Author: Thomas

An Addendum to Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare

I published “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare” almost six years ago. I must say that it holds up well. In fact, I wouldn’t change a word of it. It’s fairly long, and I won’t try to summarize or excerpt it, except to repeat the opening sentence:

This post could be subtitled: “Or, why the left — Democrats and so-called liberals and progressives — enjoy a rhetorical advantage over libertarians and fiscal conservatives.”

In a few words: Leftists have the advantage of saying the kinds of things that people like to hear, especially when it comes to promising “free” stuff and visions of social perfection. There’s a lot more to it than that. Please read the whole thing.

What I didn’t say then, but will say now is that leftists have another advantage: they’re ruthless. Unlike true conservatives (not Trumpsters) and most libertarians, leftists can be ruthless, unto vicious. They pull no punches; they call people names; they skirt the law — and violate it — to get what they want (e.g., Obama’s various “executive actions”); they use the law and the media to go after their ideological opponents; and on and on.

Why the difference between leftists and true conservatives? Leftists want to rearrange the world to fit their idea of perfection. They have it all figured out, and dissent from the master plan will not be tolerated. (This is very Hitleresque and Stalinesque.) Conservatives and libertarians want people to figure out for themselves how to arrange the world within the roomy confines of simple morality (don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t murder, etc.).

If Trump wins in November — a very big “if” — it should be an object lesson to true conservatives and libertarians. Take the gloves off and don brass knuckles. This isn’t a contest for hockey’s Lady Byng Trophy. To change the sports metaphor, we’re in the late rounds of a brutal fight, and well behind on points. It’s time to go for the knockout.

Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension

Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels), drawing on his experience as a psychiatrist who worked with prisoners, writes  about “The Gift of Language” in Not With a Bang but a Whimper: The Politics & Culture of Decline:

With a very limited vocabulary, it is impossible to make, or at least to express, important distinctions and to examine any question with conceptual care. My patients often had no words to describe what they were feeling, except in the crudest possible way, with expostulations, exclamations and physical displays of emotion.… Complex narrative and most abstractions were closed to them.

In their dealings with authority, they were at a huge disadvantage – a disaster, since so many of them depended upon various public bureaucracies for so many of their needs, from their housing and health care to their income and the education of their children.…

All this, it seems to me, directly contradicts our era’s ruling orthodoxy about language. According to that orthodoxy, every child, save the severely brain-damaged and those with very rare genetic defects, learns his or her native language with perfect facility, adequate to his needs. He does so because the faculty of language is part of human nature, inscribed in man’s physical being, as it were, and almost independent of environment.…

It follows that no language or dialect is superior to any other and that modes of verbal communication cannot be ranked according to complexity, expressiveness or any other virtue. Thus, attempts to foist alleged grammatical ‘correctness’ on native speakers of an ‘incorrect’ dialect are nothing but the unacknowledged and oppressive exercise of social control – the means by which the elites deprive whole social classes and peoples of self-esteem and keep them in permanent subordination.…

The locus classicus of this way of thinking, at least for laymen such as myself, is Steven Pinker’s book The Language Instinct.…

Pinker nails his colours to the mast at once. His book, he says, ‘will not chide you about proper usage’ because, after all, ‘[l] anguage is a complex, specialised skill which… is qualitatively the same in every individual… Language is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture,’ and men are as naturally equal in their ability to express themselves as in their ability to stand on two legs. ‘Once you begin to look at language… as a biological adaptation to communicate information,’ Pinker continues, ‘it is no longer as tempting to see language as an insidious shaper of thought.’ Every individual has an equal linguistic capacity to formulate the most complex and refined thoughts. We all have, so to speak, the same tools for thinking. ‘When it comes to linguistic form,’ Pinker says, quoting the anthropologist Edward Sapir, ‘Plato walks with the Macedonian swineherd, Confucius with the head-hunting savage of Assam.’ To put it another way, ‘linguistic genius is involved every time a child learns his or her mother tongue’.…

Children will learn their native language adequately whatever anyone does, and the attempt to teach them language is fraught with psychological perils. For example, to ‘correct’ the way a child speaks is potentially to give him what used to be called an inferiority complex. Moreover, when schools undertake such correction they risk dividing the child from his parents and social milieu, for he will speak in one way and live in another, creating hostility and possibly rejection all around him. But happily, since every child is a linguistic genius, there is no need to do any such thing. Every child will have the linguistic equipment he needs, merely by virtue of growing older.

I need hardly point out that Pinker doesn’t really believe anything of what he writes, at least if example is stronger evidence of belief than precept. Though artfully sown here and there with a demotic expression to prove that he is himself of the people, his own book is written, not surprisingly, in the kind of English that would please schoolmarms. I doubt very much whether it would have reached its 25th printing had he chosen to write it in the dialect of the slums of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, for example, or of rural Louisiana. Even had he chosen to do so, he might have found the writing rather difficult. I should like to see him try to translate a sentence from his book that I have taken at random – ‘The point that the argument misses is that, although natural selection involves incremental steps that enhance functioning, the enhancements do not have to be an existing module’ – into the language of the back streets of Glasgow or Detroit.…

Over and over again, Pinker stresses that children do not learn language by imitation; rather, they learn it because they are biologically predestined to do so.…

It is utterly implausible to suggest that imitation of parents (or other social contacts) has nothing whatever to do with the acquisition of language. I hesitate to mention so obvious a consideration, but Chinese parents tend to have Chinese-speaking children, and Portuguese parents Portuguese-speaking ones. I find it difficult to believe that this is entirely a coincidence and that imitation has nothing to do with it. Moreover, it is a sociological truism that children tend to speak not merely the language but the dialect of their parents.…

The contrast between a felt and lived reality – in this case, Pinker’s need to speak and write standard English because of its superior ability to express complex ideas – and the denial of it, perhaps in order to assert something original and striking, is characteristic of an intellectual climate in which the destruction of moral and social distinctions is proof of the very best intentions.

Pinker’s grammatical latitudinarianism…has the practical effect of encouraging those born in the lower reaches of society to remain there, to enclose them in the mental world of their particular milieu. This is perfectly all right if you also believe that all stations in life are equally good and desirable and that there is nothing to be said for articulate reflection upon human existence. In other words, grammatical latitudinarianism is the natural ideological ally of moral and cultural relativism….

…Everyone, save the handicapped, learns to run without being taught; but no-one runs 100 metres in ten seconds, or even fifteen seconds, without training. It is fatuous to expect that the most complex of human faculties, language, requires no special training to develop it to its highest possible power.

Pinker, whose fatuousness extends to a risible belief that human nature is changing for the better, has contradicted his thesis in “Why Academics Stink at Writing–and How to Fix It,” which is available here in exchange for your name, your job title, the name of your organization, and your e-mail address. How can a person who claims that ‘linguistic genius is involved every time a child learns his or her mother tongue’ turn around and criticize his academic peers for their general lack of linguistic genius? Pinker the linguistic theorist is wrong; Pinker the critic of bloated, impenetrable prose is right,

As Dalrymple suggests, Pinker’s linguistic latitudinarianism gives aid and comfort to the moral and cultural relativists of the left. Almost nothing, it seems, is beneath a leftist’s condescension; if it’s inferior it’s praiseworthy.

This pattern fits my version of Arnold Klng’s three-axis model, in which I characterize the leftist (“progressive”) axis: privileged-underprivileged. As I say in “Another Look at Political Labels,”

Privilege, for Ps [“progressives”], implies that the possessors of certain positive attributes (high intelligence, good looks, high income, access to political power) have come by those things undeservedly, and even at the expense of those who lack them: the underprivileged. Ps believe implicitly in a state of nature wherein everyone would have equal endowments of intelligence, looks, etc., if only it weren’t for “bad luck.” Ps believe it necessary to use the power of government to alleviate (if not eliminate) unequal endowments and to elevate the “victims” of inequality.

The left’s mantra should be “If it’s bad it’s good.”When a leftist praises or defends something, it’s a good sign that it’s substandard in morality or quality.

About Those High-Ranking Shills

In the midst of a funny post about the likely failure of an attempted military coup to keep Obama in office, Kurt Schlichter makes this observation:

The problem for Obama is that a significant portion of the most important element, the military, has nothing but contempt for him.

That does not include the military’s senior leadership. The sorry spectacle of senior officers slavishly going along with troop-imperiling idiocy like transsexual integration instead of throwing their stars on the table and walking out is a disgrace. So a significant number of generals would be intimidated into doing whatever Obama asks – if they can’t tell him that “No, America’s greatest strategic challenge is not slightly warmer weather,” then they haven’t the intestinal fortitude to tell him “No, I’m not putting a mech battalion on Capitol Hill.”

As I’ve pointed out before (e.g., here), a pro-liberty coup is unlikely, even if it might be the only way of restoring liberty to the land:

Military personnel (careerists, in particular) are disciplined, have direct access to the tools of power, and many of them are trained in clandestine operations. Therefore, a cadre of properly motivated careerists might possess the wherewithal necessary to seize power. But a plot to undertake a coup is easily betrayed. (Among other things, significant numbers of high-ranking officers are shills for the regulatory-welfare state.) And a coup, if successful, might deliver us from a relatively benign despotism into a decidedly malign despotism.

But unless there is a negotiated partition of the country — perhaps in response to a serious secession movement — a coup is probably the only hope for the restoration of liberty under a government that is true to the Constitution.

The alternative is a continuation of America’s descent into despotism, which — as many Americans already know — is no longer the “soft” despotism foreseen by Tocqueville.

