Another Footnote about Anarchy

Seattle is what happens when the circle of anarchists is widened to include people who believe in force rather than dreamy abstractions about how private defense agencies can keep the peace. The problem — as realists like me have long noted — is that there are a lot of people who don’t believe in peace because it limits them to what the can earn honestly. And goes against their violent nature.


Related posts:

Anarchy: An Empty Concept
Anarchy, Minarchy, and Liberty
Friedman on Anarchy and Conservatism
A Few Thoughts about Anarchy
Extreme Libertarianism vs. the Accountable State
It’s the 1960s Redux
Apt Quotations for a Riot-Ridden Country
Anarchy: A Footnote

Apt Quotations for a Riot-Ridden Country

I was browsing The Great Quotations and came upon several quotations that strike me as especially apt today.

The tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny. (Edmund Burke)

The very first essential for success is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence. (Adolf Hitler)

All social disturbances and upheavals have their roots in crises of individual self-esteem, and the great endeavor in which the masses most readily unite is basically a search for pride. (Eric Hoffer)

The dictatorship of the proletariat is nothing else than power based upon force and limited by nothing — by no law and absolutely no rule. (V.I. Lenin)

Every reform movement has a lunatic fringe. (Theodore Roosevelt)

The mass never comes up to the standard of its best member, but on the contrary degrades itself to the level of the lowest. (Henry David Thoreau)

Bleeding Heart Libertarians (the Blog): Good Riddance

Ist kaputt. Why is it good riddance? See this post and follow the links, most of which lead to posts critical of Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

Is Trump Taking My Advice?

I made a case, here and here, for preemptive action against Big Tech’s censorship of conservative viewpoints. There has been some movement along anti-trust lines, but Trump’s executive order on social media is a big step in the right direction. Stewart Baker (The Volokh Conspiracy) explains:

The order really only has two and a half substantive provisions, and they’re all designed to increase the transparency of takedown decisions.

The first provision tells NTIA (the executive branch’s liaison to the FCC) to suggest a rulemaking to the FCC. The purpose of the rule is to spell out what it means for the tech giants to carry out their takedown policies “in good faith.” The order makes clear the President’s view that takedowns are not “taken in good faith if they are “deceptive, pretextual, or inconsistent with a provider’s terms of service” or if they are “the result of inadequate notice, the product of unreasoned explanation, or [undertaken] without a meaningful opportunity to be heard.” This is not a Fairness Doctrine for the internet; it doesn’t mandate that social media show balance in their moderation policies. It is closer to a Due Process Clause for the platforms.  They may not announce a neutral rule and then apply it pretextually. And the platforms can’t ignore the speech interests of their users by refusing to give users even notice and an opportunity to be heard when their speech is suppressed.

The second substantive provision is similar. It asks the FTC, which has a century of practice disciplining the deceptive and unfair practices of private companies, to examine social media takedown decisions through that lens.  The FTC is encouraged (as an independent agency it can’t be told) to determine whether entities relying on section 230 “restrict speech in ways that do not align with those entities’ public representations about those practices.”

(The remaining provision is an exercise of the President’s sweeping power to impose conditions on federal contracting. It tells federal agencies to take into account the “viewpoint-based speech restrictions imposed by each online platform” in deciding whether the platform is an “appropriate” place for the government to post its own speech. It’s hard to argue with that provision in the abstract. Federal agencies have no business advertising on, say, Pornhub. In application, of course, there are plenty of improper or unconstitutional ways the policy could play out. But as a vehicle for government censorship it lacks teeth; one doubts that the business side of these companies cares how many federal agencies maintain their own Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. And in any event, we’ll have time to evaluate this sidecar provision when it is actually applied.)

That’s it.  The order calls on social media platforms to explain their speech suppression policies and then to apply them honestly. It asks them to provide notice, a fair hearing, and an explanation to users who think they’ve been treated unfairly or worse by particular moderators.

I would take a much harder line (follow the links in the first sentence of this post). But something is better than nothing. It’s a shot across the bow of Big Tech, though I would prefer a nuclear-tipped torpedo below the water line.

Bleeding Heart Libertarians (the Blog): A Bibliography of Related Posts

A recent post at Policy of Truth by its proprietor, Irfan Khawaja, prompted me to compile a list of all of the posts that I have written about some of the blog posts and bloggers at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. Though Khawaja and I disagree about a lot, I believe that we agree about the fatuousness of bleeding-heart libertarianism. (BTW, Khawaja’s flaming valedictory, on a different subject, is worth a read.)

Here’s the bibliography, arranged chronologically from March 9, 2011, to September 11, 2014:

The Meaning of Liberty
Peter Presumes to Preach
Positive Liberty vs. Liberty
More Social Justice
On Self-Ownership and Desert
The Killing of bin Laden and His Ilk
In Defense of Subjectivism
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
What Is Libertarianism?
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
What Is Bleeding-Heart Libertarianism?
The Morality of Occupying Public Property
The Equal-Protection Scam and Same-Sex Marriage
Liberty, Negative Rights, and Bleeding Hearts
Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists
Enough with the Bleeding Hearts Already
Not Guilty of Libertarian Purism
Obama’s Big Lie
Bleeding-Heart Libertarians = Left-Statists (Redux)
Egoism and Altruism
A Case for Redistribution Not Made

Obamagate

In case you haven’t seen my page “Obamagate (a.k.a. Spygate and Russiagate)“, which I’ve just updated, I’m reproducing it below. But you should go there from time to time because the list of related reading at the bottom of the page keeps growing, and is certain to expand greatly in the coming weeks and months.


I have added to the list of related reading at the bottom of this page many times since publishing it on August 31, 2018. There have, however, been only two substantive revisions (noted by boldface), neither of which has altered my original thesis about the origin and purposes of the conspiracy. On 05/03/20 I included former FBI director James Comey as a full-fledged member of the post-election phase of the conspiracy, based on Andrew McCarthy’s article of 05/02/20 (see “related reading”). On 05/12/20 I limited former deputy AG Sally Yates’s role to the post-election phase (based on McCarthy’s article), and (based on Francis Menton’s article of 5/11/20) I acknowledged the possibility that the post-election phase of the conspiracy was really meant to be a coverup of the pre-election attempt to discredit Trump with the Steele dossier. Also, in view of the confirmation of Obama’s central role in the conspirace, which I had posited from the beginning, I began on 05/11/20 to refer to the affair as Obamagate.

The persecution of General Flynn, as it turns out, was an essential element of the post-election coverup attempt. See McCarthy’s article of 05/20/20 for a complete explanation.

Neither Donald Trump nor anyone acting on his behalf colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The original story about collusion, the Steele Dossier, was cooked up by the White House and the Clinton campaign. The story was then used to launch a three-pronged attack on Trump and the Trump campaign. The first prong was to infiltrate and spy on the campaign, seeking (a) to compromise campaign officials and (b) learn what “dirt” the campaign had on Clinton. The second prong was to boost Clinton’s candidacy by casting Trump as a dupe of Putin. The third prong was to discredit Trump, should he somehow win the election, in furtherance of the already-planned resistance to a Trump administration. (According to Menton, the effort to discredit Trump may have been just a welcome side effect of the underlying effort to deflect attention from Obama’s role in the pre-election conspiracy to defeat Trump.)

The  investigation led by Robert Mueller is a continuation and expansion of FBI investigations that had been aimed at “proving” a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller’s investigation was expanded to include the possibility that Trump obstructed justice by attempting to interfere with the FBI investigations. All of this investigatory activity was and is intended to provide ammunition for Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. That would leave a Republican in the White House, but — as with the forced resignation of Nixon — it would weaken the GOP, cause a “Blue wave” election in 2018, and result in the election of a Democrat president in 2020.

(Aside: The effort to brand Trump as a dupe of Russia is ironic, given the anti-anti-communist history of the Democrat party, Barack Obama’s fecklessness in his dealings with Russia, and his stated willingness to advance Russia’s interests while abandoning traditional European allies. Then there was FDR, who was surrounded and guided by Soviet agents.)

Why was it important to defeat Trump if possible, and to discredit or remove him if — by some quirk of fate — he won the election?

  • First, Obama wanted to protect his “legacy”, which included the fraudulent trifecta of Obamacare, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Paris climate accord. The massive increase in the number of federal regulations under Obama was also at risk, along with his tax increase, embrace of Islam, and encouragement of illegal immigration (and millions of potential Democrat voters).
  • Second, members of the Obama administration, including Obama himself, were anxious to thwart efforts by the Trump campaign to obtain derogatory information about Hillary Clinton. Such information included, but was not limited to, incriminating e-mails that Russians had retrieved from the illegal private server set up for Clinton’s use. That Obama knew about the private server implicated him in the illegality.

In sum, helping Hillary win — with the aid of the CIA, Justice Department, and FBI — was supposed to protect Obama and his “legacy”. One way of doing that was to ensure a victory by Hillary. (The Obama-directed whitewash of her illegal e-mail operation was meant to defuse that issue.) The other way of protecting Obama’s “legacy” was to cripple Trump’s presidency, should he somehow manage to win, and thus hinder Trump’s effectiveness. The media could be counted out to fan the flames of resistance, as they have done with great vigor.

The entire Obamate operation is reminiscent of Obama’s role in the IRS’s persecution of conservative non-profit groups. Obama spoke out against “hate groups” and Lois Lerner et al. got the message. Lerner’s loyalty to Obama was rewarded with a whitewash by Obama’s. Department of Justice and FBI.

In the case of Obamagate, Obama expressed his “concern” about Russia’s attempt to influence the election. Obama’s “concern” was eagerly seized upon by hyper-partisan members of his administration, including (but not limited to):

Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s confidante and chief strategist

CIA Director John (the Red) Brennan (probably Obama’s action officer for the operation)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper

National Security Adviser Susan Rice

Attorney General Loretta Lynch

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who became Acting Attorney General in the first weeks of the Trump administration, and who was fired for refusing to defend Trump’s “travel ban” (which the Supreme Court ultimately upheld). (Yates didn’t become involved in the conspiracy until after the election, as indicated by Susan Rice’s memo of January 20, 2017, in which she notes that Obama asked Yates and Comey to stay behind after the end of a meeting of January 5, 2020, presumably so that he could fill them in on the effort to frame General Flynn and discuss how they were to deal with the incoming administration. Again, see Menton’s piece dated May 11, 2020 in “related reading”.)

Deputy Associate Attorney General Bruce Ohr, a subordinate of Sally Yates and Christopher Steele’s contact in the Department of Justice

Nelli Ohr, wife of Bruce Ohr, who was hired by Fusion GPS to do opposition research for the Clinton campaign

Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe

FBI General Counsel James Baker, in charge of FISA requests and leaker of the Steele Dossier (possibly a dupe)

Peter Strzok, chief of the FBI’s counterintelligence section;

Lisa Page, the FBI attorney (and Strzok’s paramour), who (with Strzok) was assigned to the Mueller investigation.

What about FBI Director James Comey? He was initially an outsider, a nominal Republican in a Democrat administration, and possibly a willing dupe at first (see the pieces by VDH dated August 7, 2018, and Margot Cleveland dated December 20, 2019.  But if he was initially a willing dupe with his own agenda, it seems that he had became a full-fledged conspirator by the time of Trump’s inauguration (see the piece by Andrew McCarthy dated May 2, 2020).


Related reading, in chronological order:

National Sentinel: “The Spygate Files: Timeline to the Biggest Political Scandal in American History

Paul Roderick Gregory, “The Timeline of IRS Targeting of Conservative Groups“, Forbes, June 25, 2013

Jay Sukelow, “Obama’s Fingerprints All Over IRS Tea Party Scandal“, Fox News Opinion, October 20, 2013

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Obama’s Growing Conflict of Interest in the Clinton E-mail Scandal“, National Review, February 3, 2016

Miles Terry, “President Obama’s IRS Scandal: Seven Years & Counting“, ACLJ, August 2016

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Obama’s Conflict Tanked the Clinton E-mail Investigation — As Predicted“, National Review, September 26, 2016

Andrew C. McCarthy, “The Obama Administration’s Uranium One Scandal“, National Review, October 21, 2017

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Was the Steele Dossier the FBI’s ‘Insurance Policy’?“, National Review, December 23, 2017

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Clinton-Obama E-mails: The Key to Understanding Why Hillary Wasn’t Indicted“, National Review, January 23, 2018

George Parry, “Did Fusion GPS’s Anti-Trump Researcher Avoid Surveillance With A Ham Radio?“, The Federalist, March 2, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “In Politicized Justice Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures“, National Review, May 19, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “The Real Origination Story of the Trump-Russia Investigation“, National Review, May 22, 2018

Sharyl Atkisson, “8 Signs Pointing to a Counterintelligence Operation Deployed Against Trump’s Campaign“, The Hill, May 23, 2018

Julie Kelly, “The Open Secret of the FBI’s Investigation of Trump’s Campaign“, American Greatness, May 25, 2018

Roger Kimball, “For Your Eyes Only: A Short History of Democrat-Spy Collusion“, Spectator USA, May 25, 2018

Daniel John Sobieski, “Jarrett and Obama Are Behind Spygate“, American Thinker, May 26, 2018

Francis Menton, “‘Russia’: Bona Fide Basis for Investigation or Preposterous Cover Story?“, Manhattan Contrarian, May 27, 2018

Michael Barone, “Obama’s Spying Scandal Is Starting to Look a Lot Like Watergate“, New York Post, May 27, 2018

C. Michael Shaw, “Spygate Is a Bigger Scandal Than Watergate“, The New American, May 28, 2018

David Harsanyi, “Obama Says ‘I Didn’t Have Scandals.’ So What Are All These?“, The Federalist, May 29, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “The Obama Administration’s Hypocritical Pretext for Spying on the Trump Campaign“, National Review, May 29, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Yes, the FBI Was Investigating the Trump Campaign When It Spied“, National Review, May 30, 2018

