Not-So-Random Thoughts (XXII)

This is a long-overdue entry; the previous one was posted on October 4, 2017. Accordingly, it is a long entry, consisting of these parts:

Censorship and Left-Wing Bias on the Web

The Real Collusion Story

“Suicide” of the West

Evolution, Intelligence, and Race

Will the Real Fascists Please Stand Up?

Consciousness

Empathy Is Over-Rated

“Nudging”



CENSORSHIP AND LEFT-WING BIAS ON THE WEB

It’s a hot topic these days. See, for example, this, this, this, this, and this. Also, this, which addresses Google’s slanting of search results about climate research. YouTube is at it, too.

A lot of libertarian and conservative commentators are loath to demand governmental intervention because the censorship is being committed by private companies: Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube, et al. Some libertarians and conservatives are hopeful that libertarian-conservative options will be successful (e.g., George Gilder). I am skeptical. I have seen and tried some of those options, and they aren’t in the same league as the left-wingers, which have pretty well locked up users and advertisers. (It’s called path-dependence.) And even if they finally succeed in snapping up a respectable share of the information market, the damage will have been done; libertarians and conservatives will have been marginalized, criminalized, and suppressed.

The time to roll out the big guns is now, as I explain here:

Given the influence that Google and the other members of the left-wing information-technology oligarchy exert in this country, that oligarchy is tantamount to a state apparatus….

These information-entertainment-media-academic institutions are important components of what I call the vast left-wing conspiracy in America. Their purpose and effect is the subversion of the traditional norms that made America a uniquely free, prosperous, and vibrant nation….

What will happen in America if that conspiracy succeeds in completely overthrowing “bourgeois culture”? The left will frog-march America in whatever utopian direction captures its “feelings” (but not its reason) at the moment…

Complete victory for the enemies of liberty is only a few election cycles away. The squishy center of the American 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, the dogmas of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex will become the law of the land….

[It is therefore necessary to] enforce the First Amendment against information-entertainment-media-academic complex. This would begin with action against high-profile targets (e.g., Google and a few large universities that accept federal money). That should be enough to bring the others into line. If it isn’t, keep working down the list until the miscreants cry uncle.

What kind of action do I have in mind?…

Executive action against state actors to enforce the First Amendment:

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

Major entities in the telecommunications, news, entertainment, and education industries have exerted their power to suppress speech because of its content. (See appended documentation.) 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).)

And so on. Read all about it here.



THE REAL COLLUSION STORY

Not quite as hot, but still in the news, is Spygate. Collusion among the White House, CIA, and FBI (a) to use the Trump-Russia collusion story to swing the 2016 election to Clinton, and (b) failing that, to cripple Trump’s presidency and provide grounds for removing him from office. The latest twist in the story is offered by Byron York:

Emails in 2016 between former British spy Christopher Steele and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr suggest Steele was deeply concerned about the legal status of a Putin-linked Russian oligarch, and at times seemed to be advocating on the oligarch’s behalf, in the same time period Steele worked on collecting the Russia-related allegations against Donald Trump that came to be known as the Trump dossier. The emails show Steele and Ohr were in frequent contact, that they intermingled talk about Steele’s research and the oligarch’s affairs, and that Glenn Simpson, head of the dirt-digging group Fusion GPS that hired Steele to compile the dossier, was also part of the ongoing conversation….

The newly-released Ohr-Steele-Simpson emails are just one part of the dossier story. But if nothing else, they show that there is still much for the public to learn about the complex and far-reaching effort behind it.

My take is here. The post includes a long list of related — and enlightening — reading, to which I’ve just added York’s piece.



“SUICIDE” OF THE WEST

Less “newsy”, but a hot topic on the web a few weeks back, is Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West. It received mixed reviews. It is also the subject of an excellent non-review by Hubert Collins.

Here’s my take:

The Framers held a misplaced faith in the Constitution’s checks and balances (see Madison’s Federalist No. 51 and Hamilton’s Federalist No. 81). The Constitution’s wonderful design — containment of a strictly limited central government through horizontal and vertical separation of powers — worked rather well until the Progressive Era. The design then cracked under the strain of greed and the will to power, as the central government began to impose national economic regulation at the behest of muckrakers and do-gooders. The design then broke during the New Deal, which opened the floodgates to violations of constitutional restraint (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare,  the vast expansion of economic regulation, and the destruction of civilizing social norms), as the Supreme Court has enabled the national government to impose its will in matters far beyond its constitutional remit.

In sum, the “poison pill” baked into the nation at the time of the Founding is human nature, against which no libertarian constitution is proof unless it is enforced resolutely by a benign power.



EVOLUTION, INTELLIGENCE, AND RACE

Evolution is closely related to and intertwined with intelligence and race. Two posts of mine (here and here) delve some of the complexities. The latter of the two posts draws on David Stove‘s critique of evolutionary theory, “So You Think You Are a Darwinian?“.

Fred Reed is far more entertaining than Stove, and no less convincing. His most recent columns on evolution are here and here. In the first of the two, he writes this:

What are some of the problems with official Darwinism? First, the spontaneous generation of life has not been replicated…. Nor has anyone assembled in the laboratory a chemical structure able to metabolize, reproduce, and thus to evolve. It has not been shown to be mathematically possible….

Sooner or later, a hypothesis must be either confirmed or abandoned. Which? When? Doesn’t science require evidence, reproducibility, demonstrated theoretical possibility? These do not exist….

Other serious problems with the official story: Missing intermediate fossils–”missing links”– stubbornly remain missing. “Punctuated equilibrium,” a theory of sudden rapid evolution invented to explain the lack of fossil evidence, seems unable to generate genetic information fast enough. Many proteins bear no resemblance to any others and therefore cannot have evolved from them. On and on.

Finally, the more complex an event, the less likely it is to  occur by chance. Over the years, cellular mechanisms have been found to be  ever more complex…. Recently with the discovery of epigenetics, complexity has taken a great leap upward. (For anyone wanting to subject himself to such things, there is The Epigenetics Revolution. It is not light reading.)

Worth noting is that  that the mantra of evolutionists, that “in millions and millions and billions of years something must have evolved”–does not necessarily hold water. We have all heard of Sir James Jeans assertion that a monkey, typing randomly, would eventually produce all the books in the British Museum. (Actually he would not produce a single chapter in the accepted age of the universe, but never mind.) A strong case can be made that spontaneous generation is similarly of mathematically vanishing probability. If evolutionists could prove the contrary, they would immensely strengthen their case. They haven’t….

Suppose that you saw an actual monkey pecking at a keyboard and, on examining his output, saw that he was typing, page after page, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with no errors.

You would suspect fraud, for instance that the typewriter was really a computer programmed with Tom. But no, on inspection you find that it is a genuine typewriter. Well then, you think, the monkey must be a robot, with Tom in RAM. But  this too turns out to be wrong: The monkey in fact is one. After exhaustive examination, you are forced to conclude that Bonzo really is typing at random.

Yet he is producing Tom Sawyer. This being impossible, you would have to conclude that something was going on that you did not understand.

Much of biology is similar. For a zygote, barely visible, to turn into a baby is astronomically improbable, a suicidal assault on Murphy’s Law. Reading embryology makes this apparent. (Texts are prohibitively expensive, but Life Unfolding serves.) Yet every step in the process is in accord with chemical principles.

This doesn’t make sense. Not, anyway, unless one concludes that something deeper is going on that we do not understand. This brings to mind several adages that might serve to ameliorate our considerable arrogance. As Haldane said, “The world is not only queerer than we think, but queerer than we can think.” Or Fred’s Principle, “The smartest of a large number of hamsters is still a hamster.”

We may be too full of ourselves.

On the subject of race, Fred is no racist, but he is a realist; for example:

We have black football players refusing to stand for the national anthem.  They think that young black males are being hunted down by cops. Actually of  course black males are hunting each other down in droves but black football players apparently have no objection to this. They do not themselves convincingly suffer discrimination. Where else can you get paid six million green ones a year for grabbing something and running? Maybe in a district of jewelers.

The non-standing is racial hostility to whites. The large drop in attendance of games, of television viewership, is racial blowback by whites. Millions of whites are thinking, that, if America doesn’t suit them, football players can afford a ticket to Kenya. While this line of reasoning is tempting, it doesn’t really address the problem and so would be a waste of time.

But what, really, is the problem?

It is one that dare not raise its head: that blacks cannot compete with whites, Asians, or Latin-Americans. Is there counter-evidence? This leaves them in an incurable state of resentment and thus hostility. I think we all know this: Blacks know it, whites know it, liberals know it, and conservatives know it. If any doubt this, the truth would be easy enough to determine with carefully done tests. [Which have been done.] The furious resistance to the very idea of measuring intelligence suggests awareness of the likely outcome. You don’t avoid a test if you expect good results.

So we do nothing while things worsen and the world looks on astounded. We have mob attacks by Black Lives Matter, the never-ending Knockout Game, flash mobs looting stores and subway trains, occasional burning cities, and we do nothing. Which makes sense, because there is nothing to be done short of restructuring the country.

Absolute, obvious, unacknowledged disaster.

Regarding which: Do we really want, any of us, what we are doing? In particular, has anyone asked ordinary blacks, not black pols and race hustlers. “Do you really want to live among whites, or would you prefer a safe middle-class black neighborhood? Do your kids want to go to school with whites? If so, why? Do you want them to? Why? Would you prefer black schools to decide what and how to teach your children? Keeping whites out of it? Would you prefer having only black police in your neighborhood?”

And the big one: “Do you, and the people you actually know in your neighborhood, really want integration? Or is it something imposed on you by oreo pols and white ideologues?”

But these are things we must never think, never ask.

Which brings me to my most recent post about blacks and crime, which is here. As for restructuring the country, Lincoln saw what was needed.

The touchy matter of intelligence — its heritability and therefore its racial component — is never far from my thoughts. I commend to you Gregory Hood’s excellent piece, “Forbidden Research: How the Study of Intelligence is Crippled by Ideology“. Hood mentions some of the scientists whose work I have cited in my writings about intelligence and its racial component. See this page, for example, which give links to several related posts and excerpts of relevant research about intelligence.

As for the racial component, my most recent post on the subject (which provides links to related posts) addresses the question “Why study race and intelligence?”. Here’s why:

Affirmative action and similar race-based preferences are harmful to blacks. But those preferences persist because most Americans do not understand that there are inherent racial differences that prevent blacks, on the whole, from doing as well as whites (and Asians) in school and in jobs that require above-average intelligence. But magical thinkers (like [Professor John] McWhorter) want to deny reality. He admits to being driven by hope: “I have always hoped the black–white IQ gap was due to environmental causes.”…

Magical thinking — which is rife on the left — plays into the hands of politicians, most of whom couldn’t care less about the truth. They just want the votes of those blacks who relish being told, time and again, that they are “down” because they are “victims”, and Big Daddy government will come to their rescue. But unless you are the unusual black of above-average intelligence, or the more usual black who has exceptional athletic skills, dependence on Big Daddy is self-defeating because (like a drug addiction) it only leads to more of the same. The destructive cycle of dependency can be broken only by willful resistance to the junk being peddled by cynical politicians.

