Society, Culture, and America’s Future

There is much lamentation (from the right, at least) about the disintegration of American society, the culture war being waged by the left, and the future of America. I have done more than my share of lamenting. The purpose of this post isn’t to increase this blog’s lamentation quotient (though it probably will do that), but to take a step back and consider the meanings of “society” and “culture” as they apply to America. After having done that, I will consider the implications for the future of America.

Society and culture are intertwined. Society is usually defined as

an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another.

Culture is the collection of customs, rituals, and norms (religious and secular) that give a society its identity, and the observance of which marks individual persons as members of that society; thus:

Culture is the protection and nurturing of an identity that marks out how a given group (national, racial, social or whatever) ritualizes and cultivates its identity, gives it form and significance, and defines individuals as members of that group. Culture is not about what we do but the manner in which we do it and how a group defines itself by embellishing the gifts of nature.

Changes in society lead to changes in culture, and conversely. A good example, but hardly the only one of its kind, is Hitler’s exploitation of aspects of traditional German culture to build unblinking allegiance to Germany and to its leader (führer). The trait of fastidiousness was exploited to support the removal of “unclean” elements: Communists, Jews, Gypsys, and persons with mental and physical defects.

Societies and cultures in America can be likened to its topography. There are mountains, hills, rolling countryside, and flat land. The difference between a huge mountain and a somewhat smaller one is imperceptible — they are both mountains. But at some arbitrary point, a hump on the surface of the earth is called a hill instead of a mountain. This regression continues until hills are replaced by rolling countryside, and rolling countryside is replaced by flat land. There are no definite lines of demarcation between these various features, but the viewer usually knows which of them he is looking at.

Thus a person can tell the difference between a society-cum-culture that consists of impoverished inner-city blacks and one that revolves around a posh, all-white enclave. There are gradations between the two, and myriad overlapping memberships among those gradations, but the two are as distinct as the Rocky Mountains and the flatness of Florida.

Between the extremes, there are, of course, some distinct societal-cultural groupings; for example: Orthodox Jewish sects, Amish and Mennonite settlements, intellectually and culturally insular academic archipelagos, the remnants of enclaves formed by immigrants from Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and communities of later immigrants from Asia and Central America. But — to sustain the metaphor — America for a long time had been mainly flat land, which spanned not only the earliest (non-Indian) settlers and their descendants but also most of the descendants of the European immigrants.

To change the metaphor, the societal and cultural landscape of America was for a very long time largely amorphous, which was a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because the interchangeability of the units meant that the divisions between them weren’t as deep as those between, say, Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland and Eire (before the Republic went secular), the Basques and their neighbors, or the Kurds and the Turks. (The Civil War and its long aftermath of regional antipathy wouldn’t have happened but for the rabble-rousing rhetoric of pro-slavery and anti-slavery elites.)

The curse was that the growth of mass media (movies, radio, TV) and the advent of social media enabled rapid cultural change — change that hadn’t been tested in the acid of use and adopted because it made life better. It was change for the sake of change, which is a luxury afforded the beneficiaries of capitalism.

Take “noise”, for example — and by “noise” I mean sound, light, and motion — usually in combination. There are pockets of serenity to be sure, but the amorphous majority wallows in noise: in homes with blaring TVs; in stores, bars, clubs, and restaurants with blaring music, TVs, and light displays; in movies (which seem to be dominated by explosive computer graphics), in sports arenas (from Olympic and major-league venues down to minor-league venues, universities, and schools); and on an on.

I remember well the days before incessant noise. It wasn’t just that the electro-mechanical sources of noise were far less prevalent in those days, it was also that people simply weren’t as noisy (or demonstrative).

The prevalence of noise is telling evidence of the role of mass media in cultural change. Where culture is “thin” (the vestiges of the past have worn away) it is susceptible of outside influence. And where culture is thin, the edges of society are indistinct — one flows seamlessly into another. Thus the ease with which huge swaths of the amorphous majority were seduced, not just by noise but by leftist propaganda. The seduction was aided greatly by the parallel, taxpayer-funded efforts of public-school “educators” and the professoriate.

Thus did the amorphous majority bifurcate. (I locate the beginning of the bifurcation in the 1960s.) Those who haven’t been seduced by leftist propaganda have instead become resistant to it. This resistance to nanny-statism — the real resistance in America — seems to be anchored by members of that rapidly dwindling lot: adherents and practitioners of religion, especially between the two Left Coasts.

That they are also adherents of traditional social norms (e.g., marriage can only be between a man and a woman), upholders of the Second Amendment, and (largely) “blue collar” makes them a target of sneering (e.g., Barack Obama who called them “bitter clingers”; Hillary Clinton called them “deplorables”). That kind of sneering is a a socially divisive form of superiority-signaling, a result of which was the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

As the faux-resistance against Trump continues, for reasons detailed here, the wedge between the two halves of the once-amorphous mass is driven deeper by the clamor. Continued sneering would add impetus, but vote-hungry Democrats have (for now) curtailed it (and even made populist noises) in the hope of luring some malleable voters to the dark side if the impeachment plot fails.

