The Paradox That Is Western Civilization

The main weakness of Western civilization is a propensity to tolerate ideas and actions that would undermine it. The paradox is that the main strength of Western civilization is a propensity to tolerate ideas and actions that would strengthen it. The survival and improvement of Western civilization requires carefully balancing the two propensities. It has long been evident in continental Europe and the British Isles that the balance has swung toward destructive toleration. The United States is rapidly catching up to Europe. At the present rate the intricate network of social relationships and norms that has made America great will be destroyed within a decade. Israel, if it remains staunchly defensive of its heritage, will be the only Western nation still worthy of the name.

(See also “Conservatism, Society, and the End of America” and “Another Take on the State of America“.)

Thoughts about Mass Shootings

The shootings yesterday and today in El Paso and Dayton have, of course, redoubled the commitment of Democrats to something called “gun control”. This is nothing more than another instance of the left’s penchant for magical thinking.

The root of the problem isn’t a lack of “gun control”, it’s a lack of self-control — a lack that has become endemic to America since the 1960s. As I say in “Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown“, that lack is caused by (among other things):

  • 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 is therefore

entirely reasonable to suggest that mass murder … is of a piece with violence in America, which increased rapidly after 1960s 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….

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.

(See also “Reductio ad Sclopetum, or Getting to the Bottom of ‘Gun Control’“, “‘This Has to Stop’“, and “Utilitarianism vs. Liberty“, especially UTILITARIANISM AND GUN CONTROL VS. LIBERTY.)

The Missing Ingredient in “Local Control”

It’s liberty. “Control” is the operative word in “local control”.

Why should I (or any sane person) entrust my liberty to the Democrat hacks who control my city and strive to control almost every aspect of my life, from the specifications of my windows to the wasteful (but “virtuous”) insistence on separating “recyclables” and “compostables” from trash?

Texas, where I live, is far from a libertarian stronghold. But the State government is far more attuned to the liberty (and prosperity) of Texans than are the governments of its major cities (in one of which I live).

(See also “Local Control” and “The Hypocrisy of ‘Local Control’“.)

Trump’s Fourth of July Parade

I admit to profound indifference — and even dislike — of ceremonial occasions and gestures. The vastly expensive Apollo 11 mission seemed to me (even at the time) to be little more than an ego trip for its political sponsors. Half-time shows bore me. I reluctantly attend weddings and funerals. And I have long eschewed parades of all kinds. I certainly will not waste my time in viewing tomorrow’s Salute to America parade in D.C.

But I must say that Trump’s all-out promotion of the parade is a piece of political genius. Trump knew that the left would oppose it vociferously. And in doing so, the left would further underscore its opposition to things traditionally American. That, in turn, tightens Trump’s hold on the vast, silent, non-cosmopolitan swath of the electorate that was responsible for his victory in 2016.

Trump plays with the left like a cat plays with a mouse. I love it.

A Bad Bargain

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841-1935) wrote in an opinion that “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society”. Well, since Holmes issued his fatuous dictum in 1927, the tax burden on Americans has rise from 10 percent of GDP to nearly 40 percent of GDP.

If taxes promote civilization, so do regulations, a fortiori. The federal regulatory burden, which was nearly zero in the 1920s is now so imposing that its myriad strictures reduce GDP by more than 10 percent. (I haven’t found an estimate of the undoubtedly huge State and local burden.)

So the total burden of government on the U.S. economy has increased more than five-fold in the past 90 years. Has the United States become a more civilized country as a result? I submit that since the advent of the Great Society, when the tax and regulatory burdens began to rise in earnest, things have gone to hell in a handbasket.

Government seems to be a bad bargain. I demand a refund.

The Next Irish Famine?

Ireland’s increasingly loony politicians seem to be paving the way for it:

From Breitbart

Drivers will be forced off the roads in Ireland and the population packed into “higher density” cities under a long-awaited climate plan which will ‘revolutionise’ people’s lifestyle and behaviours, according to local media.

“Nudge” policies such as huge tax hikes, as well as bans and red tape outlined in the plan, will pave the way to a “vibrant” Ireland of zero carbon emissions by 2050 according to the government, which last year committed to boost the country’s 4.7 million-strong population by a further million with mass migration.

