Election 2020: Liberty Is at Stake

I have written many times over the years about what will happen to liberty in America the next time a Democrat is in the White House and Congress is controlled by Democrats. Many others have written or spoken about the same, dire scenario. Recently, for example, Victor Davis Hanson and Danielle Pletka addressed the threat to liberty that lies ahead if Donald Trump is succeeded by Joe Biden, in tandem with a Democrat takeover of the Senate. This post reprises my many posts about the clear and present danger to liberty if Trump is defeated and the Senate flips, and adds some points suggested by Hanson and Pletka. There’s much more to be said, I’m sure, but what I have to say here should be enough to make every liberty-loving American vote for Trump — even those who abhor the man’s persona.

Court Packing

One of the first things on the agenda will be to enlarge the Supreme Court and fill the additional seats with justices who can be counted on to support the following policies discussed below, should those policies get to the Supreme Court. (If they don’t, they will be upheld in lower courts or go unchallenged because challenges will be perceived as futile.)

Abolition of the Electoral College

The Electoral College helps to protect the sovereignty of less-populous States from oppression by more-populous States. This has become especially important with the electoral shift that has seen California, New York, and other formerly competitive States slide into leftism. The Electoral College therefore causes deep resentment on the left when it yields a Republican president who fails to capture a majority of the meaningless nationwide popular vote, as Donald Trump failed (by a large margin) in 2016), despite lopsided victories by H. Clinton in California, New York, etc.

The Electoral College could be abolished formally by an amendment to the Constitution. But amending the Constitution by that route would take years, and probably wouldn’t succeed because it would be opposed by too many State legislatures.

The alternative, which would succeed with Democrat control of Congress and a complaisant Supreme Court, is a multi-State compact to this effect: The electoral votes of each member State will be cast for the candidate with the most popular votes, nationwide, regardless of the popular vote in the member State. This would work to the advantage of a Democrat who loses narrowly in a State where the legislature and governor’s mansion is controlled by Democrats – which is the whole idea.

Some pundits deny that the scheme would favor Democrats, but the history of presidential elections contradicts them.

“Climate Change”

The “science” of “climate change” amounts to little more than computer models that can’t even “predict” recorded temperatures accurately because the models are based mainly on the assumption that CO2 (a minor greenhouse gas) drives the atmosphere’s temperature. This crucial assumption rests on a coincidence – rising temperatures from the late 1970s and rising levels of atmospheric CO2. But atmospheric CO2 has been far higher in earlier geological eras, while Earth’s temperature hasn’t been any higher than it is now. Yes, CO2 has been rising since the latter part of the 19th century, when industrialization began in earnest. Despite that, temperatures have fluctuated up and down for most of the past 150 years. (Some so-called scientists have resolved that paradox by adjusting historical temperatures to make them look lower than the really are.)

The deeper and probably more relevant causes of atmospheric temperature are to be found in the Earth’s core, magma flow, plate dynamics, ocean currents and composition, magnetic field, exposure to cosmic radiation, and dozens of other things that — to my knowledge — are ignored by climate models. Moreover, the complexity of the interactions of such factors, and others that are usually included in climate models cannot possibly be modeled.

The urge to “do something” about “climate change” is driven by a combination of scientific illiteracy, power-lust, and media-driven anxiety.

As a result, trillions of dollars have been and will be wasted on various “green” projects. These include but are far from limited to the replacement of fossil fuels by “renewables”, and the crippling of industries that depend on fossil fuels. Given that CO2 does influence atmospheric temperature slightly, it’s possible that such measures will have a slight effect on Earth’s temperature, even though the temperature rise has been beneficial (e.g., longer growing seasons; fewer deaths from cold weather, which kills more people than hot weather).

The main result of futile effort to combat “climate change” will be greater unemployment and lower real incomes for most Americans — except for the comfortable elites who press such policies.

Freedom of Speech

Legislation forbidding “hate speech” will be upheld by the packed Court. “Hate speech” will be whatever the bureaucrats who are empowered to detect and punish it say it is. And the bureaucrats will be swamped with complaints from vindictive leftists.

When the system is in full swing (which will take only a few years) it will be illegal to criticize, even by implication, such things as illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, anthropogenic global warming, or the confiscation of firearms. Violations will be enforced by huge fines and draconian prison sentences (sometimes in the guise of “re-education”).

Any hint of Christianity and Judaism will be barred from public discourse, and similarly punished. Islam will be held up as a model of unity and tolerance – at least until elites begin to acknowledge that Muslims are just as guilty of “incorrect thought” as persons of other religions and person who uphold the true spirit of the Constitution.

Reverse Discrimination

This has been in effect for several decades, as jobs, promotions, and college admissions have been denied the most capable persons in favor or certain “protected group” – manly blacks and women.

Reverse-discrimination “protections” will be extended to just about everyone who isn’t a straight, white male of European descent. And they will be enforced more vigorously than ever, so that employers will bend over backward to favor “protected groups” regardless of the effects on quality and quantity of output. That is, regardless of how such policies affect the general well-being of all Americans. And, of course, the heaviest burden – unemployment or menial employment – will fall on straight, white males of European descent. Except, of course, for the straight while males of European descent who are among the political, bureaucratic, and management elites who favor reverse discrimination.

Rule of Law

There will be no need for protests riots because police departments will become practitioners and enforcers of reverse discrimination (as well as “hate speech” violations and attempts to hold onto weapons for self-defense). This will happen regardless of the consequences, such as a rising crime rate, greater violence against whites and Asians, and flight from the cities (which will do little good because suburban police departments will also be co-opted).

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

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

Health Care

All health care and health-care related products and services (e.g., drug research) will be controlled and rationed by an agency of the federal government. Private care will be forbidden, though ready access to doctors, treatments, and medications will be provided for high officials and other favored persons.

Drug research – and medical research, generally – will dwindle in quality and quantity. There will be fewer doctors and nurses who are willing to work in a regimented system.

The resulting health-care catastrophe that befalls most of the populace (like that of the UK) will be shrugged off as a residual effect of “capitalist” health care.

