possible, yes, but unlikely. The rot is too deeply entrenched. Public schools and universities are cesspools of anti-Americanism. The affluent elites of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex are in the saddle. Republican politicians, for the most part, are of no help because they are more interested on preserving their comfortable sinecures than in defending America or the Constitution.

On that note, I will take a break from blogging — perhaps forever. I urge you to read one of my early posts, “Reveries“, for a taste of what America means to me. As for my blogging legacy, please see “A Summing Up“, which links to dozens of posts and pages that amplify and support this post.

Il faut cultiver notre jardin.

Voltaire, Candide


Related reading:

Michael Anton, “What We Still Have to Lose“, American Greatness, February 10, 2019

Rod Dreher, “Benedict Option FAQ“, The American Conservative, October 6, 2015

Roger Kimball, “Shall We Defend Our Common History?“, Imprimis, February 2019

Joel Kotkin, “Today’s Cultural Engineers“, newgeography, January 26, 2019

Daniel Oliver, “Where Has All the Culture Gone?“, The Federalist, February 8, 2019

Malcolm Pollack, “On Civil War“, Motus Mentis, March 7, 2019

Fred Reed, “The White Man’s Burden: Reflections on the Custodial State“, Fred on Everything, January 17, 2019

Gilbert T. Sewall, “The Diminishing Authority of the Bourgeois Culture“, The American Conservative, February 4, 2019

Bob Unger, “Requiem for America“, The New American, January 24, 2019

A Summing Up

I started blogging in the late 1990s with a home page that I dubbed Liberty Corner (reconstructed here). I maintained the home page until 2000. When the urge to resume blogging became irresistible in 2004, I created the Blogspot version of Liberty Corner, where I blogged until May 2008.

My weariness with “serious” blogging led to the creation of Americana, Etc., “A blog about baseball, history, humor, language, literature, movies, music, nature, nostalgia, philosophy, psychology, and other (mostly) apolitical subjects.” I began that blog in July 2008 and posted there sporadically until September 2013.

But I couldn’t resist commenting on political, economic, and social issues, so I established Politics & Prosperity in February 2009. My substantive outpourings ebbed and flowed until March 2019. Now, more than two decades and almost 3,700 posts since my blogging debut, I am taking another rest from blogging — perhaps a permanent rest.

To mark this event, I have chosen what I consider to be the best of my blogging, and assigned each of my choices to one of fifteen broad topics. (Many of the selections belong under more than one heading, but I avoided repetition for the sake of brevity.) You may jump directly to any of the fifteen topics by clicking on one of these links:

I. The Academy, Intellectuals, and the Left

II. Affirmative Action, Race, and Immigration

III. Americana, Etc.: Movies, Music, Nature, Nostalgia, Sports, and Trivia

IV. Conservatism and Other Political Philosophies

V. The Constitution and the Rule of Law

VI. Economics: Principles and Issues

VII. Humor, Satire, and Wry Commentary

VIII. Infamous Thinkers and Political Correctness

IX. Intelligence and Psychology

X. Justice

XI. Politics, Politicians, and the Consequences of Government

XII. Science, Religion, and Philosophy

XIII. Self-Ownership (abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and other aspects of the human condition)

XIV. War and Peace

XV. Writing and Language

Posts are listed in chronological order under each heading. If you are looking for a post on a particular subject, begin with the more recent posts and work your way backward in time, by moving up the list or using the “related posts” links that are included in most of my posts.

Your explorations may lead you to posts that no longer represent my views. This is especially the case with respect to John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle,” which figures prominently in my early dissertations on libertarianism, but which I have come to see as shallow and lacking in prescriptive power. Thus my belief that true libertarianism is traditional conservatism. (For more, see “Social Norms and Liberty” and many of the posts under “IV. Conservatism and Other Political Philosophies.”)

For readings that cut across many categories, I suggest my “Not-So-Random Thoughts” series: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, and XXIII. See also “The Tenor of the Times” and “Roundup: Civil War, Solitude, Transgenderism, Academic Enemies, and Immigration“.

Finally, I draw your attention to the feature pages in the sidebar, especially these:

Abortion Q & A

Climate Change

Constitution: Myths and Realities

Economic Growth Since World War II

Intelligence

Keynesian Multiplier: Fiction vs. Fact

Leftism and Leftism: A Bibliography

Movies

Presidents: Key Dates and Various Trivia

Social Norms and Liberty

Spygate (a.k.a. Russia-gate)

U.S. Supreme Court: Lines of Succession and Ideological Alignment

Writing: A Guide

Those pages span much of what I have written, and include many links to posts, articles, and books by other writers.

Now, the tour d’horizon:

I. The Academy, Intellectuals, and the Left
Like a Fish in Water
Why So Few Free-Market Economists?
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
Whiners
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Retrospective Virtue-Signalling
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Leftist Condescension
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
“Capitalism” Is a Dirty Word
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
Pronoun Profusion
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War
Abortion, the “Me” Generation, and the Left
Whence Polarization?
Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration
The Lesson of Alfie Evans
Can Left and Right Be Reconciled?
“Liberalism” and Virtue-Signaling
The Fourth Great Awakening
It’s Them or Us

II. Affirmative Action, Race, and Immigration
Affirmative Action: A Modest Proposal
After the Bell Curve
A Footnote . . .
Schelling and Segregation
Illogic from the Pro-Immigration Camp
Affirmative Action: Two Views from the Academy, Revisited
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Evolution and Race
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
Immigration and Crime
Immigration and Intelligence
Let’s Have That “Conversation” about Race
The IQ of Nations
Race and Social Engineering
Who’s Obsessing, Professor McWhorter?
Racism on Parade
Immigration Blues
Why Race Matters

III. Americana, Etc.: Movies, Music, Nature, Nostalgia, Sports, and Trivia
Speaking of Modern Art
Making Sense about Classical Music
An Addendum about Classical Music
Reveries
My Views on Classical Music, Vindicated
But It’s Not Music
Mister Hockey
Testing for Steroids
Explaining a Team’s W-L Record
The American League’s Greatest Hitters
The American League’s Greatest Hitters: Part II
Conducting, Baseball, and Longevity
Who Shot JFK, and Why?
The Passing of Red Brick Schoolhouses and a Way of Life
Baseball: The King of Team Sports
May the Best Team Lose
All-Time Hitter-Friendly Ballparks (With Particular Attention to Tiger Stadium)
A Trip to the Movies
Another Trip to the Movies
The Hall of Fame Reconsidered
Facts about Presidents (a reference page)
Great (Batting) Performances
Baseball’s Greatest and Worst Teams
Mister Hockey, R.I.P.
Baseball’s Greatest 40-and-Older Hitters
Pennant Droughts, Post-Season Play, and Seven-Game World Series
Bigger, Stronger, and Faster — But Not Quicker?
The American League’s Greatest Hitters: III
Babe Ruth and the Hot-Hand Hypothesis
Competitiveness in Major-League Baseball (III)
The Seven-Game World Series
V-J Day Stirs Memories
It’s Time to Revive 1920s Jazz
“The Little Drummer Girl” and War

IV. Conservatism and Other Political Philosophies
The Roots of Statism in the United States
Libertarian-Conservatives Are from the Earth, Liberals Are from the Moon
Modern Utilitarianism
The State of Nature
Libertarianism and Conservatism
Judeo-Christian Values and Liberty
Redefining Altruism
Fundamentalist Libertarians, Anarcho-Capitalists, and Self-Defense
Where Do You Draw the Line?
Moral Issues
A Paradox for Libertarians
A Non-Paradox for Libertarians
Religion and Liberty
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
Whose Incompetence Do You Trust?
Enough of Altruism
Thoughts That Liberals Should Be Thinking
More Thoughts That Liberals Should Be Thinking
The Corporation and the State
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II
Anarchy: An Empty Concept
The Paradox of Libertarianism
Privacy: Variations on the Theme of Liberty
The Fatal Naïveté of Anarcho-Libertarianism
Liberty as a Social Construct
This Is Objectivism?
Social Norms and Liberty (a reference page)
Social Norms and Liberty (a followup post)A Footnote about Liberty and the Social Compact
The Adolescent Rebellion Syndrome
Liberty and Federalism
Finding Liberty
Nock Reconsidered
The Harm Principle
Footnotes to “The Harm Principle”
The Harm Principle, Again
Rights and Cosmic Justice
Liberty, Human Nature, and the State
Idiotarian Libertarians and the Non-Aggression Principle
Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death Spiral of Liberty
Postive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part I
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part II
The Case against Genetic Engineering
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part III
A Critique of Extreme Libertarianism
Libertarian Whining about Cell Phones and Driving
The Golden Rule, for Libertarians
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice: Part IV
Anarchistic Balderdash
Compare and Contrast
Irrationality, Suboptimality, and Voting
Wrong, Wrong, Wrong
The Political Case for Traditional Morality
Compare and Contrast, Again
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
The Fear of Consequentialism
Optimality, Liberty, and the Golden Rule
The People’s Romance
Objectivism: Tautologies in Search of Reality
Morality and Consequentialism
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Inventing “Liberalism”
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Law and Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Invoking Hitler
The Unreality of Objectivism
“Natural Rights” and Consequentialism
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
What Are “Natural Rights”?
The Golden Rule and the State
Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?
Bounded Liberty: A Thought Experiment
Evolution, Human Nature, and “Natural Rights”
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
On Self-Ownership and Desert
Understanding Hayek
Corporations, Unions, and the State
Facets of Liberty
Burkean Libertarianism
Rights: Source, Applicability, How Held
What Is Libertarianism?
Nature Is Unfair
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Human Nature, Liberty, and Rationalism
Utilitarianism and Psychopathy
A Declaration and Defense of My Prejudices about Governance
Libertarianism and Morality
Libertarianism and Morality: A Footnote
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Cato, the Kochs, and a Fluke
Why Conservatism Works
A Man for No Seasons
Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
The Fallacy of the Reverse-Mussolini Fallacy
Defining Liberty
Getting It Almost Right
The Social Animal and the “Social Contract”
The Futile Search for “Natural Rights”
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Libertarianism and the State
Egoism and Altruism
My View of Libertarianism
Sober Reflections on “Charlie Hebdo”
“The Great Debate”: Not So Great
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing
The Principles of Actionable Harm
More About Social Norms and Liberty
Superiority
The War on Conservatism
Old America, New America, and Anarchy
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Social Justice vs. Liberty
Does Liberty Still Have a Fighting Chance?
Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the Real World
FDR and Fascism: More Data
Natural Law and Natural Rights Revisited
Rescuing Conservatism
If Men Were Angels
Liberty in Chains
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
Altruism, One More Time
“Liberalism” and Leftism
Disposition and Ideology
Altruism, Self-Interest, and Voting
My View of Mill, Endorsed
Suicide or Destiny?
Conservatism vs. Ideology
O.J.’s Glove and the Enlightenment
James Burnham’s Misplaced Optimism
A Flawed Ideological Taxonomy
True Populism