It shouldn’t be surprising that many high-ranking officers become shills for the regulatory-welfare state. Military life demands a high degree of conformity, and academy graduates are drilled in conformity from the moment that they become plebes. And from then until they die, they are paid employees and pensioners of the state.

It takes great strength of character for a careerist to distinguish between the real Constitution that he is sworn to uphold and the statist dogmas that have replaced it. I have known such persons. But I have known, and know of, too many of the other kind — the line-toers and authority-fetishists whose allegiance is to a “system” and not to liberty.

Another Look at Political Labels

Arnold Klng’s three-axis model is a good place to start:

My model of political language is that it is driven by heuristics. The standard definition of a heuristic is that it is an aid to learning or problem-solving. I think of heuristics as mental shortcuts.…

…I claim that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians each use a different heuristic. Because they use different heuristics, they speak different languages.Each heuristic sets up an axis of favorable and unfavorable. Ps [progressives] use the heuristic of the oppressed-oppressor axis. Ps view most favorably those groups who can be regarded as oppressed or standing with the oppressed. They view most unfavorably those groups who can be regarded as oppressors. Cs [conservatives] use the heuristic of the civilization-barbarism axis. Cs view most favorably the institutions that they believe constrain and guide people toward civilized behavior, and they view most unfavorably those people who they see as trying to tear down such institutions. Ls [libertarians] use the heuristic of the freedom-coercion axis. Ls view most favorably those who defer to decisions that are made on the basis of personal choice and voluntary agreement, and they view most unfavorably those people who favor government interventions that restrict personal choice.

For the sake of grammatical consistency and accuracy, I would use characterize the three axes as follows:

  • Ps — privileged-underprivileged
  • Cs — civilized-barbaric
  • Ls — free-oppressed.

How Ps Think

Privilege, for Ps, implies that the possessors of certain positive attributes (high intelligence, good looks, high income, access to political power) have come by those things undeservedly, and even at the expense of those who lack them: the underprivileged. Ps believe implicitly in a state of nature wherein everyone would have equal endowments of intelligence, looks, etc., if only it weren’t for “bad luck.” Ps believe it necessary to use the power of government to alleviate (if not eliminate) unequal endowments and to elevate the “victims” of inequality.

As Kling puts it elsewhere, “Progressives tend to believe that we just need the right leaders to bring out the good that is in everyone,” as if nature were subject to the dictates of government. Thus the push for the “living wage,” “affordable housing,” “free” college education, access to the restroom of one’s choice, and the suppression of uncomfortable ideas that reflect traditional mores and morals — and the facts of life (e.g., gender isn’t “assigned,” it just is). The realization of such desiderata justifies (for Ps) the power of government to nullify and override constitutional and social norms, including property rights, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of conscience.

How Cs Think

Cs don’t view endowments (intelligence, looks, etc.) as matters of luck; they just are, and no blame attaches to anyone for his endowments or lack of them. Cs recognize “bad luck,” but only as a transitory phenomenon from which its recipients can rebound — with the voluntary help of family, friends, and other members of their (true) society — if they adhere to traditional mores and morals, that is, behave civilly.

Civility is manifested in three essential traits: respect for others (including their rightful possessions), self-reliance, and self-control. As Kling puts it elsewhere, “Conservatives tend to believe that we need traditional institutions and restraints to control the evil impulses that are in everyone.” Cs  view economic cooperation as part and parcel of social comity, which requires civility and is damaged by the divisive identity politics fostered by Ps.

Privilege, for Cs, is the status or wealth that accrues to a person who has earned it through self-reliance and self-control, while being respectful of others. That kind of privilege is earned, and it doesn’t come at the expense of others. Cs, unlike Ps, don’t view the world as a zero-sum game, in which someone’s “good luck” somehow causes “bad luck” for others. Rather, Cs view persistent “bad luck” as arising in large part from a lack of self-reliance and self-control. Such behavior, to Cs, is barbaric and shouldn’t be countenanced, let alone encouraged as it is by the unrealistic worldview of Ps.

How Ls Think

Ls are like Cs in the value that they place on respect for others, self-reliance, and self-control. But Ls are more sanguine than Cs about the distribution of those traits, and they see traditional mores and morals as unnecessarily burdensome. Ls believe that the world would be a more prosperous and happier place if people were free of the governmental restraints that deny them the full exercise of their powers. As Kling puts it elsewhere, “Libertarians tend to believe that we just need smaller government to bring out the good that is in everyone.”

Ls and Ps Compared

Most Ls and Ps adhere to traditional mores and morals themselves, but nevertheless view some of those mores and morals as oppressive. Thus abortion and same-sex “marriage” are widely favored among Ls and Ps, and drug use one of their “victimless” crimes.

Most Ls, unlike Ps, would refrain from using the power of government to adjust economic inequalities, except to remedy “crony capitalism” and perhaps to replace a host of welfare programs with a simpler income guarantee. Many Ls also favor government actions meant to attain “equality” (e.g., public-accommodation laws), even though such actions actually restrict freedom.

Ls, in other words, are selective in their abhorrence of government action. And Ls are like Ps in that they presume to know precisely how to rearrange the social and economic order to make everyone happier.

Introducing Os

Ps, Cs, and Ls — persons who actually have the somewhat coherent views sketched above — are in the vast minority of Americans. To the extent that the views of Ps, Cs, or Ls hold sway, it is because of the backing of non-philosophical citizens whose votes and influence tip the balance in favor of one philosophy or another. I will call them Others (Os).

Why Ps Usually Prevail

Ps have a great advantage over Cs and Ls when it comes to attracting supporters among the Os. There are all of the “free” goodies, of course, and the various “equality” policies that attract identity groups and people whose self-esteem is boosted by thinking and saying “nice” things.

The economic and social effects of the progressive agenda are only indirectly and slowly realized through stagnation and moral decay, and so Ps need not fear the wrath of voters for the consequences of their policies. In fact, every dire consequence of government action (e.g., economic stagnation, reduced labor-force participation, rising medical costs, higher housing costs, financial crises) is seen by Ps as a reason for yet more government action — and most of the Os go along with it.

Cs also have the disadvantage of being associated with groups who hate the groups that are privileged by Ps. The backing of such groups (e.g., “rednecks”) puts Cs on the defensive, and leads many of them to compromise with Ps in the (vain) hope of seeming “compassionate.” Calvin Coolidge was the most recent truly conservative president, and probably the last one.

Ls are just Ps who don’t offer “free” goodies. (The Ls who favor a guaranteed income are clear that it should replace other welfare programs, and despite that come under fire from other Ls — which is most of them — for their naive belief that guaranteed income wouldn’t be added to the other programs.) Further, when Ls insist that government should be smaller, they are attacking the god (or Santa Claus) so beloved by Ps and most Os. Ls, in other words, don’t stand a snowball’s chance of making a serious electoral dent.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Academic Bias
Intellectuals and Capitalism
On Liberty
Greed, Cosmic Justice, and Social Welfare
Positive Rights and Cosmic Justice
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Penalizing “Thought Crimes”
Democracy and Liberty
The Interest-Group Paradox
Parsing Political Philosophy
Inventing “Liberalism”
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
What Is Conservatism?
Utilitarianism, “Liberalism,” and Omniscience
Utilitarianism vs. Liberty
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
Negative Rights
Negative Rights, Social Norms, and the Constitution
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
The Near-Victory of Communism
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Accountants of the Soul
Rawls Meets Bentham
The Left
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
Our Enemy, the State
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
Positivism, “Natural Rights,” and Libertarianism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Golden Rule and the State
The Left’s Agenda
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
The Meaning of Liberty
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
The Left and Its Delusions
The Golden Rule as Beneficial Learning
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
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Merit Goods, Positive Rights, and Cosmic Justice
More about Merit Goods
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Defining Liberty
Conservatism as Right-Minarchism
The Culture War
The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Getting Liberty Wrong
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
Ruminations on the Left in America
My View of Libertarianism
No Wonder Liberty Is Disappearing
Academic Ignorance
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
The War on Conservatism
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
The Technocratic Illusion
Winners and Losers
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Society, Polarization, and Dissent

Let’s Have that “Conversation” about Race

Heather Mac Donald, guest-blogging at The Volokh Conspiracy, gets the ball rolling:

[A]s of July 9, whites were 54 percent of the 440 police shooting victims this year whose race was known, blacks were 28 percent and Hispanics were 18 percent, according to The Washington Post’s ongoing database of fatal police shootings. Those ratios are similar to last year’s tally, in which whites made up 50 percent of the 987 fatal police shootings, and blacks, 26 percent. (The vast majority of those police homicide victims were armed or otherwise threatening the officer.)…

Typically, activists and the media measure police actions against population ratios. Given that blacks are 13 percent of the nation’s population, a 26 to 28 percent black share of police gun fatalities looks disproportionate. But policing should be measured against crime rates, not population percentages, because law enforcement today is data-driven. Officers are deployed to where people are most being victimized, and that is primarily in minority neighborhoods.

In America’s 75 largest counties, comprising most of the nation’s population, blacks constituted 62 percent of all robbery defendants in 2009, 57 percent of all murder defendants, and 45 percent of all assault defendants — but roughly 15 percent of the population in those counties. In New York, where blacks make up 23 percent of the city’s population, blacks commit three-quarters of all shootings and 70 percent of all robberies, according to victims and witnesses. (Whites, by contrast, commit less than 2 percent of all shootings in New York City and 4 percent of all robberies, though they are nearly 34 percent of the population.)