In order to avert a “climate apocalypse”, the government plans to force people “out of private cars because they are the biggest offenders for emissions”, according to transport minister Shane Ross whose proposals — which include banning fossil fuel vehicles from towns and cities nationwide — are posed to cripple ordinary motorists, local media reports.

Launching the plan in Dublin, leader Leo Varadkar outlined his vision for an Ireland of ‘higher density’ cities consisting of populations whose lifestyles and behaviours have been totally transformed by ‘carrot and stick’ policies outlined in the climate plan.

“Our approach will be to nudge people and businesses to change behaviour and adapt new technologies through incentives, disincentives, regulations and information,” the globalist prime minister said.

“We are going to change how electricity is produced and consumed, how our homes and workplaces are heated; the way we travel; the types of vehicles we purchase; and how food is produced.

So the Irish who aren’t killed in the womb by abortion, will be killed by their oppressive government’s policies.

Ireland is becoming a poster child for a more restrictive immigration policy along the lines of the old “no Irish need apply” employment policy. There’s enough zaniness in American politics without compounding it with (more) Irish politicians.

A Sad Commentary …

… on the state of political discourse in the United States:

The sad part isn’t the abysmal ignorance and anti-social (pro-socialist) pronouncements of Alexandria Occasio-Cortez*, it’s that large numbers of Americans** take her seriously.
_________
* Or Occasional Cortex, as Tim of Angle aptly calls her.

** But not real Americans.

Gearing Up for the 2020 Census

You probably received in the mail a first notice from the Census Bureau, demanding that you complete an online questionnaire. I ignored that one, and received a follow-up questionnaire a few days later, which I will also ignore. But I did take the time to annotate the second notice for your amusement:

This is in keeping with my non-compliance with the desires of the census snoops in 2000 and 2010, as I relate here and here. The reason for my non-compliance is given in the post at the first link:

[T]he Constitution mandates the census, for the purpose of apportioning membership in the House of Representatives among the States. And it says in the Constitution that “the actual Enumeration . . . shall be made . . . in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.” But the operative word is “enumeration.” It follows that Congress’s power to direct the “manner” of the enumeration is restricted to such matters as when and at what cost the enumeration shall be made.

The census form (even the short one) has long since become intrusive and vastly overblown in relation to the constitutional purpose of the census. Now, as in 2000 and 2010, I refuse to violate the Constitution.

“Local Control”

I have written before about the hypocrisy of local control:

[T]he ultimate in local control is the freedom to do as one wishes with one’s own property — barring actual criminality, of course. Dictation by … left-wing city council[s] and the[ir] hired hands in … various bureaucracies isn’t that kind of local control — it’s local tyranny.

I omitted to mention that the very left-wingers who cry “local control” to justify local tyranny are also proponents of national control in a long list of matters ranging from retirement and health care to the suppression of the freedoms of religious exercise, association, and speech.

True local control is at the personal and interpersonal level, not in a city hall dominated by tax-gobbling hacks.

Real Americans

Many years ago, in the early 1960s, when the civil-rights movement was in its heyday, an older woman of my acquaintance objected to the idea that blacks are Americans. Americans, to her, were whites of European origin. Bill Vallicella offers a more nuanced view:

There has to be a broad base of shared agreement on all sorts of things….

No comity without commonality….

… “[O]ne people” should not be understood racially or ethnically. An enlightened nationalism is not  a white nationalism.  America is of course  ‘a proposition nation.’ You will find the propositions in the founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence.

I don’t give a flying enchilada whether you are Hispanic or Asian.  If you immigrated legally, accept the propositions, drop the hyphens, and identify as an American, then I say you are one of us. I’ll even celebrate the culinary diversity you contribute.

But…

That being understood, it is also true that whites discovered these America-constitutive propositions and are well-equipped to appreciate and uphold them, and better equipped than some other groups.

My money is on commonality — in language, in culture, in a deep attachment to the view that liberty is incompatible with a government that does more than protect citizens from domestic and foreign predators and leeches.

