Friday, November 30, 2012

Obama's Great White Whale

You expect politicians to have hackneyed political ideas, and President Obama doesn't disappoint.

It's been obvious all along that his central concern is "inequality" and a post-election piece by Zachary Goldfarb points that up.
As Obama did in legislative fights during his first term, he also will be striving to reduce a three-decades-long wave of rising income inequality that has meant that fewer Americans have prospered while more struggle to get by.
Three decades, you'll note, takes us back to the beginning of the Reagan administration.  It means that the astonishing economic boom of the 1980s and 1990s was a mirage.  It's the basis of  "you didn't build that," of Joe the Plumber and "spread the wealth" and just about everything the president has done.

And the rest of the liberal political culture is not far behind.  That's what all the nostalgia talk about "good jobs at good wages" in the 1950s is all about.  Back then we had big corporations and strong unions and the working stiff made out well.  Today with outsourcing and greedy bankers and vulture capitalists like Mitt Romney the little guy is getting screwed.

That's the liberal line.

The conservative line comes out of people like Charles Murray and his Coming Apart.  The conservative line is that the mechanical liberal administrative welfare state hurts the very people it is supposed to help.  It encourages people in dependency, breaks up families, gives the children of the poor a lousy education, puts government under the thumb of government employee unions and business into the corruption of go-along-to-get-along crony capitalism.  Oh, things are going swimmingly for the cognitive elite, the people that are good at going to school and getting credentials and navigating bureaucratic hierarchies.  But if you are a meat-and-potatoes kind of person, one that learns by doing, and that lives in a face-to-face rather than a memo-to-memo culture--well tough luck for you.

But there's another troubling aspect to this, and it is coming out int he fiscal cliff crisis.  We learn from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that the basic fiscal-cliff proposal from the Obama administration is basically $1.6 trillion in tax increases.  If this is true, it means that the Obamis are not advancing a serious proposal for entitlement reform.  It means that, if there is any entitlement reform, it will be just a bargaining chip in the power struggle between the two factions of our ruling class.

This tells us a lot more than you might think.  Republicans and conservatives would like to reform the government entitlements so that they are self-financing, so that the federal government finances can get onto a long-term balance.  They want to get the government out of the middle of all this.  The Democrats don't.

When the Democrats stopped observing the Budget Control Acts after 2009 they opted for the annual cliff-hanger like the 2011 debt-default crisis, and now the fiscal-cliff crisis.  They are reducing policy to an annual national cage fight.

In my judgment this is a serious betrayal of the "little people," the welfare-state dependents that rely on those government programs.  It shows that the Democrats don't really care about them except for their votes.

Because when the crash comes, Arnold Kling's "sudden stop" when the government has to balance spending and revenue because it can't borrow any more, then the welfare-state dependents are going to be hurt the most: "women and minorities hardest hit" as the headline goes.  Eating the paint off the walls, as the Russians say.

But really, anyone that relies on a government to keep themselves in groceries deserves what they get.  Government is force, politics is for bullies.  If you cast your vote with the bullies, you get what you pay for.

I don't think that President Obama is really interested in the long-term fate of the dependent classes.  He has a facile answer for all that: "inequality."  Just lower the level of struggle for the struggling classes by making the rich pay a little more, and you can make America a better country.

There's another way of putting this.  Just let politicians do what comes naturally, dividing people by income and class and looting the producers to pay off their supporters, says President Obama, and all will be well.

Well.  The whole thrust of modern conservatism since Edmund Burke has been that you surrender society to "sophisters, economists, and calculators" at your peril.  He means, in our modern argot, that society cannot be reduced to system and administrative routine.  We humans are social animals, not mechanical animals.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Conservative Storytelling

Liberals tell their story better than conservatives.  That's the message from Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven.  Habeeb is a VP at conservative Salem Radio Network, home of Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager, so he should know.  Conservatives should tell our stories better.

No doubt.  And the liberal advantage goes back to the invention of the movie.  Even conservative icon Margaret Thatcher was affected when the movies came to Methodist Grantham in the 1920s.  What a world outside the dull Methodism of the old ones!

