This Is Objectivism? Another Sequel

I see that The Objective Standard has posted a review of The Rediscovery of America: Essays by Harry V. Jaffa on the New Birth of Politics. The reviewer is ambivalent about the volume, which collects most of Jaffa‘s writings in the final two decades of his life (1918-2015):

Harry Jaffa was perhaps the most philosophically astute of all American conservatives. His books, though often flawed, were studded with thought-provoking insights….

At last, a new book, The Rediscovery of America, gathers his often dazzling, sometimes outrageous, valedictory writings.

What does the reviewer like about Jaffa’s valedictory writings? This:

Jaffa called himself a “gadfly” because he criticized his fellow conservatives, especially traditionalists such as Russell Kirk and Robert Bork, who, as Jaffa proved, actually surrendered the principles they purported to defend. His attacks on those he called “false prophets of American conservatism” often were harsh, because he wisely approached philosophical disputes with grave seriousness and because he believed they had embraced the same fatal thesis that modern liberals had: “there is no objective knowledge of, or rational ground for distinguishing good and bad, right and wrong, just and unjust” (101). This obliterated the only ground—reason—from which justice or liberty could be defended.

But:

Jaffa’s effort to defend reason and freedom … was handicapped by his defense of religion (which he vainly tried to portray as rational) and his homophobia—a word sometimes abused but appropriate for Jaffa, whose ferocity toward those he insisted on calling “sodomites” was grounded in an irrational fear that homosexuality represented the “repudiation” of “all morality”.

Nevertheless:

Despite these flaws, Rediscovery often is enlightening and instructive. Jaffa’s essays display an intellectual depth lamentably absent from today’s conservatism. And for all of his errors, his insistence that the truths of the Declaration are not historical artifacts but timeless principles worthy of defending will make his best work last forever.

I am struck by the reviewer’s totemic invocation of reason. It must be an Objectivist’s “thing”, because there is a similar invocation in the inaugural issue of The Objective Standard that was the subject of my earlier post, “This Is Objectivism?”:

We hold that reason—the faculty that operates by way of observation and logic—is man’s means of knowledge…. Reason is the means by which everyone learns about the world, himself, and his needs. Human knowledge—all human knowledge—is a product of perceptual observation and logical inference therefrom….

In short, man has a means of knowledge; it is reason—and reason alone. If people want to know what is true or good or right, they must observe reality and use logic.

Thus, to an Objectivist, reason — the application of logic to observations about the world — is the only source of knowledge, and Jaffa (usually) defended reason. Therefore, Jaffa was (mostly) correct in the views with which the reviewer agrees. An interesting mix of post hoc ergo propter hoc and circular reasoning.

Reason, of course, is subject to error — great error. Observations can be in error, or selected with the aim of reaching a particular (and erroneous) conclusion. The application of logic to observations usually means, in practice, the application of mathematical and statistical tools to understand the relationships between those observations, and to make falsifiable predictions based on those relationships. Even, then, the “knowledge” that arises from scientific reason is always provisional, unlike the certitudes of Objectivists.

As I wrote in “Objectivism: Tautologies in Search of Reality” (a sequel to “This Is Objectivism?):

Reason operates on perceptions and prejudices. To the extent that there are “real” facts, we filter and interpret them according to our prejudices. When it comes to that, Objectivists are no less prejudiced than anyone else….

Reason is an admirable and useful thing, but it does not ensure valid “knowledge,” right action, or survival. Some non-cognitive precepts — such as the “Golden Rule“, “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”, and “talk softly but carry a big stick” — are indispensable guides to action which help to ensure the collective (joint) survival of those who observe them. Survival, in the real world (as opposed to the ideal world of Objectivism) depends very much on prejudice.

That is, human beings often rely on ingrained knowledge — instinct, if you will — which isn’t a product of “reason”.

That there is such knowledge seems to escape Objectivists. How can anyone possibly write with a straight face that “Human knowledge—all human knowledge—is a product of perceptual observation and logical inference therefrom”? It takes a rather strained view of logical inference to account for such things as the mating and suckling instincts (without which human life would end), or the squeamishness and disgust that helps people to avoid infectious diseases. But such things are human knowledge — essential human knowledge.

Objectivism is a cult. To be a member of the cult, one must not only invoke reason ritualistically, one must also profess atheism. The reviewer is an atheist, and it shows here:

Jaffa’s effort to defend reason and freedom … was handicapped by his defense of religion (which he vainly tried to portray as rational)….

An Objectivist will perform intellectual somersaults in the defense of atheism. This is from a post at the website of The Atlas Society, an Objectivist organization:

Objectivism holds that in order to obtain knowledge, man must use an objective process of thought. The essence of objective thought is, first, integration of perceptual data in accordance with logic and, second, a commitment to acknowledging all of the facts of reality, and only the facts. In other words, the only thoughts to consider when forming knowledge of reality are those logically derived from reality….

Agnosticism—as a general approach to knowledge—refuses to reject arbitrary propositions….

The primary problem for the agnostic is that he allows arbitrary claims to enter his cognitive context. The fully rational man, on the other hand, does not seek evidence to prove or disprove arbitrary claims, for he has no reason to believe that such claims are true in the first place….

[E]]ven if the notion of God were formulated in a testable, coherent manner, the claim that God exists would be no less arbitrary and would be equally unworthy of evaluation. The proposition was formed not on the basis of evidence (i.e., perceptual data integrated by logic)—it could have been formed only on the basis of imagination.

Wow!

In fact, the existence of the physical universe is “perceptual data”. And there is a logically valid argument to explain existence as the creation of a being who stands apart from it.

Whether or not one accepts the argument isn’t a matter of reason but a matter of faith. The mandatory atheism of Objectivism is therefore a matter of faith, not a product of reason.

As I say, it’s a cult.

(See also Theodore Dalrymple’s In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas, which I have discussed at some length here; “Social Norms and Liberty” and the many posts listed therein; “Words Fail Us“, “Through a Glass Darkly“, and “Libertarianism, the Autism Spectrum, and Ayn Rand“.)

Putting in Some Good Words for Monopoly

Long ago and far away, when I studied economics, one of the first things that was drummed into my head was the badness of monopoly, oligopoly, and other forms of imperfect competition. The ideal, of course, is perfect competition because it

provides both allocative efficiency and productive efficiency:

  • Such markets are allocatively efficient, as output will always occur where marginal cost is equal to average revenue i.e. price (MC = AR). In perfect competition, any profit-maximizing producer faces a market price equal to its marginal cost (P = MC). This implies that a factor’s price equals the factor’s marginal revenue product. It allows for derivation of the supply curve on which the neoclassical approach is based. This is also the reason why “a monopoly does not have a supply curve”. The abandonment of price taking creates considerable difficulties for the demonstration of a general equilibrium except under other, very specific conditions such as that of monopolistic competition.
  • In the short-run, perfectly competitive markets are not necessarily productively efficient as output will not always occur where marginal cost is equal to average cost (MC = AC). However, in long-run, productive efficiency occurs as new firms enter the industry. Competition reduces price and cost to the minimum of the long run average costs. At this point, price equals both the marginal cost and the average total cost for each good (P = MC = AC).

All of this assumes that a market for a particular product or service is amenable to perfect competition. Economists recognize that such isn’t always the case (e.g., natural monopoly), but most of them nevertheless preach about the evils of market concentration (i.e., monopoly and other forms of less-than-perfect competition).

Contrarian economist Robin Hanson attacks the general view about the badness of market concentration in a pair of recent posts at his blog Overcoming Bias (here and here):

Many have recently said 1) US industries have become more concentrated lately, 2) this is a bad thing, and 3) inadequate antitrust enforcement is in part to blame….

I’m teaching grad Industrial Organization again this fall, and in that class I go through many standard simple (game-theoretic) math models about firms competing within industries. And occurs to me to mention that when these models allow “free entry”, i.e., when the number of firms is set by the constraint that they must all expect to make non-negative profits, then such models consistently predict that too many firms enter, not too few. These models suggest that we should worry more about insufficient, not excess, concentration.

*    *    *

My last post talked about how our standard economic models of firms competing in industries typically show industries having too many, not too few, firms. It is a suspicious and damning fact that economists and policy makers have allowed themselves and the public to gain the opposite impression, that our best theories support interventions to cut industry concentration.

My last post didn’t mention the most extreme example of this, the case where we have the strongest theory reason to expect insufficient concentration: [multi-monopoly]….

The coordination failure among these firms is severe. It produces a much lower quantity and welfare than would result if all these firms were merged into a single monopolist who sold a single merged product. So in this case the equilibrium industry concentration is far too low.

Hanson’s posts caught my eye because I am pleased that at least one practicing academic economist agrees with me. Somewhat long ago, I put it this way (with light editing and block-quotation format omitted for ease of reading):

Regulators live in a dream world. They believe that they can emulate — and even improve on — the outcomes that would be produced by competitive markets. And that’s precisely where regulation fails: Bureaucratic rules cannot be devised to respond to consumers’ preferences and technological opportunities in the same ways that markets respond to those things. The main purpose of regulation (as even most regulators would admit) is to impose preferred outcomes, regardless of the immense (but mostly hidden) cost of regulation.

There should be a place of honor in regulatory hell for those who pursue “monopolists”, even though the only true monopolies are run by governments or exist with the connivance of governments (think of courts and cable franchises, for example). The opponents of “monopoly” really believe that success is bad. Those who agitate for antitrust actions against successful companies — branding them “monopolistic” — are stuck in a zero-sum view of the economic universe, in which “winners” must be balanced by “losers”. Antitrusters forget (if they ever knew) that (1) successful companies become successful by satisfying consumers; (2) consumers wouldn’t buy the damned stuff if they didn’t think it was worth the price; (3) “immense” profits invite competition (direct and indirect), which benefits consumers; and (4) the kind of innovation and risk-taking that (sometimes) leads to wealth for a few also benefits the many by fueling economic growth.