Thus, as Vallicella puts it:

Do not think of leftists and ‘progressives’ as fellow citizens; they are merely among us as disorderly elements and domestic enemies.  There can be no peace with them because they represent an ‘existential threat.’ Not to our physical existence so  much as to our way of life, which is of course more important than our mere physical existence as animals.

I would add that those who give aid and comfort to the left by consistently and overwhelmingly voting for Democrats are not fellow citizens. In that sense, the vast majority of blacks (but certainly not all of them) must be excluded — not because they are black, as my acquaintance would have it, but because they abet the destruction of liberty. They are far from alone, however, and most of their accomplices are white.

(See also “The British Roots of the Founding, and of Liberty in America“.)

Why Government Screws Up

Abstraction is the problem. Government officials and their enablers in the academy have a habit of judging voluntary social and economic outcomes by arbitrary standards. From there, they go on to prescribe costly, flawed, and counterproductive social and economic policies.

For example: The “poverty rate” (an artificial construct) is “too high”; therefore, poor people should be given handouts, which only worsen poverty by disincentivizing work. Or “not enough” persons have health insurance; therefore, taxpayers must be penalized for their success by subsidizing the health insurance of low-income persons, whose health outcomes are barely affected by their easier (and costly) access to health care. Or blacks are “discriminated against” because they have lower grades, lower earnings, etc., than whites East Asians, and Ashkenzi Jews; therefore, persons in the latter three categories must be penalized (through adverse selection for jobs, promotions, university admissions), in favor of blacks — despite the fact that the noted disparities are due to differences in intelligence. (There’s more here, here, and here.)

Though much of the private sector has became government-like in its huge, bloated, rent-seeking rigidity, it remains inherently superior in its ability to detect and solve actual problems. Why? Competition and pursuit of profit. When an entrepreneur perceives a need, he perceives a real one — a product or service that fills a gap or improves on an existing product or service. Yes, the entrepreneur doesn’t always get it right, but because there are many, many entrepreneurs all seeking to satisfy needs, they get it right in the aggregate.

Entrepreneurs, unlike government officials and academics, aren’t trying to second-guess markets. Instead, they’re using markets to advance the interests of consumers, in the hope of making profits — which are the reward for advancing consumers’ interests.

Government officials and academics, on the other hand, have no skin in the game. Their “profit” comes from imposing their will on others, however costly, inefficient, and socially and economically counterproductive that may be. And when they fail, they aren’t held accountable, except occasionally on election day. But most government officials and academics are unaffected by that kind of “accountability”, so they aren’t deterred from making the same mistake (more government) again and again. Hope springs eternal failure isn’t penalized.

Government screws up because government officials and their academic enablers have no skin in the game. They are paid regardless of how badly they do, and their prestige depends not on the actual success or failure of their schemes, but on the mere adoption of those schemes.

Not with a Bang

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Elliot, The Hollow Men

It’s also the way that America is ending. Yes, there are verbal fireworks aplenty, but there will not be a “hot” civil war. The country that my parents and grandparents knew and loved — the country of my youth in the 1940s and 1950s — is just fading away.

This would not necessarily be a bad thing if the remaking of America were a gradual, voluntary process, leading to time-tested changes for the better. But that isn’t the case. The very soul of America has been and is being ripped out by the government that was meant to protect that soul, and by movements that government not only tolerates but fosters.

Before I go further, I should explain what I mean by America, which is not the same thing as the geopolitical entity known as the United States, though the two were tightly linked for a long time.

America was a relatively homogeneous cultural order that fostered mutual respect, mutual trust, and mutual forbearance — or far more of those things than one might expect in a nation as populous and far-flung as the United States. Those things — conjoined with a Constitution that has been under assault since the New Deal — made America a land of liberty. That is to say, they fostered real liberty, which isn’t an unattainable state of bliss but an actual (and imperfect) condition of peaceful, willing coexistence and its concomitant: beneficially cooperative behavior.

The attainment of this condition depends on social comity, which depends in turn on (a) genetic kinship and (b) the inculcation and enforcement of social norms, especially the norms that define harm.