V. The Constitution and the Rule of Law
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers
Social Security Is Unconstitutional
What Is the Living Constitution?
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design
The Legality of Teaching Intelligent Design: Part II
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
An Answer to Judicial Supremacy?
Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
More Final (?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
Who Are the Parties to the Constitutional Contract?
The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
How to Think about Secession
Secession
A New, New Constitution
Secession Redux
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
Substantive Due Process and the Limits of Privacy
The Southern Secession Reconsidered
Abortion and the Fourteenth Amendment
Obamacare: Neither Necessary nor Proper
Privacy Is Not Sacred
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Obamacare, Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death-Spiral of Liberty
Another Thought or Two about the Obamacare Decision
Secession for All Seasons
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
“We the People” and Big Government
How Libertarians Ought to Think about the Constitution
Abortion Rights and Gun Rights
The States and the Constitution
Getting “Equal Protection” Right
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
The Principles of Actionable Harm
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power? (II)
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States’ “Police Power”
U.S. Supreme Court: Lines of Succession (a reference page)
Why Liberty of Contract Matters
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
The Answer to Judicial Supremacy
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty
Turning Points
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
A Resolution of Secession
Polarization and De-facto Partition
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Equality
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Restoring the Contract Clause
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War
The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error
The Constitution: Myths and Realities
Freedom of Speech: Getting It Right
Suicide or Destiny?
Freedom of Speech, to What End?
The Polarized Court
Nullification and Secession
Judging the Justices: The Thomas Standard
The Constitution vs. Reality
How Roe v. Wade Could Die

V. Economics: Principles and Issues
Economics: A Survey (a reference page that gives an organized tour of relevant posts, many of which are also listed below)
Fear of the Free Market — Part I
Fear of the Free Market — Part II
Fear of the Free Market — Part III
Trade Deficit Hysteria
Why We Deserve What We Earn
Who Decides Who’s Deserving?
The Main Causes of Prosperity
That Mythical, Magical Social Security Trust Fund
Social Security, Myth and Reality
Nonsense and Sense about Social Security
More about Social Security
Social Security Privatization and the Stock Market
Oh, That Mythical Trust Fund!
The Real Meaning of the National Debt
Socialist Calculation and the Turing Test
Social Security: The Permanent Solution
The Social Welfare Function
Libertarian Paternalism
A Libertarian Paternalist’s Dream World
Talk Is Cheap
Giving Back to the Community
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Why Government Spending Is Inherently Inflationary
Ten Commandments of Economics
More Commandments of Economics
Capitalism, Liberty, and Christianity
Risk and Regulation
Back-Door Paternalism
Liberty, General Welfare, and the State
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Monopoly and the General Welfare
The Causes of Economic Growth
Slippery Paternalists
The Importance of Deficits
It’s the Spending, Stupid!
There’s More to Income than Money
Science, Axioms, and Economics
Mathematical Economics
The Last(?) Word about Income Inequality
Why “Net Neutrality” Is a Bad Idea
The Feds and “Libertarian Paternalism”
The Anti-Phillips Curve
Status, Spite, Envy, and Income Redistribution
Economics: The Dismal (Non) Science
A Further Note about “Libertarian” Paternalism
Apropos Paternalism
Where’s My Nobel?
Toward a Capital Theory of Value
The Laffer Curve, “Fiscal Responsibility,” and Economic Growth
Stability Isn’t Everything
Income and Diminishing Marginal Utility
What Happened to Personal Responsibility?
The Causes of Economic Growth
Economic Growth since WWII
A Short Course in Economics
Addendum to a Short Course in Economics
Monopoly: Private Is Better than Public
The “Big Five” and Economic Performance
Does the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?
Rationing and Health Care
The Perils of Nannyism: The Case of Obamacare
More about the Perils of Obamacare
Health-Care Reform: The Short of It
Trade
Toward a Risk-Free Economy
Enough of “Social Welfare”
A True Flat Tax
The Case of the Purblind Economist
How the Great Depression Ended
Why Outsourcing Is Good: A Simple Lesson for “Liberal” Yuppies
Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
The Deficit Commission’s Deficit of Understanding
“Buy Local”
“Net Neutrality”
The Bowles-Simpson Report
The Bowles-Simpson Band-Aid
Competition Shouldn’t Be a Dirty Word
Subjective Value: A Proof by Example
The Stagnation Thesis
Taxing the Rich
More about Taxing the Rich
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
“Tax Expenditures” Are Not Expenditures
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Does “Pent Up” Demand Explain the Post-War Recovery?
Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare
What Free-Rider Problem?
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
The Arrogance of (Some) Economists
The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given
Say’s Law, Government, and Unemployment
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
Extreme Economism
We Owe It to Ourselves
In Defense of the 1%
Lay My (Regulatory) Burden Down
Irrational Rationality
The Burden of Government
Economic Growth Since World War II
The Rationing Fallacy
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
How High Should Taxes Be?
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
Economic Horror Stories: The Great “Demancipation” and Economic Stagnation
Baseball Statistics and the Consumer Price Index
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
America’s Financial Crisis Is Now
“Ensuring America’s Freedom of Movement”: A Review
“Social Insurance” Isn’t Insurance — Nor Is Obamacare
The Keynesian Multiplier: Phony Math
The True Multiplier
Discounting in the Public Sector
Some Inconvenient Facts about Income Inequality
Mass (Economic) Hysteria: Income Inequality and Related Themes
Social Accounting: A Tool of Social Engineering
Alienation
Playing the Social Security Trust Fund Shell Game
Income Inequality and Economic Growth
A Case for Redistribution, Not Made
McCloskey on Piketty
The Rahn Curve Revisited
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy
Nature, Nurture, and Inequality
Understanding Investment Bubbles
The Real Burden of Government
Diminishing Marginal Utility and the Redistributive Urge
Capitalism, Competition, Prosperity, and Happiness
Further Thoughts about the Keynesian Multiplier
The Essence of Economics
Economics and Science
Economists As Scientists
Mathematical Economics
Economic Modeling: A Case of Unrewarded Complexity
Today’s Lesson in Economics: How to Think about War
Economics from the Bottom Up
Unorthodox Economics: 1. What Is Economics?
Unorthodox Economics: 2. Pitfalls
Unorthodox Economics: 3. What Is Scientific about Economics?
Unorthodox Economics 4: A Parable of Political Economy
The Public-Goods Myth
Thaler on Discounting
Big Government and Disguised Unemployment
Rethinking Free Trade
Rethinking Free Trade II
Revisiting the Laffer Curve
Unorthodox Economics: 5. Economic Progress, Microeconomics, and Microeconomics
Rethinking Free Trade III
Macroeconomic Modeling Revisited
Shiller’s Folly

VII. Humor, Satire, and Wry Commentary
Political Parlance
Some Management Tips
Ten-Plus Commandments of Liberalism, er, Progressivism
To Pay or Not to Pay
The Ghost of Impeachments Past Presents “The Trials of William Jefferson Whatsit”
Getting It Perfect
His Life As a Victim
Bah, Humbug!
PC Madness
The Seven Faces of Blogging
DWI
Wordplay
Trans-Gendered Names
More Names
Stuff White (Liberal Yuppie) People Like
Driving and Politics
“Men’s Health”
I’ve Got a LIttle List
Driving and Politics (2)
A Sideways Glance at Military Strategy
A Sideways Glance at the Cabinet
A Sideways Glance at Politicians’ Memoirs
Daylight Saving Time Doesn’t Kill
Amazon and Austin
Driving Is an IQ Test
Screen Shots: The Glass Castle, Victoria, and The Crown
The Renaming Mania Hits a New Low

VIII. Infamous Thinkers and Political Correctness
Sunstein at the Volokh Conspiracy
More from Sunstein
Cass Sunstein’s Truly Dangerous Mind
An (Imaginary) Interview with Cass Sunstein
Professor Krugman Flunks Economics
Peter Singer’s Fallacy
Slippery Sunstein
Sunstein and Executive Power
Nock Reconsidered
In Defense of Ann Coulter
Goodbye, Mr. Pitts
Our Miss Brooks
How to Combat Beauty-ism
The Politically Correct Cancer: Another Weapon in the War on Straight White Males
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
Social Justice
Peter Presumes to Preach
More Social Justice
Luck-Egalitarianism and Moral Luck
Empathy Is Overrated
In Defense of Wal-Mart
An Economist’s Special Pleading: Affirmative Action for the Ugly
Another Entry in the Sunstein Saga
Obesity and Statism (Richard Posner)
Obama’s Big Lie
The Sunstein Effect Is Alive and Well in the White House
Political Correctness vs. Civility
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
Sorkin’s Left-Wing Propaganda Machine
Baseball or Soccer? David Brooks Misunderstands Life
Sunstein the Fatuous
Tolerance
Good Riddance
The Gaystapo at Work
The Gaystapo and Islam
The Perpetual Nudger
Brandeis’s Ignorance
Babbling Brooks
Andrew Cuomo’s Fatuous Casuistry
H.L. Mencken’s Final Legacy
The Problem with Political Correctness
Mencken’s Pearl of Wisdom
Richard Thaler, Nobel Laureate
Thaler’s Non-Revolution in Economics
Another (Big) Problem with “Nudging”
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues
Thaler on Discounting
A Bobo in Cloud-Cuckoo Land

IX. Intelligence and Psychology
Conservatism, Libertarianism, and “The Authoritarian Personality”
The F Scale, Revisited
The Psychologist Who Played God
Intelligence, Personality, Politics, and Happiness
Intelligence as a Dirty Word
Intelligence and Intuition
Nonsense about Presidents, IQ, and War
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
Alienation
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
Tolerance
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
Intelligence, Assortative Mating, and Social Engineering
The IQ of Nations
Hayek’s Anticipatory Account of Consciousness
The Internet-Media-Academic Complex vs. Real Life
More about Intelligence
Institutional Bias
Nature, Nurture, and Leniency
Some Notes about Psychology and Intelligence
The Midwest Is a State of Mind
How’s Your (Implicit) Attitude?
Jerks and Psychopaths
Selected Writings about Intelligence
The Fourth Great Awakening

X. Justice
I’ll Never Understand the Insanity Defense
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
A Crime Is a Crime
Crime and Punishment
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
A Useful Precedent
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Cell Phones and Driving: Liberty vs. Life
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
What Is Justice?
Myopic Moaning about the War on Drugs
Saving the Innocent
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
A Case for Perpetual Copyrights and Patents
The Least Evil Option
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Crime Revisited
A Cop-Free World?