What about those “immense” profits? They don’t just disappear into thin air. Monopoly profits (“rent” in economists’ jargon) have to go somewhere, and so they do: into consumption, investment (which fuels economic growth), and taxes (which should make liberals happy). It’s just a question of who gets the money.

But isn’t output restricted, thus making people generally worse off? That may be what you learned in Econ 101, but that’s based on a static model which assumes that there’s a choice between monopoly and competition. In fact:

  • Monopoly (except when it’s gained by force, fraud, or government license) usually is a transitory state of affairs resulting from invention, innovation, and/or entrepreneurial skill.
  • Transitory? Why? Because monopoly profits invite competition — if not directly, then from substitutes.
  • Transitory monopolies arise as part of economic growth. Therefore, such monopolies exist as a “bonus” alongside competitive markets, not as alternatives to them.
  • The prospect of monopoly profits entices more invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship, which fuels more economic growth.

(See also “Socialist Calculation and the Turing Test“, “Monopoly: Private Is Better Than Public“, and “The Rahn Curve in Action“, which quantifies the stultifying effects of government spending and regulation.)

Intellectuals and Authoritarianism

In the preceding post I quoted the German political theorist, Carl Schmitt (1888-1985). The quotation is from a book published in 1926, seven years before Schmitt joined the Nazi Party. But Schmitt’s attraction to authoritarianism long predates his party membership. In 1921, according to Wikipedia,

Schmitt became a professor at the University of Greifswald, where he published his essay Die Diktatur (on dictatorship), in which he discussed the foundations of the newly established Weimar Republic, emphasising the office of the Reichspräsident. In this essay, Schmitt compared and contrasted what he saw as the effective and ineffective elements of the new constitution of his country. He saw the office of the president as a comparatively effective element, because of the power granted to the president to declare a state of exception (Ausnahmezustand). This power, which Schmitt discussed and implicitly praised as dictatorial,[21] was more in line with the underlying mentality of executive power than the comparatively slow and ineffective processes of legislative power reached through parliamentary discussion and compromise.

Shades of Woodrow Wilson, the holder of an earned doctorate and erstwhile academician who had recently been succeeded as president of the United States by Warren G. Harding. Wilson

believed the Constitution had a “radical defect” because it did not establish a branch of government that could “decide at once and with conclusive authority what shall be done.”…

He also wrote that charity efforts should be removed from the private domain and “made the imperative legal duty of the whole,” a position which, according to historian Robert M. Saunders, seemed to indicate that Wilson “was laying the groundwork for the modern welfare state.”

Another renowned German academic, the philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), also became a Nazi in 1933. Whereas Schmitt never expressed regret or doubts about his membership in the party. Heidegger did, though perhaps not sincerely:

In his postwar thinking, Heidegger distanced himself from Nazism, but his critical comments about Nazism seem “scandalous” to some since they tend to equate the Nazi war atrocities with other inhumane practices related to rationalisation and industrialisation, including the treatment of animals by factory farming. For instance in a lecture delivered at Bremen in 1949, Heidegger said: “Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same thing as blockades and the reduction of countries to famine, the same thing as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs.”…

In [a 1966 interview for Der Spiegel], Heidegger defended his entanglement with National Socialism in two ways: first, he argued that there was no alternative, saying that he was trying to save the university (and science in general) from being politicized and thus had to compromise with the Nazi administration. Second, he admitted that he saw an “awakening” (Aufbruch) which might help to find a “new national and social approach,” but said that he changed his mind about this in 1934, largely prompted by the violence of the Night of the Long Knives.

In his interview Heidegger defended as double-speak his 1935 lecture describing the “inner truth and greatness of this movement.” He affirmed that Nazi informants who observed his lectures would understand that by “movement” he meant National Socialism. However, Heidegger asserted that his dedicated students would know this statement was no eulogy for the Nazi Party. Rather, he meant it as he expressed it in the parenthetical clarification later added to Introduction to Metaphysics (1953), namely, “the confrontation of planetary technology and modern humanity.”

The eyewitness account of Löwith from 1940 contradicts the account given in the Der Spiegel interview in two ways: that he did not make any decisive break with National Socialism in 1934, and that Heidegger was willing to entertain more profound relations between his philosophy and political involvement.

Schmitt and Heidegger were far from the only German intellectuals who were attracted to Nazism, whether out of philosophical conviction or expediency. More to the point, as presaged by my inclusion of Woodrow Wilson’s views, Schmitt and Heidegger were and are far from the only intellectual advocates of authoritarianism. Every academic, of any nation, who propounds government action that usurps the functions of private institutions is an authoritarian, whether or not he admits it to himself. Whether they are servants of an overtly totalitarian regime, like Schmitt and Heidegger, or of a formally libertarian one, like Wilson, they are all authoritarians under the skin.

Why? Because intellectualism is essentially rationalism. As Michael Oakeshott explains, a rationalist

never doubts the power of his ‘reason … to determine the worth of a thing, the truth of an opinion or the propriety of an action. Moreover, he is fortified by a belief in a ‘reason’ common to all mankind, a common power of rational consideration….

… And having cut himself off from the traditional knowledge of his society, and denied the value of any education more extensive than a training in a technique of analysis, he is apt to attribute to mankind a necessary inexperience in all the critical moments of life, and if he were more self-critical he might begin to wonder how the race had ever succeeded in surviving. [“Rationalism in Politics,” pp. 5-7, as republished in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays]

If you have everything “figured out”, what is more natural than the desire to make it so? It takes a truly deep thinker to understand that everything can’t be “figured out”, and that rationalism is bunk. That is why intellectuals of the caliber of Oakeshott, Friederich Hayek, and Thomas Sowell are found so rarely in academia, and why jackboot-lickers like Paul Krugman abound.

(See also “Academic Bias“, “Intellectuals and Capitalism“,”Intellectuals and Society: A Review“, and “Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge“.)

A Paradox for Liberals

Libertarianism is liberalism in the classic meaning of the term, given here by one Zack Beauchamp:

[L]iberalism refers to a school of thought that takes freedom, consent, and autonomy as foundational moral values. Liberals agree that it is generally wrong to coerce people, to seize control of their bodies or force them to act against their will….

Beauchamp, in the next paragraph, highlights the paradox inherent in liberalism:

Given that people will always disagree about politics, liberalism’s core aim is to create a generally acceptable mechanism for settling political disputes without undue coercion — to give everyone a say in government through fair procedures, so that citizens consent to the state’s authority even when they disagree with its decisions.

Which is to say that liberalism does entail coercion. Thus the paradox. (What is now called “liberalism” in America is so rife with coercion that only a person who is ignorant of the meaning of liberalism can call it that with a straight face.)

There is nothing new about this paradox, as far as I’m concerned. I wrote about it 14 years ago in “A Paradox for Libertarians“:

Libertarians, by definition, believe in the superiority of liberty: the negative right to be left alone — in one’s person, pursuits, and property — as long as one leaves others alone. Libertarians therefore believe in the illegitimacy of state-enforced values (e.g., income redistribution, censorship, punishment of “victimless” crimes) because they are inimical to liberty.

Some libertarians (minarchists, such as I) nevertheless believe in the necessity of a state, as long as the state’s role is restricted to the protection of liberty. Other libertarians (anarcho-capitalists) argue that the state itself is illegitimate because the existence of a state necessarily compromises liberty. I have dealt elsewhere with the anarcho-capitalist position, and have found it wanting. (See “But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over?” and the posts linked to at the bottom of that post.)

Let’s nevertheless imagine a pure anarcho-capitalist society whose members agree voluntarily to leave each other alone. All social and economic transactions are voluntary. Contracts and disputes are enforced through arbitration, to which all parties agree to submit and by the results of which all parties agree to abide. A private agency enforces contractual obligations and adherence to the outcomes of arbitration. (You know that this anarcho-capitalist society is pure fantasy because a private agency with such power is a de facto state. And competing private agencies, each of which may represent a party to a dispute are de facto warlords. But I digress.)

Now, for the members of this fantasyland to enjoy liberty implies, among other things, absolute freedom of speech, except for speech that amounts to harassment, slander, or libel (which are forms of aggression that deprive others of liberty). But what about speech that would sunder the society into libertarian and non-libertarian factions? Suppose that a persuasive orator were to convince a potentially dominant faction of the society of the following proposition: The older members of society should be supported by the younger members, all of whom must “contribute” to the support of the elders, like it or not. Suppose further that the potentially dominant faction heeds the persuasive orator and forces everyone to “contribute” to the support of elders.

Note that our little society’s prior agreement to let everyone live in peace wouldn’t survive persuasive oratory (just as America’s relatively libertarian economic order didn’t survive FDR, the Constitution notwithstanding). Perhaps our little society should therefore adopt this restraint on liberty: No one may advocate or conspire in the coercion of the populace, for any end other than defense of the society.

Why an exception for defense? Imagine the long-term consequences for our little society if it were to dither as a marauding band approached, or if too few members of the society were to volunteer the resources needed to defeat the marauding band. What’s the good of the society’s commitment to liberty if it leads to the society’s demise?

Now, the restraint on speech and the exception for defense couldn’t be self-enforcing. There would have to a single agency empowered to enforce such things. That agency might as well be called the state.

Here, then, is the paradox for libertarians: Some aspects of liberty must be circumscribed in order to preserve most aspects of liberty.

The last word goes to Beauchamp, or rather to Carl Schmitt who is quoted by Beauchamp:

Even if Bolshevism is suppressed and Fascism held at bay, the crisis of contemporary parliamentarism would not be overcome in the least. For it has not appeared as a result of the appearance of those two opponents; it was there before them and will persist after them. Rather, the crisis springs from the consequences of modern mass democracy and in the final analysis from the contradiction of a liberal individualism burdened by moral pathos and a democratic sentiment governed essentially by political ideals. A century of historical alliance and common struggle against royal absolutism has obscured the awareness of this contradiction. But the crisis unfolds today ever more strikingly, and no cosmopolitan rhetoric can prevent or eliminate it. It is, in its depths, the inescapable contradiction of liberal individualism and democratic homogeneity [emphasis added].

