Never Give In

Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Winston S. Churchill, October 1941

*     *     *

I was reminded of Churchill’s exhortation by Gregory Hood’s article about the reaction of Beltway “conservatives” to Tucker Carlson’s excoriation of Mitt Romney’s craven attack on President Trump. Hood says, among many things, that

flowery tributes to “freedom” by conservatives and libertarians sound like a modern-day Italian quoting the legal codes of the Papal States. If “freedom” means control over your own property, Americans have not been free for at least fifty years….

The distinction between Tucker Carlson and his Conservatism Inc. critics is the distinction between confrontation and collaboration.

Collaboration is also known as compromise, a word favored by faux conservatives because it connotes virtue. But there is nothing virtuous about it. Compromise between good and evil necessarily results in more evil.

A leading case in point is the vast expansion of government handouts — in which “conservatives” have been complicit — beginning with and since the New Deal. As I say here,

[t]he lack of something, if it’s truly important to a person, is an incentive for that person to find a way to afford the something. That’s what my parents’ generation did, even in the depths of the Great Depression, without going on the dole. There’s no reason why later generations can’t do it; it’s merely assumed that they can’t. But lots of people do it. I did it; my children did it; my grandchildren are doing it.

Republicans used to say such things openly and with conviction, before they became afraid of seeming “mean.” Principled conservatives should still be thinking and saying such things. When conservatives compromise their principles because they don’t want to seem “mean,” they are complicit in the country’s march down the road to serfdom — dependency on and obeisance to the central government.

Every advance in the direction of serfdom becomes harder and harder to reverse. The abolition of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is now unthinkable, even though those programs have caused hundreds of millions of Americans to become addicted to government handouts….

The best time — usually the only time — to kill a government program is before it starts. That’s why conservatives shouldn’t compromise.

Build the wall, drain the swamp, nominate justices who drive leftists crazy. Never give in.

“The Little Drummer Girl” and War

My wife and I recently watched a six-episode, made-for-TV adaptation of The Little Drummer Girl, a novel by John Le Carré‘ that was published in 1983. The story

follows the manipulations of Martin Kurtz, an Israeli spymaster who intends to kill Khalil – a Palestinian terrorist who is bombing Jewish-related targets in Europe, particularly Germany – and Charlie, an English actress and double agent working on behalf of the Israelis….

Kurtz … recruits Charlie, a “21 or 22-year-old” radical left-wing English actress, as part of an elaborate scheme to discover the whereabouts of Khalil… Joseph is Charlie’s case officer. Khalil’s younger brother Salim is abducted, interrogated, and killed by Kurtz’s unit. Joseph impersonates Salim and travels through Europe with Charlie to make Khalil believe that Charlie and Salim are lovers. When Khalil discovers the affair and contacts Charlie, the Israelis are able to track him down.

Charlie is taken to Palestinian refugee camps to be trained as a bomber. She becomes more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and her divided loyalties bring her close to collapse. Charlie is sent on a mission to place a bomb at a lecture given by an Israeli moderate whose peace proposals are not to Khalil’s liking. She carries out the mission under the Israelis’ supervision. As a result, Joseph kills Khalil. Charlie subsequently has a mental breakdown caused by the strain of her mission and her own internal contradictions.

I recall that the 1984 feature-film version was widely thought to be pro-Palestinian and, therefore, anti-Israeli.

Neither my wife nor I have seen the 1984 film. She has read the novel, though she doesn’t remember much about it. I haven’t read the novel. I therefore came to the made-for-TV series with little baggage, though I feared that it might prove to be anti-Israeli propaganda. I will render a verdict later in this post, after considering some relevant evidence about the novel and feature film.

According to a piece in The New York Times, published soon after the release of the feature film, the novel and film were meant to be neutral:

The main problem in attempting to remain faithful to the book was dealing with what the filmmakers saw as its political balance – striving to be even-handed in the portrayal of Israelis and Palestinians engaged in a violent struggle for their respective causes and survival in the super- charged, highly sensitive arena of current history involving the ongoing agony of the Middle East.

”We weren’t making a political film,” said [director George Roy] Hill. ”We have no political ax to grind. We were making a suspense story that happened to have a political background. But we wanted to be true to the book, which we believe to be even-handed. The book shows the Palestinians for the first time in a human light. Up until then, they were seen as bloodthirsty monsters.”…

Like the book, the film does humanize the Palestinians and, perhaps because of the medium itself which makes them and their ultimate decimation visually and painfully real to the audience, it seems likely that the film will engender even more controversy than did the book.

Mr. Le Carre thinks controversy arose because the Palestinians never had a fair hearing in the United States. ”It is true,” he said, ”that some people think that it is heretical, anti-Semitic and probably even anti- American to suggest that there is even anything to be said for the Palestinian side.”

The novelist has continued to arouse passions by publishing some articles sympathetic to the Palestinians after the Shatila massacre in 1982. Nevertheless, he denies that this makes him anti-Israeli. ”It’s almost a vulgarity to confuse a balance of compassion with a want of sympathy for Israel,” he said. ”If I had written the book later, after the full extent of the Israeli operation was known, I would have made it angrier. But I begin and I end, believe it or not, as a tremendous supporter of a concept of Israel.”…

Indeed, the movie does not proclaim itself explicitly on one side or the other. A catalog of the ills shown suffered by each side would probably add up to a fairly even score….

But still, making the movie called for tremendous amounts of surgery and, in some cases, amputation….

The change in Charlie’s character is interesting because Mr. Le Carre had specified in his original contract that Charlie be played by an English actress. ”We were unable to find a suitable English actress,” Mr. Hill said. ”When I first spoke to Diane about the part we discussed the possibility of playing it with an English accent. But then I saw the advantage of making her American – to isolate her even more from the European community. This difference, and her more advanced age, makes the whole ending scene more moving, gives it more impact. By the end she can no longer act, she can’t pretend. She has been destroyed.”…

While the changes in Charlie’s personality added a dimension, the changes in Kurtz’s removed an aspect of his character – a moral one.

In the book, Kurtz, the master-spy, has many of the same doubts as Joseph, the agent Charlie loves. The two resolve their doubts in different ways. Kurtz pushes past them by working to stop the Palestinians even if in the process he has to act against his own conscience….

In the movie Mr. Kinski, who has previously played many fierce and even demonic characters, plays Kurtz as a hard-liner. He becomes a super-efficient agent with a touch of fanaticism, who resolutely brushes away all moral qualms. The effect is to make the Israelis seem like a ruthlessly moving machine pitted against the more vulnerable Palestinians.

Mr. Le Carre originally objected to the casting of Mr. Kinski because ”I thought he carried too much baggage with him.” He said he thinks his own Kurtz is probably ”more Israeli” and not as harsh. Mr. Hill said the casting choice was made for dramatic reasons. It would have been boring, he maintains, to have on screen two characters as similar as Joseph and Kurtz. But it’s one example of how a change made for dramatic impact can subtly change the film’s psychological effect.

It would seem that the crucial casting of Kinski as Kurtz gave the film an anti-Israeli tone — intended or not — even if the novel was meant to be neutral, as Le Carré‘ insists. The made-for-TV series struck me as truer to the spirit of the novel, as Le Carré‘ describes it.

The TV series can be viewed superficially, as just another story with some compelling characters, suspenseful sequences, and a conclusive climax. The series can also seem pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, depending on the stance you bring to your viewing.