New York City’s crime disparities are repeated in virtually all American metropolises. They will determine where officers are most often called to a drive-by shooting or an armed robbery, and where officers are most likely to face violent and resisting criminals — encounters which can lead to officers’ own use of deadly force.…

In 2015, the police fatally shot 36 unarmed black males, according to The Washington Post’s typology, and 31 unarmed white males. The Post’s classification of victims as “unarmed” is literally accurate but sometimes misleading. The label can fail to convey the charged situation facing the officer who used deadly force.

At least five “unarmed” black victims had tried to grab the officer’s gun, or had been beating the cop with his own equipment. Some were shot from an accidental discharge triggered by their own assault on the officer. One had the officer on the ground and was beating him on the head so violently, breaking bones and causing other injuries, as to risk the officer’s loss of consciousness. And one individual included in the Post’s “unarmed black male victim” category was a bystander unintentionally struck by an officer’s bullet after an illegal-gun trafficker opened fire at the officer and the officer shot back. If a victim was not the intended target of a police shooting, race could have had no possible role in his death.…

[C]ontrary to the Black Lives Matter narrative, there is no government agency more dedicated to the proposition that black lives matter than the police. The data-driven, proactive policing revolution that began in the mid-1990s has saved tens of thousands of black lives that would have otherwise been lost to urban gun violence had crime remained at its early 1990s rate. Unfortunately, those crime gains are now at risk, thanks to the false narrative that police officers are infected with homicidal bias.

(See Mac Donald’s subsequent guest posts, here, here, here, and here.)

Here’s the bottom line of my post, “Crime Revisited“:

[T]he following equation explains the rate of violent and property crimes (VPC) as a function of:

BLK — the number of blacks as a decimal fraction of the population

GRO — the change in the rate of growth of real GDP per capita in the previous year, where the rate is expressed as a decimal fraction

PSQ — the square of the decimal fraction representing the proportion of the population in federal and State prisons

ORA — the number of persons of other races [mainly Hispanics and Asians] as a decimal fraction of the population.

The equation is highly significant (F = 1.44179E-31), as are the intercept and the coefficients (p-values in parentheses):

VPC =

– 333768 (3.30579E-28)

+ 339535 BLK (1.06615E-29)

– 6133 GRO (0.00065)

-174136761 PSQ (1.00729E-15)

– 27614 ORA (0.0018)….

In sum, blacks are a major cause of violent and property crimes, which are reduced by incarceration.

Propaganda from Black Lives Matter to the contrary notwithstanding, law-abiding blacks — which is the majority of them — would be foolish to yearn for a cop-free world.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
“Conversing” about Race
Evolution and Race
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Evolution, Culture, and “Diversity”
The Harmful Myth of Inherent Equality
A Cop-Free World?

Quotation of the Day

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels), interview August 31, 2005

Questions for Mr. Obama

When you said that Trayvon Martin was like the son you never had, did you mean to say that you wish you had a son who was a thug?

When you said that the shooting of Michael Brown in self-defense “exposed a racial divide” did you mean to suggest that Michael Brown was right to attack a white police officer?

After the shooting of Philandro Castile, who seemingly was armed and disobeyed a policeman’s order, did you mean to indict all police by your statement that this is “an American issue”?

After the killings of five police officers in Dallas, did you mean to signal tolerance of such killings when you asked “if the divides of race in America can ever be bridged.”

Now, after the killings of three police officers in Baton Rouge, you have said unequivocally that “there is no justification for violence against law enforcement. None.” Will you back your words with actions? Will you go after the domestic terrorists who are plotting to commit similar acts across the country?

Society, Polarization, and Dissent

One definition of liberty is the “right or power to act as one chooses.” This seems to be the usual view of the matter. But it should be obvious that liberty depends on restraint. Acting as one chooses covers a lot of ground, including acts that prevent others from doing as they choose (e.g., murder and fraud). Liberty is therefore a matter of mutual restraint, where there are agreed limits on what one may do.

Society — true society — consists of people who, among other things, agree as to the limits on what one may do. That shared view isn’t imposed by regulation, statute, or judicial decree — though such things will arise from the shared view in a true society. Rather, the shared view arises from the experience of living together and finding the set of customs and prohibitions that yields peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior. Liberty, in other words.

Some of the customs and prohibitions of a society will seem arbitrary and foolish to an outsider. But it is the observance of those customs and prohibitions that binds a people in mutual trust and respect. Peaceful, willing coexistence and beneficially cooperative behavior depend on mutual trust and respect.

Customs are positive acts — the ways in which people are expected to comport themselves and behave toward each other. A good example is the degree to which emotion is openly expressed or suppressed, which varies from the reserve of Japanese to the exuberance of Italians. Consistent failure to observe a society’s customs brands one as an outsider, someone who isn’t to be trusted. Such a person will find it hard to make more than a menial living, and is unlikely to have friends other than renegades like himself.

Strict prohibitions are like those found in the last six of the Ten Commandments: do not dishonor your parents; don’t commit murder, adultery, or theft; don’t lie maliciously; and don’t covet what others have. (The last of these is dishonored regularly by “social justice warriors” who liken redistribution by force to Christian charity.) The violation of prohibitions calls for prosecution by those who have been entrusted by society to enforce its norms. Punishments — which will range from execution to public shaming — are meant not only to punish wrong-doing but also deter it. Rehabilitation is the responsibility of the wrong-doer, not society.

The United States has long since ceased to be anything that resembles a society. And therein lies the source of political polarization. Governance is no longer based on shared customs and a common morality that arise from eons of coexistence. Governance and the rules on which it is based are imposed from outside of society. Those who use “society” when they mean government are ignorant and evasive.

Those of us who remember something that resembled a society bitterly resent the outsiders within (to coin a phrase) who seek to impose on everyone their version of customs and morals. It is a corrupt version that has no roots in society; it is meant, instead, to destroy what is left of it.

The path to total destruction began in the late 1800s, with the rise of the Progressive movement. Progressivism then and now is corrupt at its core because it seeks to replace the evolved social, economic, and political order with “science.” Scratch a Progressive and you find a fascist with an agenda to be imposed by the force of government.

What is the legacy of Progressivism? This:

  • the income tax and Social Security, which together with a vast regulatory regime (also a product of Progressivism) enable the central government to control the economy
  • direct election of Senators, which robbed the States of a check on the actions of the central government
  • the Federal Reserve System, which helped to bring about the Great Depression, the Great Recession, and several other economic downturns
  • public education indoctrination by psychobbable-spouting leftists
  • identity politics
  • persecution and prosecution of business success (a.k.a. antitrust action)
  • control of the production of food and drugs, with consequences ranging from wasteful labeling regulations to murderous delays in the approval of medications
  • abortion
  • Prohibition (the only Progressive “reform” to have been rescinded)
  • left-wing economic theories (income redistribution, pump-priming)
  • the theft of private property and deprivation of freedom of contract through the empowerment of labor unions, which inevitably became thuggish.

There’s more, but that’s enough to bring down any civilization. And it has.

Perhaps — because of population growth and economic and political ambition — it was inevitable that America would be transformed from a collection of interlocking societies into a vast geopolitical entity ruled by Progressives and their intellectual heirs. But whatever the causes, the transformation is almost complete…

Except for those Americans who do remember something like a true society, those Americans who know instinctively what a true society would be like, and those Americans who want to preserve the bits of true society that haven’t yet been destroyed by the fascists in Washington, their enablers in the media and academia, and their dependents throughout the land.

That’s the real polarization in America. (As opposed to the false one between leftists at one pole and faux conservatives, who simply want to move left at a slower pace.) And the polarization will not end as long as dissent remains alive.

Which is why the left is killing dissent. First they came for the students; then they came for the Christians; then…

The Opposition and Crime

Heather Mac Donald reacts to

Obama’s extraordinary statement last week alleging systemic racism in American law enforcement. He was speaking in the aftermath of two highly publicized fatal police shootings. Viral video captured the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., as officers attempted to disarm him, and the aftermath of the shooting of Philando Castile during a car stop outside St. Paul, Minn.

Those shootings look horribly unjustified based on the videos alone; but information may emerge to explain the officers’ belief that the victims were reaching for a gun.

A few hours after…Obama made his remarks, the Dallas gunman assassinated five police officers, in a rampage that police officials later reported was driven by hatred of white officers and white people generally.

…Obama’s statement undoubtedly had no causal relationship to the Dallas slaughter. But it certainly added to the record of distortion and falsehood that has stoked widespread animus toward the police.

It bears repeating: Unjustified shootings by police officers are an aberration, not the norm, and there is no evidence that racism drives police actions.

Every year, officers confront tens of thousands of armed felons without using lethal force. According to the Washington Post, police officers fatally shot 987 people in the U.S. last year; the overwhelming majority were armed or threatening deadly force.

Blacks made up a lower percentage of those police-shooting victims—26%—than would be predicted by the higher black involvement in violent crime. Whites made up 50% of police shooting victims, but you would never know it from media coverage. Note also that police officers face an 18.5 times greater chance of being killed by a black male than an unarmed black male has of being killed by a police officer.

Indifferent to these facts, …Obama on Thursday, referring to the police killings in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, said: “[T]hese are not isolated incidents. They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.” He made another sweeping allegation of law-enforcement racism, saying that there “are problems across our criminal justice system, there are biases—some conscious and unconscious—that have to be rooted out.” And he claimed that higher rates of arrests and stops among blacks reflect police discrimination; naturally, Mr. Obama remained silent about blacks’ far higher rates of crime.