Scott Johnson, “The Curious Case of Mr. Downer“, Power Line, June 1, 2018

C. Michael Shaw, “FBI’s Violation of Rules in Spying on Trump Campaign Further Exposes Deep State“, The New American, June 1, 2018

Jason Veley, “Confirmed: Barack Obama Was Running the Entire Spygate Operation That Violated Federal Law to Spy on Trump Campaign Officials“, Natural News, June 1,  2018

MJA, “Peter Strzok Asks Lisa Page: ‘You Get All Your OCONUS Lures Approved?’“, iOTWReport.com, June 5, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Clinton E-mails: What the IG Report Refuses to Admit“, National Review, June 19, 2018

George Neumayr, “Mueller Has Strzok Out“, The American Spectator, June 20, 2018

Alex Swoyer, “Sen. Lindsey Graham Quizzes Inspector General over Peter Strzok’s ‘Insurance Policy’ Text“, The Washington Times, June 21, 2018

George Neumayr, “Hillary’s Fiends in High Places“, The American Spectator, June 22, 2018

Lee Smith, “Seven Mysterious Preludes to the FBI’s Trump-Russia Probe“, RealClearInvestigations, June 26, 2018

John Solomon, “Memos Detail FBI’s ‘Hurry the F Up Pressure’ to Probe Trump Campaign“, The Hill, July 6, 2018

Scott Johnson, “The Brennan Factor Revisited“, Power Line, July 20, 2018

John Hinderaker, “First Thoughts on the Carter Page FISA Application“, Power Line, July 21, 2018

John Hinderaker, “The Associated Press Lies about the FISA Application“, Power Line, July 22, 2018

Michael Ledeen, “Why Are the Democrats and the Spooks Suddenly So Ferociously Anti-Putin?PJ Media, July 22, 2018

Thomas Lifson, “Ten Problems with the Release of the Heavily Redacted FISA Warrants on Carter Page“, American Thinker, July 22, 2018

Hans A. von Spakovsky, “The Clinton State Department Major Security Breach That Everyone Is Ignoring“, The Heritage Foundation, July 22, 2018

Steve Byas, “Does Strzok Have a Perjury Problem?“, The New American, July 23, 2018

Daniel J. Flynn, “Did the FBI Lie to the FISA Court?“, The American Spectator, July 23, 2018

Victor Davis Hanson, “Just How Far Will the Left Go?“, American Greatness, July 23, 2018

Scott Johnson, “Devin Nunes Vindicated“, Power Line, July 23, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “FISA Applications Confirm: The FBI Relied on the Unverified Steele Dossier“, National Review, July 23, 2018

Ed Morrissey, “Reuters: Butina Met with Two ‘Senior’ Government Officials — in 2015“, Hot Air, July 23, 2015

Jason Beale, “James Comey’s Own Words Suggest FBI, DOJ Hid Dossier Funding From The FISA Judge“, The Federalist, July 24, 2018

Victor Davis Hanson, “Russianism“, National Review, July 24, 2018

Dennis Prager, “The Greatest Hysteria in American History“, RealClearPolitics, July 24, 2018

Ned Ryun, “None Dared Call It Treason … When It Was a Democrat“, American Greatness, July 24, 2018

Katarina Trinko, “What the Carter Page FISA Warrant Reveals about the Trump-Russia Investigation“, The Daily Signal, July 24, 2018

Jason Beale, “It’s Suspicious That The FBI And DOJ Didn’t Check Into Christopher Steele’s Leaks To The Press“, The Federalist, July 25, 2018

Julie Kelly, “Vindication for Carter Page“, American Greatness, July 25, 2018

Mollie Hemingway, “Media Gaslighting Can’t Hide Fact Trump Campaign Was Spied On“, The Federalist, July 26, 2018

Paul Mirengoff, “What the FBI Didn’t Tell the FISA Court“, Power Line, July 27, 2018

Scott Johnson, “The Story So Far“, Power Line, July 29, 2018

Willis Krumholz, “The Facts Behind The Trump Tower Meeting Are Incriminating, But Not For Trump“, The Federalist, July 30, 2018

Dan Perkins, “The FBI, Hillary’s Computers, and the Russians“, American Thinker, July 30, 2018

Ned Ryun, “Americans Need Clear Answers on FISA Abuse“, American Greatness, July 30, 2018

Scott Johnson, “Contra the Dross of Doss (3)“, Power Line, July 31, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “If You Inspect The FISA Applications Closely, More Mysteries Arise About Joseph Mifsud“, The Federalist, August 2, 2018

George Neumayr, “Never Forget the Brennan-Brit Plot to Nail Trump“, The American Spectator, August 3, 2018

Byron York, “!2 Times Christopher Steel Fed Trump-Russia Allegations to the FBI after the Election“, Washington Examiner, August 3, 2018

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Police Were Not Policed“, National Review, August 7, 2018

Byron York, “Emails Show 2016 Links among Steele, Ohr, Simpson — with Russian Oligarch in Background“, Washington Examiner, August 8, 2016

John Solomon, “The Handwritten Notes Exposing What Fusion GPS Told DOJ About Trump“, The Hill, August 9, 2018

George Neumayr, “Strzok Out, Ohr In“, The American Spectator, August 13, 2018

Lee Smith, “2016 Trump Tower Meeting Looks Increasingly Like a Setup by Russian and Clinton Operatives“, RealClearInvestigations, August 13, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “New Info Indicates Clinton-Funded Oppo Research Launched FBI’s Trump Investigation“, The Federalist, August 14, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “Notes Suggest FBI Employees Plotted To Keep Using Steele After He Broke FBI Rules“, The Federalist, August 14, 2018

Chuck Ross, “Fusion GPS Founder Shared ‘False Story’ About GOP Lawyer In Meeting With DOJ’s Bruce Ohr“, The Daily Caller, August 14, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “How Bruce Ohr Could Implicate High-Ranking Obama Officials In Spygate“, The Federalist, August 15, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “New Details Show Firing Strzok Didn’t Remove All The Compromised FBI Agents Involved In Russiagate“, The Federalist, August 15, 2018

Adam Mill, “Bruce Ohr May Have Broken More Than The Law By Pushing His Wife’s Opposition Research To The FBI“, The Federalist, August 16, 2018

Steve Baldwin, “Did Trump Really Save America from Socialism?“, The American Spectator, August 16, 2018

Kimberley Strassel, “What Was Bruce Ohr Doing?“, The Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2018

Catherine Herridge, “DOJ’s Bruce Ohr Wrote Christopher Steele Was ‘very concerned about Comey’s firing — afraid they will be exposed’“, Fox News, August 17, 2018

George Neumayr, “John Brennan, a Security Risk from the Start“, The American Spectator, August 17, 2018

u/lonestarbeliever, “Connecting Some Dots“, Reddit, August 21, 2018 (This illustrates the ease with which conspiracy theories can be constructed, which isn’t to say that it’s wrong.)

Scott Johnson, “The Weiner Laptop Revisited“, Power Line, August 23, 2018

Paul Sperry, “Despite Comey Assurances, FBI Failed To Examine Vast Bulk Of Weiner Laptop Emails“, The Federalist, August 24, 2018

Bre Payton, “FBI Agent Says DOJ Used Leaked Stories It Planted To Get FISA Warrants“, The Federalist, August 28, 2018

Jay Greenberg, “Bruce Ohr Testimony Exposes Even Deeper Cesspit of FBI Corruption“, Neon Nettle, August 29, 2018

Thomas Lifson, “Ohr Speaks! (Behind Closed Doors“, American Thinker, August 29, 2018

Aaron Klein, “Email Logs Reveal Correspondence Between Clinton Associate, Fusion GPS, and Russians at Trump Tower Meeting“, Breitbart.com, August 31, 2018

Laura Barrón-López, “Bruce Ohr, FBI Together Attempted to Flip Russian Oligarchs to Gather Information on Trump Campaign: Report“, Washington Examiner, September 1, 2018

Paul Mirengoff, “The FBI’s Anti-Trump Leak Strategy“, Power Line, September 10, 2018

Thomas Lifson, “Newly Revealed Texts Reveal Strzok and Page Conspired to Release Information Intended to Damage Trump on Russiagate“, American Thinker, September 11, 2018

Paul Minrengoff, “The FBI’s Anti-Trump Leak Strategy, Part Two“, Power Line, September 12, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “Reading the FISA Redactions“, National Review, September 14, 2018

Andrew C. McCarthy, “In the Russia Probe, It’s ‘Qui S’excuse S’accuse’“, National Review, September 15, 2018

Scott Johnson, “Whose Stuff Did Steele Shovel?“, Power Line, September 18, 2018

Michael Barone, “The Air Has Seeped Out of the Russia/Collusion Balloon“, Washington Examiner, September 19, 2018

John Solomon, “Collusion Bombshell: DNC Lawyers Met with FBI on Russia Allegations before Surveillance Warrant“, The Hill, October 3, 2018

John Solomon, “FBI’s Smoking Gun: Redactions Protected Political Embarrassment, Not ‘National Security’“, The Hill, October 7, 2018

Scott Johnson, “What We Have Learned So Far“, Power Line, October 30, 2018

Scott Johnson, “What We Have Learned So Far” [2], Power Line, November 11, 2018

John Hinderaker, “The Ultimate Fake News”, Power Line, November 18, 2018

George Neumayr, “Why Britain Doesn’t Want Trump to Declassify Obamagate Docs“, The American Spectator, November 27, 2018

Margot Cleveland, “New Details Reinforce That The FBI Used Fake Pretexts To Start Investigating Trump“, The Federalist, November 30, 2018

John Solomon, “Trump, Russia and Lessons from the Mob: Did ‘Godfathers’ Steer Collusion Probe?“, The Hill, November 30, 2018

Sidney Powell, “New Facts Indicate Mueller Destroyed Evidence, Obstructed Justice“, The Daily Caller, December 16, 2018

Fuzzy Slippers, “IG Report: Strzok, Page iPhones Wiped Clean, Thousands of Texts Destroyed Before IG Could Review Them“, Legal Insurrection, December 16, 2018

Lee Smith, “New Documents Suggest the Steele Dossier Was a Deliberate Setup for Trump“, The Federalist, January 2, 2019

Jed Babbin, “The Most Successful Coverup“, The American Spectator, January 7, 2019

Paul Mirengoff, “Report: FBI Opened Inquiry into Whether Trump Was Working for the Russians“, Power Line, January 11, 2019

Scott Johnson, “More Mueller Madmess“, Power Line, January 12, 2019

C. Michael Shaw, “Whistleblowr: Obama-era Deep State Surveillance Program Spied on Trump, Judges, Others“, The New American, January 12, 2019

Andrew C. McCarthy, “FBI Russia Investigation Was Always about Trump“, Fox News, January 13, 2019

Gregg Jarrett, “An FBI That Is Corrupt and Dishonest — Latest Reports Offer Only More Proof“, Fox News, January 14, 2019

Mollie Hemingway, “Top Mueller Officials Coordinated with Fusion GPS Spouse in 2016“, The Federalist, January 17, 2019

Catherine Herridge and Cyd Upson, “New Details of 2016 Meeting with Trump Dossier Author Conflict with Dems’ Timeline“, Fox News, January 28, 2019

Scott Johnson, “Coup’s Next“, Power Line, February 16, 2019 (a roundup of links to commentary about Andrew McCabe’s admission of the FBI’s attempt to remove Trump from office)

Andrew McCarthy, “McCabe, Rosenstein, and the Real Truth about the 25th Amendment Coup Attempt“, Fox News, February 16, 2019

Francis Menton, “Comments on Andrew McCabe and the FBI Coup Plotters“, Manhattan Contrarian, February 16, 2019

Victor Davis Hanson, “Autopsy of a Dead Coup“, American Greatness, February 17, 2019

Greg Re, “Lisa Page Admitted Obama DOJ Ordered Stand-Down on Clinton Email Prosecution, GOP Rep Says“, Fox News, March 12, 2019

Greg Re, ” DOJ Reached Agreement with Clinton Lawyers to Block FBI  Access to Clinton Foundation Emails, Strzok Says“, Fox News, March 14, 2019

Margot Cleveland, “Did Peter Strzok Lie, Or Was There A Spy Targeting The Trump Campaign? “, The Federalist, March 19, 2019

Dan Mills, “Lisa Page Transcripts Reveal Huge Preferences For Clinton During Email Scandal Investigation“, The Federalist, March 19, 2019

Andrew C. McCarthy, “After Mueller’s Exoneration of Trump, Full Disclosure“, National Review, March 23, 2019

Sharyl Atkisson (eponymous blog), “— Media Mistakes in the Trump Era: The Definitive List“, as of March 24, 2019

William P. Barr, Letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, March 24, 2019

Sean Davis, “In Letter To Congress, Attorney General Confirms Mueller Found No Evidence Of Collusion By Trump“, The Federalist, March 24, 2019

Margot Cleveland, “Who Launched An Investigation Into Trump’s Campaign Before Crossfire Hurricane?“, The Federalist, March 25, 2019

William L. Krumholz, “Russiagate’s Damage To The Country Will Take Years To Realize“, The Federalist, March 25, 2019

Jeffrey Lord, “What Did Obama Know and When Did He Know It?“, The American Spectator, March 25, 2019

Adam Mill, “In New York, Deputy U.S. Attorney Jumps Sinking Russiagate Ship“, The Federalist, March 25, 2019

Adam Mill, “No, Barr’s Summary Of The Mueller Report Does Not Support Trump’s Alleged Obstruction“, The Federalist, March 25, 2019

Andrew C. McCarthy, “How Long Has Mueller Known There Was No Trump-Russia Collusion?“, Fox News, March 26, 2019

Sean Davis, “The Only 2016 Campaign That Deliberately Colluded With Russians Was Hillary Clinton’s“, The Federalist, March 28, 2019

Melissa Mackenzie, “Mueller Russia Hoax: Keep Yer Eye on the Ball“, The American Spectator, March 28, 2019