It is for the sake of blacks that the truth about race and intelligence ought to be pursued — and widely publicized. If they read and hear the truth often enough, perhaps they will begin to realize that the best way to better themselves is to make the best of available opportunities instead of moaning abut racism and relying on preferences and handouts.



WILL THE REAL FASCISTS PLEASE STAND UP?

I may puke if I hear Trump called a fascist one more time. As I observe here,

[t]he idea … that Trump is the new Hitler and WaPo [The Washington Post] and its brethren will keep us out of the gas chambers by daring to utter the truth (not)…. is complete balderdash, inasmuch as WaPo and its ilk are enthusiastic hand-maidens of “liberal” fascism.

“Liberals” who call conservatives “fascists” are simply engaging in psychological projection. This is a point that I address at length here.

As for Mr. Trump, I call on Shawn Mitchell:

A lot of public intellectuals and writers are pushing an alarming thesis: President Trump is a menace to the American Republic and a threat to American liberties. The criticism is not exclusively partisan; it’s shared by prominent conservatives, liberals, and libertarians….

Because so many elites believe Trump should be impeached, or at least shunned and rendered impotent, it’s important to agree on terms for serious discussion. Authoritarian means demanding absolute obedience to a designated authority. It means that somewhere, someone, has unlimited power. Turning the focus to Trump, after 15 months in office, it’s impossible to assign him any of those descriptions….

…[T]here are no concentration camps or political arrests. Rather, the #Resistance ranges from fervent to rabid. Hollywood and media’s brightest stars regularly gather at galas to crudely declare their contempt for Trump and his deplorable supporters. Academics and reporters lodged in elite faculty lounges and ivory towers regularly malign his brains, judgment, and temperament. Activists gather in thousands on the streets to denounce Trump and his voters. None of these people believe Trump is an autocrat, or, if they do they are ignorant of the word’s meaning. None fear for their lives, liberty, or property.

Still, other elites pile on. Federal judges provide legal backup, contriving frivolous theories to block administrations moves. Some rule Trump lacks even the authority to undo by executive order things Obama himself introduced by executive order. Governors from states like California, Oregon and New York announce they will not cooperate with administration policy (current law, really) on immigration, the environment, and other issues.

Amidst such widespread rebellion, waged with impunity against the constitutionally elected president, the critics’ dark warnings that America faces a dictator are more than wrong; they are surreal and damnable. They are what amounts to the howl of that half the nation still refusing to accept election results it dislikes.

Conceding Trump lacks an inmate or body count, critics still offer theories to categorize him in genus monsterus. The main arguments cite Trump’s patented belligerent personality and undisciplined tweets, his use of executive orders; his alleged obstruction in firing James Comey and criticizing Robert Mueller, his blasts at the media, and his immigration policies. These attacks weigh less than the paper they might be printed on.

Trump’s personality doubtless is sui generis for national office. If he doesn’t occasionally offend listeners they probably aren’t listening. But so what? Personality is not policy. A sensibility is not a platform, and bluster and spittle are not coercive state action. The Human Jerk-o-meter could measure Trump in the 99th percentile, and the effect would not change one law, eliminate one right, or jail one critic.

Executive Orders are misunderstood. All modern presidents used them. There is nothing wrong in concept with executive orders. Some are constitutional some are not. What matters is whether they direct executive priorities within U.S. statutes or try to push authority beyond the law to change the rights and duties of citizens. For example, a president might order the EPA to focus on the Clean Air Act more than the Clean Water Act, or vice versa. That is fine. But, if a president orders the EPA to regulate how much people can water their lawns or what kind of lawns to plant, the president is trying to legislate and create new controls. That is unconstitutional.

Many of Obama’s executive orders were transgressive and unconstitutional. Most of Trump’s executive orders are within the law, and constitutional. However that debate turns out, though, it is silly to argue the issue implicates authoritarianism.

The partisan arguments over Trump’s response to the special counsel also miss key points. Presidents have authority to fire subordinates. The recommendation authored by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein provides abundant reason for Trump to have fired James Comey, who increasingly is seen as a bitter anti-Trump campaigner. As for Robert Mueller, criticizing is not usurping. Mueller’s investigation continues, but now readily is perceived as a target shoot, unmoored from the original accusations about Russia, in search of any reason to draw blood from Trump. Criticizing that is not dictatorial, it is reasonable.

No doubt Trump criticizes the media more than many modern presidents. But criticism is not oppression. It attacks not freedom of the press but the credibility of the press. That is civically uncomfortable, but the fact is, the war of words between Trump and the media is mutual. The media attacks Trump constantly, ferociously and very often inaccurately as Mollie Hemingway and Glenn Greenwald document from different political perspectives. Trump fighting back is not asserting government control. It is just challenging media assumptions and narratives in a way no president ever has. Reporters don’t like it, so they call it oppression. They are crybabies.

Finally, the accusation that Trump wants to enforce the border under current U.S. laws, as well as better vet immigration from a handful of failed states in the Middle East with significant militant activity hardly makes him a tyrant. Voters elected Trump to step up border enforcement. Scrutinizing immigrants from a handful of countries with known terrorist networks is not a “Muslim ban.” The idea insults the intelligence since there are about 65 majority Muslim countries the order does not touch.

Trump is not Hitler. Critics’ attacks are policy disputes, not examples of authoritarianism. The debate is driven by sore losers who are willing to erode norms that have preserved the republic for 240 years.

Amen.



CONSCIOUSNESS

For a complete change of pace I turn to a post by Bill Vallicella about consciousness:

This is an addendum to Thomas Nagel on the Mind-Body Problem. In that entry I set forth a problem in the philosophy of mind, pouring it into the mold of an aporetic triad:

1) Conscious experience is not an illusion.

2) Conscious experience has an essentially subjective character that purely physical processes do not share.

3) The only acceptable explanation of conscious experience is in terms of physical properties alone.

Note first that the three propositions are collectively inconsistent: they cannot all be true.  Any two limbs entail the negation of the remaining one. Note second that each limb exerts a strong pull on our acceptance. But we cannot accept them all because they are logically incompatible.

This is one hard nut to crack.  So hard that many, following David Chalmers, call it, or something very much like it, the Hard Problem in the philosophy of mind.  It is so hard that it drives some into the loony bin. I am thinking of Daniel Dennett and those who have the chutzpah to deny (1)….

Sophistry aside, we either reject (2) or we reject (3).  Nagel and I accept (1) and (2) and reject (3). Those of a  scientistic stripe accept (1) and (3) and reject (2)….

I conclude that if our aporetic triad has a solution, the solution is by rejecting (3).

Vallicella reaches his conclusion by subtle argumentation, which I will not attempt to parse in this space.

My view is that (2) is false because the subjective character of conscious experience is an illusion that arises from the physical properties of the central nervous system. Consciousness itself is not an illusion. I accept (1) and (3). For more, see this and this.



EMPATHY IS OVER-RATED

Andrew Scull addresses empathy:

The basic sense in which most of us use “empathy” is analogous to what Adam Smith called “sympathy”: the capacity we possess (or can develop) to see the world through the eyes of another, to “place ourselves in his situation . . . and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence from some idea of his sensations, and even feel something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them”….

In making moral choices, many would claim that empathy in this sense makes us more likely to care about others and to consider their interests when choosing our own course of action….

Conversely, understanding others’ feelings doesn’t necessarily lead one to treating them better. On the contrary: the best torturers are those who can anticipate and intuit what their victims most fear, and tailor their actions accordingly. Here, Bloom effectively invokes the case of Winston Smith’s torturer O’Brien in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four, who is able to divine the former’s greatest dread, his fear of rats, and then use it to destroy him.

Guest blogger L.P. addressed empathy in several posts: here, here, here, here, here, and here. This is from the fourth of those posts:

Pro-empathy people think less empathetic people are “monsters.” However, as discussed in part 2 of this series, Baron-Cohen, Kevin Dutton in The Wisdom of Psychopaths, and other researchers establish that empathetic people, particularly psychopaths who have both affective and cognitive empathy, can be “monsters” too.

In fact, Kevin Dutton’s point about psychopaths generally being able to blend in and take on the appearance of the average person makes it obvious that they must have substantial emotional intelligence (linked to cognitive empathy) and experience of others’ feelings in order to mirror others so well….

Another point to consider however, as mentioned in part 1, is that those who try to empathize with others by imagining how they would experience another’s situation aren’t truly empathetic. They’re just projecting their own feelings onto others. This brings to mind Jonathan Haidt’s study on morality and political orientation. On the “Identification with All of Humanity Scale,” liberals most strongly endorsed the dimension regarding identification with “everyone around the world.” (See page 25 of “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The psychological roots of an individualist ideology.”) How can anyone empathize with billions of persons about whom one knows nothing, and a great number of whom are anything but liberal?

Haidt’s finding is a terrific example of problems with self-evaluation and self-reported data – liberals overestimating themselves in this case. I’m not judgmental about not understanding everyone in the world. There are plenty of people I don’t understand either. However, I don’t think people who overestimate their ability to understand people should be in a position that allows them to tamper with, or try to “improve,” the lives of people they don’t understand….

I conclude by quoting C. Daniel Batson who acknowledges the prevailing bias when it comes to evaluating altruism as a virtue. This is from his paper, “Empathy-Induced Altruistic Motivation,” written for the Inaugural Herzliya Symposium on Prosocial Motives, Emotions, and Behavior:

[W]hereas there are clear social sanctions against unbridled self-interest, there are not clear sanctions against altruism. As a result, altruism can at times pose a greater threat to the common good than does egoism.



“NUDGING”

I have addressed Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s “libertarian” paternalism and “nudging in many posts. (See this post, the list at the bottom of it, and this post.) Nothing that I have written — clever and incisive as it may be — rivals Deirdre McCloskey’s take on Thaler’s non-Nobel prize, “The Applied Theory of Bossing“:

Thaler is distinguished but not brilliant, which is par for the course. He works on “behavioral finance,” the study of mistakes people make when they talk to their stock broker. He can be counted as the second winner for “behavioral economics,” after the psychologist Daniel Kahneman. His prize was for the study of mistakes people make when they buy milk….

Once Thaler has established that you are in myriad ways irrational it’s much easier to argue, as he has, vigorously—in his academic research, in popular books, and now in a column for The New York Times—that you are too stupid to be treated as a free adult. You need, in the coinage of Thaler’s book, co-authored with the law professor and Obama adviser Cass Sunstein, to be “nudged.” Thaler and Sunstein call it “libertarian paternalism.”*…

Wikipedia lists fully 257 cognitive biases. In the category of decision-making biases alone there are anchoring, the availability heuristic, the bandwagon effect, the baseline fallacy, choice-supportive bias, confirmation bias, belief-revision conservatism, courtesy bias, and on and on. According to the psychologists, it’s a miracle you can get across the street.

For Thaler, every one of the biases is a reason not to trust people to make their own choices about money. It’s an old routine in economics. Since 1848, one expert after another has set up shop finding “imperfections” in the market economy that Smith and Mill and Bastiat had come to understand as a pretty good system for supporting human flourishing….

How to convince people to stand still for being bossed around like children? Answer: Persuade them that they are idiots compared with the great and good in charge. That was the conservative yet socialist program of Kahneman, who won the 2002 Nobel as part of a duo that included an actual economist named Vernon Smith…. It is Thaler’s program, too.