Regulation

The regulatory regime, which already imposes a deadweight loss of 10 percent of GDP, will rebound with a vengeance, touching every corner of American life and regimenting all businesses except those daring to operate in an underground economy. The quality and variety of products and services will decline – another blow to Americans’ general well-being.

Government Spending and National Defense

The dire economic effects of the foregoing policies will be compounded by massive increases in government spending on domestic welfare programs, which reward the unproductive at the expense of the productive. All of this will suppress investment in business formation and expansion, and in professional education and training. As a result, the real rate of economic growth will approach zero, and probably become negative.

Because of the emphasis on domestic welfare programs, the United States will maintain token armed forces (mainly for the purpose of suppressing domestic uprisings). The U.S. will pose no threat to the new superpowers — Russia and China. They won’t threaten the U.S. militarily as long as the U.S. government acquiesces in their increasing dominance.

Immigration

Illegal immigration will become legal, and all illegal immigrants now in the country – and the resulting flood of new immigrants — will be granted citizenship and all associated rights. The right to vote, of course, is the right that Democrats most dearly want to bestow because most of the newly-minted citizens can be counted on to vote for Democrats. The permanent Democrat majority will ensure permanent Democrat control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

Future Elections and the Death of Democracy

Despite the prospect of a permanent Democrat majority, Democrats won’t stop there. In addition to the restrictions on freedom of speech discussed above, there will be election laws requiring candidates to pass ideological purity tests by swearing fealty to the “law of the land” (i.e., unfettered immigration, same-sex marriage, freedom of gender choice for children, etc., etc., etc.). Those who fail such a test will be barred from holding any kind of public office, no matter how insignificant.

Anarchy: A Footnote

In “A Few Thoughts about Anarchy” I opined that if

anarchy were a viable option, it would have long since thrived. If it seems to have eked out a tenuous existence in isolated cases because of state sponsorship, isn’t that evidence of its inviability? And if it hasn’t thrived because statists of one kind and another have suppressed it, isn’t that also proof of its inviability? Call it a non-existence proof.

What we are now witnessing is the use of anarchy (enabled by left-statists) to strengthen the power of the central government. Blacks will get more handouts; more preferential treatment in hiring, promotions, college admissions, etc.; more suppression of speech that offends them (and white leftists), including facts about disparities in intelligence and violence; and more lenient treatment by police and courts (which will abet more violence by blacks). The rest of the populace will bear the costs, though affluent white leftists won’t care and will be glad of the consequences for middle- and low-income whites.

It is telling that some prominent left-statists (e.g., Nancy Pelosi) can’t bring themselves to denounce the movement to abolish police departments. What could better signify the symbiosis of left-statism and black privilege?

(See also “It’s the 1960s Redux” and “Apt Quotations for a Riot-Ridden Country“.)

It’s the 1960s Redux

The death of George Floyd, which was caused (if only indirectly) by a member of the Minneapolis Police Department, has met with predictable reactions:

1. Trump is to blame for creating an “atmosphere of hate”.

2. The cop’s behavior is symptomatic of “systemic racism” in the United States.

3. Ergo, rioting — not just in Minneapolis but in some other large cities as well.

My thoughts:

1. The “atmosphere of hate” line is high irony, inasmuch as Trump and those who support him are targets of unremitting hatred. There’s a lot of psychological projection at work here.

2. The charge of “systemic racism” is symptomatic of systemic stereotyping by leftists who don’t want to acknowledge the next point and its consequences (discussed below).

3. Persons of low intelligence are more prone to violence than their more-intelligent peers.

The underlying problem hasn’t changed since the wave of urban riots in the 1960s:

Blacks, on average, are significantly less intelligent than whites of European descent, East Asians, and Ashkenzi Jews (a special class of whites of European descent).

Therefore, blacks generally earn less than than members of the other groups because (a) they are less employable and (b) their skills are less valuable (except for the small fraction of blacks who make it big in sports and entertainment).

Blacks, like most human beings, tend to live among persons who are similarly situated: economically, culturally, and racially. “Racism” is a two-way street.

Because large cities contain high concentrations of low-income blacks, resentments can quickly generate violence — not just where a triggering event occurs but wherever low-income blacks are concentrated.

A triggering event — like the death of George Floyd — ignites the simmering and long-standing resentment that must be felt among a large segment of the black population. That resentment is about the failure of blacks generally to advance relative to whites. The source of the resentment is found in the rhetoric of white “liberals”, who constantly peddle this untruth in return for black votes:

The social and economic distance between blacks and whites is due to white racism, and nothing else.

Another Big Lie from the left yields another tragic consequence.

Is Trump Taking My Advice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obamagate

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s confidante and chief strategist

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

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper

National Security Adviser Susan Rice

Attorney General Loretta Lynch

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

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

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

Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe

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

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

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

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


Related reading, in chronological order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Other related reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown or Re-open?

UPDATED 05/03/20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My blue-collar roots are showing.

Oh, That Deep State

Andrew McCarthy argues, convincingly, that General Flynn was set up so that the plot to remove Trump from office could proceed unimpeded:

The objective of the Obama administration and its FBI hierarchy was to continue the Trump–Russia investigation, even after President Trump took office, and even though President Trump was the quarry. The investigation would hamstring Trump’s capacity to govern and reverse Obama policies. Continuing it would allow the FBI to keep digging until it finally came up with a crime or impeachable offense that they were then confident they would find. Remember, even then, the bureau was telling the FISA court that Trump’s campaign was suspected of collaborating in Russia’s election interference. FBI brass had also pushed for the intelligence community to include the Steele dossier — the bogus compendium of Trump–Russia collusion allegations — in its report assessing Russia’s meddling in the campaign.

But how could the FBI sustain an investigation targeting the president when the president would have the power to shut the investigation down?

The only way the bureau could pull that off would be to conceal from the president the fullness of the Russia investigation — in particular, the fact that Trump was the target.

That is why Flynn had to go….

… The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency knew how the spy agencies worked. He knew where and how they kept secrets. He had enough scars from tangles with the intelligence bureaucracy that he knew how the game was played — how intelligence officials exploited information, or selectively withheld it.