But it's not just storytelling; it's hegemony.  Liberals get to force their stories down our throats and stigmatize our stories as racist, sexist, homophobic.  That is the key.  Liberals sit in the cultural catbird seat and they don't intend to give it up or anything else.

And anyway, the main consumers of cultural product, young people, want edgy stuff that annoys their parents.  How are they to tell that the real "parents" are the edgy liberals running their schools and their TV shows?

The reason conservatives are in such a world of hurt is that liberals have deliberately hitched up their efforts at cultural hegemony in the last couple of decades.  Let's say it goes back to the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was carrying all before him.  Liberals responded with the Clintonian New Democrat feint and with efforts to corral their supporters into ethnic enclaves. with naked racist appeals.  Along the way liberals taught themselves to stop listening to conservative critiques.

It is a mistake to imagine that the culture war is merely a matter of competing stories.  That's not the way the world works.  Each era has a dominant culture, the taken-for-granted stories about the way the world works and came to be.  That dominant culture doesn't really get challenged until it starts to fail.

The reason that Obama got elected and reelected is because liberals ran a full-court press to sell the idea that Bush had failed, and the American people bought the idea.  Never mind that the main reason for the Crash of 2008 was the popping of a 30-year real-estate bubble, and the biggest reason for the pop was the loans to people that couldn't afford to service them.  Nothing to do with greedy bankers and crazy derivatives.  Just bad liberal government policy.  And the fact is that liberals have the cultural power to push their narrative on the American people.

Liberals will find that their stories will cease to persuade when things start going wrong.  Oh they'll blame the insurance companies for the failure of Obamacare, and they will keep blaming class size for the failures of public education.  But in the end, people will stop listening and just say: things aren't working; we have to change.

At that point people will be ready to listen to another story.  It is then we will need conservatives with a story to tell.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

After Patronage Politics Fails

Conservatives are full of foreboding these days.  The debt isn't $16 trillion; it's much, much worse.  The student debt problem is yet another case (after mortgage subsidies) of good intentions screwing the people it was meant to help.  Ditto Affirmative Action at the university.

The basic divide in this country is between two ideas of the individual.  There is the "responsible self," a notion that Robert Bellah attributes to the Axial Age when all modern religions got their start.  And there is the client self, the powerless peasant that attaches himself to a powerful patron.

Thus it makes sense that the average Republican thinks of himself as a "typical American" and the average Democrat thinks of himself as a hyphenated American.  If you adhere to the notion of the "responsible self" then you don't need and don't want to think of yourself as an embattled class.  But if you adhere to the idea of yourself as powerless, then you need to group together and identify a powerful patron, someone that will protect you and your group from a cruel and heartless world.

What I wonder is what happens when this breaks down, when the powerful patron can't or won't deliver.  In our terms, what happens when the entitlements run out.  What do the people do, and what do the leaders do?

The simple answer, from David Hackett Fischer in The Great Wave, is that you get default, revolution, and war.  The end game of the patronage/client business, when there is no more money, provokes people to seek an answer in the street.

Of course, the war and the revolution don't really solve anything.  Their contribution is to focus and concentrate the rage of the disappointed in a great battle.  After it's over the rage subsides, people accept the result, and life goes on.  The glorious principles to which people vowed solemn oaths lie trampled in the mud and blood, and people make do with what remains.

As the endgame unfolds in the near future we can expect that the client groups of the Democratic Party will lunge to grab more loot with tax increases.  And they will partially succeed.  The responsible selves of the Republican Party will try to tame the entitlements, and they will partially succeed.

Then we will come to the real default and the real disappointment.  All predictions and prophesies will disappear into the fog of war.

That's the whole point of war and revolution.  When you are brutally disappointed, you make one last violent gesture, to mix it all up and hope that after the confusion you come out on top at the end.

Medium term, you can see what is coming.  Barack Obama has set federal spending at about 25 percent of GDP.  Federal revenue has never really got about 19 percent of GDP.  When the current effort to make the rich pay a little more raises federal revenue to about 19.5 percent of GDP then the Democrats will call for a Value Added Tax.  Guess what.  That will fall on the middle class and the Democratic voters.

