Friday, September 28, 2012

Government is Force

Columnist Jonah Goldberg has been watching the Democratic National Convention.  And he has something to say about the remarkable idea that "government is just the word we use for those things we do together" a sentiment expressed in a short video shown at the convention.

Well, no, writes Jonah.  Government belongs to the world of non-voluntary tribalism.  We Americans have advanced beyond that to voluntary tribalism.  You could say, he continues, that we now beyond non-voluntary tribalism to the tribe of liberty.

Unfortunately there remain those that suffer from nostalgia for the good old days of compulsory tribalism when you were tied for ever after to the tribe into which you were born.  Unless you were a woman that got married out into the neighboring tribe.  Hello Catherine of Aragon.

I think we should expand the whole notion that Jonah develops.  The point about voluntary tribalism is that it expands the circle of trust beyond traditional tribal notions of kinship, of family and clan.  We could call it a philosophy of trust.  The non-voluntary tribalism, on the other hand, is driven by what philosopher Luc Ferry has called a philosophy of suspicion.  He was talking about Marxism.

Now the philosophy of trust yields a politics of responsibility, based on the responsible self invented in the Axial Age religions, while the philosophy of suspicion yields a politics of the victim.  Of course it does.

The interesting thing about the philosophy of suspicion is that, when the old non-voluntary tribes of blood have broken down--the tribes that defined people by their locality and their mistrust of the village down the road--suspicion finds new targets for its hate.  It finds its targets within the larger community, by dividing people by class and race.  The genius of Marx was to be the first person to redefine the philosophy of suspicion for the modern age.  He created the first modern politics of the victim and the first modern victim class, the proletariat.

So along come our Democratic friends and tell us that "government is just the word we use for those things we do together."

No it isn't, Democrats.  Government is the word for the rump of things that we still do under the old culture of non-voluntary tribalism.  In the new world of the philosophy of trust, peopled by the multitude of responsible selves practicing the politics of responsibility, there is less and less need for unthinking compulsion and conformism.

But there is a tribe of nostalgic reactionaries amongst us that want to turn back the clock to the bad old days of the philosophy of suspicion.  They talk about victims and rights, and programs and fair shares.  Stuck in the old world of suspicion and compulsory tribalism, they see pollution and danger, witches and heretics everywhere they look.  And they want to bring everything under the shadow of government and compulsion, so determined are they to eliminate the targets of their suspicions, whether Christians, greedy bankers and insurance companies, white racists, or patriarchs.

This is wrong, a remnant of the old order, that is poisoning our new culture of trust and responsibility.

Back in the days of the Roman Republic, the senator Cato the Elder frequently referred to the need to defeat Carthage.  "Carthago delenda est," he would say.

Our challenge is different.  Our need is to remind our liberal friends every day that government is not a nice cosy word for doing things together.  It is not.  Government is the word for things we force our fellows to do and that others force us to do.

Government is not doing things together.  Government is force.  And we conservatives should remind our fellow Americans--and ourselves--of this fact, and we should do so frequently.

Government is force.  Say it.  Write it.  Repeat it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Race and the GOP

Oh goody.  There are 60 GOP blacks and Hispanics running for Congress.  So finally, the Republican Party is reaching out to minorities.

Or is it?  According to Patrick Reddy,
For years, since the 1960s, Democrats have courted the minority vote. Now, the Republican Party is getting more in tune with the new demographic realities of the 21st century.
He goes on:
The modern Republican Party has made solid progress in reaching out to moderate-to-conservative minority candidates who share their values on a truly colorblind basis.
Now that is all meaningless.  When you are "getting in tune" with demographic realities, it could mean anything.   And "reaching out to "moderate-to-conservative minority candidates."  What is all that about?

The truth is, as Michael Barone recently pointed out, that the Republican Party is and has always been the party of people that think of themselves as "typically American."  So, it really can't appeal to minorities until minorities start to think of themselves as, or want to become, typically American.

The telling fact is that the two black Republicans first elected to Congress in 2010 were Tim Scott (R-SC), an insurance agent, and Allen West (R-FL), a retired Army colonel.  How typically America is that?  Scott is representing a predominantly white district that includes Charleston(!); West's district now includes a sinuous district close to the Atlantic shore in South Florida.  The message of their election to Congress is that white Republicans don't give a damn what color you are as long as you can appeal to typical Americans.

The standout black Republican congressional candidate in 2012 is Mia Love.  She is running in a newly created semi-urban district south of Salt Lake City.  She's a woman from Connecticut that married a Mormon and eventually became mayor of a newly incorporated ex-urban city south of Salt Lake.

You can see what is happening.  The GOP is open, wide open, to talent.  It is recruiting minority candidates that have made themselves into typical Americans.  It is preparing itself for the time when the present minority population starts growing out of its "hypenated" stage and decides to become typically American.  Obviously the biggest target here is black America, artificially held into the Democratic Party by race hustlers like Reverends Jackson, Sharpton, and Wright that know how to play the race card and make blacks fear a return to Jim Crow.

From a strategic point of view, you can see the point of filling out GOP ranks with minorities.  It announces to minority individuals beginning to detach from the Democrats that the GOP has "people like me" in it.

But, for my money, the recruitment of minority candidates doesn't mean the GOP is "reaching out" to minorities at all.  It can't.  The GOP is based on the idea of the invisible hand and the human as an individual "responsible self."  The Democratic Party is based on the philosophy of suspicion, that "they" have gamed the system to keep down minorities, women, and the traditionally marginalized.

If you believe that you are a victim, or that you need the help of government to get a decent shake then there is nothing that is going to persuade you to vote Republican.  Democrats are always going to do a better job with their patronage/clientage politics at appealing to victims.

But the point is that, when any hyphenated American is ready to become a "typical American" then the GOP will have tons of office-holders that seem to be "people like me."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

All The World's a Cult, Mr. President

We all know that cults are dangerous; they trap people in an artificial world where they can be intimidating into doing evil things.  In PJMedia Jeanette Pryor writes about her own experience in a cult.  She explains the difference between reality and cult reality.
Our interaction with the world and sense of its meaning depend heavily on individual discernment and personal analysis of cause and effect...

Cults promote a non-human way of knowing that bypasses both the sensory evidence we gather and the individual's rational processing. Cultic knowledge is a body of truths not acquired by experimentation and reasoning, but by virtue of the authority of initiated leaders.
But I think this overstates the difference between cult membership and ordinary societal or religious membership.

As Jonathan Haidt writes in The Righteous Mind, we humans are "groupish."  Here is how I wrote about his ideas in relation to corporate groupishness.
Humans love to belong to "teams", according to Haidt, from families to tribes to religions, and we do our best work when we work as part of a team. The most notable kind of team is the military squad, and it turns out that parade-ground drilling helps form the bond of the band of brothers, the critical bonding between soldiers that prompts them to sacrifice for each other. Rhythmic dancing is similar to rhythmic marching; it helps promote a "groupish" feeling.
But when we work as a member of a team we have to repress our "individual discernment and personal analysis of cause and effect" and accept the "authority of initiated leaders", otherwise there is no team.  We are social animals, designed to work in part as individuals and in part as team members.

In all parts of our lives we balance our invididual knowledge with the knowledge that we pick up from our groups and take on trust.  It's obvious that this extends to politics.  In the 2000s most Republicans accepted on faith President Bush's agenda to invade Iraq and build democracy there.  Democrats were firmly against.  Now with President Obama in the White House we have Democrats accepting on faith that the rich should pay a little more and that ObamaCare will improve health care.  Republicans don't believe a word of it.

The question for November 2012 is: when should you break with your group and leave the cultish atmosphere?  In 2008 Republicans were disgusted with the fallout of the Bush years and stayed home in the election, whereas Democrats were enthused with thoughts of Hope and Change.  What about in 2012?  We know that Republicans are a lot more enthusiastic about voting and that Democrats not so much.