All of that is going by the boards because the emerging cultural order is almost diametrically opposite that which prevailed in America. The new dispensation includes:

  • casual sex
  • serial cohabitation
  • subsidized illegitimacy
  • abortion on demand
  • easy divorce
  • legions of non-mothering mothers
  • concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males
  • gender-confusion as a burgeoning norm
  • “alternative lifestyles” that foster disease, promiscuity, and familial instability
  • normalization of drug abuse
  • forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights)
  • suppression of religion
  • rampant obscenity
  • identity politics on steroids
  • illegal immigration as a “right”
  • “free stuff” from government (Social Security was meant to be self-supporting)
  • America as the enemy
  • all of this (and more) as gospel to influential elites whose own lives are modeled mostly on old America.

As the culture has rotted, so have the ties that bound America.

The rot has occurred to the accompaniment of cacophony. Cultural coarsening begets loud and inconsiderate vulgarity. Worse than that is the cluttering of the ether with the vehement and belligerent propaganda, most of it aimed at taking down America.

The advocates of the new dispensation haven’t quite finished the job of dismantling America. But that day isn’t far off. Complete victory for the enemies of America is only a few election cycles away. The squishy center of the electorate — as is its wont — will swing back toward the Democrat Party. With a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat-controlled Congress, and a few party switches in the Supreme Court (of the packing of it), the dogmas of the anti-American culture will become the law of the land; for example:

Billions and trillions of dollars will be wasted on various “green” projects, including but far from limited to the complete replacement of fossil fuels by “renewables”, with the resulting impoverishment of most Americans, except for comfortable elites who press such policies).

It will be illegal to criticize, even by implication, such things as abortion, illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, anthropogenic global warming, or the confiscation of firearms. These cherished beliefs will be mandated for school and college curricula, and enforced by huge fines and draconian prison sentences (sometimes in the guise of “re-education”).

Any hint of Christianity and Judaism will be barred from public discourse, and similarly punished. Islam will be held up as a model of unity and tolerance.

Reverse discrimination in favor of females, blacks, Hispanics, gender-confused persons, and other “protected” groups will be required and enforced with a vengeance. But “protections” will not apply to members of such groups who are suspected of harboring libertarian or conservative impulses.

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

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

All health care in the United States will be subject to review by a national, single-payer agency of the central government. Private care will be forbidden, though ready access to doctors, treatments, and medications will be provided for high officials and other favored persons. The resulting health-care catastrophe that befalls most of the populace (like that of the UK) will be shrugged off as a residual effect of “capitalist” health care.

The regulatory regime will rebound with a vengeance, contaminating every corner of American life and regimenting all businesses except those daring to operate in an underground economy. The quality and variety of products and services will decline as their real prices rise as a fraction of incomes.

The dire economic effects of single-payer health care and regulation will be compounded by massive increases in other kinds of government spending (defense excepted). The real rate of economic growth will approach zero.

The United States will maintain token armed forces, mainly for the purpose of suppressing domestic uprisings. Given its economically destructive independence from foreign oil and its depressed economy, it will become a simulacrum of the USSR and Mao’s China — and not a rival to the new superpowers, Russia and China, which will largely ignore it as long as it doesn’t interfere in their pillaging of respective spheres of influence. A policy of non-interference (i.e., tacit collusion) will be the order of the era in Washington.

Though it would hardly be necessary to rig elections in favor of Democrats, given the flood of illegal immigrants who will pour into the country and enjoy voting rights, a way will be found to do just that. The most likely method will be election laws requiring candidates to pass ideological purity tests by swearing fealty to the “law of the land” (i.e., abortion, unfettered immigration, same-sex marriage, freedom of gender choice for children, etc., etc., etc.). Those who fail such a test will be barred from holding any kind of public office, no matter how insignificant.

Are my fears exaggerated? I don’t think so, given what has happened in recent decades and the cultural revolutionaries’ tightening grip on the Democrat party. What I have sketched out can easily happen within a decade after Democrats seize total control of the central government.