And what will the clients and the victims do then, poor things?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Liberals' Discarded Mistresses

Why does a woman ever consent to become a mistress?  Is it because of love?  Anyway, the old saying,"hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" is presumably the epitaph on the grave of every discarded mistress.

But what about liberalism's discarded mistresses?  Or more exactly, what about that woman of a certain age, the white working class?

Who can forget how liberals pursued her back in her abundant youth.  Oh, the promises they made, the jewels they bestowed, the poems they penned to honest toil, the programs they created to minister to every need of the working class.

And then Barack Obama told us back in 2008 what liberals really felt about the working class.
"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them," Obama said. "And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
So.  All along, liberals have looked down on the calloused hands and the simple verities of the working class.  Just votes to be harvested until other bright young things came along: blacks, Hispanics, women.

But there's a twist, of course.  Now that we've seen the numbers from the 2012 election the experts have realized that the Republicans are about 3 million votes short.  Who were those voters?  The white working class.

You've got to hand it to Obama's people.  They told us a year ago that they had given up on the white working class.  But it turns out they had a plan.  They would carpet-bomb the bitter clingers with negative ads, to remind them how the Republicans hated them, and keep them home on election day.

Oh didn't you know?  That's what negative ads are all about.  They are not about getting your side out to vote.  They are about demoralizing the weak supporters of the other side, so they decide that it's not really worth going out to vote.

So now we know.  After romancing the working class voters, and putting them in a little Social Security apartment complete with Medicare furniture and Unemployment electronics--all of which are now falling apart--there is one thing the liberals absolutely will not allow.

They don't want the favors of the white working class, but they are determined that nobody else will have her.

But hey girls, why don't you just give up and come join the Republican Party, even if we are a party of plutocrats and puritans?

Well, we know why.  The Republican Party is the party of people who believe in the central dogma of the middle class, the Invisible Hand.  We believe that you make a living by going out into the world and offering your skills.  You don't try to make it by piracy and plunder, by political intrigue and union muscle.  You thrive by offering yourself to the market, surrendering to the verdict of society on your usefulness and your talent.

The working class voters just aren't ready to do that.  Because they still believe all the beautiful lies the liberals told them all those years ago.  Girls are like that.

Don't laugh, "Julia".  You could be next.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Don't Panic on Demography!

Every time the GOP loses--and even when it almost loses--well meaning people urge it to do outreach to minorities.

And of course the chaps that wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority, John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, say that the Dems will bury the GOP with a coalition of minorities, the educated, and the young.

Maybe, but the fabulous Barack Obama won reelection by 2 percent, probably by suppressing the vote among the white working class.  And Megan McArdle wonders how well it is really working out in practice (H/T LI).
1. That majority sure isn’t emerging very fast.

2. Ethnic coalitions are inherently unstable.

3. We are heading for a showdown between public sector unions and taxpayers.

4. We’re heading for a showdown between the recipients of old-age benefits, and recipients of all the other kinds of benefits.

5. On social issues, Democrats are badly positioned for the future.

6. Mitt Romney was a uniquely bad candidate for 2012.

7. GOP tax cuts have enabled Democratic spending promises.
I'm more inclined to go with Michael Barone.  In his New Americans he compares the immigrant ethnics of a century ago with today: yesterday's Irish vs. today's blacks; yesterday's Italians vs. today's Hispanics; yesterday's Jews vs. today's Asians.  Notice that two of the three ethnics of yesteryear are moving pretty firmly into the Republican camp and the Jews are just beginning to move.

But back to McArdle.  I like to think about items 3, 4, and 5 on her list.

On public sector unions we have to remember that special interests do best when they operate below the radar.  When they get too successful they attract enemies and unwanted publicity.

On oldsters vs. young 'uns, I'd have to advise my fellow senior citizens to keep your finances in order.  At some point the average young working stiff is going to realize just how much he is paying for wealthy seniors--I don't mean the really rich but the elderly couple with a half-million dollar home and a nice income.

Then there are the social issues.  Democrats have done a bang-up job keeping the social issues at bay in the last decade.  But my prediction is that abortion will become the new slavery issue.  Why?  Well think about it.  Back in 1800 slavery was a great convenience for the textile consumers (cotton plantations) and the tea-and-coffee drinkers (sugar plantations).  Yet a century later plantation slavery had been abolished in the western world--only to stage a revival in the progressive socialist countries in the 20th century.