I admit to having been staunchly pro-Israeli for a long time, but on reflection I conclude that the TV series conveys a pro-Israeli message — and more.

Charlie’s pangs of conscience after the killings of Khalil and his henchpersons are short-lived. She retreats to a seaside resort, recovers quickly, and reconciles with Joseph. I see these anti-climactic events as indicative of a pro-Israeli slant. Although the anti-climactic events might have been contrived merely to give the series a happy ending, they rather obviously (though subtly) endorse the rightness of the cause to which Charlie was recruited.

The series also conveys, even more subtly, this crucial message: One cannot win a war — or stave off defeat — by being less than ruthless. It’s probably true that most Palestinians, like most Israelis, are just “ordinary people” trying to get on with daily life. But that doesn’t negate the reality of the unrelenting Arab-Muslim effort to terrorize and kill Israelis and to undermine Israel as a sovereign state.

The need for ruthlessness is a lesson that American leaders seemed to have learned in World War II, but which their successors failed to apply in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the 1990-91 Gulf War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


Related posts:
The Decision to Drop the Bomb
Delusions of Preparedness
Inside-Outside
A Moralist’s Moral Blindness
A Grand Strategy for the United States
Why We Should (and Should Not) Fight
Rating America’s Wars
Transnationalism and National Defense
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
Preemptive War
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
Defense Spending: One More Time
My Defense of the A-Bomb
Pacifism
Presidents and War
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues
Planning for the Last War
A Rearview Look at the Invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror
Preemptive War Revisited
The Folly of Pacifism (III)

Is “Trump Fatigue” Setting In?

SUPERSEDED BY “TRUMP IN THE POLLS: AN UPDATE“.

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

The ratio for Trump, after a quick honeymoon start, fell into the same range as Obama’s. But it jumped with the passage of the tax cut in December 2017, and rose (raggedly) until six months ago. After leveling off for five months, the ratio began to drop sharply a month ago.

I would chalk it up to “Trump fatigue”. Trump is still better than the alternative, but I suspect that two years of tweeted outrage — even though mostly justified — is wearing on people who otherwise support his policies.

Yes, I know all about the relentless anti-Trump campaign from the left and NeverTrump “conservatives”. The graph suggests that Trump did a good job of countering that until recent months. The graph also suggests that Trump has to claim new, substantive victories before the tide turns against him. Tweeting won’t cut it.

Trump (and the country) has a lot at stake in the several pending issues; for example, the showdown over the border wall, Syria, North Korea, trade talks, the state of the economy, and the perception that his White House is or isn’t in chaos. Looming over all of it is the Mueller investigation and a concerted effort by House Democrats to undercut Trump on all fronts.

The coming weeks and months could bring a steady stream of bad news — or some surprisingly good news — for Trump. But it will have to be genuinely good news, not bombastic tweets from the Oval Office. It is time for Trump to retire his Twitter account.

Keep your eye on the “right direction”/”wrong track” ratio.

It’s “Seguin”, Not “Sequin”

This is from a piece by Teri Webster, “Off-Duty Officer, Citizen, Thwart Potential Church Massacre Early Sunday in Texas” (The Blaze, December 30, 2018):

A potential tragedy was avoided early Sunday after police in Sequin, Texas, arrested a man who may have been planning to open fire on a church to fulfill what he claimed was a “prophecy.”

What happened?

Police went to the 2400 block of West Kingsbury Street around 7 a.m. after witnesses reported seeing a man with a gun who was wearing tactical-style clothing and a surgical face shield,” the Sequin Gazette reported. An off-duty officer who first arrived at the scene said the suspect told him he was on his way to a church to fulfill a prophecy. The suspect was carrying a loaded firearm and extra ammunition, police said.

Seguin police arrested Tony Albert, 33, who was booked at the Guadalupe County Jail on charges of possession of marijuana and felony possession of firearm….

Ms. Webster writes “Sequin” twice before getting it right with “Seguin”. Her misspelling caught my eye because Seguin is near a route that I have taken several times from Austin to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

A trifle, you say? Not at all. It’s representative of the myriad errors — far more serious ones — that readers, listeners, and viewers don’t spot because they’re unfamiliar with the subject at hand. Errors that are made because reporters don’t know any better than to parrot their sources: global-warming alarmists, proponents of social panaceas, race-intelligence denialists, etc., etc., etc.

The next time you read, listen to, or view a “news” story that seems to push the global-warming agenda, paid family leave, inherent equality in all things (black basketball players excluded), ask yourself if the reporter knows the difference between “Sequin” and “Seguin”.

It’s Time to Revive 1920s’ Jazz

I often wonder why the popular jazz of the 1920s, which faded in the mid-1930s, isn’t still widely popular. It’s rhythmically inventive, driving, and upbeat — as opposed to the monotonous and often dreary, dissonant, and unmelodic droning of what later became known as jazz. (I’m not writing here about the New Orleans style of jazz, which is a genre of its own, and has never died out. If you’re unsure of the distinction, click on the links at the end of this post.)

The jazz of the ’20s (and early-to-mid-’30s) evolved into the swing of the ’30s and 40s. Swing evolved into the ponderous big-band sound of the ’40s and ’50s.

Rhythmically inventive, driving, and upbeat popular music returned in the mid-’50s, with the birth of rock and roll. The Beatles and their ilk put a twist on rock and roll, and the genre evolved into what is known as classic rock — the sound that dominated the mid-’60s to early ’70s. Its variants — some of them close to the classic sound — survive and thrive to this day.

But nothing — with the possible exception of early swing — has yet to rival the musical sophistication of ’20s jazz. Bands led by the likes of Red Allen, Bix Beiderbecke, Johnny Dodds, the early Duke Ellington, Jean Goldkette, Fletcher Henderson, Isham Jones, Vincent Lopez, Jelly Roll Morton, Red Nichols, King Oliver, and Paul Whiteman (to name only a small representation) recorded thousands of foot-stomping tunes (plus innumerable blues, ballads, novelty tunes, other non-jazzy material).

It is de rigeur in some musical circles to deride the offerings of the larger ensembles, such as those led by several of the band leaders mentioned above. But their tight orchestrations delivered as much toe-tapping vitality as anything offered up by smaller groups.

For a feast of ’20s jazz — and much more — go to The Red Hot Jazz Archive, tap your toes, and lighten your spirit. (RealPlayer required.)

One of my favorites, which number in the hundreds, is “Dinah“. Not a jazzy song, you say? Well, dig these variations on a theme:

Cliff Edwards (1925)

Jean Goldkette (1926)

Joe Venuti (1928)

Red Nichols (1929)

Louis Armstrong (1930)

Bing Crosby with the Mills Brothers (1932) (After a ballad-y start, Bing rips into it. Bing as you’ve probably never heard him.)

The Boswell Sisters (1934) (The Bozzies followed Bing’s lead.)

Quintette of the Hot Club of France (1934)

Fats Waller (1935)

And feast your ears on this long anthology of Bix Beiderbecke‘s recordings. Beiderbecke crammed a long lifetime of music into his brief 28 years.

The Princess Di Effect

Theodore Dalrymple describes it:

A young British woman called Grace Millane was making her way round the world after graduation from university when she was murdered in New Zealand….

All over New Zealand … there has been an outpouring of emotion, or at any rate of public displays of emotion—there being no point in having an emotion unless you can show it in public. The candles have come out en masse, as it were, and have been lit in prominent places at what are called vigils. People at these vigils—mainly women, to judge from the photograph—stand around and look mournful, and I daresay they hug one another….