XI. Politics, Politicians, and the Consequences of Government
Starving the Beast
Torture and Morality
Starving the Beast, Updated
Starving the Beast: Readings
Presidential Legacies
The Rational Voter?
FDR and Fascism
The “Southern Strategy”
An FDR Reader
The “Southern Strategy”: A Postscript
The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History
Politicizing Economic Growth
The End of Slavery in the United States
I Want My Country Back
What Happened to the Permanent Democrat Majority?
More about the Permanent Democrat Majority
Undermining the Free Society
Government Failure: An Example
The Public-School Swindle
PolitiFact Whiffs on Social Security
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
About Democracy
Externalities and Statism
Taxes: Theft or Duty?
Society and the State
Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do
The Capitalist Paradox Meets the Interest-Group Paradox
Is Taxation Slavery?
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Lincoln
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
Progressive Taxation Is Alive and Well in the U.S. of A.
“Social Insurance” Isn’t Insurance — Nor Is Obamacare
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!
Presidential Treason
A Home of One’s Own
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Surrender? Hell No!
Social Accounting: A Tool of Social Engineering
Playing the Social Security Trust Fund Shell Game
Two-Percent Tyranny
A Sideways Glance at Public “Education”
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
The Many-Sided Curse of Very Old Age
The Slow-Motion Collapse of the Economy
How to Eradicate the Welfare State, and How Not to Do It
“Blue Wall” Hype
Does Obama Love America?
Obamanomics in Action
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
“Fairness”
My Platform
How America Has Changed
Civil War?
The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump
The Hypocrisy of “Local Control”
Cost Disease in the Quasi-Government Sector
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
Suicidal Despair and the “War on Whites”
Death of a Nation
The Invention of Rights
The Danger of Marginal Thinking
Politics Trumps Economics
The Dumbing-Down of Public Schools
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
The South, Racism, and the GOP
The American Electorate’s “Squishy Center”
The Decline of Collegiality
Do We “Belong” to Government?
The Fickle Electorate

XII. Science, Religion, and Philosophy
Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance
Atheism, Religion, and Science
The Limits of Science
Beware of Irrational Atheism
The Creation Model
Free Will: A Proof by Example?
Science in Politics, Politics in Science
Evolution and Religion
Science, Evolution, Religion, and Liberty
What’s Wrong with Game Theory
Is “Nothing” Possible?
Pseudo-Science in the Service of Political Correctness
Science’s Anti-Scientific Bent
Flow
Science, Axioms, and Economics
The Purpose-Driven Life
The Tenth Dimension
The Universe . . . Four Possibilities
Atheism, Religion, and Science Redux
“Warmism”: The Myth of Anthropogenic Global Warming
More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming
Yet More Evidence against Anthropogenic Global Warming
Pascal’s Wager, Morality, and the State
Achilles and the Tortoise: A False Paradox
The Greatest Mystery
Modeling Is Not Science
Freedom of Will and Political Action
Fooled by Non-Randomness
Randomness Is Over-Rated
Anthropogenic Global Warming Is Dead, Just Not Buried Yet
Beware the Rare Event
Landsburg Is Half-Right
What Is Truth?
The Improbability of Us
Wrong Again
More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology
A Digression about Probability and Existence
Evolution and the Golden Rule
A Digression about Special Relativity
More about Probability and Existence
Existence and Creation
Probability, Existence, and Creation
Temporal and Spatial Agreement
In Defense of Subjectivism
The Atheism of the Gaps
The Ideal as a False and Dangerous Standard
Demystifying Science
Religion on the Left
Analysis for Government Decision-Making: Hemi-Science, Hemi-Demi-Science, and Sophistry
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
Luck and Baseball, One More Time
Are the Natural Numbers Supernatural?
The Candle Problem: Balderdash Masquerading as Science
Mysteries: Sacred and Profane
More about Luck and Baseball
Combinatorial Play
Something from Nothing?
Pseudoscience, “Moneyball,” and Luck
Something or Nothing
Understanding the Monty Hall Problem
My Metaphysical Cosmology
Further Thoughts about Metaphysical Cosmology
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Nothingness
The Glory of the Human Mind
Pinker Commits Scientism
Spooky Numbers, Evolution, and Intelligent Design
AGW: The Death Knell
Mind, Cosmos, and Consciousness
The Limits of Science (II)
Not Over the Hill
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
The Compleat Monty Hall Problem
“Settled Science” and the Monty Hall Problem
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
Some Thoughts about Probability
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge
AGW in Austin?
My War on the Misuse of Probability
Ty Cobb and the State of Science
Understanding Probability: Pascal’s Wager and Catastrophic Global Warming
Revisiting the “Marketplace” of Ideas
The Technocratic Illusion
The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager
AGW in Austin? (II)
Is Science Self-Correcting?
“Feelings, Nothing More than Feelings”
Taleb’s Ruinous Rhetoric
Words Fail Us
Fine-Tuning in a Wacky Wrapper
Is Consciousness an Illusion?
Beating Religion with the Wrong End of the Stick
Quantum Mechanics and Free Will
“Science” vs. Science: The Case of Evolution, Race, and Intelligence
Modeling Revisited
Bayesian Irrationality
The Fragility of Knowledge
Global-Warming Hype
Pattern-Seeking
Babe Ruth and the Hot-Hand Hypothesis
Deduction, Induction, and Knowledge
A (Long) Footnote about Science
Further Thoughts about Probability
Religion, Creation, and Morality
Luck: The Loser’s Excuse
The Balderdash Chronicles
The Probability That Something Will Happen
Analytical and Scientific Arrogance
The Pretence of Knowledge
Wildfires and “Climate Change”
Atheistic Scientism Revisited
Why I Don’t Believe in “Climate Change”
Ford, Kavanaugh, and Probability

XIII. Self-Ownership (abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and other aspects of the human condition)
Feminist Balderdash
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Law, Liberty, and Abortion
Privacy, Autonomy, and Responsibility
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
The Case against Genetic Engineering
A “Person” or a “Life”?
A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
In Defense of Marriage
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Dan Quayle Was (Almost) Right
The Most Disgusting Thing I’ve Read Today
Posner the Fatuous
Marriage: Privatize It and Revitalize It
The Transgender Fad and Its Consequences
Another Angle on Alienation The Invalid “Viability” Argument for Abortion
Andrew Sullivan almost Gets It
Abortion, the “Me” Generation, and the Left

XIV. War and Peace
Getting It Wrong: Civil Libertarians and the War on Terror (A Case Study)
Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy, Revisited
Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only
Understanding Libertarian Hawks
Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
The Illogic of Knee-Jerk Civil Liberties Advocates
Getting It All Wrong about the Risk of Terrorism
Conservative Revisionism, Conservative Backlash, or Conservative Righteousness?
But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over?
Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Shall We All Hang Separately?
September 11: A Remembrance
September 11: A Postscript for “Peace Lovers”
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
NSA “Eavesdropping”: The Last Word (from Me)
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown
Thomas Woods and War
In Which I Reply to the Executive Editor of The New York Times
“Peace for Our Time”
Taking on Torture
Conspiracy Theorists’ Cousins
September 11: Five Years On
How to View Defense Spending
The Best Defense . . .
A Skewed Perspective on Terrorism
Not Enough Boots: The Why of It
Here We Go Again
“The War”: Final Grade
Torture, Revisited
Waterboarding, Torture, and Defense
Liberalism and Sovereignty
The Media, the Left, and War
Torture
Getting It Wrong and Right about Iran
The McNamara Legacy: A Personal Perspective
The “Predator War” and Self-Defense
The National Psyche and Foreign Wars
Inside-Outside
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Next 9/11?
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
The Cuban Missile Crisis, Revisited
Preemptive War
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Riots, Culture, and the Final Showdown (revisited)
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
Utilitarianism and Torture
Defense Spending: One More Time
Walking the Tightrope Reluctantly
The President’s Power to Kill Enemy Combatants
My Defense of the A-Bomb
Pacifism
Today’s Lesson in Economics: How to Think about War
Presidents and War
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
Terrorism Isn’t an Accident
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues
Planning for the Last War
A Rearview Look at the Invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror
Preemptive War Revisited
It’s a MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD World
The Folly of Pacifism (III)
MAD, Again
“MAD, Again”: A Footnote
More MADness: Mistaking Bureaucratic Inertia for Strategy

XV. Writing and Language
Punctuation
“Hopefully” Arrives
Hopefully, This Post Will Be Widely Read
Why Prescriptivism?
A Guide to the Pronunciation of General American English
Rules of Writing to Disregard?
On Writing (a comprehensive essay about writing, which covers some of the material presented in other posts in this section)

–30–

The Good News and Real News about Inflation and Earnings

GOOD NEWS

The CPI isn’t signalling a recession.

Household income, adjusted for inflation, continues to rise to new heights.

BUT . . .

Inflation is in the eye (or wallet) of the beholder. It is arbitrarily estimated by sampling the prices of defined “baskets” of products and services. Your “basket” probably differs greatly from the official ones used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Almost no household is a typical one.

REAL NEWS

Aggregate statistics are almost meaningless. There is no such thing as social welfare. Only you can decide if you’re better off than you were yesterday.


Related posts:
Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
Unorthodox Economics: 2. Pitfalls (especially the third entry about social welfare)
Unorthodox Economics: 5. Economic Progress, Microeconomics, and Microeconomics

Recent Updates

In case you hadn’t noticed, I have in the past few days added new links to the following post and pages:

The Green New Deal Is a Plan for Economic Devastation

Climate Change

Favorite Posts

Intelligence

Spygate

I have also updated “Writing: A Guide“.

Saving Trees

Today, for the first time in almost 56 years, I no longer subscribe to a home-delivered daily newspaper. The Austin American-Statesman, to which I have subscribed for the past 15 years, recently raised its subscription rates by 25 percent. That was more than enough for me to do what has long made sense — cancel the Statesman.

The Statesman‘s international, national, and regional coverage is superfluous and out-dated — the same “news” is available online and via TV at zero marginal cost to me. Local news of value to me (of which there is little) is similarly available.

Not only have I reduced my living expenses by several hundred dollars a year, but I have also helped myself to a better night’s sleep. I no longer have to worry about getting up in time to see if the paper is wet and call for a replacement before the deadline for such calls. In fact, I no longer have to hike down and up a long, steep driveway to retrieve a practically worthless newspaper.