Abortion is all about the great convenience to a woman in controlling her fertility.  But is it?  Or is the convenience for the benefit of her casual sexual partner?  Despite all the talk of women's liberation, some of us troglodytes think that the real liberation in the sexual revolution was for unmarried young men.  Now we can argue that "if you love me" you should go to bed with me, and we often do.  What woman ever wants to deny love?

There's another, deeper reason to suspect that morality will rear its ugly head again.  The only deadly serious question for humans is to survive and reproduce.  We have seen that the modern dispensation, of prosperity, welfare state and fertility control, has occurred simultaneously with a precipitous decline in fertility among modern, educated women.  Something that can't go on forever, won't.

The scientists tell us that a universal genetic trait is always essential for survival.  Religion has been universal among humans, so it must have a survival value.  Maybe, just maybe that old doggerel is true, and the contribution of religion to humanity is to keep the human eye upon the donut, and not upon the hole.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why Romney Lost

Leaving aside all the usual stuff about Republicans losing the black vote, the Latino vote, the youth vote, the single women vote, there is this.

Romney lost the working class vote.  Here's what happened, according to Fred Bauer.
However, for those households making between $30,000 and $49,999, he underperformed: McCain lost those voters by twelve points, while Romney lost them by 15. Moreover, because of the economic travails of the past four years, members of those working-class/lower-middle-class households rose from 19 percent of the electorate in 2008 to 21 percent in 2012.
So the Obamis were smart after all.  They spent the whole summer on negative ads demonizing Mitt Romney as an uncaring capitalist, and it worked.

It's funny really, if it weren't so sad.  The whole prosperity of the working class depends on the ability of entrepreneurs to create jobs out of nothing.  But the Democrats have made a political empire out of demonizing those same entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile the Democrats destroy the economy with their credit subsidies and their interventions and succeed in blaming the greedy bankers.

Well, that may be so.  Look, nobody really understands the modern economy.  We all pontificate, conservatives about the wonders of markets and liberals about the wonders of regulation, but nobody really knows what they are doing.

And really, the voters are right in voting for Democrats.  Those folks who have lost out in the aftermath of the Great Recession are probably never going to rise again.  Many of them, we know, are settling for a disability pension, and are getting ready to live out the rest of their lives on the dole.  So they are voting for the dole.  That's a good idea as long as the checks keep coming.

So what happens next?

You can choose the Marxist prophecy, which says that the change in the economy changes the relations between people and prompts the creation of new "classes" mobilized to fight against injustices visited upon society by the old regime.

Or you can choose the moral movement notion, that politics is moved by moral movements, such as Great Awakenings, that work their way into politics and change the rules of governing.

When you think of it, they are saying the same thing.  Look out for new "classes" or moral movements to arise in the future as people respond to the stresses and the injustices of the age.

What will these movements look like and what will they want?

Nobody knows.  But they will surprise us and surprise the political experts.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The New EERA

My point is that, whatever we are fighting about on the front lines of politics, the real issues can be found by stepping back a bit.

In my weekly oped, I announce the new era of the welfare state smashup.  The welfare state smashup will occur because, the promises that have been made cannot be delivered.  What is more, they should not be delivered.

It's a new EERA, and I think that the defining issues will be Entitlements, Economy, Race, and Abortion.

On Entitlements, we must realize that, not only are entitlements eating up the budget, they are eating up our society.  The great issue of any society, from a family to a nation state, is freeloading.  The benefits of society are enormous, there is no such thing as an "independent" human.  We would all perish without society.  But equally, for each of us there is an eternal temptation to ride on the labor of others.  One of the central tasks of religion, according to Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct, is to control freeloading, by naming and shaming and, if that doesn't work, with divine justice.  But the welfare state creates a springtime for freeloaders, encouraging people to define themselves as victims that cannot be expected to contribute.  It dissolves the notion that we should all try to contribute as much as we can, rather that try to get away with as little as we can. or as beneficiaries who deserve to get back what they put in.  Then there is the systems aspect of entitlements, the idea that you can set up an administrative system that defines for all time what people should contribute and what they should receive.  Such a mechanical system is bound to fail.