… It all seems very peculiar to me, this outpouring of kitschy emotion.

It is not confined to New Zealand, of course. Perhaps the greatest exhibition of it was after the death of Princess Diana; but these days, we have come to expect the lighting of candles whenever anybody loses his life in an unusual or spectacular way. No sooner had three people been murdered by a Muslim terrorist in Strasbourg, for example, then out came the candles, as if they had been held in waiting precisely for such an event as this.

I admit to a deep vein of dark humor. I scorned the Princess Di cult when she was alive. Upon learning of her death, I immediately formulated a ghoulish pun: Princess die.

This isn’t to minimize or dismiss the pain of anyone’s brutal death or the true emotional suffering of those near and dear to that person. But I do wonder about the emotional state of those persons who, as Dalrymple puts it, “have vigil candles at the ready at home, and joss sticks, just waiting for the occasion to demonstrate to the world the depth of their feeling and their inner goodness”.

It is of a piece with many things, including these examples of leftist hypocrisy:

  • fawning over “undocumented migrants” and homeless persons whom one wouldn’t invite into one’s home
  • lamenting “climate change” from the comfort of one’s McMansion with a 3-car garage containing at least two monstrous SUVs
  • insisting that taxes are “too low” while taking advantage of every tax break in the book
  • supporting confiscatory gun-control measures while enjoying the security of a gated manse and armed bodyguards
  • advocating “free speech” as long as it’s speech of which the advocate approves
  • insisting that coerced charity, open borders, etc., etc., accord with the teachings of Christ, especially when Christ is otherwise meaningless to the advocate of such measures

All such hypocrisy — which places burdens on others that are trifles, at most, to the hypocrite — is of relatively recent vintage. It is due, in large part, to the success of capitalism (another target of leftist hypcrites), which has shielded limousine liberals, armchair anarchists, and salon socialists from the consequences of their own stated beliefs.

Granted, there is probably little overlap between the practitioners of leftist hypocrisy and the practitioners of public grief. But both practices spring from the same urge to stroke one’s ego by virtue-signaling. As vulgar as it may be, lighting a candle at the drop of a body (pardon my dark humor) is far preferable to the social and economic damage wrought by leftist schemes.

More Stock-Market Analysis (II)

Today’s trading on U.S. stock markets left the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Full-Cap index 17 percent below its September high. How low will the market go? When will it bounce back? There’s no way to know, which is the main message of “Shiller’s Folly” and “More Stock-Market Analysis“.

Herewith are three relevant exhibits based on the S&P Composite index as reconstructed by Robert Shiller (commentary follows):

In the following notes, price refers to the value of the index; real price is the inflation-adjusted value of the index; total return is the value with dividends reinvested; real total return is the inflation-adjusted value of total return.

  • The real price trend represents an annualized gain of 1.8 percent (through November 2018).
  • The real total return trend represents an annualized gain of 6.5 percent (through September 2018).
  • In month-to-month changes, real price has gone up 56 percent of the time; real total return has gone up 61 percent of the time.
  • Real price has been in a major decline about 24 percent of the time, where a major decline is defined as a real price drop of more than 25 percent over a span of at least 6 months.
  • The picture is a bit less bleak for total returns (about 20 percent of the time) because the reinvestment of dividends somewhat offsets price drops.
  • Holding a broad-market index fund is never a sure thing. Returns fluctuate wildly. Impressive real returns (e.g., 20 percent and higher) are possible in the shorter run (e.g., 5-10 years), but so are significantly negative returns. Holding a fund longer reduces the risk of a negative return while also suppressing potential gains.
  • Long-run real returns of greater than 5 percent a year are not to be scoffed at. It takes a lot of research, patience, and luck to do better than that with individual stocks and specialized mutual funds.

More Stock-Market Analysis

I ended “Shiller’s Folly” with the Danish proverb, it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.

Here’s more in that vein. Shiller uses a broad market index, the S&P Composite (S&P), which he has reconstructed back to January 1871. I keep a record of the Wilshire 5000 Full-Cap Total-Return Index (WLX), which dates back to December 1970. When dividends for stocks in the S&P index are reinvested, its performance since December 1970 is almost identical to that of the WLX:

It is a reasonable assumption that if the WLX extended back to January 1871 its track record would nearly match that of the S&P. Therefore, one might assume that past returns on the WLX are a good indicator of future returns. In fact, the relationship between successive 15-year periods is rather strong:

But that seemingly strong relationship is an artifact of the relative brevity of the track record of the WLX.  Compare the relationship in the preceding graph with the analogous one for the S&P, which goes back an additional 100 years:

The equations are almost identical — and they predict almost the same real returns for the next 15 years: about 6 percent a year. But the graph immediately above should temper one’s feeling of certainty about the long-run rate of return on a broad market index fund or a well-diversified portfolio of stocks.


Related posts:
Stocks for the Long Run?
Stocks for the Long Run? (Part II)
Bonds for the Long Run?
Much Ado about the Price-Earnings Ratio
Whither the Stock Market?
Shiller’s Folly

Anti-Elitism

Anti-elitism has shown great strength in various places, including the U.S., Italy, Brazil, and France. The proximate causes of anti-elitist uprisings aren’t all the same, but the underlying sentiment is: We are sick and tired of being dictated to and victimized by the political-media-academic-managerial establishment and its pet groups and causes.

Will the phenomenon endure and spread, or will it fade away like the Tea Party?

The answer depends on the ability of anti-elites to move into positions of power, and to remain there while remaining anti-elite. Power is seductive and corrupting. So anti-elitism is most likely to succeed and endure where it is led by persons, like Donald Trump, who already have wealth and power and (seem) to have a sincere appreciation of the grievances that underlie anti-elitism.


Related: True Populism

Shiller’s Folly

Robert Shiller‘s most famous (or infamous) book, is Irrational Exuberance (2000). According to the Wikipedia article about the book,

the text put forth several arguments demonstrating how the stock markets were overvalued at the time. The stock market collapse of 2000 happened the exact month of the book’s publication.

The second edition of Irrational Exuberance was published in 2005 and was updated to cover the housing bubble. Shiller wrote that the real estate bubble might soon burst, and he supported his claim by showing that median home prices were six to nine times greater than median income in some areas of the country. He also showed that home prices, when adjusted for inflation, have produced very modest returns of less than 1% per year. Housing prices peaked in 2006 and the housing bubble burst in 2007 and 2008, an event partially responsible for the Worldwide recession of 2008-2009.

However, as the Wikipedia article notes,

some economists … challenge the predictive power of Shiller’s publication. Eugene Fama, the Robert R. McCormick Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at The University of Chicago and co-recipient with Shiller of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economics, has written that Shiller “has been consistently pessimistic about prices,”[ so given a long enough horizon, Shiller is bound to be able to claim that he has foreseen any given crisis.

(A stopped watch is right twice a day, but wrong 99.9 percent of the time if read to the nearest minute. I also predicted the collapse of 2000, but four years too soon.)

One of the tools used by Shiller is a cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings ratio known as  CAPE-10 . It is

a valuation measure usually applied to the US S&P 500 equity market. It is defined as price divided by the average of ten [previous] years of earnings … , adjusted for inflation. As such, it is principally used to assess likely future returns from equities over timescales of 10 to 20 years, with higher than average CAPE values implying lower than average long-term annual average returns.