But the end of the faux-resistance — one way or another — will not reunite the once-amorphous mass. The sneering, which persists on the dark side, will continue. Legislative, executive, and judicial efforts to impose the left’s agenda on the whole of America will persist. Despite all of that the real resistance might even despite the inevitable conversions to the dark side among the weak-willed. Or it might not, for a reason to which I will come.

The real resistance, it should be noted, pre-dates Trump’s emergence onto the political scene, and could be seen in the candidacies of Barry Goldwater and George Wallace. The real resistance finally made itself felt, electorally, by putting Ronald Reagan into the White House, though his efforts to roll back nanny-statism were hampered by a solid Democrat majority in the House. There was more success later, during the Tea Party era, which enabled congressional resistance to Obama’s leftist agenda. And then, just when the Tea Party movement seemed to have faded away, Trump revived it — in spirit if not in name.

The question is whether a new leader will emerge to ensure the continuation of the real resistance after Trump — whether he leaves the scene by impeachment and conviction, by failure of re-election, or at the end of a second term.

The answer is that as long as sizeable portion of the populace remains attached to traditional norms — mainly including religion — there will be a movement in search of and in need of a leader. But the movement will lose potency if such a leader fails to emerge.

Were that to happen, something like the old, amorphous society might re-form, but along lines that the remnant of the old, amorphous society wouldn’t recognize. In a reprise of the Third Reich, the freedoms of association, speech, and religious would have been bulldozed with such force that only the hardiest of souls would resist going over to the dark side. And their resistance would have to be covert.

Paradoxically, 1984 may lie in the not-too-distant future, not 35 years in the past. When the nation is ruled by one party (guess which one), footvoting will no longer be possible and the nation will settle into a darker version of the Californian dystopia.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (III)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

Apropos Science

In the vein of “Something from Nothing?” there is this:

[Stephen] Meyer also argued [in a a recent talk at the University Club in D.C.] that biological evolutionary theory, which “attempts to explain how new forms of life evolved from simpler pre-existing forms,” faces formidable difficulties. In particular, the modern version of Darwin’s theory, neo-Darwinism, also has an information problem.

Mutations, or copying errors in the DNA, are analogous to copying errors in digital code, and they supposedly provide the grist for natural selection. But, Meyer said: “What we know from all codes and languages is that when specificity of sequence is a condition of function, random changes degrade function much faster than they come up with something new.”…

The problem is comparable to opening a big combination lock. He asked the audience to imagine a bike lock with ten dials and ten digits per dial. Such a lock would have 10 billion possibilities with only one that works. But the protein alphabet has 20 possibilities at each site, and the average protein has about 300 amino acids in sequence….

Remember: Not just any old jumble of amino acids makes a protein. Chimps typing at keyboards will have to type for a very long time before they get an error-free, meaningful sentence of 150 characters. “We have a small needle in a huge haystack.” Neo-Darwinism has not solved this problem, Meyer said. “There’s a mathematical rigor to this which has not been a part of the so-called evolution-creation debate.”…

“[L]eading U.S. biologists, including evolutionary biologists, are saying we need a new theory of evolution,” Meyer said. Many increasingly criticize Darwinism, even if they don’t accept design. One is the cell biologist James Shapiro of the University of Chicago. His new book is Evolution: A View From the 21st Century. He’s “looking for a new evolutionary theory.” David Depew (Iowa) and Bruce Weber (Cal State) recently wrote in Biological Theory that Darwinism “can no longer serve as a general framework for evolutionary theory.” Such criticisms have mounted in the technical literature. (Tom Bethell, “Intelligent Design at the University Club,” American Spectator, May 2012)

And this:

[I]t is startling to realize that the entire brief for demoting human beings, and organisms in general, to meaningless scraps of molecular machinery — a demotion that fuels the long-running science-religion wars and that, as “shocking” revelation, supposedly stands on a par with Copernicus’s heliocentric proposal — rests on the vague conjunction of two scarcely creditable concepts: the randomness of mutations and the fitness of organisms. And, strangely, this shocking revelation has been sold to us in the context of a descriptive biological literature that, from the molecular level on up, remains almost nothing buta documentation of the meaningfully organized, goal-directed stories of living creatures.

Here, then, is what the advocates of evolutionary mindlessness and meaninglessness would have us overlook. We must overlook, first of all, the fact that organisms are masterful participants in, and revisers of, their own genomes, taking a leading position in the most intricate, subtle, and intentional genomic “dance” one could possibly imagine. And then we must overlook the way the organism responds intelligently, and in accord with its own purposes, to whatever it encounters in its environment, including the environment of its own body, and including what we may prefer to view as “accidents.” Then, too, we are asked to ignore not only the living, reproducing creatures whose intensely directed lives provide the only basis we have ever known for the dynamic processes of evolution, but also all the meaning of the larger environment in which these creatures participate — an environment compounded of all the infinitely complex ecological interactions that play out in significant balances, imbalances, competition, cooperation, symbioses, and all the rest, yielding the marvelously varied and interwoven living communities we find in savannah and rainforest, desert and meadow, stream and ocean, mountain and valley. And then, finally, we must be sure to pay no heed to the fact that the fitness, against which we have assumed our notion of randomness could be defined, is one of the most obscure, ill-formed concepts in all of science.