Will the defenders of liberty rally to keep it from happening? Perhaps, but I fear that they will not have a lot of popular support, for three reasons:

First, there is the problem of asymmetrical ideological warfare, which favors the party that says “nice” things and promises “free” things.

Second, What has happened thus far — mainly since the 1960s — has happened slowly enough that it seems “natural” to too many Americans. They are like fish in water who cannot grasp the idea of life in a different medium.

Third, although change for the worse has accelerated in recent years, it has occurred mainly in forums that seem inconsequential to most Americans, for example, in academic fights about free speech, in the politically correct speeches of Hollywood stars, and in culture wars that are conducted mainly in the blogosphere. The unisex-bathroom issue seems to have faded as quickly as it arose, mainly because it really affects so few people. The latest gun-control mania may well subside — though it has reached new heights of hysteria — but it is only one battle in the broader war being waged by the left. And most Americans lack the political and historical knowledge to understand that there really is a civil war underway — just not a “hot” one.

Is a reversal possible? Possible, yes, but unlikely. The rot is too deeply entrenched. Public schools and universities are cesspools of anti-Americanism. The affluent elites of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex are in the saddle. Republican politicians, for the most part, are of no help because they are more interested on preserving their comfortable sinecures than in defending America or the Constitution.

On that note, I will take a break from blogging — perhaps forever. I urge you to read one of my early posts, “Reveries“, for a taste of what America means to me. As for my blogging legacy, please see “A Summing Up“, which links to dozens of posts and pages that amplify and support this post.

Il faut cultiver notre jardin.

Voltaire, Candide


Related reading:

Michael Anton, “What We Still Have to Lose“, American Greatness, February 10, 2019

Rod Dreher, “Benedict Option FAQ“, The American Conservative, October 6, 2015

Roger Kimball, “Shall We Defend Our Common History?“, Imprimis, February 2019

Joel Kotkin, “Today’s Cultural Engineers“, newgeography, January 26, 2019

Daniel Oliver, “Where Has All the Culture Gone?“, The Federalist, February 8, 2019

Malcolm Pollack, “On Civil War“, Motus Mentis, March 7, 2019

Fred Reed, “The White Man’s Burden: Reflections on the Custodial State“, Fred on Everything, January 17, 2019

Gilbert T. Sewall, “The Diminishing Authority of the Bourgeois Culture“, The American Conservative, February 4, 2019

Bob Unger, “Requiem for America“, The New American, January 24, 2019

A Summing Up

This post has been updated and moved to “Favorite Posts“.

The Good News and Real News about Inflation and Earnings

GOOD NEWS

The CPI isn’t signalling a recession.

Household income, adjusted for inflation, continues to rise to new heights.

BUT . . .

Inflation is in the eye (or wallet) of the beholder. It is arbitrarily estimated by sampling the prices of defined “baskets” of products and services. Your “basket” probably differs greatly from the official ones used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Almost no household is a typical one.

REAL NEWS

Aggregate statistics are almost meaningless. There is no such thing as social welfare. Only you can decide if you’re better off than you were yesterday.


Related posts:
Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
Unorthodox Economics: 2. Pitfalls (especially the third entry about social welfare)
Unorthodox Economics: 5. Economic Progress, Microeconomics, and Microeconomics

Recent Updates

In case you hadn’t noticed, I have in the past few days added new links to the following post and pages:

The Green New Deal Is a Plan for Economic Devastation

Climate Change

Favorite Posts

Intelligence

Spygate

I have also updated “Writing: A Guide“.

The Shutdown Was a Plus for the Economy

The “non-partisan” (but pro-government) Congressional Budget Office has assessed the economic effects of the five-week partial shutdown of the government that started on December 22, 2018, and ended on January 25, 2019. According to CBO,

real (that is, inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter of 2018 was reduced by $3 billion (in 2019 dollars) in relation to what it would have been otherwise…. In the first quarter of 2019, the level of real GDP is estimated to be $8 billion lower than it would have been….

Although most of the real GDP lost during the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 will eventually be recovered, CBO estimates that about $3 billion will not be.

