Political Economy & Civil Society

A Parable of Political Economy

Imagine a simple society in which Jack and Jill own neighboring farms that are equally endowed in natural resources, tools, and equipment. Jack makes bread and Jill makes butter. Jack also could make butter and Jill also could make bread, but both of them have learned that they are better off if they specialize. Thus:

  • Jack can make 1 loaf of bread or 0.5 pound of butter a day. (The rate of transformation is linear; e.g. Jack could make 0.5 loaf of bread and 0.25 pound of butter daily.)
  • Jill can make 1 loaf of bread or 1 pound of butter a day. (Again, the rate of transformation is linear; Jill could make 0.5 loaf of bread and 0.5 pound of butter daily.)
  • If both Jack and Jill make bread and butter their total daily output might be 1 loaf and 0.75 pounds.
  • Alternatively, if Jack specializes in bread and Jill specializes in butter their total daily output could be 1 loaf and 1 pound.

Jill is more intelligent than Jack, and thus more innovative. That’s why she is able to reap as much wheat and make as much bread as Jack, even though he’s stronger. That’s also why she’s able to produce twice as much butter as Jack.

Jill has an absolute advantage over Jack, in that she can make as much bread as he can, and more butter than he can. But Jack has a comparative advantage in the production of bread; if he specializes in bread and Jill specializes in butter, he and Jill will be better off than if they both produce bread and butter for themselves.

Jack and Jill negotiate the exchange rate between bread and butter. Each ends up with 0.5 loaf of bread; but Jill gets 0.6 pound of butter to Jack’s 0.4 pound. Jill ends up with more butter than Jack because her greater productivity puts in her in superior bargaining position. In sum, she earns more because she produces more.

Jack and Jill have another neighbor, June, who makes clothing. Jack and Jill are more productive when they’re properly clothed during the colder months of the year. So they’re willing to trade some of their output to June, in return for heavy clothing.

Jerry, another neighbor, is a laborer who used to work for Jack and Jill, but has been unemployed for a long time because of Jill’s technological innovations. Jerry barely subsists on the fruit and game that he’s able to find and catch. Jack and Jill would hire Jerry but he insists on a wage that they can’t afford to pay unless they spends less to maintain their equipment, which would eventually result in a lower rate of output.

Along comes Juan, a wanderer from another region, who has nothing to offer but his labor. Juan is willing to work for a lower wage than Jerry, but has to be fed and clothed so that he becomes strong enough to deliver the requisite amount of labor to be worthy of hire.

Jack, Jill, and June meet to discuss Jerry and Juan. They are worried about Jerry because he’s a neighbor whom they’ve known for a long time. They also empathize with Juan’s plight, though they’re not attached to him because he’s a stranger and doesn’t speak their language well.

Jake — the gunslinger hired by Jack, Jill, and June to protect them from marauders — invites himself the meeting and brings Jerry with him. Jake likes to offset his stern image by feigning compassion. He tells Jack and Jill that they have a duty to pay Jerry the wage that he demands. He also requires Jack and Jill to feed and clothe Juan until he’s ready to work, and then they must hire him and pay him the same wage as Jerry. Jack and Jill demur because they can’t afford to do what Jake demands and make enough bread and butter to sustain their families and put something aside for retirement. June, who reacts with great sympathy to every misfortune around her — perceived and real — sides with Jake. Jerry argues that he should be helped, but Juan shouldn’t be helped because he’s just a stranger with a strange accent who’s looking for a handout.

Jake the gunslinger, disregarding Jerry’s reservation about Juan, announces that Jack and Jill must abide by his decision, inasmuch as there are 3 votes for it and only 2 votes against it — and he has the gun.

What happens next? Several things:

Jack and Jill quite properly accuse Jake of breach of contract. He has assumed a power that wasn’t given to him by Jack, Jill, and June when they hired him. Jake merely laughs at them.

Jack, Jill, and June (though she doesn’t understand it) have lost control of their businesses. They can no longer produce their goods efficiently. This means less output, that is less to trade with each other. Less output also means that they won’t be able to invest as much as before in the improvement and expansion of their operations.

June is happy, for the moment, because Jake sided with her. But she will be unhappy when Jake abuses his authority in a way that she disapproves, and when she finally understands what Jake has done to her business.

Jack and Jill have good reason to resent Juan and Jerry for using Jake to coerce them, and June for siding with Jerry and Juan. There is now a rift that will hinder cooperation for mutual benefit (e.g., willingness to help each other in times of illness).

Juan and Jerry have become dependent on Jake, thus undermining their ability to develop marketable skills and good work habits. Their dependency will keep them mired in near-poverty.

In a sane world, Jack and Jill would get rid of Jake, and the others would applaud them for doing it.

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Related posts:
The Sentinel: A Tragic Parable of Economic Reality
Liberty, General Welfare, and the State
Monopoly and the General Welfare
Gains from Trade
A Conversation with Uncle Sam

A Nation of Immigrants, a Nation of Enemies

I’m sick and tired of hearing that the United States is a nation of immigrants. So what if the United States is a nation of immigrants? The real issue is whether immigrants wish to become Americans in spirit, not in name only — loyal to the libertarian principles of the Constitution or cynical abusers of it.

I understand and sympathize with the urge to live among people with whom one shares a religion, a language, and customs. Tribalism is a deeply ingrained trait. It is not necessarily a precursor to aggression, contrary to the not-so-subtle message (aimed at white Americans) of the UN propaganda film that I was subjected to in high school. And the kind of tribalism found in many American locales, from the barrios of Los Angeles to the disappearing German communities of Texas to the Orthodox Jewish enclaves of New York City, is harmless compared with  Reconquista and Sharia.

Proponents of such creeds don’t want to become Americans whose allegiance is to the liberty promised by the Constitution. They are cynical abusers of that liberty, whose insidious rhetoric is evidence against free-speech absolutism.

But they are far from the only abusers of that liberty. It is unnecessary to import enemies when there is an ample supply of them among native-born Americans. Well, they are Americans in name because they were born in the United States and (in most cases) haven’t formally renounced their allegiance to the Constitution. But they are its enemies, no matter how cleverly they twist its meaning to support their anti-libertarian creed.

I am speaking of the left, of course. Lest we forget, the real threat to liberty in America is home-grown. The left’s recent hysterical hypocrisy leads me to renounce my naive vow to be a kinder, gentler critic of the left’s subversive words and deeds.

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Related posts:
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
Greed, Conscience, and Big Government
Privilege, Power, and Hypocrisy
Thinkers vs. Doers
Society, Polarization, and Dissent
Another Look at Political Labels
Individualism, Society, and Liberty
Social Justice vs. Liberty
My Platform
Polarization and De-facto Partition
How America Has Changed
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Liberal Nostrums
Politics, Personality, and Hope for a New Era

Prosperity Isn’t Everything

There is no denying that per-capita income rises with specialization and trade; for example:

  • A is a farmer with land that’s good for growing fruit trees; B is a farmer with land that’s good for raising cattle.
  • The total output of both apples and butter will be greater if A specializes in growing apples and B specializes in making butter than if both A and B grew apples and made butter.
  • A and B can then trade apples for butter so that of them is better off than he would have been in the absence of specialization and trade.

Sometimes A and B live in different cities, different States, and different countries. If the raison d’etre of specialization and trade is the maximization of income, it would be foolish to exclude international trade while allowing inter-State and inter-city trade. (Note that the preceding sentence begins with if.)

The combination of specialization, trade, invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship has wrought much good. Here’s Megan McArdle’s testimony:

By the standards of today, my grandparents were living in wrenching poverty. Some of this, of course, involves technologies that didn’t exist—as a young couple in the 1930s my grandparents had less access to health care than the most  neglected homeless person in modern America, simply because most of the treatments we now have had not yet been invented. That is not the whole story, however. Many of the things we now have already existed; my grandparents simply couldn’t afford them.  With some exceptions, such as microwave ovens and computers, most of the modern miracles that transformed 20th century domestic life already existed in some form by 1939. But they were out of the financial reach of most people.

If America today discovered a young couple where the husband had to drop out of high school to help his father clean tons of unsold, rotted produce out of their farm’s silos, and now worked a low-wage, low-skilled job, was living in a single room with no central heating and a single bathroom to share for two families, who had no refrigerator and scrubbed their clothes by hand in a washtub, who had serious conversations in low voices over whether they should replace or mend torn clothes, who had to share a single elderly vehicle or make the eight-mile walk to town  … that family would be the subject of a three-part Pulitzer prizewinning series on Poverty in America.