Like with the psychologist’s list of biases, though, nowhere has anyone shown that the imperfections in the market amount to much in damaging the economy overall. People do get across the street. Income per head since 1848 has increased by a factor of 20 or 30….

The amiable Joe Stiglitz says that whenever there is a “spillover” — my ugly dress offending your delicate eyes, say — the government should step in. A Federal Bureau of Dresses, rather like the one Saudi Arabia has. In common with Thaler and Krugman and most other economists since 1848, Stiglitz does not know how much his imagined spillovers reduce national income overall, or whether the government is good at preventing the spill. I reckon it’s about as good as the Army Corps of Engineers was in Katrina.

Thaler, in short, melds the list of psychological biases with the list of economic imperfections. It is his worthy scientific accomplishment. His conclusion, unsupported by evidence?

It’s bad for us to be free.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred to Thaler’s philosophy as “paternalistic libertarianism.” The correct term is “libertarian paternalism.”

No, the correct term is paternalism.

I will end on that note.

Suicide or Destiny?

The list of related reading at the bottom of this post is updated occasionally.

The suicide to which I refer is the so-called suicide of the West, about which Jonah Goldberg has written an eponymous book. This is from Goldberg’s essay based on the book, “Suicide of the West” (National Review, April 12, 2018):

Almost everything about modernity, progress, and enlightened society emerged in the last 300 years. If the last 200,000 years of humanity were one year, nearly all material progress came in the last 14 hours. In the West, and everywhere that followed our example, incomes rose, lifespans grew, toil lessened, energy and water became ubiquitous commodities.

Virtually every objective, empirical measure that capitalism’s critics value improved with the emergence of Western liberal-democratic capitalism. Did it happen overnight? Sadly, no. But in evolutionary terms, it did….

Of course, material prosperity isn’t everything. But the progress didn’t stop there. Rapes, deaths by violence and disease, slavery, illiteracy, torture have all declined massively, while rights for women, minorities, the disabled have expanded dramatically. And, with the exception of slavery, which is a more recent human innovation made possible by the agricultural revolution, material misery was natural and normal for us. Then suddenly, almost overnight, that changed.

What happened? We stumbled into a different world. Following sociologist Robin Fox and historian Ernest Gellner, I call this different world “the Miracle.”…

Why stress that the Miracle was both unnatural and accidental? Because Western civilization generally, and America particularly, is on a suicidal path. The threats are many, but beneath them all is one constant, eternal seducer: human nature. Modernity often assumes that we’ve conquered human nature as much as we’ve conquered the natural world. The truth is we’ve done neither….

The Founders closely studied human nature, recognizing the dangers of despots and despotic majorities alike. They knew that humans would coalesce around common interests, forming “factions.” They also understood that you can’t repeal human nature. So, unlike their French contemporaries, they didn’t try. Instead, they established our system of separated powers and enumerated rights so that no faction, including a passionate majority, could use the state’s power against other factions.

But the Founders’ vision assumed many preconditions, the two most important of which were the people’s virtue and the role of civil society. “The general government . . . can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people,” George Washington argued.

People learn virtue first and most importantly from family, and then from the myriad institutions family introduces them to: churches, schools, associations, etc. Every generation, Western civilization is invaded by barbarians, Hannah Arendt observed: “We call them children.” Civil society, starting with the family, civilizes barbarians, providing meaning, belonging, and virtue.

But here’s the hitch. When that ecosystem breaks down, people still seek meaning and belonging. And it is breaking down. Its corruption comes from reasons too numerous and complex to detail here, but they include family breakdown, mass immigration, the war on assimilation, and the rise of virtual communities pretending to replace real ones.

First, the market, as Joseph Schumpeter argued, maximizes efficiency with relentless rationality, tending to break down the sinews of tradition and the foundations of civil society that enable and instill virtue. Yet those pre-rational virtues make capitalism possible in the first place.

Second, capitalism also creates a mass class of resentful intellectuals, artists, journalists, and bureaucrats who are professionally, psychologically, and ideologically committed to undermining capitalism’s legitimacy (as noted by Schumpeter and James Burnham, the author of another book titled “Suicide of the West”). This adversarial elite is its own coalition.

Thus, people increasingly look to Washington and national politics for meaning and belonging they can’t find at home. As Mary Eberstadt recently argued, the rise in identity politics coincided with family breakdown, as alienated youth looked to the artificial tribes of racial or sexual solidarity for meaning. Populism, which always wants the national government to solve local problems, is in vogue on left and right precisely because local institutions and civil society generally no longer do their jobs. Indeed, populism is its own tribalism, because “We the People” invariably means “my people.” As Jan-Werner Müller notes in his book What Is Populism?: “Populism is always a form of identity politics.”

A video at the 2012 Democratic National Convention proclaimed that “government is the only thing we all belong to.” For conservatives, this was Orwellian. But for many Americans, it was an invitation to belong. That was the subtext of “The Life of Julia” and President Obama’s call for Americans to emulate SEAL Team Six and strive in unison — towards his goals….

The American Founding’s glory is that those English colonists took their cousins’ tradition, purified it into a political ideology, and extended it farther than the English ever dreamed. And they wrote it down, thank God. The Founding didn’t apply these principles as universally as its rhetoric implied. But that rhetoric was transformative. When the Declaration of Independence was written, some dismissed the beginning as flowery boilerplate; what mattered was the ending: Independence! But the boilerplate became a creed, and America’s story is the story of that creed — those mere words — unfolding to its logical conclusion….

It seems axiomatic to me that whatever words can create, they can destroy. And ingratitude is the destroyer’s form. We teach children that the moral of the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg is the danger of greed. But the real moral of the story is ingratitude. A farmer finds an animal, which promises to make him richer than he ever imagined. But rather than nurture and protect this miracle, he resents it for not doing more. In one version, the farmer demands two golden eggs per day. When the goose politely demurs, he kills it out of a sense of entitlement — the opposite of gratitude.

The Miracle is our goose. And rather than be grateful for it, our schools, our culture, and many of our politicians say we should resent it for not doing more. Conservatism is a form of gratitude, because we conserve only what we are grateful for. Our society is talking itself out of gratitude for the Miracle and teaching our children resentment. Our culture affirms our feelings as the most authentic sources of truth when they are merely the expressions of instincts, and considers the Miracle a code word for white privilege, greed, and oppression.

This is corruption. And it is a choice. Collectively, we are embracing entitlement over gratitude. That is suicidal.

I would put it this way: About 300 years ago there arose in the West the idea of innate equality and inalienable rights. At the same time, and not coincidentally, there arose the notion of economic betterment through free markets. The two concepts — political and economic liberty — are in fact inseparable. One cannot have economic liberty without political liberty; political liberty — the ownership of oneself — implies the ownership of the fruits of one’s own labor and the right to strive for prosperity. This latter striving, as Adam Smith pointed out, works not only for the betterment of the striver but also for the betterment of those who engage in trade with him. The forces of statism are on the march (and have been for a long time). The likely result is the loss of liberty and the vibrancy and prosperity that arises from it.

I want to be clear about liberty. It is not a spiritual state of bliss. It is, as I have written,

a modus vivendi, not the result of a rational political scheme. Though a rational political scheme, such as the one laid out in the Constitution of the United States, could promote liberty.

The key to a libertarian modus vivendi is the evolutionary development and widespread observance of social norms that foster peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Liberty, in sum, is not an easy thing to attain or preserve because it depends on social comity: mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual forbearance. These are hard to inculcate and sustain in the relatively small groupings of civil society (family, church, club, etc.). They are almost impossible to attain or sustain in a large, diverse nation-state. Interests clash and factions clamor and claw for ascendancy over other factions. (It is called tribalism, and even anti-tribalists are tribal in their striving to impose their values on others). The Constitution, as Goldberg implies, has proved unequal to the task of preserving liberty, for reasons to which I will come.

I invoke the Constitution deliberately. This essay is about the United States, not the West in general. (Goldberg gets to the same destination after a while.) Much of the West has already committed “suicide” by replacing old-fashioned (“classical“) liberalism with oppressive statism. The U.S. is far down the same path. The issue at hand, therefore, is whether America’s “suicide” can be avoided.

Perhaps, but only if the demise of liberty is a choice. It may not be a choice, however, as Goldberg unwittingly admits when he writes about human nature.

On that point I turn to John Daniel Davidson, writing in “The West Isn’t Committing Suicide, It’s Dying of Natural Causes” (The Federalist, May 18, 2018):

Perhaps the Miracle, wondrous as it is, needs more than just our gratitude to sustain it. Perhaps the only thing that can sustain it is an older order, one that predates liberal democratic capitalism and gave it its vitality in the first place. Maybe the only way forward is to go back and rediscover the things we left behind at the dawn of the Enlightenment.

Goldberg is not very interested in all of that. He does not ask whether there might be some contradictions at the heart of the liberal order, whether it might contain within it the seeds of its undoing. Instead, Goldberg makes his stand on rather narrow grounds. He posits that the Enlightenment Miracle can be defended in purely secular, utilitarian terms, which he supposes are the only terms skeptics of liberal democratic capitalism will accept.

That forces him to treat the various illiberal ideologies that came out of Enlightenment thought (like communism) as nothing more than a kind of tribalism rather than a natural consequence of the hyper-rational scientism embedded in the liberal order itself. As Richard M. Reinsch II noted last week in an excellent review of Goldberg’s book over at Law and Liberty, “If you are going to set the Enlightenment Miracle as the standard of human excellence, one that we are losing, you must also clearly state the dialectic it introduces of an exaltation of reason, power, and science that can become something rather illiberal.”

That is to say, we mustn’t kid ourselves about the Miracle. We have to be honest, not just about its benefits but also its costs….

What about science and medical progress? What about the eradication of disease? What about technological advances? Isn’t man’s conquest of nature a good thing? Hasn’t the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution and the invention of liberal democratic capitalism done more to alleviate poverty and create wealth than anything in human history? Shouldn’t we preserve this liberal order and pass it on to future generations? Shouldn’t we inculcate in our children a profound sense of gratitude for all this abundance and prosperity?

This is precisely Goldberg’s argument. Yes, he says, man’s conquest of nature is a good thing. It’s the same species of argument raised earlier this year in reaction to Patrick Deneen’s book, “Why Liberalism Failed,” which calls into question the entire philosophical system that gave us the Miracle….

[Deneen] is not chiefly interested in the problems of the modern progressive era or the contemporary political Left. He isn’t alarmed merely by political tribalism and the fraying of the social order. Those things are symptoms, not the cause, of the illness he’s diagnosing. Even the social order at its liberal best—the Miracle itself—is part of the illness.

Deneen’s argument reaches back to the foundations of the liberal order in the sixteenth  and seventeenth centuries—prior to the appearance of the Miracle, in Goldberg’s telling—when a series of thinkers embarked on a fundamentally revisionist project “whose central aim was to disassemble what they concluded were irrational religious and social norms in the pursuit of civil peace that might in turn foster stability and prosperity, and eventually individual liberty of conscience and action.”