The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (1926),
translated by Ellen Kennedy

(See also “Inventing ‘Liberalism‘”, which about the advent of the modern abomination, and “Conservatism vs. ‘Libertarianism’ and Leftism on the Moral Dimension“, especially the footnote about “libertarianism”.)

Reflections on the “Feel Good” War

Prompted by my current reading — another novel about World War II — and the viewing of yet another film about Winston Churchill’s leadership during that war.

World War II was by no means a “feel good” war at the time it was fought. But it became one, eventually, as memories of a generation’s blood, toil, tears, and sweat faded away, to be replaced by the consoling fact of total victory. (That FDR set the stage for the USSR’s long dominance of Eastern Europe and status as a rival world power is usually overlooked.)

World War II is a “feel good” war in that it has been and continues to be depicted in countless novels, TV series, and movies as a valiant, sometimes romantic, and ultimately successful effort to defeat evil enemies: Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Most of the treatments, in fact, are about the war in Europe against Nazi Germany, because Hitler lingers in the general view as a personification of evil. Also, to the extent that the treatments are about stirring speeches, heroism, espionage, sabotage, and resistance, they are more readily depicted (and more commonly imagined) as the efforts of white Americans, Britons, and citizens of the various European nations that had been conquered by Nazi Germany.

World War II is also a “feel good” war — for millions of Americans, at least — because it is a reminder that the United States, once upon a time, united to fight and decisively won a great war against evil enemies. Remembering it in that way is a kind of antidote to the memories of later wars that left bitterness, divisiveness, and a sense of futility (if not failure) in their wake: from Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

That World War II was nothing like a “feel good” war while it was being fought should never be forgotten. Americans got off “lightly” by comparison with the citizens of enemy and Allied nations. But “lightly” means more than 400,000 combat deaths, almost 700,000 combat injuries (too many of them disabling and disfiguring), millions of lives disrupted, the reduction of Americans’ standard of living to near-Depression levels so that vast quantities of labor and materiel could be poured into the war effort, and — not the least of it — the dread that hung over Americans for several years before it became clear that the war would end in the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

The generations that fought and lived through World War II deserved to look back on it as a “feel good” war, if that was their wont. But my impression — as a grandson, son, and nephew of members of those generations — is that they looked back on it as a part of their lives that they wouldn’t want to relive. They never spoke of it in my presence, and I was “all ears”, as they say.

But there was no choice. World War II had to be fought, and it had to be won. I only hope that if such a war comes along someday Americans will support it and fight it as fiercely and tenaciously as did their ancestors in World War II. If Americans do fight it fiercely and tenaciously it will be won. But I am not confident. the character of Americans has changed a lot — mostly for the worst — in the nearly 75 years since the end of World War II.

(See also “A Grand Strategy for the United States“, “Rating America’s Wars“, “The War on Terror As It Should Have Been Fought“, “1963: The Year Zero“, and “World War II As an Aberration“.)

Preposition Proliferation

I have a habit of speech — acquired long ago and hard to shake — which is the unnecessary use of prepositions in phrases like “hurry up” and “stand up”. I don’t write that way, but I still (too often) speak that way.

I hadn’t been conscious of the habit, probably acquired from my parents, until about 30 years ago, when a young computer whiz corrected me when I said something like “open up”. She said that “open” would suffice, and my eyes were (figuratively) opened; that is, for the first time in my life I understood that I had long been been guilty of preposition proliferation.

In addition to “hurry up”, “stand up”, and “open up”, there are “fill up”, “lift up”, and dozens of others. I leave it to you to list your favorites.

There are also phrases involving prepositions that aren’t quite wrong, but which are unnecessarily long. Consider, for example, one that is used often: “come in”. It’s really a shorthand way of saying “come into the room/office/house to which you are seeking entry”. So the “in” isn’t superfluous, but it is unnecessary.

“Come” will suffice, as will “enter”. Why aren’t those expressions used as commonly as “come in”? I suspect that it’s because “come in” sounds more cordial than the peremptory “come” and “enter”. That is to say, “come in” is “softer” and more welcoming.

Which brings me back to “hurry up”, “stand up”, and similar phrases. Perhaps the prepositions were added long ago to suggest that the speaker was making a request, not issuing a command. That is, they were added out of politeness.

Perhaps it is politeness that prevents me from giving up abandoning the practice of preposition proliferation.

More Presidential Trivia

The modern presidency began with the adored “activist”, Teddy Roosevelt. From TR to the present, there have been only four (of twenty) presidents who first competed in a general election as a candidate for the presidency: Taft, Hoover, Eisenhower, and Trump. Trump is alone in having had no previous governmental service before becoming president. There’s no moral to this story. Make of it what you will.

(See also “Presidents: Key Dates and Various Trivia“, to which this commentary has been added.)

Thinking about the Unthinkable

Thinking about the Unthinkable is the title of a book by Herman Kahn, who according to an obituary that ran in The Washington Post, believed that

nuclear war would be terrible indeed, but mankind would survive it. Since such wars are bound to take place, it behooves man to prepare for them.

He stated his case in two books that appeared in the early 1960s…. [The first book] argued that the policy of deterrence, known officially as “mutually assured destruction” (MAD), was unworkable. Thus, the techniques of survival must take a large place in policy planning.

The second book [Thinking about the Unthinkable] restated this premise and went on to criticize those who refused to face the possibility of war as acting like “ancient kings who punished messengers who brought them bad news.”

The unthinkable, in this post, isn’t how the United States might (in some fashion) survive a nuclear war, but about how the traditional mores of the United States — which are rapidly being suppressed by enemies within — can be preserved and restored to primacy in the nation’s governmental and civil institutions. The possibility that traditional mores will be suppressed, is unthinkable enough to most people — including most conservatives, I fear. Even more unthinkable is the “how” of preventing the suppression of traditional mores, because (a) it requires acknowledgment that there are enemies within, (b) that they must be treated as enemies, and (c) that they might not be defeated by traditional (electoral) means.

If you are uncomfortable with the proposition that the left (or the organized part of it in politics, the media, academia, and Big Tech) is an enemy, consider the following (typical) report from the latest Democrat presidential debate:

Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke called racism not only “endemic” to America but “foundational.” He explained, “We can mark the creation of this country not at the Fourth of July, 1776, but August 20, 1619, when the first kidnapped African was brought to this country against his will and in bondage and as a slave built the greatness, and the success, and the wealth that neither he nor his descendants would ever be able to participate in or enjoy.”

The villains in the Democratic Party story of America do not remain hundreds of years beyond our reach. Cops, gun owners, factory farmers, employees of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street speculators, the oil industry, Republicans, and so many others who, together, constitute the majority of the nation: our Houston Dems do not look to them as fellow countrymen but as impediments, evil impediments in some cases, to realizing their ideological vision. And if that message did not come across in English, several candidates speaking Spanish not comprehended by most viewers nevertheless did not get lost in translation.

That ideological vision includes a doubly unconstitutional confiscation of weapons through executive fiat endorsed by Senator Kamala Harris and O’Rourke (“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47”), abolition of private health insurance in a bill sponsored by Senators Sanders and Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden’s insistence that “nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime,” reparations for slavery supported by O’Rourke, a wealth tax proposed by Warren, Senator Cory Booker’s call to “create an office in the White House to deal with the problem of white supremacy and hate crimes,” Harris demanding that government “de-incarcerate women and children” (even ones who murder?), Andrew Yang wanting to “give every American 100 democracy dollars that you only give to candidates and causes you like,” and the entire stage endorsing open borders, if in muted terms during this debate, and amnesty for illegal immigrants.

That’s just the tip of the ideological iceberg. I urge you to read at least some of the following posts:

Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Left and Violence
The Internet-Media-Academic Complex vs. Real Life
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
Whence Polarization?
Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration
Can Left and Right Be Reconciled?
The Fourth Great Awakening
It’s Them or Us
Conservatism, Society, and the End of America

Many of the themes of those posts are captured in “Not With a Bang“, wherein I say something that I’ve said many times and have come to believe more firmly in recent months.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of it will be done in ways that Democrats will justify in the name of “equality”, “fairness”, “public safety”, and other such shibboleths. (See “An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare“.) Bill Vallicella offers an example of how it will be done in his post, “The Grave Danger to the Republic of ‘Red Flag’ Laws“:

Destructive Democrats now label the National Rifle Association  a ‘domestic terror organization.’ Mind-mannered Mike of Mesa is a member and receives their publications. His mail man, though, is a flaming lefty. The mail man reports Mike to the government as a domestic terrorist on the ground that anyone who is a member of a terrorist organization is a terrorist. ATF agents break into Mike’s house in the wee hours and seize his one and only firearm, a semi-automatic pistol. A year later, Mike is able to get his gun back, but he must pay all court costs.

Not quite Nazi Germany, but getting there….

The Democrat Party is now a hard-Left party.

Kevin D. Williamson expands on that theme in “The Divine Right of the Democratic Party“:

Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times has a dream, a dream in which about half of the American people are deprived of an effective means of political representation, a dream of one-party government in which the Democrats are the only game in town — “Dare We Dream of the End of the GOP?” her column is headlined — which also is a dream of visiting vengeance upon those who dared to vote for their own interests as they understood them and thereby schemed “to stop the New America from governing.”That quotation is from a new book by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg bearing the title R.I.P. G.O.P. Greenberg himself has a new column in the Times on the same theme. “The 2020 election will be transformative like few in our history,” he writes. “It will end with the death of the Republican Party as we know it . . . [and] liberate the Democratic Party from the country’s suffocating polarization and allow it to use government to address the vast array of problems facing the nation.”

We might understand the Goldberg-Greenberg position as “the divine right of Democrats,” who apparently have an eternal moral mandate to rule for reasons that must remain mysterious to those outside the ranks of New York Times columnists….