Such corrosive rhetoric about the nation’s police officers and criminal-justice system is unsettling coming from the president of the United States, but it reflects how thoroughly the misinformation propagated by Black Lives Matter and the media has taken hold. Last month Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissenting in a case about police searches, wrote that blacks are “routinely targeted” by law enforcement, adding that “Until their voices matter, too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

Hillary Clinton has also taken up this warped cause. On CNN Friday, she decried “systemic” and “implicit bias” in police departments. She also called on “white people” to better understand blacks “who fear every time their children go somewhere.”

Mrs. Clinton ought to take a look at Chicago. Through July 9, 2,090 people have been shot this year, including a 3-year-old boy shot on Father’s Day who will be paralyzed for life, an 11-year-old boy wounded on the Fourth of July, and a 4-year-old boy wounded last week. How many of the 2,090 victims in Chicago were shot by cops? Nine.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump emphasized “law and order” in a video released Friday, saying: “We must stand in solidarity with law enforcement, which we must remember is the force between civilization and total chaos.”

Given the nightmarish events of the past several days, Mr. Trump could do worse than making this presidential campaign one about that line between civilization and anarchy.

I am about to recant my opposition to Trump. Recent events remind me why the election of another Democrat to the presidency would be a deep disaster for the country. For one thing — but far from the only thing — Democrats have a penchant for seeing criminals and terrorists as victims, not as the enemies that they are.

As I wrote more than ten years ago, in the context of terrorism,

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

On our present political course, however, we will suffer grave losses before we get serious about winning that war. The Left (or the Opposition, as I now call it), seems insensitive to the danger that faces us.

And so it is with crime. The Opposition is just as feckless about law and order as it is about terrorism.

*      *      *

Related posts:
Black Terrorists and “White Flight”
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Left-Libertarians, Obama, and the Zimmerman Case
“Conversing” about Race
Stop, Frisk, and Save Lives
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Evolution and Race
Presidential Treason
“Wading” into Race, Culture, and IQ
Round Up the Usual Suspects
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Crime Revisited
A Cop-Free World?
Amen to That

Back to Baseball

In “Does Velocity Matter?” I diagnosed the factors that account for defensive success or failure, as measured by runs allowed per nine innings of play. There’s a long list of significant variables: hits, home runs, walks, errors, wild pitches, hit batsmen, and pitchers’ ages. (Follow the link for the whole story.)

What about offensive success or failure? It turns out that it depends on fewer key variables, though there is a distinct difference between the “dead ball” era of 1901-1919 and the subsequent years of 1920-2015. Drawing on statistics available at Baseball-Reference.com. I developed several regression equations and found three of particular interest:

  • Equation 1 covers the entire span from 1901 through 2015. It’s fairly good for 1920-2015, but poor for 1901-1919.
  • Equation 2 covers 1920-2015, and is better than Equation 1 for those years. I also used it for backcast scoring in 1901-1919 — and it’s worse than equation 1.
  • Equation 5 gives the best results for 1901-1919. I also used it to forecast scoring in 1920-2015, and it’s terrible for those years.

This graph shows the accuracy of each equation:

Estimation errors as a percentage of runs scored

Unsurprising conclusion: Offense was a much different thing in 1901-1919 than in subsequent years. And it was a simpler thing. Here’s Equation 5, for 1901-1919:

RS9 = -5.94 + BA(29.39) + E9(0.96) + BB9(0.27)

Where 9 stands for “per 9 innings” and
RS = runs scored
BA = batting average
E9 = errors committed
BB = walks

The adjusted r-squared of the equation is 0.971; the f-value is 2.19E-12 (a very small probability that the equation arises from chance). The p-values of the constant and the first two explanatory variables are well below 0.001; the p-value of the third explanatory variable is 0.01.

In short, the name of the offensive game in 1901-1919 was getting on base. Not so the game in subsequent years. Here’s Equation 2, for 1920-2015:

RS9 = -4.47 + BA(25.81) + XBH(0.82) + BB9(0.30) + SB9(-0.21) + SH9(-0.13)

Where 9, RS, BA, and BB are defined as above and
XBH = extra-base hits
SB = stolen bases
SH = sacrifice hits (i.e., sacrifice bunts)

The adjusted r-squared of the equation is 0.974; the f-value is 4.73E-71 (an exceedingly small probability that the equation arises from chance). The p-values of the constant and the first four explanatory variables are well below 0.001; the p-value of the fifth explanatory variable is 0.03.

In other words, get on base, wait for the long ball, and don’t make outs by trying to steal or bunt the runner(s) along,.

Trump vs. Clinton (6)

The graph at the bottom of this post, which shows Donald Trump well ahead of Hillary Clinton, is based on Scott Rasmussen’s poll of likely voters’ preferences in a Trump-Clinton race. (The report of Rasmussen’s most recent poll is here.)  Trump’s surge is echoed by the CBS News/New York Times poll, which shows a Trump-Clinton tie. Other, less-recent polls, still have Clinton in the lead. (See RealClearPolitics for the latest poll of polls.)

Scott Adams has a provocative take on Trump’s surge:

Trump’s biggest problem in this election so far is that most racists appear to be on his side. At least it looks that way to the public. That awkward perception allowed Team Clinton to brand the Trump campaign as the racist team. Clinton’s strategy of racial politics has been effective. I recently blogged that “crooked” beats “racist” every time, meaning that unless something changes, Clinton has the persuasion advantage.

But today we see in the polls that the candidates are effectively tied. What changed?

The biggest change is not the FBI’s decision on Clinton’s email scandal, although that is clearly part of it. To my eyes, the biggest change is that Clinton’s team just became the cop-killing side. At least that’s how it looks to our irrational minds. Your brain thinks cops are probably Trump supporters (true or not) while you probably see cop-killers as Clinton supporters (true or not). And that means the recent slaughter of five policemen in Dallas changed your mental equation.

Now it seems – to our irrational minds – that we no longer have a contest between crooked and racist. Now we have a contest between cop-killers and racists. And in that contest, the racists win. That’s because most folks see in themselves at least a little bit of racial bias, but almost none of us see ourselves as cop-killers. So identity politics now favors racist because the alternative is cop-killer. There aren’t many ways to make peace-loving racists seem like a good thing, but compared to cop-killers, they come out slightly ahead.

Adams is making too much of the “racist” aspect of Trump’s candidacy.

As of now, Trump vs. Clinton is a contest between law and order (represented by Trump) and criminal cop-killers (represented by Clinton and blacks, who overwhelmingly vote Democrat). If that perception holds, Trump could win, despite Clinton’s advantage in the Electoral College (go here and scroll down).

Now for the graph. Given the margin of error in Rasmussen’s poll (about 3 percentage points) and the possibility that a 51-49 popular-vote winner can lose the electoral vote, I would consider the poll indicative of the electoral outcome only if Trump or Clinton is favored by 55 percent or more of the respondents who opt for one of them. Trump is now at 54 percent, but there are a lot of voters who have yet to commit to either candidate (19 percent favor “other” or are “undecided”).

Trump vs. Clinton

Equal Protection in Principle and Practice

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: Enact a law that’s otherwise constitutional and apply that law. Thus each State has laws about the age at which a person may drink alcohol, drive a motor vehicle, and wed. Those laws (like other ones since superseded by judicial fiat) arise from the constitutional power of each State under Amendment X to legislate on matters that aren’t in the purview of the central government’s enumerated and limited powers.

Here’s how it works when liberal judges get in the act: Devise a “right” that everyone “should” have — because the judges say so — and then strike down as unconstitutional laws that don’t convey that “right” to those who seek it.

Now that the Supreme Court has decreed that States may not outlaw abortion or restrict marriage to persons of the opposite sex, despite the long-standing power of States to do such things — which was understood when Amendment X was ratified — it is incumbent on the Supreme Court to dictate that all persons in the United States may vote, drink alcohol, drive, and wed when they reach puberty. Why? Because there are undoubtedly some “activists” out there who wish it were so. And the Supreme Court can make it so by giving pubescent persons the “right” to vote, drink alcohol, drive, and wed.

The Precautionary Principle and Pascal’s Wager

Reduced to its essence, the precautionary principle (PP) is this: Avert calamity regardless of the cost of doing so.

The thinking person, as opposed the the extreme environmentalist or global-warming zealot, will immediately and carefully pose these questions about the PP: What, specifically, is the calamity to be averted? How might it be averted? With what degree of certainty? What are the opportunity and monetary costs of the options?

Take death, for example. Most persons who are in good health (and even many who are in declining health) consider death to be a calamity. So, too, do their loved ones (usually). How, then, might death be averted, with what degree of certainty, and at what cost?

Death can be averted only temporarily. That is, death often can sometimes be postponed, but never defeated. So the question is how can it be postponed, and at what cost. Let’s take an extreme case of a man dying of a virulent cancer (confirmed by extensive tests and procedures) for which there is no known treatment, other than palliative care. What good will it do that man (or his heirs) to spend his fortune in search of cure for his disease? He will almost certainly die before a possible cure is identified and can be supplied to him. But in funding the search for a cure he would have followed the PP by doing his utmost to avoid the calamity of death, without regard for the calamity thereby visited upon upon his heirs.

In sum, the PP shouldn’t be followed in cases where:

  • there is nothing that human beings can do to avert the calamity, or
  • the cost of ameliorating the calamity is itself calamitous.