The problem for the managers of Obama's reelection campaign is to keep enough people believing and enthusiastic to get over the finish line.  Thus, President Obama has a narrative that encourages his supporters to believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.  He goes on the Dave Letterman show and says that the debt is not a problem, short term, but it is a problem, medium and long-term.  We can solve the problem by asking the rich to pay a little more and reforming those programs that don't work any more.

The Wall Street Journal, of course is selling the opposite proposition, that you can't believe the president.  They run his words expressed on 60 Minutes with footnotes.
"When I came into office, I inherited the biggest deficit in our history.1 And over the last four years, the deficit has gone up, but 90% of that is as a consequence of two wars that weren't paid for,2 as a consequence of tax cuts that weren't paid for,3 a prescription drug plan that was not paid for,4 and then the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.5

"Now we took some emergency actions, but that accounts for about 10% of this increase in the deficit,6 and we have actually seen the federal government grow at a slower pace than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower, in fact, substantially lower than the federal government grew under either Ronald Reagan or George Bush.7"
The gist of the Journal's editorial, detailed in the footnotes, is that every word is a lie, including "and" and "the".  But the purpose of the president's narrative is not to persuade the Journal but to keep the wavering members of the Obama "cult" from leaving.

So the president pushes out a plausible narrative, and mixes it with attacks on his opponent to show that he is a man you wouldn't want to trust.  Also necessary is a fear campaign to remind people just how scary life would be outside the Obama cult.

Of course, Americans are not lemmings that will follow the leader over a cliff.  But every one of us, every day, makes the decision whether to stay with a group or leave it.  Some people leave at the first sign of trouble, and some people go all the way and commit suicide with with the leader in the Berlin bunker.

What will happen in 2012?  It is telling that the Republican convention was trying to reach out to independents, while the Democrats were trying to excite their base and remind them, with Michelle Obama, that Barack was a wonderful leader, and with Bill Clinton, that Republicans were cheats and liars.

But there is this.  The closer that politics gets to the kind of "cult" that Jeanette Pryor once belonged to, the more we should worry about America.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Capitalism: Which Type is Best?

Last week my email exchange with "Pete" ended on his challenge that we discuss the idea "Chris is a capitalist."

Presumably "Pete" thinks that this would put me in a box and expose my hypocrisies, because it would expose me as a heartless exponent of unregulated capitalism of the sort practiced by 19th century robber barons and 21st century Bain Capital.

But "Pete" set me to thinking.  What do we mean by capitalism?

In the 19th century, when the great critiques of capitalism were published, it seems that a new force had been let loose on the world, a new way of enslaving people to the will of the powerful.  Critics proposed that the unregulated capitalism of the textile revolution and the railway revolution should be broken up and subsumed under political power, by revolutionary change or by administrative subordination.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it turned out that their diagnosis was wrong: capitalism soon softened up, partly from legislation and partly from the capitalists' own discovery that they could make more money from contented employees than from slave laborers.  And the critics' prognosis was wrong.  The laborers didn't get immiserated and capitalism didn't turn, according to a law of history, into socialism.

The result is that we are all capitalists now.  The Marxists propose "state capitalism," in which the entire economy is absorbed into the political sector and run like a state bureaucracy.  There is still "capital" there is still "production" there are still "consumers."  But everything is decided by the political and administrative elite.  The problem is, as Ludwig von Mises pointed out in the 1920s, that under state capitalism you can't compute prices and therefore you cannot compute profit and therefore you cannot know whether you are increasing human prosperity or diminishing it.  Actually, you don't need to find out.  State capitalism always diminishes human prosperity.

Our liberal friends propose a mixed economy in which government takes a leading role in guiding the activities of private businesses.  Conservatives and libertarians have taken to using a pejorative for this kind of capitalism: we call it "crony capitalism."  Let us instead call it "state-directed capitalism."  In state-directed capitalism the politicians and the activists merely call all the big shots while leaving the routine stuff to the capitalists.  The problem is that politicians and experts aren't very good at calling the big shots.  They back stupid ideas like solar power and wind farms and they upset the credit markets with their various attempts at easy money.  At any rate state-directed capitalism yields government-sponsored or subsidized businesses like credit banks and wind farms that only make a profit because of government subsidies and regulation.  Health care and drug development are areas completely dominated by government subsidy and regulation although nominally in the private sector.  The result is sluggish growth and big messes like Solyndra and Fannie and Freddie.

Conservatives believe in a full-on kind of capitalism.  Let us call it "Bain capitalism" after Bill Bain and Bain Capital and Mitt Romney.  You might also call it "creative destruction capitalism."  This approach owns that capitalism is inevitably a process that Joseph Schumpeter described in the 1940s as creative destruction.  We can think of it with a life-cycle metaphor.  Businesses are always being born as some young fellow comes up with a new idea and mortgages his home to start a business.  Many businesses fail in the start-up phase, but some graduate into the growth phase.  Think of Facebook in the years up to its IPO.  Think of Amazon in the late 1990s.  Companies that survive the growth phase get into the mature phase.  Think of Microsoft right now.  Then, of course, mature companies start to age and things start to go wrong.  Think of the unionized auto industry.

Under Bain capitalism the idea is to forget about the political sector calling the big shots and trying to second-guess businessmen and the future and just let the businessmen get on with it.  Let's make it easier to start a business.  Let's make it easier for growing businesses to get access to capital.  Let's make sure that mature businesses cannot game the system with their wealth and political influence to squeeze out challengers.  Let's not try to keep failing businesses in business to "save jobs."  Let's connect the ageing businesses with the Bain Capitals of the world, try to fix them, and if not, liquidate and distribute their assets to others.

For over 150 years "Bain capitalism" has been judged as heartless, for it treats workers not as human beings but as just another resource.  We conservatives and libertarians beg to differ.

We believe that the first two capitalisms, "state capitalism" and "state-directed capitalism," while advertising themselves as necessary responses to the inhumanity of capitalism, actually make things worse.  State capitalism, as practiced by Stalin and Hitler and the Castro brothers, needs no indictment.  It was, perhaps, the most inhumane way of organizing the economy ever implemented.  But state-directed capitalism is not much better.  Whatever its advertisement, state-directed capitalism is inefficient and cruel.  It privileges the agenda of politically powerful interests, and it is very slow to recognize and correct its errors and mistakes.  We have only to look at the mistakes of the political establishment in its support of "affordable housing" and the granting of mortgage credit to people that couldn't service their mortgages.  The whole thing ended up in the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression of the 1930s and untold misery for millions that have lost their homes and their jobs.  Green energy is another scandal, a vast hinterland of political favors and subsidies, based on very incomplete science about climate change.  It will end it tears and trillions in worthless investments.

Juergen Habermas understands modern society as divided between the systems sector and the lifeworld. The systems sector includes business and government and steering media like money and power.  We could say we regret the systematization of everything but it's a bit late for that, so we are left with the need to control the power of the systems on the principle of the limitation of all power, government power and market power.  We need to remember always that the core of lived human experience is still the "lifeworld," the face-to-face experience of communication between humans using language.

Conservatives have addressed this social dichotomy ever since Edmund Burke in the 18th century.  We want to protect and to grow and strengthen the lifeworld in associations of the "little platoons," "civil society," or the "mediating structures" between the megastructures, the systems, of business and government.  It is civil society and voluntary associations, we believe, that best addresses the basic problem of the modern age, people like steelworker Joe Soptic being thrown out of work in a business failure "through no fault of their own."

We conservatives believe that everyone should belong to familial, church, fraternal, or mutual-aid associations that are separate from the businesses we work in.  Businesses come and go, mechanical contraptions, and we should stop trying to turn them into social welfare organizations.  We should look to lifeworld associations to provide security and solidarity and human caring.