On Economy, we must stop the government trying to game the economy.  No doubt there is a place for the government's system of force, but if we have learned one thing over the last two centuries of the industrial age it is that the government's attempts to second guess the market has almost always failed.  On the credit system, governments have again and again debauched the currency and stolen the savings of ordinary people.  On the market system, governments have again and again favored special interests and economic chimeras over the natural discovery process of the market.  And while the government is tending its cronies, the wind farmers and the government employee unions, the ordinary fraudsters and bunco artists thrive.  Why on earth did Bernie Madoff not get shut down by the regulators?

On Race, we must stop the monstrous betrayal of the civil rights revolution.  I can understand that the Democrats may have thought, after the civil rights acts, that they deserved to hand out some goodies to their supporters, but the hypocrisy of quotas and "diversity" 50 years later is an outrage, and the way that Democrats have ghettoized blacks into voting 90-10 for Democrats can only have been achieved by naked appeals to race.  What the civil rights revolution was supposed to curb in the racist South.

On Abortion, liberals need to rethink.  My prediction is that abortion is going to become the great moral issue of the age.  Think back to slavery.  Back in the 18th century, Europeans were doing a fine business in the slave plantation business.  It brought sugar to the breakfast tables of Europe, and built great mansions in the country.  But then the Quakers decided that it was wrong.  A century later, slavery was dead.  Today, we can agree that abortion is, after a fashion, tremendously liberating for women.  They do not have to be a slave to their reproductive role.  That's the good side.  But there is a cost to the convenience of abortion.  It cheapens the central business of life, which is reproduction.  There is a reason why women and children have been made sacred and set apart.  It is because we forget the central importance of reproduction at our peril.  When we see the child per woman rate down at 1.3 in Western Europe, when 2.1 is replacement rate, we know that something is wrong.  That something is the marginalization of sex, marriage, childbearing and childraising.  We talk about careers for women as more important than children for women.

We humans are social animals, but we are also easily distracted from any tasks and run off at tangents.  Instead of concentrating on the job at hand we run off into the weeds.  It is the job of the great social institutions to turn us back to our tasks.  On Entitlements it is to realize that the great social engagements of health care, education, and welfare cannot be shoved aside as mechanical administrative programs.  On the Economy it is to realize that the economy is something to which we must all contribute before we can get our reward.  On Race it is to refocus on what unites us rather than what divides us.  On Abortion it is to realize that our central creative task is to produce children not great products, great cities, or great works of art.

We can either re-channel ourselves to our central human task, or we can drain away into the sand, like every other civilization in history.  Our choice.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Politics of the Smashup

I mourned for a day, but now I see the future.  The era of conservative reform is over and the era of the smashup is about to begin.

For fifty years conservatives have been offering a way to veer gently off the folly of the administrative welfare state by limiting the expansion of government.  But with the confirmation of Obamacare, President Obama has welded shut the door of the iron cage.  We are now trapped in the cage until we can smash it up and escape.

The four walls of the iron cage are government pensions, government health care, government education and government welfare.  The cage is designed, whether its designers understand or not, to replace the natural human instincts of social engagement with the mechanical steel of the administrative bureaucracy and the rulebook.

Karl Marx may have been the most unpleasant man of his generation, and he may have been dead wrong about the "immiseration" of the working class, but he had one thing right.  When the economy changes, as it did in 1760 with the textile revolution and again in the 1820s with the railroad revolution, then necessarily society changes too.  The old elite inevitably succumbs as the culture and the politics change and new men come forward.

So here we have the death of the old world of "good jobs at good wages" that we witness in the failure of General Motors and the devastation they say you can see from the Acela is it runs through Camden and Philadelphia.  And anyway, the workers hated those jobs.  We see the new world of smaller, agile companies that will demolish the big business model, and we see the prospect of on-line education that will utterly transform the big education model.  We know that big welfare is a total failure.  And here's my nickel that says that big health care is on the cusp of a revolution.