… After 33 years in the Army chain of command, the decorated former combat commander grasped that the FBI, like other executive-branch components, worked for the president. As NSA, Flynn would ensure that Trump ran the intelligence agencies, not be run by them. If Flynn wanted to know what was going on in intelligence investigations, he’d be able to find out — he wouldn’t take Jim Comey’s “no” for an answer. He was loyal to Trump, not to the intelligence establishment or the “policy community.” And he was White House staff, not a cabinet appointee — i.e., he did not have to wait interminably on an iffy Senate confirmation; he would be on the job from the very first moments of the new administration, getting his arms around what the executive branch intelligence apparatus was up to….If no way could be found to sideline Flynn (the way Attorney General Jeff Sessions would later be sidelined), then Flynn was going to find out about Crossfire Hurricane. He was going to be a hands-on NSA, so that was a given.

From there, McCarthy explains in detail how Flynn was set up. Here’s the bottom line:

In sum, the FBI could create a scenario in which (a) Flynn might be subject to prosecution, (b) there could be grounds for terminating him, and (c) he would surely be seen as too conflicted about Russia to be made privy to details of the bureau’s Trump–Russia investigation.

The text messages and notes disclosed in the last week show that not everyone was comfortable with this plan. Bill Priestap, the counterintelligence chief, expressed deep misgivings. The objective of the plan seemed unclear, even improper: Were they trying to advance an investigation in good faith, or just “get [Flynn] to lie so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” Why were they not going to refresh Flynn’s recollection with the recording or a transcript, as the FBI would do with similarly situated interviewees? Why did the bureau think it needed to be so “aggressive” with Flynn?

Strzok and Page fretted in text messages on Monday, January 23, that Priestap was not getting the picture. His protests were irking McCabe. By Tuesday morning, a few hours before the January 24 interview, the deputy director was even more frustrated because Priestap had repeated his concerns to Director Comey. If Comey wavered, the plan could be scotched.

The director did not waver. The FBI’s top officials met at headquarters. Comey approved the plan to have Strzok and agent Joe Pientka visit Flynn at his office — no heads-up to others at the White House would be provided. McCabe was to call Flynn to arrange the meeting, assisted by Strzok in thinking through what to tell the NSA. The idea was to put Flynn at ease — make him feel like it would just be a chat between veteran national-security guys, not a criminal investigation; discourage Flynn from getting a lawyer; disabuse him of any thought of involving the White House counsel or chief-of-staff. Just a quick meeting so they could put to rest all this Russia noise in the media. No big deal.

The rest is history.

There’s only one aspect of this narrative that changes my view of the conspiracy: Comey’s role as a co-conspirator. I had maintained that he was merely a useful tool who was pursuing his own vindictive agenda. I am now prepared to include him as full partner in the conspiracy, at least in its post-election phase.

At any rate, see “Obamagate (a.k.a. Spygate and Russiagate)” for a concise summary of the plot and a long list of related reading.

COVID-19: Public Service Announcement

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

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XXVI)

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

CONTENTS

Free Trade Rethought

The Death Penalty

State Actors in Action

Red vs. Blue

Serfdom in Our Future?


FREE TRADE RETHOUGHT

My position on so-called free trade:

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

All other trade would be unencumbered, excepting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There may be something to it.


THE DEATH PENALTY

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

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

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

But on the other hand:

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

And on the third hand:

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

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

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

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

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


STATE ACTORS IN ACTION

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

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

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

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

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

Off with their heads.


RED VS. BLUE

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

But:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You read it here.


SERFDOM IN OUR FUTURE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now comes the payoff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breakup or Takeover?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The squishy center of the electorate — as is its wont — will swing back toward the Democrat Party. With a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat-controlled Congress, and a few party switches in the Supreme Court (of the packing of it), the dogmas of the anti-American culture will become the law of the land.

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

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

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

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

You have been warned.

Economics Explained — Part IV: Loose Ends and Finishing Touches

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

Macroeconomics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOCIAL WELFARE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion: Politics Trumps Economics

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

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

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

The Impeachment Effect: A Final(?) Report

The following graph depicts Trump’s approval ratings, according to Rasmussen Reports, since the onset of the failed effort to remove Trump from office by impeachment and trial:

Rasmussen’s polling method covers all respondents (a sample of likely voters) over a span of three days. The gaps represent weekends, when Rasmussen doesn’t publish the results of the presidential approval poll.

The Washington Post broke the story on September 20 about Trump’s July 25 phone conversation with the president of Ukraine. Thus the results for September 16 through September 20 didn’t reflect the effects of the story on the views of Rasmussen’s respondents. Trump’s approval ratings continued to rise after September 20, and peaked on September 24, the day on which the House officially initiated an impeachment inquiry. Trump’s approval ratings bottomed on October 25 but since then — despite much sound and fury, culminating in articles of impeachment and acquittal by the Senate —  they have returned to where they were on September 16, given the range of error advertised by Rasmussen (±2.5 percentage points with a 95-percent level of confidence.).

If the impeachment effort had any effect, it was to strengthen allegiance to Trump among the kind of voter who put him in office in the first place — the person who sees the Democrat party as the enemy of real people. It is far too soon to say that Trump’s re-election is assured. But it isn’t too soon to say that the impeachment effort made it more likely.

FDR’s Fascism, Underscored

I have written before about FDR’s fascistic methods. See, for example, “FDR and Fascism” and  “FDR and Fascism: More Data“. If you’re wondering how FDR could have been a fascist when he was a bitter enemy of the openly fascistic Axis powers, you need to understand what constitutes fascism (which is a thing apart from the dictatorships that prevailed in Germany, Italy, and Japan). A good definition (no longer online) was found in an earlier version of Wikipedia‘s article about fascism:

Fascism is a system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism.

The two posts that I link to in the first paragraph give some examples of FDR’s brand of fascism. Paul Kengor, in “Franklin Delano Quid Pro Quo“, lays it on with a trowel. There was nothing subtle about FDR’s political thuggery. And it was orders of magnitude worse than Trump’s alleged pressuring of Ukraine for personal political gain:

[I]f you want to see a president who engaged in using explicitly public funds for his own explicitly political interests, look no further than FDR. In fact, no one did it more. What Trump is alleged to have done one time to Ukraine, well, FDR did incessantly to his own citizenry.