But in their time and place, my grandparents were a boring bourgeois couple, struggling to make ends meet as everyone did, but never missing a meal or a Sunday at church. They were excited about the indoor plumbing and electricity which had just been installed on his parents’ farm, and they were not too young to marvel at their amazing good fortune in owning an automobile. In some sense they were incredibly deprived, but there are millions of people in America today who are incomparably better off materially, and yet whose lives strike us (and them) as somehow objectively more difficult.

Much of that is true of my parents, who were of the same generation as McArdle’s grandparents. More of it is true of my maternal grandmother, who was born in 1880, wed in 1903, bore and raised ten children, and was widowed at the age of 60. I remember well the years before she reached the age of 70; until then she cooked on a wood-fired range, pumped water from a well in her backyard, and went to the outhouse for calls of nature. And yet, the following things, and much more, came to pass in her lifetime: alternating-current electricity, a telephone in most homes (though my grandmother lacked one until she was in her 70s), automobiles (though she never learned to drive), airplanes (she first flew at the age of 93), movies, radio, movies with sound, television (she never owned one), radar, penicillin, vaccinations against various debilitating diseases, electric typewriters, and early transistorized computers.

Because my dominant memories of my grandmother and her way of life in a small village are boyhood memories, it’s tempting to characterize them as nostalgic and somewhat romanticized. But I know that she was more or less typical of the residents of her village. Though she was far from rich, she wasn’t poor by the standards of the village. She certainly didn’t feel impoverished or resentful about her lack of material goods.

Today, however, relatively poor people in America have far, far more in the way of material goods than my grandmother ever dreamt of owning, yet they are anxious and even miserable, because… Here’s McArdle’s view:

[Not] everything has gotten better in every way, all the time. There are areas in which things have gotten broadly worse….

  • … Substance abuse, and the police response to it, has devastated both urban and rural communities.
  • Divorce broke up millions of families, and while the college educated class seems to have found a new equilibrium of stable and happy later marriages, marriage is collapsing among the majority who do not have a college degree, leaving millions of children in unstable family situations where fathers are often absent from the home, and their attention and financial resources are divided between multiple children with multiple women.
  • Communities are much less cohesive than they used to be, and while the educated elite may have found substitutes online, the rest of the country is “bowling alone” more and more often—which is not merely lonely, but also means they have fewer social supports when they find themselves in trouble.
  • A weekly wage packet may buy more than it did sixty years ago, but the stability of manufacturing jobs is increasingly being replaced by contingent and unreliable shift work that is made doubly and triply difficult by the instability of the families that tend to do these jobs. The inability to plan your life or work in turn makes it hard to form a family, and stressful to keep one together….
  • Widespread credit has democratized large purchases like furniture and cars. It has also enabled many people, particularly financially marginal people, to get into serious trouble.  Debt magnifies your life experience: when things are going relatively well, it gives you more options, but when things are going badly, it can turn a setback into a catastrophe—as many, many families found out in 2008….

This list illustrates why public policy seems to be struggling to come up with a plan of attack against our current insecurities. The welfare state is relatively good at giving people money: you collect the taxes, write a check, and now people have money. The welfare state has proven very bad at giving people stable jobs and stable families, a vibrant community life, promising career tracks, or a cure for their drug addiction. No wonder so many hopes now seem to be pinned on early childhood education, far in excess of the evidence to support them: it is the only thing we have not already tried and failed at.

But I think this list illustrates the poverty of trying to measure living standards by staring at median wages. Many of the changes of the last century show up in that statistic, but others, like the time no longer spent plucking chickens, or the joys of banishing lye from the pantry, appear nowhere.  Nor do the changes in job and family structure that have made the lives of people who are indisputably vastly materially richer than my young grandparents were, nonetheless feel much more precarious.

Where did it all go wrong? And I do believe that it went wrong. I say that as a man who has lived more than his three-score and ten years, remains in good health, lives comfortably, has a loving wife of 52 years, has two fine children and twelve joyous grandchildren, and is by nature an optimistic achiever who isn’t easily thrown off course by a setback.

It didn’t go wrong because of globalization, though globalization may have hastened the rot. It didn’t go wrong because of prosperity per se, though it was helped by the fevered pursuit of prosperity. It went wrong because of the fraying of the social ties that bound much of America for so long — even with the Civil War and its decades-long residue of bitterness.

Why did those ties fray? And why are they now weaker than than have been since the eve of the Civil War?

Let’s begin with social norms, which are the basis of social ties. If you and I observe the same social norms, we’re likely to feel bound in some way, even if we’re not friends or relatives. This, of course, is tribalism, which is verboten among those who view all of mankind as brothers, sisters, and whatevers under the skin — all mankind except smarty-pants Americans of East Asian descent, Israeli Jews and American Jews who support Israel, Southerners (remember the Civil War!), and everyone else who is a straight, non-Hispanic white male of European descent. To such people, the only legitimate tribe is the tribe of anti-tribalism.

You may by now understand that I blame leftists for the breakdown of social norms and social ties. But how can that be if, as McArdle says, “the college educated class seems to have found a new equilibrium of stable and happy later marriages”? The college-educated class resides mostly on the left, and affluent leftists do seem to have avoided the rot.

Yes, but they caused it. You could think of it as a non-suicidal act of terror. But it would be kinder and more accurate to call it an act of involuntary manslaughter.  Leftists meant to make the changes that caused the rot; they just didn’t foresee or intend the rot. Nor is it obvious that they care about it, except as an excuse to “solve” social problems from on high by throwing money and behavioral prescriptions at them — which is why there’s social rot in the first place.

The good intentions embedded in governmental acts and decrees have stealthily expanded and centralized government’s power, and in the process have sundered civil society. Walter Williams puts it this way in “Culture and Social Pathology” (creators.com, June 16, 2015):

A civilized society’s first line of defense is not the law, police and courts but customs, traditions, rules of etiquette and moral values. These behavioral norms — mostly transmitted by example, word of mouth and religious teachings — represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experience and trial and error. They include important thou-shalt-nots, such as thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal and thou shalt not cheat. They also include all those courtesies that have traditionally been associated with ladylike and gentlemanly conduct.

The failure to fully transmit these values and traditions to subsequent generations represents one of the failings of what journalist Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” People in this so-called great generation, who lived during the trauma of the Great Depression and fought World War II, not only failed to transmit the moral values of their parents but also are responsible for government programs that will deliver economic chaos….

For nearly three-quarters of a century, the nation’s liberals have waged war on traditional values, customs and morality. Our youths have been counseled that there are no moral absolutes. Instead, what’s moral or immoral is a matter of personal opinion. During the 1960s, the education establishment began to challenge and undermine lessons children learned from their parents and Sunday school with fads such as “values clarification.” So-called sex education classes are simply indoctrination that undermines family and church strictures against premarital sex. Lessons of abstinence were considered passe and replaced with lessons about condoms, birth control pills and abortions. Further undermining of parental authority came with legal and extralegal measures to assist teenage abortions with neither parental knowledge nor parental consent….

If it were only the economic decline threatening our future, there might be hope. It’s the moral decline that spells our doom.

The undoing of traditional mores began in earnest in the 1960s, with a frontal assault on traditional morality and the misguided expansion of the regulatory-welfare state. The unraveling continues to this day. Traditional morality is notable in its neglect; social cohesion is almost non-existent, except where the bonds of religion and ethnicity remain strong. The social fabric that once bound vast swaths of America has rotted — and is almost certainly beyond repair.

The social fabric has frayed precisely because government has pushed social institutions aside and made dependents of hundreds of millions of Americans. As Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

Now for an ironic twist. Were the central government less profligate and intrusive, Americans would become much more prosperous.

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Related posts:
Social Norms and Liberty
Whiners — Left and Libertarian
The Adolescent Rebellion Syndrome
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
Government vs. Community
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Society and the State
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
How America Has Changed

Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise

It’s tempting, sometimes, to compromise with the left’s agenda, which is top-down regulation of social and economic relations. The agenda has a huge constituency, after all. Think of the tens of millions of persons who would be harmed in the short run, if not for a long time, if a leftist scheme were undone.