We should recognize that modern society is irretrievably divided into the systems world and the lifeworld and we can't go back.  Systems are systems and we can't make them into the lifeworld.  On the other hand the lifeworld sector means face-to-face communication.  If it isn't face-to-face, it isn't lifeworld; it is systems world.

And therein lies our basic argument with our liberal friends.  Every time you chaps propose a new government program you are shrinking the lifeworld and beefing up the systems world.  Systems world is the world of instrumental reason, and instrumental reason is all about domination, of nature and other humans.  This has been going on for 150 years, and surely it is time to realize that it is time to try something different and stop creating new bureaucratic monsters.

That's why this conservative believes in "Bain capitalism."  Don't look for compassion and caring in the systems world.  Make the systems honest, and make them fair.  But compassion and caring can only exist in the lifeworld of face-to-face communication and consensus.

It is, as the philosophers say, a category error to imagine that compassion and caring can be grown in the mechanical world of systems and steering media.

Friday, September 21, 2012

An Answer to the Liberal Narrative

We humans are social animals.  More than that, we are story-telling animals.  We tell ourselves stories about how the world came to be, how it works, and how it will be in the future.

In recent years our postmodern friends have told us that "narratives" are in fact apologies for power; they are stories put about by the ruling class to make their rule seem soft and cuddly.  You could say that a narrative is the velvet glove hiding the mailed fist of power.

Here's a liberal narrative, that I received today from a liberal I shall call "Pete."  I suspect that he read my screed on the Chicago teachers' strike.  Here's what he writes (the paragraphs are mine):
You look like such a nice guy. It makes me sad that you have become a public debater who always argues one side even though you know the other side has compelling arguments as well.

I was born in 1946 in Southern California. My pals and I knew there was such a thing as a millionaire but few names came to mind; Rockefeller, J. Paul Getty, Carnegie - that was about it. A lot of people had enough money to more than get by, they had enough for ball games, the fair, movies and summer vacations or trips to the beach.

No one asked for or demanded an outrageous salary because after the first $200,000 or after the first $400,000 the government took it all. The 91% tax wasn’t a tool to redistribute wealth, it was a tool to prevent individuals from earning million or multi million dollar salaries. The result was that everyone had more. Because upper management costs were low , more money went to capital investment, employees made more and everyone profited. From the 1940’s to the mid 1960’s the tax rate remained at 91% with a Republican President and a Democratic President and there was a healthy distribution of wealth. Movie stars didn’t ask for millions, nor did studio execs, producers etc and it didn’t cost $25 to see a movie. Athletes did ask for 20 million, managers weren’t paid millions etc and it was cheap to see a game.

This list goes on endlessly and every time someone demands and receives a disproportionate share of the money everyone else has to pay. The old networks can’t afford to show games. They go to cable where we pay for ESPN. The money goes from our pockets to ESPN to the Franchise and to the player. There’s an unbalance sheet, money keeps moving in one direction. The CEO of United Health is paid $36,000,000 a year. United Health doesn’t pay her salary they don’t have any money. We pay her, money out of our pocket, money into hers.

The explosive growth in salaries happened during Reagans terms in office. Rates were slashed controls were lifted and it was a fight to see who could be the highest paid exec, movie star, athlete, CEO etc. That was the beginning of class warfare in America. Not a shot was fired. No one showed up for the skins. That was the beginning of the end of the middle class in America. Who’s going to be the first trillionaire? Time magazines Woman of the Year.

There will be massive demonstrations, civil disobedience etc because the story is getting out. What’s going to happen is that tax on earnings over $5,000,000 will be again taxed in the 90% range, and even more draconian the Estate Tax will go through the roof. In making the justification case you are acting the Pied Piper and little good will come from that. What I don’t understand is why. Everyone doesn’t have good intentions maybe that’s the best answer.

Let's think about the answer to this narrative.  It's the answer, I suppose, that Mitt Romney dare not make.
  • Yes, the immediate postwar period was a halcyon period in its way.  Except for Jim Crow in the South.  But it is also true that the economy was a kind of racket, run by big government, big corporations, and big unions.  In other words, if you were a little guy, you'd better keep out of the  way of the big bruisers.  As for the high tax rates, I recall that Ronald Reagan, a highly-paid Hollywood star just stopped working rather than pay the high taxes.  And as for the good jobs at good wages?  Let's not forget Michael Barone's comment:

    As it happens, I grew up in Detroit and for a time lived next door to factory workers. And I know something that has eluded the liberal nostalgiacs. Which is that people hated those jobs.
  • There's a good argument to make that the "good jobs at good wages" era ended in the stagflation of the Carter era.  So Reagan didn't break a healthy system but tried to fix a broken one.  At any rate, according to the capitalist narrative, capitalism is "creative destruction."  Let us be clear what this means.  It means that the world is going to change, as old ways get demolished and get replaced by new ways.  Capitalism makes the offer that, if you submit to "creative destruction," then we will all prosper faster.  The liberal narrative about good jobs at good wages doesn't tell us what happens when things go wrong, when some brilliant government program or investment starts losing money year after year.  E.g., has the GM bailout really solved anything, or just kicked the ball down the road?  What do you do about Medicare and its $40 trillion unfunded liability?

    Thus the conservative narrative about the Reagan years is that the extraordinary profits came from extraordinary opportunities thrown up by the moribund economy at the end of the "good jobs at good wages" years.
  • The question is: what comes next?  My emailer "Pete" looks to riots in the streets as people rise up against folks like the CEO of United Health that makes $36,000,000 a year. (But do you realize, Pete, that insurance companies are a peculiar product of the current crony capitalist health industry where we the people get to run around paying for our health care with the equivalent of someone else's credit card?)

    Frankly, I do expect riots in the streets.  The educated elite ruling class has promised benefits to its supporters that cannot possibly be paid.  Being expert politicians, they will probably succeed in creating scapegoats like Big Oil and Big Insurance.  No doubt, like the coal miners in Zola's Germinal, the rioters will burn down, in their rage, the very thing that provides them with work and life.
And then we have to figure out how to rebuild America out of the ruins.  There will be, of course, extraordinary profits to be made in the creative period immediately after the wholesale destruction.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Obama on Debt: I Don't Recall

When David Letterman was interviewing President Obama a couple of days ago, he asked him about the debt clock at the Republican National Convention.  "Do you remember what that number was?  Was it $10 trillion," asked Dave?

Replied the president: "I don't remember what the number was precisely."

Mr. President.  Do you mean to say that you don't know that the national debt is north of $16 trillion?

President Obama went on to say that the debt is a problem long-term and medium-term.  But that the only way to we have found to deal with it effectively is with a balanced approach, cutting some spending, making programs work, and for folks like him and Letterman to "do a little more."

Actually, Mr. President, the best results on budget balancing came from Finland's efforts in the 1990s which included spending cuts and tax cuts.  You could call it an overbalanced budget program.

The reason why it worked well is that all government spending is a weight on the nation's economy.  All of it.  And all of the government's taxing is a weight on the nation's economy.  So the more you take the weights of taxing and spending off the economy, the faster it will bounce back.

And let's not forget government regulation.  That's another weight.

So the best policy moving forward is to reduce government spending and reduce government taxes as much as you can without provoking riots in the street.

Now the president also wants his balanced program to avoid placing the whole burden on the backs of the middle class.

Sorry about that, Mr. President.  But the overwhelming majority of government spending is shoveled out to the middle class.  In Medicare.  In Social Security.  In education.  Then there's welfare, but most of that money goes to pay for middle-class government workers.

There is, of course, plenty of crony capitalism out there, billions and billions of it. Let's cut it.  Let's cut all of it. But the middle-class spending programs amount to trillions and trillions.  Whatever politicians like you say, the major cuts will fall on the backs of the middle class.  And if we don't do it now it will be worse in the future.  Think Greece.  Think Argentina.