The project worked, as Goldberg has chronicled at length, but only up to a point. Today, says Deneen, liberalism is a 500-year-old experiment that has run its course and now “generates endemic pathologies more rapidly and pervasively than it is able to produce Band-Aids and veils to cover them.”

Taking the long view of history, Deneen’s book could be understood as an extension of Lewis’s argument in “The Abolition of Man.” The replacement of moral philosophy and religion with liberalism and applied science has begun, in our lifetimes, to manifest the dangers that Lewis warned about. Deneen, writing more than a half-century after Lewis, declares that the entire liberal project manifestly has failed.

Yes, the Miracle gave us capitalism and democracy, but it also gave us hyper-individualism, scientism, and communism. It gave us liberty and universal suffrage, but it also gave us abortion, euthanasia, and transgenderism. The abolition of man was written into the Enlightenment, in other words, and the suicide of the West that Goldberg warns us about isn’t really a suicide at all, because it isn’t really a choice: we aren’t committing suicide, we’re dying of natural causes.

Goldberg is correct that we have lost our sense of gratitude, that we don’t really feel like things are as good as all that. But a large part of the reason is that the liberal order itself has robbed us of our ability to articulate what constitutes human happiness. We have freedom, we have immense wealth, but we have nothing to tell us what we should do with it, nothing to tell us what is good.

R.R. Reno, in “The Smell of Death” (First Things, May 31, 2018), comes at it this way:

At every level, our elites oppose traditional regulation of behavior based on clear moral norms, preferring a therapeutic and bureaucratic approach. They seek to decriminalize marijuana. They have deconstructed male and female roles for children. They correct anyone who speaks of “sex,” preferring to speak of “gender,” which they insist is “socially constructed.” They have ushered in a view of free speech that makes it impossible to prevent middle school boys from watching pornography on their smart phones. They insist upon a political correctness that rejects moral correctness.

The upshot is American culture circa 2018. Our ideal is a liquid world of self-definition, characterized by plenary acceptance and mutual affirmation. In practice, the children of our elites are fortunate: Their families and schools carefully socialize them into the disciplines of twenty-first-century meritocratic success while preaching openness, inclusion, and diversity. But the rest are not so fortunate. Most Americans gasp for air as they tread water. More and more drown….

Liberalism has always been an elite project of deregulation. In the nineteenth century, it sought to deregulate pre-modern economies and old patterns of social hierarchy. It worked to the advantage of the talented, enterprising, and ambitious, who soon supplanted the hereditary aristocracy.

In the last half-century, liberalism has focused on deregulating personal life. This, too, has been an elite priority. It makes options available to those with the resources to exploit them. But it has created a world in which disordered souls kill themselves with drugs and alcohol—and in which those harboring murderous thoughts feel free to act upon them.

The penultimate word goes to Malcolm Pollack (“The Magic Feather“, Motus Mentis, July 6, 2018):

Our friend Bill Vallicella quoted this, from Michael Anton, on Independence Day:

For the founders, government has one fundamental purpose: to protect person and property from conquest, violence, theft and other dangers foreign and domestic. The secure enjoyment of life, liberty and property enables the “pursuit of happiness.” Government cannot make us happy, but it can give us the safety we need as the condition for happiness. It does so by securing our rights, which nature grants but leaves to us to enforce, through the establishment of just government, limited in its powers and focused on its core responsibility.

Bill approves, and adds:

This is an excellent statement. Good government secures our rights; it does not grant them. Whether they come from nature, or from God, or from nature qua divine creation are further questions that can be left to the philosophers. The main thing is that our rights are not up for democratic grabs, nor are they subject to the whims of any bunch of elitists that manages to insinuate itself into power.

I agree all round. I hope that my recent engagement with Mr. Anton about the ontology of our fundamental rights did not give readers the impression that I doubt for a moment the importance of Americans believing they possess them, or of the essential obligation of government to secure them (or of the people to overthrow a government that won’t).

My concerns are whether the popular basis for this critically important belief is sustainable in an era of radical and corrosive secular doubt (and continuing assault on those rights), and whether the apparently irresistible tendency of democracy to descend into faction, mobs, and tyranny was in fact a “poison pill” baked into the nation at the time of the Founding. I am inclined to think it was, but historical contingency and inevitability are nearly impossible to parse with any certainty.

Arnold Kling (“Get the Story Straight“, Library of Economics and Liberty, July 9, 2018) is more succinct:

Lest we fall back into a state of primitive tribalism, we need to understand the story of the Miracle. We need to understand that it is unnatural, and we should be grateful for the norms and institutions that restrained human nature in order to make the Miracle possible.

All of the writers I have quoted are on to something, about which I have written in “Constitution: Myths and Realities“. I call it the Framers’ fatal error.

The Framers’ held a misplaced faith in the Constitution’s checks and balances (see Madison’s Federalist No. 51 and Hamilton’s Federalist No. 81). The Constitution’s wonderful design — containment of a strictly limited central government through horizontal and vertical separation of powers — worked rather well until the Progressive Era. The design then cracked under the strain of greed and the will to power, as the central government began to impose national economic regulation at the behest of muckrakers and do-gooders. The design then broke during the New Deal, which opened the floodgates to violations of constitutional restraint (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare,  the vast expansion of economic regulation, and the destruction of civilizing social norms), as the Supreme Court has enabled the national government to impose its will in matters far beyond its constitutional remit.

In sum, the “poison pill” baked into the nation at the time of the Founding is human nature, against which no libertarian constitution is proof unless it is enforced resolutely by a benign power.

Barring that, it is may be too late to rescue liberty in America. I am especially pessimistic because of the unraveling of social comity since the 1960s, and by a related development: the frontal assault on freedom of speech, which is the final constitutional bulwark against oppression.

Almost overnight, it seems, the nation was catapulted from the land of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver to the land of the free- filthy-speech movement, Altamont, Woodstock, Hair, and the unspeakably loud, vulgar, and violent offerings that are now plastered all over the air waves, the internet, theater screens, and “entertainment” venues.

The 1960s and early 1970s were a tantrum-throwing time, and many of the tantrum-throwers moved into positions of power, influence, and wealth, having learned from the success of their main ventures: the end of the draft and the removal of Nixon from office. They schooled their psychological descendants well, and sometimes literally on college campuses. Their successors on the campuses of today — students, faculty, and administrators — carry on the tradition of reacting with violent hostility toward persons and ideas that they oppose, and supporting draconian punishments for infractions of their norms and edicts. (For myriad examples, see The College Fix.)

Adherents of the ascendant culture esteem protest for its own sake, and have stock explanations for all perceived wrongs (whether or not they are wrongs): racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, hate, white privilege, inequality (of any kind), Wall  Street, climate change, Zionism, and so on. All of these are to be combated by state action that deprives citizens of economic and social liberties.

In particular danger are the freedoms of speech and association. The purported beneficiaries of the campaign to destroy those freedoms are “oppressed minorities” (women, Latinos, blacks, Muslims, the gender-confused, etc.) and the easily offended. The true beneficiaries are leftists. Free speech is speech that is acceptable to the left. Otherwise, it’s “hate speech”, and must be stamped out. Freedom of association is bigotry, except when it is practiced by leftists in anti-male, anti-conservative, pro-ethnic, and pro-racial causes. This is McCarthyism on steroids. McCarthy, at least, was pursuing actual enemies of liberty; today’s leftists are the enemies of liberty.

The organs of the state have been enlisted in an unrelenting campaign against civilizing social norms. We now have not just easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that feature disease, promiscuity, and familial instability.

The state, of course, doesn’t act of its own volition. It acts at the behest of special interests — interests with a “cultural” agenda. They are bent on the eradication of civil society — nothing less — in favor of a state-directed Rousseauvian dystopia from which Judeo-Christian morality and liberty will have vanished, except in Orwellian doublespeak.

If there are unifying themes in this petite histoire, they are the death of common sense and the rising tide of moral vacuity. The history of the United States since the 1960s supports the proposition that the nation is indeed going to hell in a handbasket.

In fact, the speed at which it is going to hell seems to have accelerated since the Charleston church shooting and the legal validation of  same-sex “marriage” in 2015. It’s a revolution (e.g., this) piggy-backing on mass hysteria. Here’s the game plan:

  • Define opposition to illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and other kinds violent and anti-social behavior as “hate“.
  • Associate “hate” with conservatism.
  • Watch as normally conservative politicians, business people, and voters swing left rather than look “mean” and put up a principled fight for conservative values. (Many of them can’t put up such a fight, anyway. Trump’s proper but poorly delivered refusal to pin all of the blame on neo-Nazis for the Charlottesville riot just added momentum to the left’s cause because he’s Trump and a “fascist” by definition.)
  • Watch as Democrats play the “hate” card to retake the White House and Congress.

With the White House in the hands of a left-wing Democrat (is there any other kind now?) and an aggressive left-wing majority in Congress, freedom of speech, freedom of association, and property rights will become not-so-distant memories. “Affirmative action” (a.k.a. “diversity”) will be enforced on an unprecedented scale of ferocity. The nation will become vulnerable to foreign enemies while billions of dollars are wasted on the hoax of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and “social services” for the indolent. The economy, already buckling under the weight of statism, will teeter on the brink of collapse as the regulatory regime goes into high gear and entrepreneurship is all but extinguished by taxation and regulation.

All of that will be secured by courts dominated by left-wing judges — from here to eternity.

And most of the affluent white enablers dupes of the revolution will come to rue their actions. But they won’t be free to say so.

Thus will liberty — and prosperity — die in America.

And it is possible that nothing can prevent it because it is written in human nature; specifically, a penchant for the kind of mass hysteria that seems to dominate campuses, the “news” and “entertainment” media, and the Democrat Party.

Christopher Booker describes this phenomenon presciently in his book about England and America of the 1950s and 1960s, The Neophiliacs (1970):

[T]here is no dream so powerful as one generated and subscribed to by a whole mass of people simultaneously — one of those mass projections of innumerable individual neuroses which we may call a group fantasy. This is why the twentieth century has equally been dominated by every possible variety of collective make-believe — whether expressed through mass political movements and forms of nationalism, or through mass social movements….

Any group fantasy is in some sense a symptom of social disintegration, of the breaking down of the balance and harmony between individuals, classes, generations, the sexes, or even nations. For the organic relationships of a stable and secure community, in which everyone may unself-consciously exist in his own separate place and right, a group fantasy substitutes the elusive glamor of identification with a fantasy community, of being swept along as part of a uniform mass united in a common cause. But the individuals making up the mass are not, of course, united in any real sense, except through their common dress, catch phrases, slogans, and stereotyped attitudes. Behind their conformist exteriors they remain individually as insecure as ever — and indeed become even more so, for the collective dream, such as that expressed through mass advertising or the more hysterical forms of fashion, is continually aggravating their fantasy-selves and appealing to them through their insecurities to merge themselves in the mass ever more completely….

This was the phenomenon of mass psychology which was portrayed in an extreme version by George Orwell in his 1984…. But in fact the pattern described was that of every group fantasy; exactly the same that we can see, for instance, in the teen age subculture of the fifties and sixties, … or that of the left-wing progressive intellectuals, with their dream heroes such as D. H. Lawrence or Che Guevera and their ritual abuse of the “reactionaries”….