Restrictions on immigration and abortion, conditions on welfare for the able-bodied, lower taxes and lower spending — these are not positions associated with the Democratic party. But millions of Americans, in some cases majorities and even large majorities, hold these views. They are entitled to political representation, irrespective of the future of the Republican party as an organization. And they will have that representation, whether it goes by the brand name Republican, Liberal, Whig, or Monster Raving Loony (RIP Screaming Lord Sutch). Eliminating the Republican party would not relieve the country of the “polarization” — meaning opposition — that annoys the Goldberg-Greenberg camp.

The only way to achieve that would be through the political suppression of those with dissenting political views.

Which, of course, is the Left’s current agenda, from deputizing Corporate America to act as its political enforcer by making employment contingent upon the acceptance of progressive political orthodoxies to attempting to gut the First Amendment in the name of “campaign finance” regulation — it is the Democratic party, not the moral scolds of the Christian Coalition, that proposes to lock up Americans for showing movies with unauthorized political content — to grievously abusing legislative and prosecutorial powers to harass and persecute those with nonconforming political views (“Arrest Climate-Change Deniers”) and declaring political rivals “domestic terrorists,” as California Democrats have with the National Rifle Association.

Which is to say: It is not only the Republican party as a political grouping they dream of eliminating: It is Republicans as such and those who hold roughly Republican ideas about everything from climate change to gun rights, groups that Democrats in agencies ranging from state prosecutors’ offices to the IRS already — right now, not at some point in some imaginary dystopian future — are targeting through both legal and extralegal means.

The Democrats who are doing this believe themselves to be acting morally, even patriotically, and sometimes heroically. Why? Because they believe that opposition is fundamentally illegitimate.

Eliminating the ability of those who currently align with the Republican party to meaningfully participate in national politics is not only wishful thinking in the pages of the New York Times. It is the progressive program, from Washington to Palo Alto and beyond.

William L. Gensert is more apocalyptic in “No Matter Who Wins in 2020, There Will Be Blood“:

Tone-deaf to [the] silent majority and emboldened by victory, the new [Democrat] president will borrow Barry’s “pen and phone” and start issuing executive orders throwing open our borders, banning fossil fuels, and of course, implementing “common sense” gun control.  Buoyed by media, the new president will start with universal background checks and a gun registry.

Eventually, the president will overreach, signing an order for gun confiscation, euphemistically called, “mandatory buybacks.”  Antifa and their ilk will flood the streets in support of seizing these “weapons of war.”  Media will declare, “It’s the will of the people.”

And for the right, that will be the last straw (plastic or paper).

[M]illions will refuse to give up their guns.  And, many gun owners in this country will not go “meekly into the night,” there will be “rage” against what they will see as a usurpation of their constitutional rights.

Confiscation will go well at first, with gun owners in the cities acquiescing to the knock on the door in the middle of the night and the intimidation of, “Papers please.”

But in flyover country, a different scenario will play out.  Most gun owners will hide their weapons and most local police departments will accept that, not wanting to jail their neighbors.  Resistance will be broad, perhaps encompassing hundreds of millions of Americans.  Barack Obama, for once in the dismal history of his efforts to kill the America we love, will be proven correct.  Americans do “cling to their guns.”

The media will call it “white supremacy,” but a still unregulated internet will be rife with videos of an out of control government battling its own citizens.

The president will call for mobilizing the National Guard.  Some governors will refuse, and army units now overseas will be sent home to deal with the growing unrest.  Mistakes will be made and there will be gunfire in the streets; people will die on both sides.  The  president will desperately call for martial law.

Many Army, National Guard, and police will defect, or desert, or simply refuse orders.

What will happen after that is anybody’s guess.

I am less pessimistic about the possibility of widespread violence. But that is because I am realistic about the ability and willingness of a Democrat president to enforce gun confiscation (and more) throughout the nation, with the aid of acquiescent and cowed State governors, and the dozens of federal law-enforcement agencies under his command, including but far from limited to the FBI, the BATF, the DEA, and the U.S. Marshals Service. Only a relatively small number of (literal) die-hards will put up much of a fight, and they will go down fighting.

It can happen here.

Is there a way to prevent it? A year-and-a-half ago I offered a peaceful and constitutional option in “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War” and “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War, Without Delay“. Near the end of the latter post, I quoted a piece by Publius Decius Mus (Michael Anton), “It’s Clear That Conservatism Inc. Wants Trump to Lose“:

I believe the Left, as it increasingly feels its oats, will openly discard the pretense that it need face any opposition. It’s already started. This will rise to a crescendo during the 2020 election, which the Left will of course win, after which it will be open-season on remaining “conservative” dissent. Audits. Investigations. Prosecutions. Regulatory dictates. Media leaks. Denunciations from the bully pulpit. SJW witch-hunts. The whole panoply of persecution tools now at their disposal, plus some they’ve yet to deploy or invent.

Much of that passage covers ground previously covered in this post. The key phrase is “which the Left will of course win”, because Democrats are masters of asymmetrical ideological warfare. And they are expert in the art of “winning” close elections. States that narrowly went for Trump in 2016 can easily be flipped by means fair and foul — and it won’t take many such States to do the trick.

Further, as I noted in the same post,

[t]he squishy center [of the electorate], having been bombarded by anti-Trump propaganda for four years is just as likely to turn against him as to re-elect him.

I ended with this:

There’s no time to lose. The preemptive (cold) civil war must start yesterday.

But it didn’t. And now the fate of America hinges on the election of 2020.

Unless thinking about the unthinkable includes thinking, quickly and cleverly, about how to defeat the enemy within. And I don’t necessarily mean at the ballot box.

Thoughts about L’Affaire Bolton

I hadn’t given much thought to the Bolton business until prompted by a link my son sent to me this morning. But given Trump’s past pronouncements about foreign interventions and Bolton’s known hawkish views, it’s possible that the appointment of Bolton was a setup (by Trump) from the beginning:

First, hiring Bolton was a signal to Iran and North Korea of Trump’s seriousness — a way of getting their attention.

Second, bringing Bolton inside the tent meant that he couldn’t criticize Trump if Trump made “nice” with Iran and North Korea after his (usual) hard opening. Trump could play “good cop” to Bolton’s “bad cop”.

Third, when that ploy was no longer needed, Bolton became excess baggage. His firing means that his future criticisms of Trump’s foreign-policy actions will be taken as sour grapes. It also means that the left has been partially disarmed when it comes to criticizing Trump’s foreign-policy agenda.

I am becoming more and more convinced that Trump is a master strategist.

Insidious Leftism

I sat on the fringes of a social gathering this evening, as chauffeur for my wife, who can’t drive in the dark. Except for my wife, the other participants were all school teachers. Politics, as usual, dominated the conversation that followed the nominal topic of the evening: books. Politics, of course, means swapping stories about how much they hate Trump.

Aside from Trump there was the usual subtext of political discussions among women of that ilk: Government doesn’t exist to keep people from doing bad things to each other, it exists to do things for people. Ergo, Reagan (to name one) was just as bad as Trump, when it comes to policy. (No one is as bad as Trump when it comes to anything else.)

The belief that government exists to do things for people has been shared by every public-school teacher with whom I’ve had contact since I left public school 60 years ago. There were some exceptions when I went to school, but it’s certainly a belief that has been held by most public-school teachers for several generationsl

Given that, I am surprised and grateful that a large portion of the populace still seems to believe that the proper role of government is only to keep people from doing bad things to each other.

Scott Adams on Guns

Scott Adams’s stock in trade is provocation. Dilbert, Adams’s long-running comic strip, is a case in point. Adams packages a lot of subtle provocation behind the strip’s main premise, which is the frustration caused level-headed, logical Dilbert by the incompetence and posturing of his boss.

But in ways subtle and obvious, Adams makes known — and concisely illustrates — many unfortunate aspects of the modern, bureaucratized workplace; for example: the idiocy of hiring to fill quotas, the time-wasting fads of management “science”, and the ability of a trouble-maker protected by a group identity to cause trouble and impede productive work. In sum, Adams strikes at political correctness and its implementation by government edicts. This stance is at odds with the views of various elites, ranging from politicians of both parties to corporate executives to most members of the academic-media-information-technology complex. Adams gets away with it because the strip is (usually) humorous and its targets are caricatures, not actual persons with whom some readers might sympathize.

But when Adams ventures beyond Dilbert, to expound views on current political issues, it’s another matter. For example, according to Adams’s blog entry for July 11, 2016,

Some of you watched with amusement as I endorsed Hillary Clinton for my personal safety. What you might not know is that I was completely serious. I was getting a lot of direct and indirect death threats for writing about Trump’s powers of persuasion, and I made all of that go away by endorsing Clinton. People don’t care why I am on their side. They only care that I am.

You might have found it funny that I endorsed Clinton for my personal safety. But it was only funny by coincidence. I did it for personal safety, and apparently it is working. Where I live, in California, it is not safe to be seen as supportive of anything Trump says or does. So I fixed that.

Again, I’m completely serious about the safety issue. Writing about Trump ended my speaking career, and has already reduced my income by about 40%, as far as I can tell. But I’m in less physical danger than I was.

Despite the claimed loss of income, Adams almost certainly is wealthy beyond the aspirations of most Americans. He can attack sacred cows with impunity, knowing that (a) his personal stands don’t seem to affect the popularity of Dilbert, and (b) even if they did, he would still be extremely wealthy.

But candor doesn’t mean correctness. If it did, then I would have to bow to the likes of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, and the dozens of dim-wits like them who are cluttering the air waves and internet with proposals that, if adopted, would turn America into a fourth-world country.

I have — finally — set the stage for a discussion of Scott Adams and guns. In a blog post dated September 1, 2019, Adams says this:

You might find this hard to believe, but I’m about to give you the first opinion you have ever heard on the topic of gun ownership in the United States.

What? You say lots of people have opinions on that topic?

No, they don’t. Everyone in the United States except me has a half-pinion on the topic. I have the only full opinion. Here it is:

My opinion: I am willing to accept up to 20,000 gun deaths per year in the United States in order to preserve the 2nd Amendment right to own firearms.