Extreme environmentalists and global-warming zealots are guilty of sub-optimizing. They focus on particular calamities, not on the big picture of human flourishing. Take global warming. It has been said many times that warming has many advantages, such as a longer growing season and a lower death rate (cold is a bigger killer than heat). It has also been shown that warming hasn’t been occurring as fast as projected. The over-estimation of warming is probably due to (a) overstatement of the effects of CO2 emissions on temperatures and (b) inadequate modeling that omits key factors. But the zealots remain undeterred by such considerations.

The only thing that’s saving humanity from total impoverishment at the hands of global-warming zealots is the ridiculously high cost of (probably futile) efforts to combat global warming. Shutting down coal mines is bad enough, though tolerable given the advances that have been made in the extraction of natural gas and oil. But there is little taste (except among well-fed elites) for shutting down factories, forcing everyone to drive battery-powered cars, shifting to high-cost and unreliable sources of energy (solar, wind, and hydro), forcing people to live in densely populated cities, and so on. And if all of those things were to happen, what difference would it make? Almost none.

Moreover, there is nothing unusual about the rising temperatures of recent decades, neither in rapidity nor level. As Bob Tisdale observes, during three global warming periods — 1916-1946, 1964-1993, and 1986-2015 —

there were similar observed changes in global surface temperatures. It’s tough to claim that the recent global warming is unprecedented when surface temperatures rose at a comparable rate over a 30-year timespan that ended about 70 years ago.

Second, climate models are not simulating climate as it existed in the past or present.  The model mean of the climate models produced for the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report simulates observed warming trends for one of the three periods shown in this post. Specifically, during the three global warming periods discussed in this post, climate models simulated three very different rates of warming (+0.050 deg C/decade for 1916-1946, +0.155 deg C/decade for 1964-1993, and +0.255 deg C/decade for 1986-2015), yet the data from GISS indicated the warming trends were very similar at +0.16 deg C/decade and +0.166 deg C/decade. If climate models can’t simulate global surface temperatures in the past or present, why should anyone have any confidence in their prognostications of future surface temperatures?

Third, the models’ failure to simulate the rate of the observed early 20th Century warming from 1916-1945 indicates that there are naturally occurring processes that can cause global surfaces to warm over multi-decadal periods above and beyond the computer-simulated warming from the forcings used to drive the climate models [emphasis added].  That of course raises the question, how much of the recent warming is also natural?

Fourth, for the most-recent 30-year period (1986-2015), climate models are overestimating the warming by a noticeable amount. This, along with their failure to simulate warming from 1916-1945, suggests climate models are too sensitive to greenhouse gases and that their projections of future global warming are too high.

Fifth, logically, the fact that the models seem to simulate the correct global-warming rate for one of the three periods discussed [1964-1993] does not mean the climate models are performing properly during the one “good” period.

Despite such reasonableness, global-warming-zealot proponents of the PP are not to be deflected. For theirs is a religion, which seems to take Pascal’s wager seriously. Here’s Robert Tracinski on the subject:

Do you freaking love science? Then you might be a big enough sucker to fall for a claim like this one: “Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.” Which was actually made by an environmentalist group called the Global Challenges Foundation and reported with a straight face in The Atlantic….

There is something that sounded familiar to me about this argument, and I realized that it borrows the basic form of Pascal’s Wager, an old and spectacularly unconvincing argument for belief in God. (Go here if you want to give the idea more thought than it probably deserves.) Blaise Pascal’s argument was that even if the existence of God is only a very small probability, the consequences are so spectacularly huge — eternal life if you follow the rules, eternal punishment if you don’t — that it makes even a very small probability seem overwhelmingly important. In effect, Pascal realized that you can make anything look big if you multiply it by infinity. Similarly, this new environmentalist argument assumes that you can make anything look big if you multiply it by extinction….

If Pascal’s probabilistic argument works for Christianity, then it also works for Islam, or for secular versions like Roko’s Basilisk. (And yes, an “all-seeing artificial intelligence” is included in this report as a catastrophic possibility, which gives you an idea of how seriously you should take it.) Or it works for global warming, which is exactly how it’s being used here.

Pascal was a great mathematician, but this was an awful abuse of the nascent science of probabilities. (I suspect it’s no great shakes from a religious perspective, either.) First of all, a “probability” is not just anything that you sort of think might happen. Imagination and speculation are not probability. In any mathematical or scientific sense of the word, a probability is something for which you have a real basis to measure its likelihood. Saying you are “95 percent certain” about a scientific theory, as global warming alarmists are apt to do, might make for an eye-catching turn of phrase in press headlines. But it is not an actual number that measures something.

Indeed.

Tracinski later hits a verbal home run with this:

This kind of Pascal’s-Wager-for-global-warming is part of a larger environmentalist program: a perverse attempt to take our sense of the actual risks and benefits for human life and turn it upside down.

If we’re concerned about the actual dangers to human life, we don’t have to assume a bunch of bizarre probabilities. The big dangers are known quantities: poverty, squalor, disease, famine, dictatorship, war. And the solutions are also known quantities: technology, industrialization, economic growth, freedom.

Global-warming zealots are usually leftists, and leftists claim to be upholders of science. Yet they cling to two anti-scientific dogmas: the precautionary principle and Pascal’s Wager. As Tracinski says, “global warming has become a religion with a veneer of science.”

Immigration and Intelligence

I haven’t written about intelligence since April 18, 2015 (here, third item). What’s on my mind now? This:

1. Immigrants to the U.S. are overwhelmingly poor and possibly (but not necessarily) below-average in intelligence.

2. The availability of immigrants seeking employment is a boon to entrepreneurs. Investments in capital (often modest ones such as lawn mowers and chain saws) can be turned into gainful employment for immigrants and profits for entrepreneurs.

3. The employment of immigrants is also a boon to American consumers, who are able to obtain some things more cheaply and some things that they might otherwise not be able to afford (e.g., fresh fruit, maid services, yard work).

4. Consumers should be indifferent about the origin of the labor that benefits them.

5. Taxpayers should care about the origin of labor only to the extent that immigration drives up the taxes because of state support for immigrants (e.g., schooling, medical care, welfare programs where citizenship isn’t a prerequisite).

6. Each taxpayer is also a consumer, and each taxpayer is therefore in a different position with respect to the net benefits (or costs) of immigration. But every consumer-citizen is likely to benefit to some degree because of immigration, though the benefit may not offset the rise in every consumer-citizen’s taxes.

7. Low-skilled Americans who have opted for the dole have no stake in the matter of immigration. If some low-skilled Americans lose jobs that they might otherwise have held, they aren’t “losers” any more than the wagon-makers who lost their jobs when automobiles come along. Voluntary economic change doesn’t have winners and losers — it takes arbitrary government interventions (e.g., minimum-wage laws) to create them.

8. Yes, government allows immigration, but the original intervention that created winners and losers is the one that restrained immigration. If it’s all right for a piece of fruit to move from Mexico to Texas, why isn’t it all right for a worker to move from Mexico to Texas? If it’s all right for a Californian to move to Texas, it is definitely all right for a Mexican to move to Texas.

9. So the only question is whether immigration imposes net costs on some consumers who are also taxpayers. And it’s an issue only because of government programs that allow immigrants to impose costs on taxpayers.

10. The real issue, for me, isn’t immigration, it’s government interventions that may encourage immigration (at a rate higher than the “natural” one) and subsidize immigrants. As usual, government is the problem, not the solution.

What does this have to do with intelligence? This post was spurred by a recent one at West Hunter by Gregory Cochran, “Our Dumb World.” Cochran’s post, combined with another one of his to which he links, can be read as follows:

  • There’s a strong link between the average IQ of a nation and its economic success. (True.)
  • Some things have skewed the relationship (e.g., the imposition of Communism), but the link is there nonetheless.
  • Mass migration from low-IQ countries (presumably Mexico and other Central American nations) to a country with a higher average IQ (e.g., the United States) will reduce the average IQ of the receiving country and therefore harm it economically.

I don’t buy it. For one thing, immigration — even immigration by low-skilled workers with (perhaps) below-average intelligence — can be a boon to the residents of the receiving country, as discussed above. For another thing:

Low-IQ immigrants do not reduce the productivity of high-IQ natives – any more than short immigrants reduce the height of tall natives. (See here for further discussion).

To repeat myself, the real issue is whether government action causes immigrants to impose burdens on natives that wouldn’t be imposed in the absence of government action. And to be clear, government action is any action that results in a rate of immigration which is higher or lower than would occur in the absence of that action (e.g., immigration quotas, implicit or explicit promises of government aid to indigent immigrants).

What about the political and cultural effects of massive immigration from south of the border? I am at the point of declaring that it doesn’t matter. The welfare state is so firmly entrenched in America that I really don’t expect it to be uprooted, except by non-electoral means. Mass culture is already so degenerate that it’s hard to see what could make it worse. And I have no reason to believe that, in general, Hispanics are more vulgar than American Anglos. (Just look at the prime-time TV lineup.) Those of us who prefer high culture can enjoy it without mingling with the hoi polloi.

I have been for years an opponent of illegal immigration. I am on the verge of changing my mind — something of which I am capable. My main reservation now has to do with the effect of mass immigration on crime, about which I can only offer conjectures.

Does Velocity Matter?