… Obviously no single development in history has done more to promote both social disintegration and unnatural conformity than the advance and ubiquity of machines and technology. Not only must the whole pressure of an industrialized, urbanized, mechanized society tend to weld its members into an ever more rootless uniform mass, by the very nature of its impersonal organization and of the processes of mass-production and standardization. But in addition the twentieth century has also provided two other factors to aggravate and to feed the general neurosis; the first being the image-conveying apparatus of films, radio, television, advertising, mass-circulation newspapers and magazines; the second the feverishly increased pace of life, from communications and transport to the bewildering speed of change and innovation, all of which has created a profound subconscious restlessness which neurotically demands to be assuaged by more speed and more change of every kind….

The essence of fantasy is that it feeds on a succession of sensations or unresolved images, each one of which arouses anticipation, followed by inevitable frustration, leading to the demand for a new image to be put in its place. But the very fact that each sensation is fundamentally unsatisfying means that the fantasy itself becomes progressively more jaded…. And so we arrive at the fantasy spiral.

Whatever pattern of fantasy we choose to look at … she shall find that it is straining through a spiral of increasingly powerful sensations toward some kind of climax…. What happens therefore is simply that, in its pursuit of the elusive image of life, freedom, and self-assertion, the fantasy pushes on in an ever-mounting spiral of demand, ever more violent, more dream-like and fragmentary, and ever more destructive of the framework of order. Further and further pushes the fantasy, always in pursuit of the elusive climax, always further from reality — until it is actually bringing about the very opposite of its aims.

That, of course, is what will happen when the left and its dupes bring down the Constitution and all that it was meant to stand for: the protection of citizens and their voluntary institutions and relationships from predators, including not least governmental predators and the factions they represent.

The Constitution, in short, was meant to shield Americans from human nature. But it seems all too likely that human nature will destroy the shield.

Thus my call for a “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War“.


Related reading:
Fred Reed, “The Symptoms Worsen”, Fred on Everything, March 15, 2015
Christopher Booker, Global Warming: A Case Study in Groupthink, Global Warming Policy Foundation, 2018
Michael Mann, “Have Wars and Violence Declined?“, Theory and Society, February 2018
John Gray, “Steven Pinker Is Wrong about Violence and War”, The Guardian, March 13, 2015
Nikita Vladimirov, “Scholar Traces Current Campus Intolerance to 60’s Radicals“, Campus Reform, March 14, 2018
Nick Spencer, “Enlightenment and Progress: Why Steven Pinker Is Wrong” Mercatornet, March 19, 2018
Steven Hayward, “Deja Vu on Campus?“, PowerLine, April 15, 2018
William A. Nitze, “The Tech Giants Must Be Stopped“, The American Conservative, April 16, 2018
Steven Hayward, “Jonah’s Suicide Hotline, and All That Stuff“, PowerLine, May 15, 2018
Jeff Groom, “40 Years Ago Today: When Solzhenitsyn Schooled Harvard“, The American Conservative, June 8, 2018
Graham Allison, “The Myth of the Liberal Order: From Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom“, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2018
Gilbert T. Sewall, “The America That Howard Zinn Made“, The American Conservative, July 10, 2018
Mary Eberstadt, “Two Nations, Revisited“, National Affairs, Summer 2018

Related posts and pages:
Constitution: Myths and Realities
Leftism
The Psychologist Who Played God
We, the Children of the Enlightenment
Society and the State
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
The Fallacy of Human Progress
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
1963: The Year Zero
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
Turning Points
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
Social Justice vs. Liberty
The Left and “the People”
Liberal Nostrums
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Equality
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What’s Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Disposition and Ideology
Down the Memory Hole
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error
Abortion, the “Me” Generation, and the Left
Abortion Q and A
Whence Polarization?
Negative Rights, Etc.
Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration
Order vs. Authority
Can Left and Right Be Reconciled?
Rage on the Left
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and Leviathan

Revisiting the Laffer Curve

Among the claims made in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was that the resulting tax cuts would pay for themselves. Thus the Laffer curve returned briefly to prominence, after having been deployed to support the Reagan and Bush tax cuts of 1981 and 2001.

The idea behind the Laffer curve is straightforward. Taxes inhibit economic activity, that is, the generation of output and income. Tax-rate reductions therefore encourage work, which yields higher incomes. Higher incomes mean that there is more saving from which to finance growth-producing capital investment. Lower tax rates also make investment more attractive by increasing the expected return on capital investments. Lower tax rates therefore stimulate economic output by encouraging work and investment (supply-side economics). Under the right conditions, lower tax rates may generate enough additional income to yield an increase in tax revenue.

I believe that there are conditions under which the Laffer curve works as advertised. But so what? The Laffer curve focuses attention on the wrong economic variable: tax revenue. The economic variables that really matter — or that should matter — are the real rate of growth and the income available to Americans after taxes. More (real) economic growth means higher (real) income, across the board. More government spending means lower (real) income; the Keynesian multiplier is a cruel myth.

A new Laffer curve is in order, one that focuses on the effects of taxation on economic growth, and thus on the aggregate output of products and services available to consumers.

Let us begin at the beginning, with this depiction of the Laffer curve (via Forbes):

This is an unusually sophisticated depiction of the curve, in that it shows a growth-maximizing tax rate which is lower than the revenue-maximizing rate. It also shows that the growth-maximizing rate is greater than zero, for a good reason.

With real taxes (i.e., government spending) at zero or close to it, the rule of law would break down and the economy would be a shambles. But government spending above that required to maintain the rule of law (i.e., adequate policing, administration of justice, and national defense) interferes with the efficient operation of markets, both directly (by pulling resources out of productive use) and indirectly (by burdensome regulation financed by taxes).

Thus a tax rate higher than that required to sustain the rule of law1 leads to a reduction in the rate of (real) economic growth because of disincentives to work and invest. A reduction in the rate of growth pushes GDP below its potential level. Further, the effect is cumulative. A reduction in GDP means a reduction in investment, which means a reduction in future GDP, and on and on.

I will quantify the Laffer curve in two steps. First, I will estimate the tax rate at which revenue is maximized, taking the simplistic view that changes in the tax rate do not change the rate of economic growth. I will draw on Christina D. Romer and David H. Romer’s “The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks” (American Economic Review, June 2010, pp. 763-801).

The Romers estimate the effects of exogenous changes in taxes on GDP. (“Exogenous” meaning tax cuts aimed at stimulating the economy, as opposed, for example, to tax increases triggered by economic growth.) Here is their key finding:

Figure 4 summarizes the estimates by showing the implied effect of a tax increase of one percent of GDP on the path of real GDP (in logarithms), together with the one-standard-error bands. The effect is steadily down, first slowly and then more rapidly, finally leveling off after ten quarters. The estimated maximum impact is a fall in output of 3.0 percent. This estimate is overwhelmingly significant (t = –3.5). The two-standard-error confidence interval is (–4.7%,–1.3%). In short, tax increases appear to have a very large, sustained, and highly significant negative impact on output. Since most of our exogenous tax changes are in fact reductions, the more intuitive way to express this result is that tax cuts have very large and persistent positive output effects. [pp. 781-2]

The Romers assess the effects of tax cuts over a period of only 12 quarters (3 years). Some of the resulting growth in GDP during that period takes the form of greater spending on capital investments, the payoff from which usually takes more than 3 years to realize. So a tax cut of 1 percent of GDP yields more than a 3-percent rise in GDP over the longer run. But let’s keep it simple and use the relationship obtained by the Romers: a 1-percent tax cut (as a percentage of GDP) results in a 3-percent rise in GDP.

With that number in hand, and knowing the effective tax rate (33 percent of GDP in 20172), it is then easy to compute the short-run effects of changes in the effective tax rate on GDP, after-tax GDP, and tax revenue:


Effective tax revenue represents the dollar amount extracted from the economy through government spending at the stated percentage of GDP. (Spending includes transfer payments, which take from those who produce and give to those who do not.) Effective tax rate represents the dollar amount extracted from the economy, divided by GDP at the given tax rate. (GDP is based on the Romers’ estimate of the marginal effect of a change in the tax rate.)

It is a coincidence that tax revenue is maximized at the current (2017) effective tax rate of 33 percent. The coincidence occurs because, according to the Romers, every $1 change in tax revenue (or government spending that draws resources from the real economy) yields a $3 change in GDP, at the margin. If the marginal rate of return were lower than 3:1, the revenue-maximizing rate would be greater than 33 percent. If the marginal rate of return were higher than 3:1, the revenue-maximizing rate would be less than 33 percent.

In any event, the focus on tax revenue is entirely misplaced. What really matters, given that the prosperity of Americans is (or should be) of paramount interest, is GDP and especially after-tax GDP. Both would rise markedly in response to marginal cuts in real taxes (i.e., government spending). Democrats don’t want to hear that, of course, because they want government to decide how Americans spend the money that they earn. The idea that a far richer America would need far less government — subsidies, nanny-state regulations, etc. — frightens them.

It gets better (or worse, if you’re a big-government fan) when looking at the long-run effects of lower government spending on the rate of growth. I am speaking of the Rahn curve, which I estimate here. Holding other things the same, every percentage-point reduction in the real tax rate (government spending as a fraction of GDP) means an increase of 0.35 percentage point in the rate of real GDP growth. This is a long-run relationship because it takes time to convert some of the tax reduction to investment, and then to reap the additional output generated by the additional investment. It also takes time for workers to respond to the incentive of lower taxes by adding to their skills, working harder, and working in more productive jobs.

This graph depicts the long-run effects of changes in the effective tax rate, taking into account changes in the real growth rate from a base of 2.8 percent (the year-over-year rate for the most recent fiscal quarter):

Note that the same real tax revenue would be realized at an effective tax rate of 13 percent of GDP. At that rate, GDP would rise to 2.5 times its 2017 value (instead of 1.6 times as shown in Figure 1), and after-tax GDP would rise to 3.3 times its 2017 value (instead of 2.1 times as shown in Figure 1).

The real Laffer curve — the one that people ought to pay attention to — is the Rahn curve. Holding everything else constant, here is the relationship between the real growth rate and the effective tax rate:

Laffer revisited_3

At the current effective tax rate — 33 percent of GDP — the economy is limping along at about one-third of its potential growth. That is actually good news, inasmuch as the real growth rate dipped perilously close to 1 percent several times during the Obama administration, even after the official end of the Great Recession.

But it will take many years of spending cuts (relative to GDP, at least) and deregulation to push growth back to where it was in the decades immediately after World War II. Five percent isn’t out of the question.
__________

1. Total government spending, when transfer payments were negligible, amounted to between 5 and 10 percent of GDP between the Civil War and the Great Depression (Series F216-225, “Percent Distribution of National Income or Aggregate Payments, by Industry, in Current Prices: 1869-1968,” in Chapter F, National Income and Wealth, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970: Part 1). The cost of an adequate defense is a lot higher than it was in those relatively innocent times. Defense spending now accounts for about 3.5 percent of GDP. An increase to 5 percent wouldn’t render the U.S. invulnerable, but it would do a lot to deter potential adversaries. So at 10 percent of GDP, government spending on policing, the administration of justice, and defense — and nothing else — should be more than adequate to sustain the rule of law.