To show this, I’ll make things really easy, citing a single source: scholar and historian Dr. Burton Folsom. Among Folsom’s books on FDR, go to just one, his New Deal or Raw Deal?, published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster — a dozen years ago, long before anyone could ever imagine Donald Trump even seeking the presidency. Numerous books on FDR could be cited, but here I’ll stick with just this one.

Starting around page 85 of the book, Folsom addresses the first of at least a dozen examples of FDR abusing his powers and the public purse.

FDR’s chief instrument for shaking down his targets was the crown jewel of his New Deal: the WPA, the Works Progress Administration. The WPA was at the core of the New Deal and FDR’s vast administrative state. Quite literally tons of taxpayer coin went into this massive relief program, which FDR, in turn, redirected for political manipulation. For the record, WPA picked up from where FERA, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, left off. The wildly disproportionate share of FERA money that went to states like Pennsylvania (second only to Illinois in funds received), a state that had gone for Herbert Hoover in 1932, but which FDR hoped to flip in 1936, was scandalous and undoubtedly heavily influenced by the president’s political considerations.

But let’s stick with the WPA, under which FDR reformulated relief from FERA. WPA become the cash cow that FDR would milk not only for public jobs but for political patronage.

“The inefficiency and uselessness of many WPA projects was a serious problem,” Dr. Folsom writes, “but a greater problem was the increased politicization of relief under the WPA.” President Roosevelt had “much discretion in allocation and distributing” WPA money, not unlike a president’s discretion in allocating and distributing foreign aid — though worse because foreign policy is constitutionally the president’s prerogative. As Folsom notes, FDR would choose “which states would receive what,” and the main problem was that this “made relief a game of political manipulation,” at least in the hands of a manipulative president like Franklin Roosevelt. “The problems that plagued the FERA would sharply increase under WPA because more money was at stake,” Folsom notes. “Governors worried that their states would not get their ‘fair share’ of federal tax booty, and so they came to Washington, hats in hand, to curry favor with Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, who became the WPA director, and other New Deal administrators.”…

“Although Roosevelt and Hopkins said they would not use WPA and other relief organizations to play politics,” Folsom notes, “the evidence suggests again and again that that is exactly what they allowed to happen.”

That’s for sure. And Folsom’s book is full of them. Every Republican (and every Democrat) involved in the Trump impeachment trail should grab a copy of Folsom’s book and read through the examples. Again, I’ll make it easy for them. Here’s a summary:

  • Pages 85–88 are loaded with quid pro quo specifics on the WPA
  • Page 92, last paragraph, is solid quid pro quo on the WPA
  • Page 117, middle paragraph, on Social Security
  • Page 135, the indented quote from Raymond Moley regarding FDR’s attitude
  • Page 157, next to last paragraph, is quid pro quo with FDR and Kansas City boss “Big Tom” Pendergast
  • Page 167 is quid pro quo on IRS investigations
  • Pages 170–77 are loaded with patronage quid pro quo by FDR
  • Page 184, middle of the page, quote from Sen. Hiram Johnson on subsidies for votes
  • Page 185 shows quid pro quo with FDR and the black vote
  • Pages 187–91 show tables regarding votes and where federal funds went
  • Pages 196–200 show federal funds used to court senators in FDR’s court-packing scheme

Read them and weep. It’s disgusting. To repeat all of them here would take several thousand words and constitute a virtual cut and paste from Folsom’s book. Still, I’ll note a few of them.

Harry Hopkins was well aware of the abuses taking place. He received mail regularly from people all over the country who were denied federal jobs or fired because of their political views or affiliations. There were so many of these letters that they’re today housed in state-by-state files at the National Archives in Washington in a large file labeled “WPA — Political Coercion.” The New Jersey file is especially fat. One WPA worker complained, “You are either on the WPA or employed in some government department and by virtue thereof you owe a duty to the [Democratic] Party to do your part in making the canvass.”

Of course.

Gavin Wright, a scholar and economist who carefully analyzed WPA spending state by state, concluded, “WPA employment reached peaks in the fall of election years. In states like Florida and Kentucky — where the New Deal’s big fight was in the primary elections — the rise of WPA employment was hurried along in order to synchronize with the primaries.”

FDR and his Democrat buddies were using WPA funds like a party war chest to help them win elections.

FDR’s own advisers were taken aback by his scheming, his ruthlessness, his ego. Particularly shocked was FDR’s speechwriter, Raymond Moley, who provided an assessment of FDR that we now hear every day from Democrats about Donald Trump. Moley was struck by “the utter lack of logic of the man [FDR], the scantiness of his precise knowledge of things that he was talking about, by the gross inaccuracies in his statements, by the almost pathological lack of sequence in his discussion, by the complete rectitude that he felt as to his own conduct.” He went on, adding that he was appalled at FDR’s “immense and growing egotism that came from his office, by his willingness to continue the excoriation of the press and business in order to get votes for himself, by his indifference to what effect the long-continued pursuit of these ends would have upon the civilization in which he was playing a part.” Moley was aghast at how FDR’s “political habits” were fueled by “the added influence of a swollen ego.” This was so bad, felt FDR’s own speechwriter, that he considered the president “dangerous in the extreme.”

Again, that appraisal sounds like any modern Democrat’s take on Donald Trump: the scant knowledge, the gross inaccuracies in statements, the dangerously swollen ego, the excoriation of the press, the extreme and almost “pathological” behavior, etc. But of course, here was a Democrat on a Democrat — an FDR speechwriter on FDR. And FDR is a hero to Democrats, the patron saint of their party….

Folsom also describes attempts by FDR to influence entire voting blocs, including black Americans. His analysis is backed by hard data, with several pages of tables.

Importantly, these are only some examples from a single book. Almost any non-hagiographic biography of FDR shows abuses like these. His vicious pursuit against Andrew Mellon, for example, again with the power of the public largesse behind him, and his extraordinary effort to nationalize everyone’s gold, are other stunning abuses of power. As to Mellon, the immensely talented former Treasury secretary was just one victim of FDR’s misuse of the IRS to punish, silence, and even ruin his political opponents. I personally knew one of Mellon’s nephews. He was extremely bitter at FDR for what FDR did to his uncle — an honorable man and dedicated public servant who ultimately was fully exonerated, even though the president’s lawyers went after Mellon like a pack of wolves with unlimited government dollars behind them.