But there's another problem.  Maybe it's even bigger than the government debt problem.  It is the worker problem, according to Nick Schulz.  Younger workers just don't have the basic skills to work.  So what is the problem, apart from "finding people that can pass the drug test?"
In the Manpower Group's 2012 Talent Shortage Survey, nearly 20% of employers cited a lack of soft skills as a key reason they couldn't hire needed employees. "Interpersonal skills and enthusiasm/motivation" were among the most commonly identified soft skills that employers found lacking.
Yes.  Apart from the problem of finding people with "an elementary command of the English language" there is the problem that "'professionalism' or 'work ethic' is the top 'applied' skill that younger workers lack."

What about that problem, Mr. President?  And what would the attitude of the striking Chicago teachers be doing to solve that one?

The two great hits against the modern era are its ruthless discipline: the ruthless factory and workplace discipline and the ruthless mechanism of the government bureaucracy.  But the question is, what happens when the government lacks the discipline to keep its accounts and its debt in order?  And what happens when the rising generation lacks the discipline to keep a job?

What's your take on that, Mr. President?  Do you remember?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When is a Gaffe not a Gaffe?

A political gaffe, Michael Kinsley wrote years ago, is when a politician accidentally tells the truth.

Well maybe, but I suspect that we can narrow it down a little.  A gaffe in the good old USA is when a Republican says something that liberals have forbidden us to say.

That explains the Romney Libya gaffe.  You are not allowed to criticize the liberal foreign policy of appeasement.  That makes you a warmonger, someone that shoots first and aims later.

It also explains the Romney 47 percent gaffe.  You are not allowed to express the truth that liberal politics comes down to giving people free stuff, from Julia to Wall Street, and that, sensibly enough, people that want free stuff tend to vote for the Free Stuff Party.

It is impossible for President Obama to utter a gaffe, because nothing he says will outrage liberals.  Conservatives were outraged by the president's "bitter clinger" remark, but it didn't count as a gaffe because the mainstream media didn't all line up to highlight it.  You can tell when a gaffe has occurred because Rush Limbaugh will be able to set up an audio tape of about seven mainstream media newsreaders saying almost exactly the same thing, almost as if they were reading Democratic talking points.

The reason that our liberal friends think that the 47 percent remark is a notable gaffe is summed up in the headline for New York's Jonathan Chait: "The Real Romney Captured on Tape Turns Out to Be a Sneering Plutocrat."  Well, Mr. Chait, I listened to the tape and what I heard was a results-oriented businessman discussing the campaign dynamics.  There wasn't much use in the Romney campaign targeting the 47 percent that don't pay income tax with a promise to reduce income tax rates.  That's what he said.

America's real sneering problem begins with the word "plutocrat."  If you check the Oxford English Dictionary you will see that the first use of "plutocracy" dated 1843 and the first use of "plutocrat" is dated 1850.  We know what that is all about.  It is about the Napoleonic post-war baby boom starting to flex its oratorical muscles.  And the word has been used as a pejorative, a term of abuse, ever since.  In particular it is used by intellectuals to sneer at businessmen.  The pejorative use stems from the double meaning of "plutocrat."  It means rule of the wealthy, but also rule of the underworld, because Pluto was the god of the underworld.

Actually, businessmen tend not to sneer at the workers or the poor.  They tend more to shake their heads in perplexity.  That's what the bourgeois owners of the coal mines in Zola's Germinal did when the miners went on strike.  Businessmen also get ticked off when the workers occupy their factories and start breaking stuff.  But I don't think they sneer at the workers.

Longshoreman Eric Hoffer wrote his piece about sneering, so we might as well quote him, since he backs up my point.
[Y]ou are reminded of what British and French colonialists were saying about the natives... "Wait until you see what a mess these savages will make of things."

We know that rule by intellectuals... unavoidably approaches a colonial regime.

We now realize that government by persuasion has been an invention of the traders rather than of the educated. The trader is usually more interested in the substance of power than its appearance. The intellectual wants not only to possess power but to seem powerful.

It is well to remember that all through history the masses have found the intellectual a most formidable taskmaster.

A ruling intelligentsia... treats the masses as raw material to be experimented on, processed, and wasted at will.
The truth is, as Candidate Obama told his fundraiser in San Francisco, the mass of people are a bit of a problem for liberals.  They cling to their guns and God in their little towns where the jobs left 20 years ago.  In other words, Obama thinks of the American people exactly the terms developed above by Eric Hoffer 40 years ago.

Back to Mary Douglas and her Purity and Danger.  We all develop a system that explains how the world works and how to live successfully in the world.  A gaffe is something that sits crosswise to our cherished system, and therefore threatens it.  The gaffe is therefore experienced as pollution and the party that dared to utter it has to be removed.

Of course if the offending gaffe-meister persist in his heresy, his pollution of the purity of the system, then who knows where it may end.  It may end in the end of the current ruling class and their system.

But that's another story.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

QE3 Means That Obamanomics Has Failed

The Federal Reserve announcement last week that it would be buying $40 billion in mortgage bonds a month with no time limit means one thing.

It means that the economic policy of the Obama administration has failed and the federal government has embarked upon a policy of inflation.

That means that the American people are going to get screwed.  Twice.

First of all the American people are going to get their savings shriveled in two ways, first by the artificially low interest rates and secondly by the declining value of the dollar.  Of course, we may end up in hyperinflation, and the dollar will end up worthless.

Secondly the American people are going to suffer terribly when the inflationary boom ends and we have a cruel depression.

So that is what the glorious vision of President Obama's 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention adds up to.  Inflation.  Depression.  Cruelty.  Injustice.  A divided nation.  God knows how it will all turn out.

The question that lurks behind all of the late dynasty failure and incompetence and "bad luck" is what comes next.

Can we refound the American experience on a new birth of freedom?  Can we build a new civil society on the ruins of big government compulsion?  Can we inspire the American people to believe that government is not the answer to our problem: government is  the problem?

Nobody knows.  All we do know is that the liberal elite has thrown in the towel and admitted that its model of governance doesn't work.

That's QE3 means.  That is what a policy of inflation always means.  It means that the government has deliberately decided to steal money from the American people.  It means that the government has to steal money from the American people to pay its supporters.

It means that the Obama years are not going to end well.  They are going to end in tears.  Or worse.

Monday, September 17, 2012

First Get the Grand Strategy Right

In the incompetent muddle of the Obama foreign policy, it is well to step back from the tactical fog and think about the bigger question.

There is not much we can do about the local Middle East politics where political groups jockey for local support.  No doubt it wouldn't hurt to pull back a little aid from countries that don't protect our diplomats.

And maybe it doesn't matter much which Arab nation we align with and which Arab nation we oppose.

The bigger question is the grand strategy.  Do we believe that our democratic capitalism culture and economy and politics is better than the pre-modern culture of the Arab Middle East?  If we do then we should act on it.

In a way, it probably doesn't matter what we do about it.  All we need to do is support democratic capitalism at home and abroad and make things difficult for non-democratic non-capitalist actors.  But first of all we have to believe that our way is best.

If you look at things that way then you start to understand why the Obama administration is having problems at the tactical level.  You can start with the documentary 2016: Obama's America.  It tells us that Barack Obama believes in the notion of anti-colonialism, that the problems of the former colonies of European empires were caused by the imperial oppression of Europe.

There's a grain of truth in the anti-colonialist notion.  European culture has devastated pre-modern cultures all over the world in the last half-millennium.  Europeans sailed all over the world in their ocean-going ships, and they traded and colonized.  Nothing was ever the same after the Europeans arrived.

Was the devastating change due to imperialism?  Or due to the wealth-generating miracles of capitalism?

Put it this way.  The facts on the ground are that, wherever European capitalism caught hold, prosperity has gone from $1 to $3 per person per day to $130 per person per day.  What would have happened if the Euros went all over the world and didn't make an economic difference?  Would the Europeans have conquered the world?  I doubt it.