2. The effective tax rate on GDP in 2017 was 33.4 percent. That number represents total government government expenditures (line 37 of BEA Table 3.1), divided GDP (line 1 of BEA Table 1.15). The nominal tax rate on GDP was 30 percent; that is, government receipts (line 34 of BEA Table 3.1) accounted for 30 percent of GDP. (The BEA tables are accessible here.) I use the effective tax rate in this analysis because it truly represents the direct costs levied on the economy by government. (The indirect cost of regulatory activity adds about $2 trillion, bringing the total effective tax to 44 percent.)

“This Has to Stop”

That’s a typical reaction to the latest (but, sadly, not last) mass shooting at a school (or anywhere else). What is the point of saying “this has to stop”? To express one’s outrage? It’s safe to assume that anyone who has an ounce of feeling for other people is outraged by mass shootings.

No, the point of it is virtue-signaling. But that’s all there is to it. Where’s the beef — the “solution” to the problem? Is it to tighten laws about access to guns, when the already tight laws aren’t being enforced well enough, and couldn’t be given the imperfections in human institutions? Is it to stop making “assault rifles” and large magazines when there are already so many in circulation that it won’t matter if no more are made. (Will there be an equally ridiculous and futile ban on the manufacture of knives and materials that can be made to explode?) Is the “solution” to clamp down on gun and ammunition sellers, period, when there are so many of them operating in the black market that it wouldn’t deter anyone who is serious about committing crimes?

Or is the “solution” to confiscate all firearms and ammunition (when they are volunteered or readily found), leaving law-abiding citizens at the mercy of those who scoff at the law? Yes, that must be it. Because it would be possible to confiscate millions of firearms and hundreds of millions of rounds of ammunition. And the resulting piles of guns and bullets would make an impressive showing on TV and in news photos. But it would be all for show. Except that the law-abiding Americans who turned in their guns and ammo would thenceforth be defenseless against the army of thugs and criminals that would remain at large.

What has to stop is the cultural erosion that has made almost routine something that was rare more than 50 years ago: mass murder. Mass murder isn’t happening because there are “too many” guns out there; America has been well armed since before the Revolutionary War. It’s happening because an increasing fraction of the population lacks a strong conscience, upbringing in an intact family, and strict discipline.


Related reading:
Gilbert T. Sewall, “How We Defined Deviancy Down and Got a Culture of Violence“, The American Conservative, May 22, 2018
Brandon J. Weichert, “Maybe America Should Ban Guns“, The American Spectator, May 24, 2018 (Weichert’s real target is moral decay, which the left has encouraged and abetted.)


Related posts:
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
Utilitarianism (and Gun Control) vs. Liberty

More Evidence against College for Everyone

Here’s a datum:

My eldest grandchild is 23 years old. He’s a bright, articulate lad, but far more interested in doing than in reading. He has been working since he graduated from (home) high school, but not without a purpose in mind. Last fall, he enrolled in a course to learn a trade that he has always wanted to pursue. He passed the course with flying colors, quickly got a good job as a result, and from that job moved into the kind of job that he has long sought. He is happy, and I am happy for him.

But that’s not all. His job, though technically demanding, is “blue collar”. When I was his age, freshly equipped with a B.A. and some graduate school, I moved into the world of “white collar” work as an entry-level analyst at a government-sponsored think-tank in the D.C. area. Hot stuff, right?

Well, converting my starting salary to an hourly rate and adjusting it for inflation, I was making just about what my grandson is making now. But since graduating from high school he has been earning and saving money instead of cluttering a college campus. And he owns a pickup truck. When I started at the think-tank, I might have had a few hundred dollars in a checking account. And I couldn’t afford a car until I had worked for several months.

Will my grandson eventually make as money as I was able to make by feeding at the public trough? Given his ambition and foresight there’s no reason he can’t make a lot more than I did — and by doing things that people are actually willing to pay for instead of siphoning the U.S. Treasury.

College not only isn’t for everyone, it’s for almost no one. As I said seven years ago,

[w]hen I entered college [in 1958], I was among the 28 percent of high-school graduates then attending college. It was evident to me that about half of my college classmates didn’t belong in an institution of higher learning. Despite that, the college-enrollment rate among high-school graduates has since doubled.

Which means that only about one-fourth (or less) of today’s high-school graduates are really college material. That’s not a rap against them. It’s a rap against the insane idea of college for almost everyone. That would be a huge burden on taxpayers, a shameful misdirection of talent, and a massive drain on the economic potential of the nation.


Related posts:
The Higher-Education Bubble
Is College for Everyone?
The Dumbing-Down of Public Schools
College Is for Almost No One
About Those “Underpaid” Teachers

Recommended Reading

Leftism, Political Correctness, and Other Lunacies (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 1)

 

On Liberty: Impossible Dreams, Utopian Schemes (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 2)

 

We the People and Other American Myths (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 3)

 

Americana, Etc.: Language, Literature, Movies, Music, Sports, Nostalgia, Trivia, and a Dash of Humor (Dispatches from the Fifth Circle Book 4)

Trump vs. Obama on Taxes

In January 2013, Congress passed and Barack Obama jubilantly signed what The Wall Street Journal called “the largest tax increase in the past two decades”:

More than three-quarters of American households would see a tax increase from their 2012 tax levels, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute.

In December 2017, Congress passed and Donald Trump jubilantly signed a bill that cut corporate income taxes and almost every taxpayer’s federal income taxes.

If you take the view taxpayers’ money really belongs to the government — as “liberals” are wont to do — you would have to concede that Mr. Obama was niggardly toward taxpayers, in comparison with Mr. Trump.


Related posts:
Ignorance Abounds
Defending the Offensive

Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown

The list of related readings is updated occasionally.

The history of the United States since the 1960s supports the proposition that the nation is going to hell in a handbasket. And hell includes not just mass shootings, but mass murder by various means.

As Malcolm Pollock points out, in the context of mass shootings,

When I was a boy, all the households around me had a gun or two. We boys used to stack up hay-bales and put targets on them (a charcoal briquette was a favorite choice) to shoot at with a .22. Schools and scout-troops often had rifle ranges; I myself got a marksmanship Merit Badge while at summer camp with the Boy Scouts. I don’t recall being aware of any gun laws at all; you could buy ammo at the general store. (Gun safety was a big deal, though, and kids were taught to handle firearms carefully and respectfully.)

This was the state of normal (non-urban, middle-class, predominantly white) American culture half a century ago. Guns were an unexceptional part of that bygone world, and were easily accessible to all of us (you could order pretty much any gun you liked through the mail, by sending cash in an envelope!). Somehow, though, we hardly ever murdered each other, and mass shootings were very, very rare.

Something has changed, obviously. And it isn’t access to guns.

What is it? Malcolm has answers. As do the many other writers whose articles and posts are also listed below in “related reading”.  Here’s a sample of Andrew Klavan’s analysis:

It was after a school shooting near Spokane last September that Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich addressed a clutch of reporters:

When I was in high school, every one of those rigs in the high school parking lot had a gun in the gun rack. Why? We went hunting on the way home. None of those guns ever walked into a school, none of those guns ever shot anybody… Did the gun change or did you as a society change? I’ll give you odds it was you as a society. Because you started glorifying cultures of violence. You glorified the gang culture, you glorified games that actually gave you points for raping and killing people. The gun didn’t change, we changed.

It seems clear to me the sheriff was speaking about rap music with its hateful, violent and misogynistic lyrics, and video games like Grand Theft Auto, where you can have sex with a prostitute then strangle her or pull an innocent person out of a car, beat him, then steal his vehicle.

… I don’t argue that there’s a straight line between any specific cultural creation and bad acts. But surely, a culture in which those in authority approve of and argue for things like gangsta rap and GTA — and indeed for the use of violence to silence speech that offends them — well, such a culture becomes a machine for transforming madness into murder….

The left wants to defend gangstas and “transgressive” art and antifa thugs — but when the shooting starts, they blame the guns….

Now the left wants to legitimize disrespect for the flag and for Christianity. They want to ignore the rule of law at the border and silence protests against Islamic ideas that are antithetical to every good thing the west stands for….

For fifteen years and more, I have been complaining that the right is silenced in our culture — blacklisted and excluded and ignored in entertainment, mainstream news outlets, and the universities. But the flip side of that is this: the degradation of our culture is almost entirely a leftist achievement. Over the last fifty years, it’s the left that has assaulted every moral norm and disdained every religious and cultural restraint.

The left owns the dismal tide. They don’t like the results? They’re looking for someone or something to blame? Maybe they should start by hunting up a mirror.

There are other counts that I would add to Klavan’s indictment. Here are some of them:

  • governmental incentives to act irresponsibly, epitomized by the murder of unborn children as a form of after-the-fact birth control, and more widely instituted by the vast expansion of the “social safety net”
  • treatment of bad behavior as an illness (with a resulting reliance on medications), instead of putting a stop to it and punishing it
  • the erosion and distortion of the meaning of justice, beginning with the virtual elimination of the death penalty, continuing on to the failure to put down and punish riots, and culminating in the persecution and prosecution of persons who express the “wrong” opinions
  • governmental encouragement and subsidization of the removal of mothers from the home to the workplace
  • the decline of two-parent homes and the rise of illegitimacy
  • the complicity of government officials who failed to enforce existing laws and actively promoted leniency in their enforcement (see this and this, for example).

It all adds up to more violence than would otherwise have occurred in this country. Mass murder gets a lot of attention because, like the crash of a commercial airliner, it is a dramatic event that claims many lives at once. But even in the worst year on record (1995) the number of deaths in mass murders (180, mostly in the Oklahoma City bombing) accounted for only 8/10 of 1 percent of that year’s deaths by murder and non-negligent manslaughter.

It is therefore entirely reasonable to suggest that mass murder — as a “marginal” phenomenon — is of a piece with violence in America, which increased rapidly after 1960 and has been contained only by dint of massive incarceration. Violence in general and mass-murder in particular flow from the subversion and eradication of civilizing social norms, which began in earnest in the 1960s. The numbers bear me out.

Drawing on Wikipedia, I compiled a list of 317 incidents of mass murder in the United States from the early 1800s through 2017. (I excluded 2018 because it is still early in the year.) My consolidated list encompasses school massacres; familicides; religious, political, or racial crimes; workplace killings; and two miscellaneous categories of rampage killings (here and here). I omitted two incidents that are wrongly included by Wikipedia: the 1944 circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut, and the 2013 fertilizer-plant explosion in West, Texas.

These graphs are derived from the consolidated list of incidents:


The vertical scale is truncated to allow for a better view of the variations in the casualty rate. In 1995, there were 869 casualties in 3 incidents (an average of 290); about 850 of the casualties resulted from the Oklahoma City bombing.

The federal assault weapons ban — really a ban on the manufacture of new weapons of certain kinds — is highlighted because it is often invoked as the kind of measure that should be taken to reduce the incidence of mass murders and the number of casualties they produce. Even Wikipedia — which is notoriously biased toward the left — admits (as of today) that “the ban produced almost no significant results in reducing violent gun crimes and was allowed to expire.”