George Parry, “Was Mueller’s Investigation a Cover Up?“, The American Spectator, March 28, 2019

Victor Davis Hanson, “The Tables Turn in Russian Collusion Hunt“, American Greatness, March 31, 2019

Victor Davis Hanson, “All the Progressive Plotters“, American Greatness, April 8, 2019

Mollie Hemingway, “AG Barr Confirms Multiple Intel Agencies Implicated in Anti-Trump Spying Operation“, The Federalist, March 10, 2019

Madeline Osburn, “Top FBI Lawyer Testified Rosenstein Discussed Removing Trump from Office“, The Federalist, April 10, 2019

Mollie Hemingway, “New York Times Admits Obama Admin Deployed Multiple Spies Against Trump Campaign In 2016“, The Federalist, May 2, 2019

Joseph DiGenova (interview), “Obama Knew about CIA Chief John Brennan’s Illicit Anti-Trump Targeting Scheme!“, YouTube, May 14, 2019

John Solomon, “State Department’s Red Flag on Steele Went to a Senior FBI Man Well before FISA Warrant“, The Hill, May 14. 2019

Andrew C. McCarthy, “The Steele Dossier and the ‘VERIFIED APPLICATION’ That Wasn’t“, National Review, May 18, 2019

Victor Davis Hanson, “He Did It, Not Me!“, American Greatness, May 19, 2019

Thomas Lifson, “Joe DiGenova Blows the Lid off the Real Scandal: The Russia Hoax Was a Cover-up Effort for Obama’s Political Spying since 2012“, American Thinker, May 28, 2019

Stephen F. Cohen, “How Did Russiagate Begin?“, The Nation, May 30, 2019

Jed Babbin, “Who Ran Crossfire Hurricane?“, The American Spectator, June 3, 2019

Margot Cleveland, “Why Did The Obama Administration Ignore Reports Of Russian Election Meddling?“, The Federalist, June 4, 2019

Jay Sekulow, “Obama Administration’s Anti-Trump Actions Revealed in Newly Disclosed Documents“, Fox News, June 25, 2019

Paul Sperry, “Justice Dept. Watchdog Has Evidence Comey Probed Trump, on the Sly“, RealClearInvestigations, July 22, 2019 (This supports my view that Comey was acting on his own, for his own reasons, and was at most a “useful idiot” for the concerted, Brennan-led effort to frame Trump.)

Jed Babbin, “The Comey-Brennan Conspiracy to Violate Trump’s Civil Rights“, The American Spectator, September 2, 2019 (Did Comey and Brennan conspire knowingly, or did Comey happen to act in ways that served Brennan’s conspiracy? We shall see — maybe.)

George Parry, “Michael Flynn Graymails the Government“, The American Spectator, September 16, 2019 (Will the FBI risk disclosure of its dirty tactics in its persecution of Michael Flynn? Flynn’s new lawyer thinks it won’t.)

Krystina Skurk, “Andrew McCarthy Unveils the Real Russia Collusion Narrative“, The Federalist, October 11, 2019

Michael Horowitz, Inspector General of the Department of Justice, “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation“, December 9, 2019

Margot Cleveland, “IG Report Hints James Comey Was In On FBI’s FISA Misconduct“, The Federalist, December 20, 2019

Alan J. Favish, “The Horowitz Report: Yes, It Gets Worse“, American Thinker, December 22, 2019

Victor Davis Hanson, “Impeachment Fallouts“, National Review, December 31, 2019

James Re, “James Comey Focus of FBI Leak Investigation, Report Says“, Fox News, January 16, 2020 (This report, about which I have no doubts, doesn’t contradict my view that Comey was a useful idiot of the conspirators, who happened to advance the conspiracy while trying (a) to stay on Trump’s good side and (b) trying to undermine him after (a) failed.)

Paul R. Gregory, “Why Was the Steele Dossier Not Dismissed As a Fake?“, Defining Ideas, February 3, 2020

David Krayden, “Former NSC Chief: John Brennan Buried Evidence That Putin Actually Favored Hillary in 2016“, The Daily Caller, April 23, 2020

Susan Davis, “Explosive New Flynn Documents Show FBI’s Goal Was ‘To Get Him Fired’“, The Federalist, April 29, 2020

Chrissy Clark, “Christopher Steele Testifies Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice Knew about Anti-Trump Research“, The Federalist, April 29, 2020

Sean Davis, “BREAKING: FBI Closed Flynn Case, Dubbed ‘Crossfire Razor,’ In Early 2017, Until Strzok Ordered It To Stay Open“, The Federalist, April 30, 2020

Chuck Ross, “Text Messages Reveal Peter Strzok Intervened FBI’s Planned Closure of Michael Flynn Investigation“, The Daily Signal, April 30, 2020

Tristan Justice, “Comey Bragged About Violating FBI Policy To Ambush Flynn In Corrupt Setup“, The Federalist, April 30, 2020

Andrew C. McCarthy, “The FBI Set Flynn Up to Preserve the Trump–Russia Probe“, National Review, May 2, 2020

Neo, “John Brennan Again“, The New Neo, May 4, 2020

Margot Cleveland, “Your Guide to the Obama Administration’s Hit on Michael Flynn“, The Federalist, May 4, 2020

Mary Chastain, “DOJ Documents: Rosenstein Expanded Russia Probe Beyond Scope, Obama and Biden Knew Details From Flynn’s Wire-Tapped Calls“, Legal Insurrection, May 8, 2020

Mollie Hemingway, “Obama, Biden Oval Office Meeting On January 5 Was Key To Entire Anti-Trump Operation“, The Federalist, May 8, 2020

Margot Cleveland, “Why Did Obama Tell the FBI to Hide Its Activities from the Trump Administration?“, The Federalist, May 11, 2020

Francis Menton, “So What Was the Russia Hoax Really About?“, Manhattan Contrarian, May 11, 2020

Jeffrey Lord, “Obamagate“, The American Spectator, May 12, 2020

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

Most Americans who graduated from high school before the mid-1960s —  when patriotism was still a permissible attitude — would know that the man who said, famously, “give me liberty or give me death” was Patrick Henry. Henry said it at the end of his speech to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775. The speech convinced the convention to pass a resolution to provide troops for the Revolutionary War.

What Henry said applies with full force in today’s crucial moment, when the fearful are being goaded and coerced by state-worshipers into abandoning what is left of their liberty. The final sentences of Henry’s speech put today’s choice starkly:

What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

The difference between then and now is that the citizens of Virginia had on their side — the side of liberty — the stalwarts who adopted the resolution and put it into effect. Those stalwarts, in addition to Patrick Henry, included Richard Henry Lee (grandfather of “Light Horse Harry” Lee and great-grandfather of Robert E. Lee), Benjamin Harrison (father of future president William Henry Harrison and great-grandfather of future president Benjamin Harrison), Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

Where are their spiritual descendants today? I ask because there is much truth in a piece that is making its way around the internet:

When the State tells you it’s safe to go to The Home Depot to buy a sponge but it’s too dangerous to go to a florist and buy flowers—it’s not about your health.

When the State shuts down millions of private businesses but doesn’t lay off a single government employee—it’s not about your health.

When the State bans dentists because it’s unsafe, but deems abortion visits safe—it’s not about your health.

When the State prevents you from buying cucumber seeds because it’s too dangerous, but allows in-person lottery ticket sales—it’s not about your health.

When the State tells you it’s too dangerous to go golf alone, fish alone or be in a motorboat alone, but the Governor can get his stage make up done, and hair done for 5 TV appearances a week—it’s not about your health.

When the state puts you IN a jail cell for walking in a park with your child because it’s too dangerous but lets criminals OUT of jail cells for their health—it’s not about YOUR health!

When the state tells you it’s too dangerous to get treated by a doctor of chiropractic or physical therapy treatments yet deems a liquor store essential—it’s not about your health!

When the State lets you go to the grocery store or hardware store but is demanding mail-in voting, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOUR HEALTH.

Yes, there’s a good deal of conspiracy-minded paranoia behind sentiments like that. But the screed also points to a truth: Governments across this once-free nation are making dictatorial decisions that are harming tens of millions of Americans, socially and economically, instead of letting those Americans decide for themselves what risks to take. That is to say, Americans are being deprived of (more of) their liberty because of the possibility that a small fraction of them might die.

Reducing the small fraction to an even smaller one is the official excuse for inflicting economic and social devastation on Americans. What’s the truth of the matter? There are many truths:

1. Elected officials prefer to err on the side of caution — in the guise of “caring” for the health of their constituents — to guard against second-wave effects. Rightly or wrongly — and mostly wrongly — they suffer electoral consequences for things that go wrong when they are in office, even those things are unavoidable or have nothing to do with official actions.

2. Elected officials (and government employees generally) are insulated from the economic effects of lockdowns, and have no skin in the game. Moreover, most of them — especially in the central government, State governments, and governments of cities — mingle with and take their cues from information, media, and academic elites who likewise have no skin in the game. Thus their focus, according to #1, is keeping the death toll low.

3. The personal consequences of economic devastation, for the tens of millions of Americans who aren’t insulated from it, aren’t big news. The media instead plays up the consequences of the disease — debilitation and death — in keeping with its age-old tradition: If it bleeds, it leads.

4. The tens of millions of Americans who are suffering economically are represented by demonstrators (often armed) who are portrayed as “selfish” Walmartians. They are the present equivalent (for elite snobs) of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables”. And Trump is the leading “deplorable” because of his “racist” insistence on calling a virus that originated in China the “China virus”.

5. To the extent that the destruction of small businesses and the nation’s soaring unemployment rate are news, they stand (somehow, in the mind of smug elites) as proof that the “Trump economy” was somehow phony.

6. Therefore, Trump is discredited and doesn’t deserve reelection. Especially because his early, optimistic pronouncements about COVID-19 somehow caused the federal bureaucracy (a.k.a. the deep state) and many State and local governments (mostly those run by Democrats) to respond inadequately to the pandemic.

All of this plays well, not only to the insiders who perpetrate it but also — and importantly — to the tens of millions of Americans who haven’t a clue about what it means to lose a business or a job because they are economically secure thanks to a government job (or other sinecure), retirement income (especially from a government source), parental support, or ample savings. Fear wins with them because they might die but aren’t going to suffer financially.

To look at it another way, in America the COVID-19 pandemic is another front in the culture war between “cosmopolitan elites” (and their cosseted sycophants) and “real people“.

It is also another way for the ruling classes (for that is what they are) to secure their economic and social dominance, as Joel Kotkin explains in “The Pandemic Road to Serfdom” (The American Mind, May 1, 2020):

Even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, America, like most higher-income countries, was already heading toward a neo-feudal future: massive inequality, ever-greater concentrations of power, and increasingly widespread embrace of a uniform (albeit secular) religion. The pandemic, all too reminiscent of the great plagues of the Middle Ages, seems destined to accelerate this process….

[A]s jobs are destroyed on Main Street, others, like those at well-positioned Amazon, are created by the hundreds of thousands. It is also a rosy new dawn for online collaboration applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Rooms, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, the fastest-growing business app on record. Also greatly enhanced will be those who provide the infrastructure for the conquering digital economy, including chipmakers like Intel and cloud-computing behemoths like (yet again) Amazon and Microsoft.

The pandemic seems likely to further consolidate the tech industry shift from its garage-based startup past, with firms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon increasingly resembling Japan’s long-dominant keiretsu. The pandemic may have squashed many new companies that are now short on capital. In contrast, the oligarchic firms, which control upwards of 80% of such key markets as search, social media, cloud computing, and computer operating systems, now enjoy an even greater edge in garnering ever more of the nation’s technical talent.

Ultimately the pandemic will provide the new elite with opportunities to gain control of a whole set of coveted industries, from entertainment and media to finance and space travel. Perhaps most concerning will be their ability to control all aspects of information as the last vestiges of local and small-town journalism face Covid-driven “extinction level” events. What is now left of the “legacy” media—the Atlantic, Time, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times—has fallen increasingly under their control. Nine of the 13 richest people under age 40 are in the tech industry: the odds are favorable that the new elite will maintain their control over information for generations….

In contrast, the pandemic has proven an utter disaster for much of the Third Estate [the “commoners”]. The most evident damage can be seen at the malls, or on Main Street, where millions of small firms have been forced to close and, at least in some locations, may be forced to stay locked down for many more months….

In the aftermath of the lockdowns, small independent firms will be harder-pressed to compete against larger competitors with better access to capital and better positioning to wait out the pandemic. In the coming months, we might see many of our favorite local gyms and bars, or taco stands and family-owned Chinese restaurants, replaced by either online options or larger chains….

With the yeomanry thundering mostly from the Right, the protests of “essential” blue-collar workers could help boost the socialist cause. Roughly half of American households have no emergency savings and face an uncertain future as jobs disappear. A new class of ex-workers now finds the dole a more amenable or viable option than hard and dangerous work for relatively low pay. Bernie Sanders may have lost the nomination, but the message he ran on is amplified at a time when soup kitchens, as during the Depression, are now serving New York artists, writers, and musicians. The pandemic will likely increase the strong socialist tendency among both millennials and the successor Z generation….

Ultimately … disorder [born of joblessness] threatens the power of both the oligarchs and the clerisy. Their likely response may be embracing what I call “oligarchal socialism,” where the very notion of work disappears in favor of a regime of cash allotments. This notion of providing what Marx called “proletarian alms,” widely supported in Silicon Valley, could prove a lasting legacy of the pandemic. This is how Rome, as slaves replaced the middle orders, kept its citizenry in line, and how the Medieval order in times of economic stress relied on the charitable efforts of the Church.

The virus that now dominates our daily lives may soon begin to slowly fade, but it will have a deep, protracted impact on our society and class structure. Covid-19 will likely leave us with conditions that more resemble feudalism than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago.

As Rahm Emanuel, then Obama’s chief-of-staff-in-waiting, said during the financial crisis of late 2008,

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.