For reference, the current rate of gun deaths is about double that number. In other words, I would be open to testing some gun ownership restrictions to see if we can get the number of gun deaths down.

A full opinion on any topic considers both the benefits and the costs. A half-pinion looks at only the costs or only the benefits in isolation. Ask yourself who else, besides me, has offered a full opinion on the topic of gun ownership. Answer: No one. You just saw the world’s first opinion on the topic.

So let’s stop pretending we have differences of opinion on gun ownership. What we have is exactly one citizen of the United States who has one opinion. Until someone disagrees with me with a full opinion of their own, there is no real debate, just blathering half-pinions.

This is hardly a “full opinion” because it doesn’t explain what measures might cut the rate of gun deaths in half. Nor does it address the costs of taking those measures, which include but aren’t limited to the ability of Americans to defend themselves and their property if the measures involve confiscation of guns.

Moreover, as Adams points out in a later post (discussed below), about half of the 40,000 gun deaths recorded annually are suicides. Actually, according to this source, suicides account for 24,000 of the 40,000 gun deaths, which is 60 percent of them. Suicide by gun, on that scale, can be reduced drastically only by confiscating all guns that can be found or turned in by law-abiding citizens, or by some kind of “red flag” law that would almost certainly ensnare not just suicidal and homicidal persons but thousands of persons who are neither. If those change could be effected, I daresay that the rate of gun deaths would drop by far more than half — though almost all of the remaining gun deaths would be killings of innocent persons by criminals.

Adams is being sloppy or slippery. But in either case, his “opinion”, which is hardly the only one on the subject, is practically worthless.

In a subsequent post, Adams assesses “dumb arguments” (pro and con) about gun control. I will address the more egregious of those assessments, beginning here:

Slippery slope

Slippery slope arguments are magical thinking. Everything in this world changes until it has a reason to stop. There is nothing special about being “on a slippery slope.” It is an empty idea. Society regulates all manner of products and activities, but we don’t worry about those other regulations becoming a slippery slope. We observe that change stops when the majority (or vocal minority) decide enough is enough. To put it another way, mowing the lawn does not lead to shaving your dog.

I take these assertions to be an attempt to rebut those who say that the enactment more restrictive laws about the ownership of guns would merely be a step toward confiscation. Adams, is entirely in the wrong here. First, “we” do worry about other regulations becoming a slippery slope. Regulations are in fact evidence of the slippery slope that leads to greater government control of things that government need not and should not control. The mere establishment of a regulatory agency is the first big step toward more and more regulation. Nor does it stop even when a vocal minority — consititutionalists, economists, and lovers of liberty in general — protest with all of the peaceful means at their disposal, including carefully argued legal and economic treatises that prove (to fair-minded audiences) the illegitimacy, inefficiency, and costliness of regulations. But the regulations keep on coming (even during the Reagan and Trump administrations) because it is almost impossible, politically, to do what needs to be done to stop them: (a) enforce the non-delegation doctrine so that Congress takes full and direct responsibility for its acts, and (b) abolish regulatory agencies right and left.

I will go further and say that the Antifederalists foresaw the slippery slope on which the Constitution placed the nation — a slope that unquestionably led to the creation and perpetuation of a vastly powerful central government. As “An Old Whig” put it in Antifederalist No. 46:

Where then is the restraint? How are Congress bound down to the powers expressly given? What is reserved, or can be reserved? Yet even this is not all. As if it were determined that no doubt should remain, by the sixth article of the Constitution it is declared that “this Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shalt be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitutions or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” The Congress are therefore vested with the supreme legislative power, without control. In giving such immense, such unlimited powers, was there no necessity of a Bill of Rights, to secure to the people their liberties?

Is it not evident that we are left wholly dependent on the wisdom and virtue of the men who shall from time to time be the members of Congress? And who shall be able to say seven years hence, the members of Congress will be wise and good men, or of the contrary character?

Indeed.

Despite the subsequent adoption of the Bill of Rights — and despite occasional resistance from the Supreme Court (in the midst of much acquiescence) — Congress (in league with the Executive) has for most of its 230 years been engaged in an unconstitutional power grab. And it was set in motion by the adoption of the Constitution, over the vocal objections of Antifederalists. Mr. Adams, please don’t lecture me about slippery slopes.

Next:

Criminals can always get guns

Criminals can always get guns if they try hard enough. But I’m more concerned about the 18-year old who has no criminal record but does have some mental illness. That kid is not as resourceful as career criminals. If that kid can’t get a firearm through the normal and legal process, the friction can be enough to reduce the odds of getting a weapon.

The 18-year-olds of Chicago and Baltimore don’t seem to find it difficult to get guns. Yes, it’s possible that the 18-year-old (or older) who is bent on committing mass murder at a school or workplace might be (emphasize “might”) be stopped by the application of a relevant law, but that would do almost nothing to the rate of gun deaths.

Which leads to this:

Gun deaths are not that high

About half of gun deaths are suicides. Lots of other gun deaths involve criminals shooting each other. If you subtract out those deaths, the number of gun deaths is low compared to other risks we routinely accept, such as the risk of auto accidents, overeating, sports, etc. If the current amount of gun violence seems worth the price to you, that would be a rational point of view. But it would not be rational to avoid testing some methods to reduce gun violence even further. Americans don’t stop trying to fix a problem just because only 10,000 people per year are dying from it. That’s still a lot. And if we can test new approaches in one city or state, why not?

I can’t think of a method to reduce gun violence by any significant amount that doesn’t involve confiscation, or something akin to it (e.g., extremely restrictive and vigorously enforced gun-ownership laws). The current amount of gun violence, balanced against the only effective alternative (confiscation), is “worth the price” to me and to millions of other persons who want to be able to defend themselves and their property from those who almost certainly wouldn’t comply with confiscatory laws.

Adams, clever fellow that he is, then tries to defuse that argument:

You are ignoring the lives saved by guns

No, I’m not. I’m looking at the net deaths by guns, which is what matters. If a new law improves the net death rate, that’s good enough, unless it causes some other problem.

Net deaths by guns isn’t what matters. What matters is whether the deaths are those of criminals or law-abiding citizens. I wouldn’t shed a tear if deaths rose because more citizens armed themselves and were allowed to carry guns in high-risk areas (i.e., “gun free” zones), if those additional deaths were the deaths of would-be killers or armed robbers.

I could go on and on, but that’s enough. Scott Adams is a provocative fellow who is sometimes entertaining. He is of that ilk: a celebrity who cashes in on his fame to advance ideas about matters that are beyond his ken — like Einstein the socialist.

There’s an oft-quoted line, “Shut up and sing”, which in Adams’s case (when it comes to guns, at least) should be “Shut up and draw”.

Tragic Capitalism

Capitalism, when it isn’t being used as a “dirty word” by “socialist democrats” (the correct rendering, and an oxymoron at that), simply entails three connected things:

  • There is private ownership of the means of production — capital — which consists of the hardware, software, and processes used to produce goods and services.
  • There are private markets in which capital, goods, and services are bought by users, which are (a) firms engaged in the production and sale of capital, goods, and services and (b) consumers of the finished products.
  • The owners of capital, like the owners of labor that is applied to capital (i.e., “workers” ranging from CEOs and high-powered scientists to store clerks and ditch-diggers), are compensated according to the market valuation of the worth of their contributions to the production of goods and services. The market valuation depends ultimately on the valuation of the finished products by the final consumers of those products.

For simplicity, I omitted the messy details of the so-called mixed economy — like that of the U.S. — in which governments are involved in producing some goods and services that could be produced privately, regulating what may be offered in private markets, regulating the specifications of the goods and services that are offered in private markets, regulating the compensation of market participants, and otherwise distorting private markets through myriad taxes and social-welfare schemes — including many that don’t directly involve government spending, except to enforce them (e.g., anti-discrimination laws and environmental regulations).

None of what I have just said is the tragic aspect of capitalism to which the title of this post refers. Yes, government interventions in market are extremely costly, and some of them have tragic consequences (e.g., the mismatch effect of affirmative action, which causes many blacks to fail in college and in the workplace; the withholding of beneficial drugs by the FDA; and the vast waste of resources in the name of environmentalism and climate change). But all of that belongs under the heading of tragic government.

One tragedy of capitalism, which I have touched on before, is that it leads to alienation:

This much of Marx’s theory of alienation bears a resemblance to the truth:

The design of the product and how it is produced are determined, not by the producers who make it (the workers)….

[T]he generation of products (goods and services) is accomplished with an endless sequence of discrete, repetitive, motions that offer the worker little psychological satisfaction for “a job well done.”

These statements are true not only of assembly-line manufacturing. They’re also true of much “white collar” work — certainly routine office work and even a lot of research work that requires advanced degrees in scientific and semi-scientific disciplines (e.g., economics). They are certainly true of “blue collar” work that is rote, and in which the worker has no ownership stake….

The life of the hunter-gatherer, however fraught, is less rationalized than the kind of life that’s represented by intensive agriculture, let alone modern manufacturing, transportation, wholesaling, retailing, and office work.

The hunter-gatherer isn’t a cog in a machine, he is the machine: the shareholder, the co-manager, the co-worker, and the consumer, all in one. His work with others is truly cooperative. It is like the execution of a game-winning touchdown by a football team, and unlike the passing of a product from stage to stage in an assembly line, or the passing of a virtual piece of paper from computer to computer.

The hunter-gatherer’s social milieu was truly societal [and hunter-gatherer bands had an upper limit of 150 persons]….

Nor is the limit of 150 unique to hunter-gatherer bands. [It is also found in communal societies like Hutterite colonies, which spin off new colonies when the limit of 150 is reached.]

What all of this means, of course, is that for the vast majority of people there’s no going back. How many among us are willing — really willing — to trade our creature comforts for the “simple life”? Few would be willing when faced with the reality of what the “simple life” means; for example, catching or growing your own food, dawn-to-post-dusk drudgery, nothing resembling culture as we know it (high or low), and lives that are far closer to nasty, brutish, and short than today’s norms.