Overlooking all this, we are supposed to see — somewhere — blind, mindless, random, purposeless automatisms at the ultimate explanatory root of all genetic variation leading to evolutionary change. (Stephen L. Talbott, “Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness,” The New Atlantis, Fall 2011)

My point is not to suggest that that the writers are correct in their conjectures. Rather, the force of their conjectures shows that supposedly “settled” science is (a) always far from settled (on big questions, at least) and (b) necessarily incomplete because it can never reach ultimate truths.

Trayvon, George, and Barack

Recent revelations about the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman suggest the following:

  • Martin was acting suspiciously and smelled of marijuana.
  • Zimmerman was rightly concerned about Martin’s behavior, given the history of break-ins in Zimmerman’s neighborhood.
  • Martin attacked Zimmerman, had him on the ground, was punching his face, and had broken his nose.
  • Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defense.

Whether the encounter was “ultimately avoidable,” as a police report asserts, is beside the point.  Zimmerman acted in self-defense, and the case against him should be dismissed. The special prosecutor should be admonished by the court for having succumbed to media and mob pressure in bringing a charge of second-degree murder against Zimmerman.

What we have here is the same old story: Black “victim”–>media frenzy to blame whites (or a “white Hispanic”), without benefit of all relevant facts–>facts exonerate whites. To paraphrase Shakespeare: The first thing we should do after the revolution is kill all the pundits (along with the lawyers).

Obama famously said, “”If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Given the thuggish similarity between Trayvon and Obama (small sample here), it is more accurate to say that if Obama had a son, he would be like Trayvon.

Creepy People

Exhibit A is Richard Thaler, a self-proclaimed libertarian who is nothing of the kind. Thaler defends the individual mandate that is at the heart of Obamacare (by implication, at least), when he attacks the “slippery slope” argument against it. Annon Simon nails Thaler:

Richard Thaler’s NYT piece from a few days ago, Slippery-Slope Logic, Applied to Health Care, takes conservatives to task for relying on a “slippery slope” fallacy to argue that Obamacare’s individual mandate should be invalidated. Thaler believes that the hypothetical broccoli mandate — used by opponents of Obamacare to show that upholding the mandate would require the Court to acknowledge congressional authority to do all sorts of other things — would never be adopted by Congress or upheld by a federal court. This simplistic view of the Obamacare litigation obscures legitimate concerns over the amount of power that the Obama administration is claiming for the federal government. It also ignores the way creative judges can use previous cases as building blocks to justify outcomes that were perhaps unimaginable when those building blocks were initially formed….

[N]ot all slippery-slope claims are fallacious. The Supreme Court’s decisions are often informed by precedent, and, as every law student learned when studying the Court’s privacy cases, a decision today could be used by a judge ten years from now to justify outcomes no one had in mind.

In 1965, the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut, referencing penumbras and emanations, recognized a right to privacy in marriage that mandated striking down an anti-contraception law.

Seven years later, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, this right expanded to individual privacy, because after all, a marriage is made of individuals, and “[i]f the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual . . . to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

By 1973 in Roe v. Wade, this precedent, which had started out as a right recognized in marriage, had mutated into a right to abortion that no one could really trace to any specific textual provision in the Constitution. Slippery slope anyone?

This also happened in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, where the Supreme Court struck down an anti-sodomy law. The Court explained that the case did not involve gay marriage, and Justice O’Connor’s concurrence went further, distinguishing gay marriage from the case at hand. Despite those pronouncements, later decisions enshrining gay marriage as a constitutionally protected right have relied upon Lawrence. For instance, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (Mass. 2003) cited Lawrence 9 times, Varnum v. Brien (Iowa 2009) cited Lawrence 4 times, and Perry v. Brown (N.D. Cal, 2010) cited Lawrence 9 times.

However the Court ultimately rules, there is no question that this case will serve as a major inflection point in our nation’s debate about the size and scope of the federal government. I hope it serves to clarify the limits on congressional power, and not as another stepping stone on the path away from limited, constitutional government. (“The Supreme Court’s Slippery Slope,” National Review Online, May 17, 2012)

Simon could have mentioned Wickard v. Filburn (1942), in which the Supreme Court brought purely private, intrastate activity within the reach of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. The downward slope from Wickard v. Filburn to today’s intrusive regulatory regime has been been not merely slippery but precipitous.

Then there is Brian Leiter, some of whose statist musings I have addressed in the past. It seems that Leiter has taken to defending the idiotic Elizabeth Warren for her convenient adoption of a Native American identity. Todd Zywicki tears a new one for Leiter:

I was out of town most of last week and I wasn’t planning on blogging any more on the increasingly bizarre saga of Elizabeth Warren’s claim to Native American ancestry, which as of the current moment appears to be entirely unsubstantiated.  But I was surprised to see Brian Leiter’s post doubling-down in his defense of Warren–and calling me a “Stalinist” to boot (although I confess it is not clear why or how he is using that term).  So I hope you will indulge me while I respond.