What that means now, in addition to the entrenchment of the ruling oligarchy, is probably a permanent expansion of governmental power. As with the New Deal and Great Society, the current wave of handouts has engorged the rolls of those who depend on government and look to it (mostly in vain) for “solutions” to whatever problems seem beyond their (government-enfeebled) ability to solve through private action. And, “deplorables” aside, government’s role as nagging nanny (however incompetent) has been reinforced, and will be exploited to a fare-thee-well.

That’s what the mere possibility of death has done to liberty in the year 2020 A.D.


Other related reading:

F.H. Buckley, “What’s at Risk in Redivided America?“, The American Spectator, May 9, 2020

Wendell Cox, “Majority of COVID-19 Deaths in Nursing Homes: New Report“, newgeography, May 12, 2020

Dov Fischer, “A Time to Hate“, The American Spectator, May 11, 2020

Daniel Horowitz, “Simple Arithmetic Demonstrates that the Epidemic, outside Nursing Homes, Is Essentially Over“, Conservative Review, May 7, 2020

Arnold Kling, “The Future That We Won’t Have“, askblog, May 10, 2020

Francis Menton, “Why Are Government Employees Supposedly Immune to Layoffs?“, Manhattan Contrarian, May 6, 2020

Norbert Michel, “1% of Counties Home to Half of COVID-19 Cases, Over Half of Deaths“, The Daily Signal, May 12, 2020

Dave Middleton, “‘Predictive Models’ Rarely Are Predictive“, Watts Up With That?, May 8, 2020

Dave Middleton, “Lockdown Fail in One Easy Graph“, Watts Up With That?, May 12, 2020

Wilfred Reilly, “The Lockdowns Still Aren’t Working“, Spiked, May 8, 2020

Lockdown or Re-open?

UPDATED 05/03/20

Why are governments forcing businesses to close, costing tens of millions of jobs at least temporarily (and millions permanently), thus causing unemployment compensation claims to soar while tax revenues drop, and therefore causing some states to verge on bankruptcy, while also inflating unemployment compensation payouts and thereby making many workers reluctant to return to work even if they could? Nowhere mentioned in that breathless litany are the social and economic effects of lockdowns and job losses on families, friendships, social circles, etc., etc., etc.

The comfortable and fearful — a set that contains mostly leftists, who tend to be more affluent and more neurotic than the “deplorables” whom they disdain — are wont to worry about the consequence of re-opening “too soon” (i.e., before they are personally affected by lockdowns). That consequence, of course, is the possibility that the rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths will rise rather than fall to zero.

But so what? Suppose that a doctor — of all people — were to reopen his practice, tell patients that he will take every reasonable precaution to shield them from infection, require them to take similar precautions, have them sign releases holding him harmless should they later be found to have contracted COVID-19. Wouldn’t you go to that doctor if you needed to, rather than have him try to diagnose you telemedically? I would.

The same kinds of protocols could be followed by businesses of all kinds, and followed not only with respect to customers but also employees. Aren’t there tens of millions of citizens who would rather shop and work in the real world rather than in the virtual world? There certainly are tens of millions who would rather go to work instead of collecting unemployment compensation and watching their savings dwindle (if they have any to begin with). Moreover, the protocols could be backed by State governments granting to employers immunity from criminal and civil prosecutions if they follow specified procedures and all parties execute standard forms.

Why are governments preventing citizens from taking reasonable, informed risks so that the affluent and neurotic can sleep more easily — and enjoy watching frustrated “deplorables” protest in vain? Oh, that’s it. The suffering of “deplorables” given pleasure to leftists (e.g., this), and they’re in charge in too many places.

Which just goes to show, once again, that there’s no such thing as a social-welfare function. How can the pleasure gained by leftists possibly offset the pain they are causing to tens of millions of real Americans?

P.S. Jay Cost elaborates on the tension between the “haves” and the rest of us. The “haves” keep lecturing the rest of us to think of others. But it’s they who aren’t thinking of others; they’re only thinking of themselves. Well, if they don’t want to be exposed to COVID-19, they can just shelter in place while everyone else makes the economy work for the benefit of them (i.e., the “haves”).

My blue-collar roots are showing.

COVID-19: Public Service Announcement

It has become obvious that COVID-19 stats are unreliable; see this, this, and this, for example. I am therefore withdrawing from the business of reporting official stats and making projections based on them. I leave that endeavor with this thought.

Insidious Algorithms

Michael Anton inveighs against Big Tech and pseudo-libertarian collaborators in “Dear Avengers of the Free Market” (Law & Liberty, October 5, 2018):

Beyond the snarky attacks on me personally and insinuations of my “racism”—cut-and-paste obligatory for the “Right” these days—the responses by James Pethokoukis and (especially) John Tamny to my Liberty Forum essay on Silicon Valley are the usual sorts of press releases that are written to butter up the industry and its leaders in hopes of . . . what?…

… I am accused of having “a fundamental problem with capitalism itself.” Guilty, if by that is meant the reservations about mammon-worship first voiced by Plato and Aristotle and reinforced by the godfather of capitalism, Adam Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (the book that Smith himself indicates is the indispensable foundation for his praise of capitalism in the Wealth of Nations). Wealth is equipment, a means to higher ends. In the middle of the last century, the Right rightly focused on unjust impediments to the creation and acquisition of wealth. But conservatism, lacking a deeper understanding of the virtues and of human nature—of what wealth is for—eventually ossified into a defense of wealth as an end in itself. Many, including apparently Pethokoukis and Tamny, remain stuck in that rut to this day and mistake it for conservatism.

Both critics were especially appalled by my daring to criticize modern tech’s latest innovations. Who am I to judge what people want to sell or buy? From a libertarian standpoint, of course, no one may pass judgment. Under this view, commerce has no moral content…. To homo economicus any choice that does not inflict direct harm is ipso facto not subject to moral scrutiny, yet morality is defined as the efficient, non-coercive, undistorted operation of the market.

Naturally, then, Pethokoukis and Tamny scoff at my claim that Silicon Valley has not produced anything truly good or useful in a long time, but has instead turned to creating and selling things that are actively harmful to society and the soul. Not that they deny the claim, exactly. They simply rule it irrelevant. Capitalism has nothing to do with the soul (assuming the latter even exists). To which I again say: When you elevate a means into an end, that end—in not being the thing it ought to be—corrupts its intended beneficiaries.

There are morally neutral economic goods, like guns, which can be used for self-defense or murder. But there are economic goods that undermine morality (e.g., abortion, “entertainment” that glamorizes casual sex) and fray the bonds of mutual trust and respect that are necessary to civil society. (How does one trust a person who treats life and marriage as if they were unworthy of respect?)

There’s a particular aspect of Anton’s piece that I want to emphasize here: Big Tech’s alliance with the left in its skewing of information.

Continuing with Anton:

The modern tech information monopoly is a threat to self-government in at least three ways. First its … consolidation of monopoly power, which the techies are using to guarantee the outcome they want and to suppress dissent. It’s working….

Second, and related, is the way that social media digitizes pitchforked mobs. Aristocrats used to have to fear the masses; now they enable, weaponize, and deploy them…. The grandees of Professorville and Sand Hill Road and Outer Broadway can and routinely do use social justice warriors to their advantage. Come to that, hundreds of thousands of whom, like modern Red Guards, don’t have to be mobilized or even paid. They seek to stifle dissent and destroy lives and careers for the sheer joy of it.

Third and most important, tech-as-time-sucking-frivolity is infantilizing and enstupefying society—corroding the reason-based public discourse without which no republic can exist….

But all the dynamism and innovation Tamny and Pethokoukis praise only emerge from a bedrock of republican virtue. This is the core truth that libertarians seem unable to appreciate. Silicon Valley is undermining that virtue—with its products, with its tightening grip on power, and with its attempt to reengineer society, the economy, and human life.

I am especially concerned here with the practice of tinkering with AI algorithms to perpetuate bias in the name of  eliminating it (e.g., here). The bias to be perpetuated, in this case, is blank-slate bias: the mistaken belief that there are no inborn differences between blacks and whites or men and women. It is that belief which underpins affirmative action in employment, which penalizes the innocent and reduces the quality of products and services, and incurs heavy enforcement costs; “head start” programs, which waste taxpayers’ money; and “diversity” programs at universities, which penalize the innocent and set blacks up for failure. Those programs and many more of their ilk are generally responsible for heightening social discord rather than reducing it.

In the upside-down world of “social justice” an algorithm is considered biased if it is unbiased; that is, if it reflects the real correlations between race, sex, and ability in certain kinds of endeavors. Charles Murray’s Human Diversity demolishes the blank-slate theory with reams and reams of facts. Social-justice warriors will hate it, just as they hated The Bell Curve, even though they won’t read the later book, just as they didn’t read the earlier one.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XXVI)

“Not-So-Random Thoughts” is an occasional series in which I highlight writings by other commentators on varied subjects that I have addressed in the past. Other entries in the series can be found at these links: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII, XXIV, and XXV. For more in the same style, see “The Tenor of the Times” and “Roundup: Civil War, Solitude, Transgenderism, Academic Enemies, and Immigration“.

CONTENTS

Free Trade Rethought

The Death Penalty

State Actors in Action

Red vs. Blue

Serfdom in Our Future?


FREE TRADE RETHOUGHT

My position on so-called free trade:

  • Estimate the amount by which the price of a foreign product or service is reduced by the actions of foreign governments or their proxies.
  • Add that amount to the price as a tariff.
  • Regularly review and adjust the schedule of tariffs.

All other trade would be unencumbered, excepting:

  • the importation of products and services otherwise restricted by U.S. law (e.g., tanks, artillery pieces)
  • the exportation of products and services that are used directly in the development, manufacture, and operation of sensitive military systems (e.g., fighter aircraft, anti-missile defenses).

Selective tariffs, based on actual costs of production, would encourage the efficient use of resources and protect American workers who would otherwise be victimized by unfair trade. But that’s it. Sweeping tariffs on imports — just to “protect” American workers — do more than protect them. They also penalize American consumers, most of whom are also workers.

William Upton, writing in light of current events (“Make America Autarkic Again“, The American Mind, March 13, 2020), would go a lot further:

In our over-globalized world, a policy of total autarky is infeasible. But a degree of autarky should be recognized as self-evidently in America’s national interest.

Autarky, for those unfamiliar, was an economic and industrial policy of self-reliance wherein a nation need not rely on international trade for its economic survival. This is not to say that said nation rejected international trade or isolated itself from the global economic order, rather that it merely could survive on its own if necessary….

[Oren] Cass notes that sound industrial policy has allowed nations like Germany and Japan to retain strong manufacturing sectors. Cass also emphasizes the pivotal importance of manufacturing, not just for the economy, but for American communities:

[M]anufacturing is unique for the complexity of its supply chains and the interaction between innovation and production. One of the most infuriating face-palms of modern economics is the two-step that goes like this: First, wave away concern as other countries with aggressive industrial policies … attract our critical supply chains overseas, explaining that it doesn’t matter where things get made. Second, wait for people to ask “why can’t we make this or that here,” and explain that of course we can’t because all of the supply chains and expertise are entrenched elsewhere. It’s enough to make one slam one’s head into the podium.

There may be something to it.


THE DEATH PENALTY

I was surprised to read the assessment by Theodore Dalrymple, a former prison doctor, of the death penalty (“The Death Penalty’s Demise and the Withering of Authority“, Law & Liberty, February 11, 2020). On the one hand:

If I had been a prison doctor while the death penalty was still imposed in Britain, I should have had the somewhat awkward task of certifying murderers fit for execution….  It was not permitted to execute madmen even if they had been sane at the time of their crime; but with the ever-widening and loosening of psychiatric diagnosis, I should no doubt have been tempted always to find a medical reason to postpone the execution sine die. I would have found it hard to sign what would have amounted to a medical death warrant, all the more so with the man before my very eyes. Nor would I have much relished attending the execution itself, to certify that the execution had worked….

But while I should not have wanted to participate in an execution, I was nevertheless viscerally in favour of the death penalty because it seemed to me that there were crimes (though by no means all of them murder) so heinous, so despicable, that no other penalty was adequate to express society’s outrage at, or repudiation of, them. Moreover — though quite late in my career — I discovered evidence that suggested that the death penalty did in fact act as a deterrent to murder, something which has long been contested or outright denied by abolitionists.

But on the other hand:

Does its deterrent effect, then, establish the case for the death penalty, at least in Britain? No, for two reasons. First, effectiveness of a punishment is not a sufficient justification for it. For example, it might well be that the death penalty would deter people from parking in the wrong place, but we would not therefore advocate it. Second, the fact is that in all jurisdictions, no matter how scrupulously fair they try to be, errors are sometime made, and innocent people have been put to death. This seems to me the strongest, and perhaps decisive, argument against the death penalty.

And on the third hand:

Although, on balance, I am against the death penalty, I do not assume that those who are in favour of it are necessarily moral primitives, which abolitionists often give the impression of believing. For most of our history, the rightness of the death penalty has been taken for granted, and it cannot be that we are the first decent, reflective people ever to have existed. The self-righteousness of the Europeans in this respect disgusts me when they set themselves up to judge others. France, for example, abolished the death penalty only in 1981 – AD 1981, that is, not 1981 BC. When the death penalty in Britain was abolished in 1965 after many decades of campaigning by abolitionists, more than 90 per cent of the population was still in favour of it. Almost certainly it believed, if not necessarily in a fully coherent way, that to abolish the death penalty was to weaken the authority of society and to lessen the majesty of the law. It was also to weaken the prohibition against killing and, though involving the taking of a life (the murderer’s), also lessened the sanctity of life….

In Britain, one of the effects of the abolition of the death penalty, the downward pressure on all prison sentences, has been little remarked. Punishment has to be roughly proportional to the gravity of the crime (exact proportionality cannot be achieved), but if murder attracts only 15 years’ imprisonment de facto, what sentences can be meted out to those who commit lesser, but still serious, crimes? Moreover, the charge of murder is often reduced to the lesser crime of manslaughter, in which sentences – as a consequence – are often derisory….