The point is that capitalism has transformed human life on this planet wherever it has touched down.  Almost everywhere that transformation has included traumatization of traditional cultures and economies.  Because capitalism means constant creative destruction of the economy and the culture: not just for the peoples of Africa and Asia but for the peoples of Europe and North America.

The people of the Middle East have made a very small adjustment to the new capitalist order, and the discovery of oil has allowed their peoples to live without making the capitalist adjustment, by just making money off oil discovered and developed by western oil companies.

But now the rules have changed.  Now that horizontal drilling and fracking has revolutionized oil and gas exploration and brought in resources all over the world, the geopolitical importance of the Middle East will subside.  Thus, the people of the Middle East have to figure out how to connect to the global economy by making and doing stuff that other people want to buy beyond their present suite of hydrocarbon products.

The future is going to be ugly, but there is no reason why the West should truckle to the Islamic countries as they struggle to prosper in the modern world and deal with the humiliation of their backwardness.   Let's get our grand strategy right, let's believe in ourselves, let's tell the world, and let's leave the tactics to take care of itself.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Problem of the Knee-Pad Media

You tell it like it is, baby!  Or, as the saying goes: You go girl!  Yesterday a concerned citizen in Virginia had something to say to the media assembled at a Romney event:
I think you’ve been suck ups…I think you've got your embroidered knee pads from the White House, buddy. That’s what I think.
Welcome to the Age of the Knee-Pad Media, Jan Crawford of CBS News, Patron and Founder!

No, that wouldn't be fair to Jan who, according to some chap at the American Spectator, is a fair-minded journalist.

Look, we all know that the mainstream media runs interference for the Democratic Party, and liberals generally.  Hey, that's life, and that's why Republican presidential candidates like Ronald Reagan can appear out of nowhere in the polls and win.  Because for a brief interlude every four years, paid media can push back against the relentlessly liberal free media and win.

But there's a Bigger Problem here.  When the mainstream media and the educated elite gang up to produce a single, vetted view of reality, it means that the whole place could be going to hell in a handbasket and nobody would know, because nobody in the knee-pad media was writing stories about hell and handbaskets.

My favorite poster-boy issue for this is the collapse of marriage in the lowest 30 percent.  Back in 1960, 66 percent of the white lowest 30 percent aged 30-49 was married.  Now it's 48  percent.  What about the top 20 percent, the educated class?  Marriage down from 90 percent to 83 percent.  This problem manifests itself in a retreat from work and marriage among lower-class males.  What do liberals do?  They write about how well women are doing like Hanna Rosin and her End of Man: The Rise of Women.  Don't you get, Ms. Rosin, that the whole point of modern society is to put the men to work so that they will stay out of trouble.  The word "career" is a clue to the cunning plan, because it comes from the French for racetrack.  Make the men run around a racetrack instead of raping and pillaging, and selling women and children into slavery.  Get it?  Yet you brilliant liberals are all pushing women into the working, career world, while men wither on the vine.  You just don't get it.

The fact is that the liberal welfare state is collapsing.  That is the truth behind the Crash of 2008 and the death-throes of the Euro.  There. Is. No. More. Money.  The Crash of 2008 was caused by egregious subsidies for mortgage debt combined with government penalties for lenders that didn't lend to sub-prime borrowers.  But liberals are still wittering about greedy bankers.  Don't you read history, liberals? Governments always blame the bankers when their finances go south.  They punish the bankers then go right back to borrowing from them.

Government education?  A disaster area from government K-12, especially in the inner city, thru the college education bubble where gullible students are picking up $100,000 in debt for a degree in Communications just so that Democrat-voting professors and administrators can stay in the pink.

Government healthcare?  Obama's brilliant ObamaCare has provoked business to go on a hiring freeze, because nobody knows what it will all cost.  Anyway, health care doesn't really make that much difference.  It's the basic stuff, from public health to asepsis to vaccination to antibiotics, that makes the difference.

Government pensions?  They have got all the states bankrupt, and worse to come.

Here we have a gathering storm of incalculable risks, and the mainstream media is focused upon Republican extremism and gay marriage.

Back in the day, lefty Antonio Gramsci fulminated about the injustice of the bourgeois "cultural hegemony."  He meant that the bourgeoisie got to define "common sense", what Juergen Habermas called the taken-for-granted culture, the reality that everyone agrees upon.  So he set in motion a lefty attempt at creating its own cultural hegemony, where liberals and lefties would define commonsense reality instead of the bourgeoisie.

The problem is that the bourgeoisie had never set up a Committee of the Whole Bourgeoisie to define cultural reality.  The common-sense reality that developed in the 19th century just growed.  When people like Marx and Engels insisted that reality was not what the bourgeoisie said it was, they had a chance to change hearts and minds.  And they did.

But in today's culture, with the left self-consciously trying to control the culture, we are in a situation where the cultural elite is consciously trying to prevent alternative voices from getting a word in.  Liberals are deliberately removing the canary from the mine, tying down the safety valve.  That is what the whole paraphernalia of multiculturalism and "hate speech" is for.  Suppose things are badly wrong. Suppose that we need to change our government radically before the US enters sovereign default and all the little people find themselves "eating the paint off the wall?"  How would anyone know before we drive off the cliff?

Look.  Yesterday the Federal Reserve Board announced that it would be buying $40 billion in mortgage backed bonds every month until the economy improves.  It is basically saying that the Obama economic policy has failed and that now, after 3 years of recovery, the government needs to goose the economy.  Is the knee-pad media writing about that?  Oh no, they are criticizing Mitt Romney for daring to criticize the brain-dead Obama foreign policy.  As the Wall Street Journal says today:
Mr. Bernanke is also tacitly admitting how lousy the Obama-Bernanke economy really is.  For all the back-slapping by the Fed and the White House about how they've saved us from a Great Depression, four years later the Fed is aknowledging that the \recovery is rotten, that job creation stinks, and that their policies haven't helped the middle class.
 "A bold plan" says the knee-pad New York Times.

If the mainstream media were doing its job, President Obama would be down 10 percent in the polls.  Instead we are still getting knee-pad reporting about how intelligent and wonderful the president is, this about a president, the nation's commander-in-chief, who attends about 50 percent of his daily intelligence briefings, and didn't attend one in the week leading up to the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

They Hate Their Jobs

If you want to understand the extraordinary sight of all those beloved teachers going out on strike, led by the delightful Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, I have four words for you.

They Hate Their Jobs.

In fact, I have a brilliant new insight for you.  Whenever you see a militant labor union, you are looking at people that Hate Their Jobs.

It took me a while to understand this.  Here is how I got there.

First of all, we must understand that in this glorious era of freedom, we western humans are yoked to the wheel of work like never before.  It all started with the Venetian slave sugar plantations on Cyprus right after the Crusades, where entrepreneurs learned to make big money from big sugar profits from their slaves.  The slave plantation business eventually developed the "gang system" where highly disciplined gangs of slaves under an overseer were put to work doing repetitive work hoeing or cutting or chopping.

Then came the industrial revolution in which entrepreneurs developed the "factory system" where armies of workers were put to work in highly disciplined teams doing repetitive work, eventually on assembly lines.

There wasn't much the slaves could do about their condition but the assembly line workers formed labor unions to fight the bosses that had, in the Marxian terminology, "commodified" them.  Our lefty friends call this "resistance."

Today, our liberal friends like to write nostalgically about the good old days of good union jobs at good wages, but Michael Barone begs to differ.
As it happens, I grew up in Detroit and for a time lived next door to factory workers. And I know something that has eluded the liberal nostalgiacs. Which is that people hated those jobs.
What's the betting that those public school teachers Hate Their Jobs?  I've known a public school teacher or two.  They seemed remarkably cynical.  Why wouldn't they, working in a huge organization with rigid rules where the individual is just a cog in the machine?