As for the “liberal” Statesman, the latest price hike undoubtedly marks another steep dive in its death-spiral. If it survives for much longer, it will be as a glorified version of a Pennysaver — advertising interspersed with syndicated features like recipes, car-buying tips, DIY advice, etc. Its increasingly young and increasingly incompetent newsroom will dwindle to a few wannabe-jock sports writers, who will enthuse about UT and high-school sports.

And I will have saved several thousand dollars. Bliss!


Related post: Cutting the Cord

The Green New Deal Is a Plan for Economic Devastation

Here’s the essence of the “plan”:

The annual cost of the Green New Deal (GND) is about $5 trillion a year over the first ten years.

At the end of the ten years, government’s share of GDP would rise from about 40 percent to about 60 percent. This assumes, unrealistically, that the prospect and realization of the GND wouldn’t cause a drastic reduction in the size of the private sector.

Even making that assumption, the real rate of economic growth would decline from a weak 2 percent to a devastating minus 5 percent*.

In fact, within a generation what’s left of GDP would consist almost entirely of government spending. The socialist dream would have become reality, complete with long queues (physical and virtual) and rationing of shoddy products and services doled out by the state.

USSR, here we come.

__________

* My rough estimate of the GND’s effect of on the rate of growth is based on the equation presented here.


Related reading:

Erich Wallach’s interview with Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Economics and of History, University of Illinois-Chicago, February 10, 2019

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Dan Bosch, Ben Gitis, Dan Goldbeck, and Philip Rossetti, “The Green New Deal: Scope, Scale, and Implications“, American Action Forum, February 25, 2019

How Roe v. Wade Could Die

I had thought that it might be hard to overturn Roe v. Wade because those who are directly affected by it — unborn children — lack “standing”; that is, they are not “persons” under the law. But I was prematurely pessimistic. The tools with which Roe can be dismantled are at hand, in challenges to the abortion-limitation laws of various States and in the very language of the Roe decision. [UPDATE 03/01/19: If this Texas bill becomes law, it’s sure to end up in the Supreme Court.] [UPDATE 03/06/19: Here is the perfect case on which to build the Supreme Court ruling that I propose below.]

To begin at the beginning, Roe precludes unborn children from “personhood”. Justice Blackmun wrote in his opinion for a 7-2 majority that the

Constitution does not define “person” in so many words. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment contains three references to “person.”…  The word also appears both in the Due Process Clause and in the Equal Protection Clause. “Person” is used in other places in the Constitution…. But in nearly all these instances, the use of the word is such that it has application only postnatally. None indicates, with any assurance, that it has any possible pre-natal application.

All this, together with our observation … that throughout the major portion of the 19th century prevailing legal abortion practices were far freer than they are today, persuades us that the word “person,” as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn….

Inasmuch as a non-person has no rights, the majority could have found an unlimited “right” to abortion. Instead, the majority flinched and recognized a status between fetus and person:

(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.

(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.

(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother [emphasis added].

Roe was “upheld” in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, but with some twists that are the subject of Chief Justice’s dissent, quoted at length below. The key point of Casey (for purposes of this post) is that it admits the state’s interest in the potentiality of human life, and variations on that theme, which I have emphasized in the following excerpts of the controlling opinion in Casey:

The woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy before viability is the most central principle of Roe v. Wade. It is a rule of law and a component of liberty we cannot renounce.

On the other side of the equation is the interest of the State in the protection of potential life. The Roe Court recognized the State’s “important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life.”

Yet it must be remembered that Roe v. Wade speaks with clarity in establishing not only the woman’s liberty but also the State’s “important and legitimate interest in potential life.” That portion of the decision in Roe has been given too little acknowledgment and implementation by the Court in its subsequent cases….

We reject the trimester framework, which we do not consider to be part of the essential holding of Roe…. The trimester framework suffers from these basic flaws: in its formulation it misconceives the nature of the pregnant woman’s interest; and in practice it undervalues the State’s interest in potential life, as recognized in Roe.

The very notion that the State has a substantial interest in potential life leads to the conclusion that not all regulations must be deemed unwarranted. Not all burdens on the right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy will be undue. In our view, the undue burden standard is the appropriate means of reconciling the State’s interest with the woman’s constitutionally protected liberty.

Hold that thought.

According to Wikipedia, Casey

replaced the strict scrutiny analysis under Roe, with the “undue burden” standard…. A legal restriction posing an undue burden is one that has “the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.” An undue burden is found even where a statute purports to further the interest of potential life or another valid state interest, if it places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman’s fundamental right to choice. The Supreme Court in the 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt clarified exactly what the ‘undue burden’ test requires: “Casey requires courts to consider the burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer.”

Hellerstedt overturned statutory restrictions on abortion providers that had been adopted by Texas. The 5-3 opinion was written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito filed dissents. Justice Scalia, who had died earlier in the year, had yet to be replaced by Justice Gorsuch. Justice Kennedy has since retired and been replaced by Justice Kavanaugh.

Given the significant changes in the Court’s membership since Hellerstedt, advocates of abortion are right to be worried about the fate of Roe v. Wade and its successors. Elisabeth Dias and Timothy Williams of The New York Times explain:

Several challenges to federal abortion law are pending before the Supreme Court and about a dozen are working their way up through federal circuit courts. Anti-abortion lawmakers and activists have targeted more than simply the restriction of abortion or its funding. They have worked to pass laws to control the range of issues that surround abortion, from burial of fetal tissue and custody of frozen embryos, to ultrasound requirements.

“It’s a continuation of a strategy that we’ve had for some time, which is to pass as many pro-life laws as we can at the state level with a strategy of bold incrementalism,” said Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a social conservative political group….

The social conservative strategy has accelerated since 2010, when Republicans made significant gains in state legislatures. States have enacted more than 400 restrictions on abortion since 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights….

In Indiana, a law signed in 2016 by Mike Pence, then the governor, aims to ban discrimination against a fetus on things like race, sex, and disability. Though it has passed on the case before, the Supreme Court could take it up as soon as next week, and argue it next term. “We are hoping to challenge Roe from this angle, the angle of discrimination,” said Sue Liebel, the state director for the Susan B. Anthony List. “It has never been tried before.”

Even if the first primary challenge does not come from Indiana, the nationwide momentum is “really good news” for the anti-abortion movement, she said.

“It probably will not be one case that will topple Roe all at once,” Ms. Liebel said. “It will probably be multiple pieces that will take chunks out of Roe.”

In Ohio, the state legislature is prepared to approve a bill this session that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Anti-abortion activist groups like Right to Life Ohio championed the bill, while abortion rights advocates have pointed out that many women and girls are not even aware that they may be pregnant that early.

The legislation was initially approved by the legislature last year, but was vetoed by John Kasich, then the governor. But his successor, Mike DeWine, who like Mr. Kasich is a Republican, has said that he intends to sign the legislation.

“We were very hesitant on the heartbeat bill because we knew we had a hostile Supreme Court,” Mike Gonidakis, the president of Right to Life Ohio, said about the court before the elevation of Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch by President Trump. “The time is ripe to have the discussion now because of the current Supreme Court. We now see a pathway forward.”

More than 20 bills restricting abortion have become law in Ohio in the past eight years, including legislation that prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and banning the most common abortion method used in the second trimester of pregnancy.

The Kentucky Legislature is currently considering a fetal heartbeat bill similar to legislation in Ohio, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina. Kentucky has in recent years approved several laws curtailing abortion rights that have been ruled unconstitutional, two of which could ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

The first requires doctors to perform an ultrasound before an abortion, then to display and describe the images, and finally, to make the fetal heartbeat audible. The second mandates abortion providers to enter into written transfer agreements with a local hospital, as well as arranging transport arrangements with ambulance services. Both are under appeals in the Sixth Circuit.

Some Democratic-controlled statehouses have recently worked to counter the groundswell from the right. New York expanded abortion rights last month for the first time in almost 50 years, permitting some abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. A Virginia legislator proposed a bill that would have lifted restrictions on late-term abortions, but the proposal was set aside in committee.

Amid all this activity, abortion rights activists are alarmed at [the recent] Louisiana decision because it is the clearest indicator yet of how Justice Kavanaugh might rule on abortion in future cases. In the 5-4 ruling, he wrote the dissent….

The Louisiana case is far from decided. The Supreme Court is likely to hear arguments on its merits in the next term, which begins in October.

What is Louisiana? Adam Liptak of The New York Times discusses it:

The Supreme Court on [February 7] blocked a Louisiana law that its opponents say could have left the state with only one doctor in a single clinic authorized to provide abortions.

The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing to form a majority….

The court’s brief order gave no reasons, and its action — a temporary stay — did not end the case. The court is likely to hear a challenge to the law on the merits in its next term, which starts in October.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh said they would have denied the stay. Only Justice Kavanaugh published a dissent, taking a middle position that acknowledged the key precedent and said he would have preferred more information on the precise effect of the law.

For Chief Justice Roberts, it was something of a turnaround, at least for now. He dissented in the court’s last major abortion case in 2016, voting to uphold a Texas law essentially identical to the one at issue in Thursday’s case….

Chief Justice Roberts has voted to sustain other laws restricting abortion. And his vote to grant a stay on Thursday, in other words, does not mean he will vote to strike down the Louisiana law when the case returns to the court.

The court [as discussed above] is likely to confront other abortion cases, too, as several state legislatures have recently enacted laws that seem calculated to try to force the Supreme Court to consider overruling Roe v. Wade.

What Liptak doesn’t mention is Roberts’s (vain) desire to make the Court seem apolitical. He tried to accomplish that by voting to deny the stay, as if that would avert the outrage that is certain to follow an eventual ruling in favor of the Louisiana law (or others of its ilk).

Unless Roberts reverses his stance on abortion, the Court can and should reverse Roe (and its progeny) by adopting the following argument:

1. It is a scientific and widely known fact that life begins at conception. Roe to the contrary notwithstanding, there is nothing “potential” about the life of a fetus. It is a living being, albeit dependent on its mother for survival until some point in gestation, when it becomes “viable”.

2. To deprive the fetus of life before “viability” is simply to prevent the fetus from becoming “viable” in almost every case. Lack of “viability” is therefore an irrelevant criterion for the termination of a pregnancy; it is a transparent excuse for the taking of a life.

3. Whether the fetus is a “person” under the law is irrelevant here. The fetus is a living human being, and aborting it (unless it has died in the womb) amounts to the taking of a human life.

4. It is a paramount interest of government to regulate the conditions under which a human life may be taken. A fetus (at all stages of development) is innocent human life that merits the full protection of government. A fetus should be aborted only when the preservation of its life poses an actual physical threat to the mother’s life, as certified unanimously by a panel of at least three licensed, board-certified specialists in relevant fields. Such a panel shall include at least one specialist in maternal-fetal medicine.