CAPE-10, like other economic indicators of which I know, is a crude tool:

For example, the annualized real rate of price growth for the S&P Composite Index from October 2003 to October 2018 was 4.6 percent. The value of CAPE-10 in October 2003 was 25.68. According to the equation in the graph (which includes the period from October 2003 through October 2018), the real rate of price growth should have been -0.6 percent. The actual rate is at the upper end of the wide range of uncertainty around the estimate.

Even a seemingly more robust relationship yields poor results. Consider this one:

The equation in this graph produces a slightly better but still terrible estimate: price growth of -0.2 percent over the 15 years ending in October 2018.

If you put stock (pun intended) in the kinds of relationships depicted above, you should expect real growth in the S&P Composite Index to be zero for the next 15 years — plus or minus about 6 percentage points. It’s the plus or minus that matters — a lot — and the equations don’t help you one bit.

As the Danish proverb says, it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XXIII)

CONTENTS

Government and Economic Growth

Reflections on Defense Economics

Abortion: How Much Jail Time?

Illegal Immigration and the Welfare State

Prosperity Isn’t Everything

Google et al. As State Actors

The Transgender Trap


GOVERNMENT AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

Guy Sorman reviews Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge’s Capitalism in America: A History. Sorman notes that

the golden days of American capitalism are over—or so the authors opine. That conclusion may seem surprising, as the U.S. economy appears to be flourishing. But the current GDP growth rate of roughly 3 percent, after deducting a 1 percent demographic increase, is rather modest, the authors maintain, compared with the historic performance of the postwar years, when the economy grew at an annual average of 5 percent. Moreover, unemployment appears low only because a significant portion of the population is no longer looking for work.

Greenspan and Wooldridge reject the conventional wisdom on mature economies growing more slowly. They blame relatively slow growth in the U.S. on the increase in entitlement spending and the expansion of the welfare state—a classic free-market argument.

They are right to reject the conventional wisdom.  Slow growth is due to the expansion of government spending (including entitlements) and the regulatory burden. See “The Rahn Curve in Action” for details, including an equation that accurately explains the declining rate of growth since the end of World War II.


REFLECTIONS ON DEFENSE ECONOMICS

Arnold Kling opines about defense economics. Cost-effectiveness analysis was the big thing in the 1960s. Analysts applied non-empirical models of warfare and cost estimates that were often WAGs (wild-ass guesses) to the comparison of competing weapon systems. The results were about as accurate a global climate models, which is to say wildly inaccurate. (See “Modeling Is not Science“.) And the results were worthless unless they comported with the prejudices of the “whiz kids” who worked for Robert Strange McNamara. (See “The McNamara Legacy: A Personal Perspective“.)


ABORTION: HOW MUCH JAIL TIME?

Georgi Boorman says “Yes, It Would Be Just to Punish Women for Aborting Their Babies“. But, as she says,

mainstream pro-lifers vigorously resist this argument. At the same time they insist that “the unborn child is a human being, worthy of legal protection,” as Sarah St. Onge wrote in these pages recently, they loudly protest when so-called “fringe” pro-lifers state the obvious: of course women who willfully hire abortionists to kill their children should be prosecuted.

Anna Quindlen addressed the same issue more than eleven years ago, in Newsweek:

Buried among prairie dogs and amateur animation shorts on YouTube is a curious little mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, Ill. The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It’s as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: “I’ve never really thought about it.” “I don’t have an answer for that.” “I don’t know.” “Just pray for them.”

You have to hand it to the questioner; he struggles manfully. “Usually when things are illegal there’s a penalty attached,” he explains patiently. But he can’t get a single person to be decisive about the crux of a matter they have been approaching with absolute certainty.

… If the Supreme Court decides abortion is not protected by a constitutional guarantee of privacy, the issue will revert to the states. If it goes to the states, some, perhaps many, will ban abortion. If abortion is made a crime, then surely the woman who has one is a criminal. But, boy, do the doctrinaire suddenly turn squirrelly at the prospect of throwing women in jail.

“They never connect the dots,” says Jill June, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa.

I addressed Quindlen, and queasy pro-lifers, eleven years ago:

The aim of Quindlen’s column is to scorn the idea of jail time as punishment for a woman who procures an illegal abortion. In fact, Quindlen’s “logic” reminds me of the classic definition of chutzpah: “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.” The chutzpah, in this case, belongs to Quindlen (and others of her ilk) who believe that a woman should not face punishment for an abortion because she has just “lost” a baby.

Balderdash! If a woman illegally aborts her child, why shouldn’t she be punished by a jail term (at least)? She would be punished by jail (or confinement in a psychiatric prison) if she were to kill her new-born infant, her toddler, her ten-year old, and so on. What’s the difference between an abortion and murder? None. (Read this, then follow the links in this post.)

Quindlen (who predictably opposes capital punishment) asks “How much jail time?” in a cynical effort to shore up the anti-life front. It ain’t gonna work, lady.

See also “Abortion Q & A“.


ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION AND THE WELFARE STATE

Add this to what I say in “The High Cost of Untrammeled Immigration“:

In a new analysis of the latest numbers [by the Center for Immigration Studies], from 2014, 63 percent of non-citizens are using a welfare program, and it grows to 70 percent for those here 10 years or more, confirming another concern that once immigrants tap into welfare, they don’t get off it.

See also “Immigration and Crime” and “Immigration and Intelligence“.

Milton Friedman, thinking like an economist, favored open borders only if the welfare state were abolished. But there’s more to a country than GDP. (See “Genetic Kinship and Society“.) Which leads me to…


PROSPERITY ISN’T EVERYTHING

Patrick T. Brown writes about Oren Cass’s The Once and Future Worker:

Responding to what he cutely calls “economic piety”—the belief that GDP per capita defines a country’s well-being, and the role of society is to ensure the economic “pie” grows sufficiently to allow each individual to consume satisfactorily—Cass offers a competing hypothesis….

[A]s Cass argues, if well-being is measured by considerations in addition to economic ones, a GDP-based measurement of how our society is doing might not only be insufficient now, but also more costly over the long term. The definition of success in our public policy (and cultural) efforts should certainly include some economic measures, but not at the expense of the health of community and family life.

Consider this line, striking in the way it subverts the dominant paradigm: “If, historically, two-parent families could support themselves with only one parent working outside the home, then something is wrong with ‘growth’ that imposes a de facto need for two incomes.”…

People need to feel needed. The hollowness at the heart of American—Western?—society can’t be satiated with shinier toys and tastier brunches. An overemphasis on production could, of course, be as fatal as an overemphasis on consumption, and certainly the realm of the meritocrats gives enough cause to worry on this score. But as a matter of policy—as a means of not just sustaining our fellow citizen in times of want but of helping him feel needed and essential in his family and community life—Cass’s redefinition of “efficiency” to include not just its economic sense but some measure of social stability and human flourishing is welcome. Frankly, it’s past due as a tenet of mainstream conservatism.

Cass goes astray by offering governmental “solutions”; for example:

Cass suggests replacing the current Earned Income Tax Credit (along with some related safety net programs) with a direct wage subsidy, which would be paid to workers by the government to “top off” their current wage. In lieu of a minimum wage, the government would set a “target wage” of, say, $12 an hour. If an employee received $9 an hour from his employer, the government would step up to fill in that $3 an hour gap.