I came across some breathless prose about the rising trend in the velocity of pitches. (I’m speaking of baseball, in case you didn’t know. Now’s your chance to stop reading.) The trend, such as it is, dates to 2007, when the characteristics of large samples of pitches began to be recorded. (The statistics are available here.) What does the trend look like? The number of pitchers in the samples varies from 77 to 94 per season. I computed three trends for the velocity of fastballs: one for the top 50 pitchers in each season, one for the top 75 pitchers in each season, and one for each season’s full sample:

Pitching velocity trends

Assuming that the trend is real, what difference does it make to the outcome of play? To answer that question I looked at the determinants of runs allowed per 9 innings of play from 1901 through 2015, drawing on statistics available at Baseball-Reference.com. I winnowed the statistics to obtain three equations with explanatory variables that pass the sniff test:*

  • Equation 5 covers the post-World War II era (1946-2015). I used it for backcast estimates of runs allowed in each season from 1901 through 1945.
  • Equation 7 covers the entire span from 1901 through 2015.
  • Equation 8 covers the pre-war era (1901-1940). I used it to forecast estimates of runs allowed in each season from 1941 through 2015.

This graph shows the accuracy of each equation:

Estimation errors as perentage of runs allowed

Equation 7, even though it spans vastly different baseball eras, is as good as or better than equations 5 and 8, even though they’re tailored to their eras. Here’s equation 7:

RA9 = -5.01 + H9(0.67) + HR9(0.73) + BB9(0.32) + E9(0.60) + WP9(0.69) + HBP9(0.51) + PAge(0.03)

Where 9 stands for “per 9 innings” and
RA = runs allowed
H = hits allowed
HR = home runs allowed
BB = bases on balls allowed
E = errors committed
WP = wild pitches
HBP = batters hit by pitches
PAge = average age of pitchers

The adjusted r-squared of the equation is 0.988; the f-value is 7.95E-102 (a microscopically small probability that the equation arises from chance). See the first footnote regarding the p-values of the explanatory variables.

What does this have to do with velocity? Let’s say that velocity increased by 1 mile an hour between 2007 and 2015 (see chart above). The correlations for 2007-2015 between velocity and the six pitcher-related variables (H, HR, BB, WP, HBP, and PAge), though based on small samples, are all moderately strong to very strong (r-squared values 0.32 to 0.83). The combined effects of an increase in velocity of 1 mile an hour on those six variables yield an estimated decrease in RA9 of 0.74. The actual decrease from 2007 to 2015, 0.56, is close enough that I’m inclined to give a lot of credit to the rise in velocity.**

What about the long haul? Pitchers have been getting bigger and stronger — and probably faster — for decades. The problem is that a lot of other things have been changing for decades: the baseball, gloves, ballparks, the introduction of night games, improvements in lighting, an influx of black and Latin players, variations in the size of the talent pool relative to the number of major-league teams, the greater use of relief pitchers generally and closers in particular, the size and strength of batters, the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and so on. Though I would credit the drop in RA9 to a rise in velocity over a brief span of years — during which the use of PEDs probably declined dramatically — I won’t venture a conclusion about the long haul.
_________
* I looked for equations where explanatory variables have intuitively correct signs (e.g., runs allowed should be positively related to walks) and low p-values (i.e., low probability of inclusion by chance). The p-values for the variables in equation 5 are all below 0.01; for equation 7 the p-values all are below 0.001. In the case of equation 8, I accepted two variables with p-values greater than 0.01 but less than 0.10.

** It’s also suggestive that the relationship between velocity and the equation 7 residuals for 2007-2015 is weak and statistically insignificant. This could mean that the effects of velocity are adequately reflected in the coefficients on the pitcher-related variables.

The Yankees vs. the Rest of the American League

No one doubts that the Yankees have been the dominant team in the history of American League. Just how dominant? An obvious measure is the percentage of league championships won by the Yankees: 35 percent (40 of the 114) in the 1901-2015 seasons (no champion was declared for the 1994 season, which ended before post-season play could begin). More compellingly, the Yankees won 45 percent of the championships from their first in 1921 through their last in 2009, and 43 percent since their first in 1921.

Of course, not all championships are created equal. From 1901 through 1960 there were 8 teams in the American League, and the team with the best winning percentage in a season was the league’s champion for that season. The same arrangement prevailed during 1961-1968, when there were 10 teams in the league. After that there were two 6-team divisions (1969-1976), two 7-team divisions (1997-1993), three divisions of 5, 5, and 4 teams each (1994-2012), and three 5-team divisions (2013 to the present).

Since the creation of divisions, league champions have been determined by post-season playoffs involving division champions and, since 1994, wild-card teams (one such team in 1994-2011 and two such teams since 2012). Post-season playoffs often result in the awarding of the league championship to a team that didn’t have the best record in that season. (See this post, for example.) A division championship, on the other hand, is (by definition) awarded to the team with the division’s best record in that season.

Here’s how I’ve dealt with this mess:

The team with the league’s best record in 1901-1960 gets credit for 1 championship (pennant).

The team with the league’s best record in 1961-1968 gets credit for 1.25 pennants because the league had 1.25 (10/8) as many teams in 1961-1968 than in 1901-1960.

Similarly, the team with the best record in its division from 1969-2015 gets credit for the number of teams in its division divided by 8. Thus a division winner in the era of 6-team divisions gets credit for 0.750 (6/8) pennant; a division winner in the era of 7-team divisions gets credit for 0.875 (7/8) pennant,; and a division winner in the era of 4-team and 5-team divisions gets credit for 0.500 (4/8) pennant or 0.625 (5/8) pennant.

The Yankees, for example,won 25 pennants in 1901-1960, each valued at 1; 4 pennants in 1961-1968, each valued at 1.25; a division championship in 1969-1976, valued at 0.75; and 14 division championships in 1977-2015, each valued at 0.625. That adds to 43-pennant equivalents in 115 seasons (1994 counts under this method). That’s 0.374 pennant-equivalents per season of the Yankees’ existence (including 1901-1902, when the predecessor franchise was located in Baltimore and the several seasons when the team was known as the New York Highlanders).

I computed the same ratio for the other American League teams, including the Brewers — who entered in 1969 (as the Seattle Pilots) and moved to the National League after the 1997 season — and the Astros — who moved from the National League 2013. Here’s how the 16 franchises stack up:

Pennant-equivalents per season

The Red Sox, despite the second-best overall W-L record, have the fifth-best pennant-equivalents/season record; they have had the misfortune of playing in the same league and same division as the Yankees for 115 years. The Athletics, on the other hand, escaped the shadow of the Yankees in 1969 — when divisional play began — and have made the most of it.

There are many other stories behind the numbers. Ask, and I will tell them.

Xenophobic Nativism

It’s rampant on college campuses, which are dominated by liberals who scorn Brexit’s “leave” voters as xenophobic, nativist rubes. For example, liberal professors outnumber conservatives 28-to-1 in New England. That’s no accident. And it isn’t the only non-accident in academe. See this, this, and this. (All are dated, which probably means that they understate left-wing control of most campuses and disciplines.)

Oh, there is a semi-bright spot, but it still leans left.

“Fairness”

“Fairness” usually is invoked when a person or group seeks special treatment — unfairness, in other words. Here’s what’s unfair:

Making Johnny share his toys with Billy when Johnny is having a perfectly good time playing by himself.

If Billy wants to be treated fairly, he should bring his own toys and refuse to share them with Johnny. Then they can bargain about which toys to play with jointly and which toys to trade, either temporarily or permanently.

Refusing to let Abby into college because a less-qualified candidate happens to have darker skin than Abby, and there aren’t “enough” darker-skinned students.

If only there were more darker-skinned students, college authorities say, they would feel more secure and mingle with white students, thus giving the white students a broader “life experience.” How many more darker-skinned students? Well, there’s no magic number, the college must continue to prefer less-qualified darker-skinned students over white ones until mingling magically occurs. In any event, mingling is unlikely to be fostered by raising the dark-to-white ratio, though when the ratio gets large enough a certain kind of mingling will occur: Mobs of dark students will start to give the white ones some “life experience” by attacking them.

Taking money from Jack and giving it to Joe because Joe doesn’t earn “enough.”

Joe doesn’t earn much money, relative to Jack, for one or more of several reasons: Joe is dumber, lazier, less well-educated, less well-connected, or less lucky. But Jack didn’t cause Joe’s dumbness, laziness, lack of education, lack of connections, or unluckiness. Why is it “fair” to penalize Jack for things that aren’t his fault? Because everyone “deserves” a certain minimum standard of living? Who says so, a bunch of politicians who know that there are a lot of votes to be gained by spreading Jack’s money around? Jesus Christ was big on charity, but when government takes money from Jack and gives it to Joe, it’s not charity — it’s legalized theft.

Changing the definition of marriage because homosexuals want to be “married.”

For thousands of years it has been understood that marriage is a bonding of male to female. This definition seldom was so well understood and accepted that it was unnecessary to make it explicit until it came under attack. The attackers then claimed that it was “hateful” to make the definition explicit, and that persons of the same sex ought to be able to wed each other. So it’s “hateful” to defend a principle? Isn’t it therefore hateful to call someone hateful in defense of the principle that same-sex couples should be able to wed, even though the idea is relatively new and defies an understood definition of marriage that’s thousands of years old? In fact, it’s fair to call the shrill proponents of same-sex marriage hateful.

Allowing anyone who claims to “be” a female to use restrooms designated for women.

Do you know how to tell a female from a male? You don’t? Then you’d better ask your Mommy or Daddy to explain it to you — again. Do you claim to believe that a person’s sex is what that person says it is, even if the outward evidence contradicts that person’s claim? Perhaps, then, you will believe me when I say that I am God and will smite you for being such a ninny. Oh, you don’t believe me? Then why should you believe the tall, bearded fellow with a deep voice who barges into the “ladies” room and insists that he’s really a woman? Why does your judgment fail you in such cases? Because it’s only “fair” to the bearded guy to believe his story? But what if it isn’t “fair” to the real females who want privacy from prying male-like persons when they go into the “ladies” room? You’re not being fair, you’re just sticking it to “the system” because it gives you a thrill. As fads go, swallowing the transgender line makes as much sense as swallowing goldfish.