If the Economy of the Bigs is on its way out, then society itself is going to change.  So then what will happen to the biggest big of all, our modern big government?  Who knows?  But one thing is for sure: It will change.

It will change because it will run out of money.  Inflation, debt default, financial repression, confiscation, riots in the streets: Greece and Argentina writ large.  It's all a real shame, because women and minorities will be hardest hit.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Forget the Tactics and Messaging

Reading the postmortems on the 2012 election I see a lot of people worrying about tactics and messaging.  We didn't appeal in the right way with the right candidate with the right messages.

All true, but don't forget that the Prussians won the Franco-Prussian war despite some severe tactical mistakes.  They won because they had the better strategy; they had their larger formations in the right place.

That's why I believe we should take a deep breath and step back. The larger question is the question of the administrative welfare state.  Is it a social and political system that is: just, practical, sustainable.

The obvious answer is that the welfare state is profoundly unjust, for it merely instantiates the age old rule of the stronger over the weaker.  Welfare state politics is nothing more than the mobilizing of regime supporters with the promise of loot.

The welfare state is impractical because it does not have the bandwidth to manage society and its millions of transactions.  The administrative method can work for an army, although only just, because an army has a limited goal and it frankly admits that it uses its soldiers as cannon fodder.  In an economy and a society, we have the idea that the ends do not justify the means.  It is the means that matter and that means we cannot use the administrative method which treats everyone in its structure as a means.

Finally, the welfare state is profoundly unsustainable because, like all political systems, it cannot respond to change.  Politics is a human way of resisting change, of trying to set things up for all eternity.  That is a mirage.  A wise political system limits the power of government because it knows that it cannot anticipate every need and every accident.  We have a system for that; it is called capitalism.

In these days the world looks very dark for conservative ideas.  President Obama has cunningly characterized the utter bankruptcy of liberal ideas as President Bush's fault.  He can do that because when a Democratic president says something the mainstream media do not insert those snappish little paragraphs that begin "But critics say..."

But now the president must "do something" about the budget and about the economy.  My guess is that, whatever he does, nobody will be happy.

As Winston Churchill is reputed to have said, America always does the right thing. In the end.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

End of an Illusion

The basic idea behind modern conservatism has been that we can persuade the American people to move away from their client relationship to the administrative welfare state, and build a different society, one based on freedom and free association, in particular the free associations of civil society.

The historic reelection of President Obama means that the conservative dream has become an illusion.  With the confirmation of Obamacare we now have in the United States a four-sided iron cage of administrative confinement.  For old age we have government pensions, for health care we have government health care, to educate the children we have government education, and for the relief of the poor we have government welfare.  And we will have all of that that until it breaks.

It will break, that we know.  The one great lesson of history is that people don't give up their free stuff without a fight, so governments like ours are forced to give out more and more out of a dwindling "stash."

The great blessing of the free market is that it offers humans a way of adjusting their behavior to the needs of their fellows.  If you have a job, or if your company makes a profit, it means that you are rendering valuable services to your fellow humans.

But government is different.  It is a system of force.  It is, always and everywhere, an armed minority occupying territory and taxing the inhabitants thereof to provide for its supporters.  In the past these supporters have usually been a warrior elite, but in our day the government's supporters are the entitlement program beneficiaries and the government employees.

In The Great Wave David Hackett Fischer has described how an age of rising prices ends.  It ends in social collapse, in inflation, in disease, war, and famine.  Fischer isn't a very good economist, and still less a political philosopher.  But he can shovel out the facts.  In each era of rising prices governments start to live beyond their means, and they resort to borrowing and inflation.  They do that because to disappoint their supporters and reduce their stipends would deny the government's very reason for being.  And anyway, people denied their benefits usually resort to the streets.

Program beneficiaries are like NRA members who say you can get their guns out of their cold dead hands.  It is not just that they are selfish: we are all selfish.  The beneficiaries of the welfare state have organized their lives around their benefits.  They are, as they self-describe, people on "fixed incomes."  They don't propose, and maybe cannot, "do something" about their situation if it heads south, except to demonstrate and riot.