Consider Obamacare, for example. A key provision of Obamacare — the camel’s nose, head, and shoulders in the tent of universal health care (a.k.a., socialized medicine) — is the vast expansion of eligibility for Medicaid. In the 30-some States that have opted to participate in the expanded program, persons with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty line are eligible, including adults without dependent children.

It would seem that only a Simon Legree or Ebenezer Scrooge would deny Medicaid coverage to those millions who have obtained it by way of Obamacare. Or it would until the following considerations come to mind:

  • The poverty line is a misleading metric. It’s a relative measure of income, not an absolute one. Most “poor” persons in today’s America are anything but poor in relation the truly poor of the world, and they live far above a subsistence level. The poverty line is nothing but an arbitrary standard that justifies income redistribution.
  • Other persons, with their own problems, are paying for the government’s generous “gift” to the semi-poor. But who is really in a position to say that the problems of Medicaid recipients are more deserving of subsidization than the problems facing those who defray the subsidy?
  • If expanded Medicaid coverage were withdrawn, those now covered would be no worse off than they had been before taxpayers were forced to subsidize them.
  • Being relatively poor used to be a good reason for a person to work his way up the ladder of success. Perhaps not far up the ladder, but in an upward direction. It meant learning skills — on the job, if necessary — and using those skills to move on to more-demanding and higher-paying jobs. Redistributive measures — Medicaid subsidies, food stamps, extended unemployment benefits, etc. — blunt the incentive to better oneself and, instead, reinforce dependency on government.

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

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

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

And how does government pay for those handouts? In part, it taxes many of the people who receive them. It also pays generous salaries and benefits of the army of drones who administer them. It’s a Ponzi scheme enforced at gunpoint.

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

The Problem with Political Correctness


Why do conservatives and (some) libertarians cringe and react negatively to political correctness? I mean by political correctness “language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to particular groups in society.” Further, critics of p.c. use the term “as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive,” not to mention the language and measures of p.c.-ness.

There are several reasons to reject p.c.-ness:

  1. It is often condescending toward the identity groups it is meant to protect and advance.
  2. It is meant to hide the truth about common characteristics of such groups.
  3. It implies that those persons who don’t join in p.c.-ness are racist bigots with minds that are closed to reality (which is exactly what 1 and 2 say about proponents of p.c.-ness).
  4. The policies and measures that flow from p.c.-ness usually go beyond “avoiding disadvantage to particular groups” to confer advantage on particular groups.
  5. Such policies and measures are therefore anti-libertarian, and often are costly and ineffective (even counterproductive).
  6. Such policies and measures tend to penalize persons who have had nothing to do with any real disadvantages that may have befallen various identity groups.

I can’t speak for conservatives as a group — though they should be a “protected group” (I write sarcastically). But I can tell you that my rejection of p.c.-ness is based on all six of those reasons. And the sum of the six is a devastating attack on social comity (or what’s left of it), even-handed treatment of all persons under the law, freedom of speech, freedom of association, property rights, and the economic well-being of the nation. Other than that, there’s nothing wrong with p.c.-ness.

Whatever merit there is in p.c.-ness, it is canceled by the bad odor that surrounds it. P..c.-ness is a variant of crying wolf: The more often it’s invoked, the less believable it becomes. There’s a corollary: The more people who require p.c. treatment, the fewer people who are left to be blamed for the conditions that p.c.-ness is meant to remedy. Or, if almost everyone is a “victim,” almost no one is a “victim.”

Unless you believe, of course, that straight, white males of European descent are to blame for every bad thing that has befallen every other identity group. Or unless you believe that it’s simply “unfair” for straight, white males of European descent to have been so dominant for so long in so many fields of endeavor.

Was it “unfair” of Newton and Einstein to have been the greatest of physicists? Was in “unfair” of Abraham Lincoln to have been the president who conquered the South and thereby put an end to slavery? Is it “unfair” that there seems to be something in the genetic makeup of East Asians that gives them higher IQs on average than whites, who have higher IQs on average than blacks? (Why aren’t whites complaining about the “unfairness” of the distribution of IQs?) Is it “unfair” that (in the United States, at least) whites, who are on average smarter than blacks, earn more than blacks on average? If that is “unfair,” why is it “fair” that the NBA is dominated by black athletes whose IQs are lower than the IQs of white physicists but who earn many, many times as much as white physicists do?

The problem with “fairness,” which is at the heart of p.c.-ness, is that it is a reality-free concept. It doesn’t take account of the facts of life, such as those alluded to in the preceding paragraph. It assumes that differences in outcomes (e.g., relative earnings, literary fame, scientific achievements, political advancement) are due mainly to one’s membership (or lack thereof) in an identity group. P.c.-ness leaves no room for reality. It leaves no room for individual responsibility. It seeks special treatment for groups of people, regardless of the mental, physical, or moral capacity of each member of a group. (It’s just a variant of white supremacy.)

Which brings me to the deeper reason why conservatives and (some) libertarians instinctively cringe and react negatively to political correctness. Conservatives and libertarians are big on personal responsibility. It’s at the center of libertarianism. It plays an important role in conservatism, where personal responsibility includes not only responsibility for one’s self and for one’s role in society (properly understood), but also responsibility for the observance and continuance of time-tested social norms.

Political correctness casts personal responsibility aside and replaces it with identity politics. That’s the deeper reason why conservatives and (some) libertarians cringe and react negatively to it.

UPDATE 12/09/16

Travis Scott focuses on one (of many) counterproductive effects of political correctness in “The Science Says Putting Women into Combat Endangers National Security” (The Federalist, December 9, 2016). Title of the article speaks for itself. I will quote two passages. The first is about the apprehension of an intruder who climbed over a fence at the White House:

In 2014, a veteran named Omar Gonzalez jumped a fence and rushed the White House. He had a weapon, and made it all the way across the green lawn and into the White House. He was first confronted in the White House by a lone guard, whom he overpowered with ease. He ran through the White House and was not apprehended until he got to the East Room.

Many of the news reports failed to mention that the guard Gonzalez overpowered was a female member of the Secret Service, and that the people who apprehended Gonzalez were males. While the president’s life may have been put in jeopardy by putting a female guard between him and a knife-wielding wild man (a guard the Secret Service had deemed physically fit enough to defend the president), other issues were addressed instead, such as “added layers” of security to the lawn of the White House.

That’s just a single illustration of the folly of the politically correct position which says that women can do everything that men can do. (Most men — conservatives ones, at least — wouldn’t think of claiming that they can do everything that women can do.) More generally, with respect to gender integration of combat forces, Scott writes about the Marine Corps study:

Coinciding with all previous research and scientific findings, in military training also women fail at incredibly higher rates at physically demanding tasks. In 2015, the Marine Corps concluded a yearlong study of how de-sexing units would affect combat readiness. They found: “all-male units were faster, more lethal and able to evacuate casualties in less time… All-male squads, the study found, performed better than mixed gender units across the board. The males were more accurate hitting targets, faster at climbing over obstacles, better at avoiding injuries.” Similar studies within our military, and even from other countries, reinforce these findings.

Irrationally, government officials in the Obama administration have opted to ignore all available scientific data to forward their own politically correct agenda. This suggests they didn’t care what the science said to begin with. It means they are willing to degrade the quality of the military’s effectiveness to artificially advance women who can’t compete by the same standards, and by doing this they are knowingly putting our soldiers at greater risk for injury and death. For this, their actions are condemnable before God and all the men of their country.

While some nitpick the all-male versus mixed-sex units study, no one has suggested studying how effective all-male units would be against all-female units. Not only are there simply not enough women capable and willing to fill such roles, but nobody thinks all-female units could be as effective as all-male units. It should stand to reason that because we know women are weaker then men on a biological level, that it should be obvious that integrating women into all-male units would tactically weaken those units. When you take these plain truths and put them together, the Marine Corps findings aren’t all that surprising.