“Roosevelt absolutely tried to ruin my uncle’s life,” Mellon’s nephew told me. “It was vicious.”

Folsom unavoidably addresses this as well. Mellon, he notes, became the object of a “massive and unrelenting IRS investigation.” Elmer Irey, head of the Intelligence Unit at FDR’s IRS, later confessed that “the Roosevelt administration made me go after Andy Mellon.” No less than Walter Lippmann would call FDR’s indictment of Mellon “an act of profound injustice.” This was done in large part to discredit the Mellon tax cuts that spurred the vast economic prosperity of the 1920s, given that FDR was literally pushing for a 99.5 percent tax rate on incomes over $100,000. He wanted to smear Mellon in order to smear the Mellon free-market philosophy….

As for FDR’s abusive antics, everyone knew about them, from congressmen to reporters. “The furor over the WPA and vote buying became so loud,” notes Folsom, “that Senator Carl Hatch of New Mexico introduced a bill barring WPA workers, and certain other appointees, from political activity.”

Moreover, most FDR historians know about this side of their man. They shrug it off. They treat their beloved New Dealing president with a wink and grin, chuckling at FDR’s wonderful political “horse-trading.” Like LBJ’s stunts — including spying on the Goldwater campaign in 1964 — they treat it like it’s fun, cute, endearing. (“Oh, yes, good ol’ Lyndon!”) Everyone does it, they shrug — until they judge that maybe a Republican might have done something like it, even just once. Put any one of these FDR–LBJ abuses in the hands of a Nixon or a Trump, and it’s impeachment time, baby….

Naturally, liberals today, in 2020, will ignore this. If you actually get this information in their face, they’ll dismiss it as whataboutism. But that’s nonsense, and unfair. Even if Trump were guilty as charged with the Ukraine, why would you impeach and remove a president for a onetime offense of something that the likes of FDR did daily throughout the worst decade and crisis in American history? It would be damned unjust. I personally couldn’t do it, regardless of whether I liked or voted for Donald Trump. Fair-minded people should understand that. Trump supporters will. And that’s yet another reason why they’ll ignore the Democrats’ histrionics about Donald Trump’s allegedly impeachable and removable abuse of power.

The left’s unremitting defense of FDR in the face of his well known, well documented strong-arm tactics is just another symptom of the left’s moral elasticity.

A Footnote to “Is the GAO Impartial?”

Yesterday I argued — based on experience — that the GAO’s about the illegality of withholding of military aide to Ukraine was politically expedient. Today, along comes Josh Blackman of The Volokh Conspiracy with this take:

The decision does not conclude that President Trump violated the ICA with respect to the withholding of funds. GAO did not, and indeed could not, find that President Trump personally violated the ICA with respect to withholding the funds….

[D]id GAO provide any evidence to show that President Trump personally directed his subordinates to withhold the funds? I hesitate before concluding that the President ordered his subordinates to violate the law, when there is a dispute about what exactly the law requires. Several people have cited Mick Mulvaney’s press conference, wherein he relayed a conversation with President Trump:

Mulvaney: “(Trump’s) like, ‘Look, this is a corrupt place. I don’t want to send them a bunch of money and have them waste it, have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets. Plus, I’m not sure that the other European countries are helping them out either.’

This is not evidence that Trump ordered his subordinates to withhold any funding. Trump merely expressed an opinion that he didn’t want to send money to Ukraine, which he viewed as a corrupt country….

Third, did GAO provide any evidence to show that President Trump directed his subordinates to deliberately violate the ICA? This question is premised on a disputed legal issue: was the withholding of certain funds, for some period of time, a violation of the ICA….

Four, did GAO find that President Trump violated the Constitution’s Take Care Clause? No. The decision states, “Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.” Did Trump violate the Take Care Clause? GAO will not say, but they are all too happy to insinuate a constitutional ruling. This driveby dictum is entirely unsupported.

Finally:

There are … unresolved factual questions: (1) what precisely the President did, (2) what he intended to do, (3) when did he do it, (4) what were the consequences (if any) of those decisions, and finally, (4) what were the likely consequences to follow when those decisions were taken. But GAO has not come close to resolving these factual issues or analyzing the complex legal issues in this situation. And it was truly reckless for GAO to suggest otherwise. They offered only a threadbare constitutional analysis, during this heated and polarized time, hours before the impeachment trial began.

Case (against GAO) closed.

A Footnote to “Peak Civilization”

I ended that post with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bravo!” to the government of Utah.

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

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


Other related posts:

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

Is the GAO Impartial?

The latest hit on Trump’s dealings with Ukraine comes from the GAO (Government Accountability Office, formerly known as Government Accounting Office). Chrissy Clark at The Federalist has the story:

The GAO determined the Trump administration broke the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. This law creates a mechanism for the executive branch to ask Congress to reconsider a funding decision or appropriation that’s already been signed into law.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law. [The Office of Management and Budget] withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control act,” said Thomas Armstrong, General Counsel for the GAO.

The report also concluded that the Trump Office of Management and Budget did not provide all the information needed to fulfill their duties.

“[The Office of Management and Budget] and State have failed, as of yet, to provide the information we need to fulfill our duties under the ICA regarding potential impoundments of [Foreign Military Financing] funds,” Armstrong said.

Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland requested the GAO investigation in December.

“This bombshell legal opinion from the independent Government Accountability Office demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump administration illegally withheld security assistance from Ukraine,” Van Hollen told the Washington Post.

They key phrase in Van Hollen’s statement is that the GAO’s report is simply an “opinion.” Rachel Semmel, director of communications for the Office of Management and Budget, said the GAO’s decision has no legal baring on the Trump administration.

“We disagree with GAO’s opinion. OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law,” Semmel said.

The GAO has a long history of attempting to stay relevant in the executive branch, even long before the current impeachment of President Trump. The GAO also has a record of flip-flops. They were forced to reverse a faulty opinion on legal grounds when they opposed the reimbursement of federal employee travel costs. They have consistently rushed to insert themselves into the impeachment discussion and the OMB is hopeful they will be forced to reverse their opinion again.