Not advising the prosecution of Hillary Clinton because “no reasonable prosecutor” would purse the case, after describing clear violations by Mrs. Clinton of an unambiguous statute.

That is unfair because, as the Director of the FBI admitted, almost anyone other than Mrs. Clinton (or another highly placed politician) would be prosecuted.

Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead

Prudence…will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations…reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.… [A]nd such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history…is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

Declaration of Independence
(In Congress. July 4, 1776. The unanimous Declaration
of the thirteen united States of America)

*      *      *

It is fitting, in this summer of discontent, to be faced with a choice between the spiritual descendants of P.T. Barnum and Lady Macbeth. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison are spinning in their graves, at high velocity.

The candidacies of Trump and Clinton are symptoms of the looming demise of liberty in the United States. There hasn’t been a candidate since Ronald Reagan who actually understood and believed that Americans would be freer and therefore more prosperous if the central government were contained within the four corners of the Constitution. (And even Reagan had a soft spot in his heart for Social Security.) Nevertheless, it is appalling but unsurprising that liberty’s end is in sight just 27 years after Reagan left office.

What went wrong? And how did it go wrong so quickly? Think back to 1928, when Americans were more prosperous than ever and the GOP had swept to its third consecutive lopsided victory in a presidential race. All it took to snatch disaster from the jaws of delirium was a stock-market crash in 1929 (fueled by the Fed) that turned into a recession that turned into a depression (also because of the Fed). The depression became the Great Depression, and it lasted until the eve of World War II, because of the activist policies of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, which suppressed recovery instead of encouraging it. There was even a recession (1937-38) within the depression, and the national unemployment rate was still 15 percent in 1940. It took the biggest war effort in the history of the United States to bring the unemployment rate back to its pre-depression level.

From that relatively brief but deeply dismal era sprang a new religion: faith in the central government to bring peace and prosperity to the land. Most Americans of the era — like most human beings of every era — did not and could not see that government is the problem, not the solution. Victory in World War II, which required central planning and a commandeered economy, helped to expunge the bitter taste of the Great Depression. And coming as it did on the heels of the Great Depression, reinforced the desperate belief — shared by too many Americans — that salvation is to be found in big government.

The beneficial workings of the invisible hand of competitive cooperation are just too subtle for most people to grasp. The promise of a quick fix by confident-sounding politicians is too alluring. FDR became a savior-figure because he talked a good game and was an inspiring war leader, though he succumbed to pro-Soviet advice.

With war’s end, the one-worlders and social engineers swooped on a people still jittery about the Great Depression and fearful of foreign totalitarianism. (The native-born variety was widely accepted because of FDR’s mythic status.) Schools and universities became training grounds for the acolytes of socialism and amoral internationalism.

Warren Henry is right when he says that

progressivism is…broadly accepted by the American public, inculcated through generations of progressive dominance of education and the media (whether that media is journalism or entertainment). Certainly Democrats embrace it. Now the political success of Donald J. Trump has opened the eyes of the Right to the fact that Republicans largely accept it….

Republicans have occasionally succeeded in slowing the rate at which America has become more progressive. President Reagan was able to cut income tax rates and increase defense spending, but accepted tax increases to kick the can on entitlements and could not convince a Democratic Congress to reduce spending generally. Subsequent administrations generally have been worse. A Republican Congress pressured Bill Clinton into keeping his promise on welfare reform after two vetoes. He did so during a period when the end of the Cold War and the revenues from the tech bubble allowed Washington to balance budgets on the Pentagon’s back. Unsurprisingly, welfare reform has eroded in the ensuing decades.

Accordingly, the big picture remains largely unchanged. Entitlements are not reformed, let alone privatized. To the contrary, Medicare was expanded during a GOP administration, if less so than it would have been under a Democratic regime…. Programs are almost never eliminated, let alone departments.

The Right also loses most cultural battles, excepting abortion and gun rights. Notably, the inroads on abortion may be due as much to the invention and deployment of the sonogram as the steadfastness of the pro-life movement. Otherwise, political and cultural progressivism has been successful in their march through the institutions, including education, religion, and the family.

Curricula increasingly conform to the progressive fashions of the moment, producing generations of precious snowflakes unequipped even to engage in the critical thinking public schools claim to prioritize over an understanding of the ages of wisdom that made us a free and prosperous people. Church membership and attendance continues their long-term decline. A country that seriously debated school prayer 30 years ago now debates whether Christians must be forced to serve same-sex weddings.

Marriage rates continue their long-term decline. Divorce rates have declined from the highs reached during the generation following the sexual revolution, but has generally increased over the course of the century during which progressivism has taken hold (despite the declining marriage rate). Those advocating reform of the nation’s various no-fault divorce laws are few and generally considered fringe.

There’s more, but disregard Henry’s reification of America when he should write “most Americans”:

Meanwhile, America has voted for decade after decade of tax-and-spend, borrow-and-spend, or some hybrid of the two. If the white working class is now discontented with the government’s failure to redress their grievances, this is in no small part due to the ingrained American expectation that government will do so, based on the observation that government typically hungers to increase government dependency (not that the white working class would use these terms).…

In sum, while it is correct to note that elites are not doing their jobs well, it is more difficult to conclude that elites have not been responding to the political demands of the American public as much as they have driven them.…

The presidential nominees our two major parties have chosen are largely viewed as awful. But Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offer two slightly different versions of the same delusion: that progressivism works, if only the elites were not so stupid. This delusion is what most Americans currently want to believe.

Sad but disastrously true. Dependency on government has become deeply ingrained in the psyche of most Americans. As Timothy Taylor points out,

[g]overnment in the United States, especially at the federal level, has become more about transfer payments and less about provision of goods and services.…

[There has been an] overall upward rise [of transfer payments] in the last half-century from 5% of GDP back in the 1960s to about 15% of GDP in the last few years….

The political economy of such a shift is simple enough: programs that send money to lots of people tend to be popular. But I would hypothesize that this ongoing shift not only reflects voter preferences, but also affect how Americans tend to perceive the main purposes of the federal government. Many Americans have become more inclined to think of federal budget policy not in terms of goods or services or investments that it might perform, but in terms of programs that send out checks.

What lies ahead? Not everyone is addicted to government. There are millions of Americans who want less of it — a lot less — rather than more of it. Here, with some revisions and an addition, are options I spelled out three years ago:

1. Business as usual — This will lead to more and more government control of our lives and livelihoods, that is, to less and less freedom and prosperity (except for our technocratic masters, of course).

2. Rear-guard action — This option is exemplified by the refusal of some States to expand Medicaid and to establish insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act. This bit of foot-dragging doesn’t cure the underlying problem, which is accretion of illegitimate power by the central government. Further, it can be undone by fickle voters and fickle legislatures, as they succumb to the siren-call of “free” federal funds.

3. Geographic sorting — The tendency of “Blue” States to become “bluer” and “Red” States to become “redder” suggests that Americans are sorting themselves along ideological lines. As with rear-guard action, however, this tendency — natural and laudable as it is — doesn’t cure the underlying problem: the accretion of illegitimate power by the central government. Lives and livelihoods in every State, “Red” as well as “Blue,” are controlled by the edicts of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central government. There is little room for State and local discretion. Moreover, much of the population shift toward “Red” must be understood as opportunistic (e.g., warmer climates, right-to-work laws) and not as an endorsement of “Red” politics.

4. Civil disobedience — Certainly called for, but see options 5, 6, and 7.

5. Underground society and economy — Think EPA-DOL-FBI-IRS-NSA, etc., etc., and then dismiss this as a serious option for most Americans.

6. The Benedict Option, about which Bruce Frohnen writes:

[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.

7. A negotiated partition of the country — An unlikely option (discussed in this post and in some of the posted linked to therein) because, as discussed in option 6, “Blue” will not countenance the loss of control over millions of lives and livelihoods.

8. Secession — This is legal and desirable — as long as the New Republic of free states is truly free — but (a) it is likely to be met with force and therefore (b) unlikely to attract a critical mass of States.

9. Coup — Suggested several years ago by Thomas Sowell:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

Glenn Reynolds, who is decidedly anti-coup, writes

that the American Constitution, along with traditional American political culture in general, tends to operate against those characteristics, and to make the American polity more resistant to a coup than most. It is also notable, however, that some changes in the Constitution and in political culture may tend to reduce that resistance….