There is also an innate tension between capitalism and morality, as I say here:

Conservatives rightly defend free markets because they exemplify the learning from trial and error that underlies the wisdom of voluntarily evolved social norms — norms that bind a people in mutual trust, respect, and forbearance.

Conservatives also rightly condemn free markets — or some of the produce of free markets — because that produce is often destructive of social norms.

Thanks to a pointer from my son, I have since read Edward Feser’s “Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism” (Claremont Review of Books, April 30, 2019), which takes up the tension between capitalism and conservatism:

Precisely because they arise out of an impersonal process, market outcomes are amoral. Hayek thought it unwise to defend capitalism by emphasizing the just rewards of hard work, because there simply is no necessary connection between virtue of any kind, on the one hand, and market success on the other. Moreover, the functioning of the market economy depends on adherence to rules of behavior that abstract from the personal qualities of individuals. In particular, it depends on treating most of one’s fellow citizens not as members of the same tribe, religion, or the like, but as abstract economic actors—property owners, potential customers or clients, employers or employees, etc. It requires allowing these actors to pursue whatever ends they happen to have, rather than imposing some one overarching collective end, after the fashion of the central planner.

Hayek did not deny that all of this entailed an alienating individualism. On the contrary, he emphasized it, and warned that it was the deepest challenge to the stability of capitalism, against which defenders of the market must always be on guard. This brings us to his account of the moral defects inherent in human nature. To take seriously the thesis that human beings are the product of biological evolution is, for Hayek, to recognize that our natural state is to live in small tribal bands of the sort in which our ancestors were shaped by natural selection. Human psychology still reflects this primitive environment. We long for solidarity with a group that shares a common purpose and provides for its members based on their personal needs and merits. The impersonal, amoral, and self-interested nature of capitalist society repels us. We are, according to Hayek, naturally socialist.

The trouble is that socialism is, again, simply impossible in modern societies, with their vast populations and unimaginably complex economic circumstances. Socialism is practical only at the level of the small tribal bands in which our psychology was molded. Moreover, whereas in that primitive sort of context, everyone shares the same tribal identity and moral and religious outlook, in modern society there is no one tribe, religion, or moral code to which all of its members adhere. Socialism in the context of a modern society would therefore also be tyrannical as well as unworkable, since it would require imposing an overall social vision with which at most only some of its members agree. A socialist society cannot be a diverse society, and a diverse society cannot be socialist.

Socialism in large societies requires direction from on high, direction that cannot fail to be inefficient and oppressive.

Returning to Feser:

… Hayek—who had, decades before, penned a famous essay titled “Why I Am Not a Conservative”—went in a strongly Burkean conservative direction [in his last books]. Just as market prices encapsulate economic information that is not available to any single mind, so too, the later Hayek argued, do traditional moral rules that have survived the winnowing process of cultural evolution encapsulate more information about human well-being than the individual can fathom. Those who would overthrow traditional morality wholesale and replace it with some purportedly more rational alternative exhibit the same hubris as the socialist planner who foolishly thinks he can do better than the market.

Unsurprisingly, he took the institution of private property to be a chief example of the benefits of traditional morality. But he also came to emphasize the importance of the family as a stabilizing institution in otherwise coldly individualist market societies, and—despite his personal agnosticism—of religion as a bulwark of the morality of property and the family. He lamented the trend toward “permissive education” and “freeing ourselves from repressions and conventional morals,” condemned the ’60s counter-culture as “non-domesticated savages,” and placed Sigmund Freud alongside Karl Marx as one of the great destroyers of modern civilization.

Hayek was committed, then, to a kind of fusionism—the project of marrying free market economics to social conservatism. Unlike the fusionism associated with modern American conservatism, though, Hayek’s brand had a skeptical and tragic cast to it. He thought religion merely useful rather than true, and defended bourgeois morality as a painful but necessary corrective to human nature rather than an expression of it. In his view, human psychology has been cobbled together by a contingent combination of biological and cultural evolutionary processes. The resulting aggregate of cognitive and affective tendencies does not entirely cohere, and never will.

Feser than summarizes three critiques of Hayek’s fusionism, one by Irving Kristol, one by Roger Scruton, and one by Andrew Gamble, in Hayek: The Iron Cage of Liberty (1996). Gamble’s critique, according to Feser, is that Hayek

never adequately faced up to the dangers posed by corporate power. Most people cannot be entrepreneurs, and even those who can cannot match the tremendous advantages afforded by the deep pockets, legal resources, and other assets of a corporation. Vast numbers of citizens in actually existing capitalist societies simply must work for a corporation if they are going to work at all. But that entails an economic dependency of individuals on centralized authority, of a kind that is in some ways analogous to what Hayek warned of in his critique of central planning. As with socialism, conformity to the values of centralized authority becomes, in effect, a precondition of the very possibility of feeding oneself. By way of example, we may note that the political correctness Hayek would have despised is today more effectively and directly imposed on society by corporate Human Resources departments than by government.

Feser concludes with this:

None of this implies a condemnation of capitalism per se. The problem is one of fetishizing capitalism, of making market imperatives the governing principles to which all other aspects of social order are subordinate. The irony is that this is a variation on the same basic error of which socialism is guilty—what Pope John Paul II called “economism,” the reduction of human life to its economic aspect. Even F.A. Hayek, a far more subtle thinker than other defenders of the free economy, ultimately succumbed to this tendency. Too many modern conservatives have followed his lead. They have been so fixated on socialism and its economic irrationality that they have lost sight of other, ultimately more insidious, threats to Western civilization—including economism itself. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, a madman is not someone who has lost his economic reason, but someone who has lost everything but his economic reason.

Alan Jacobs offers an orthogonal view in his essay, “After Technopoly” (The New Atlantis, Spring 2019):

The apparent captain of technopoly [the universal and virtually inescapable rule of our everyday lives by those who make and deploy technology] is what [Michael] Oakeshott calls a “rationalist”…. [T]hat captain can achieve his political ends most readily by creating people who are not rationalists. The rationalists of Silicon Valley don’t care whom you’re calling out or why, as long as you’re calling out someone and doing it on Twitter….

Oakeshott wrote “The Tower of Babel” at roughly the same time as his most famous essay, “Rationalism in Politics” (1947), with which it shares certain themes. At that moment rationalism seemed, and indeed was, ascendant. Rejecting the value of habit and tradition — and of all authority except “reason” — the rationalist is concerned solely with the present as a problem to be solved by technique; politics simply is social engineering….

Oakeshott foresaw the coming of a world — to him a sadly depleted world — in which everyone, or almost everyone, would be a rationalist.

But that isn’t what happened. What happened was the elevation of a technocratic elite into a genuine technopoly, in which transnational powers in command of digital technologies sustain their nearly complete control by using the instruments of rationalism to ensure that the great majority of people acquire their moral life by habituation. This habituation, of course, is not the kind Oakeshott hoped for but a grossly impoverished version of it, one in which we do not adopt our affections and conduct from families, friends, and neighbors, but rather from the celebrity strangers who populate our digital devices.

In sum, capitalism is an amoral means to material ends. It is not the servant of society, properly understood. Nor is it the servant of conservative principles, which include (inter alia) the preservation of traditional morality, both as an end and as a binding and civilizing force.

I therefore repeat this counsel:

It is important (nay, crucial) to cultivate an inner life of intellectual or spiritual satisfaction. Only that inner life — and the love and friendship of a small circle of fellows — can hold alienation at bay. Only that inner life — and love and close friendships — can give us serenity as civilization crumbles around us.

What about the “Gay Gene”?

An article in Science discusses the findings of a recent “genome-wide association study (GWAS) [by Andrea Ganna et al.], in which the genome is analyzed for statistically significant associations between single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and a particular trait.” That upshot is that

genetics could eventually account for an upper limit of 8 to 25% of same-sex sexual behavior of the population. However, when all of the SNPs they identified from the GWAS are considered together in a combined score, they explain less than 1%. Thus, although they did find particular genetic loci associated with same-sex behavior, when they combine the effects of these loci together into one comprehensive score, the effects are so small (under 1%) that this genetic score cannot in any way be used to predict same-sex sexual behavior of an individual.

Further, “Ganna et al. did not find evidence of any specific cells and tissues related to the loci they identified.”

Is this a big change from what was thought previously about genes and homosexuality? Yes, according to an article in ScienceNews:

The new study is an advance over previous attempts to find “gay genes,” says J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who was not involved in the new work. The study’s size is its main advantage, Bailey says. “It’s huge. Huge.”…

Previous sexual orientation genetic studies, including some Bailey was involved in, may also have suffered from bias because they relied on volunteers. People who offer to participate in a study, without being randomly selected, may not reflect the general population, he says. This study includes both men and women and doesn’t rely on twins, as many previous studies have….

This is the first DNA difference ever linked to female sexual orientation, says Lisa Diamond, a psychologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City who studies the nature and development of same-sex sexuality. The results are consistent with previous studies suggesting genetics may play a bigger role in influencing male sexuality than female sexuality. It’s not unusual for one sex of a species to be more fluid in their sexuality, choosing partners of both sexes, Diamond says. For humans, male sexuality may be more [but not very] tightly linked to genes.

But that doesn’t mean that genes control sexual behavior or orientation. “Same-sex sexuality appears to be genetically influenced, but not genetically determined,” Diamond says. “This is not the only complex human phenomenon for which we see a genetic influence without a great understanding of how that influence works.” Other complex human behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol use, personality and even job satisfaction all have some genetic component [emphasis added].

In sum, as an article in The Telegraph about the Ganna study explains,

[g]enes play just a small role in whether a person is gay, scientists have found, after discovering that environment has a far bigger impact on homosexuality….

[G]enes are responsible for between eight to 25 per cent of the probability of a person being gay, meaning at least three quarters is down to environment.