Sgt. Maj. Justin D. Lehew, who was a part of this Marine Corps study, lashed back at critics who claimed “better women could have been picked,” and that the evaluators’ mindsets were “biased” against women from the start:

We selected our best women for this test unit, selected our most mature female leaders as well. The men (me included) were the most progressive and open minded that you could get… The best women in The GCEITF as a group in regard to infantry operations were equal or below in most all cases to the lowest 5 percent of men as a group in this test study. They are slower on all accounts in almost every technical and tactical aspect and physically weaker in every aspect across the range of military operations… Listen up folks. Your senior leadership of this country does not want to see America overwhelmingly succeed on the battlefield, it wants to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to pursue whatever they want regardless of the outcome on national security…There is nothing gender biased about this, it is what it is. You will never see a female Quarterback in the NFL, there will never be a female center on any NHL team and you will never see a female batting in the number 4 spot for the New York Yankees. It is what it is.

What it comes down to is this: Conservatives are realists. Politically correct “liberals” are fantasists.

Civil War?

I follow American Thinker because the articles and posts there are usually provocative. A lot of it is wild-eyed speculation by right-wingers. But even the most wild-eyed stuff sometimes has a tangential relationship to a plausible idea.

This is from Robert Arvay’s “Will the Left Actually Incite a Civil War?” (November 21, 2016):

It is … not entirely impossible for me to peer into the minds of the anti-Trump protesters, since their dread has actually materialized – as a Clinton defeat at the polls.  So far, their angst has been manifested mostly in tears, whining, and cowering – but there is a violent element among them.  Their fears are enormous, some imaginary, some real, but in either case, those fears will motivate them.  The imaginary fears include the predicted assembly of illegal immigrants into concentration camps.  The real fears include loss of political power and all its perquisites, including the dictatorial ability to force bakers to serve cakes at same-sex ceremonies, an ability that portends much worse to come.

Be assured that every failure of liberal policies (such as the implosion of the Obama health care system) will now be blamed on Republicans, and particularly on the man they despise most, Donald Trump.  The Democrat ministry of propaganda (formerly the mainstream news media) will headline every unfortunate instance of a child suffering from disease, and loudly proclaim that the child would be in perfect health had not Trump cruelly withheld the funds to save that child.  Such diatribes cannot help but incite violent emotions.

Calls for assassination will be made, as in fact they already have been, including by educators.  God help us should something tragic result.

From my side of the front lines, I still view the republic as at risk.  From their side, many may now feel they have nothing to lose.  Had Clinton won, I would very likely feel the same.

I don’t know how any of the things that Arvay mentions would incite a civil war. It’s true (I hope) that Trump will clamp down on political correctness, and that a Supreme Court with the addition of a Trump nominee would reverse the anti-free speech laws that have sprung up in some States. But would violence ensue? I doubt it.

Yes, the MSM will continue to be the Democrat ministry of propaganda — nothing new there — and will double down on its portrayal of Republicans as heartless and cruel — nothing new there, either.

If Trump were assassinated by a leftist, or a cabal of leftists, would that lead to civil war? It might lead to anti-leftist violence by the kind of people who are drawn to Richard B. Spencer. But a violent response, if any, would most likely come from black militants, who are leftists only in the sense that they are loyal to the Democrat Party and its patronizing policies toward blacks. The resulting conflict would shed a lot of blood, but it could be mopped up quickly by police forces and National Guard units empowered to do so by the governors of States where violence erupts. And under a President Pence, they probably would feel empowered to do so, not constrained by the specter of a civil-rights investigations by the Department of Justice. I would expect Pence to do everything in his power (and perhaps more) to support local and State authorities in their efforts to quell violence. He would have nothing to gain and much to lose if it weren’t quelled. Failure to do so would undermine his authority as the newly fledged president.

What’s much more likely than a civil war is a growing secessionist movement on the left. As I argue in “Polarization and De-Facto Partition,” such a movement could be exploited to advance the cause of liberty:

Given the increasing polarization of the country — political and geographic — something like a negotiated partition seems like the only way to make the left and the right happier.

And then it occurred to me that a kind of partition could be achieved by constitutional means; that is, by revising the Constitution to return to its original plan of true federalism. The central government would, once again, be responsible for the defense of liberty and free trade. Each State would, within the framework of liberty, make its own decisions about the extent to which it intervenes in the economic and social affairs of its citizens.

How might that come to pass?

There are today in this land millions — probably tens of millions — of depressed leftists who foresee at least four years of GOP rule dedicated to the diminution of the regulatory-welfare state….

The shoe is now on the other foot. A lot of leftists will want out (see this for example), just as Northern abolitionists wanted separation from the South in the 1830s and 1840s. Let’s give them a way out while the giving is good, that is, while the GOP controls the federal government. The way out for the left is also the way out for conservatives.

Congress, namely, its Republican majorities, can all an Article V convention of the States….

The convention would be controlled by Republicans, who control a majority of State legislatures. The Republican majority should make it clear from the outset that the sole purpose of the convention is to devolve power to the States. For example, if a State government wants to establish its own version of Social Security to supplement what remains of it after future benefits have been scaled back to match projected future revenues, that State government wouldn’t be prevented from doing so. And it could design that program — and any others — as it wishes, free from interference on by the central government.

For more (much more) read the whole thing, and then read my version of a revised Constitution: “A Constitution for the 21st Century.”


Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative

A provocative piece by Samuel Gregg, “Markets, Catholicism, and Libertarianism” (Public Discourse, October 24, 2016) reminds me of an idea for a post that flitted through my aging brain a while back. Gregg writes:

In a recent American Prospect article, John Gehring maintains that Catholics like myself who regard markets as the most optimal set of economic conditions are effectively promoting libertarian philosophy. Gehring’s concerns about libertarianism and what he calls “free market orthodoxy” have been echoed in other places.

The generic argument seems to be the following. Promoting market approaches to economic life involves buying into libertarian ideology. . . .

What [Gregg and other] critics seem to miss is that a favorable assessment of markets and market economics need not be premised on acceptance of libertarianism in any of its many forms. . . .

Libertarianism’s great strength lies in economics. Prominent twentieth-century libertarian economists, such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek, made major contributions to the critique of socialist economics.. . . .

Philosophically speaking, Mises associated himself, especially in Human Action (1949), with Epicureanism and utilitarianism. Hayek’s views were more complicated. While his Law, Legislation and Liberty (1973/1976/1979) rejected Benthamite utilitarianism, Hayek embraced a type of indirect-rule utilitarianism in works such as The Constitution of Liberty (1960). He also articulated progress-for-the-sake-of-progress arguments and social evolutionist positions heavily shaped by David Hume’s writings.

Such philosophical views are characteristic of many self-described libertarians. . . .

None of the above-noted contributions to economics by Mises and Hayek are, however, dependent upon any of their libertarian philosophical commitments.

That’s exactly right. The great insight of libertarian economics is that people acting freely and cooperatively through markets will do the best job of producing goods and services that match consumers’ wants. Yes, there’s lack of information, asymmetrical information, buyer’s remorse, and (supposed) externalities (which do find their way into prices). But the modern “solution” to such problems is one-size-fits-all regulation, which simply locks in the preferences of regulators and market incumbents, and freezes out (or makes very expensive) the real solutions that are found through innovation, entrepreneurship, and competition.

Social conservatism is like the market liberalism of libertarian economics. Behavior is channeled in cooperative, mutually beneficial, and voluntary ways by the institutions of civil society: family, church, club, community, and — yes — commerce. It is channeled by social norms that have evolved from eons of voluntary social intercourse. Those norms are the bedrock and “glue” of civilization. Government is needed only as the arbiter of last resort, acting on behalf of civil society as the neutral enforcer of social norms of the highest order: prohibitions of murder, rape, theft, fraud, and not much else. Civil society, if left alone, would deal adequately with lesser transgressions through inculcation and disapprobation (up to and including ostracism). When government imposes norms that haven’t arisen from eons of trial-and-error it undermines civil society and vitiates the civilizing influence of social norms.

The common denominator of market liberalism and social conservatism is that both are based on real-world behavior. Trial and error yields information that free actors are able to exploit for their betterment and (intended or not) the betterment of others.

Related posts:
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
More Pseudo-Libertarianism
More about Conservative Governance
Burkean Libertarianism
True Libertarianism, One More Time
Why Conservatism Works
Liberty and Society
Liberty as a Social Construct: Moral Relativism?
Defending Liberty against (Pseudo) Libertarians
Parsing Political Philosophy (II)
Modern Liberalism as Wishful Thinking
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
Libertarianism and the State
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility
My View of Libertarianism
More About Social Norms and Liberty
The Authoritarianism of Modern Liberalism, and the Conservative Antidote
Another Look at Political Labels
Individualism, Society, and Liberty
Social Justice vs. Liberty

Corresponding with a Collaborator

I correspond with a fellow whom I’ve known for more than forty years. He’s a pleasant person with a good sense of humor and an easy-going personality. He’s also a chameleon.