In truth, real GDP will rise as a result of the inactivity of government bureaucrats. By how much? Not a lot, relative to real GDP, which is measured in the trillions of dollars. But it will rise, as I explain in “Keynesian Multiplier: Fiction vs. Fact“, because there is a negative relationship between government spending and real GDP, other things being equal:

kT = ∆Y/∆F = -0.340Y0

Where,

kT = the true multiplier

Y = real GDP

F = fraction of GDP spent by governments at all levels, including transfer payments (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid)

Y0 = real GDP in the period during which F changes

Even a slight decrease in government spending has an out-sized — and beneficial — effect on GDP.

Never Give In

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

Winston S. Churchill, October 1941

*     *     *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XXIII)

CONTENTS

Government and Economic Growth

Reflections on Defense Economics

Abortion: How Much Jail Time?

Illegal Immigration and the Welfare State

Prosperity Isn’t Everything

Google et al. As State Actors

The Transgender Trap


GOVERNMENT AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

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

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

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

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


REFLECTIONS ON DEFENSE ECONOMICS

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


ABORTION: HOW MUCH JAIL TIME?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also “Abortion Q & A“.


ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION AND THE WELFARE STATE

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

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

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

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


PROSPERITY ISN’T EVERYTHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


GOOGLE ET AL. AS STATE ACTORS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s hoping.


THE TRANSGENDER TRAP

Babette Francis and John Ballantine tell it like it is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True Populism

Populism, according to Wikipedia,

refers to a range of approaches which emphasise the role of “the people” and often juxtapose this group against “the elite”. There is no single definition of the term, which developed in the 19th century and has been used to mean various things since that time. Few politicians or political groups describe themselves as “populists”, and in political discourse the term is often applied to others pejoratively….

[T]he ideational approach … defines populism as an ideology which presents “the people” as a morally good force against “the elite”, who are perceived as corrupt and self-serving. Populists differ in how “the people” are defined, but it can be based along class, ethnic, or national lines. Populists typically present “the elite” as comprising the political, economic, cultural, and media establishment, all of which are depicted as a homogenous entity and accused of placing the interests of other groups—such as foreign countries or immigrants—above the interests of “the people”. According to this approach, populism is a thin-ideology which is combined with other, more substantial thick ideologies such as nationalism, liberalism, or socialism. Thus, populists can be found at different locations along the left–right political spectrum and there is both left-wing populism and right-wing populism.

Just as “the elite” isn’t homogeneous, neither is “the people”. True populism therefore demands a decentralized polity, according to the principle of subsidiarity:

[M]atters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.

This is a conservative principle because deciding matters locally means that they are usually handled in accordance with social norms that prevail locally, and which reflect local conditions. This is in contrast with one-size-fits-all “solutions” imposed by distant officials who have no appreciation of local knowledge and norms, and who — in any event — are usually hostile to those things.

Subsidiarity is also, in theory, a libertarian principle. Too many self-styled libertarians, however, are quick to abandon the principle in favor of state-imposed rules that favor their views about how “society” should be organized. Thus — and to the detriment of social comity and stability — we have state-imposed abortion, a state-imposed edict to honor same-sex “marriage”, state-imposed “tolerance” of unsafe sexual acts, the rending of families by lax divorce laws, and on and on.

It is populist resentment of elite dominance that enabled Trump’s electoral victory. “Drain the swamp” is a good part of it. The rest is mainly a desire for the preservation (or restoration) of traditional American culture, the protection of which requires selective immigration and strong defenses.

The principle and spirit of populism — and its enemies — is captured by Bertrand de Jouvenel in his 1945 epic, On Power: The Natural History of its Growth:

Every Power is sure to attack centrifugal tendencies. But the behaviour of democratic Power offers in this respect some peculiar features of a striking kind. It claims its mission to be that of liberating man from the constraints put on him by the old Power, which was the more or less direct descendant of conquest. But that did not stop the Convention from guillotining the Federalists [in the French Revolution], the English Parliament from wiping out, in some of the bloodiest repressions of history, the separatist nationalism in Ireland, or the government at Washington from launching a war such as Europe had never yet seen to crush the attempt of the Southern States to form themselves into a separate unity….

