Friday, March 30, 2012

Big Government, ObamaCare and Freeloaders

According to Shikha Dalmia in Reason, ObamaCare is all about dealing with freeloading.   After sneering at Dahlia Lithwick's hissy fit over at Slate, she writes:
Liberals insist that the individual mandate forcing everyone to buy coverage is necessary to prevent freeloaders from saddling everyone else with the cost of their emergency care.
But it was liberals that set this mess up right after World War II when the feds created a program to finance hospital construction.  The only gotcha was that if you took the money you had to accept patients irrespective of ability to pay.  By the 1960s they had to clean up the mess with a formal program of indigent health care, called Medicaid.  Now they want to expand it society-wide even though uncompensated care is around 3 percent of total costs.

Anyway, why are liberals suddenly concerned about freeloading.  The whole point of progressive politics is to legitimate freeloading.  Yet now liberals say that freeloading is such a problem that we have to force all Americans into a one-size-fits-all comprehensive and mandatory program of health care?  Who could have seen that coming?

When government gets into the business of curbing freeloading it gets into nothing but trouble.  Because government is force, and that means that the freeloaders must be coerced.  Coercion is expensive: just ask Mao and Stalin.  To be really effective it needs the authority of the bullet to the head.

Freeloading is the big problem for humans, the social animals.  How do you stop people that want to live at the expense of others?  Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct has the answer.  The human solution to the freeloading problem is religion.  Religion has developed a number of ways to discourage freeloading, using both carrots and sticks.  There is, for example, the all-night dance party.  There is something about rhythmic dancing that gets people all into the community mood.  Then there is the divine judge.  Freeloaders may not get caught in this world, but they certainly get their deserts in the next one.  Or they come back reincarnated as a donkey.

The problem that liberals are facing is that their whole model of governance is collapsing around their ears.  It was built on the idea of "rights," that people had a right, through government, to enforce their access to valuable things like health care and education.

These social goods are valuable things, and the whole point of society is to spread these goods as wide as possible.  The great question is whether government is the right social institution to deliver these goods, whether force and coercion are efficient in delivering social goods.

Conservatives argue that government is only effective at fighting wars.  You identify an emergency, you mobilize the nation, you convert the economy to the supply of war, and then you send the young men off to defeat the enemy.  After it's over you wind down the engines of war, return to peacetime pursuits, and pay off the debt piled up in the war.  Government shrinks into a midget.

The problem with progressive politics is that it makes everything into a war.  Our liberal friends like to complain about the permanent war of the national-security state.  But it is nothing compared to the war on poverty, the war on insurance companies, and the war on Wall Street and the war on private education.

The point is that everything that government does ends up as a war.  Why?  Because in order to justify the coercion, you have to frame every issue as a matter of life and death.

It ends up being a very cramped view of human social relations.  War is the state of relations with unfriendly states beyond the boundaries of our state.  It is a dreadful thing to turn everything inside the boundaries of the state into a war.  Because that means that there is always a low-level civil war going on.

We humans have developed a whole universe of social institutions to facilitate cooperation and exchange between humans, from the family to the clan, from the village to the town, from individual prayers to the church, from the neighborhood association to the market to the corporation.  These are all institutions that attempt to enroll citizens in projects of social cooperation without the need to bring in coercive fist of police power.

Every time that government steps in with a new program it substitutes coercion for cooperation.  Does it ever solve the freeloading problem?  Not likely.  For the end-point of new programs is the totalitarian coercion in the communist-fascist state of universal freeloading, where the joke is that "we" pretend to work and "they" pretend to pay us.

Most of the time liberals manage to disguise the mailed fist of government power beneath a velvet glove of caring and compassion.  It is the achievement of President Obama to have stripped this naked truth of its sentimental veil.

This year the American people will have a choice, not an echo.  Do they want to intensify the coercive state?  Or do they want to try another path?  The answer will come on Wednesday, November 7, 2012.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Timberlake for Fed Chairman!

There was I, gliding along as unconcernedly as a seagull through an article about Ben Bernanke and the gold standard when I got that Timberlake feeling.

No, not Justin Timberlake and the "reveal."  The Other Timberlake.

What knocked me for a loop was this from Brian Domitrovic:
Milton Friedman’s greatest student in the area of monetary history, Richard H. Timberlake, has written voluminously, and definitively, since 1993, that no evidence exists that the Fed was following gold-standard rules or rubrics when it contracted the money supply from 1928 to 1933.
Uncle Miltie's "greatest student?"  How come I didn't know?  It's not as if I've been hiding under a rock for the last 20 years.  And that's when Richard H. Timberlake Jr. published his Monetary Policy in the United States: An Intellectual and Institutional History: in 1993.

So what, you say.  Uncle Miltie already published a magisterial A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960 with his collaborator Anna Schwartz.  What else is new?

But take a look at that title.  1867.  Very nice, and all that, but I would really like a bit of monetary history in the decades before the Civil War.  Specifically, I would like to know a lot more about the monetary mayhem caused by Andrew Jackson and his war on the Second United States Bank leading up to the nasty Depression of the 1830s and 1840s revolving around the Specie Circular.

Well I took a look at the book's Contents, and there is: Chapter 5.  "The Specie Circular and the Distribution of the Surplus."  Oh yes, back then the US had pretty well paid off the National Debt and the big question was what to do about all that lovely money that wasn't needed to fund the debt any more.  We should be so lucky.