First, let me say again what I expressed at the outset–I have known from highly-credible sources for a decade that in the past Warren identified herself as a Native American in order to put herself in a position to benefit from hiring preferences (I am certain that Brian knows this now too).  She was quite outspoken about it at times in the past and, as her current defenses have suggested, she believed that she was entitled to claim it.  So there would have been no reason for her to not identify as such and in fact she was apparently quite unapologetic about it at the time….

Second, Brian seems to believe for some reason that the issue here is whether Warren actually benefited from a hiring preference.  Of course it is not (as my post makes eminently clear).  The issue I raised is whether Warren made assertions as part of the law school hiring process in order to put herself in a position to benefit from a hiring preference for which she had no foundation….

Third, regardless of why she did it, Warren herself actually had no verifiable basis for her self-identification as Native American.  At the very least her initial claim was grossly reckless and with no objective foundation–it appears that she herself has never had any foundation for the claim beyond “family lore” and her “high cheekbones.”… Now it turns out that the New England Historical Genealogical Society, which had been the source for the widely-reported claim that she might be 1/32 Cherokee, has rescinded its earlier conclusion and now says “We have no proof that Elizabeth Warren’s great great great grandmother O.C. Sarah Smith either is or is not of Cherokee descent.”  The story adds, “Their announcement came in the wake of an official report from an Oklahoma county clerk that said a document purporting to prove Warren’s Cherokee roots — her great great great grandmother’s marriage license application — does not exist.”  A Cherokee genealogist has similarly stated that she can find no evidence to support Warren’s claim.  At this point her claim appears to be entirely unsupported as an objective matter and it appears that she herself had no basis for it originally.

Fourth, Brian’s post also states the obvious–that there is plenty of bad blood between Elizabeth and myself.  But, of course, the only reason that this issue is interesting and relevant today is because Warren is running for the U.S. Senate and is the most prominent law professor in America at this moment.

So, I guess I’ll conclude by asking the obvious question: if a very prominent conservative law professor (say, for example, John Yoo) had misrepresented himself throughout his professorial career in the manner that Elizabeth Warren has would Brian still consider it to be “the non-issue du jour“?  Really?

I’m not sure what a “Stalinist” is.  But I would think that ignoring a prominent person’s misdeeds just because you like her politics, and attacking the messenger instead, just might fit the bill. (“New England Genealogical Historical Society Rescinds Conclusion that Elizabeth Warren Might Be Cherokee,” The Volokh Conspiracy, May 17, 2012)

For another insight into Leiter’s character, read this and weep not for him.

Tea Party Sell-Outs

Business as usual in Washington:

This week the Club for Growth released a study of votes cast in 2011 by the 87 Republicans elected to the House in November 2010. The Club found that “In many cases, the rhetoric of the so-called “Tea Party” freshmen simply didn’t match their records.” Particularly disconcerting is the fact that so many GOP newcomers cast votes against spending cuts.

The study comes on the heels of three telling votes taken last week in the House that should have been slam-dunks for members who possess the slightest regard for limited government and free markets. Alas, only 26 of the 87 members of the “Tea Party class” voted to defund both the Economic Development Administration and the president’s new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program (see my previous discussion of these votes here) and against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank (see my colleague Sallie James’s excoriation of that vote here).

I assembled the following table, which shows how each of the 87 freshman voted. The 26 who voted for liberty in all three cases are highlighted. Only 49 percent voted to defund the EDA. Only 56 percent voted to defund a new corporate welfare program requested by the Obama administration. And only a dismal 44 percent voted against reauthorizing “Boeing’s bank.” That’s pathetic. (Tad DeHaven, “Freshman Republicans Switch from Tea to Kool-Aid,” Cato@Liberty, May 17, 2012)

Lesson: Never trust a politician who seeks a position of power, unless that person earns trust by divesting the position of power.


Just a few of the recent outbreaks of PCness that enraged me:

Michigan Mayor Calls Pro-Lifers ‘Forces of Darkness’” (reported by on May 11, 2012)

US Class Suspended for Its View on Islam” (reported by, May 11, 2012)

House Democrats Politicize Trayvon Martin” (posted at Powerline, May 8, 2012)

Chronicle of Higher Education Fires Blogger for Questioning Seriousness of Black Studies Depts.” (posted at & run, May 8, 2012)

Technocracy, Externalities, and Statism

From a review of Robert Frank’s The Darwin Economy:

In many ways, economics is the discipline best suited to the technocratic mindset. This has nothing to do with its traditional subject matter. It is not about debating how to produce goods and services or how to distribute them. Instead, it relates to how economics has emerged as an approach that distances itself from democratic politics and provides little room for human agency.

Anyone who has done a high-school course in economics is likely to have learned the basics of its technocratic approach from the start. Students have long been taught that economics is a ‘positive science’ – one based on facts rather than values. Politicians are entitled to their preferences, so the argument went, but economists are supposed to give them impartial advice based on an objective examination of the facts.