By which I mean that he takes on the ideological coloration of his surroundings. He agrees with his companions of the moment. It’s therefore unsurprising that he proudly calls himself a “centrist.” Though he wouldn’t put it this way, his centrism involves compromises between good and evil — the necessary result of which is more evil.

“Centrist,” in his case, is just another word for “collaborator.”

A recent exchange will tell you all that you need to know about him. It began with an e-mail from a third party, in which this was quoted:


ABC News executive producer Ian Cameron is married to Susan Rice, National Security Adviser.

CBS President David Rhodes is the brother of Ben Rhodes, Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications.

ABC News correspondent Claire Shipman is married to former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

ABC News and Univision reporter Matthew Jaffe is married to Katie Hogan, Obama’s Deputy Press Secretary.

ABC President Ben Sherwood is the brother of Obama’s Special Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood.

CNN President Virginia Moseley is married to former Hillary Clinton’s Deputy Secretary Tom Nides.

Ya think there might be a little bias in the news?

The chameleon’s comment:

I share your concern about MSM bias, but am not as troubled by it. (I stopped watching the Big 3s’ evening news 50 years ago because I couldn’t get a straight view on the Vietnam War.)

My comment on his comment:

You may have stopped watching, and I did too, but millions haven’t. And too many of them are swallowing it whole, which is a big reason for the leftward drift of the country over the past 50 years. (JFK could pass for a conservative today.) So I’m very troubled by it.

His reply to me:

But at my absolute center is a belief in universal suffrage.
In a nation of 150m or so (potential) voters, tens of millions are going to be swayed by CBS or, egads, Fox. If it weren’t those sources, it would be something else like them.

I can’t fix that, and see trying as futile. That’s why I’m not troubled. (My lack of concern also stems from seeing the USA as fundamentally on the right track. The latest evidence for that is the rejection of Trump about to occur. And yes, we’ll get Hillary’s excesses in consequence — but Congress will put on the brakes. We survived the Carter presidency when I’d have preferred Ford.)

Let’s parse that.

But at my absolute center is a belief in universal suffrage. What’s sacred about universal suffrage? If suffrage should encompass everyone who’s looking for a free ride at the expense of others — which it does these days — it should certainly include children and barnyard animals. Why should suffrage of any kind be the vehicle for violating constitutional limits on the power of the central government? That’s what it has come to, inasmuch as voters since the days of TR (at least) have been enticed to elect presidents and members of Congress who have blatantly seized unconstitutional powers, with the aid of their appointed lackeys and the connivance of a supine Supreme Court.

In a nation of 150m or so (potential) voters, tens of millions are going to be swayed by CBS or, egads, Fox. If it weren’t those sources, it would be something else like them. True, and all the more reason to keep the power of the central government within constitutional limits.

I can’t fix that, and see trying as futile. That’s why I’m not troubled. You, and I, and every adult can strive to “fix it” in ways big and small. Voting is one way, though probably the least effective (as an individual act). Speaking and writing on the issues is another way. I blog in the hope that some of what I say will trickle into the public discourse.

My lack of concern also stems from seeing the USA as fundamentally on the right track. It’s on the right track only if you think that the decades-long, leftward movement toward a powerful, big-spending, paternalistic government is the right track. That may very well suit a lot of people, but it also doesn’t suit a lot of people. Even FDR never won more than 61 percent of the popular vote, and his numbers dwindled as time went on. But perhaps you’re a utilitarian who believes that the pleasure A obtains from poking B in the eye somehow offsets B’s pain. You may not believe that you believe it, but that’s the import of your worship of universal suffrage, which is nothing more than blind allegiance to the primitive kind of utilitarianism known as majority rule.

The latest evidence for that is the rejection of Trump about to occur. Trump hasn’t yet lost, and even if he does, that won’t be evidence of anything other than desperation on the part of the operatives of the regulatory-welfare state and their various constituencies. Rejection, in any case, would be far from unanimous, so rejection is the wrong word — unless you believe, as you seem to do, that there’s a master “social conscience” which encompasses all Americans.

And yes, we’ll get Hillary’s excesses in consequence — but Congress will put on the brakes. Not if the Dems gain control of the Senate (a tie will do it if HRC is elected), and the ensuing Supreme Court appointees continue to ratify unconstitutional governance.

We survived the Carter presidency when I’d have preferred Ford. There have been more disastrous presidencies than Carter’s, why not mention them? In any event “survival” only means that the nation hasn’t yet crashed and burned. It doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been irreparable damage. Mere survival is a low hurdle (witness the Soviet Union, which survived for 74 years). Nor is mere survival an appropriate standard for a nation with as much potential as this one — potential that has been suppressed by the growth of the central government. So much loss of liberty, so much waste. That’s why I’m troubled, even if I can do little or nothing about it.

In closing, your political philosophy is an amalgam of “all is for the best … in the best of all possible worlds,” “What, me worry?,” “I’m all right, Jack,” and “Befehl ist Befehl.”

I won’t send the reply because I’m too nice a guy. And because it would pointless to challenge anyone who’s so morally obtuse — but likeable.

My Platform

A voting guide published in my local newspaper asks seven questions of the presidential candidates. I list them below, with the answers that I would give were I a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

Question 1: What is your personal statement?

I am sick and tired of the nanny state, which is centered in Washington DC and extends into almost every city, town, and village in America.

Question 2: What are your top three goals?

Economic and social liberty for all Americans; protection of the lives, liberty, and property of innocent Americans; defense of Americans’ legitimate overseas interests.

Question 3: What will you do to support a vibrant economy across the U.S.?

I will send legislative proposals to Congress that will deregulate the economy; eliminate the death tax and corporate income taxes; reduce the central government to its essential and legitimate functions (mainly national defense), and cut taxes accordingly; and phase out all unconstitutional federal programs (which is most of them), beginning with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I will revoke all executive-branch policies that are contrary to the program spelled out in the preceding sentence.

Question 4: What, if any, actions will you support to create a pathway to citizenship?

I will ask Congress to deter illegal immigration by eliminating welfare programs that attract it; to provide the manpower and technical means to prevent, detect, and prosecute illegal immigration; and to establish more stringent citizenship requirements, including demonstrated proficiency in English. I will revoke all executive-branch policies that are contrary to the program spelled out in the preceding sentence.

Question 5: What should government do to provide an equitable, quality public education for all children pre-K through grade 12?

The central government should have no role in the funding of education or in the making of policies related to it. I will make one exception, for liberty’s sake, which is to propose an amendment to the Constitution that would require every State (and therefore the subordinate jurisdictions in every State) to allow parents to choose the schools to which they send their children, and to give vouchers to parents who choose private schools. The value of each State’s voucher would be the average cost of educating a child in grades K-12 in that State. (It would be up to each State to decide how to recover the shares owed by local jurisdictions.)

Question 6: What actions would you support the U.S. undertake to protect its interests abroad?

In view of the rising Russian and Chinese threats to Americans’ overseas interests — and the persistent threat posed by terrorist organizations — I will ask Congress to rebuild the nation’s armed forces, at least to the levels attained as a result of President Reagan’s buildup; to provide for the acquisition of superior, all-source intelligence capabilities; to support a robust research and development program for defense and intelligence systems; and to provide the funding needed to fully man our armed forces with well-trained personnel, and to keep the forces in a high state of readiness for sustained combat operations.

Regarding the use of armed forces, I will act immediately and vigorously to defend Americans’ legitimate overseas interests, which include international commerce around the globe, and to protect resources that directly affect international commerce (e.g., oil-rich regions on land and at sea). As necessary, I will seek the authorization of Congress to conduct sustained combat operations for those purposes.

I will not otherwise use or seek the approval of Congress to use the armed forces of the United States, which are maintained at great cost to Americans for the benefit of Americans. Those forces are not maintained for the purpose of defending countries that refuse to spend enough money to defend themselves, nor to “build nations” or engage in humanitarian operations that have no direct bearing on the safety of Americans or their interests. By the same token, America’s armed forces should be used to help defend nations that attempt to defend themselves and whose defeat would destabilize regions of strategic value to Americans’ interests.