5. Roe and its progeny are therefore overruled. No government of or in the United States may allow abortion at any stage of pregnancy, except as provided in 4.

6. This ruling does not run afoul of the doctrine of stare decisis, which the plurality in Casey invoked in “upholding” Roe. Chief Justice Rehnquist amply and definitively addressed the plurality’s use of stare decisis in his Casey dissent:

The joint opinion of Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter cannot bring itself to say that Roe was correct as an original matter, but the authors are of the view that “the immediate question is not the soundness of Roe‘s resolution of the issue, but the precedential force that must be accorded to its holding.” Instead of claiming that Roe was correct as a matter of original constitutional interpretation, the opinion therefore contains an elaborate discussion of stare decisis. This discussion of the principle of stare decisis appears to be almost entirely dicta, because the joint opinion does not apply that principle in dealing with Roe. Roe decided that a woman had a fundamental right to an abortion. The joint opinion rejects that view. Roe decided that abortion regulations were to be subjected to “strict scrutiny” and could be justified only in the light of “compelling state interests.” The joint opinion rejects that view. Roe analyzed abortion regulation under a rigid trimester framework, a framework which has guided this Court’s decisionmaking for 19 years. The joint opinion rejects that framework.

Stare decisis is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as meaning “to abide by, or adhere to, decided cases.” Whatever the “central holding” of Roe that is left after the joint opinion finishes dissecting it is surely not the result of that principle. While purporting to adhere to precedent, the joint opinion instead revises it. Roe continues to exist, but only in the way a storefront on a western movie set exists: a mere facade to give the illusion of reality. Decisions following Roe … are frankly overruled in part under the “undue burden” standard expounded in the joint opinion….

The joint opinion discusses several stare decisis factors which, it asserts, point toward retaining a portion of Roe. Two of these factors are that the main “factual underpinning” of Roe has remained the same, and that its doctrinal foundation is no weaker now than it was in 1973. Of course, what might be called the basic facts which gave rise to Roe have remained the same-women become pregnant, there is a point somewhere, depending on medical technology, where a fetus becomes viable, and women give birth to children. But this is only to say that the same facts which gave rise to Roe will continue to give rise to similar cases. It is not a reason, in and of itself, why those cases must be decided in the same incorrect manner as was the first case to deal with the question. And surely there is no requirement, in considering whether to depart from stare decisis in a constitutional case, that a decision be more wrong now than it was at the time it was rendered. If that were true, the most outlandish constitutional decision could survive forever, based simply on the fact that it was no more outlandish later than it was when originally rendered.

Nor does the joint opinion faithfully follow this alleged requirement. The opinion frankly concludes that Roe and its progeny were wrong in failing to recognize that the State’s interests in maternal health and in the protection of unborn human life exist throughout pregnancy. But there is no indication that these components of Roe are any more incorrect at this juncture than they were at its inception.

The joint opinion also points to the reliance interests involved in this context in its effort to explain why precedent must be followed for precedent’s sake. Certainly it is true that where reliance is truly at issue, as in the case of judicial decisions that have formed the basis for private decisions, “[c]onsiderations in favor of stare decisis are at their acme.” But, as the joint opinion apparently agrees, any traditional notion of reliance is not applicable here. The Court today cuts back on the protection afforded by Roe, and no one claims that this action defeats any reliance interest in the disavowed trimester framework. Similarly, reliance interests would not be diminished were the Court to go further and acknowledge the full error of Roe, as “reproductive planning could take virtually immediate account of” this action.

The joint opinion thus turns to what can only be described as an unconventional-and unconvincing-notion of reliance, a view based on the surmise that the availability of abortion since Roe has led to “two decades of economic and social developments” that would be undercut if the error of Roe were recognized. The joint opinion’s assertion of this fact is undeveloped and totally conclusory. In fact, one cannot be sure to what economic and social developments the opinion is referring. Surely it is dubious to suggest that women have reached their “places in society” in reliance upon Roe, rather than as a result of their determination to obtain higher education and compete with men in the job market, and of society’s increasing recognition of their ability to fill positions that were previously thought to be reserved only for men.

In the end, having failed to put forth any evidence to prove any true reliance, the joint opinion’s argument is based solely on generalized assertions about the national psyche, on a belief that the people of this country have grown accustomed to the Roe decision over the last 19 years and have “ordered their thinking and living around” it. As an initial matter, one might inquire how the joint opinion can view the “central holding” of Roe as so deeply rooted in our constitutional culture, when it so casually uproots and disposes of that same decision’s trimester framework. Furthermore, at various points in the past, the same could have been said about this Court’s erroneous decisions that the Constitution allowed “separate but equal” treatment of minorities, see Plessy v. Ferguson, or that “liberty” under the Due Process Clause protected “freedom of contract,” see Adkins v. Children’s Hospital of District of Columbia [and] Lochner v. New York. The “separate but equal” doctrine lasted 58 years after Plessy, and Lochner’s protection of contractual freedom lasted 32 years. However, the simple fact that a generation or more had grown used to these major decisions did not prevent the Court from correcting its errors in those cases, nor should it prevent us from correctly interpreting the Constitution here.

I will be surprised if Roberts will go that far. If the Court does overturn Roe, it is more likely to outlaw or severely restrict abortion after “viability”. But a principled majority would rule as I have suggested — and damn the consequences. The Court isn’t in a popularity contest. Its job is to get the law right. And the law in this case, has been deadly wrong since Roe was decided 46 years ago.

For much more, including the issue of privacy, which was central to Roe, see “Abortion Q & A“.

More MADness: Mistaking Bureaucratic Inertia for Strategy

REVISED 02/20/19 (SEE ADDENDUM)

I have in earlier posts (here, here, here, and here) discussed mutually assured deterrence. Some of the posts were inspired by correspondence with a former colleague with expert knowledge of Soviet naval forces and strategy. This post, which derives from recent exchanges with my correspondent, drills deeper into the “bastion strategy”, which was adopted by the Soviet government and has been retained by the Russian government.

The bastion strategy is the policy of stationing ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) in the Sea of Okhotsk and Barents Sea, where they can be defended by air and naval forces. The purpose of the strategy is to maintain a strategic-nuclear reserve consisting of sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), as “ultimate guarantors” of the Soviet/Russian state.

I recently posed this question to my correspondent:

I have never been clear about what it means for Soviet/Russian SLBMs to be the “ultimate guarantors” of the state. Does it mean that the SLBMs are held in reserve until it is known that the enemy has depleted his entire strategic-nuclear reserve, so that (despite the vast damage to the USSR/Russia) the nation is assured of survival because there are still SLBMs to deter conquest by what is left of the enemy’s conventional and tactical nuclear forces? To put it another way, it seems that Soviet/Russian leaders were and are willing to countenance vast devastation to their homeland for the sake of maintaining its sovereignty. (The Great Patriotic War with nukes and many times the number of casualties.) More cynically, Soviet/Russian leaders were and are willing to countenance vast devastation to their homeland for the sake of the survival of a functional state apparatus (i.e., most of top leadership and an effective if diminished bureaucracy).

My correspondent replied:

A strategic-nuclear reserve … makes sense only if you think you can fight and win a meaningful victory in a nuclear war in the first place. The Soviets apparently believed that they could for a long time. But then came the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and the Soviets learned that even small amounts of nuclear radiation could make a large swath of land uninhabitable. This realization was said to have shocked the military leadership and undermined support for the military among the civilian elite. Some say Chernobyl contributed to the growing current of dissatisfaction that brought down the USSR as a whole.

Today, it is obviously senseless to build a reserve of SSBNs/SLBMs if they are to serve a guarantors of a state that you know will be uninhabitable at the time their function is called into play. But the Russians have continued to build them and to defend them in bastions.

But whether the Russians are crazy to ignore this catastrophic contradiction shouldn’t affect U.S. policy: Do not seek to “deny the bastions.” It’s an astonishingly bad idea.

Did it really take the Chernobyl disaster to bring enlightenment to Soviet leaders? Haven’t Russian leaders been blessed with the same enlightenment, given the relative weakness of Russian forces vis-a-vis those of the USSR? Assuming that Russian leaders are enlightened about the futility of holding a reserve of SSBNs, why does my correspondent (among others) believe that it is dangerous for the United States to threaten the reserve by peacetime pronouncements that a mission of the U.S. Navy is to conduct antisubmarine warfare operations (strategic ASW) against Russia’s SSBNs?

Soviet leaders must known for a long time before the Chernobyl disaster that a nuclear exchange involving more than few weapons would result in vast destruction, radiation sickness, genetic anomalies, and the poisoning of the land? Further, it was known that those effects (aside from destruction) would spread far from the blast site. There was (at a minimum) the evidence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the measurements that must have been made of the effects of above-ground nuclear tests, and theoretical estimates based on the known effects and the laws of physics.

If Soviet leaders understood all of that, what was the point of holding SSBNs in reserve and trying to secure that reserve by adopting the bastion strategy? Was it just to make Soviet leaders feel good, knowing (or believing or hoping) that in the event of a strategic-nuclear war with the U.S. there might be a piece of Soviet military might still standing amid the rubble?

A grim possibility is that Soviet leaders hoped that a strategic-nuclear exchange with the U.S. would end in a standoff. Both homelands would have been devastated, but Soviet leaders (or what was left of them) would still possess a “trump card” — a deterrent against U.S. leaders’ use of the remainder of U.S. strategic forces. Thus the standoff. The result of the standoff would have been the survival of a skeleton crew of the Soviet state apparatus. But that is quite a different thing than the survival of the Soviet state — if by state is meant a mostly intact USSR under the control of a mostly intact state apparatus.

A less cynical view is that Soviet leaders (like U.S. leaders) couldn’t countenance a strategic-nuclear exchange and the resulting devastation. Moves to strengthen and harden strategic-nuclear forces, and to possess the means with which to defend against them and attack them, had one essential purpose, regardless of the ostensible purpose of each move. That essential purpose was deterrence of a strategic-nuclear war between the U.S. and USSR. Neither side wanted the other side to become confident about its ability to “win” by somehow devising a decisive weapon or strategy.

I see the peacetime actions of the U.S. — including anti-bastion pronouncements and exercises — in that light, and not as destabilizing threats. There is an existence proof of my thesis: Despite a few close calls, nuclear stability has persisted between the U.S. and USSR/Russia for several decades.

Given all of this, I conclude that the experience of Chernobyl served as a face-saving excuse for the tacit admission by Soviet leaders that the bastion strategy was (and still is) bankrupt. Mutually assured deterrence is what matters. It remains intact as long as neither side, for an unfathomable reason, unleashes a strategic-nuclear strike on the other side. It is even possible that the targeted power will not answer in kind, preferring to limit the destruction of its homeland to that which has already occurred.