The civics-book statement of American government is that Congress passes laws that must be signed by the president (or passed over a veto), and that those laws must be upheld by thejudiciary to have effect. In practice, today’s government operates on a much more fluid basis, with administrative agencies issuing regulations that have the force of law – or, all too often, “guidance” that nominally lacks the force of law but that in practice constitutes a command – which are then enforced via agency proceedings.…

[I]t seems likely that to the extent that civilians, law enforcement, and others become used to obeying bureaucratic diktats that lack a clear basis in civics-book-style democratic process, the more likely they are to go along with other diktats emanating from related sources. This tendency to go along with instructions without challenging their pedigree would seem to make a coup more likely to succeed, just as a tendency to question possibly unlawful or unconstitutional requirements would tend to make one less likely to do so. A culture whose basis is “the law is what the bureaucrats say it is, at least unless a court says different,” is in a different place than one whose starting impulse is “it’s a free country.”…

[P]ersistent calls for a government-controlled “Internet kill switch”49 – justified, ostensibly, by the needs of cyberdefense or anti-terrorism – could undercut that advantage [of a decentralized Internet]. If whoever controlled the government could shut down the Internet, or, more insidiously, filter its content to favor the plotters’ message and squelch opposition while presenting at least a superficial appearance of normality, then things might actually be worse than they were in [Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey’s Seven Days in May, which imagined an attempted coup by a Curtis LeMay-like general].…

[T]he most significant barrier to a coup d’etat over American history has probably stemmed simply from the fact that such behavior is regarded as un-American. Coups are for banana republics; in America we don’t do that sort of thing. This is an enormously valuable sentiment, so long as the gap between “in America” and “banana republics” is kept sufficiently broad. But it is in this area, alas, that I fear we are in the worst shape. When it comes to ideological resistance to coups d’etat, there are two distinct groups whose opinions matter: The military, and civilians. Both are problematic….

[T]here are some troubling trends in civilian/military relations that suggest that we should be more worried about this subject in the future than we have been in the past…

Among these concerns are:

  • A “societal malaise,” with most Americans thinking that the country was on “the wrong track.”
  • A “deep pessimism about politicians and government after years of broken promises,” leading to an “environment of apathy” among voters that scholars regard as a precursor to a coup.
  • A strong belief in the effectiveness and honor of the military, as contrasted to civilian government.
  • The employment of military forces in non-military missions, from humanitarian aid to drug interdiction to teaching in schools and operating crucial infrastructure.
  • The consolidation of power within the military – with Congressional approval – into a small number of hands….
  • A reduction in the percentage of the officer corps from places outside the major service academies.…
  • A general insulation of the military from civilian life…. “Military bases, complete with schools, churches, stores, child care centers, and recreational areas, became never-to-be-left islands of tranquility removed from the chaotic crime-ridden environment outside the gates…. Thus, a physically isolated and intellectually alienated officer corps was paired with an enlisted force likewise distanced from the society it was supposed to serve [quoting from an essay by Charles J. Dunlap, “The Origins Of The American Military Coup of 2012,” Parameters, Winter, 1992-93, at 2]….

[D]istrust in the civilian government and bureaucracy is very high. A 2016 Associated Press/National Opinion Research Center poll found that more than 6 in 10 Americans have “only slight confidence – or none at all” that the federal government can successfully address the problems facing the nation. And, as the AP noted, this lack of confidence transcends partisan politics: “Perhaps most vexing for the dozen or so candidates vying to succeed President Barack Obama, the poll indicates widespread skepticism about the government’s ability to solve problems, with no significant difference in the outlook between Republicans and Democrats.”

As a troubling companion to this finding, the YouGov poll on military coups…also found a troubling disconnect between confidence in civilian government and confidence in the military: “Some 71% said military officers put the interests of the country ahead of their own interests, while just 12% thought the same about members of Congress.” While such a sharp contrast in views about civilian government and the military is not itself an indicator of a forthcoming coup, it is certainly bad news. Also troubling are polls finding that a minority of voters believes that the United States government enjoys the consent of the governed.63 This degree of disconnection and disaffection, coupled with much higher prestige on the part of the military, bodes ill.

Or well, if you believe that a coup is the only possible salvation from despotism.

Military personnel (careerists, in particular) are disciplined, have direct access to the tools of power, and many of them are trained in clandestine operations. Therefore, a cadre of properly motivated careerists might possess the wherewithal necessary to seize power. But a plot to undertake a coup is easily betrayed. (Among other things, significant numbers of high-ranking officers are shills for the regulatory-welfare state.) And a coup, if successful, might deliver us from a relatively benign despotism into a decidedly malign despotism.

But unless there is a negotiated partition of the country — perhaps in response to a serious secession movement — a coup is probably the only hope for the restoration of liberty under a government that is true to the Constitution.

The alternative is a continuation of America’s descent into despotism, which — as many Americans already know — is no longer the “soft” despotism foreseen by Tocqueville.

*      *      *

Related posts (in addition to those linked to throughout this one):
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
The States and the Constitution
And many more here

Winners and Losers

Steven Landsburg has a provocative post. His point seems to be that those who focus on the “losers” from free trade “want us to conclude either that free trade is not a good thing, or that at the very least, the winners should compensate the losers.”

Landsburg continues:

This strikes me as an extraordinarily dishonest way of arguing, because pretty much nobody ever argues this way about anything else, even though every policy change in history has created both winners and losers. In fact, every human action has both winners and losers. When Archie takes Betty instead of Veronica to the ice cream shoppe instead of the movies, both Veronica and the theater owner lose out. It does not follow that all human actions are wrong, or immoral, or should be discouraged by law, and it does not follow that all human actions should be followed by compensation to the losers.

What I object to — aside from Landsburg’s habitual use of “us,” which suggests some kind of collective consciousness at work — is his unfortunate, if inadvertent, endorsement of the idea that every human action has both winners and losers. “Winner” and “loser” are terms that properly apply to persons who are engaged in some kind of contest or bet. The rest — which includes just about everything — is just life. Stuff happens: Veronica doesn’t go the movies with Archie; American steelworkers lose jobs; dinosaurs become extinct.

Except when government is involved. Government action changes the natural course of human events, the course that they would take in a society that is bound by shared beliefs, language, and customs (or norms). A government of a relatively small or close-knit geopolitcal entity may act in accordance with and reinforce societal norms, but the governance of the United States has long since become something else: a set of interlocking dictatorial regimes (federal, State, and local) bent on enforcing rules designed on high, sometimes with the intention of favoring specific groups. Those specific groups have something that the ruling caste wants: money, influence, and votes.

Government acts legitimately only when it does things that would be done by a cohesive social group. Self-defense is one of those things. When government wages war in defense of its citizens, it has a claim to legitimacy — though the soundness of the claim depends on the necessity of the war and the skill and efficiency with which it is waged. When government executes murderers it legitimately exacts justice and deters more murders — though the soundness of the claim depends on the swiftness and fairness with which executions occur. A foreign enemy isn’t a loser, he’s an enemy. An executed murderer isn’t a loser, he’s a recipient of justice.

But beyond defense, justice, and the even-handed representation of Americans’ interests in foreign capitals, there is nothing that government can claim as a legitimate function. Government’s forays into welfare, for example, are destructive of private charity and go far beyond what a well-functioning social group would allow, in that they discourage work and saving. Social Security and Medicare, for example, don’t just mimic private charity toward the poorest and sickest of the elderly population, they benefit even the the wealthiest and healthiest of Americans. Social Security benefits and the market value of Medicare (as insurance) can easily raise a retired couple’s effective income from, say, $250,000 to $300,000 or $325,000. That’s not charity, it’s middle-class and upper-middle-class welfare. (I don’t mean to suggest that the wealthiest should be forced to subsidize everyone else; that’s a socially and economically destructive idea that I’ll not bother to discuss here.)

There’s much more to government than spending, of course, There’s also the vast web of regulations that has been spun by government at all levels. Regulations alter the course of social and economic intercourse, as they are meant to do. The justification is usually either “for your own good” or “for the good of group X.” In any event, social norms and incentives to work and save are subverted by those who believe, wrongly, that they can subvert those norms and incentives without inviting unintended consequences. The Great Recession, for example, was caused by regulation, not deregulation.

It has come to pass that many of government’s fiscal and regulatory interventions are rationalized as efforts to “level the playing” field and compensate “losers” for the “unfair” advantages enjoyed by “winners.” But such language masks a presumption that there are better social and economic arrangements and better outcomes — which, of course, are known to those who use such language. This is called the nirvana fallacy, the invalid comparison of imperfect reality to imagined perfection.

It therefore surprises me that Steven Landsburg, who is super-rational and a stickler for accuracy, would invoke “winners” and “losers.” To do so lends aid and comfort to the proponents of social and economic engineering.

It might be said, with some justice, that government interventions create winners and losers. But what those interventions really create are dependents and victims. The dependents are the tens of millions of Americans who rely on government welfare and government grants of privilege (e.g., affirmative action, regulatory protection from competition, subsidized loans). The victims are the tens of millions of Americans who pay directly for such privileges (e.g., high marginal tax rates, regulatory infringements on liberty, suppression of free speech and association, theft of property rights), and the 300-million-plus whose income is far less than it would be in the absence of fiscal and regulatory interventions, which are damaging to economic growth.

A person who earns an honest living as an investment banker, baseball player, or movie star and makes millions of dollars a year isn’t a winner, in the proper sense of the word, he’s just being rewarded according to the value placed on his efforts by those who pay for them. A person who earns a pittance because he’s an illegal immigrant who can’t speak English and has no particular skills isn’t a loser, he’s just being rewarded according to the value placed on his efforts by those who pay for them. Veronica isn’t a loser because Archie prefers Betty, she’s just another beautiful girl who can probably land someone better looking and richer than Archie. The theater owner isn’t a loser because Archie doesn’t take Veronica to the movies, he’s just another businessman who’s in the wrong business if the loss of two customers for one night is a big deal.

Let’s get real and quit calling people winners and losers when they’re not playing games or making bets. Let’s get real and start talking about those who are dependent on government and those who are its victims, which is just about everyone but the politicians and bureaucrats who feast at the public trough.

And, yes, I do mean to say that most of the dependents and enablers of big government are its victims. Such are the wages of social dissolution and economic ignorance.