More recently this approach has been taken even further. The supposedly objective role of the technocrat-economist has become supreme, while the role of politics has been sidelined….

The starting point of The Darwin Economy is what economists call the collective action problem: the divergence between individual and collective interests. A simple example is a fishermen fishing in a lake. For each individual, it might be rational to catch as many fish as possible, but if all fishermen follow the same path the lake will eventually be empty. It is therefore deemed necessary to find ways to negotiate this tension between individual and group interests.

Those who have followed the discussion of behavioural economics will recognise that this is an alternative way of viewing humans as irrational. Behavioural economists focus on individuals behaving in supposedly irrational ways. For example, they argue that people often do not invest enough to secure themselves a reasonable pension. For Frank, in contrast, individuals may behave rationally but the net result of group behaviour can still be irrational….

…From Frank’s premises, any activity considered harmful by experts could be deemed illegitimate and subjected to punitive measures….

…[I]t is … wrong to assume that there is no more scope for economic growth to be beneficial. Even in the West, there is a long way to go before scarcity is limited. This is not just a question of individuals having as many consumer goods as they desire – although that has a role. It also means having the resources to provide as many airports, art galleries, hospitals, power stations, roads, schools, universities and other facilities as are needed. There is still ample scope for absolute improvements in living standards…. (Daniel Ben-ami, “Delving into the Mind of the Technocrat,” The Spiked Review of Books, February 2012)

There is much to disagree with in the review, but the quoted material is right on. It leads me to quote myself:

…[L]ife is full of externalities — positive and negative. They often emanate from the same event, and cannot be separated. State action that attempts to undo negative externalities usually results in the negation or curtailment of positive ones. In terms of the preceding example, state action often is aimed at forcing the attractive woman to be less attractive, thus depriving quietly appreciative men of a positive externality, rather than penalizing the crude man if his actions cross the line from mere rudeness to assault.

The main argument against externalities is that they somehow result in something other than a “social optimum.” This argument is pure, economistic hokum. It rests on the unsupportable belief in a social-welfare function, which requires the balancing (by an omniscient being, I suppose) of the happiness and unhappiness that results from every action that affects another person, either directly or indirectly….

A believer in externalities might respond by saying that they are of “economic” importance only as they are imposed on bystanders as a spillover from economic transactions, as in the case of emissions from a power plant that can cause lung damage in susceptible persons. Such a reply is of a kind that only an omniscient being could make with impunity. What privileges an economistic thinker to say that the line of demarcation between relevant and irrelevant acts should be drawn in a certain place? The authors of campus speech codes evidently prefer to draw the line in such a way as to penalize the behavior of the crude man in the above example. Who is the economistic thinker to say that the authors of campus speech codes have it wrong? And who is the legalistic thinker to say that speech should be regulated by deferring to the “feelings” that it arouses in persons who may hear or read it?

Despite the intricacies that I have sketched, negative externalities are singled out for attention and rectification, to the detriment of social and economic intercourse. Remove the negative externalities of electric-power generation and you make more costly (and even inaccessible) a (perhaps the) key factor in America’s economic growth in the past century. Try to limit the supposed negative externality of human activity known as “greenhouse gases” and you limit the ability of humans to cope with that externality (if it exists) through invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Limit the supposed negative externality of “offensive” speech and you quickly limit the range of ideas that may be expressed in political discourse. Limit the supposed externalities of suburban sprawl and you, in effect, sentence people to suffer the crime, filth, crowding, contentiousness, heat-island effects, and other externalities of urban living.

The real problem is not externalities but economistic and legalistic reactions to them….

The main result of rationalistic thinking — because it yields vote-worthy slogans and empty promises to fix this and that “problem” — is the aggrandizement of the state, to the detriment of civil society.

The fundamental error of rationalists is to believe that “problems” call for collective action, and to identify collective action with state action. They lack the insight and imagination to understand that the social beings whose voluntary, cooperative efforts are responsible for mankind’s vast material progress are perfectly capable of adapting to and solving “problems,” and that the intrusions of the state simply complicate matters, when not making them worse. True collective action is found in voluntary social and economic intercourse, the complex, information-rich content of which rationalists cannot fathom. They are as useless as a blind man who is shouting directions to an Indy 500 driver….

Theodore Dalrymple

If you do not know of Theodore Dalrymple, you should. His book, In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas, inspired  “On Liberty,” the first post at this blog. Without further ado, I commend these recent items by and about Dalrymple:

Rotting from the Head Down” (an article by Dalrymple about the social collapse of Britain, City Journal, March 8, 2012)

Symposium: Why Do Progressives Love Criminals?” (Dalrymple and others,, March 9, 2012)

Doctors Should Not Vote for Industrial Action,” a strike, in American parlance (a post by Dalrymple, The Social Affairs Unit, March 22, 2012)

The third item ends with this:

The fact is that there has never been, is never, and never will be any industrial action over the manifold failures of the public service to provide what it is supposed to provide. Whoever heard of teachers going on strike because a fifth of our children emerge from 11 years of compulsory education unable to read fluently, despite large increases in expenditure on education?