Despite such considerations, my correspondent remains adamant that the U.S. should publicly renounce strategic ASW, to preclude the risk that Russian leaders will preemptively launch SLBMs in the event of armed conflict between the U.S. and Russia? He maintains that a strategic-ASW operation would have been risky but justified during the Cold War when, presumably, Soviet forces would have been winning on the ground. But nowadays, when Russia is relatively weak, a strategic-ASW campaign is riskier and unjustified.

In my view, there is no essential difference between the two situations. Here’s my analysis of the Cold-War scenario:

1. The Soviets are winning on the ground in Europe.
2. The U.S. launches a strategic-ASW operation, in that hope that the possible loss of SSBNs will force the Soviets to accept something less than victory on the ground (perhaps a rollback to the status quo ante).
3. The Soviets consider a preemptive launch of their SLBMs against U.S. cities, but that would result in massive nuclear retaliation against the USSR.
4. The Soviets therefore do not launch SLBMs (or any other strategic-nuclear forces), but do continue to move ahead on the ground because they understand that …
5. The U.S. won’t preemptively launch strategic-nuclear forces in response to the continued Soviet advance because to do so would invite retaliation from the Soviets (but not by Soviet SLBMs). This would cause vast devastation to the US, which is not a price that US leaders would (then or now) pay to rescue Western Europe from the Soviets (or Russians).
6. The Soviets therefore continue their ground offensive and do not launch SLBMs.

In sum, there would have been mutually assured deterrence.

How does the scenario play out today?

1. There is a ground war in Europe (I won’t speculate about its origin), which presumably isn’t going well for the Russians.
2. The U.S. launches a strategic-ASW operation in the hope that the threat to the Russians’ SLBMs will tie up forces that could be used against NATO sea lines of communication (SLOCs). (“Could” because there is good evidence that Russia doesn’t contemplate an anti-SLOC campaign.)
3. The Russians consider a preemptive launch of their SLBMs against U.S. cities, but that would result in massive nuclear retaliation against Russia.
4. The Russians therefore do not launch SLBMs (or any other strategic-nuclear forces).
5. Faced with the prospect of a loss on the ground, and the loss of at least some SLBMs, the Russians sue for peace and do not launch SLBMs.

Mutually assured deterrence rides again.

My correspondent pins his fears on the persistence of the bastion strategy, which implies (to him) the crucial importance (to the Russians) of preserving the SSBN reserve. But the persistence of the bastion strategy is attributable to bureaucratic inertia. It is a built-in feature of governments everywhere. It must be a central feature of the Russian government, which is a direct descendant of the rigid and oppressive bureaucracy that ruled the USSR for 70 years.

ADDENDUM

The notion of a ground war in Europe is a silly premise on which to conjure a nuclear confrontation between the U.S. and Russia. Not only is it unlikely that Russia would attack Western Europe (WE), but even if it did the U.S. has no vital interest in rescuing WE. The affinity between WE and the U.S. has all but completely evaporated since the demise of the USSR; the lack of affinity has simply become more obvious in the Trump era. NATO’s continued existence is mainly a product of bureaucratic inertia. There might be particular countries (e.g., Poland) that are worth defending, but I wouldn’t want the U.S. government to defend France or Germany. Those countries can well afford to defend themselves, and have been free-riding on U.S. taxpayers for 70 years.

Trump in the Polls: An Update

My diagnosis of “Trump fatigue” may have been premature. Trump’s standing, as measured in various polls of likely voters conducted by Rasmussen Reports, has rebounded sharply since the end of the partial and mostly inconsequential shutdown of the central government. That the shutdown diminished Trump’s popularity is just another indicator of the electorate’s irrationality.

The story starts here:

FIGURE 1
Derived from Rasmussen Reports approval ratings for Trump.

Lest you believe that the numbers in figure 1 are weak, consider this comparison with Obama’s numbers:

FIGURE 2
Derived from Rasmussen Reports approval ratings for Obama and Trump.

In this age of polarization, it’s hard for any president to routinely attain high marks:

FIGURE 3
Source: Same as figure 2.

The good news, again, is that Trump’s strong approval rating has been higher than Obama’s for several months, even during the recent “shutdown slump”.

Ratios of the ratios in figure 2 yield enthusiasm ratios: the strength of strong approval ratings relative to overall approval ratings:

FIGURE 4
Source: Same as figure 2.

Since the spike associated with the Singapore summit, Trump”s enthusiasm ratio has settled into a range that is comfortably higher than Obama’s.

Every week since the first inauguration of Obama, Rasmussen Reports has asked 2,500 likely voters whether they see the country as going in the “right direction” or being on the “wrong track”. The following graph shows the ratios of “right direction”/”wrong track” for Trump and Obama:

FIGURE 5
Figure 5
Source: Rasmussen Reports, “Right Direction or Wrong Track“.

The ratio for Trump, after a quick honeymoon start, fell into the same range as Obama’s. But it jumped with the passage of the tax cut in December 2017. It remained high after that, until the shutdown. The recent rebound suggests that the squishy center of the electorate is once again lining up with Trump, despite the incessant flow of negative “reporting” about him and his policies.

Stay tuned. And tighten your seat belts. The roller-coaster ride isn’t over yet.

The Fickle Electorate

The fickleness of the electorate is due mainly to what I call its “squishy center“. The squishiness has often spread far beyond the center, to engulf huge chunks of the electorate.

The maps below illustrate this by contrasting electoral-vote outcomes for successive elections in which electoral-vote outcomes swung wildly. The maps are borrowed from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Leip uses red for Democrat, blue for Republican, and green for third-party candidates. The color for each State indicates the party affiliation of the candidate who won the State’s electoral votes. The shading (from darker to lighter) indicates the width of the candidate’s popular-vote victory in the State (from landslide to squeaker).

1. William Howard Taft (R) won convincingly in 1908 — taking most of the States outside the “solid (Democrat) South“, but went down in flames in 1912. That election was won by Woodrow Wilson (D), mainly because of the Progressive Party candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt. TR took won more States (those in green) than did WHT.

1908

1912

2. Wilson easily won re-election in 1916, but disillusionment set in and Warren G. Harding (R) coasted to victory in 1920, losing only the “solid South” (minus Tennessee).

1916

1920

3. Another eight years and another romp, this time by Herbert C. Hoover (R) in the election of 1928. Hoover took a chunk out of the “solid South” because his main opponent was Alfred Emmanuel Smith (D), a Catholic New Yorker. Hoover, in turn, was trounced by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (D) because of the onset of the Great Depression during Hoover’s term  of office. (It is a widely ignored fact that FDR’s policies only prolonged the depression.)

1928

1932

4. Harry S Truman (D) won the 1948 election by a comfortable electoral-vote margin. It would have been more comfortable had not four States of the “solid South” succumbed to Strom Thurmond’s “Dixiecrat” (segregationist) allure. Dwight D. Eisenhower (R) turned the tables in 1952 by sweeping the electoral map outside of the “solid South” and even encroaching on it.

1948

1952

5. The election of 1964 pitted Barry M. Goldwater (R) against the incumbent-via-murder, Lyndon B. Johnson (D). LBJ’s incumbency and scare tactics were repaid by the electoral votes of all but Goldwater’s home State (Arizona) and some States of what was by then becoming the “solid (Republican) South”. You know the rest of the story: The rancor ignited by the Vietnam War and urban (black) riots led to a convincing defeat for Hubert H. Humphrey, the Democrat who ran when LBJ turned tail for Texas. The winner, Richard M. Nixon (R), would have won even more handily had it not been for the segregationist candidacy of George C. Wallace.

1964

1968

6. The electoral whipsaw effect intensified in the elections of 1972, 1976, and 1980. Nixon won the first of them in the most lopsided electoral-vote victory since FDR’s near-sweep in 1936. Dreams (or nightmares) of a Republican era were dashed by the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation. In the aftermath, James E. (Jimmy) Carter (D) handily beat Gerald R. Ford (R). Carter’s victory was due in large part to Southern voters who temporarily returned to the Democrat fold because Carter (a Georgian) was perceived as “one of them”, even though he wasn’t (by a country mile). Carter’s ineptness as president was duly rewarded in 1980 when Ronald W. Reagan (R) came close to sweeping all of the States. (He came even closer in 1984, when he lost only Minnesota, the home state of his Democrat opponent, and D.C. — of course.)

1972

1976

1980

7. The last of the wild swings (thus far) occurred in the elections of 1988 and 1992. George H.W. Bush (R) handily won the former election. He might well have won in 1992 but for the intervention of H. Ross Perot, whose third-party candidacy tipped the scales to William J. Clinton — in an eerie re-run of the election of 1912. Clinton, like Carter in 1976, was also helped by the perception that he was a Southern boy — thus his inroads into what by then had become the “solid (Republican) South”.

1988

1992

What will 2020 bring? I made a guess soon after the election of 2016.

All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill’.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

The next presidential election is just on the other side of the hill. God save America from a reversal of the last one.

Rules of Writing to Disregard?

THE NEW MATERIAL IN THIS POST HAS BEEN ADDED TO “WRITING: A GUIDE“.

Bill Vallicella, an estimable blogger-philosopher, with whom I almost always agree (and always respect) endorses Benjamin Dreyer’s “Three Writing Rules to Disregard“. Dreyer says some sensible things; for example:

A good sentence … is one that the reader can follow from beginning to end, no matter how long it is, without having to double back in confusion because the writer misused or omitted a key piece of punctuation, chose a vague or misleading pronoun, or in some other way engaged in inadvertent misdirection.

So far, so good. What about the three rules to be disregared? They are:

1. Never begin a sentence with “And” or “But.”

2. Never split an infinitive.

3. Never end a sentence with a preposition.

At my page, “Writing: A Guide“, I address only the second of Dreyer’s candidates for neglect. I will come to it in due course, after I size up Dreyer’s first and third candidates.

In the case of number 1, Dreyer sets up a straw person. It has been a very long time since a respected grammarian railed against the use of “And” or “But” at the start of a sentence. Wilson Follett says this in Modern American Usage: A Guide (1966):

A prejudice lingers from the days of schoolmarmish rhetoric that a sentence should not begin with and. The supposed rule is without foundation in grammar, logic, or art. And can join separate sentences and their meanings just as well as but can both join sentences and disjoin meanings. The false rule used to apply to but equally; it is now happily forgotten. What has in fact happened is that the traditionally acceptable but after a semicolon has been replaced by the same but after a period. Let us do the same thing with and, taking care, of course, not to write long strings of sentences each headed by And or by But.