Now here is my flight of fancy.  When a movement of "resistance" develops against something, it won't stop until it destroys it.  Private sectors unions destroyed the steel industry, destroyed the airline industry--PanAm, Eastern Airlines, anyone--and they are in the middle of destroying the auto industry.  Because the workers in those industries Hate Their Jobs.  I've met a unionized pilot or two.  And they Hate Their Jobs, because they are treated like numbers.

Now it's the turn of big government.  We conservatives are all complaining about the liberal politicians and the unions conspiring to bankrupt state and local government.  But I think we are missing the forest for the trees.  The basic problem is that government workers Hate Their Jobs.  They are tiny cogs in a great big government factory doing mind-numbingly stupid repetitive tasks.  So they have combined into unions and all they care about is getting their pay and getting out and getting their pensions.

As the government employee unions demand more and more, and the politicians promise them pie in the sky, the government employee unions are slowly but surely destroying government as we know it.

If government were run by the Republicans this would all be a national scandal.  But, of course, everything except the Pentagon and the highway department is a liberal program.  So the lapdog mainstream media keeps its lip buttoned.  No matter that government education of children in child custodial facilities is a disaster, and a double disaster in the inner city.  No matter than Medicaid is a basket case.  No matter that child protective services is a joke.  No matter that all the entitlement programs are broke.  No matter that subsidized wind farms are making billions of dollars on government subsidies and raising energy prices on ordinary consumers.  See no Evil, hear no Evil, speak no Evil.  That's the program of the mainstream media.

But, of course, the people are gradually waking up to the fact that they are being screwed.  Don't look now, but maybe there is a movement of resistance gathering strength: from Tea Party to Chick-fil-A to 2016: Obama's America.  Usually, a movement of resistance forms when it is far too late.

But maybe the conservative movement of resistance doesn't matter.  Maybe the government employee unions are going to destroy big government all on their own without needing the help of Tea Partiers and Chick-fil-A customers.

Just because the Hate Their Jobs.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Smart Ain't Enough

One thing about our Democratic friends:  in the day-to-day political trench warfare of sound bites and talking points, they are the champs.  As smart as paint.  That's what Long John Silver told Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island.  "You're a lad, you are," said Silver, "but you're as smart as paint."

But of course, politics is not just smarts, playing the game of sound bite tit-for-tat.  There are bigger issues behind all the combat and the day-to-day one-upmanship.

So it makes complete sense that less than a week after the successful Democratic National Convention--boy, how it helps to have the mainstream media singing in the choir--the whole narrative gets chucked into the toilet when Islamists in Egypt and Libya celebrate 9/11 by trashing US facilities and murdering US diplomats.  It makes No Drama Obama look like No Clue Obama.

I was looking up Antonio Gramsci today.  He's the chap who decided that the bourgeoisie had achieved cultural hegemony by making its ideas part of the "common-sense" culture of the nation.  Why shouldn't the left do the same thing in reverse?

Brilliant idea, Tony.  The only thing is that the bourgeoisie never self-consciously set out to create cultural hegemony.  The bourgeois lived as they lived, and they developed their cultural memes as they went.  They never said: wow, we need to develop cultural hegemony in order to dominate the politics of the western world.

But you, Tony, decided to do just that.  Lefties would set out on a long march through the institutions so they could achieve their own cultural hegemony, and then rule from the solid base of that cultural domination of society.  And, to a great degree, liberals in the US have achieved that cultural hegemony.  Liberals dominate the media, dominate the schools, the university, Hollywood, the foundations.  They hold a remarkable power in the land.

But suppose the American people wake up one day and decide that they hate the world that liberals have built for them?  That is the risk.  Every political dynasty holds power in part due to its cultural hegemony, because it gets to tell its story and others don't.  But eventually, of course, people may decide that the narrative doesn't match up with the reality, that the glorious vision of the future doesn't match the grubby reality of power politics.  Cultural hegemony does not give you a lock on power.  It is just part of the trappings of power, whether the ruling class set out to achieve cultural hegemony or not.

So it is one thing for President Obama to give a high-toned speech about progress towards our goals.  It is another thing if the next day it turns out that the unemployment rate is down because 400,000 people dropped out of the workforce.  It is one thing to talk about getting out of Afghanistan one day and have crazed militants attacking US consulates the next day.  With all the cultural hegemony in the world, "events, dear boy" can quickly make the story and the reality out of joint.

That is where our liberal friends are at in these latter days.  They have been spinning their narrative about all kinds of things: that supply-side economics is trickle-down economics, that the Crash of 2008 was caused by greedy bankers instead of GSE-driven mortgage subsidies, that President Bush was a mad deregulator rather than a middle-of-the-road compassionate conservative that passed government-centric No Child Left Behind and Sarbanes-Oxley.

There is only one problem with all that stuff.  It is rubbish.  It is liberals pretending to themselves that everything is fine and that the Republicans are a bunch of yahoos.

Eventually all this clever spinning and cultural hegemony catches up with you.  And it could be that it's catching up with liberals this year.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Three Strikes Democrats

What is wrong with the economy?  Why won't it rebound from the depths of the 2006-2009 recession?

Simple.  The Obama administration has got the three basic things wrong.  Three strikes, and you are out!

Strike one: Government Spending.  There is one simple thing to understand about government spending.  It is a weight on the economy.  Yes, there is a grain of truth in the Keynesian idea of stimulus, but not much.  Look, it stands to reason.  Government does stuff that people won't do on their own without the spur of government compulsion.  Obviously, businessmen and consumers will have already sniffed out the best profit opportunities and price bargains before the government steps in.  So it stands to reason that government will be doing the Solyndra stuff, paying for things that do not pay.  Education and health care, of course, are just Solyndra writ large.  But if you want to grow the economy, you need to reduce government spending.

Strike two: Money and Credit.  Juergen Habermas calls money a "steering medium."  Its purpose is to help people figure out what to make and what to buy.  Sounds simple, but of course the credit system is much more than that, and the clue is in the word itself: "credit" which comes from the Latin credere, to believe.  The whole money and credit system runs on the faith in the "soundness" of the other guy, that he or she will honor his obligations, even when the going gets tough: especially when the going gets tough.  But governments have always been mucking around with the system.  In the first place they need to borrow money, so they are big players in the money market.  In the second place they are always using their market and their sovereign powers to influence the money market, usually by pushing for cheap credit, or inflation.  Government manipulations of the credit system can help in the short run, and are needed to win wars.  But in the long term, the credit system needs to be allowed to do its job, to get money from where it is to where it is wanted.  If you mess with the credit system you will end up with bubbles and crashes.  If you want to grow the economy you need to stop messing with the credit system.

Strike three: Regulation.  Everyone agrees that the economy cannot run without laws and regulations.    Everyone agrees, in principle, that the laws should prevent people from "externalizing" their costs.  But that's easier said than done, because people disagree about the future.  Is burning fossil fuel a benign act, or does it compromise our future with resource depletion and global warming?  But regulation is also a temptation for powerful interests to implement their agenda using their political power.  Dense administrative regulations benefit existing large players against new small players.  So whenever you implement new regulations you are probably helping the big interests and harming the little guy.  Think Sarbanes-Oxley that has introduced huge regulatory burdens on corporations and Dodd-Frank that has increased regulatory burdens on banks.

You can see why it's Three Strikes against the Democrats.  In the first place, they believe in more government spending.  Years ago, they used to justify it on the basis of justice.  But now that government is so big and so intrusive they have started to justify government spending as "investment."   But government spending is still waste.

Democrats also believe in manipulating the credit system.  That's why they blamed the Crash of 2008 on "greedy bankers" instead of their own crazed mortgage credit subsidies.  The whole game of central banking, whatever it once was, has now completely subjugated the money and credit system to the needs of government.  The whole business of subsidy and credit manipulation is poison to the health of the economy and the prosperity of ordinary Americans.