This hostility to the formation of smaller communities is inconsistent with the claim to have inaugurated government of the people by itself, for clearly a government answers more closely to that description in smaller communities than in larger. Only in smaller communities can citizens choose their ruler directly from men whom they know personally. Only in them can justification be found for the encomium pronounced by Montesquieu:

The people is well fitted to choose …. The people knows well whether a man has often seen active service and what successes he has won: therefore it is well equipped to choose a general. It knows whether a judge attends to his duties; whether most people leave his court satisfied; whether or not he is corrupt: therein is knowledge sufficient for it to elect a praetor…. These are all facts which make a public square a better-informed place than the palace of a king.

But the new men whom the popular voice has made masters of the imperium have never shown any inclination to a regime of that kind. It was distasteful to them, as the heirs of the monarchical authority, to fritter away their estate on subordinating themselves. On the contrary, strong in the strength of a new legitimacy, their one aim was to increase it. Against the federalist conception [the Abbe] Sieyès [1748-1836] was their mouthpiece: “… a general administration which, starting from a common centre, will reach uniformly to the remotest parts of the Empire — a body of laws which, through its elements are provided by the body of citizens, takes bodily form at as distant a level as that of the National Assembly, to whom alone it belongs to interpret the general wish, that wish which thereafter falls with all the weight of an irresistible force on those very wills which have joined in the formation of it.” [Liberty Press edition (1993), pp. 286-288, links added, emphasis in original]

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

A Bobo in Cloud-Cuckoo Land

Bret Stephens, one of the tame “conservatives” at The New York Times, has an op-ed to which my attention was drawn this morning: “Why Aren’t Democrats Walking Away With the Mid-Terms?“.

Stephens touches upon a thesis that has been enunciated by many. I will come to it by way of Arnold Kling — an unusually sensible economist (e.g., he calls standard macroeconomics “hydraulic economics” and derides the implicit assumption that the economy is single unit — a big GDP factory). Kling has written a book (now in second edition) called The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divide. Here are some relevant passages:

In politics, I claim that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians are like tribes speaking different languages. The language that resonates with one tribe does not connect with the others. As a result, political discussions do not lead to agreement. Instead, most political commentary serves to increase polarization. The points that people make do not open the minds of people on the other side. They serve to close the minds of the people on one’s own side.

Which political language do you speak? Of course, your own views are carefully nuanced, and you would never limit yourself to speaking in a limited language. So think of one of your favorite political commentators, an insightful individual with whom you generally agree. Which of the following statements would that commentator most likely make?

(P) [Progressive] My heroes are people who have stood up for the underprivileged. The people I cannot stand are the people who are indifferent to the oppression of women, minorities, and the poor.

(C) [Conservative] My heroes are people who have stood up for Western values. The people I cannot stand are the people who are indifferent to the assault on the moral virtues and traditions that are the foundation for our civilization.

(L) [Libertarian] My heroes are people who have stood up for individual rights. The people I cannot stand are the people who are indifferent to government taking away people’s ability to make their own choices….

I call this the three-axes model of political communication. A progressive will communicate along the oppressor-oppressed axis, framing issues in terms of the (P) dichotomy. A conservative will communicate along the civilization-barbarism axis, framing issues in terms of the (C) dichotomy. A libertarian will communicate along the liberty-coercion axis, framing issues in terms of the (L) dichotomy….

I do not believe that the three-axes model serves to explain or to describe the different political ideologies. I am not trying to say that political beliefs are caused by one’s choice of axis. Nor am I saying that people think exclusively in terms of their preferred axis. What I am saying is that when we communicate about issues, we tend to fall back on one of the three axes. By doing so, we engage in political tribalism. We signal to members of our tribe that we agree with them, and we enhance our status in the tribe. However, even though it appears that we are arguing against people from other tribes, those people pay no heed to what we say. It is as if we are speaking a foreign language….

The three axes allow each tribe to assert moral superiority. The progressive asserts moral superiority by denouncing oppression and accusing others of failing to do so. The conservative asserts moral superiority by denouncing barbarism and accusing others of failing to do so. The libertarian asserts moral superiority by denouncing coercion and accusing others of failing to do so….