Notably, the Obama administration was also at fault under the GAO’s rules. A 2014 report found Obama broke the law when he failed to notify Congress about the impending prisoner swap between Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and five Taliban leaders.

There was no legal action taken against the Obama administration for not abiding by the GAO in 2014. That same precedent should be upheld during the Trump administration as well. The OMB and Trump administration have no legal duty to abide by the GAO and their legal opinions.

I can tell you, from experience, that the GAO is once again “attempting to stay relevant”, that is, to get the “right” answer — the answer sought by the politician who requested the investigation. In this case, the “right” answer was a finding against the Trump administration.

Almost 30 years ago, the “right” answer was a finding against a kind of think-tank known as a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC). FFRDCs are an outgrowth of the operations research groups that were formed in World War II. The groups were staffed by civilian scientists, who were given access to highly classified and sensitive information that enabled them to provide timely and objective evaluations of military systems, operations, and tactics. The perceived success of the groups led to their continuation and expansion after the war. Their privileged relationship with the various armed services was denoted by their designation as FFRDCs.

Almost everything government does is either unnecessary or wasteful. The glaring exceptions are the provision of justice (when it is in fact provided) and national defense (ditto). Until the early 1990s, FFRDCs had been an integral and valuable part of the defense effort. Their privileged relationship with the armed services enabled them to do something that I would not ordinarily admit: They were superior to private, for-profit analysis firms.

I emphasize were because something happened in the early 1990s to undermine that privileged relationship. The something was a GAO investigation, instigated by some members of Congress at the behest of the Professional Services Council, a lobbying organization that represents for-profit analysis firms.

As the chief financial officer of an FFRDC sponsored by the Navy, I — like many other FFRDC officials — had to respond to long, probing questionnaires from the GAO’s investigative team. There were subsequent interviews to probe the written answers, and I recall that my interview (in company with a Navy rep) lasted at least a few hours.

I was struck by the GAO team’s studied inability to grasp the value of the privileged relationship between FFRDCs and their sponsors. What was the relationship like? And why was it so valuable to the defense effort? To answer the first question is to answer the second one as well.

FFRDCs were “bucket funded”, meaning that most of their funding came in a lump sum instead of being fought for and won project by project The continuity of funding had several beneficial results:

  • Analysts could be hired for their analytical skills; sales skills were irrelevant. This meant, in practice, that Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in quantitative sciences were more prevalent at FFRCDs than at for-profit firms.
  • Analysts could devote their efforts to analysis instead of scrambling for new contracts, often in areas where they had no great expertise (if any).
  • Analysts could work on similar problems for long periods of time, developing expertise and accumulating valuable data along the way.
  • Clients (the offices for which particular projects were conducted) could call on analysts to address emerging issues without having to go through lengthy contracting processes.
  • Funding wasn’t controlled by clients, but by a separate office. Thus there was little if any pressure to get the “right” answers — those that the clients might have preferred.

But all of that was irrelevant to the GAO team, which was bent on emphasizing the obvious fact that FFRDCs didn’t have to compete for contracts. Regardless of the benefits of the arrangement — and the minuscule fraction of the defense budget allocated to FFRDCs — the Defense Department had to change it ways because FFRDCs had an “unfair” advantage over for-profit firms.

The rest is history: FFRDCs were forced into the mold of for-profit firms, and much of the valuable continuity and analyst-client trust was destroyed in the process. “We’re just another contractor now”, is a refrain now commonly heard at my old FFRDC.

And why? Because GAO — certainly not for the first or last time — got the “right” answer, that is, the answer sought by the congressional sponsor of the investigation.

Economics Explained — Part III: The Principles Illustrated

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

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

Communism: The Real Kind

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

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

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

Barter: An Economy of Relatives, Friends, and Acquaintances

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Closed, Money-Based Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Open, Money-Based Economy

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

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

An Open, Money-Based Economy with Government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macroeconomics

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

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

Economics Explained — Part II: Economic Principles in Perspective

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

What Drives Us

Humans are driven by the survival instinct and a host of psychological urges, which vary from person to person. Those urges include but are far from limited to the self-aggrandizement (ego), the need for love and friendship, and the need to be in control (which includes the needs to possess things and to control others, both in widely varying degrees). Economic activity, as I have said, excludes matters of love and friendship (though not calculated relationships that may seem like friendship), but aside from those things — which influence personal economic activity (e.g., the need to provide for loved ones) — there are more motivations for economic activity than can be dreamt of by economists. Those motivations are shaped genes and culture, which are so varied and malleable (in the case of culture) that specific knowledge about them is useful only to the purveyors of particular goods.

Therefore, economists long ago (and wisely) eschewed models of economic behavior that impute particular motivations to economic activity. Instead they said that individuals seek to maximize utility (something like happiness or satisfaction), whatever that might be for particular individuals. Similarly, they said that firms seek to maximize profits, which is easier to quantify because profit is measured in monetary units (dollars in America).

Irrational Rationality

Further, economists used to say that individuals act rationally when they strive to maximize utility. Behavioral economists (e.g., Richard Thaler) have challenged the rationality hypothesis by showing that personal choices are often irrational (in the judgment of the behavioral economist). The case of “saving too little” for retirement is often invoked in support of interventions (including interventions by the state) to “nudge” individuals toward making the “right” choices (in the judgment of the behavioral economist). The behavioral economist would thus impose his own definition of rational behavior (e.g., wealth-maximization) on individuals. This is arrogance in the extreme. All that the early economists meant by rationality was that individuals strive to make choices that advance their particular preferences.

Wealth-maximization is one such preference, but far from the only one. A young worker, for example, may prefer buying a car (that enables him to get to work faster than he could by riding a bus) to saving for his retirement. There are many other objections to the imposition of behavioral economists’ views. The links at the end of “No Tears for Cass Sunstein” (Thaler’s co-conspirator) will lead you to some of them. That post and the posts linked to at the end of it also provide insights into the authoritarian motivations of Thaler, Sunstein, and their ilk.