It is scarcely any wonder that in the years since the abolition of the death sentence, Britain has gone from being a well-ordered, non-violent, law-abiding society to being a society with the highest rate of violent crime in Western Europe. Of course, the abolition of the death penalty was not the only cause, for crime was rising in any case, but it brought its contribution to the festival of disorder that followed.

It seems to me that Dalrymple ends up arguing in favor of the death penalty. He is correct about its deterrent effect (same post). He is wrong to give heavy weight to the possibility of error. And he overlooks a conclusive argument in its favor: there is one less criminal who might be let loose to commit more crimes. All of those points and more are covered in these posts:

Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
A Crime Is a Crime
Crime and Punishment
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
Crime Revisited


STATE ACTORS IN ACTION

Once upon a time I made a case for rescuing the First Amendment from its enemies in

the telecommunications, news, entertainment, and education industries [which] 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).)

Leo Goldstein (“Google and YouTube Are State Actors“, American Thinker, March 9, 2020) finds a smoking gun

in the FCC Obamanet orders of 2010 and 2015. The 2015 Obamanet Order, officially called Open Internet Order, has explicitly obligated all internet users to pay a tax to Google and YouTube in their ISP and wireless data fees. The Order even mentions Google and YouTube by name. The tax incurs tens of billions of dollars per year. More specifically, the Order said that by paying ISP fees (including mobile wireless), each user also pays for the services that ISP gives to platforms and content providers like YouTube, even if the user doesn’t use them….

Platforms and content providers are misleadingly called “edge providers” here. Thus, every ISP customer in the US is obligated to pay for the traffic generated by Google, Netflix, Facebook, and Twitter, even if he used none of them!

Off with their heads.


RED VS. BLUE

The prolific Joel Kotkin weighs in on the Red States’ economic and electoral advantages:

Even in a state as deeply blue as [California}, Democrats’ disdain for the basic values and interests of their own base could unravel their now seemingly unbridgeable majority. At some point, parents, artists, minorities, small businesspeople and even sex workers will not be mollified sufficiently by a fulsome expression of good intentions. If more voters begin to realize that many of the policies being adopted are injurious, they may even begin to look again at the Republicans, particularly once the toxic President Trump is no longer on the ballot scaring the masses to toe the line. [“Democrats Risk Blowback with Leftward Turn“, newgeography, March 1, 2020]

* * *

The political and cultural war between red and blue America may not be settled in our lifetimes, but it’s clear which side is gaining ground in economic and demographic terms. In everything from new jobs—including new technology employment—fertility rates, population growth, and migration, it’s the red states that increasingly hold the advantage.

Perhaps the most surprising development is on the economic front. Over the past decade, the national media, and much of academia, have embraced the notion that the future belonged to the high-tax, high-regulation economies clustered on the East and West Coasts. The red states have been widely dismissed, in the words of the New York Times, as the land of the “left behind.”

Yet the left-behind are catching up, as economic momentum shifts away from coastal redoubts toward traditionally GOP-leaning states. Just a few years ago, states like California, Massachusetts, and New York held their own, and then some, in measurements of income growth from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Now the fastest growth is concentrated in the Sunbelt and Great Plains. Texans’ income in the latest 2019 BEA estimates was up 4.2 percent, well above California’s 3.6 percent and twice New York’s 2.1 percent. The largest jumps—and this may matter a lot in 2020—took place in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Iowa. [“Red v. Blue“, City Journal, February 7, 2020]

But:

[S]ocialism is gaining adherents even in the upper middle-class and among the oligarchy. One critical component lies in detestation of all things Trump even among CEOs, most of whom, according to a recent Chief Executive survey, want him impeached. Corporate America is increasingly embracing the notion of a guaranteed income and is adopting politically correct positions on such things as immigration, particularly in tech and on Wall Street.

But the most important driver for socialism comes from the burgeoning green movement. Long dominated by the elite classes, environmentalists are openly showing themselves as watermelons — green on the outside, red on the inside. For example, the so called “Green New Deal” — embraced by Sanders, Warren and numerous oligarchs — represents, its author Saikat Chakrabarti suggests, not so much a climate as “a how-do-you-change-the entire-economy thing”. Increasingly greens look at powerful government not to grow the economy, but to slow it down, eliminating highly paid blue-collar jobs in fields like manufacturing and energy. The call to provide subsidies and make work jobs appeals to greens worried about blowback from displaced workers and communities.

Combined with the confused and vacillating nature of our business elites, and the economic stagnation felt by many Americans, socialism in the West is on the rise. An ideology that history would seem to have consigned to Leon Trotsky’s “dustbin of history”, could turn the land that once embraced Adam Smith closer to the vision of Karl Marx. [“The West Turns Red?“, newgeography, February 25, 2020]

I have shown the economic superiority of the Red State model. But that isn’t enough to rescue the country from the perpetual allure of socialism. As I say here,

… States and municipalities governed by Democrats will ever more boldly pursue policies that undermine traditional American culture (e.g., unabated encouragement of illegal immigration, accelerated favoritism toward “identity groups”) and which are broadly destructive of the economic and social fabric; for example: persisting in costly, money-losing recycling and composting programs that do nothing for the environment (taking into account the environmental effects of the vehicles and equipment involved); the replacement of fossil-fuel sources of electricity by unreliable and expensive “renewable” sources; encouragement of homelessness by subsidizing it and making it socially acceptable; discouragement of family formation and stability through the continuation and expansion of long-discredited vote-buying welfare programs; openly persecuting conservatives and conservative institutions.

All of that will intensify the divisions between Red and Blue States, and the divisions between Red State governments and the Blue cities within them. But that is a first-order effect.

The second-order effect is to make living in Blue States and cities more onerous for middle-to-low-income earners (and even some among the affluent), who will seek greener (Redder) pastures outside Blue cities and Blue States. But many (most?) of those refugees will not flee because they have come to believe that big government is the cause of their problems. Rather, they (especially the younger, more mobile, and more “socialistic” ones) will flee because they don’t want to suffer the consequences of big government (high taxes, high housing costs, etc.). But, being addicted to the idea that big government is good, and ignorant of the connection between big government and their woes, they will continue to vote for big-government politicians and policies. Thus will Blue States and Blue cites gradually turn Purple and, in many cases, Blue.

You read it here.


SERFDOM IN OUR FUTURE?

I recently mused about Walter Scheidel’s book, The Great Leveler. Kotkin addresses the thesis of that book in “Who Will Prosper After the Plague?” (Tablet, April 13, 2020):

[T]he wreckage [caused by the Black Plague of the 14th century] created new opportunities for those left standing. Abandoned tracts of land could be consolidated by rich nobles, or, in some cases, enterprising peasants, who took advantage of sudden opportunities to buy property or use chronic labor shortages to demand higher wages. “In an age where social conditions were considered fixed,” historian Barbara Tuchman has suggested, the new adjustments seemed “revolutionary.”

What might such “revolutionary” changes look like in our post-plague society? In the immediate future the monied classes in America will take a big hit, as their stock portfolios shrink, both acquisitions and new IPOs get sidetracked and the value of their properties drop. But vast opportunities for tremendous profit available to those with the financial wherewithal to absorb the initial shocks and capitalize on the disruption they cause….

Over time, the crisis is likely to further bolster the global oligarchal class. The wealthiest 1% already own as much as 50% of the world’s assets, and according to a recent British parliamentary study, by 2030, will expand their share to two-thirds of the world’s wealth with the biggest gains overwhelmingly concentrated at the top 0.01%….

The biggest long-term winner of the stay-at-home trend may well be Amazon, which is hiring 100,000 new workers. But other digital industries will profit as well, including food delivery services, streaming entertainment services, telemedicine, biomedicine, cloud computing, and online education. The shift to remote work has created an enormous market for applications, which facilitate video conferencing and digital collaboration like Slack—the fastest growing business application on record—as well as Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams. Other tech firms, such as Facebook, game makers like Activision Blizzard and online retailers like Chewy, suggests Morgan Stanley, also can expect to see their stock prices soar as the pandemic fades and public acceptance of online commerce and at-home entertainment grows with enforced familiarity.

Growing corporate concentration in the technology sector, both in the United States and Europe, will enhance the power of these companies to dominate commerce and information flows….

The modern-day clerisy consisting of academics, media, scientists, nonprofit activists, and other members of the country’s credentialed bureaucracy also stand to benefit from the pandemic. The clerisy operate as what the great German sociologist Max Weber called “the new legitimizers,” bestowing an air of moral and technocratic authority on the enterprises of their choosing….

Members of the clerisy are likely to be part of the one-quarter of workers in the United States who can largely work at home. Barely 3% of low-wage workers can telecommute but nearly 50% of those in the upper middle class can. While workers at most restaurants and retail outlets face hard times, professors and teachers will continue their work online, as will senior bureaucrats….

The biggest winners in the fallout from the coronavirus are likely to be large corporations, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and government institutions with strong lobbies. The experience from recent recessions indicates that big banks, whose prosperity is largely asset-based, will do well along with major corporations, while Main Street businesses and ordinary homeowners will fare poorly….

In the Middle Ages, many former citizens, facing a series of disasters from plagues to barbarian invasions, willingly became serfs. Today, the class of permanently propertyless citizens seems likely to grow as the traditional middle class shrinks, and the role of labor is further diminished relative to that of technology and capital.

In contrast to the old unionized workers, many people today, whether their employment is full-time or part-time, have descended into the precariat, a group of laborers with limited control over how long they can work, who often live on barely subsistence wages. Nearly half of gig workers in California live under the poverty line.

Now comes the payoff:

Historically, pandemics have tended to spark class conflict. The plague-ravaged landscape of medieval Europe opened the door to numerous “peasant rebellions.” This in turn led the aristocracy and the church to restrict the movements of peasants to limit their ability to use the new depopulated countryside to their own advantage. Attempts to constrain the ambitions of the commoners often led to open revolts—including against the church and the aristocracy.

… As steady and well-paying jobs disappear, the demands for an ever more extensive welfare state, funded by the upper classes, will multiply.

Like their counterparts in the late 19th century, the lower-class workforce will demand changes. We already see this in the protests by workers at Instacart delivery service, and in Amazon warehouse workers concerned about limited health insurance, low wages, and exposure to the virus.

As the virus threatens to concentrate wealth and power even more, there’s likely to be some sort of reckoning, including from the increasingly hard-pressed yeomanry.

In the years before the great working-class rebellions of the mid-19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville warned that the ruling orders were “sleeping on a volcano.” The same might be seen now as well, with contagion pushing the lava into the streets, and causing new disruptions on a scale of which we can’t predict.

Something like socialism (for non-elites) may emerge for the rubble. It will be the 21th century equivalent of bread and circuses: share just enough of the wealth to keep the proletariat in line.

Breakup or Takeover?

If you ever doubted that America was coming apart at the seams, doubt no more. The partisan rancor surrounding the coronavirus outbreak in the United States — rancor originating on the left and aimed (once more) at undermining Trump — is unlike anything that I’ve seen since Truman fired MacArthur (with the exception of previous anti-Trump eruptions, of course). Outlets (not news outlets, just outlets) like The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and NBC News have jumped the shark with their obsessive, slanted stories. Those and similar outlets are indistinguishable from the likes of Pelosi and Shumer, which is no surprise because they move in the same circles and drink from the same, poisoned ideological well.

Mentioning Pelosi and Shumer — which is hard to do without emulating their hate-filled outbursts — brings me back to the main point of this post: the breakup of America. It has already happened, as you know if you’ve been paying attention. But it’s more than a breakup because the defectors from old America left it in spirit but not in body. They’re still among us — in zombie-like hordes — and doing great harm.

Philip Carl Salzman, writing at PJ Media, puts it this way in “The End of America?“:

I would estimate that, in 2020, America is about 75% gone. American culture has been swept aside by “woke social justice” ideology, a neo-marxist framing of American society in terms of identity class conflict. Feminist, race, and sexuality activists have pushed a narrative that divides American society into white, male, heterosexual oppressors, on the one hand, and, on the other, the oppressors’ female, black, and LGBTQ++ victims. America is thus seen as inherently and entirely evil, and must be rejected and replaced. The preferred means is to provide special privileges and benefits for females, blacks, and LGBTQs….

“Social justice” ideology is totally dominant in the mainstream and heritage media…. The New York Times has been hideously exemplary in its 1619 Project, which argues that America was not founded on the basic of Judeo-Christian human rights, on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but on the basis of slavery. Slavery is the indelible sin that progressives love to bludgeon America with, as if America invented slavery, rather than it being a characteristic of all civilizations and most societies, including African societies, up to the 19th century. Progressives today reject the American Constitution on the grounds that its authors were slave owners, and slavery thus becomes the tool to discredit everything about America.

What exactly about America has been rejected by progressive “woke social justice”?

First, national sovereignty is rejected in favor of international ties and supranational organizations, such as the corrupt and ineffectual United Nations, much beloved by the likes of American progressive politicians and foreign leaders such as Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.

Second, citizenship is rejected as an unearned privilege, to be corrected by open borders and floods of illegal immigrants, spun as “undocumented.”… Furthermore, as progressives view whites as racist oppressors, “social justice” requires their replacement by black, brown, yellow, and red non-whites, until the whites are in the minority and no longer have any power.

Third, individuals no longer count as constituents of society. Individual achievement, merit, and potential are rejected by progressives as “white male supremacy.” Today, only identity categories count…. Males, whites, and heterosexuals must, in the name of “social justice,” be vilified, demeaned, and excluded. (Oddly, East Asians have become personae non grata because they are too successful, and thus honorary, or dishonorable whites.)

Fourth, capitalism is of course rejected because it is a cause of inequality. That capitalism is responsible for the prosperity within which the inequality exists, is no excuse for the radical levellers. The increasing popularity of socialism among progressives, no doubt because socialism has been so successful historically (not), expresses their rejection of capitalism.