Finally, I will not enter into treaties or agreements of any kind with the leaders of nations whose aim is clearly to undermine Americans’ legitimate economic interests. To that end, I will renounce Barack Obama’s agreement with Iran, his endorsement of the Paris agreement regarding so-called anthropogenic global warming, and all other agreements detrimental to the interests of Americans.

I will further ask to Congress to direct by law that the United States withdraw from the United Nations, which serves mainly as a showplace for regimes hostile to Americans’ constitutional ideals and interests. The U.N. will be given two years in which to remove all of its offices and personnel from the United States. I expect the U.N. to become overtly hostile to the United States when this country has withdrawn from it, but those member states who provoke and finance hostile acts on the part of the U.N. will be held to account, and will not be able to hide behind the false front of the United Nations.

Question 7: What kinds of policies will you pursue to promote social and racial justice for all Americans?

I will nominate judges and executive-branch officials who are demonstrably faithful to the Constitution of the United States, as its various portions were understood when they were ratified or modified through Article V amendments. This will mean the reversal of many judicial and executive actions that are contrary to the moral traditions that underlie the greatness of America, and which have been contravened arbitrarily to serve narrow interests and misguided ideologies. I am especially eager to defend life against those who seek to destroy and defile it, and to see that there is truly “equal protection of the law” by restoring freedom of speech and association where they have been suppressed in the name of equal protection.

Social and moral issues such as same-sex marriage should be decided by the States, and preferably by the people themselves, through the peaceful and voluntary evolution and operation of social norms. Such issues are outside the constitutional purview of the central government.

Does Liberty Still Have a Fighting Chance?

Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, uses FEE’s website to argue that “Liberty Still Has a Fighting Chance“:

So here we are now, decades into the very egalitarian welfare state Tocqueville warned would be the death of American exceptionalism. It threatens to make us like all the other forgettable welfare states that languish in history’s dustbins, Greece included. Should we just assume it’s inevitable and go along for the ride? Or should we muster the character that built a nation and that Tocqueville identified as quintessentially American?

If you’re pessimistic, then you’re no longer part of the solution. You’ve become part of the problem. What chance does liberty have if its supposed friends desert it in its hour of need or speak ill of its prospects?

Ask yourselves, What good purpose could a defeatist attitude possibly promote? Will it make me work harder for the causes I know are right? Is there anything about liberty that an election or events in Congress disprove? If I exude a pessimistic demeanor, will it help attract newcomers to the ideas I believe in? Is this the first time in history that believers in liberty have lost some battles? If we simply throw in the towel, will that enhance the prospects for future victories? Do we turn back just because the hill we have to climb got a little steeper?

This is not the time to abandon time-honored principles. I can’t speak for you, but someday, I want to go to my reward and be able to look back and say, “I never gave up. I never became part of the problem I tried to solve. I never gave the other side the luxury of winning anything without a rigorous, intellectual contest. I never missed an opportunity to do my best for what I believed in, and it never mattered what the odds or the obstacles were. I did my part.”

Remember that we stand on the shoulders of many people who came before us and who persevered through far darker times. The American patriots who shed their blood and suffered through unspeakable hardships as they took on the world’s most powerful nation in 1776 are certainly among them. But I am also thinking of the brave men and women behind the Iron Curtain who resisted the greatest tyranny of the modern age and won. I think of those like Hayek and Mises who kept the flame of liberty flickering in the 1940s. I think of the heroes like William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson who fought to end slavery and literally changed the conscience and character of Britain in the face of the most daunting of disadvantages. And I think of the Scots who, 456 years before the Declaration of Independence, put their lives on the line to repel English invaders with these thrilling words: “It is not for honor or glory or wealth that we fight, but for freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life.”

As I think about what some of those great men and women faced, the obstacles before us today seem rather puny.

This is a moment when our true character, the stuff we’re really made of, will show itself. If we retreat, that would tell me we were never really worthy of the battle in the first place. But if we resolve to let these challenging times build our character and rally our dispirited friends to new levels of dedication, we will look back on this occasion someday with pride at how we handled it. Have you called a friend yet today to explain to him or her why liberty should be a top priority?

Nobody ever promised that liberty would be easy to attain or simple to keep. The world has always been full of greedy thieves and thugs, narcissistic power seekers, snake-oil charlatans, unprincipled ne’er-do-wells, and arrogant busybodies. No true friend of liberty should just roll over and play dead for any of them.

Take an inventory every day of what you’re doing for liberty. Get more involved in the fight. There are plenty of things you can do. If your state isn’t a right-to-work state, work to make it so. Support people and organizations like the Foundation for Economic Education that are teaching young people about the importance of liberty and character. Get behind the Compact for America and its plan for a balanced federal budget and an end to reckless spending and debt. Work for school choice in your state to help break the government monopoly on education. And be the very best example for liberty and character that you can possibly be in everything you do.

Whatever you do, don’t give up no matter what. Remember these words of the great US Supreme Court justice George Sutherland: “The saddest epitaph which can be carved in memory of a vanished liberty is that it was lost because its possessors failed to stretch forth a saving hand while yet there was time.”

Can Tocqueville’s American exceptionalism be restored? Can it last? You bet it can. The American Dream still lives, in the hearts of those who love liberty and refuse to meekly surrender it. So let’s wipe the frowns off our faces and get to work. Our future, our children’s future — liberty’s future — all depend on us.

This is nothing more than a platitudinous pep talk, delivered to a team that’s trailing by 12 touchdowns at half-time. Reed offers no actionable advice that will truly make a difference. Joining and supporting fringe groups won’t dim the promise of big government, which is to deliver seemingly free benefits to a broad, interlocking coalition of well-financed, media-backed, vote-rich interest groups. Reed is whistling in the dark.

I’m not being a defeatist. I’m being a realist. Liberty can be restored only when liberty-lovers get realistic about what it will take to restore it — and then act accordingly. What will it take? See “Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead.”

What about the kinds of resistance counseled by Reed? Well, they might slow or even temporarily halt America’s descent into grim, impoverished, regimented statism. But they won’t prevent it. Only drastic action will do that.

Related, realistic posts about the state of America:
The Interest-Group Paradox
Rethinking the Constitution: “Freedom of Speech, and of the Press”
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?

The Rahn Curve Revisited

REVISED 10/18/16, to report a new estimate of the Rahn curve after correcting a slight error in the previous estimate.

REVISED 10/20/16, to add a fourth explanatory variable, which improves the fit of the equation.

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

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

Rahn curve (2)

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

In an earlier post, I ventured an estimate of the Rahn curve that spanned most of the history of the United States. I came up with this relationship (terms modified for simplicity:

G = 0.054 -0.066F

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

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

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

Real GDP 1947q1-2016q2

Here’s the revised result (with cosmetic changes in terminology):

G = 0.0275 -0.347F + 0.0769A – 0.000327R – 0.135P


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

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

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

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

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

The r-squared of the equation is 0.73 and the F-value is 2.00E-12. The p-values of the intercept and coefficients are 0.099, 1.75E-07, 1.96E-08, 8.24E-05, and 0.0096. The standard error of the estimate is 0.0051, that is, about half a percentage point. (Except for the p-value on the coefficient, the other statistics are improved from the previous version, which omitted CPI).

Here’s how the equations with and without P stack up against actual changes in 10-year rates of real GDP growth:


The equation with P captures the “bump” in 2000, and is generally (though not always) closer to the mark than the equation without P.

What does the new equation portend for the next 10 years? Based on the values of F, A, R, and P for the most recent 10-year period (2006-2015), the real rate of growth for the next 10 years will be about 1.9 percent. (It was 1.4 percent for the version of the equation without P.) The earlier equation (discussed above) yields an estimate of 2.9 percent. The new equation wins the reality test, as you can tell by the blue line in the second graph above.

In fact the year-over-year rates of real growth for the past four quarters (2015Q3 through 2016Q2) are 2.2 percent, 1.9 percent, 1.6 percent, and 1.3 percent. So an estimate of 1.9 percent for the next 10 years may be optimistic.

And it probably is. If F were to rise from 0.382 (the average for 2006-2015) to 0.438, the rate of real growth would fall to zero, even if A, R, and P were to remain at their 2006-2015 levels. (And R is much more likely to rise than to fall.) It’s easy to imagine F hitting 0.438 with a Democrat president and Democrat-controlled Congress mandating “free” college educations, universal “free” health care, and who knows what else.