That’s essentially Dreyer’s advice. Score one for Dreyer.

What about ending a sentence with a preposition? Bryan A Garner, a worthy successor to Follett, says this in Garner’s Modern American Usage (2009):

The spurious rule about not ending sentences with prepositions is a remnant of Latin grammar, in which a preposition was the one word that a writer could not end a sentence with….

The idea that a preposition is ungrammatical at the end of a sentence is often attributed to 18th-century grammarians. But [there it is] that idea is greatly overstated. Bishop Robert Lowth, the most prominent 18th-century grammarian, wrote that the final preposition “is an idiom, which our language is strongly inclined to: it prevails in common conversation, and suits very well with the familiar style in writing.”…

Perfectly natural-sounding sentences end with prepositions, particularly when a verb with a preposition-particle appears at the end (as in follow up or ask for). E.g.: “The act had no causal connection with the injury complained of.”

Garner goes on to warn against “such … constructions as of which, on which, and for which” that are sometimes used to avoid the use of a preposition at the end of a sentence. He argues that

“This is a point on which I must insist” becomes far more natural as “This is a point that I must insist on.”

Better yet: “I must insist on the point.”

Avoiding the sentence-ending preposition really isn’t difficult (as I just showed), unnatural, or “bad”. Dreyer acknowledges as much:

Ending a sentence with a preposition (as, at, by, for, from, of, etc.) isn’t always such a hot idea, mostly because a sentence should, when it can, aim for a powerful finale and not simply dribble off like an old man’s unhappy micturition. A sentence that meanders its way to a prepositional finish is often, I find, weaker than it ought to or could be.

What did you do that for?

is passable, but

Why did you do that?

has some snap to it.

Exactly.

Dreyer tries to rescue the sentence-ending preposition by adding this:

But to tie a sentence into a strangling knot to avoid a prepositional conclusion is unhelpful and unnatural, and it’s something no good writer should attempt and no eager reader should have to contend with.

He should have followed his own advice, and written this:

But to tie a sentence into a strangling knot to avoid a prepositional conclusion is unhelpful and unnatural. It’s something that no good writer should attempt, nor foist upon the eager reader.

See? No preposition at the end, and a punchier paragraph (especially with the elimination of Dreyer’s run-on sentence).

I remain convinced that the dribbly, sentence-ending preposition is easily avoided. And, by avoiding it, the writer or speaker conveys his meaning more clearly and forcefully.

Score one against Dreyer (and Garner).

Here comes the tie-breaker — the rule (or non-rule) about splitting infinitives.

Dreyer and Garner’s exemplar is “to boldly go where no man has gone before”, from the original Star Trek series.

What is wrong with “to go boldly”? Nothing. In fact, it makes more sense.

Why? Consider adjectives, which precede nouns in English. There’s no reason that adjectives couldn’t follow nouns (as in some other languages), but the English-speaking person has become accustomed to the adjective-noun sequence. It is “natural”.

By the same token, the verb-adverb sequence has become natural to the English-speaker. Thus, for example:

applaud loudly

bend sharply

caress softly

dance wildly.

And on and on. (There are cases in which the adverb more comfortably precedes the verb, but their occurrence doesn’t negate what follows.)

Why, then, should one say or write “to loudly applaud”, “to sharply bend”, etc., etc., contrary to the the natural practice? If it is natural to say “go boldly”, “to go boldly” is just as natural.

In fact, putting the adverb behind the verb emphasizes boldness, which is the intended effect. The Star Trek construction (and others like it) de-emphasizes boldness, contrary to the “inventive” writer’s aim.

What do Follett and Garner say?

Follett defends the occasional use of the split infinitive, but without getting down to cases. So, unusually for me, I will disregard him in this matter.

Garner defends the occasional use of the split infinitive, and gives examples of its proper use, in addition to the indefensible Star Trek usage. One example is “She expects to more than double her profits next year.” There’s something fishy about that one. Specifically, the verb in the sentence is “expects”, what follows (“to more than double…”) is an adjunct to the verb. It is a prepositional object (introduced by “to”), in which “more than” modifies “double”. The example, in other words, is irrelevant.

Garner offers other examples, most of which are either false (as above) or inferior to alternatives in which infinitives are not split.

In truth, there is a paucity of cases in which the best way to express an idea clearly requires the splitting of an infinitive. Thus the correct rule: It is rare that an idea can be expressed most clearly by splitting an infinitive; the practice is therefore wisely avoided, except by skilled writers.

Score another one against Dreyer, who is an infinitive-splitting absolutist.

The following quotation from “Writing: A Guide” should put a stake through it:

Consider the case of Eugene Volokh, a known grammatical relativist, who scoffs at “to increase dramatically” — as if “to dramatically increase” would be better. The meaning of “to increase dramatically” is clear. The only reason to write “to dramatically increase” would be to avoid the appearance of stuffiness; that is, to pander to the least cultivated of one’s readers.

Seeming unstuffy (i.e., without standards) is neither a necessary nor sufficient reason to split an infinitive. The rule about not splitting infinitives, like most other grammatical rules, serves the valid and useful purpose of preventing English from sliding yet further down the slippery slope of incomprehensibility than it has slid.

If an unsplit infinitive makes a clause or sentence seem awkward, the clause or sentence should be recast to avoid the awkwardness. Better that than make an exception that leads to further exceptions — and thence to Babel.

[Fowler’s] Modern English Usage [link] counsels splitting an infinitive where recasting doesn’t seem to work:

We admit that separation of to from its infinitive is not in itself desirable, and we shall not gratuitously say either ‘to mortally wound’ or ‘to mortally be wounded’…. We maintain, however, that a real [split infinitive], though not desirable in itself, is preferable to either of two things, to real ambiguity, and to patent artificiality…. We will split infinitives sooner than be ambiguous or artificial; more than that, we will freely admit that sufficient recasting will get rid of any [split infinitive] without involving either of those faults, and yet reserve to ourselves the right of deciding in each case whether recasting is worth while. Let us take an example: ‘In these circumstances, the Commission … has been feeling its way to modifications intended to better equip successful candidates for careers in India and at the same time to meet reasonable Indian demands.’… What then of recasting? ‘intended to make successful candidates fitter for’ is the best we can do if the exact sense is to be kept… [P. 581]

Good try, but not good enough. This would do: “In these circumstances, the Commission … has been considering modifications that would better equip successful candidates for careers in India and at the same time meet reasonable Indian demands.”

Enough said? I think so.

Democrat Values

Virginia’s Democrat governor, Ralph Northam, is under fire from Democrats for (perhaps) having harbored racist thoughts 35 years ago, when he was 25 years old. He is not under fire from Democrats for his recent endorsement of infanticide. That’s all you need to know about today’s Democrat Party.

The Shutdown Was a Plus for the Economy

The “non-partisan” (but pro-government) Congressional Budget Office has assessed the economic effects of the five-week partial shutdown of the government that started on December 22, 2018, and ended on January 25, 2019. According to CBO,

real (that is, inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter of 2018 was reduced by $3 billion (in 2019 dollars) in relation to what it would have been otherwise…. In the first quarter of 2019, the level of real GDP is estimated to be $8 billion lower than it would have been….

Although most of the real GDP lost during the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 will eventually be recovered, CBO estimates that about $3 billion will not be.

In truth, real GDP will rise as a result of the inactivity of government bureaucrats. By how much? Not a lot, relative to real GDP, which is measured in the trillions of dollars. But it will rise, as I explain in “Keynesian Multiplier: Fiction vs. Fact“, because there is a negative relationship between government spending and real GDP, other things being equal:

kT = ∆Y/∆F = -0.340Y0

Where,

kT = the true multiplier

Y = real GDP

F = fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels, including transfer payments (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid)

Y0 = real GDP in the period during which F changes

Even a slight decrease in government spending has an out-sized — and beneficial — effect on GDP.

The Constitution vs. Reality

D.W. Brogan, in his foreword to Bertrand de Jouvenel‘s On Power, writes:

It is a dangerous and idle dream to think that the state can become ruled by philosophers turned kings or scientists turned commissars. For if philosophers become kings or scientists commissars, they become politicians, and the powers given to the state are powers given to men who are rulers of states, men subject to all the limitations and temptations of their dangerous craft. Unless this is borne in mind, there will be a dangerous optimistic tendency to sweep aside doubts and fears as irrelevant, since, in the state that the projectors have in mind, power will be exercised by men of a wisdom and degree of moral virtue that we have not yet seen. It won’t. It will be exercised by men first and rulers next and scientists or saints a long way after. It was an illusion of the framers of the early American constitutions that they could set up “a government of laws and not of men.” All governments are governments of men, though the better of them have a high admixture of law, too — that is, of effective limitations on the free action of the rulers.

I must say, in defense of the Framers of the Constitution of 1787 (the one that is still supposed to be the “law of the land”), that they had no illusions about the men who sought and wielded the state’s power. See, for example, Federalist No. 10 (James Madison), Federalist No. 15 (Alexander Hamilton), Federalist No. 55 (Madison), Federalist No. 58 (Madison), Federalist No. 63 (Madison), Federalist No. 71 (Hamilton), and Federalist No. 73 (Hamilton). (Relevant excerpts can be found here.)

For all of their wisdom, however, the Framers were far too optimistic about the effectiveness of the checks and balances in their design. Consider this, from Hamilton:

It may … be observed that the supposed danger of judiciary encroachments on the legislative authority, which has been upon many occasions reiterated, is in reality a phantom. Particular misconstructions and contraventions of the will of the legislature may now and then happen; but they can never be so extensive as to amount to an inconvenience, or in any sensible degree to affect the order of the political system. This may be inferred with certainty, from the general nature of the judicial power, from the objects to which it relates, from the manner in which it is exercised, from its comparative weakness, and from its total incapacity to support its usurpations by force. And the inference is greatly fortified by the consideration of the important constitutional check which the power of instituting impeachments in one part of the legislative body, and of determining upon them in the other, would give to that body upon the members of the judicial department. This is alone a complete security. There never can be danger that the judges, by a series of deliberate usurpations on the authority of the legislature, would hazard the united resentment of the body intrusted with it, while this body was possessed of the means of punishing their presumption, by degrading them from their stations. While this ought to remove all apprehensions on the subject, it affords, at the same time, a cogent argument for constituting the Senate a court for the trial of impeachments. [Federalist No. 81]

Hamilton’s misplaced faith in the Constitution’s checks and balances is an example of what I call the Framers’ fatal error. The Framers underestimated the will to power that animates office-holders. The Constitution’s wonderful design — horizontal and vertical separation of powers — which worked rather well until the late 1800s, cracked under the strain of populism, as the central government began to impose national economic regulation at the behest of muckrakers and do-gooders. The Framers’ design then broke under the burden of the Great Depression, as the Supreme Court of the 1930s (and since) has enabled the national government to impose its will in matters far beyond its constitutional remit.