Fifth, economic and political freedom are obstacles in progressives’ plans for “social justice.” Equality of opportunity and economic freedom are rejected by progressive advocates of “social justice” in favor of equality of results, that is, absolute equality, which requires government control of the economy…. We have seen the Democrat Party, and its media and identity allies, reject the results of the last presidential election because it was not the result they wanted, and launch a “resistance,” both inside of Congress and out in the streets, to the duly elected president. Rejecting the results of elections means the rejection of democracy [emphasis added].

Six, children are no longer wanted in America… The highest progressive value is killing babies in the womb, up to a million a year, ten million in a decade. Feminists and their progressive allies celebrate abortions and urge women to celebrate theirs. Killing babies has now been extended to infanticide, the newest progressive initiative. Likewise, families are regarded by feminists as the source of oppression for females, so say goodbye to families as well.

With the Democrat Party, all colleges and universities, the school system, and the mainstream media all devoted to anti-American progressive values and objectives, it is clear that America is 75% gone. Who is left to uphold American society and culture and the values of freedom, opportunity, prosperity, individual integrity, and family unity? We know that the half of the American population in “flyover country” maintains American values, even while the national elites on the coasts despise that population, infamously characterized by the Democrat Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton as “the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it.” The Republican Party, faced with a pro-American candidate for president, retreated in part, while another part fought against, so it is unlikely to be the cavalry coming to save America. Do not bet against seeing the emergence of the United Progressive States of Socialism.

In sum, the breakup is merely a prelude to a complete takeover by the left.

What may happen first is that States and municipalities governed by Democrats will ever more boldly pursue policies that undermine traditional American culture (e.g., unabated encouragement of illegal immigration, accelerated favoritism toward “identity groups”) and which are broadly destructive of the economic and social fabric; for example: persisting in costly, money-losing recycling and composting programs that do nothing for the environment (taking into account the environmental effects of the vehicles and equipment involved); the replacement of fossil-fuel sources of electricity by unreliable and expensive “renewable” sources; encouragement of homelessness by subsidizing it and making it socially acceptable; discouragement of family formation and stability through the continuation and expansion of long-discredited vote-buying welfare programs; openly persecuting conservatives and conservative institutions.

All of that will intensify the divisions between Red and Blue States, and the divisions between Red State governments and the Blue cities within them. But that is a first-order effect.

The second-order effect is to make living in Blue States and cities more onerous for middle-to-low-income earners (and even some among the affluent), who will seek greener (Redder) pastures outside Blue cities and Blue States. But many (most?) of those refugees will not flee because they have come to believe that big government is the cause of their problems. Rather, they (especially the younger, more mobile, and more “socialistic” ones) will flee because they don’t want to suffer the consequences of big government (high taxes, high housing costs, etc.). But, being addicted to the idea that big government is good, and ignorant of the connection between big government and their woes, they will continue to vote for big-government politicians and policies. Thus will Blue States and Blue cites gradually turn Purple and, in many cases, Blue.

All of that will come to pass, I’m sure. But there’s a shortcut to a Blue America, about which I’ve written before:

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.

(Follow the link for much more about what will happen to America under the new dispensation.)

So I fear that Salzman is right. Unless Red States act soon to form a separate union — and strictly (ideologically) control immigration from Blue States — there’s a United Progressive States of Socialism in our future. (But not socialism for the elites and their favorites, of course.)

All without a shot being fired. Well, except for the occasional deranged leftist who attacks a conservative in the mistaken belief that he — the leftist — is being persecuted.

Worse that that, Antifa and its ilk will be empowered to reenact Kristallnacht many times, while the politically correct upholders of “law and order” stand by and cheer them on.

You have been warned.

The Great Leveler?

A correspondent recently brought Walter Scheidel’s book, The Great Leveler, into a discussion of COVID-19:

[Scheidel] argues persuasively that throughout human history plague has been one of the only four causes of significant reduction in income inequality (along with war, revolution, and state collapse). If the most dire of projections comes to pass (2.2 million deaths in the US), might that radically change our demography? People like the three of us are most likely to be among the departed. Some zip codes in Florida and Arizona would need a lot fewer mailmen. So, might Corona move the national political needle to the left? And even if demography doesn’t change things at the ballot box that much, won’t all this unavoidable reliance on government give the case for more government a boost? Might the possible persistence of Corona or a successor, make that boost even stronger?

My response:

My first reaction to your account of Scheidel’s book is that Scheidel must be some kind of ghoul. Plague, war, revolution, and state collapse (like their biblical counterparts) cause great misery (temporarily, at least) among all economic and social classes. The fact that the upper classes suffer more than the lower classes would be a consolation only to the pathologically envious among the lower classes or the economically ignorant (and self-flagellating) among the upper classes, who seem to believe that inequality arises from greed and not (in the main) differences in talents and accomplishments.

My second reaction is that Scheidel is underscoring the lesson that inequality is a natural phenomenon, whereas equality — the fool’s gold of the envious and the ignorant — can be had only at a price that no one should be willing to pay.

You’ve had the great advantage of reading the book. What say you?

The correspondent hasn’t replied to my question. Perhaps I touched a nerve; he is an affluent San Franciscan.

The Lesson from the Diamond Princess, Underscored

What I say here, Willis Eschenbach says here (in greater detail).

Related reading:

Brian C. Joondeph, M.D., “Remember the H1N1 Pandemic? I Don’t Either“, American Thinker, March 16, 2020

J.G. Walsh, “Weighing the Future: Coronavirus and the Economy“, American Thinker, March 16, 2020

Gordon Wysong, “The Coronavirus Will Save America“, American Thinker, March 16, 2020

See also my posts, “America’s Long Vac” and “Trump, the Coronavirus Panic, and the Stock Market“.

Control vs. Competition: Striking the Balance

Rare is the person who doesn’t have a definite view of how the world should be — at least those aspects of it that are important to the person. Even “libertarians” have proven themselves of dictatorial bent in such matters as the state-enforced redefinition of marriage as between anyone and anyone.

Having held a senior management position that made me responsible for the business side of a think-tank full of prime donne analysts (my customers), I know that control is necessary in any organization which strives to survive and thrive. Control is always there, if not in minute-to-minute micromanagement then in the design of processes and performance standards. The more indirect the ways and means of control the happier (generally) will workers be. (There are, of course, some workers who need and seek close direction, and some who need but reject it. Neither type fared well in my regime.)

If you are intelligent and competent, the urge to control can be very strong in you, especially if you are highly conscientious. You want to get things done, and done right. And you aren’t often sure that the people who work for you are capable of doing things right unless you (a) give them a lot of direction and (b) establish processes that help to ensure that their jobs are performed well.

The urge to control — in the manner I just outlined — may seem to conflict with “libertarian” and free-market principles. The reduction or absence of control is touted as the way to ensure that good ideas, systems, and processes are offered up and adopted through demonstrations of their superiority, which leads to and emulation and further innovation. By the same token, the controllers and their systems are forced to prove their worth, rather than appeal to authority (“Because I say so.”) or use authority (regulation) to maintain control.

There is something to be said for both ways of ordering the world. Chaos and inefficiency would reign if organizations (from families to huge corporations) were anarchic. Order and efficiency might emerge here and there because of the instinct to survive and the pressure of competition, but turmoil and waste would abound.

The spontaneous order of “libertarians” and free markets isn’t necessarily instantaneous order. It may take some disastrous wrecks at busy intersections before drivers generally adopt a stop-and-look-and-yield-to-the-car-on-the-right rule. Government institutionalizes the rule by installing stop signs or traffic lights. Government, on the other hand, doesn’t do much between the stop signs and traffic lights, except to arrest and fine violators of speed limits and reckless drivers often enough (in theory) to procure a relatively safe and steady flow of traffic.

Similarly, individual firms may be tightly controlled — whether overtly through micro-management or covertly through processes that have the same effect. But free markets give those firms room in which to innovate, market, and price their products so that consumers get good value for their money, while badly run firms fall by the wayside. In this instance, government (ideally) polices firms only to ensure that they don’t sell dangerous products and services, don’t despoil the environment, and don’t cheat their customers. Government, of course, doesn’t limit itself to minimal interventions because the urge to dictate is made real, all too often, by the power of government to shape commerce to its liking rather than to the tastes and preferences of consumers.

Putting government aside (and how I wish we could, for the most part), there is a flaw in the picture of controlled firms competing freely for consumers’ favor. The flaw is obvious in this reductio ad absurdum: There is one firm in the United States that produces all products and services. The firm has many subdivisions, each of which operates according to protocols that range from minute micro-management to loose-seeming processes that guide workers in the “right” direction. But the giant firm has no competitors and so its output accords with the wishes of its managers, which mesh with consumers’ wishes only by sheer luck.

The easily recognizable result is equivalent to state socialism. The are two reasons that a self-proclaimed socialist won’t embrace mega-corporatism. The first is that he might not (and probably wouldn’t be) in charge of it. The second is that he believes, beyond reason, that transforming a private person into a government bureaucrat magically transforms him into all-wise, all-knowing, beneficent servants of the people with not wish whatsoever to impose his personal worldview on others.

What about something closer to the current situation, in which important industries are dominated by one firm or a few firms, but those industries compete furiously with each other for consumers’ patronage? That’s a far better situation than the corporate equivalent of state socialism, but it still means that a lot of what becomes available to consumers depends on the whims of corporate bureaucrats and is, at best, sluggishly responsive to consumers’ wants. Overlay it with the heavy hand of government regulation and you get something much closer to state socialism.

The irony of the anti-trust movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s was that it (temporarily) broke up the monopolies of the day, but instituted regulatory agencies that simply (and with greater force) replicated the inefficiencies and unresponsiveness of the monopolies. That is to say, the anti-trust movement (which still has a lot of life in it) brought the U.S. closer to state socialism and the resulting evils of non-competitiveness.

Is there a golden mean of sorts, a combination of orderliness in the small that yields order and efficiency in the large? Classical microeconomic theory posits the perfectly competitive market as the golden mean. The theoretical result of perfect competition is more of everything, which is another way of saying that competition pushes costs down because it squeezes out inefficiency and “excess” profits. But economists recognize that perfect competition is a theoretical ideal that is seldom if ever attainable in the real world, and then only in isolated cases.

Various kinds of less-than-perfect competition — and even monopolies in some industries — are therefore not only inevitable but also desirable from the consumer’s point of view. The massive deadweight losses inflicted by regulation cannot conceivably be worth the theoretical losses resulting from less-than-perfect competition. And regulation is just one aspect of a burdensome control apparatus — government — that has robbed Americans of trillions of dollars over the decades.

The moral of the story: Control what you can if it makes you feel better. Control what you can if it makes your business more profitable. But aside from the obvious things, like controlling crime and foreign enemies, don’t use government to make the world conform to your idea of what it should be like. You’ll only make yourself poorer — and less free.

(See also “Economics: A Survey” and “Putting in Some Good Words for Monopoly“.)

Trump, the Coronavirus Panic, and the Stock Market

UPDATED 03/16/20

A writer at The Washington Post compiled a record of President Trump’s statements about COVID-19 through yesterday. Whether it is a complete and unbiased compilation I will leave to you to investigate and decide. Let’s just say that it doesn’t put Mr. Trump in a good light, which was undoubtedly the writer’s intention given the identity of his employer.

I say that the compilation doesn’t put the president in a good light because his optimism has been depicted as a manifestation of ignorance and stupidity. But — as was obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense (i.e., not rabid reporters and other leftists who won’t let a crisis go to waste) — Mr. Trump was merely striving (in vain, it seems) to defuse the panic that the media and disloyal opposition have been intent on spreading.

The president’s declaration today of a national emergency would seem to be an admission that he had been unduly optimistic and glaringly wrong in his earlier statements. But that remains to be seen; as of now, the incidence of COVID-19 in the U.S. accounts for only a minute fraction of the populace (6/1,000,000), and the number of deaths accounts for an almost invisible fraction of the populace (2.2 percent of cases thus far). The cancellation of events and the widespread practice of self-quarantine and isolation will do much to reduce the incidence of COVID-19 from what it would otherwise had been. But it is still far too soon to know how bad it will get in the U.S.

According to the article in the Post, president made his first public comment about COVID-19 on January 22. The full effect of that statement, if there was any effect, would have been reflected in the Rasmussen Reports Presidential Tracking Poll of January 27. As it happens, Mr. Trump’s approval numbers didn’t vary much after that date until the week of February 24-28, when they jumped and then dived.

What happened during that week? Trump’s visit to India (which seemed to be a plus for him) was followed by a sharp drop in the stock market. Trump’s approval ratings haven’t changed much since February 28 (see the first graph below), despite (a) the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., (b) panicky responses by opportunistic media types and Democrats, (c) a rising tide of closures and cancellations, (d) a brief recovery in stock prices followed by sharp declines (see the second graph below), and (e) today’s partial recovery in the wake of Trump’s declaration of emergency (again, see the second graph).

What does it all mean? Trump’s approval rating, it seems to me, is related directly to the state of the stock market, which is related directly to fears about the economic effects of COVID-19, which is driven by fears about the spread of COVID-19 throughout the world and in the U.S., in particular. That is to say, most voters are sensible enough to know that what the president says about the disease has next to no effect on its incidence, and therefore next to no effect on them, personally. But — out of long and misguided habit (driven by the media and the professoriate) — a large share of the electorate holds the president responsible for short-run changes in the state of the economy. The stock market reflects expectations about those changes, usually in an exaggerated way.

Sic semper boobus americanus.

I expect today’s jump in stock prices to show up in Monday’s Presidential Tracking Poll. UPDATE: Well, the Fed did it again, with another panicky (and probably ineffective) rate cut, which sent the market tumbling (though it’s recovering somewhat at this moment).