Individualism, Society, and Liberty

In “How Our Individualism Has Trapped Us in a Welfare State,” Heather Judd has taken a stab at an issue that I’ve pondered for a long time: the tension between individualism and society. Now, by “society” I mean true society:

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

“The experience of living together and finding” a common “set of customs and prohibitions” seems consistent with Judd’s view of society, which she calls “an organized group of people sharing a common culture.” Judd doesn’t directly address the libertarian aspect of true society, but the thrust of her essay points in that direction. She laments the fact that

[c]ultural individualization has…cornered us into a welfare state mentality from which we cannot escape unless we replace our concept of a society of individuals with something more ordered and interconnected.

Toward the end of her essay she puts it this way:

Living together in isolation is not a sustainable social model. So long as we continue to think of the individual as the basic unit of society, our progression toward the disenchanted welfare state will continue, even while no amount of socialized government intervention will provide the human cohesion we need.

Judd’s view is that family is the backbone of society. And the drift away from families to individuals is destroying that backbone, which must be reconstructed. In her words,

government is incapable of buttressing our crumbling human connections. That task must start with rebuilding individuals into families and families into society. Like every great undertaking, the process will be slow and require sacrifice, but the recompense will be not only a healthy and sustainable society, but also, paradoxically, a stronger sense of our individual identity as we reconnect with other human beings.

I think she’s right about the breakdown of family, but her vague exhortation at the end leaves me wondering what can actually be done about it And even if there were some restoration of the family on a relatively large scale, I don’t think it would do much to alleviate the fragmentation of the United States, which has never been a society in the true meaning of the word.

Why have family ties loosened and broken? The answer, in two words: prosperity and mobility. Even without the welfare state (and despite it), a large fraction of the populace can afford to buy things like housing and elder-care that until World War II were often provided by families.

Greater mobility goes hand in hand with greater prosperity; the expansion of economic activity has been both intensive and extensive. Modern people are no different than their hunter-gatherer forbears; they go where their labors earn greater rewards. And in doing so they leave behind grandparents, parents, and siblings — most of whom are prosperous enough to fend for themselves. American families have been drifting apart for many generations. The drift was masked to some extent by the influx of European immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s, whose strong bonds were forged by economic necessity and mutual self-defense against xenophobic natives. But those bonds, too, have dissolved to the point that the exceptions (e.g., Amish and Hasidic communities) are notable for their rarity. And so it will be with the Hispanic immigration of recent decades, though economic necessity and ethnic differences probably will bind Hispanic immigrants far longer than they bound European ones.

So I don’t see the restoration of the family as likely — barring another World War II or Great Depression. Nor do I see the restoration of the family as necessary to the demotion of the welfare state. The welfare state does feed on individualism, but it also feeds on widespread economic ignorance and the cupidity of politicians and bureaucrats.

Economic ignorance abets cupidity, in that politicians and bureaucrats are able to feed their power-lust and line their pockets because most Americans have no grasp of the huge economic cost of the welfare state — or more accurately, the regulatory-welfare state. If the regulatory-welfare state is to be contained and diminished by electoral means, a huge number of Americans must be convinced of its exorbitant cost in dollars and liberty.

One might as well try to melt an iceberg with a hair dryer. Only a minority of economists understands or is willing to admit the dire economic consequences of the regulatory-welfare state, and only a minority of constitutional scholars understands or is willing to admit the anti-libertarian consequences of the regulatory-welfare state. More importantly — because only a small fraction of Americans is aware of what those “fringe” economists and constitutional scholars say — relatively few politicians and pundits on the national stage understand, agree with, and accurately relay those views to Americans. For every Ted Cruz there are probably two or three Bernie Sanderses.

To repeat the themes of recent posts, leftists are ruthless and they have the rhetorical advantage over principled politicians because they are very good at promising things without knowing or caring about the economic and social costs of what they promise. Their appeal to Mr. and Ms. Average and Below-Average — which is most Americans — rests on envy. Leftists are always on the lookout for privilege, which they promise to uproot:

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

If you were Mr. or Ms. Average or Below-Average, would you willingly sacrifice the (illusory) prosperity of the regulatory-welfare state and reject its promise of making everyone a winner? What’s more disheartening — but unsurprising given the state of political discourse — is that  Mr. and Ms. Above-Average are not only reluctant to abandon the regulatory-welfare state, but are its staunchest proponents.

In sum, individualism is here to stay, regardless of what happens to the regulatory-welfare state, unless there is a return to the dire days of 1930-1945. And even then, the regulatory-welfare state is here to stay, unless there is a negotiated partition of the country, a (successful) secession movement, or a coup by liberty-loving patriots.

I’m sorry, but that’s the way it looks from here.

An Addendum to Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare

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

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

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

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

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

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

Society, Polarization, and Dissent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the legacy of Progressivism? This:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead

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

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

*      *      *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Henry is right when he says that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenn Reynolds, who is decidedly anti-coup, writes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among these concerns are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*      *      *

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

Revisiting the “Marketplace” of Ideas

In “The ‘Marketplace’ of Ideas” I observe that

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

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

Caveat emptor.

Theodore Dalrymple reminds us just how easily crackpot ideas gain wide acceptance:

Rather against my better judgment, and that of my wife, I allowed myself to be persuaded to take part recently in a debate, or public conversation, about prostitution….

The two women on the panel with me took different views of the matter, though both were somewhat opposed to me. The question supposedly before us was, fortunately, soon forgotten. The first of the women was a representative of a prostitutes’ organised pressure group, and herself a prostitute, and the second a sociologist….

The spokeswoman for the prostitutes of England … believed that prostitution was an evil brought about by the current economic dispensation. Women, many of them single mothers, had no choice but to prostitute themselves. They could earn much more by prostitution than in respectable jobs; increasing poverty and desperation drove them to it.

I asked her whether she was saying that all women in a certain situation were prostitutes, having no choice in the matter: in which case there would surely be millions more than there are?…

She replied that in an ideal world there would be no prostitution, but that so long as many people had to do jobs at low pay in occupations that they detested, prostitution was a reasonable choice. (The fact that prostitution in her opinion was undesirable suggested that she did not agree with the sociologist that it was a job like any other, that there was something intrinsically wrong or degrading about it.)

What she was really asking for, then, was a world in which everyone did a job, other than for reasons of pay, that he or she found agreeable and conformable to their wishes. This was a kind of Marxist Utopia, as expressed in The German Ideology [by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels], in which

nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

I said that what the prostitute wanted, in effect, was the abolition of both the division of labour and the labour market. To my surprise, a portion of the audience, far from taking this as absurd, was extremely enthusiastic about it. They wanted (at least in theory) the abolition of the division of labour and the labour market. Furthermore, as members of the bourgeoisie themselves, in its intellectual branch, they benefited from precisely what they wanted to abolish.

This suggested to me what in fact I had long suspected, namely that victories in the field of social, economic and philosophical thought are never final, but that the battles have to be fought over and over again, no matter what experiences Mankind has gone through in the meantime.

And so it is that ideas which are not only preposterous but also anti-libertarian take root and destroy liberty. As I have said:

Liberty is lost when the law allows “freedom of speech, and of the press” to undermine the civil and state institutions that enable liberty.

Now for Texit, and More

Unless the parliament of the so-called United Kingdom double-crosses the majority of English, Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish voters who approved Brexit, the UK will officially withdraw from the European Union. That’s good news for those of us who oppose dictatorship by distant bureaucrats.

There’s a parallel movement known as Texit, which is dedicated to the secession of Texas from the union known as the United States. Some backers of Texit believe wrongly that the Treaty of Annexation which made Texas a State has an escape clause. It doesn’t, but secession is nevertheless legal, not only for Texas but for all States.

It is telling — and encouraging — that even Donald Trump, the non-conservative and weak prospective GOP nominee, seems likely (at this date) to win the electoral votes of 20 States. In numbers there is strength. A secession movement would have a greater chance of success if it encompassed several States.

Sign me up.