There is no compelling, contrary evidence in the graphs. The weapons-ban “experiment” was too limited in scope and too-short lived to have had any appreciable effect on mass murder. For one thing, mass-murderers are quite capable of using weapons other than firearms. The years with the three highest casualty rates (second graph) are years in which most of the carnage was caused by arson (1958) and bombing (1995 and 2013).

The most obvious implication of this analysis is found in the upper graph. The incidence of mass murders was generally declining from the early 1900s to the early 1960s. Then all hell broke loose.

I rest my case.


Related reading:
Bill Vallicella, “Deriving Gun Rights from the Right to Life“, Maverick Philosopher, November 10, 2009
Crime Prevention Research Center, “Comparing Murder Rates and Gun Ownership Across Countries“, March 31, 2014
Jayman, “Guns & Violence, Again…“, The Unz Review, June 11, 2014
Malcolm Pollack, “Troubleshooting Gun Violence“, Motus Mentis, July 4, 2015
J. Christian Adams, “Flashback 30 Years: Guns Were in Schools … and Nothing Happened“, PJ Media, February 15, 2018
Dov Fischer, “When Do We Get to Talk About the Other Reasons?“, The American Spectator, February 16, 2018
Andrew Klavan, “The Left Is Reaping the Whirlwind of the Culture They Made“, PJ Media, February 16, 2018
Malcolm Pollack, “Reaping the Whirlwind“, Motus Mentis, February 16, 2018
Susan L.M. Goldberg, “When Will We Have the Guts to Link Fatherlessness to School Shootings?“, PJ Media, February 17, 2018
Steve Chapman, “A Cure for Mass Shootings Doesn’t Exist“, Reason.com, February 18. 2018
Karen Townsend, “Shocker: WaPo Fact Check Agrees with Rubio’s Statement on New Gun Laws“, Hot Air, February 18, 2018
Dave Bohon, “A Common-Sense Strategy for Protecting Schools“, New American, February 19, 2018
Rafael Mangual, “Second, Third, and Fourth Chances — at What Price?“, City Journal, February 20, 2018
Mark Meckler, “Of the 27 Deadliest Mass Shooters, 26 of Them Had One Thing in Common“, Patheos, February 20, 2018
Fred Reed, “Kids: Now and Then“, Fred on Everything, February 21, 2018
Brandon J. Weichert, “Toxic Liberalism Created Nikolas Cruz“, The American Spectator, February 21, 2018
Melissa Mackenzie, “Twenty Reasons Mass Killings Happen“, The American Spectator, February 23, 2018
Daniel Greenfield, “Muslim Terrorists Topped Mass Shootings in 2 Out Of 3 Years“, Frontpage Mag, February 26, 2018
Allie Nicodemo and Lia Petronio, “Schools Are Safer than They Were in the 90s, and School Shootings Are Not More Common than They Used to Be, Researchers Say“, News@Northeastern, February 26, 2018
Lloyd Billingsley, “Enabling Killer Cruz“, Frontpage Magazine, February 27, 2018
Dennis Prager, “Why the Left Opposes Arming Teachers“, American Greatness, February 27, 2018
Brandon J. Weichert, “Our Kids Are Not All Right“, The American Spectator, February 27, 2018
David Kopel, “The History of the ‘Assault Weapon’ Hoax. Part I: The Crime That Started It All“, The Volokh Conspiracy, March 2, 2018
George Neumayr, “Relativistic America: Neither Safe nor Free“, The American Spectator, March 2, 2018
Bruce Heiden, “Utopia, Pacifism, and Guns“, American Greatness, March 3, 2018
Larry Elder, “How Many Lives Are Saved by Guns, and Why Don’t Gun Controllers Care?“, Frontpage Mag, March 6, 2018
Greg Jones, “Political Correctness Is to Blame for Parkland“, The American Spectator, March 6, 2018
Mark Overstreet,” Safety Is Not the Reason Democrats Are Pushing Gun Control“, American Greatness, March 17, 2018
Ironman, “Firearms, Homicides, and Suicides in America“, Political Calculations, June 27, 2018


Related posts:
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Why Stop at the Death Penalty?
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Poverty, Crime, and Big Government
Crime Revisited
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
The Opposition and Crime
How America Has Changed
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Death of a Nation
Leftism
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
Scapegoating in Baltimore
As the World Lurches
A Not-So-Stealthy Revolution

Austin Mystery Solved

The City of Austin, the blue boil on the butt of Texas, recently hired a new city manager. The previous city manager, who left for greener pastures 15 months earlier, was a black man.

Austin’s “leaders” (the sneer quotes mean that they’re not my leaders) are nothing if not au courant in politically correct virtue-signaling. But their political correctness stops at the water’s edge of transparency. Austin’s taxpayers were kept in the dark about the candidates being considered for the city manager’s job until near the very end, when two finalists were unveiled:

Two white males. How could it be?

Never fear. Austin’s “leaders” salvaged their reputation for politically correct virtue-signaling by choosing the one on the left, who has a husband. The one on the right is married to a woman who has produced children and is therefore an actual female*. How boring.

And so the day was saved for “diversity” in Austin. But not for diversity of thought, of which there’s precious little here.
__________
* As opposed to a delusional male who “identifies as” a female, or an impressionable boy-child whose criminally negligent parents have convinced him that he is really a girl. I “identify as” a 6’6″, 250-pound bodybuilder with X-ray vision who is able to leap the Freedom Tower in a single bound and understands the mysteries of the Universe. Alas, what I “identify as” and what I really am are entirely different things.


Related posts:
Driving and Politics (1)
Life in Austin (1)
Life in Austin (2)
Life in Austin (3)
Driving and Politics (2)
AGW in Austin?
Democracy in Austin
AGW in Austin? (II)
The Hypocrisy of “Local Control”
Amazon and Austin

California Dreaming

EDITED 02/15/18

It is my long-held view that States have a constitutional right to secede from the union without the approval of other States or the central government. (See this post, for example.) If the Yes California movement succeeds, the political benefits to the rest of the United States (or at least the conservative parts of it) will be substantial; for example:

The last presidential election in which the GOP candidate won California’s electoral votes was in 1988. There wouldn’t have been a Bush-Gore controversy in 2000 with California out of the picture. And in 2016, Hillary would have lost the nationwide popular-vote tally by 1.4 million, thus putting to rest another baseless claim that the Democrat candidate was “robbed”.

The GOP would hold a bigger majority in the Senate (4 seats instead of 2) and House (74 seats instead of 47), thus enabling Republicans to move national policy to the right with less interference from RINOs.

Illegal immigrants will flock in greater numbers to welcoming California, thus reducing tax burdens and crime rates in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and the many States farther north that also absorb illegal immigrants.

According to the Yes California campaign, federal receipts from California are about equal to (perhaps a bit higher than) federal spending in California. Even a slight deficit would be worth it. That could easily be covered by spending cuts that might not otherwise occur because of the California Democrats in Congress.

And even more importantly, as commenter Timoid says, California’s wacky environmentalists wouldn’t be setting policy for the rest of the nation.

Last but best, Nancy Pelosi would no longer be a Congress-critter.

Presidential Approval Ratings: Trump vs. Obama

BHO delivered his second state of the union (SOTU) address in the evening of January 27, 2010. On the morning of that day, BHO’s presidential approval rating at Rasmussen Reports stood at -15 (percentage of likely voters strongly approving minus percentage strongly disapproving).

DJT delivered his second SOTU address in evening of January 30, 2018. On the morning of that day, DJT’s presidential approval rating at Rasmussen Reports also stood at -15.

Here’s what happened to the ratings in the days immediately following the SOTUs:


Rasmussen stopped polling on weekends about three years ago.

DJT’s SOTU bounce arrived more quickly and was stronger than BHOs. Moreover, looking at the big picture — approval ratings by day of presidency, as reported by Rasmussen — DJT’s strong approval rating has been running ahead of BHO’s for more than a month:

Stay tuned for updates in the coming months and years.

Scapegoating in Baltimore

WaPo reports that Baltimore’s police commissioner has been fired:

Baltimore’s mayor on Friday abruptly replaced Police Commissioner Kevin Davis weeks after the city ended 2017 with a record-setting homicide rate and amid increased political pressure to control crime….

The leadership change comes as Davis was overseeing the department during one of its most difficult eras. He was tasked with driving down violent crime that flared to historic levels after a young man’s death in police custody while simultaneously reforming an agency the Justice Department cited for discriminating against black residents.

You can see the problem immediately. Homicide in Baltimore, as in other cities, is mainly a black-on-black crime. But how are you going to police black areas of the city if, in doing so, you’re accused of discriminating against blacks?

As the WaPo story puts it,

Davis was left to balance trying to change a culture of policing the Justice Department called discriminatory while being tough enough on criminals to deliver safe streets.

Officers were not as aggressive as they might ordinarily have been out of fear “they, too, would be arrested for doing their jobs,” said Gene Ryan, a Baltimore police lieutenant who heads the Fraternal Order of Police labor union.

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said the average tenure of a police chief is three or four years but that Davis was “really between a rock and a hard place in trying to implement reform and deal with violent crime.”

“It’s almost like changing two tires on a car at the same time,” Wexler said.

What it’s really like is being expected to do a job without being allowed to use the requisite tools.

Baltimore’s soaring homicide rate is evidence of the Ferguson Effect, which Heather Mac Donald wrote about in “Yes, the Ferguson Effect Is Real” (National Review, September 26, 2016). She was seconded by John Hinderaker (“Violent Crime Jumped in 2015“, Power Line, September 26, 2016), who said:

I don’t know of any potential explanation for the jump last year other than the war on cops, Black Lives Matter, and the Obama administration’s anti-incarceration policies. Expect another increase when the numbers come in for 2016.

And he was right. See, for example, Mark Berman’s “Violent Crimes and Murders Increased for a Second Consecutive Year in 2016, FBI Says” (The Washington Post, September 25, 2017).

I get to the root of the problem in “Crime Revisited”, to which I added “Amen to That” and “Double Amen”. What’s the root of the problem? A certain, violence-prone racial minority, of course, and also under-incarceration. It’s not racism:

Criminologists talk about the race-crime connection behind closed doors, and often in highly guarded language; the topic is a lightning rod for accusations of racial hostility that can be professionally damaging. They avoid discussing even explicitly racist examples of black-on-white crime such as flash-mob assaults, “polar bear hunting,” and the “knockout game.” What criminologists won’t say in public is that black offending differences have existed since data have been collected and that these differences are behind the racial disparities in arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. They also won’t tell you that, despite claims of widespread racial discrimination in the justice system, legal variables—namely, the number of prior arrests and the seriousness of the crime for which the offender has currently been arrested—account for all but a small fraction of the variance in system outcomes. Nor will they tell you the truth about politically correct remedies, such as diversifying police forces, hiring black police chiefs, or training officers in the alleged effects of implicit bias: that these measures won’t reduce racial disparities in crime….

… 50 years of research on the topic have failed to find the smoking gun linking justice-system disparities to racism. Claims to the contrary often manipulate data or ignore them altogether. [John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisis, “What Criminologists Don’t Say, and Why“, City Journal, Summer 2017]

Follow the links — and read and weep.