Lesson from the Diamond Princess: Panic Is Unwarranted

As of today there have been 696 reported cases of coronavirus among the 3,711 passengers who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The ship was quarantined on February 1; all passengers and crew had disembarked by March 1. As of March 1, there were 6 deaths among those infected, and the number hasn’t grown (as of today).

Given the ease with which the virus could be transmitted on a ship, the Diamond Princess may represent an upper limit on contagion and mortality:

  • an infection rate of 19 percent of those onboard the ship
  • a fatality rate of less than 1 percent among those known to have contracted the disease
  • a fatality rate of less than 2/10 of 1 percent of the population potentially exposed to the disease.

Conclusion: There is no question that coronavirus represents a significant threat to life, health, and economic activity. But the panic being fomented by the media and opportunistic politicians is unwarranted.

Economics Explained — Part IV: Loose Ends and Finishing Touches

This is the fourth installment of a long post. I may revise it as I post later parts. The whole will be published as a page, for ease of reference. In Parts I, II, and III I necessarily omitted many topics that might seem relevant to the principles of economics and their application in the real world. I address a few of those topics in this coda.

Macroeconomics

Macroeconomic aggregates (e.g., aggregate demandaggregate supply) are essentially meaningless because they represent disparate phenomena.

Consider Chuck and Debbie, who discover that, together, they can have more clothing and more food if each specializes: Chuck in the manufacture of clothing, Debbie in the farming and cultivation of foodstuffs. Through voluntary exchange and bargaining, they find a jointly satisfactory balance of production and consumption. Chuck makes enough clothing to cover himself adequately, to keep some clothing on hand for emergencies, and to trade the balance to Debbie for food. Debbie does likewise with food. Both balance their production and consumption decisions against other considerations (e.g., the desire for leisure).

Chuck and Debbie’s respective decisions and actions are microeconomic; the sum of their decisions, macroeconomic. The microeconomic picture might look like this:

  • Chuck produces 10 units of clothing a week, 5 of which he trades to Debbie for 5 units of food a week, 4 of which he uses each week, and 1 of which he saves for an emergency.
  • Debbie, like Chuck, uses 4 units of clothing each week and saves 1 for an emergency.
  • Debbie produces 10 units of food a week, 5 of which she trades to Chuck for 5 units of clothing a week, 4 of which she consumes each week, and 1 of which she saves for an emergency.
  • Chuck, like Debbie, consumes 4 units of food each week and saves 1 for an emergency.

Given the microeconomic picture, it is trivial to depict the macroeconomic situation:

  • Gross weekly output = 10 units of clothing and 10 units of food
  • Weekly consumption = 8 units of clothing and 8 units of food
  • Weekly saving = 2 units of clothing and 2 units of food

You will note that the macroeconomic metrics add no useful information; they merely summarize the salient facts of Chuck and Debbie’s economic lives — though not the essential facts of their lives, which include (but are far from limited to) the degree of satisfaction that Chuck and Debbie derive from their consumption of food and clothing.

The customary way of getting around the aggregation problem is to sum the dollar values of microeconomic activity. But this simply masks the aggregation problem by assuming that it’s possible to add the marginal valuations (i.e., prices) of disparate products and services being bought and sold at disparate moments in time by disparate individuals and firms for disparate purposes. One might as well add two bananas to two apples and call the result four bapples.

The essential problem, as discussed in the next section, is that Chuck and Debbie derive different kinds and amounts of enjoyment from clothing and food, and that those different kinds and amounts of enjoyment cannot be summed in any meaningful way. If meaningful aggregation is impossible for Chuck and Debbie, how can it be possible for an economy that consists of millions of economic actors and an untold variety of goods and services? And how is it possible when technological change yields results like this?

Buffalo (NY) journalist and historian Steve Cichon has an article on the Trending Buffalo website (“Everything from 1991 Radio Shack ad I now do with my phone“) featuring a full-page Radio Shack ad from the Buffalo News on February 16, 1991 (see graphic above). Of the 15 electronics products featured in the Radio Shack ad, 13 of them can now be replaced with a $200 iPhone according to Steve’s analysis. The 13 Radio Shack items in the ad (all-weather personal stereo, AM/FM clock radio, headphones, calculator, computer, camcorder, cell phone, regular phone, CD player, CB radio, scanner, phone answering machine, and cassette recorder) would have cost a total of $3,055 in 1991, which is equivalent in today’s dollars to $5,225. Versus only $200 for an iPhone 5S.

In hours worked at the average wage, the 13 electronics items in 1991 would have had a “time cost” of 290.4 hours of work at the average hourly wage then of $10.52 (or 7.25 weeks or 36.3 days). Today, the $200 iPhone would have a “time cost” of fewer than 10 hours (9.82) of work at the average hourly wage today of $20.35, and just one day of work, plus a few extra hours.

The piece is six years old and out of date in its details. But it’s nevertheless representative of almost all goods that have been produced since the founding of the United States, and almost all means of production.

GDP, in other words, is nothing more than what it seems to be on the surface: an estimate of the dollar value of economic output. Even at that, it’s not susceptible of quantitative modeling. (See “Macroeconomic Modeling: A Case Study” at this post.) Nor can real economic output — as opposed to government spending — be pushed upward by government spending, as I explain at length here.

GDP is certainly not a measure of “social welfare”, as most economists will admit — but for the wrong reason. They point to the “intangibles” that aren’t counted in GDP, one of which is the actual amount of happiness that each person derives not only from things counted in GDP but from the many things that aren’t counted in it (e.g., marital happiness, the love of children for parents, the malaise that prevails in times of prolonged international strife). In admitting that much, economists hint at — but fail to mention — the deeper reason that GDP doesn’t measure social welfare is that there is no such thing.

I will explain the non-existence of social welfare after tackling its running-mate: social justice.

Social Justice

This discussion covers a lot of ground. Little of it fits within my strict definition of economics — the voluntary production and exchange of goods — but it bears directly on two important byproducts of economic activity: income and wealth.

Social welfare (discussed below) is the implicit desideratum of seekers of “social justice”. Thomas Sowell has a better term for it: cosmic justice.

The seekers of cosmic justice are not content to allow individuals to accomplish what they can, given their genes, their acquired traits, their parents’ wealth (or lack of it), where they were born, when they live, and so on. Rather, those who seek cosmic justice cling to the Rawlsian notion that no one “deserves” better “luck” than anyone else. (For a critique of John Rawls’s theory of economic and social justice, see this.)

But “deserves” and “luck” (like “greed”) are emotive, value-laden terms. Those terms suggest (as they are meant to) that there is some kind of great lottery in the sky, in which each of us participates, and that some of us hold winning tickets — which equally “deserving” others might just have well held, were it not for “luck.”

This is not what happens, of course. Humankind simply is varied in its genetic composition, personality traits, accumulated wealth, geographic distribution, etc. Consider a person who is born in the United States of brilliant, wealthy parents — and who inherits their brilliance, cultivates his inheritance (genetic and financial), and goes on to live a life of accomplishment and wealth, while doing no harm and great good to others. Such a person is neither more “lucky” nor less “deserving” than anyone else. He merely is who he is, and he does what he does. There is no question of desert or luck. (I address luck in this post and those linked to therein.)

Such reasoning does not dissuade those who seek cosmic justice. Many of the seekers are found among the “80 percent”, and it is their chosen lot to envy the other “20 percent”, that is, those persons whose brains, talent, money, and/or drive yield them a disproportionate — but not undeserved — degree of fortune, fame, and power. The influential seekers of cosmic justice are to be found among the  “20 percent”. It is they who use their wealth, fame, and position to enforce cosmic justice in the service (variously) of misplaced guilt, economic ignorance, and power-lust. (Altruism — another emotive, value-laden term — does not come into play, for reasons discussed here and here.)

Some combination of misplaced guilt, economic ignorance, and power-lust motivates our law-makers. (Their self-proclaimed “compassion” is bought on the cheap, with taxpayers’ money.) They accrue power by pandering to seekers of cosmic justice and parasites who seek to gain from efforts to attain it. Thus politicians have saddled us with progressive taxation, affirmative action, and a plethora of other disincentivizing, relationship-shattering, market-distorting policies. It is supremely ironic that those policies have made most of persons (including many parasites) far worse off than they would be if government were to get out of the cosmic-justice business.

As Anthony de Jasay writes in “Risk, Value, and Externality”,

Stripped of rhetoric, an act of social justice (a) deliberately increases the relative share … of the worse-off in total income, and (b) in achieving (a) it redresses part or all of an injustice…. This implies that some people being worse off than others is an injustice and that it must be redressed. However, redress can only be effected at the expense of the better-off; but it is not evident that they have committed the injustice in the first place. Consequently, nor is it clear why the better-off should be under an obligation to redress it….

There is the view, acknowledged by de Jasay, that the better-off are better off merely because of luck. But, as he points out,

Nature never stops throwing good luck at some and bad luck at others, no sooner are [social] injustices redressed than some people are again better off than others. An economy of voluntary exchanges is inherently inegalitarian…. Striving for social justice, then, turns out to be a ceaseless combat against luck, a striving for the unattainable, sterilized economy that has built-in mechanisms … for offsetting the misdeeds of Nature.

In fact, “social justice” not only penalizes but also minimizes and ostracizes the kinds of persons who have been mainly responsible for economic (and artistic and social) progress in the Western world, namely, straight, white, heterosexual males of European origin and descent — including, notably, Ashkenzi Jews. Many members of the aforementioned group are themselves advocates of “social justice”, which is just another indication that they are among the spoiled children of capitalism who have lost sight of what got them to where they are — and it wasn’t kow-towing to lunacies like “social justice”.

SOCIAL WELFARE

Some proponents of cosmic justice appeal to the notion of social welfare (even some economists, who should know better) . Their appeal rests on two mistaken beliefs:

  • There is such a thing as social welfare.
  • Transferring income and wealth from the richer to the poorer enhances social welfare because redistribution helps the poorer more than it hurts the richer.

Having disposed elsewhere of the second belief, I now address the first one. I begin with a question posed by Arnold Kling:

Does the usefulness of the concept of a social welfare function stand or fall on its mathematical properties?

My answer: One can write equations until kingdom come, but no equation can make one person’s happiness cancel another person’s unhappiness.

The notion of a social welfare function arises from John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism, which is best captured in the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number” or, more precisely “the greatest amount of happiness altogether.”

From this facile philosophy (not Mill’s only one) grew the ludicrous idea that it might be possible to quantify each person’s happiness and, then, to arrive at an aggregate measure of total happiness for everyone (or at least everyone in England). Utilitarianism, as a philosophy, has gone the way of Communism: It is discredited but many people still cling to it, under other names.

Today’s usual name for utilitarianism is cost-benefit analysis. Governments often subject proposed projects and regulations (e.g., new highway construction, automobile safety requirements) to cost-benefit analysis. The theory of cost-benefit analysis is simple: If the expected benefits from a government project or regulation are greater than its expected costs, the project or regulation is economically justified.

Here is the problem with cost-benefit analysis — which is the problem with utilitarianism: One person’s benefit cannot be compared with another person’s cost. Suppose, for example, the City of Los Angeles were to conduct a cost-benefit analysis that “proved” the wisdom of constructing yet another freeway through the city in order to reduce the commuting time of workers who drive into the city from the suburbs. In order to construct the freeway, the city must exercise its power of eminent domain and take residential and commercial property, paying “just compensation”, of course. But “just compensation” for a forced taking cannot be “just” — not when property is being wrenched from often-unwilling “sellers” at prices they would not accept voluntarily. Not when those “sellers” (or their lessees) must face the additional financial and psychic costs of relocating their homes and businesses, of losing (in some cases) decades-old connections with friends, neighbors, customers, and suppliers.

How can a supposedly rational economist, politician, pundit, or “liberal” imagine that the benefits accruing to some persons (commuters, welfare recipients, etc.) somehow cancel the losses of other persons (taxpayers, property owners, etc.)? To take a homely example, consider A who derives pleasure from causing great pain to B (a non-masochist) by punching him in the nose. A’s pleasure cannot cancel B’s pain.

Yet, that is how cost-benefit analysis (utilitarianism) works, if not explcitly then implicitly. It is the spirit of utilitarianism (not to mention power-lust, arrogance, and ignorance) which enables politicians and bureaucrats throughout the land to impose their will upon us — to our lasting detriment.

Conclusion: Politics Trumps Economics

In sum, and despite all of the feel-good rhetoric to the contrary, the United States differs only in degree (but not in kind) from modern communism and socialism. It’s a “social democracy”, in which the demos (mob) dictates the economic (and social) order through its various political patrons. But the political patrons (including the affluent elites who play footsie with them) are in charge, make no mistake about it, and they freely demonize those segments of the demos which turn against them. They are able to do so because the franchise has been so extended (and will continue to be extended by untrammeled immigration) that they won’t run out of votes to advance their essential agenda, which is control of the social and economic affairs of all Americans.

Despite the advent of Donald Trump, and the lesson that it should have taught high-ranking politicos, most of them (regardless of party affiliation) remain wedded to the patronage system because it’s their path to power and riches.

What this all means, as I once explained to a very smart economist, is that politics trumps economics. Ignoring politics (and being ignorant of it) while trying to understand and explain economics is like ignoring the heart while trying to explain the circulatory system without which there is no life.

A Footnote to “Peak Civilization”

I ended that post with this:

Every line of human endeavor reaches a peak, from which decline is sure to follow if the things that caused it to peak are mindlessly rejected for the sake of novelty (i.e., rejection of old norms just because they are old). This is nowhere more obvious than in the arts.

It should be equally obvious to anyone who takes an objective look at the present state of American society and is capable of comparing it with American society of the 1940s and 1950s. For all of its faults it was a golden age. Unfortunately, most Americans now living (Noah Smith definitely included) are too young and too fixated on material things to understand what has been lost — irretrievably, I fear.

My point is underscored by Annebelle Timsit, writing at Quartz:

The endless stretch of a lazy summer afternoon. Visits to a grandparent’s house in the country. Riding your bicycle through the neighborhood after dark. These were just a few of the revealing answers from more than 400 Twitter users in response to a question: “What was a part of your childhood that you now recognize was a privilege to have or experience?”