The Basic Income Guarantee (BIG): Or, How to Make Government Bigger

The Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), also known as Universal Basic Income (UBI), is the latest fool’s gold of “libertarian” thought. John Cochrane devotes too much time and blog space to the criticism and tweaking of the idea. David Henderson cuts to the chase by pointing out that even a “modest” BIG — $10,000 per adult American per year — would result in “a huge increase in federal spending, a huge increase in tax rates, and a huge increase in the deadweight loss from taxes.”

Aside from the fact that BIG would be a taxpayer-funded welfare program — to which I generally object — it would necessarily add to the already heavy burden on taxpayers, even though it is touted as a substitute for many (all?) extant welfare programs. The problem is that the various programs are aimed at specific recipients (e.g., women with dependent children, families with earned incomes below a certain level). As soon as a specific but “modest” proposal is seriously floated in Congress, various welfare constituencies will find that proposal wanting because their “entitlements” would shrink. A BIG bill would pass muster only if it allowed certain welfare programs to continue, in addition to BIG, or if the value of BIG were raised to a level that such that no welfare constituency would be a “loser.”

In sum, regardless of the aims of its proponents — who, ironically, tend to call themselves libertarians — BIG would lead to higher welfare spending and more enrollees in the welfare state.

The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?

Arnold Kling reviews Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism:

Levin rejects the binary choice between strong central government and pure individualism. Instead, he extols what he calls the mediating institutions of families, local government, religious institutions, and charity. His idea of paradise would be a nation in which these institutions are allowed to experiment with a variety of ways of trying to help nurture and educate citizens who are capable of exercising freedom.

If Levin is right, then it would help to have the federal government back away from many of the responsibilities it has taken on over the past fifty years. Instead, more authority and responsibility should be left to these mediating institutions.

For me, Levin offers an appealing vision. However, I wonder if it can ever attract broad public support. In 2016, it appears to me that Americans do not value freedom as much as they used to. If President Obama represented the nostalgia for the era of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, then currently his party seems to be moving even further to the left, with many believing that some form of socialism is the answer. On the Republican side, it seems ironic that the candidate who gained ascendancy by promising to wall off our southern neighbors would appear to wish to run the United States like a Latin American strongman. And on college campuses, many students and administrators prefer “safe spaces” to free speech.

I worry that mediating institutions have lost their effectiveness. The broad middle class has given way to a bifurcated society, with the highly-educated and the less-educated no longer attending the same churches or sharing similar life experiences. The close-knit neighborhood has given way to the anonymous city, where local government is mostly responsive to powerful public sector unions and favor-seeking businesses. Perhaps this means that Levin’s vision is nearly as unrealistic as those that he criticizes. Restoring our mediating institutions might be yet another exercise in trying to squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube.

I share Kling’s pessimism. Not only will the left not allow government to back off, but even if government were to back off, it would be too late to rescue liberty in much of the country. In my commentary about David D. Friedman’s pro-anarchy tract, The Machinery of Freedom, I observed that the America of two or three generations ago

would have done quite will without government because its inhabitants — even the rich and powerful and best and brightest — were largely bound by common customs and common sense. [The America of today] — riddled as it is with dependency on the state and the divisions arising from the politics of “social justice” — has neither the collective will nor the wherewithal to resist the dictatorship or warlordism that surely would follow in the wake of the (extremely unlikely) replacement of government by anarchy.

Dictatorship or warlordism wouldn’t follow the restoration of constitutional governance in the United States, but neither would liberty blossom. For the reasons adduced by Kling and me, the partial vacuum left by the shrinkage of the central government would be filled by many a State and local government — at the behest of majorities of their government-addicted constituencies.

To find liberty, a person would probably have to move to a village, town, or small city in one of the States that has been solidly “Red” for a decade or more. But many such locales would eventually succumb to the influx of refugees from big-government, high-tax jurisdictions. Those refugees usually are fleeing the tax and regulatory consequences of the very programs that they support — and will continue to support because they don’t seem to understand that it is the programs they support which yield the high taxes and draconian regulations that they detest.

Liberty in the United States has been the victim of economic illiteracy and cupidity. Liberty might be rescued — temporarily — by the (unlikely) shrinkage of the central government. The permanent salvation of liberty would require eternal vigilance, accompanied by a strictly enforced ban on the promulgation of anti-libertarian ideas and anti-social practices. License granted in the name of liberty subverts liberty.

It is no coincidence that economic progress, which depends greatly on mutual trust and respect, has faltered badly since the arrival of the Great Society and the rise of the counter-culture. It is bread and circuses all over again.

The barbarians are within and at the gates.

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Related posts:

On Liberty

The Interest-Group Paradox

Rethinking the Constitution: “Freedom of Speech, and of the Press”

Well-Founded Pessimism

America: Past, Present, and Future

IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition

The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union

“We the People” and Big Government

The Culture War

The Fall and Rise of American Empire

O Tempora O Mores!

Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America

1963: The Year Zero


How Democracy Works

“Cheerful” Thoughts

How Government Subverts Social Norms

Turning Points

Old America, New America, and Anarchy

I’m less than satisfied by yesterday’s post, for two reasons. First, my critical comments about David D. Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom are rather less abundant than they could have been. Second, and more important, I omitted the most telling criticism of Friedman’s book — and of political philosophy in general — which is a fixation on system, to the neglect of human nature.

It’s ironic that Friedman, an avowed and articulate anarchist, devotes a large fraction of his 378-page book to detailed descriptions of how justice and defense could be provided in the absence of government. Well, you might ask, what’s wrong with that? Justice and defense are important functions, and it’s reasonable to explain how they could be provided in the absence of government.

Here’s what’s wrong: the pretense of knowledge. No one has the foggiest idea of how actually to eliminate government, nor of how to avert dictatorship or warlordism in the wake of its demise. This might not have been the case two or three generations ago, before the dominance of the regulatory-welfare state and the eclipse of Old America:

The United States, for a very long time, was a polity whose disparate parts cohered, regionally if not nationally, because the experience of living in the kind of small community sketched above was a common one. Long after the majority of Americans came to live in urban complexes, a large fraction of the residents of those complexes had grown up in small communities.

This was Old America — and it was predominant for almost 200 years after America won its independence from Britain. Old America‘s core constituents, undeniably, were white, and they had much else in common: observance of the Judeo-Christian tradition; British and north-central European roots; hard work and self-reliance as badges of honor; family, church, and club as cultural transmitters, social anchors, and focal points for voluntary mutual aid. The inhabitants of Old America were against “entitlements” (charity was real and not accepted lightly); for punishment (as opposed to excuses about poverty, etc.); overtly religious or respectful of religion (and, in either case, generally respectful of the Ten Commandments, especially the last six of them); personally responsible (stuff happens, and it is rarely someone else’s fault); polite, respectful, and helpful to strangers (who are polite and respectful); patriotic (the U.S. was better than other countries and not beholden to international organizations, wars were fought to victory); and anti-statist (even if communitarian in a voluntary way). Living on the dole, weirdness for its own sake, open hostility to religion, habitual criminality, “shacking up,” and homosexuality were disgraceful aberrations, not “lifestyles” to be tolerated, celebrated, or privileged.

It is now de rigeur to deride the culture of Old America, and to call its constituents greedy, insensitive, hidebound, culturally retrograde, and — above all — intolerant.  But what does that make the proponents and practitioners of the counter-culture of the ’60s and ’70s (many of whom have long-since risen to positions of prominence and power), of the LGBT counter-culture that is now so active and adamant about its “rights,” and of recently imported cultures that seek dominance rather than assimilation (certain Latins and Muslims, I am looking at you)?

These various counter-culturalists and incomers have not been content to establish their own communities; rather, they have sought to overthrow Old America. Intolerance is their essence. They are not merely reacting to the intolerance that may be directed at them. No, they are intolerant, and militantly so. They seek to destroy what is left of Old America. — and they have enlisted the power of the state in that effort.

Old America would have done quite will without government because its inhabitants — even the rich and powerful and best and brightest — were largely bound by common customs and common sense. New America — riddled as it is with dependency on the state and the divisions arising from the politics of “social justice” — has neither the collective will nor the wherewithal to resist the dictatorship or warlordism that surely would follow in the wake of the (extremely unlikely) replacement of government by anarchy.

Now, it may seem that I am pretending to knowledge, and I am to some degree. But my assessment of the future of an (impossibly) anarchistic America is based on a realistic view of what America has been and become. What Friedman offers is, by contrast, a shallow and sterile exercise in dreamscape design.