In our case projected government health care costs alone are going to eat the federal budget.  They cannot be paid and they will not be paid.  The same probably goes for the national debt.  We have three states already, California, Illinois, and probably New York, that are going broke.  With the reelection of President Obama they are probably going to get bailouts, meaning that they will not be forced to reduce spending.  Then we have the hyper-regulation of the Obama state that will probably keep business hunkered down on its capital strike.

Is there hope?  Of course there is.  We conservatives can continue to work on what comes after.  After the present welfare state of the educated liberals and their clients runs out of money and blood.

Our chance may not come for a generation.  Of maybe it will come in four years.  Who knows?

Paradoxically, the solution to our problems has probably received its most penetrating analysis from the neo-Marxists of the Frankfurt School.  It is they that realized that all instrumental reason, whether used in government or business, leads to domination, and a triumph of system over people.  The solution, Juergen Habermas realized, was a balance between our modern rational systems and the human-all-to-human lifeworld.  Or as we conservatives say, civil society, where free people in free association join with their fellow citizens face to face to meet their social needs and solve their social problems.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Today's the Day

Today's the day on which we Americans decide if Barack Obama's huge gamble pays off.

Back in 2006, if you remember, Democrats decided that they had learned from the Bush 2004 victory and they ran a lot of moderates for Congress.  It was a great success and the Dems picked up 30 seats in the House.

Then they ran the healer Barack Obama in 2008 and America voted for its first black president in the hope that he would end the centuries of race war.  The Democrats also picked up 25 seats in the House.

But President Obama did not govern as the healer.  He governed as a man in a hurry.  Galvanized by the almost filibuster-proof Senate, he decided to go for broke and pass every item on the liberal wish list while there was still time.  He passed a stimulus bill, Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank.

The American people were outraged and in 2010 sent 63 more Republicans to the House of Representatives, including a Tim Scott, a black insurance agent to represent Charleston, SC, and Allen West to represent a district in SE Florida.

The question today is whether we return the president to office, in which case his signature Obamacare will probably endure, or whether we counterattack, and roll back his ambitious effort to "transform" America.

If the president gets reelected then he will go down in history as one of the most daring and successful politicians ever.  If he fails then he will be dismissed as just another reckless fool that tried to take a bridge too far.

Of course, beyond the issue of the president and his daring gamble for the laurels of history, there is this.

Politics is civil war by other means.  The idea is to take advantage of your opportunities, but not so that your opponents decide that their only option is civil war.  The way you do this is, as Noam Chomsky puts it, by manufacturing consent.

When you want to pass a great health care bill you figure that you have two options.  You could go for broke with a bare partisan majority and create a head of rebellion in the opposition.  Or you could broker a compromise and pass a "bipartisan consensus."  Then you can argue that your bill was a "bipartisan" bill and that only a rump of extremists voted against it.

President Obama went the bare partisan majority route and rammed his programs through in the teeth of opposition from the American people.  I suspect that his decision will echo down the decades to come in rancor and conflict.

The result, of course, is likely to be sovereign debt default and the collapse of the welfare state, and maybe worse.

Women and minorities will be hardest hit, as usual.

But then, that's what usually happens when transformative leaders start transforming.

Monday, November 5, 2012

At Election Time, Government is Force

I confess I was a little shocked last week scanning the links at  The liberals were all extolling the wonders of government.  Yeah, they said.  You sure need big government when Nature comes calling.

Of course, everyone is in favor of big government where their pet project is concerned.  Conservatives think that, on the view that the job of government is to protect us from enemies foreign and domestic, that the armed forces and the police are a good thing.

Liberals disagree.  They are paranoid about Pentagon generals, and watch local police forces intensely for any sign that they are committing police brutality on the poor and the marginalized.  But they are all in favor of the enforcement of environmental laws.  Because that will save the planet.

So there's real agreement in America.  Everyone is paranoid about the use of government force for things they don't like.

The question is: to what extent are we willing to reduce the use of government force on our pet projects in order to accommodate the fears of our friends in the other party?

Conservatives say that's why we need limited government and the separation of powers.

And I say that's why we need to go beyond that to the Greater Separation of Powers, to keep a separation between the great power sectors of society, the political sector, the economic sector, and the moral/cultural sector.