That’s no solution at all, inasmuch as the cost of a subsidy must be borne by someone. The someone, ultimately, is the low-wage worker whose wage is low because he is less productive than he would be. Why is he less productive? Because the high-income person who is taxed for the subsidy has that much less money to invest in business capital that raises productivity.

The real problem is that America — and the West, generally — has turned into a spiritual and cultural wasteland. See, for example, “A Century of Progress?“, “Prosperity Isn’t Everything“, and “James Burnham’s Misplaced Optimism“.


GOOGLE ET AL. AS STATE ACTORS

In “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War” (03/18/18) I recommended treating Google et al. as state actors to enforce the free-speech guarantee of the First Amendment against them:

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. (Article V.)

Amendment I to the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech”.

Major entities in the telecommunications, news, entertainment, and education industries have exerted their power to suppress speech because of its content…. The collective actions of these entities — many of them government- licensed and government-funded — effectively constitute a governmental violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech (See Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944) and Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946).)

I recommended presidential action. But someone has moved the issue to the courts. Tucker Higgins has the story:

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could determine whether users can challenge social media companies on free speech grounds.

The case, Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, No. 17-702, centers on whether a private operator of a public access television network is considered a state actor, which can be sued for First Amendment violations.

The case could have broader implications for social media and other media outlets. In particular, a broad ruling from the high court could open the country’s largest technology companies up to First Amendment lawsuits.

That could shape the ability of companies like Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google to control the content on their platforms as lawmakers clamor for more regulation and activists on the left and right spar over issues related to censorship and harassment.

The Supreme Court accepted the case on [October 12]….

the court of Chief Justice John Roberts has shown a distinct preference for speech cases that concern conservative ideology, according to an empirical analysis conducted by researchers affiliated with Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Michigan.

The analysis found that the justices on the court appointed by Republican presidents sided with conservative speech nearly 70 percent of the time.

“More than any other modern Court, the Roberts Court has trained its sights on speech promoting conservative values,” the authors found.

Here’s hoping.


THE TRANSGENDER TRAP

Babette Francis and John Ballantine tell it like it is:

Dr. Paul McHugh, the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, explains that “‘sex change’ is biologically impossible.” People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa.

In reality, gender dysphoria is more often than not a passing phase in the lives of certain children. The American Psychological Association’s Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology has revealed that, before the widespread promotion of transgender affirmation, 75 to 95 percent of pre-pubertal children who were uncomfortable or distressed with their biological sex eventually outgrew that distress. Dr. McHugh says: “At Johns Hopkins, after pioneering sex-change surgery, we demonstrated that the practice brought no important benefits. As a result, we stopped offering that form of treatment in the 1970s.”…

However, in today’s climate of political correctness, it is more than a health professional’s career is worth to offer a gender-confused patient an alternative to pursuing sex-reassignment. In some states, as Dr. McHugh has noted, “a doctor who would look into the psychological history of a transgendered boy or girl in search of a resolvable conflict could lose his or her license to practice medicine.”

In the space of a few years, these sorts of severe legal prohibitions—usually known as “anti-reparative” and “anti-conversion” laws—have spread to many more jurisdictions, not only across the United States, but also in Canada, Britain, and Australia. Transgender ideology, it appears, brooks no opposition from any quarter….

… Brown University succumbed to political pressure when it cancelled authorization of a news story of a recent study by one of its assistant professors of public health, Lisa Littman, on “rapid-onset gender dysphoria.” Science Daily reported:

Among the noteworthy patterns Littman found in the survey data: twenty-one percent of parents reported their child had one or more friends who become transgender-identified at around the same time; twenty percent reported an increase in their child’s social media use around the same time as experiencing gender dysphoria symptoms; and forty-five percent reported both.

A former dean of Harvard Medical School, Professor Jeffrey S. Flier, MD, defended Dr. Littman’s freedom to publish her research and criticized Brown University for censoring it. He said:

Increasingly, research on politically charged topics is subject to indiscriminate attack on social media, which in turn can pressure school administrators to subvert established norms regarding the protection of free academic inquiry. What’s needed is a campaign to mobilize the academic community to protect our ability to conduct and communicate such research, whether or not the methods and conclusions provoke controversy or even outrage.

The examples described above of the ongoing intimidation—sometimes, actual sackings—of doctors and academics who question transgender dogma represent only a small part of a very sinister assault on the independence of the medical profession from political interference. Dr. Whitehall recently reflected: “In fifty years of medicine, I have not witnessed such reluctance to express an opinion among my colleagues.”

For more about this outrage see “The Transgender Fad and Its Consequences“.

GHWB

George Herbert Walker Bush (June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018) is the new leader in the clubhouse. That is to say, he is now the oldest member of the Dead Presidents Club, at the age of 94.47 years.

GHWB replaced Gerald Ford, who made it to 93.45. Ford replaced Ronald Reagan, who made it to 93.33.

Jimmy (now 94.17) will replace GHWB if he lives to March 25, 2019.

John Adams (90.67) and Herbert Hoover (90.19) are the other occupants of the club’s exclusive 90+ room. As many members of the club (5) lived into their 90s as lived into their 80s.

Will Jimmy make it 6 to 5, or will he become the club’s first centenarian? He already holds the record for having outlived his presidency. He’s almost at the 38-year mark, well beyond Hoover’s 31.63. The only president of the past half-century who was worse than Carter is Obama, who will probably break Carter’s miserable record for post-presidential pestilence.

For more in this vein, see the updated version of “Presidents: Key Dates and Various Trivia“.

Is There a Republican President in Our Future?

Ann Coulter doesn’t speak for me, though I often agree with her. She recently said this:

If either [Texas or Florida] ever flip, no Republican ever gets elected president again. Three out of four Hispanics in Texas are under the age of 18. So, each day Trump doesn’t fulfill the immigration promises — his voters are dying off and Democratic voters, Hillary’s voters are registering to vote. So, I hope he keeps his promise. This is why we wanted a wall.

There are also cultural and economic reasons to want a wall. But the electoral reason is good enough for me.

The flipping problem isn’t confined to States that are becoming more Hispanic, such as Arizona, Colorado, and Texas. There is the the southward creep of the Northeastern influence into North Carolina and Georgia (it has already vanquished Virginia). And there is the tenuous hold on States that flipped to the GOP column in 2016: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

All in all, and despite my bold prediction about 2020 (tempered here), the GOP has much to fear. Consider the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016, both won by GOP candidates with less than half of the two-party popular vote. Bush garnered 270 electoral votes with 49.7 percent of the two-party vote; Trump took 304 electoral votes with 48.9 percent of the two-party vote. Trump’s greater margin of victory is due to his (mostly narrow) victories in States lost by Bush (Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) more than offsetting the loss of States won by Bush (Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Virginia).

It’s entirely possible that the squishy center of the electorate will come to its senses and reject the party (Democrat, that is) which has aligned itself with identity politics, sexual deviancy, oppression, lawlessness, violence, and anti-Americanism. But I am not sanguine, given the dominance of that party’s minions in public education, the academy, and the “news” and “entertainment” media for so many decades.

I therefore offer this cautionary analysis of electoral trends. In the table below, electoral votes (EVs) are distributed according to Trump’s share of each-State’s two-party popular vote, and whether that was greater (+) or smaller (-) than Bush’s share in 2000. (Note: for simplicity, I have included in Trump’s total of 305, 2 EVs that Trump would have won from Texas, but for unfaithful electors. I have also ignored 1 EV awarded to Trump under Maine law, which awards an EV to the winner in each congressional district and 2 EVs to the statewide winner. I have included in Clinton’s total 6 EVs that eluded her because of faithles electors in Hawaii and Washington.)