What’s most interesting about the commentary that I’ve read, including portions of the articles just quoted above, is what “environment” means to those who are eager to preserve the illusion of homosexuality as a condition that’s almost unavoidable.

The article in The Telegraph quotes one of the Ganna study’s authors, who is hardly a disinterested party:

As a gay man I’ve experienced homophobia and I’ve felt both hurt and isolated by it. This study disproves the notion there is a so-called ‘gay gene’ and disproves sexual behaviour is a choice.

Genetics absolutely plays an important role, many genes are involved, and altogether they capture perhaps a quarter of same-sex sexual behaviour, which means genetics isn’t even half the story. The rest is likely environmental.

It’s both biology and environment working together in incredibly complicated ways.

How does the study disprove that sexual behavior is a choice? It does so only if one makes the valiant assumption that environmental influences somehow don’t operate on behavior, and aren’t in turn shaped by behavior.

Another scientist, quoted in The Telegraph article, acknowledges my point:

There is an unexplained environmental effect that one can never put a finger on exactly it’s such a complex interplay between environment, upbringing, and genetics [emphasis added].

The Associated Press, always ready to spin news leftward, ran a story with the same facts and interpretations as those quoted earlier, but with the headline: “Study finds new genetic links to same-sex sexuality”. Which hides  the gist of the story: Homosexuality is mainly determined by environmental influences, which include and are shaped by behavioral choices.

What’s left unmentioned, of course, is that homosexuality is therefore predominantly a choice. What’s also left unmentioned are the environmental influences that are most likely to induce homosexual behavior. Here is my not-mutually-exclusive list of such influences:

  • shyness toward the opposite sex (caused by introversion, fear of rejection, self-assessment as unattractive)
  • proximity of potential sexual partners who are shy toward the opposite sex and/or open to experimentation, or who are seeking opportunities to seduce those who are shy and/or experimental
  • conditions conducive to experimentation (sleepovers, drunkenness, pornographic titillation)
  • encouraging or permissive milieu (parental encouragement/indifference, parental absence — as when a person is away at college, especially a “liberal” college populated by sexual experimenters/homosexuals)
  • general indifference or approbation (secularization of society, removal of criminal sanctions, legalization of sodomy, legalization of same-sex marriage, elite embrace and praise of non-traditional sexual behavior and roles: bisexuality, homosexuality, transgenderism).

All of those influences operate on the urge for sexual satisfaction, which is especially strong in adolescents and young adults. Given that urge, the incidence of introversion, the incidence of physical unattractiveness, the unconscionably large number of persons in college, and the social and legal trends of recent decades, it is almost shocking to learn that only about five percent of American adults think of themselves as LGBT. If you live in a “cosmopolitan” city of any size, you might believe that they account for a much larger fraction of the population. But that’s just due to the clustering effect — birds of a feather, and all that. Even if you don’t live in a “cosmopolitan” city, you may believe that far more than five percent of the population is LGBT because the producers of films and TV fare — “cosmopolitan” elites that they are — like to “celebrate diversity”. (Or, more aptly, shove it down your throat.)

In summary, I submit that most persons of the LGBT persuasion make a deliberate and often tragic choice about their “sexual identity”. (See, for example, my post, “The Transgender Fad and Its Consequences“, and Carlos D. Flores’s article, “The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern But Necessary Critique“.)

I submit, further, that the study by Ganna et al. implies that conversion therapy could be effective, and that (politically correct) “scientific” opposition to it is based on the now-discredited view of homosexuality as a genetically immutable condition.

If the apologists for and promoters of LGBT “culture” were logically consistent in their insistence on homosexuality as a genetic condition, they would also acknowledge that intelligence is largely a matter of genetic inheritance. They don’t do that, generally, because they are usually leftists who subscribe to the blank-slate view of inherent equality.

If any trait is strongly genetic in origin, it is the abhorrence of homosexuality, which is a threat to the survival of the species.

(See also “The Myth That Same-Sex Marriage Causes No Harm“, “Two-Percent Tyranny“, and “Further Thoughts about Utilitarianism“.)

“Libertarianism”, the Autism Spectrum, and Ayn Rand

The “libertarians” at Reason.com (or one of them, at least) jump on the rightly reviled Nancy MacLean — author of Democracy in Chains — for having said that economist James M. Buchanan (a target of her book) and other early leaders of the limited-government movement “seem to be on the autism spectrum.”

A stopped watch is right twice a day. MacLean isn’t a stopped watch, but she’s right for once.

There’s something about so-called libertarians — at least the ones whose writings I’m familiar with — that led me once upon a time to say following in “The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament” (block quotation format omitted for ease of reading):

[My] migration from doctrinaire libertarian to libertarian-conservative took place in the last decade, that is, since I began blogging in 2004. Why did my political world-view shift at so late an age? Because I came to realize, without the benefit of familiarity with Haidt’s work, that one’s political views tend to be driven by one’s temperament. That struck me as an irrational way of choosing a political stance, so — despite my own “libertarian” temperament — I came around to a libertarian brand of conservatism, one that I have sometimes called Burkean-Hayekian libertarianism (or conservatism).

The typical “libertarian” — the kind of pseudo-libertarian that I refuse to be — is stridently against religion, for “open” borders, for same-sex “marriage,” for abortion, and against war (except possibly when, too late, he sees the whites of his enemy’s eyes). Mutually beneficial coexistence based on trust and respect deriving from the common observance of traditional, voluntarily evolved social norms? Are you kidding? Only “libertarians” know how their inferiors (the “masses”) should live their lives, and they don’t blink at the use of state power to make it so. How “liberal” of them.

What temperament is typical of the pseudo-libertarian? Here’s [Todd] Zywicki [writing at The Volokh Conspiracy]:

Haidt finds that [pseudo] libertarians place a much higher emphasis on rationality and logical reasoning than do other ideologies. But that doesn’t mean that [pseudo] libertarian beliefs are less-motivated by unexamined psychological predispositions than other ideologies. Again, take the idea that [pseudo] libertarians believe that “consistency” is a relevant variable for measuring the moral worth or persuasiveness of an ideology. But that is not a self-justifying claim: one still must ask why “consistency” maters or should matter. So while [pseudo] libertarians may place a higher stated value on rational argumentation, that does not mean that [pseudo] libertarian premises are any less built upon subjective psychological foundations.

Zywicki links to an article by Haidt and others, “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians” (PLoS ONE 7(8): e42366. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042366), which arrives at this diagnosis of the pseudo-libertarian condition:

[They] have a unique moral-psychological profile, endorsing the principle of liberty as an end and devaluing many of the moral concerns typically endorsed by liberals or conservatives. Although causal conclusions remain beyond our current reach, our findings indicate a robust relationship between [pseudo] libertarian morality, a dispositional lack of emotionality, and a preference for weaker, less-binding social relationships [emphasis added].

That’s an uncomfortable but accurate description of my temperamental leanings, which reflect my almost-off-the-chart introversion. As the old saying goes, it takes one to know one. Thus, as I have written,

[p]seudo-libertarian rationalists seem to believe that social bonding is irrelevant to cooperative, mutually beneficial behavior; life, to them, is an economic arrangement.

Elsewhere:

[They] have no use for what they see as the strictures of civil society; they wish only to be left alone. In their introverted myopia they fail to see that the liberty to live a peaceful, happy, and even prosperous life depends on civil society….

And here:

Pseudo-libertarianism …. posits a sterile, abstract standard of conduct — one that has nothing to do with the workaday world of humanity….

That is not libertarianism. It is sophomoric dream-spinning.

Finally:

[P]seudo-libertarianism [is a] contrivance[], based … on … an unrealistic, anti-social view of humans as arms-length negotiators…. Pseudo-libertarianism can be dismissed as nothing more than a pipe-dream….

To the doctrinaire pseudo-libertarian, a perfect world would be full of cold-blooded rationalists. Well, perfect until he actually had to live in such a world.

End of quotation. (I especially like the phrase “introverted myopia”.)

What is my own “libertarian” temperament? This is from “Empathy Is Overrated” (block quotation format omitted again):

I scored 12 (out of 80) on a quiz that accompanies the article. My score, according to the key at the bottom, places me below persons with Asperger’s or low-functioning autism, who score about 20. My result is not a fluke; it is consistent with my MBTI type: Introverted-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging (INTJ), and with my scores on the Big-five personality traits:

Extraversion — 4th percentile for males over the age of 21/11th percentile for males above the age of 60

Agreeableness — 4th percentile/4th percentile

Conscientiousness – 99th percentile/94th percentile

Emotional stability — 12th percentile/14th percentile

Openness — 93rd percentile/66th percentile

End of quotation.

I recite all of this background because I was reminded of my characterization of “libertarians” by Arnold Kling, who today quotes from a piece by Shanu Athiparambath, “Ayn Rand Had Asperger’s Syndrome“:

Ayn Rand, in all likelihood, knew nothing about the autism spectrum. But she could draw from her own life and experiences. The creator of Howard Roark worked obsessively, evening after evening. She rarely went out. Ayn Rand was extremely nervous before public functions, but there was a violent intensity about her. She observed, rightly, that boredom preserves the precarious dignity of people who love small talk. Her sensitivity to cruelty and injustice has largely escaped her readers. All her life, she collected things, and kept them in separate file folders. Her grandmother gifted her a chest of drawers to store her collections, and her mother complained about all the rubbish she collected. She loved ordering and categorizing things, something very fundamental to the autistic cognitive style. Ayn Rand ticks way too many boxes.

Kling, himself, wrote this ten years ago:

In Rand’s study…There were more than two hundred grocer’s cartons, each divided into sections and filled to the brim with colored stones Rand had collected and sorted.

This is from Anne C. Heller’s biography of Ayn Rand. Based on reading Tyler Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy, I would view this stone-sorting behavior as a symptom of someone who was somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Heller does not mention autism or Aspergers’, but there is much in her biography of Rand to lead one to speculate that Rand was a high-functioning individual with that sort of disorder.