The Conscience of a Conservative

My heart bleeds for the people of s***hole countries, cities, and neighborhoods. God knows there are enough of the latter two in the U.S. Why is that? Certainly, there are cultural and genetic factors at work. But those have been encouraged and reinforced by governmental acts.

Government — the central government especially — has long been a silent killer of economic opportunity. Jobs are killed by regulation that hinders business formation and expansion and every government program that diverts resources from the private sector.

How bad is it? This bad:

Because of increases in the rate of government spending and the issuance of regulations, the real rate of GDP growth has been halved since the end of World War II.

If GDP had continued to grow at an annual rate of 4 percent from its 1946 level of $1.9 trillion (in chained 2009 dollars), it would have reached $30 trillion in 2016 instead of $17 trillion.

Given the relationship between employment and real GDP, the cost of government policies is huge. There could now be as many as 207 million employed Americans instead of the current number of 156 million*, were it not for the “helpful” big-government policies foisted on hapless Americans by “compassionate” leftist do-gooders (and not a few dupes in center and on the right).

My heart bleeds.


* The relationship between employment and real GDP is as follows:

E = 1204.8Y0.4991

where
E = employment in thousands
Y = real GDP in billions of chained 2009 dollars.

This estimate is based on employment and GDP values for 1948 through 2016, which are available here and here.

An increase in employment from 156 million to 207 million would raise the employment-population ratio from 60 percent to 80 percent, which is well above the post-World War II peak of 65 percent. The real limit is undoubtedly higher than 65 percent, but probably less than 80 percent. In any event, the impoverishing effect of big government is real and huge.

This Is a Test

Scott McKay writes:

Thursday saw a media firestorm erupt over a Washington Post report that amid a White House meeting with several members of Congress working on a compromise having to do with the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, President Trump asked why America should have to take in so many immigrants from “s***hole countries” rather than people from places like Norway.

The Post article isn’t exactly the finest example of American journalism, identifying as its source no one actually in the room to confirm what Trump supposedly said but instead naming two anonymous people who were “briefed on the meeting.”

I won’t get into the truth or falsity of the reporting. I suspect that it’s true. And it doesn’t bother me in the least if President Trump characterized some countries as s***holes. They are, and for two very good reasons: the low intelligence of their populations and their anti-libertarian governments (which make the U.S. seem like an anarcho-capitalist’s paradise).

Why are so many people (leftists, that is) upset? Because calling a s***hole a s***hole is a sin against cant and hypocrisy, in which the left specializes.

Here’s the test: If you were forced to live in another country, would you choose Norway or Haiti? Any sensible person — and perhaps even a leftist — would choose Norway.


Related posts:
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Euphemism Conquers All
Superiority
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
Leftist Condescension

“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

That’s how a correspondent characterized an op-ed by Mitch Daniels* that appeared yesterday in the online edition of The Washington Post. Daniels says, in part, that

ours is an era when it seems no one ever confesses to being wrong. Moreover, everyone is so emphatically right that those who disagree are not merely in error but irredeemably so, candidates not for persuasion but for castigation and ostracism….

John Maynard Keynes is frequently credited with the aphorism “When I find I’m wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?” Today, the problem may less be an attitude of stubbornness than that fewer people than ever recognize their mistakes in the first place.

In a well-documented fashion, steady doses of viewpoint reinforcement lead not only to a resistance to alternative positions but also to a more entrenched and passionate way in which thoughts are held and expressed. When those expressions are launched in the impersonal or even anonymous channels of today’s social — or is it antisocial? — media, vitriol often becomes the currency of discourse and second thoughts a form of tribal desertion or defeat. Things people would not say face to face are all too easy to post in bouts of blogger or tweeter one-upmanship.

I doubt that it’s possible to return to the “golden days” of political comity, whenever they were. The U.S. hasn’t come close to attaining a sense of national unity since World War II. And even then, FDR’s popular vote share dropped between 1940 and 1944, and the GOP picked up House and Senate seats in 1942 and 1944. At any rate, things have gotten a lot worse since then — there’s no doubt about it.

How might they get better? Someone — an extremely influential someone — has to make the first move, and be willing to lose on an important issue. And he has to bring influential allies with him, or else his move will likely be nullified by a stiffening of his side’s position on the issue.

I submit that the stakes are too high for this to happen, unless a greater objective than “winning” a political debate emerges. Right after 9/11, it appeared that such an objective had emerged, but the sense of unity against a common enemy didn’t last. And it wasn’t entirely Bush’s fault for pushing the war in Iraq. I witnessed (on TV) HRC’s eye-rolling performance during Bush’s post-9/11 speech to Congress, a performance aimed not only at the Dem colleagues near her but also at anti-Bush zealots around the country. (Bush’s “theft” of the election less than a year earlier was still a sore spot for a lot of Democrat politicians and voters.)

It would be the same again with Trump in office. In fact, he’d be blamed (by Democrats) for whatever dire thing happens, and polarization would strengthen instead of weakening.

I shudder to think what it might take to achieve real and lasting unity, or at least a willingness to engage in honest and open discourse. The nation may be better off if the status quo persists. I certainly do not want compromise if it means giving any more ground to the left.


* I came to know Mitch slightly when we had business dealings about 30 years ago. He is the anti-Trump in size, thoughtfulness, articulateness, and manner. He is exactly the kind  of person who might be able to put the country more or less back together. But having said that, I am glad that Trump is in the White House now. His uncompromising push for conservative policies and judges is exactly what’s needed to counterbalance the Dems’ continuing slide into loony leftism.


Related posts:
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
I Want My Country Back
Undermining the Free Society
Government vs. Community
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
Society and the State
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The View from Here
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!
Presidential Treason
A Home of One’s Own
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Surrender? Hell No!
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
How America Has Changed
Civil War?
The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Death of a Nation
The Invention of Rights
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Politics Trumps Economics
Down the Memory Hole
Dining with “Liberals”

The Dumbing-Down of Public Schools

You may have read stories about the difficulty of tests given to public-school students in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of the questions would have challenged even the brighter seniors in today’s schools. This anecdotal evidence suggests that educational standards were generally much higher in the public schools of yore than they are now. One reason, I suspect, is the dumbing-down of schools that probably accompanied the social and legal push to keep children in school through the 12th grade.

In Michigan, when my father was of school age, it wasn’t uncommon for children (especially boys) to drop out after the 8th grade. High school, in those days, seemed to be considered preparatory for college. Boys like my father, who was intelligent but of a poor family, weren’t considered college material and would often drop out after completing the 8th grade in order to go to work, perhaps even to learn a trade that would pay more than they could earn from manual labor. (When my father dropped out, the Great Depression was at its depth and it was all the more necessary for him to take whatever job he could get, to help support his family.)

The prep-school thesis came to me when I was browsing old yearbooks and found a yearbook for 1921 in which my high-school principal is pictured as a high-school senior. (It was the high school that my father would have attended had he gone beyond the 8th grade.) One page of the yearbook gives a list of the 1920 graduates and tells what each of them is doing (e.g., attending the University of Michigan, working at a particular factory, at home without a job). Here are some things I gleaned from the page:

The class of 1920 consisted of 28 males and 50 females. This is an improbable male-female ratio, which supports my thesis that dropping out to work was common among males. (Most male members of the class of 1920 would have been only 16 at the end of World War I ended, so it is unlikely that the war had more than a minute effect on the number of males who reached graduation age.)

A year after graduation, two-thirds of the males (19 of the 28) were enrolled in college (mostly at the University of Michigan), and another one was attending a technical school in Chicago. That two-thirds of the males were in college in 1921, long before the insane push for universal higher education, support the idea that most males who went to high school were considered college material.

Of the 50 females, only 8 were definitely in college, with 5 of them at teachers’ colleges (then called “normal schools”). Several others gave locations that might have indicated college attendance (e.g., Oberlin, Albion). But there were at most 14 collegians among the 50 females.

Two females were already teaching, presumably in small, rural schools. But the fact that they were teaching at the age of 19 (not uncommon in the “old days”) is testimony to the quality of high-school education in those days. It also says a lot about the needless inflation of standards for teaching young children.

It pains me to think of the tens of millions of young persons — male and female alike — who have been pushed into high school, and then into college, instead of being allowed to find their own way in life. They have been denied the opportunity to learn a trade through apprenticeship, or just by working hard; the opportunity to learn self-reliance and responsibility; and the opportunity to contribute more to the well-being of others than most of them will contribute by going to college.

Smaller high-school enrollments would also mean fewer public-school teachers and administrators to feed at the public trough and fuel the expensive (and largely fruitless) war among school systems to see which one can spend the most per pupil.  Fewer students pushed into college would also mean fewer college-professors and administrators to feed at the public trough, and to spew their pseudo-intellectual nonsense.

The best thing about smaller high-school enrollments would be the reduction in the number of impressionable young persons who are indoctrinated in left-wing views by high-school teachers, and then by college professors.


Related posts:
School Vouchers and Teachers’ Unions
Whining about Teachers’ Pay: Another Lesson about the Evils of Public Education
I Used to Be Too Smart to Understand This
The Higher-Education Bubble
The Public-School Swindle
Is College for Everyone?
A Sideways Glance at Public “Education”

The End of an Era?

What do these people have in common?

Roy Moore
Harvey Weinstein
Kevin Spacey
Louis C.K.
Al Franken
Charlie Rose
John Conyers
Matt Lauer
Garrison Keillor

I’m sure I’ve missed some names. They’ve been coming too fast for me to keep up. And that’s just this year’s crop — though Bill Clinton always heads the list of past offenders (proven and alleged).

What they have in common, of course, is a rap for sexual harassment or worse — sometimes much worse.

What they also have in common is that they are all public figures who are either in politics or entertainment (which includes “news”).

The most important thing that they have in common, with the exception of Roy Moore, is their attachment to left-wing politics. Oops, here comes Clinton, again.

The day of the free pass because “his heart’s in the right place”* seems to be over.
_________
* This is a reference to following passage in “The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism“:

The canonization of Ted Kennedy by the American left and its “moderate” dupes — in spite of Kennedy’s tawdry, criminal past — reminds me of the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton’s defense attorney Cheryl Mills said this toward the end of her summation:

[T]his president’s record on civil rights, on women’s rights, on all of our rights is unimpeachable.

In other words, Clinton could lie under oath and obstruct justice because his predatory behavior toward particular women and the criminal acts they led to were excused by his being on the “right side” on the general issue of “women’s rights.” That makes as much sense as allowing a murderer to go free because he believes in capital punishment.

The Battle Flag Restored

I had removed the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia from my sidebar, just to declutter it. But today I read this:

In Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler won’t be marching in Saturday’s Veteran’s Day parade because groups marching in the parade will be carrying the Confederate battle flag.

“Symbols of racism, Civil War secession, and white supremacy should not be forgotten or erased, but they need to be remembered and studied in museums and classrooms, not cheered and applauded in parades,” said Adler.

And so I have restored the Battle Flag to a place of prominance in my sidebar for the reasons that I give below it:

On this blog, as in most places where it appears, the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia — Lee’s Army — stands for deliverance from an oppressive national government and resistance to political correctness, not racism. For more, see my post, “Defending the Offensive“.

Adler is typical of Austin, a place that commands my taxes and repels my soul.