I arbitrarily (but reasonably) sorted the 16 share/trend columns into 6 “solidity groups”, indicated by the color-coded values near the bottom of the table. Shades of red, from dark to light, indicate the degree of likelihood that the States in those groups will stay in the GOP camp. Shades of blue from light to dark, indicate the degree of likelihood that States in those groups will stay in the Democrat camp.

The two groups in the center — lightest red and lightest blue — comprise the at-risk EVs for the two parties. Unsurprisingly, there are far more at-risk GOP EVs than there are at-risk Democrat EVs: 155 to 24.

This isn’t to say that Republicans won’t win any more presidential elections. But barring a surge of (deserved) disenchantment with Democrats, the day may come when the GOP routinely selects a sacrificial lamb for slaughter every fourth November.


Related reading: Julia Gelatt and Jie Zong, “Settling In: A Profile of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population in the United States“, Migration Policy Institute, November 2018

Freedom of Speech and the Real Resistance

Freedom of speech, under present law, encompasses many things, including this small sample of repugnant acts:

  • counseling abortion
  • disrespecting the emblems of the United States
  • advocating illegal immigration
  • “guiding” children toward transgenderism
  • advocating socialism
  • advocating the disarmament of the United States

The real resistance in America consists of those Americans who push back against the disruptive and destructive movements that have been empowered by “freedom of speech” — such as those represented above.


Related posts:

Rethinking the Constitution: “Freedom of Speech, and of the Press”
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Freedom of Speech: Getting It Right
Freedom of Speech, to What End?

An Aside about the Cold Civil War

Imprimis has published a lecture by Charles R. Kesler, editor of Clarement Review of Books, about “America’s Cold Civil War“. It’s worth a read, but Kesler’s rendering of the subversion of the Constitution is on the skimpy side, as is his analysis of options for a resolution of the cold civil war. For a more complete treatment of those and related matters, see my page, “Constitution: Myths and Realities“, and the many posts listed at the bottom of the page.

One passage in Kesler’s lecture caught my attention:

Since 1968, the norm in America has been divided government: the people have more often preferred to split control of the national government between the Democrats and the Republicans rather than entrust it to one party. This had not previously been the pattern in American politics. Prior to 1968, Americans would almost always (the exceptions proved the rule) entrust the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Presidency to the same party in each election. They would occasionally change the party, but still they would vote for a party to run the government. Not so for the last 50 years.

I decided to look at the numbers to see if Kesler has it right. In fact, the “norm” of divided government began in Eisenhower’s presidency. The GOP eked out a narrow hold on both houses of Congress in 1952, when Ike won his first term.. But the GOP relinquished that hold in 1954, and didn’t regain until 1994, during Clinton’s presidency. Since 1952 only JFK, LBJ, and Carter — Democrats all — enjoyed same-party control of Congress throughout their presidencies.

The real story, as I see it, is the unusual era from 1952 through 1988, when Republican presidential candidates outpolled their congressional counterparts. Here, for your entertainment (if not edification), is a graphical version of the story (right-click to open a larger image in a new tab):

55 Years Ago — And Today

From “Where Were You?“, which I posted seven years ago:

I have long since repented of my admiration for JFK (e.g., here). But my repentance is irrelevant to this story. The events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, burned into my brain a memory that will remain with me for the rest of my life….

I have come to see that the emotions that stirred in me 48 years ago were foolish ones. The greatest tragedy of JFK’s passing was LBJ’s succession to the presidency. LBJ’s cynical use of JFK’s memory helped him to unleash policies that have divided America and threaten to bankrupt it.

From “Who Shot JFK, and Why?“:

What about the thesis advanced by James B. Reston Jr. that Oswald’s real target was Connally? Possibly, inasmuch as Oswald wasn’t a sniper-class shooter. Here’s a scenario that’s consistent with the timing of events in Dealey Plaza: Oswald can tell that his first shot missed his target. He got off a quick second shot, which hit JFK, who’s in line with Connally, passed through JFK and hit Connally. There was no obvious, dramatic reaction from Connally, even though he was hit. So Oswald fired a quick third shot, which hit Kennedy in the back of the head instead of hitting Connally, who by that time had slumped into his wife’s lap. (Go here for the Warren Commission’s chronology of the shots and their effects.)…

Reston could be right, but we’ll never know if he is or isn’t. The truth of the matter died with Oswald on November 24, 1963. In any event, if Reston is right, it would mean that there was no conspiracy to murder JFK.

The only conspiracy theory that might still be worth considering is the idea that Oswald was gunning for JFK because he was somehow maneuvered into doing so by LBJ, the CIA, Fidel Castro, the Mafia, or the Russians. (See, for example, Philip Shenon’s “‘Maybe We Missed Something’: Warren Commission Insider Publicly Concedes That JFK Assassination Was Likely a Conspiracy,” The Washington Post, September 22, 2014, republished in The National Post.) The murder of Oswald by Ruby conveniently plays into that theory. But I say that the burden of proof is on conspiracy theorists, for whom the obvious is not titillating enough. The obvious is Oswald — a leftist loser and less-than-honorably discharged Marine with a chip on his shoulder, a domineering mother, an unhappy home life, and a menial job.

From “1963: The Year Zero“:

If, like me, you were an adult when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, you may think of his death as a watershed moment in American history. I say this not because I’m an admirer of Kennedy the man (I am not), but because American history seemed to turn a corner when Kennedy was murdered….

This petite histoire begins with the Vietnam War and its disastrous mishandling by LBJ, its betrayal by the media, and its spawning of the politics of noise. “Protests” in public spaces and on campuses are a main feature of the politics of noise. In the new age of instant and sympathetic media attention to “protests,” civil and university authorities often refuse to enforce order. The media portray obstructive and destructive disorder as “free speech.” Thus do “protestors” learn that they can, with impunity, inconvenience and cow the masses who simply want to get on with their lives and work….

LBJ’s “Great Society” marked the resurgence of FDR’s New Deal — with a vengeance — and the beginning of a long decline of America’s economic vitality….

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 unnecessarily crushed property rights, along with freedom of association, to what end? So that a violent, dependent, Democrat-voting underclass could arise from the Great Society? So that future generations of privilege-seekers could cry “discrimination” if anyone dares to denigrate their “lifestyles”?…

The war on defense has been accompanied by a war on science. The party that proclaims itself the party of science is anything but that. It is the party of superstitious, Luddite anti-science. Witness the embrace of extreme environmentalism, the arrogance of proclamations that AGW is “settled science,” unjustified fear of genetically modified foodstuffs, the implausible doctrine that race is nothing but a social construct, and on and on.

With respect to the nation’s moral well-being, the most destructive war of all has been the culture war, which assuredly began in the 1960s. Almost overnight, it seems, the nation was catapulted from the land of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver to the land of the free- filthy-speech movement, Altamont, Woodstock, Hair, and the unspeakably loud, vulgar, and violent offerings that are now plastered all over the air waves, the internet, theater screens, and “entertainment” venues….