That question, courtesy of writer Morgan Jerkins, revealed a poignant truth about the changing nature of childhood in the US: The childhood experiences most valued by people who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s are things that the current generation of kids are far less likely to know.

That’s not a reference to cassette tapes, bell bottoms, Blockbuster movies, and other items popular on BuzzFeed listicles. Rather, people are primarily nostalgic for a youthful sense of independence, connectedness, and creativity that seems less common in the 21st century. The childhood privileges that respondents seemed to appreciate most in retrospect fall into four broad categories:

“Riding my bike at all hours of the day into the evening throughout many neighborhoods without being stopped or asked what I was doing there,” was one Twitter user’s answer to Jerkins’ question. Another commenter was grateful for “summer days & nights spent riding bikes anywhere & everywhere with friends, only needing to come home when the streetlights came on,” while yet another recalled “having a peaceful, free-range childhood.” Countless others cited the freedom to explore—with few restrictions—as a major privilege of their childhood.

American children have less independence and autonomy today than they did a few generations ago.

For many of today’s children, that privilege is disappearing. American children have less independence and autonomy today than they did a few generations ago. As parents have become increasingly concerned with safety, fewer children are permitted to go exploring beyond the confines of their own backyard. Some parents have even been prosecuted or charged with neglect for letting their children walk or play unsupervised. Meanwhile, child psychologists say that too many children are being ushered from one structured activity to the next, always under adult supervision—leaving them with little time to play, experiment, and make mistakes.

That’s a big problem. Kids who have autonomy and independence are less likely to be anxious, and more likely to grow into capable, self-sufficient adults. In a recent video for The Atlantic, Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, argues that so-called helicopter parents “deprive kids the chance to show up in their own lives, take responsibility for things and be accountable for outcomes.”

That message seems to be gaining traction. The state of Utah, for example, recently passed a “free-range” parenting law meant to give parents the freedom to send kids out to play on their own.”

“Bravo!” to the government of Utah.

Transport yourself back three decades from the 1970s and 1980s to the 1940s and 1950s, when I was a child and adoslescent, and the contrast between then and now is even more stark than the contrast noted by Timsit.

And it has a lot to do with the social ruin that has been visited upon America by the spoiled (cosseted) children of capitalism.


Other related posts:

Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past
The Passing of Red Brick Schoolhouses and a Way of Life
An Ideal World
‘Tis the Season for Nostalgia
Another Look into the Vanished Past
Whither (Wither) Classical Liberalism and America?

Economics Explained — Part III: The Principles Illustrated

This is the third installment of a long post. I may revise it as I post later parts. The whole will be published as a page, for ease of reference. If you haven’t read “Part I: What Is Economics About?“ or “Part II: Economic Principles in Perspective“, you may benefit from doing so before you embark on this part.

What follows isn’t meant to depict the historical evolution of economies and the role of governments in them. The idea, rather, is to contrast various degrees of complexity in economic activity, and the effect of government on that activity — for good and ill.

Communism: The Real Kind

Bands of hunter-gatherers roam widely, or as widely as they can on foot, with young children and old adults (perhaps in their 30s and 40s) in tow. The hunters and gatherers share with other members of the band what they catch, kill, and collect. The stronger members of the band presumably catch, kill, and collect more than their dependents do, and so they probably take more than their “share” because doing so gives them the strength to do what they do for everyone else.

This primitive arrangement — in which producers are necessarily consumer more than non-producers so that non-producers are able to survive — operates exactly in accordance with the maxim “from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs”. But that is not the system envisaged by Marxists and Millennials, in which the state takes from producers and given to non-producers because it’s “only fair” and in the spirit of “social justice”. Primitive peoples know on which side their bread is buttered, which is a lot more than can be said for modern “communists”, state socialists, and the parasites who believe that the goose will continue to lay golden eggs after it has been put down.

That’s what happens when people without “skin in the game” (i.e., political theorists, pundits, politicians, bureaucrats, naive students, and layabouts) get their hands on the levers of government power. But I am getting ahead of myself and will have much more to say about it later in this post.

Barter: An Economy of Relatives, Friends, and Acquaintances

Imagine a simple economy in which goods are exchanged through barter. Implicit in the transaction are the existence of property rights and gains from trade: The producers of the goods own them and can trade them to their mutual benefit.

There is, at this point, no money to clutter our understanding of the economy’s workings, though there could be credit. One producer, Arlo, could give some of his goods to another producer, Brenda, with the understanding that Brenda will repay the loan with a specified quantity of goods by a specified time.

Credit can exist in this barter economy because its participants know each other well, either personally or by reputation. Credit is therefore more firmly based on trust and knowledge than it is in economies that are more widely dispersed and involve total strangers, if not enemies. But credit always carries a cost because the creditor (a) usually has other uses for the goods (or money) that he lends, and must forgo those uses by lending, and (b) takes a risk that the borrower won’t repay the loan. The risk may be lower in a barter economy of friends, relatives, and acquaintances than in a dispersed, money-based economy, but it is nevertheless there.

Credit in a barter economy can finance investment. If Arlo is a baker and Brenda is a butter-maker, Arlo could offer to give Brenda additional bread in the future (over and above the amount that she would normally receive for a certain amount of butter) while he rebuilds his oven so that he can produce bread at a faster rate. (Here, we must assume that the capacity of Arlo’s oven is a bottleneck, and that the availability other resources — flour, for example — is not a constraint.)

Barter, whatever its social advantages — which shouldn’t be overlooked — is cumbersome. Even with the use of central marketplaces, much time and effort is required to arrange, in a timely way, all of the trades necessary to satisfy even a fairly simple menu of wants: food (of various kinds), clothing (of various kinds), construction services (of various kinds), personal-care services (e.g., haircuts) and products (e.g., soap). It is time and effort that could be put to better use in the enjoyment of the fruits of one’s labor and in the production of more goods (in order to enjoy even more fruits).

Then, too, there is the difficulty of saving in a barter economy. Arlo might stockpile bread, for instance, but how much bread can he stockpile before it spoils or loses value because Brenda can’t use as much as Arlo has on hand? Producers of services face more serious problems. For example, how would a barber save haircuts for a rainy day?

A Closed, Money-Based Economy

We are still in a close-knit economy, that is, a closed one. But money now enters the picture. It eases the task of acquiring goods by allowing the purchaser to acquire them at his leisure (subject to the risk of non-delivery, of course). This is called saving, which is also a form of credit. The purchaser of goods (who is also a producer of goods) needn’t trade all of his output for the output of others. He can defer his purchases, thus effectively giving credit to those who buy his goods while he puts off buying theirs.

How does it work? If Arlo makes bread and Brenda makes butter, Arlo, with Brenda’s consent, can give her some bread in exchange for money instead of butter. (Maybe Arlo doesn’t need butter at the moment, and would rather buy it from Brenda at a later date.) Arlo, at one stroke, is accepting money (as a measure of the value of the goods he can purchase in the future) and extending credit to Brenda.

The value of the money, to Arlo, depends on his confidence that Brenda will deliver to him the quantity of butter that he would have received by trading his bread for her butter on the spot. If Arlo is unsure about Brenda’s ability to deliver the desired quantity of butter at a future date, he will ask for the monetary equivalent of additional butter. This is equivalent to the issuance of credit by Arlo to Brenda; that is, he is giving her time in which to produce more butter, and getting a share of the additional output in return.

A money-based economy is, perforce, a credit-based economy. And the value of money depends on the holder’s assessment of his ability to get his money’s worth, so to speak.

The existence of money enables producers to save a portion of their income in a non-perishable, fungible form. This facilitates investment by, for example, enabling the investing party to subsist on what he can purchase from the money he has saved while turning his time and effort toward improving the way in which he produces his goods, devising new goods that might yield him more income, or even wandering far and wide to seek new buyers for his goods.

Thus money is a beneficial economic instrument — as long as the terms of its use are established by those who actually produce and exchange goods. This included the “middlemen” (i.e., wholesalers, retailers, bankers, lenders) whose services are sought and valued by producers of other goods. As I will discuss later, outside interference in the creation and valuation money will distort the terms of trade between producers, causing them to make choices that are less beneficial to them than the choices they would make in the absence of such interference.

In an economy where there is no outside interference in the issuance and valuation of money (and credit), defaults aren’t distorting; that is, they don’t change the “normal” flow of economic activity. Those who give and accept credit do so willingly and after balancing the risks involved (including the possibility of unforeseen calamities) against the gains from trade. Moreover, other “middlemen” known as insurers come to the fore. For a fee, which is paid willingly by the participants in this economy, they absorb the costs of losses from unforeseen calamities (personal injury and illness, fire, flood, etc.).

An Open, Money-Based Economy

An open economy is simply one in which goods are exchanged across territorial boundaries. This kind of exchange is inherently beneficial because it enables all parties to improve their lot by giving them access to a wider range of goods. It also fosters specialization, so that a greater abundance of goods is produced, given available resources. Though inter-territorial trade can be conducted through barter, money obviously facilitates inter-territorial trade, inasmuch as it is (by definition) conducted over a wider area, making direct trades even more difficult than they are within smaller area.

Inasmuch as government isn’t yet in the picture, there is practically no downside to inter-territorial trade. It is simply an expansion of what has gone before — voluntary exchanges of goods (usually through the medium of money) for the mutual benefit of the parties to the transactions. With government out of the picture, there are less likely to be distortions of the kind that are caused by tariffs and subsidization, both of which are aimed at benefiting the citizens (or elites) of one territory at the expense of persons in other territories.

An Open, Money-Based Economy with Government

It is time to introduce government. I am not suggesting that government is a necessary or inevitable outgrowth of a money-based economy. Government probably came first, in the guise of a tribal leader to whom certain decisions were referred and who was responsible for settling disputes within the tribe and seeing to its defense from outside force.

The point of introducing government here is to highlight its potential economic value, and to draw attention to the ways in which it can destroy economic value — and liberty as well. I must say, at the outset, that government, when it comes to domestic affairs, can do no better than enforce prevailing social norms that not only bind a people but also protect them from each other. Such norms include the prohibition of — and social punishment of — acts that cause harm, including the disruption of economic activity. They may be summarized as acts of force (e.g., murder, battery, theft, and vandalism) and fraud (e.g., lying and deliberate deception). There is a related peace-keeping function that is best performed by a third party, and that is the settlement of civil disputes, which in some cases must be done by government, as a referee of last resort.

The point of government with respect to such acts is to ensure the enforcement and punishment of prohibitions in an even-handed way by a party that is presumed to be impartial. (I won’t get into the many historical deviations from this ideal, but will later address how those deviations might have been minimized.) With the assurance that government will enforce and punish harmful acts, the populace as a whole — including its economic units — can more freely go about the business of life (and business) and spend less time, effort, and money on self-defense. In this way, government can be a boon to an economy, especially one that spans a large and diverse populace of strangers.

Ensuring that the business of business can be conducted freely (within the constraint that otherwise illegal transactions are prohibited and punished), requires the national government to prevent subsidiary governments from erecting barriers to trade between the territories of the subsidiary governments. The national government may, on the other hand, restrict trade between entities inside the nation and entities outside of it, where such restrictions (a) keep dangerous materials and technologies out of the hands of actual or potential enemies or (b) prevent foreign regimes from undermining parts of the national economy by subsidizing foreign producers directly or through tariffs on imports to the foreign country.

Government can also protect the populace (and the business of business) from attacks by outsiders. The ideal way of doing this is to mount a defense that is robust enough to deter such attacks. Failing that, the defense must be robust enough to defeat attacking outsiders in a way the prevents much of the damage that they might otherwise do to the populace and its economic activities.

(The problematic side of peace-keeping, both domestically and against outsiders, is that its costs must be borne in some manner by the people and economic units it protects. Further, those costs must be borne, in many cases, by persons who have some objection to peace-keeping; for example: outright pacifists, bleeding-hearts who loath to believe that certain classes of human beings are more prone to criminality than others, and yet-to-be-mugged innocents who simply believe the best of everyone. That said, there is no “fair” way to apportion the costs of peace-keeping, but there is a fairer way than the is now the case: the imposition of a truly flat tax.)

A government that is limited as outlined above must be subject to several checks if it is to remain limited:

  • A written constitution that specifies the powers of the national government and subsidiary governments.
  • Onerous provisions for amending the written constitution.
  • A judiciary that is empowered to review all governmental actions to ensure their consistency with the written constitution.
  • A mechanism for rejecting judicial decisions that are inconsistent with the written constitution.
  • Regular elections through which qualified voters pass judgment on government officials.
  • The restriction of voting to persons of mature age who have “skin in the game”.

The failure to institute and maintain any of these checks will result, eventually, in a system of government that routinely does more than defend the populace and ensure that the business of business can be conducted freely. In the United States, the lack of oversight of the judiciary and the expansion of the franchise (rather than its restriction) have proved fatal to the otherwise clever design of the original Constitution.

The result is an badly distorted economy, which produces things (or fails to produce them) in accordance with the desires (mostly) of unelected bureaucrats, and redistributes income and wealth (and such antecedents as jobs and university admissions) in accordance with the desires of persons without “skin in the game” (i.e., political theorists, pundits, politicians, bureaucrats, naive students, and layabouts). The economy isn’t only badly distorted, but as a result of myriad government interventions, it produces far less than it would otherwise produce, to the detriment of almost everyone, including the supposed beneficiaries of government interventions.

Macroeconomics

What I have discussed thus far is microeconomic activity — the actions of individuals and firms that result in the exchange of economic goods, either directly or with the aid of money and credit. I have also addressed the effects of government interventions, but mainly in terms of the microeconomic effects of such interventions.

What I have avoided, except in passing, is the thing called macroeconomics, which is supposed to deal with aggregate economic activity and things that influence it, such as the monetary and fiscal tools wielded by government.