Then there is regulation.  In the old days, the socialists believed in the nationalization of the means of production.  That was a complete bust.  But now the socialists and their heirs, the "progressives" realize that they can occupy the commanding heights of the economy much better by regulation and administrative control of private industry than by outright nationalization.  For one thing, under nationalization, the losses of the nationalized companies had to be covered by borrowing and taxes, but under regulation, private business has to find some way or other of staying in business.  Under socialism, the monkey is on the government's back; under administrative regulation the monkey is on the corporation's back.  But the result is the same.  You create distortions and waste in the economy that eventually, like a building in Havana, crashes to the ground because nobody was taking care of it.  Regulation hurts the little guy.

Fix any one of these, and the economy will improve.  Fix any two of them, and the economy will really improve.  Fix all three, and it's Katy bar the door.

How come this is so hard for people to understand?

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Speech at the End of the Liberal Universe

One of the reasons that I created back in 2007 was that I was getting fed up with the way that Democrats always acted, year in and year out, as if we were doing nothing for children, for seniors, and leaving the poor to starve.

Please.  This year, according to, we are spending $1 trillion on government pensions, $1.1 trillion on government health care, $0.9 trillion on government education, and $0.7 trillion on government welfare (above and beyond Medicaid).

So the president in his soaring acceptance speech talks about doubling down on education:
I promise you – we can out-educate and out-compete any country on Earth. Help me recruit 100,000 math and science teachers in the next ten years, and improve early childhood education. Help give two million workers the chance to learn skills at their community college that will lead directly to a job. Help us work with colleges and universities to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next ten years.
Just a minute, Mr. President.  We are already spending $941 billion a year on education.  What on earth are you proposing here?  What about all the money we are already spending on government education?  Because, given the dismal results that government education has turned in, I have another idea.  It is this.
Why in the world would we put politicians in charge of education?
I mean it, Mr. President.  Politicians are the residual legatees of the hunter-gatherer war-party.  The idea is to attack the neighboring tribe in a dawn raid, kill the men and take the women, and take over their territory.  Loot, plunder, and rapine: that's what politics has always been about.

But in the last two centuries, as the ruling class stopped believing in God, politicians have stepped into the empty place left by the death of God.  They have started preaching gospels of hope like revivalist preachers.  Not hope in the life hereafter, but hope in the here and now.  That's what the welfare state is all about: loot.  That's what taxing the rich is all about: plunder.  But now the secular agenda of fighting for loot and plunder is joined to the transcendental moral agenda of fighting for good against evil.  It is good to force others to pay for your loot, and it is evil for the rich to keep their ill-gotten gains.

In the last century, the game has changed again, as women have got the vote.  Now politicians don't just talk about loot and plunder, but of the leader's love for his wife, the leader's devotion to the education of children, the leader's determination to care for the sick.  Those chaps know what they are doing.

But the problem is that the politicians keep talking as though we weren't already spending $941 billion a year on education, $679 billion a year on welfare.  They say: We've got to make education the best in the world!  We've got to help the folks down on their luck!  As if we are not already spending obscene amounts already.

The real agenda at the end of the liberal universe is how the heck do we get out of this mess?  How do we take all these profoundly social tasks away from the residual legatees of the tribal fighters and the warrior lords of the land?  How do we return social assistance and mutual aid to the carers and the helpers and away from the fighters and the dividers?  Imagine what we could do with the $4 trillion a year that gets sucked up into the welfare state and then spread out to the supporters of the politicians, less a finder's fee to the political class.

The answer to the question is, of course, in the person and the life of Mitt Romney.  We must accept that capitalism is "creative destruction" just as Joseph Schumpeter told us.  It is a cold and heartless system, but it delivers prosperity like you wouldn't believe. Whatever we may dream of, capitalism is the only thing that works on the economic front, and Mitt Romney has practiced capitalism full throttle. Mitt Romney knows capitalism.

So much for the system side of life.  But then there is the human side of life, the "lifeworld," the world of humans as social animals.  You could do a lot worse that the Mormons, with their "fairly strict" moral world, where everyone has to contribute time and money to social purposes, and young men have to go on an adventure of service before they can get their sacred underwear.  And then they have to go through the chairs and serve as bishop of their ward and president of their stake when the call comes.  Mitt Romney's life is a witness to the Mormon approach to realizing people's social nature as social animals.  Mitt Romney knows the social life of caring and sharing.

What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?  Who knows?  But at least we know one thing.  We know what it isn't.  We know that it isn't Barack Obama's world of of politics as secular religion.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Nobody Home?

It's unfortunate for the Democrats that their God-and-Jerusalem convention blunder came on the same day as the hot excerpts from Bob Woodward's latest White House tell-all book.  Bob suggests that there is nobody home at the White House.  From Speaker Boehner about the debt-ceiling deal:
"The president was trying to get there. But there was nobody steering the ship underneath him," Boehner told Woodward. "They never had their act together. The president, I think, was ill-served by his team. Nobody in charge, no process. I just don't know how the place works. To this day, I can't tell you how the place works. There's no process for making a decision in this White House. There's nobody in charge."
And then Bill Clinton reminded us that, all in all, it's just as well that presidents can't run for a third term.  The dear old chap does run off into the weeds.

After Wednesday, September 5, 2012 you can see why things like governments, corporations, and campaigns need good management and organization.  When you have a bunch of people gathered together in some cooperative endeavor it is really hard to make things happen, to make the trains run on time.

The real hit on the Obama administration is that it failed to adjust its agenda in January 2009 from rushing through the liberal agenda to fixing the economy.  No surprise there.  Liberal governance is built upon the idea that the economy can take care of itself.  While the economy takes care of itself liberals will apply the patches and programs needed to make it just and fair.

That works most of the time, especially if like Kennedy, like Carter, like Clinton, you are coming into office about a year after the bottom of a recession.  But the evil Bush cunningly delivered the economy to President Obama before it had really started to fire on all cylinders.  And Obama just went ahead with business as usual, assuming that the hallowed Keynesian recession remedies would work.

Only they didn't.

In my view, the economy needs, above all, to fix the underwater mortgages.  I don't know what the best way is.  Inflation?  Liquidation?  Principal adjustment?  Who knows.  But until the credit system is working, with all normally "sound" borrowers back above water, you can forget a booming economy.  Capitalism works on credit.  Credit means faith, confidence, etc.  When people don't have faith in the other guy then they start to put their money under the mattress, buy gold, and hunker down.

I read someone the other day who wrote that the Obama people don't understand money.

Somebody else wrote that the problem with financial crises is that the last big one usually happened before anyone now working in finance was old enough to go to work.  So the people trying to solve the crisis are usually flying without a seasoned instructor in the cockpit who has seen it all before.

It would help to have someone in the cockpit that really understands finance.  Let's see.  Would that be a chap who spend a couple of decades dealing with failing companies?

Nah.  Much better to go with a community organizer that can deliver a really good speech in a stadium.

Meanwhile, is anybody at home at the White House?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Michelle Obama vs. Ann Romney

In the old days they didn't think about having the candidates' wives up at the national political conventions telling us all about their families.

But now it's essential.  Why?  Because of the women's vote.  Women don't abstract politics and its issues into a corner.  They see politics as part of their entire world of relationships.  And they judge the worthiness of people they know by their familial performance.  They need to know how a president relates to his wife and children.  And more than men, women need to know that the president "cares about people like me."

So how well did Ann Romney last week deliver, compared to Michelle Obama this week?

I'd say that Ann Romney did the job, which was to humanize Mitt Romney.  You could tell that her speech was a duty, a job that she had to do for her husband's sake.  You'd never know, from the mainstream media and President Obama's negative ads, that Mitt Romney is an exemplary man and husband.  Now we know.