Then there is the campaign to curtail freedom of speech. This purported beneficiaries of the campaign are the gender-confused and the easily offended (thus “microagressions” and “trigger warnings”). The true beneficiaries are leftists. Free speech is all right if it’s acceptable to the left. Otherwise, it’s “hate speech,” and must be stamped out. This is McCarthyism on steroids. McCarthy, at least, was pursuing actual enemies of liberty; today’s leftists are the enemies of liberty….

If there are unifying themes in this petite histoire, they are the death of common sense and the rising tide of moral vacuity….


Related reading:

Victor Davis Hanson, “Did 1968 Win the Culture War?“, American Greatness, November 22, 2018

Will Lloyd, “How the Myth of JFK Tortured the Democratic Party for 55 Years“, Spectator USA, November 22. 2018

Jamie Palmer, “My Misspent Years of Conspiricism“, Quillette, November 22, 2018

Macroeconomic Modeling Revisited

Modeling is not science. Take Professor Ray Fair, for example. He teaches macroeconomic theory, econometrics, and macroeconometric models at Yale University. He has been plying his trade since 1968, first at Princeton, then at M.I.T., and (since 1974) at Yale. Those are big-name schools, so I assume that Prof. Fair is a big name in his field.

Well, since 1983 Professor Fair has been forecasting changes in real GDP four quarters ahead. He has made dozens of forecasts based on a model that he has tweaked many times over the years. The current model can be found here. His forecasting track record is here.

How has he done? Here’s how:

1. The mean absolute error of his forecasts is 70 percent; that is, on average his predictions vary by 70 percent from actual rates of growth.

2. The median absolute error of his forecasts is 33 percent.

3. His forecasts are systematically biased: too high when real, four-quarter GDP growth is less than 3 percent; too low when real, four-quarter GDP growth is greater than 3 percent. (See figure 1.)

4. His forecasts have grown generally worse — not better — with time. (See figure 2.)

5. In sum, the overall predictive value of the model is weak. (See figures 3 and 4.)

FIGURE 1

Figures 1-4 are derived from The Forecasting Record of the U.S. Model, Table 4: Predicted and Actual Values for Four-Quarter Real Growth, at Fair’s website.

FIGURE 2

FIGURE 3

FIGURE 4

Given the foregoing, you might think that Fair’s record reflects the persistent use of a model that’s too simple to capture the dynamics of a multi-trillion-dollar economy. But you’d be wrong. The model changes quarterly. This page lists changes only since late 2009; there are links to archives of earlier versions, but those are password-protected.

As for simplicity, the model is anything but simple. For example, go to Appendix A: The U.S. Model: July 29, 2016, and you’ll find a six-sector model comprising 188 equations and hundreds of variables.

Could I do better? Well, I’ve done better, with the simple model that I devised to estimate the Rahn Curve. It’s described in “The Rahn Curve in Action“, which is part III of “Economic Growth Since World War II“.

The theory behind the Rahn Curve is simple — but not simplistic. A relatively small government with powers limited mainly to the protection of citizens and their property is worth more than its cost to taxpayers because it fosters productive economic activity (not to mention liberty). But additional government spending hinders productive activity in many ways, which are discussed in Daniel Mitchell’s paper, “The Impact of Government Spending on Economic Growth.” (I would add to Mitchell’s list the burden of regulatory activity, which grows even when government does not.)

What does the Rahn Curve look like? Mitchell estimates this relationship between government spending and economic growth:

Rahn curve_Mitchell

The curve is dashed rather than solid at low values of government spending because it has been decades since the governments of developed nations have spent as little as 20 percent of GDP. But as Mitchell and others note, the combined spending of governments in the U.S. was 10 percent (and less) until the eve of the Great Depression. And it was in the low-spending, laissez-faire era from the end of the Civil War to the early 1900s that the U.S. enjoyed its highest sustained rate of economic growth.

Elsewhere, I estimated the Rahn curve that spans most of the history of the United States. I came up with this relationship (terms modified for simplicity (with a slight cosmetic change in terminology):

Yg = 0.054 -0.066F

To be precise, it’s the annualized rate of growth over the most recent 10-year span (Yg), as a function of F (fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels) in the preceding 10 years. The relationship is lagged because it takes time for government spending (and related regulatory activities) to wreak their counterproductive effects on economic activity. Also, I include transfer payments (e.g., Social Security) in my measure of F because there’s no essential difference between transfer payments and many other kinds of government spending. They all take money from those who produce and give it to those who don’t (e.g., government employees engaged in paper-shuffling, unproductive social-engineering schemes, and counterproductive regulatory activities).

When F is greater than the amount needed for national defense and domestic justice — no more than 0.1 (10 percent of GDP) — it discourages productive, growth-producing, job-creating activity. And because government spending weighs most heavily on taxpayers with above-average incomes, higher rates of F also discourage saving, which finances growth-producing investments in new businesses, business expansion, and capital (i.e., new and more productive business assets, both physical and intellectual).

I’ve taken a closer look at the post-World War II numbers because of the marked decline in the rate of growth since the end of the war (Figure 2).

Here’s the revised result, which accounts for more variables:

Yg = 0.0275 -0.340F + 0.0773A – 0.000336R – 0.131P

Where,

Yg = real rate of GDP growth in a 10-year span (annualized)

F = fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels during the preceding 10 years

A = the constant-dollar value of private nonresidential assets (business assets) as a fraction of GDP, averaged over the preceding 10 years

R = average number of Federal Register pages, in thousands, for the preceding 10-year period

P = growth in the CPI-U during the preceding 10 years (annualized).

The r-squared of the equation is 0.74 and the F-value is 1.60E-13. The p-values of the intercept and coefficients are 0.093, 3.98E-08, 4.83E-09, 6.05E-07, and 0.0071. The standard error of the estimate is 0.0049, that is, about half a percentage point.

Here’s how the equation stacks up against actual 10-year rates of real GDP growth:

What does the new equation portend for the next 10 years? Based on the values of F, A, R, and P for 2008-2017, the real rate of growth for the next 10 years will be about 2.0 percent.

There are signs of hope, however. The year-over-year rate of real growth in the four most recent quarters (2017Q4 – 2018Q3) were 2.4, 2.6, 2.9, and 3.0 percent, as against the dismal rates of 1.4, 1.2, 1.5, and 1.8 percent for four quarters of 2016 — Obama’s final year in office. A possible explanation is the election of Donald Trump and the well-founded belief that his tax and regulatory policies would be more business-friendly.

I took the data set that I used to estimate the new equation and made a series of out-of-sample estimates of growth over the next 10 years. I began with the data for 1946-1964 to estimate the growth for 1965-1974. I continued by taking the data for 1946-1965 to estimate the growth for 1966-1975, and so on, until I had estimated the growth for every 10-year period from 1965-1974 through 2008-2017. In other words, like Professor Fair, I updated my model to reflect new data, and I estimated the rate of economic growth in the future. How did I do? Here’s a first look:

FIGURE 5

For ease of comparison, I made the scale of the vertical axis of figure 5 the same as the scale of the vertical axis of figure 2. It’s obvious that my estimate of the Rahn Curve does a much better job of predicting the real rate of GDP growth than does Fair’s model.

Not only that, but my model is less biased:

FIGURE 6

The systematic bias reflected in figure 6 is far weaker than the systematic bias in Fair’s estimates (figure 1).

Finally, unlike Fair’s model (figure 4), my model captures the downward trend in the rate of real growth:

FIGURE 7

The moral of the story: It’s futile to build complex models of the economy. They can’t begin to capture the economy’s real complexity, and they’re likely to obscure the important variables — the ones that will determine the future course of economic growth.