If the doctors vote for industrial action, they will enter a downward spiral of public mistrust of their motives. They should think twice before doing so.


The Higher-Eduction Bubble

The title of a post at The Right Coast tells the tale: “Under 25 College Educated More Unemployed than Non-college Educated for First Time.” As I wrote here,

When 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.

(Also see this.)

American taxpayers should be up in arms over the subsidization of an industry that wastes their money on the useless education of masses of indeducable persons. Then there is the fact that taxpayers are forced to subsidize the enemies of liberty who populate university faculties.

The news about unemployment among college grads may hasten the bursting of the higher-ed bubble. It cannot happen too soon.

I Want My Country Back

When a Tea Partier says something like “I want my county back,” leftists reliably label the sentiment as racist, sexist, homophobic, mean-spirited, and a lot of other things that are meant to be uncomplimentary. Well, I’m not an active member of the Tea Party movement, but I am sympathetic to it. And if I were to say “I want my country back,” here’s what I would mean by it:

Let’s start with the unlawfulness of government. The Constitution of the United States creates a “national” government of limited and enumerated powers, to act on behalf of the States and their citizens in certain matters. This “national” government has nevertheless blatantly and persistently exceeded its rightful powers. Moreover, much of what is done by all governments — not just the “national” government — is in fact unlawful at its core. There is a fundamental tenet of law — one that precedes and informs the Constitution — which is that “law” is law only when it serves the general welfare, regardless of its official status as an legislative, executive, or judicial act. Therefore, it is truly unlawful for the  “national” government or any other government in the United States to interfere with the lives, liberty, or property of Americans for the purpose of promoting special interests, however laudable those interests may seem. And yet, the “laws” under which Americans labor are, in the main, enactments that serve special interests and the power-lust of politicians, bureaucrats, and judges. In sum, I want my country (and its various parts) to return to the true “rule of law,” which is to promote the general welfare by

  • protecting all Americans from their enemies within and without
  • ensuring the free movement of all Americans
  • ensuring the free exchange of goods and services
  • and nothing more.

One of the most insidious ways in which government interferes with our liberty is by exercising a subtle but powerful form of thought control. It  is not the business of government to tell us what to believe or how we must arrive at our beliefs. But government — which puts it imprimatur on the vast majority of educational institutions and much of the “factual” information in many fields of endeavor — does all of those things. Thus, contrary to the intentions of the Founders, we have become a nation imbued with official beliefs about matters ranging from the origins of the universe to the goodness of our enemies to the climatic effects of (puny) human endeavors.

One of the key beliefs instilled by government — directly and through those who are in its thrall — is its beneficent role in our economic and social affairs. It never seems to occur to the proponents of governmental interference — or to its relatively few of its opponents — that there is a living, breathing case study which disproves the beneficence of economic meddling. When government spending and regulation played a tiny role in the economic affairs of the United States — from the 1790s to around 1900 — GDP grew at an annual rate of 4.2 percent. Now, with the regulatory-welfare state fully upon us, GDP grows at an annual rate of 3.1 percent (and falling). The difference between those two rates — when compounded over a generation, a lifetime, or a century —  ranges from significantly large to enormous. The road to economic lassitude is paved by the good intentions of regulation and spending by government. Liberty — part of which is the right to make mistakes and benefit from the resulting lessons — is a collateral victim of regulatory zeal. Liberty is a victim of government spending, as well, because it deprives individuals of some portion of the rewards for their labor and capital, and the full enjoyment of those rewards.

With respect to social matters, there is only one way to put it: Government is an enemy of society. Its main mission, when you think about it for more than a minute, is to supplant voluntary and beneficial social arrangements with schemes hatched in the vacuum of intellectualism. It is as if there were nothing to the eons-long learning that is expressed in the Ten Commandments and Golden Rule, and embodied in churches, clubs, and other voluntary, private associations. We must, instead, take our social marching orders from elites, who have their own peculiar views of what is right and just: serial polygamy, pederasty, and infanticide, to name just a few things. The social engineering favored by intellectualoids arises not from the wisdom of tradition, which fosters stable, trusting, and supportive social relationships, but from idle theorizing and a large dose of adolescent and post-adolescent rebellion.

Now, after a more than a century of “progressive” destruction of the Constitution and its restraints on government, Americans no longer enjoy the protection of government and the self-policing restraints of social custom. Instead, Americans suffer the fads and whims of the self-anointed, whose legacy lingers after their departure from the scene.

Now, after more than a century of “progressive” interference in the economic affairs of Americans, our progeny face unaffordable financial commitments, which they will be expected to honor even as their standard of living withers under the assault of taxation and regulation.

Now, after more than a century of social experimentation in which anti-social behavior has been exalted and long-standing voluntary social arrangements and institutions have been stripped of their authority, too many of our progeny are hooked on hard drugs, casual sex, and gratuitous violence as forms of “entertainment” and as “lifestyles.”

I want my country back.