I don’t believe for a second that Rand was unique among “libertarians”. On the contrary, I believe that she was normal (as “libertarians” go), and that her “introverted myopia” drove her political philosophy.

Free Markets and Democracy

I am not slavishly devoted to free markets.

And I am deeply cynical about democracy as it is effected through electoral politics. But to almost everyone “democracy” is electoral democracy — and a “good thing”.

Of course, a goodly fraction of the people who think of “democracy” as a good thing have a particular formulation in mind: The “people” ought to decide how resources are allocated, businesses are run, profits are distributed, etc., etc., etc. The only practical way for such things to be done is for the “people” to elect office-holders who will use the power of government to make such things happen, as they (the office-holders and their unelected bureaucratic minions) prefer them to be done.

So the end result of electoral democracy isn’t democratic at all. The masses of people who are affected by government decisions about their social and economic affairs don’t really have a say in the making of those decisions. They only have a say in the election of office-holders who offer vague and nice-sounding promises about the things that they will accomplish. Those office-holders then turn things over to bureaucrats who have their own, very specific, undemocratic views about what should be accomplished, and how.

Which brings me back to free markets. Free markets are those in which buyers and sellers, through the price mechanism, determine what products and services should be produced, at what prices, and for whom. Every market participant acts voluntarily, and no one is coerced into selling something that he doesn’t want to produce or buying something that he doesn’t want to have. (Government intervention in markets yields exactly that kind of coercion by dictating, in effect, what can and cannot be produced, under what conditions, and by whom. The consumer is therefore coerced into a range of choices, or non-choices, that aren’t the ones he would prefer.)

Free markets, in sum, are democratic, in that their outcomes are determined directly by the participants in those markets.

And so we are left with the paradox that the loudest proponents of “democracy” are responsible for subverting it by their adamant opposition to free markets.

Competitiveness in Major-League Baseball

Only 30 days and fewer than 30 games per team remain in major-league baseball’s regular season. There are all-but-certain winners in three of six divisions: the New York Yankees, American League (AL) East; Houston Astros, AL West; and Los Angeles Dodgesr, National League (NL) West.

The Boston Red Sox, last year’s AL East and World Series champions, probably won’t make it to the AL wild-card playoff game. The Milwaukee Brewers, last year’s NL Central champs, are in the same boat. The doormat of AL Central, the Detroit Tigers, are handily winning the race to the bottom, with this year’s worst record in the major leagues.

Anecdotes, however, won’t settle the question whether major-league baseball is becoming more or less competitive. Numbers won’t settle the question, either, but they might shed some light on the matter. Consider this graph, which I will explain and discuss below:


Based on statistics for the National League and American League compiled at Baseball-Reference.com.

Though the NL began play in 1876, I have analyzed its record from 1901 through 2018, for parallelism with the AL, which began play in 1901. The rough similarity of the two time series lends weight to the analysis that I will offer shortly.

First, what do the numbers mean? The deviation between a team’s won-lost (W-L) record and the average for the league is simply

Dt = Rt – Rl , where, Rt is the team’s record and Rl is the league’s record in a given season.

If the team’s record is .600 and the league’s record is .500 (as it always was until the onset of interleague play in 1997), then Dt = .100. And if a team’s record is .400 and the league’s record is .500, then Dt = -.100. Given that wins and losses cancel each other, the mean deviation for all teams in a league would be zero, or very near zero, which wouldn’t tell us much about the spread around the league average. So I use the absolute values of Dt and average them. In the case of teams with deviations of .100 and -.100, the absolute values of the deviations would be .100 and .100, yielding a mean of .100. In a more closely contested season, the deviations for the two teams might be .050 and -.050, yielding a mean absolute deviation of .050.

The smaller the mean absolute deviation, the more competitive the league in that season. Season-by-season plots of the means are rather jagged, obscuring long-term trends. I therefore used centered five-year averages of mean absolute deviations.

Both leagues generally became more competitive from the early 1900s until around 1970. Since then, the AL has experienced two less-competitive periods: the late 1970s (when the New York Yankees re-emerged as a dominant team), and the early 2000s (when the Yankees were enjoying another era of dominance that began in the late 1990s). (The Yankees’ earlier periods of dominance show up as local peaks in the black line centered at 1930 and the early 1950s.)

The NL line highlights the dominance of the Chicago Cubs in the early 1900s and the recent dominance of the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, and St. Louis Cardinals.

What explains the long-term movement toward greater competitiveness in both leagues? Here’s my hypothesis:

Integration, which began in the late 1940s, eventually expanded the pool of baseball talent by opening the door not only to American blacks but also to black and white Hispanics from Latin America. (There were a few non-black Hispanic players in major-league ball before integration, but they were notable freckles on the game’s pale complexion.) Integration of blacks and Latins continue for decades after the last major-league team was nominally integrated in the late 1950s.

Meanwhile, the minor leagues were dwindling — from highs of 59 leagues and 448 teams in 1949 to 15 leagues and 176 teams in 2017. Players who might otherwise have stayed in the minor leagues have been promoted to the major leagues more often than in the past.

That tendency was magnified by expansion of the major leagues. The AL started in 1961 (2 teams), and the NL followed suit in 1962 (2 teams). Further expansion in 1969 (2 teams in each league), 1977 (2 teams in the AL), 1993 (2 teams in the NL), and 1998 (1 team in each league) brought the number of major-league teams to 30.

While there are now 88 percent more major-league teams than there were in 1949, there are far fewer teams in major-league and minor-league ball, combined. Meanwhile the population of the United States has more than doubled, and that source of talent has been augmented significantly by the recruitment of players of Latin America.

Further, free agency, which began in the mid-1970s, allowed weaker teams to attract high-quality players by offering them more money than stronger teams found it wise to offer, given roster limitations. Each team may carry only 25 players on its active roster until the final month of the season. Therefore, no matter how much money a team’s owner has, the limit on the size of his team’s roster constrains his ability to sign the best players available for every position. So the richer pool of talent is spread more evenly across teams.

“Economic Growth Since World War II” Updated

I have updated key portions of “Economic Growth Since World War II“; specifically, these sections:

II. The Record Since World War II

VI. Employment vs. Big Government and Disincentives to Work

There’s a long way to go before the dead hand of big government has been lifted enough to allow the restoration of robust growth — last enjoyed in the 1980s (see the table following figure 3). If a Democrat is elected president in 2020, the dead hand will, instead, lie more heavily on the economy.

Conservatism vs. “Libertarianism” and Leftism on the Moral Dimension

I said this recently:

Conservatives rightly defend free markets because they exemplify the learning from trial and error that underlies the wisdom of voluntarily evolved social norms — norms that bind a people in mutual trust, respect, and forbearance.

Conservatives also rightly condemn free markets — or some of the produce of free markets — because that produce is often destructive of social norms.

What about “libertarianism”* and leftism? So-called libertarians, if they are being intellectually consistent, will tell you that it doesn’t matter what markets produce (as long as the are truly free ones). What matters, in their view, is whether the produce of markets isn’t used to cause harm to others. (I have elsewhere addressed the vacuousness and fatuousness of the harm principle.) Therein lies a conundrum — or perhaps a paradox — for if the produce of markets can be used to cause harm, that is, used in immoral ways, the produce (and the act of producing it) may be immoral, that is, inherently and unambiguously harmful.

Guns aren’t a good example because they can be (and are) used in peaceful and productive or neutral ways (e.g., hunting for food, target-shooting for the enjoyment of it). Their use in self-defense and in wars against enemies, though not peaceful, is productive for the persons and nations engaged in defensive actions. (A war that contains elements of offense — even preemption — may nevertheless be defensive.)

Child pornography, on the other hand, is rightly outlawed because the production of it involves either (a) forcible participation by children or (b) the exploitation of “willing” children who are too young and inexperienced in life to know that they are subjecting themselves to physical and emotional dangers. Inasmuch as the produce (child pornography) can result only from an immoral process (physical or emotional coercion), the produce is therefore inherently and unambiguously immoral. I will leave it to the reader to find similar examples.

Here, I will turn in a different direction and tread on controversial ground by saying that the so-called marketplace of ideas sometimes yields inherently and unambiguously immoral outcomes:

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

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

If that were the only example of odious outcomes, it would be more than enough to convince me (if I needed convincing) that “libertarians” are dangerously naive. They are the kind of people who believe that disputes can and will be resolved peacefully through the application of “reason”, when they live in a world where most of the evidence runs in the other direction. They are as Lord Halifax — Winston Churchill’s first foreign secretary — was to Churchill: whimpering appeasers vs. defiant defenders of civilization.

The willingness of leftists (especially office-holders, office-seekers, and apparatchiks) to accept market outcomes is easier to analyze. Despite their preference for government dictation of market outcomes, they are willing to accept those outcomes as long as they comport with what should be, as leftists happen to see it at the moment. Leftists are notoriously unsteady in their views of what should be, because those views are contrived to yield power. Today’s incessant attacks on “racism”, “inequality”, and “sexism” are aimed at disarming the (rather too reluctant and gentlemanly) defenders of liberty (which isn’t synonymous with the unfettered operation of markets).

Power is the ultimate value of leftist office-holders, office-seekers, and apparatchiks. The inner compass of that ilk — regardless of posturing to the contrary — points toward power, not morality. Rank-and-file leftists — most of them probably sincere in their moral views — are merely useful idiots who lend their voices, votes, and money (often unwittingly) to the cause of repression.

Leftism, in short, exploits the inherent immorality of the “marketplace of ideas”.

Is it any wonder that leftism almost always triumphs over “libertarianism” and conservatism? Leftism is the cajoling adult who convinces the unwitting child to partake of physically and psychologically harmful sexual activity.


* I have used “sneer quotes” because “libertarianism” is a shallow ideology. True libertarianism is found in tradistional conservatism. (See “What Is Libertarianism?” and “True Libertarianism, One More Time“, for example.)

(See also “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare“, “An Addendum to Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare“, and “The Left-Libertarian Axis“.)

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