The Rise of Corporate Irresponsibility

Turning to firms — the providers of goods that satisfy wants — I have to say that the profit-maximization motive has been eroded by the rise of huge firms that are led and managed by bureaucrats rather than inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs. The ownership of large firms is, in most cases, widely distributed and indirect (i.e., huge blocks of stock are held in diversified mutual-fund portfolios). This makes it possible for top managers (enabled by compliant boards of directors) to adopt policies that harm shareholders’ financial interests for the sake of presenting a “socially responsible” (“woke”) image of the firm to … whom?

The firm’s existing customers aren’t the general public, they are specific segments of the general public, and some of those segments don’t take kindly to public-relations ploys that flout the values that they (the specific segments) hold dearly. (Gillette and Dick’s Sporting Goods are recent cases in point.) The “whom” might therefore consist of segments of the public that the firms’ managers hope will buy the firm’s products because of the firm’s pandering. and — more likely — influential figures in business, politics, the arts, the media, etc., whom the managers are eager to impress.

“Social responsibility” fiascos are only part of the picture. Huge, bureaucratic firms are no more efficient in their use of resources to satisfy consumers’ wants than are huge, bureaucratic governments that (at best) provide essential services (defense and justice) but in fact provide services that politicians and bureaucrats are “needed” in order to buy votes and make work for themselves.

The bottom line here is that the satisfaction of consumers’ wants has been compromised badly. And the combination of government interventions and corporate misfeasance has made the economy far less productive than it could be.

The Flip Side of Economics: Failure to Produce

Economics, therefore, is about the satisfaction of human wants through the production and exchange of goods, given available resources. It is also about the failure to maximize the satisfaction of wants, given available resources, because of government interventions and corporate misfeasance.

The gross underperformance of America’s economy illustrates an important but usually neglected principle of economics: Every decision has an opportunity cost. When you choose to buy a car, for example, you forgo the opportunity to buy something else for the same amount of money. That something else, presumably, would afford you less satisfaction (utility) than the car. Or so the theory goes. But whether it would or wouldn’t isn’t for a behavioral economist to say.

Individuals (and firms) often make choices that they later regret. It’s called learning from experience. But “nudging”, government interventions, and corporate sluggishness reduce the opportunity to learn from experience. (Government interventions and corporate sluggishness also prevent, as I have said, behaviors that are essential to economic vitality: invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship.)

Government interventions also incentivize economically and personally destructive behavior. There are many estimates of the costs of government interventions (e.g., this one and those documented quarterly in Regulation magazine) and a multitude of examples of the personally destructive behavior engendered by government interventions. It is impossible to say which intervention has been the most harmful to the citizenry, but if pressed I would choose the thing broadly called “welfare”, which disincentivizes work and is an important cause of the dissolution of black (welfare-dependent) families, with attendant (and dire) results (educational, occupational, criminal) that bleeding hearts prefer to attribute to “racism”. If not in second place, but high up on my list, is the counterproductive response (by government at the prodding of bleeding hearts) to homelessness.

Thus we have yet another principle: the “law” of unintended consequences. Unintended consequences are the things that aren’t meant to happen — but which do happen — when an actor (be it governmental, corporate, or individual) doesn’t think about (or chooses to minimize or ignore) when it or he focuses on a particular problem or desire to the exclusion of other problems or desires. Individuals can learn from unintended consequences; governments and, increasingly, corporations are too rule-bound and infested by special interests to do so.

None of what I have said about corporations should be taken as an endorsement of governmental interventions to make them somehow more efficient and responsible. (The law of unintended consequences applies in spades when it comes to government.) The only justification for state action with respect to firms is to keep them from doing things that are inimical to liberty and can’t be rectified by private action. In an extreme case, a business that specializes in murder for hire is (or should be) a target for closure and prosecution. A business that sells a potentially harmful product (e.g., guns, cigarettes) isn’t a valid target of state action because the harmful use of the product is the responsibility of the buyer, product-liability law to the contrary notwithstanding.

What about a business that collaborates (perhaps tacitly) with other businesses or special interests to prevent the expression of views that are otherwise protected by the First Amendment but which are opposed by the managers of the business and their political allies? There are good arguments for a hand-off approach, in that markets — if they are allowed to operate freely — will provide alternatives that allow the expression (and wide circulation) of “objectionable” views. If anti-trust actions against purveyors of oil and steel (two take two examples from the past) are inadvisable (as I have argued), aren’t anti-trust actions against purveyors of information and ideas equally inadvisable? There is a qualitative difference between economic rapacity and what amounts to a war that is being waged by one segment of the nation against other segments of the nation. (See for example, “The Subtle Authoritarianism of the ‘Liberal Order’“.) Government action to defend the besieged segments is therefore fitting and proper. (See “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War“.)

Economics and Liberty

This brings me to the gravest economic threat to liberty, which is state socialism and its variants: communism, fascism, and social democracy. All of them vest control of the economy in the state, when not through outright state ownership of the means of production, then through laws and regulations that dictate allowable types of economic output, the means and methods of its production, and its beneficiaries. The United States has long been burdened with what has been called a “mixed” economic system, which is in fact a social democracy — an economy that has many of the trappings of free-market capitalism but is in fact heavily managed by governments (federal, State, and local) in the service of “social justice” and various trendy causes.

The most recent of these is the puritanical, often hypocritical, and anti-scientific effort to rescue the planet from “climate change”. The opportunity cost of this futile undertaking, were it conducted according to the dictates of its most strident supporters, would be a vast share of the economic output of the the Western world (inasmuch as Russia, China, India, and even Japan are disinclined to participate), thus demoting America and Western Europe to Third-World status and rendering them vulnerable to economic and military blackmail by Russia and China. (Old grudges die hard.) You can be sure, however, that even in their vastly diminished state, the Western “democracies” would find the resources with which to cosset the ruling class of politicians and their favorites.

Proponents of state action often defend it by adverting to the paradox of collective action, which is that individuals and firms, acting in what they perceive to be their own interests, can bring about a disaster that engulfs them. “Climate change” is the latest such so-called disaster. What the proponents of state action always omit to consider (or mention) is that state action itself can bring about a disaster that engulfs all of us. The attempt to control “climate change” is just such an action, and it is of the more dangerous kind because government programs, once started, are harder to turn around than the relatively modest and inexpensive projects of individuals and firms.