We already agree that there should be a separation between church and state, between the political and moral/cultural sectors, except that we violate it every day with government schools instructing the young and government support for the arts.  Of course, the truth is that you cannot separate politics from morality and culture, because morality and culture inform the decisions we make in politics.  But we can at least try to get the politicians and the moralists from getting in bed together.

The next great challenge is to separate economy and state: the political and the economic sectors.  This is particularly a pressing issue for the modern age, because government and business have grown from cottage industries into great and powerful systems that threaten to dominate and run over everything in their path.

It was Marx who first made the power of business into a scandal.  He used the tools of the classical economists, their confused ideas of exchange value and use value, to contrast the difference between "social labor" and "abstract labor," of work performed face-to-face and work bought and sold on the labor market.

But it took a new generation of Marxists, the Frankfurt School, to realize that it wasn't just business that threatened the social nature of humans, it was instrumental reason and its systems.  We are talking here about both business systems and government systems and their universal tendency to domination.

Then Juergen Habermas developed the ideas of Husserl and Heidegger into his system-and-lifeworld model.  System is the mechanical world of businesses and governments, of rules and subordination.  In Husserl's conception "The ‘lifeworld’ is a grand theatre of objects variously arranged in space and time relative to perceiving subjects, is already-always there, and is the “ground” for all shared human experience."

The problem for humans is that, unless we restrain the big and powerful systems they will dominate and sterilize the lifeworld.  That's because the systems want to reduce everything to their system.  So we have government, the system of force, and economy, the system of money.  We also have organized religion, the system of faith.  And each of them threatens us with its power.

Conservatives have a parallel view to Habermas and his systems vs. lifeworld view.  We believe in the limitation of powers, that is the restraining of the systems.  And we believe in the protection of "civil society" which is pretty close to the German concept of lifeworld or Lebenswelt.

But here we are, with an momentous election, determining whether we go full tilt towards an uber-systems government with bigger and more powerful systems.  Or whether we start in a different direction, de-privileging the systems and trying to find a new balance between our powerful systems of government and business and our essential humanness?

The thing about systems, of  course, is that they work really well right up until the moment they break.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Obama: Breakthrough or Bridge Too Far?

Let us suppose that Mitt Romney wins by 3-5 percent next Tuesday and gets a Republican Senate.  For President Obama and his left-liberal supporters, will it all have been worth it?

As John Podhoretz opines, you have to hand it to the president.  When he had the power he rammed through as much of his left-wing agenda as he could cram through Congress.  And as we know, it is easy to create new spending, and almost impossible to roll it back.
In his first 16 months as president, from his inauguration through the signing into law of ObamaCare, Obama arguably altered the trajectory of the United States in a manner that neither Mitt Romney (should he become president) or the president who succeeds Obama after his second term concludes in 2017 will find easy to redirect — if he or she even wishes to.
It starts with the big numbers, the $700 billion of TARP.  After that, the $800 billion of stimulus and supposed $1 trillion of Obamacare is just more of the same.
That TARP program utterly changed the terms of the Washington debate about the economic crisis and the nature of the government’s role, especially since its colossal size barely slowed its rapid adoption into law. The voices raised against it were basically dismissed as being on the fringe. The system needed an expression of confidence and an explosion of liquidity.
 So the question is whether the Obama interlude is a replay of FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society when liberals seized an opportunity to enlarge government power and reach by handing out "free stuff" in a way that could not be reversed.

My guess is both Yes and No.  Yes, Obama has put government deeper into health care, and that will not change.  Paradoxically, his Obamacare was designed in part to try to put a lid on Medicare, the government's biggest problem, by instituting back-door rationing.  So Obama would hasten the time when the whole government machine shudders to a halt.  If the Romneys roll back Obamacare and reform Medicare they might actually make the entitlement program last another ten extra years.

But the basic problem is that people will not give up on their entitlements until the whole system crashes, as I wrote about yesterday.  When it comes to their Medicare, people are like the members of the NRA.  Like the NRA member's proverbial gun, you can get my Medicare from my cold dead hand.

People will only give up on their entitlements when the government goes broke, wrecks the currency, and defaults on the debt.  And maybe not even then.

That is America's real problem.