Our Miss Brooks

Some time back, Tom Smith referred to the NYT columnist and pseudo-conservative David Brooks as “prissy little Miss Brooks.” Smith’s recycling of the appellation has not diminished its satirical effect — or its substantive accuracy.

Miss Brooks recently cringed when she contemplated an America without government, in the aftermath of a victorious Tea Party movement. Miss Brooks, it seems, is besotted with the manliness of limited-but-energetic governments

that used aggressive [emphasis added] federal power to promote growth and social mobility. George Washington used industrial policy, trade policy and federal research dollars to build a manufacturing economy alongside the agricultural one. The Whig Party used federal dollars to promote a development project called the American System.

Abraham Lincoln supported state-sponsored banks to encourage development, lavish infrastructure projects, increased spending on public education. Franklin Roosevelt provided basic security so people were freer to move and dare. The Republican sponsors of welfare reform increased regulations and government spending — demanding work in exchange for dollars.

Throughout American history, in other words, there have been leaders who regarded government like fire — a useful tool when used judiciously and a dangerous menace when it gets out of control. They didn’t build their political philosophy on whether government was big or not. Government is a means, not an end. They built their philosophy on making America virtuous, dynamic and great. They supported government action when it furthered those ends and opposed it when it didn’t.

I am surprised that Miss Brooks was able to recover from her swoon and finish writing the column in question. I am less surprised that Miss Brooks omitted to mention Thomas “Louisiana Purchase” Jefferson and Theodore “I Can Do Whatever I Please” Roosevelt, given that Jefferson was an effete Francophile and Roosevelt was a squeaky-voiced nutcase.

Other than that, there are only two problems with Brooks’s prescription for beneficent government: The first is the impossibility of electing only those leaders who know how to use government power judiciously. The second problem is the assumption that the things wrought by Washington, Lincoln, et al. were judicious uses of government power.

As to the first problem, all I can do is note the number of times that a majority of Americans has been convinced of the goodness of a candidate, only to be disappointed — when not outraged — by his performance in office. Take LBJ, Nixon, Carter, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama — please take them! –not to mention myriad Congress-critters and State and local office-holders.

The second problem is a problem for reasons that are evidentlybeyond Miss Brooks’s comprehension:

  • Government action isn’t cost-less. It absorbs resources that the private sector could have put to use.
  • Government officials, despite their (occasional) great deeds, are not gifted with superior knowledge about how to put those resources to use.
  • Private firms — when not shielded from competition and failure by governments — put resources to uses that satisfy the actual needs of consumers, as opposed to the whims (however high-minded) of politicians.
  • Private firms — when not shielded from competition and failure by government — use resources more efficiently than government.

In short, Miss Brooks, Washington may have been a great man for having led a rag-tag army to victory over the British, and Lincoln may have been a great man for having preserved the Union and (incidentally) freed the slaves, but neither man — and certainly no other man or collection of men exercising the arbitrary power of government — was or ever will be equal to the task of simulating the irreproducibly complex set of signals and decisions that are embedded in free markets.

In the end, Miss Brooks works herself into hysterics at the prospect of less government:

The social fabric is fraying. Human capital is being squandered. Society is segmenting. The labor markets are ill. Wages are lagging. Inequality is increasing. The nation is overconsuming and underinnovating. China and India are surging. Not all of these challenges can be addressed by the spontaneous healing powers of the market.

The social fabric is fraying precisely because government has pushed social institutions aside and made millions of Americans its dependents. Society is segmenting for the same reason, and also because millions of Americans are fed up with government and its dominance of their lives. Labor markets are ill and wages are lagging (compared to what?) because of various government actions that have slowed economic growth and caused (not for the first time) a deep recession. The nation is overconsuming (i.e., underinvesting) and underinnovating because of the aforesaid government-caused economic malaise, which (among other things) has reduced the demand for money (seen in the form of low interest rates) and the potential returns on innovative investments. That China and India are surging is no skin off our teeth; the more productive they are the less Americans have to pay for the goods and services they produce, and the more Americans can produce of other things — if government will only get off the back of American business.

None of these “challenges” would be challenges were it not for governmental interference in private social institutions and markets. As Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural address, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Amen.

So, Miss Brooks, I advise you to take two Valium and read Friedrich Hayek’s Nobel Prize lecture, “The Pretence of Knowledge.” Then pass it on to your politician friends.

Related posts:
Columnist, Heal Thyself
The Economic and Social Consequences of Government

A Conversation with Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam graciously granted me a telephone interview. Here is a complete transcript of the conversation between Uncle Sam (S) and me (T):

S: Sam here.

T: Hello, uncle, it’s Thomas.

S: It’s good to hear your voice, Mr. Jefferson.

T: Sorry, not that Thomas. I’m just a humble blogger. Do you know about blogs?

S: Oh, yes. I follow all the blogs about politics and economics. It’s quite a chore, but very enlightening. The things some people think about me are shocking.

T: How so?

S: Well, there are a lot of people out there who think that I hold the solution to all economic and social problems.

T: Don’t you?