You may think that I have strayed a long way from the principles of economics. But I haven’t, if you’ve been following closely. What I have done — or tried to do — is put economic activity in perspective. Which is to say that I’ve tried to show that economic activity may be important and even crucial to our lives, but it is not the only important and crucial thing in our lives. Economic activity is shaped by government and culture. If the battle to contain government is successful, and if the battle to preserve a culture of personal responsibility and respect for traditional norms is successful, economic activity will thrive and be worth the striving.

Wicked Problems: The Pretense of Rationality

Arnold Kling points to a paper by Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” (Policy Sciences, June 1973). As Kling says, the paper is “notable for the way in which it describes — in 1973 — the fallibility of experts relative to technocratic expectations”.

Among the authors’ many insights are these about government planning:

The kinds of problems that planners deal with-societal problems-are inherently different from the problems that scientists and perhaps some classes of engineers deal with. Planning problems are inherently wicked.

As distinguished from problems in the natural sciences, which are definable and separable and may have solutions that are findable, the problems of governmental planning-and especially those of social or policy planning-are ill-defined; and they rely upon elusive political judgment for resolution. (Not “solution.” Social problems are never solved. At best they are only re-solved-over and over again.) Permit us to draw a cartoon that will help clarify the distinction we intend.

The problems that scientists and engineers have usually focused upon are mostly “tame” or “benign” ones. As an example, consider a problem of mathematics, such as solving an equation; or the task of an organic chemist in analyzing the structure of some unknown compound; or that of the chessplayer attempting to accomplish checkmate in five moves. For each the mission is clear. It is clear, in turn, whether or not the problems have been solved.

Wicked problems, in contrast, have neither of these clarifying traits; and they include nearly all public policy issues-whether the question concerns the location of a freeway, the adjustment of a tax rate, the modification of school curricula, or the confrontation of crime….

In the sciences and in fields like mathematics, chess, puzzle-solving or mechanical engineering design, the problem-solver can try various runs without penalty. Whatever his outcome on these individual experimental runs, it doesn’t matter much to the subject-system or to the course of societal affairs. A lost chess game is seldom consequential for other chess games or for non-chess-players.

With wicked planning problems, however, every implemented solution is consequential. It leaves “traces” that cannot be undone. One cannot build a freeway to see how it works, and then easily correct it after unsatisfactory performance. Large public-works are effectively irreversible, and the consequences they generate have long half-lives. Many people’s lives will have been irreversibly influenced, and large amounts of money will have been spent-another irreversible act. The same happens with most other large-scale public works and with virtually all public-service programs. The effects of an experimental curriculum will follow the pupils into their adult lives.

Rittel and Webber address a subject about which I know a lot, from first-hand experience — systems analysis. This is a loose discipline in which mathematical tools are applied to broad and seemingly intractable problems in an effort to arrive at “optimal” solutions to those problems. In fact, as Rittel and Webber say:

With arrogant confidence, the early systems analysts pronounced themselves ready to take on anyone’s perceived problem, diagnostically to discover its hidden character, and then, having exposed its true nature, skillfully to excise its root causes. Two decades of experience have worn the self-assurances thin. These analysts are coming to realize how valid their model really is, for they themselves have been caught by the very same diagnostic difficulties that troubled their clients.

Remember, that was written in 1973, a scant five years after Robert Strange McNamara — that supreme rationalist — left the Pentagon, having discovered that the Vietnam War wasn’t amenable to systems analysis. McNamara’s demise as secretary of defense also marked the demise of the power that had been wielded by his Systems Analysis Office (though it lives on under a different name, having long since been pushed down the departmental hierarchy).

My own disillusionment with systems analysis came to a head at about the same time as Rittel and Webber published their paper. A paper that I wrote in 1981 (much to the consternation of my colleagues in the defense-analysis business) was an outgrowth of a memorandum that I had written in 1975 to the head of the defense think-tank where I worked. Here is the crux of the 1981 paper:

Aside from a natural urge for certainty, faith in quantitative models of warfare springs from the experience of World War II, when they seemed to lead to more effective tactics and equipment. But the foundation of this success was not the quantitative methods themselves. Rather, it was the fact that the methods were applied in wartime. Morse and Kimball put it well [in Methods of Operations Research (1946)]:

Operations research done separately from an administrator in charge of operations becomes an empty exercise. To be valuable it must be toughened by the repeated impact of hard operational facts and pressing day-by-day demands, and its scale of values must be repeatedly tested in the acid of use. Otherwise it may be philosophy, but it is hardly science. [p. 10]

Contrast this attitude with the attempts of analysts for the past twenty years to evaluate weapons, forces, and strategies with abstract models of combat. However elegant and internally consistent the models, they have remained as untested and untestable as the postulates of theology.

There is, of course, no valid test to apply to a warfare model. In peacetime, there is no enemy; in wartime, the enemy’s actions cannot be controlled….

Lacking pertinent data, an analyst is likely to resort to models of great complexity. Thus, if useful estimates of detection probabilities are unavailable, the detection process is modeled; if estimates of the outcomes of dogfights are unavailable, aerial combat is reduced to minutiae. Spurious accuracy replaces obvious inaccuracy; untestable hypotheses and unchecked calibrations multiply apace. Yet the analyst claims relative if not absolute accuracy, certifying that he has identified, measured, and properly linked, a priori, the parameters that differentiate weapons, forces, and strategies.

In the end, “reasonableness” is the only defense of warfare models of any stripe.

It is ironic that analysts must fall back upon the appeal to intuition that has been denied to military men — whose intuition at least flows from a life-or-death incentive to make good guesses when choosing weapons, forces, or strategies.

This generalizes to government planning of almost every kind, at every level, and certainly to the perpetually recurring — and badly mistaken — belief that an entire economy can be planned and its produce “equitably” distributed according to needs rather than abilities.

(For much more in this vein, see the posts listed at “Modeling, Science, and ‘Reason’“. See also “Why I Am Bunkered in My Half-Acre of Austin“.)