But Michelle Obama is a politician, and it shows.  So her speech was a bravura performance from a real pro, combining touching stories from her family with heartfelt advocacy for her husband's liberal vision.

Of course, there isn't much difference between the two parties on the ends of politics.  We all want a prosperous world where kids get a good education, everyone can get health care, and old people get cared for in their golden years.

Everyone agrees upon the ends of politics.  The differences arise when we get to talking about means.  How do "we" educate our children.  How do we help the poor?  What do we do about health care?  What do we owe our parents in their declining years, and how do we deliver that care?  And who is "we?"

The difference between liberals and conservatives is stark.  Liberals believe that most of these social goods should be delivered through politics and government on the basis of "rights," a right to education, to health care, to income support.  Conservatives believe that most social goods should be delivered through "civil society" associations like churches, unions, and fraternal associations and mutual-aid societies.

Liberals base their "rights" talk on the Exploitation narrative.  The reason that people can't get the material goods they need is because it is denied them by an unjust ruling class and the savage ways of the market economy.  What's needed is a new ruling class that will redistribute the spoils of economic exploitation to the people that have been, up to now, denied access to these necessary social goods.

Conservatives base their "civil society" talk on the Invisible Hand narrative.  People are naturally social; they instinctively act to offer services to others in return for the material things they need to live and prosper.  But there is a problem.  It is the "freeloader" problem.  Some people take advantage of the system to take but not make.  There's the husband who won't work or deserts his wife and children; there's the slacker at work.  There's the neighbor that won't keep his yard clean.  There's the bum that would rather live rough than get a job.  Conservatives believe that if you get most people to join civil society associations then you take care of the "freeloader" problem.  That's because nearly all humans care about the good opinion of the people they know.  And people know who is slacking and who is pulling their weight.  Once you have taken care of the freeloader problem then the safety-net problem becomes much simpler.

Of course, society can never be a pure government welfare state; nor can it ever be a pure conservative civil society state.  But right now, conservatives argue, it is tilted too far towards the government welfare state and that tilt encourages freeloading and a destruction of healthy societal cooperation.  Liberals don't think we have gone far enough in guaranteeing rights.

Which brings us back to mom and apple pie.

Everyone wants our president to be a good man.  Everyone wants a world with education for children and care for the poor and the aged.  And everyone wants to look to the future with hope.

The question is: which way to the future is better?  And how much is enough?

The American people will get to adjust the "which way" and the "how much" in November.  Not by a lot, of course.  But certainly enough to make a difference.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Over the Cliff? Or Not?

There's a chilling article by Nicholas Eberstadt from last weekend in the Wall Street Journal about the progress, if you like, of entitlement spending.  Back at the beginning of the 1980s about 30 percent of US households were getting benefits from the government.  Today it is about 50 percent.

So you can understand the pessimists that say it is useless to expect anyone to fix the federal budget.  After all, since the time when the Franks were invading the German lands a thousand years ago for loot, politics has been about paying off your supporters.  What politician is going to do that?  Before the money runs out.

When the money runs out, of course, things get interesting.

The Republican line in 2012 is simple.  Let's "do something" about entitlements before the money runs out.  But are the American people listening?  If 50 percent of the people are already receiving federal government benefits (like me) then won't they opt for continuing the benefits in the hope that the next generation will the one that goes over the cliff?

It's interesting to wonder what the voters will decide, especially in light of the analysis of Joel Kotkin.  He argues that the Democratic Party has moved away from Bill Clinton's attempt to appeal to the center.  The party is now an "upstairs/downstairs" party of the urban gentry and the minority dependent class.
After decades of fighting to win over white working- and middle-class families, Democrats under Obama have set them aside in favor of a new top-bottom coalition dominated by urban professionals—notably academics and members of the media—single women, and childless couples, along with ethnic minorities.
And, of course, the center of gravity of this coalition is single women, as "more than half of all American women are single."  Now you understand the "war on women."  But the problem is that the new coalition has pushed away the center ground,
the predominately white working- and middle-class families whose goals centered around achieving home ownership, basic essentials, and the occasional luxury. These groups have been leaving both the core cities and the Democratic Party for generations.
The problem is that the "upstairs" part of the new Democratic coalition has done very little for the economic improvement of the "downstairs" folks, the minorities.  It's all very well to have cities that appeal to the single twentysomething.  But what about the minorities living in the city that don't got no jobs?

The truth is probably that the "downstairs" people will, like the servants in the TV series Upstairs Downstairs, identify more with the reflected glory of the "upstairs" family and be content to molder their lives away achieving nothing rather than take the risk to break away from the basement in Eaton Place and climb up into the challenge of middle-class responsibility.

Of course, if the government goes over the cliff, then the "downstairs" folks are screwed.  And the "upstairs" folks will somehow get by.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Left is Not Dead

It's easy to imagine that the left is dead, unable to produce an account of the world that even begins to pass the laugh test.  Here is Michael Ledeen writing about an Italian lefty that got religion.
I have a good friend, an Italian who lives in Milano, who for a while was the head of the youth organization of the Italian Communist Party. One day he was walking across one of the major Milanese piazzas, and had an epiphany, which he later described very simply. “I shouted, ‘There is no working class!’”
There is no doubt that there was a time when an identifiable working class existed, but the world changes, according to Hegel, and so people must update their thinking. Only,
there are plenty of people who can’t update their thinking. They’re easy to recognize, because they write and talk about a world that no longer exists. The easiest places to find them in contemporary America are Hollywood, college campuses, and the Obama administration with its attendant satellites, the dead tree media and the Democrat Party. Their common bond is anger and frustration; frustration because they can’t understand what’s going on, and anger because their remedies for contemporary problems do not come to grips with the essence of the problems.
And so, Ledeen writes, the "left has ceased to exist as an intellectual force worth taking seriously."

That's interesting to me, because the subtext of my forthcoming book "An American Manifesto" is that we conservatives ought to take leftist thought more seriously, that we ought to get familiar with it, and understand what it is trying to say.  Here is a quick review of the best in leftist thought.

In The Dialectic of Enlightenment Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno unpack the idea of "enlightenment" and decide that it is all about domination, the domination of nature and other men.  In The Theory of Communicative Action Juergen Habermas develops the idea of the systems world of instrumental reason, the world of capitalism and bureaucracy, and the "lifeworld" where people exist not by systemic rules but by language, persuasion, and consensus.

Then there is the lefty trilogy by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri: Empire, followed by Multitude and Commonwealth.  It is a noble attempt to resurrect the Marxian idea, the Exploitation narrative, for the 21st century.  Instead of the bourgeoisie, we have "Empire," the global cabal of national political powers and global corporations.  They call this phenomenon "Biopower".  Instead of the working class, they propose "Multitude."  The Multitude represents groupings of singularities in the world of work, no longer the "habit" of work in mass-production factories and offices, but becoming a culture of "performance" in creative occupations and productions of "affect".  The new multitude calls for a new "life in common".

Could this new form of social life use constitutional means to "establish a democracy from below of free men and women" they ask?  Unfortunately not, for the Multitude will realize itself in a spasm of revolution, a moment of "Kairos", the "moment when a decision of action is made".

Assuredly, the left is not dead.  It has plenty of ideas that take for granted the Exploitation narrative, and call for revolution to bring on the millennium of peace and justice.  And conservatives all across the world will have to fight their ideas and their eternal lust for political power and street action.

As long as there is government there will be exploitation and injustice.  Government is force, and force is unjust.  These days the problem is the huge and unjust power of the global educated elite that has tricked the Multitude into exchanging its birthright for a mess of pottage.  The question for the future is whether conservatives can persuade the Multitude that the problem is the educated elite, or whether chaps like President Obama can persuade the Multitude that the problem is chaps like Mitt Romney and  companies like Bain Capital.