The Framers’ fundamental error can be found in Madison’s Federalist No. 51. Madison was correct in this:

It is of great importance in a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. Different interests necessarily exist in different classes of citizens. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure.

But Madison then made the error of assuming that, under a central government, liberty is guarded by a diversity of interests:

[One method] of providing against this evil [is] … by comprehending in the society so many separate descriptions of citizens as will render an unjust combination of a majority of the whole very improbable, if not impracticable…. [This] method will be exemplified in the federal republic of the United States. Whilst all authority in it will be derived from and dependent on the society, the society itself will be broken into so many parts, interests, and classes of citizens, that the rights of individuals, or of the minority, will be in little danger from interested combinations of the majority.

In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government. This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican government, since it shows that in exact proportion as the territory of the Union may be formed into more circumscribed Confederacies, or States oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated: the best security, under the republican forms, for the rights of every class of citizens, will be diminished: and consequently the stability and independence of some member of the government, the only other security, must be proportionately increased.

Madison then went on to contradict what he had said in Federalist No. 46 about the States being a bulwark of liberty:

It can be little doubted that if the State of Rhode Island was separated from the Confederacy and left to itself, the insecurity of rights under the popular form of government within such narrow limits would be displayed by such reiterated oppressions of factious majorities that some power altogether independent of the people would soon be called for by the voice of the very factions whose misrule had proved the necessity of it. In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good; whilst there being thus less danger to a minor from the will of a major party, there must be less pretext, also, to provide for the security of the former, by introducing into the government a will not dependent on the latter, or, in other words, a will independent of the society itself. It is no less certain than it is important, notwithstanding the contrary opinions which have been entertained, that the larger the society, provided it lie within a practical sphere, the more duly capable it will be of self-government. And happily for the REPUBLICAN CAUSE, the practicable sphere may be carried to a very great extent, by a judicious modification and mixture of the FEDERAL PRINCIPLE.

Madison understood that a majority can tyrannize a minority. He understood that the States are better able to prevent the rise of tyranny if the powers of the national government are circumscribed. But he then assumed that the States themselves could not resist tyranny within their own borders. Madison overlooked the importance of exit as the ultimate check on tyranny. He assumed (or asserted) that in creating a new national government with powers greatly exceeding those of the Confederation a majority of States would not tyrannize the minority and that minorities with overlapping interests would not concert to tyrannize the majority. Madison was so anxious to see the Constitution ratified that he oversold himself and the States’ ratifying conventions on the ability of the national government to hold itself in check. Thus the Constitution is lamentably silent on nullification and secession, which are real checks on power.

What has been done by presidents, Congresses, and courts probably will not be undone, except at the margin. Too many interests are vested in the regulatory-welfare state that has usurped the Framers’ noble vision. Democracy (that is, vote-selling) and log-rolling are more powerful than words on paper. Even a Supreme Court majority of “strict constructionists” probably would decline to roll back the New Deal and most of what has come in its wake.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was queried as he left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin responded, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

What we have got now is a mobocracy at war with itself, under the guidance of power-seekers who aren’t fit to empty the Framers’ chamber-pots. The Republic envisioned by the Framers is a thing of the past. Its empty shell survives, but perhaps not for long.

Wall Wondering

Democrats are for “the people”, right? So why did House Democrats reject pay for federal workers (many of them struggling to make ends meet), even as the shutdown continues?

For that matter, why are Democrats unwilling to put up $5.7 billion — a mere molecule of H2O in the vast sea of federal spending (more than $7 trillion per annum) — if government does such great things for “the people”? Think of all the “benefits” that are foregone because the Democrats oppose an expenditure that would add less than one-tenth of one percent to federal spending?

A border wall would help to protect Americans from an influx of criminals and welfare-spongers. Why don’t Democrats care about “the people” who are victimized by crime and higher taxes?

Why have so many Democrat politicians changed their tune about securing the southern border in just a few years? It must be something in the water they drink. The same thing happened with same-sex “marriage”, “medical” marijuana, and “rare” abortion. I guess that’s to be expected when their guiding principle is to irk people who remind them of their parents and teachers. (It’s called prolonged adolescent-rebellion syndrome.)

Is “the wall” the left’s Waterloo or the right’s Alamo? It could turn into Fort Sumter if Congress doesn’t fund it and the courts block emergency spending.

These are interesting times, to say the least. I hope to live long enough to see America restored to sanity, but I am not hopeful of that.


Related post: The Left and “the People”

It’s Them or Us

Apropos the left’s unhinged and baseless attack on the Covington kids, the Audacious Epigone writes:

They [leftists] are incorrigible. There is no reformation, only destruction -– theirs or ours.

Theirs or ours. Them or us.

As Christopher Roach puts it:

The intensity of the friction has led, in recent times, to the suggestion we may be on the brink of a kind of civil war.

One solution proffered from time to time is a peaceful separation. Observers on the Right and the Left have suggested that the rift is simply too deep and serious to be resolved, and that the mutual interest of everyone concerned would benefit by a divorce, whether deemed secession or an invigoration of local autonomy or something else….

A peaceful national separation is probably a good idea. But those on the Right must face the most important obstacle: The Left would never ever let us leave.

Leftism is not simply one opinion among many. For the Left’s votaries, it’s closer to a religion. It’s not enough that one is himself a vegan, drives a Prius, doesn’t own guns, rejects the traditional family, or anything else that goes with the lifestyle. It is essential that everyone else does so. Any deviations are “backwardness” and “divisive” or worse.

… All disagreements are pathologized as moral failings and psychological defects, labeled with pseudoscientific terms like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the rest….

For all the talk of diversity and tolerance among the Left, this tolerance extends mostly to things most of us do not want to do. Most men and women do not want to change their sex or marry someone of the same sex. Most of us do not intend to leave the country our ancestors built. So the Left gives us the right to do things most of us do not want to do—gay rights, immigration—but takes away things that used to be commonplace, like supporting a family on a single income or governing our towns and cities without having to beg for the imprimatur of a hostile judiciary….

A peaceful separation requires some mutual respect and concern for the flourishing of the other. The Left, like crazed primitives engaged in honor killing, would instead exact revenge and command forced association rather than allow a divorce. The Left would be embarrassed and discredited if their ideology were rejected by the group it is supposedly benefiting with the promise of diversity, equality, and progress. Nailing shut the exits is a deliberate part of the Left’s utopian quest for uniformity and expansive labeling of all of its opinions and policies as nonnegotiable “human rights.”

Withdrawal isn’t an option either, as Bruce Frohnen observes:

[Rod] Dreher has been writing a good deal, of late, about what he calls the Benedict Option, by which he means a tactical withdrawal by people of faith from the mainstream culture into religious communities where they will seek to nurture and strengthen the faithful for reemergence and reengagement at a later date….

The problem with this view is that it underestimates the hostility of the new, non-Christian society [e.g., this and this]….

Leaders of this [new, non-Christian] society will not leave Christians alone if we simply surrender the public square to them. And they will deny they are persecuting anyone for simply applying the law to revoke tax exemptions, force the hiring of nonbelievers, and even jail those who fail to abide by laws they consider eminently reasonable, fair, and just.

The left simply will not abandon its desire to dictate to “the people”. It’s for their own good, you see.

Keep your powder dry.

Ben Shapiro’s Fallacy

Ben Shapiro, arguing against the use of emergency powers to fund the border wall, says this:

Proponents of President Donald Trump would like to see power centralized in the presidency; antagonists of Trump would like to see power centralized in the FBI.

Trump’s allies seem eager for Trump to declare a national emergency in order to appropriate funds for a border wall….

It’s good that the legislative branch checks the executive branch, and it’s good that the executive branch must remain in control of executive branch agencies.

Here’s the easy test: How would you feel if the situations were reversed?

I must note, first, that Shapiro badly overstates the case when he asserts that Trump’s proponents ” would like to see power centralized in the presidency,” and that “antagonists of Trump would like to see power centralized in the FBI.” Trump’s proponents would like to see power exercised responsibly, and most of the Democrats in Congress (as well as many Republicans) routinely fail to do that. Refusal to fund the border wall, merely to thwart Trump, is just a current and egregious example of that failure. Those same Democrats want the FBI to have power only when it comes to Trump; otherwise, they would prefer to emasculate the FBI. Democrats’ embrace of the FBI is a matter of political convenience, not principled conviction.

Now for the fallacy, which is implicit in Shapiro’s question, “How would you feel if the situations were reversed?” That question implies the following syllogism:

It is bad for the executive to use emergency powers.

The use of emergency powers is dictated by precedent.

Therefore, if Trump desists from using emergency powers, a future president (even a Democrat) will also desist and thereby avoid doing a bad thing.

The syllogism is logically valid, in that the conclusion follows from the premises. But the conclusion is arguably false because a Democrat — an Obama, for instance — is unlikely to be swayed by precedent in the matter of emergency powers.

Judging the Justices: The Thomas Standard

I would be pleased no end if the Supreme Court consisted of Clarence Thomas and eight clones of him. It seems to me that Justice Thomas has been the most faithful adherent of the Constitution among all of the justices who have served on the Court since I became interested in its doings more than 50 years ago. Taking Thomas as the standard for constitutional judging, it is possible to grade some of the other justices who have served with him, including all of his present colleagues.

In “U.S. Supreme Court: Lines of Succession and Ideological Alignment“, I draw on the SCOTUSsblog Stat Packs to summarize the degree of disagreement among the various justices in non-unanimous cases during each of the Court’s past 13 terms. The use of non-unanimous cases highlights the degree of disagreement among justices, which would be blurred if all cases were included in the analysis.

Reversing the numbers, so that degree of disagreement becomes degree of agreement, and focusing on the extent to which other justices agree with Thomas non-unanimous cases, I obtain the following statistics:

Graphically:

The “trend” for Gorsuch would be worrying, except for its brevity. The truly worrying trend is Chief Justice Roberts’s greater inclination to part ways with Thomas since the 2011 term. I am not comforted by the current (2018) term’s first divided opinion. Thomas wrote for a 5-4 majority and Roberts was in the minority with Kagan, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor.

There’s not much to say about the Court’s “liberal” wing, except to note its egregious record, especially in the last three terms.

On the other side, Alito’s steadfastness, marred only by the peculiar 2015 term, is a comfort. I still have high hopes for Gorsuch — and Kavanaugh. If RBG would throw in the towel this year, the Court could still have a conservative majority even if Roberts goes full Kennedy (or worse).


Related post: The Polarized Court