A final note: Elsewhere (e.g., here) I’ve disparaged economic aggregates, of which GDP is the apotheosis. And yet I’ve built this post around estimates of GDP. Am I contradicting myself? Not really. There’s a rough consistency in measures of GDP across time, and I’m not pretending that GDP represents anything but an estimate of the monetary value of those products and services to which monetary values can be ascribed.

As a practical matter, then, if you want to know the likely future direction and value of GDP, stick with simple estimation techniques like the one I’ve demonstrated here. Don’t get bogged down in the inconclusive minutiae of a model like Professor Fair’s.

Nullification and Secession

Joe Wolverton II, writing at The New American, quotes from a five-year old speech by Matthew Whitaker:

As a principle, it has been turned down by the courts and our federal government has not recognized it. Now we need to remember that the states set up the federal government and not vice versa. And so the question is, do we have the political courage in the state of Iowa or some other state to nullify Obamacare and pay the consequences for that?

Wolverton then mounts an effective defense of Whitaker’s position; for example:

… Whitaker asserted that the states “set up the federal government.” There is no logical way to dispute that historical fact.

When the Articles of Confederation (our first constitution) came under criticism from influential statesmen, Congress was compelled to invite delegates to a convention to be held in Philadelphia “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”

Congress’ invitation was sent not to the people, but to the state governments. The state legislatures were invited to send a delegation to help repair rips in the constitutional fabric. This historical fact is irrefutable evidence that a functioning agreement for a government of the United State was the goal. That government, if it was to exist at all, would be the creation of the states that participated in the formation of it.

Additional evidence of the claim that the states were the only interested parties in the compact of the Constitution is found in the way votes were taken and recorded at the convention in Philadelphia. Representatives voted as states, not as individuals. In fact, the journal where those votes were recorded catalogs the yeas and nays according to the name of state, not the name of the delegate.

Another clue to the identity of the parties to the Constitution, is found in Articles V and VII of the document itself.

Article V requires that amendments be “ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states or by conventions in three-fourths thereof.” Not only was the Constitution a binding contract among the states, but any alterations of the provisions of that contract had to be signed off by a super majority of the parties.

Next, the prose and purpose of Article VII makes the issue so clear as to permit no reasonable alternative interpretation. In this brief statement the role of the states as the sine qua non of the Constitution is established. Article VII reads, “The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.”

Plainly and purposefully the framers of the Constitution recognized that the document they signed in September 1787 was an agreement among the states represented. Every article was written by the states, voted on by the states, accepted or rejected by the states, ultimately approved by the states, and it would only become binding upon states who ratified it.

Why were the people not polled or asked to vote up or down on the Constitution? Because this was neither a popular nor a national compact; it was a compact creating a confederation of sovereign states.

As constitutional attorney Kent Masterson Brown explains, “The idea that the constitution that they [the framers] had drafted and ratified was entered into ‘by the people,’ as opposed to the states, and was irrevocable once ratified was absolutely unknown to the framers and ratifiers.”

I would add that had these men been convinced that such an arrangement was advocated or even so much as contemplated by those pushing for acceptance of the Constitution, it never would have been ratified by the requisite number of states, and the embryonic American republic would have been stillborn in Philadelphia.

If nullification is to be successfully deployed and defended, states lawmakers must remember that the Constitution is a creature of the states and that the federal government was given very few and very limited powers over objects of national importance. Any act of Congress, the courts, or the president that exceeds that small scope is null, void, and of no legal effect.

Not once during the deliberations at the Constitutional Convention was there a proposal that their work be presented for approval to the body of the populace acting as individuals. From the beginning of the process that culminated on September 17, 1787 with the signing of the Constitution, it was understood that the ratification by at least nine states was the sine qua non of the start of the new government.

Still, the establishment and their media mouthpieces obstinately deny one irrefutable fact: The Constitution never would have gone into legal effect and the federal government never would have been created if state conventions had not met and ratified the document.

I have argued similarly many times. In “Constitution: Myths and Realities“, I say this about the myth that “the people” ratified the Constitution:

The idea that the Constitution is the creature of “the people” is balderdash. It is balderdash of a high order because it was lent credence by none other than John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835, whose many opinions shaped constitutional jurisprudence for better and for worse….

Marshall argues [in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)] against a strawman of his own construction: the insinuation that the Constitution was somehow ratified by “the American people”. He does not come out and say that, but he implies that holding the ratifying conventions in the various States was necessary because of the impracticality of holding a national convention of “the people”. The fact is that the conventions in the States were of modest size. The table given here shows that the total number of delegates voting yea and nay in each State ranged from a low of 26 to a high of 355, for an average of 127 per State. This was hardly anything like “one common mass” of the American people. The 1,648 delegates who voted in the thirteen conventions represented about two-tenths of one percent of the free white males aged 16 and older at the time (and presumably far less than one-half of one percent of the free-white males considered eligible for a convention).

The fact is that the ratifying conventions were held in the States because it was left to each State whether to join the new union or remain independent. The conventions were conducted under the auspices of the State legislatures. They were, in effect, special committees with but one duty: to decide for each State whether the State would join the union.

This view is supported by Madison’s contemporaneous account of the ratification process:

[I]t appears, on one hand, that the Constitution is to be founded on the assent and ratification of the people of America, given by deputies elected for the special purpose; but, on the other, that this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. It is to be the assent and ratification of the several States, derived from the supreme authority in each State, the authority of the people themselves. The act, therefore, establishing the Constitution, will not be a national, but a federal act. [The Federalist No. 39, as published in the Independent Journal, January 16, 1788]

But I go further than Wolverton does (though he might agree with me). I concur in the legitimacy of nullification (which is a form of departmentalism). But I also argue that the Constitution’s provenance as a creature of the States makes secession a legal (constitutional) act. Here are excerpts of my model resolution of secession:

[I]n a letter to Alexander Rives dated January 1, 1833, Madison says that

[a] rightful secession requires the consent of the others [other States], or an abuse of the compact, absolving the seceding party from the obligations imposed by it.

An abuse of the compact most assuredly legitimates withdrawal from it, on the principle of the preservation of liberty, especially if that abuse has been persistent and shows no signs of abating. The abuse, in this instance, has been and is being committed by the national government.

The national government is both a creature of the Constitution and a de facto party to it, as co-sovereign with the States and supreme in its realm of enumerated and limited powers. One of those powers enables the Supreme Court of the United States to decide “cases and controversies” arising under the Constitution, which is but one of the ways in which the Constitution makes the national government a party to the constitutional contract. More generally, the high officials of the national government acknowledge that government’s role as a party to the compact — and the limited powers vested in them — when they take oaths of office requiring them to uphold the Constitution.

Those high officials have nevertheless have committed myriad abuses of the national government’s enumerated and limited powers. The abuses are far too numerous to list in their entirety. The following examples amply justify the withdrawal of the State of _______________ from the compact….

As outlined above, the national government has routinely and massively violated Amendment X, which states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

We, therefore, the representatives of the people of _______________ do solemnly publish and declare that this State ought to be free and independent; that it is absolved from all allegiance to the government of the United States; that all political connection between it and government of the United States is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as a free and independent State it has full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

Secession isn’t the only possible remedy for the central government’s long record of unconstitutional behavior. Go there and read the whole thing.