In 2016, Donald Trump surprised many people— including me— by emerging as a powerful political force and prevailing in the presidential election. Trump’s success confounded many analytical frameworks that had worked well in the past, and the three-axes model is not particularly helpful, either.

Progressives certainly viewed Trump through the oppressor-oppressed axis, seeing his pronouncements and his supporters as tinged with racism and threats toward other victim classes. Libertarians viewed Trump through the liberty-coercion axis, seeing him as authoritarian and a danger to liberty.

Conservatives, however, were divided. One faction, represented by a number of writers at the conservative publication National Review, viewed Trump negatively along the civilization-barbarism axis. They saw Trump as scornful of important traditional institutions, including civil discourse, the U.S. Constitution, the Republican Party, and the principle of free trade.

The other conservative faction saw Trump’s opponent in the general election, Hillary Clinton, as a greater threat to civilization. Writing under the pseudonym, Publius Decius Mus, an essayist on the Claremont Institute website described voting against Clinton as analogous to the passengers on one of the planes hijacked on 9/ 11 who managed to storm the cockpit and keep the hijackers from hitting their intended target.

In my view, Trump opened up a new axis. He accomplished that by appealing to people who differ from those with whom I am most acquainted. Some have termed this new axis populist versus elite, or outsider versus insider….

Perhaps the main dividing line is best described in terms of cosmopolitanism. The sections of the country that most strongly supported Hillary Clinton were large cities located along the coasts, where affluent people are used to engaging with foreign cultures, either locally or by traveling abroad. The sections of the country that most strongly supported Donald Trump were rural and small-town areas located away from the coast, where interaction with foreign cultures is much less frequent.

To describe the cosmopolitan outlook, recall the expression “bourgeois bohemians,” coined by journalist David Brooks almost two decades ago. Brooks was describing a cosmopolitan elite, one that enjoys foreign travel and celebrates cultural diversity. The Bobos, as Brooks dubbed them, probably feel more comfortable in Prague than in Peoria.

As I see it, Donald Trump’s supporters were the anti-Bobos. They distrusted foreign people and cultures. But above all, they distrusted and resented the Bobos, and the feeling was mutual. Thus, the axis that I believe best fits the Trump phenomenon is Bobo versus anti-Bobo.

I think this is right. Bret Stephens is a Bobo who believes that “the real threat of the Trump presidency isn’t economic or political catastrophe. It’s moral and institutional corrosion — the debasement of our discourse and the fracturing of our civic bonds.”

Stephens seems not to understand that — in the view of anti-Bobos — civic bonds were fractured long ago by the Bobos who championed school busing, affirmative action, and all that followed under the heading of identity politics, including “open borders”. The anti-Bobos of the North were taken for granted as reliable Democrat voters, largely ignored (by both parties), and then sneered at by Democrats. Hillary Clinton’s characterization of the anti-Bobos (of all regions) as “deplorables” was merely confirmatory, and probably enabled Trump’s victory by putting him over the top in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Trump’s genius has been to speak the language of anti-Bobos and make them feel as if they are valued.

It is unclear to me what “deeper threat [Trump’s] his presidency represents”, as Stephens puts it. Trump, as I argue above, is not divisive. Bobo policies — shared by “establishment” politicians of both parties — have been divisive. Stephens and his ilk (of all parties) simply want the anti-Bobos to shut up, get back in the fold, and accept the crumbs that fall from the Bobos’ table. The “deeper threat”, in other words, is an end to the Bobos’ long reign of error in Washington.

Stephens’s Bobo-ism is fully on display in the final paragraph of his op-ed, where he writes that “The tragedy of Pittsburgh illustrates, among other things, that the president cannot unite us, even in our grief.” What I saw was an immediate attack on Trump for having created an “atmosphere of hate” (shades of Dallas 1963). Trump’s personal behavior — which reflects his long-standing pro-Jewish sympathies — was exemplary, as was the behavior of Rabbi Myers. How, precisely, was Trump supposed to “unite us” when there are tens of millions of Americans — goaded on by the mainstream media — who despise him for the sheer enjoyment of it?