S: Of course not. People are responsible for solving their own problems. All I can do is try to create a safe environment in which they can get on with the business of life.

T: Before we explore that idea further, tell me about yourself. How did you get your job?

S: I was hired by nine of the original States in 1788, when the Constitution was ratified. The other four soon joined them, and others came along later.

T: What was your job description when you were hired?

S: Pretty much what I said a minute ago: to keep the people safe, which includes refereeing squabbles among the States and ensuring that they don’t erect barriers to keep out people and goods from other States.

T: But you seem to have acquired a lot of additional duties since 1788.

S: Sad, but true. And it’s wearing me down. I have to pretend to be a lot wiser and more capable than any one person can be. I wish the States would get together and pare my job description down to its original specifications.

T: It seems unlikely, though. A lot of people have come to depend on you to do things they could do for themselves.

S: And it’s getting very expensive — like having 300 million dependents. The only way I’ll be able to support them all is to raise their taxes. I could borrow money from foreigners, but the more I borrow, the more expensive it will become. Eventually, foreigners will look at my balance sheet and cut me off.

T: So what it boils down to is this: In the end, your dependents must pay for the things that you do for them. Correct?

S: That’s exactly right. I’m just running a big Ponzi scheme. And most of the people who sign up for it are fools who believe that they’re getting something for nothing.

T: What’s in it for you?

S: Well, I must admit that I get a cut of the action.

T: So, when all the dust settles, your dependents don’t even get all of their money back from you?

S: Are you kidding? Of course they don’t. If they want me to do all of this extra work, they have to pay me for my trouble.

T: Do you think it’s possible to cut your job back to its original size?

S: Only if a lot more people get wise to me. Most of them seem to think I’m Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

T: But the politicians who give you your orders don’t believe such things, do they?

S: Some of them do. Most of them are just using me to make things work the way they want them to. It’s called “control.” I’ve seen all the presidents, members of Congress, and Supreme Court jutices — from great to mediocre — and almost every one of them was, or is, a control freak. Washington had to be one in order to get things off the ground. Without him, I wouldn’t have a job. Ditto Lincoln, who had to be a control freak in order to save the Union. Not that that was a bad thing, mind you, especially because it brought an end to slavery. But how many presidents since Lincoln have tried to stuff the genie (me) back in the bottle? Cleveland, Coolidge, and Reagan — that’s about it. And whatever success they enjoyed was only temporary. The people are good at fooling themselves, and politicians excel at helping them along.

T: You seem pessimistic.

S: I am. What’s needed is another Revolution, but a peaceful one. Those are hard to come by.

T: I’ll end our conversation on that note. Thanks very much, Sam.

S: Thank you for listening. And give my best wishes to the Tea Party.

Today’s Wisdom . . .

. . . comes from Tom Smith of The Right Coast:

I find the hostility towards the Tea Parties from libertarians hard to understand.  These people appear to generally favor small government.  Yes, they have differences on some issues, but they are much closer to libertarians than anyone else.

The only explanation that I can see for the hostility is based on a cultural view of libertarians — most of the libertarians think of themselves as part of a cultural elite and therefore reject the Sarah Palins of the world.  (I don’t mean to speak of Sarah Palin in particular, but of the Tea Partiers from her socio-economic group.)  Sad, very sad.  One would think that liberty would be more important to libertarians than self-image, but perhaps not.  Let’s hope I am wrong and the libertarians are warming to the Tea Partiers.

The Shape of Things to Come

Given the “State of the Union: 2010,” you may wonder how much worse things can get in this land of the once-free. Here are some very real possibilities:

  • More curbs on freedom of speech, in the name of “protecting” certain groups (e.g., homosexuals, immigrants, Muslims) and “preserving public order” (i.e., protecting government and government officials from criticism).
  • A complete government takeover of medical services (a U.S. National Heath Service), with no provision for opting-out to private care.
  • Environmentalism and warmism rampant, with draconian restrictions on everything from where we live, the design of our housing, and the range of products and services we are allowed to buy.
  • A stagnant economy — crushed by the weight of entitlement programs, environmentalism, warmism, and income equalization — affords a lower quality of life (on a par with the U.S. of the 1950s), and is unable to support a robust defense against foreign enemies.
  • Further reductions in quality of life, brought about by economic isolation, arising partly out of protectionism, partly out of voluntary withdrawal from overseas interests (in the name of self-sufficiency), and partly out of our unwillingness and inability to defend our overseas interests in the face of superior Chinese and Russian forces.
  • The erosion of traditional morality — aided by governmental endorsement of moral relativism — leading to the increasing brutalization of the citizenry and an eventual police-state response.

I could expand the list, but it is already depressing enough.

If you cannot participate in the efforts of the Tea Party movement, the American Conservative Union, and the Club for Growth to roll back the forces of oppression in this land, support those organizations with your dollars. Every little bit helps.

A Declaration of Independence, Updated

If you haven’t read “A Declaration of Independence,” or haven’t read it since I revised it, I recommend a first or second look.

A Declaration of Independence

See “The Constitution: Myths and Realities“.