Like I said:  How come I didn't know about this?  Well I do now, and I know now that, according to Timberlake, the Fed screwed up in 1929-33 because of the "real bills" doctrine.  That's the notion that the central bank should only discount bills of exchange that finance "real" economic activity--as opposed to investment and speculation.

The result in 1929-33 was that the Fed completely ignored the signals that the gold standard was sending.  The gold held by the Fed soared in the early years of the Great Crash, a clear signal that it should expand the money supply.  But did it?  No.  Instead it sent to the wall banks that were stressed by their investment exposure.

What should you get from this?  Just this.  From its very beginning, the Fed has been an amateur hour, run by political hacks that didn't have a clue what they were doing.  Most of the time, the Fed has been a lapdog for the US Treasury and its need to float its debt--as right now with toy-poodle Little Ben Bernanke.  The result has been that the dollar has shrunk from $20 per ounce to $1,600 per ounce and no end in sight.

More and more, we are seeing that the Progressive governance structure of the last century has been an utter, incompetent failure.  It's not that the Progressives have been corrupt.  They have, but what of that?  It's not that they have pushed bad ideas.  They have, and everyone has a right to push a bad idea or two.  The intolerable thing is their incompetence, and their utter failure to learn from experience.

It's up to us conservatives to put this incompetent ruling class out of business and restore America to its glorious freedom.  It can't come too soon.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bank Runs and Youth Runs

After we learned our lesson in the Great Depression it looked like the era of the bank run was over.  What with deposit insurance and all there were no bank runs in the developed nations for decades.  Only now, it seems, things have changed, according to economist Tyler Cowen.
The modern bank run means a rush to withdraw from money market funds, the disappearance of reliable collateral for overnight loans between banks or the sudden pulling of short-term credit to a troubled financial institution.
This "shadow" banking system, at about $15 trillion, is bigger than the formal banking system protected by deposit insurance.  Tyler Cowen goes on to worry about the danger of credit collapses and deflation, and discuss proposals by some to extend credit guarantees.  But that, he worries, would just expand the problem of moral hazard and "too big to fail."

From a macro perspective, of course, the problem is fairly simple.   The credit system needs to be small enough that its overleveraged sector can be rescued in a crisis by blending it with underleveraged actors.  That's what they did in the 1907 crash.  Wall Street brokers might have been overleveraged, but US Steel was not.  Unfortunately in the century since then the approach has been to use the entire nation's equity as a guarantee against financial panic.  That approach fails when the nation's credit comes into question in a sovereign debt default.

The basic problem is that plungers (private or public) endanger the whole system when they find themselves, in a crisis, underwater.  The plungers back in 1907 were the quasi-bank Trust Companies.  The plungers in 2008 were Fannie and Freddie and the homeowners taking out overleveraged mortgages encouraged by the politicians--and Wall Streeters along for the ride.  When you set up a system like that, designed to fail, you get what you pay for.  Sooner or later, average people realize what is happening and they head for the exits.

They talk about "extraordinary delusions and the madness of crowds" as if lordly elitists are not just as subject to "groupish" delusions as the average person.  But you wonder where else the potential for a "bank run" might lie.

You wonder if a panic might soon happen with the youth vote.  Here is Jeff Jacoby reporting on Mitt Romney.
"I don't mean to be flip with this," said Mitt Romney during a Q-and-A with students at the University of Chicago last week. "But I don't see how a young American can vote for a Democrat." He cheerfully apologized to anyone who might find such a comment "offensive," but went on to explain why he was in earnest.

The Democratic Party "is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation, mounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for," Romney said. While Democrats are perpetrating "the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of humankind," Republicans are "consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down and creating economic growth and opportunity so we can balance our budget and stop putting these debts on you."
Yeah.  When you put it that way, you gotta wonder.  And what about student loans.  At least homeowners can get out of their mortgages by walking away from them.  But you can't walk away from a student loan.

Why do you young 'uns vote for Democrats?  Apart from the fact that you have just spent 16 years listening to unionized liberal teachers in government schools and universities?  Is it just the free sex--which isn't all that free any more?

The simple answer is, of course, that young people believed Barack Obama when he promised hope and change and the wonders of green energy.  Young people didn't realize that everything the Democratic Party stands for is a chimera.

But young people are finding out now.  And that makes you wonder whether all of a sudden there will be the political equivalent of a bank run this November as students and twentysomethings realize that they had better get out before it is too late.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

America After Blue Destruction

For conservatives longing for an end to the Age of Liberal Hegemony Walter Russell Mead has good news.  The "Blue Social Model" of the liberals will end not just because conservatives hate big government but because the mid-20th century bureaucratic model is so inefficient that liberals will give it up.  Liberals want government to "do" things.  They are becoming frustrated that it is getting progressively more and more gummed up.
There is an anti-government case for moving beyond the blue model and there is a pro-government case. Some people will push to transform the civil service and increase the productivity of workers in government and government-related services (above all, health and education) because restructuring and re-engineering government is the only way they can provide the services they want the public sector to provide.
From a rational perspective, you would have to agree.  But you wouldn't have noticed any such notion from the rapid expansion of government under President Obama.  ObamaCare, after all, is the biggest monument to bureaucracy even enacted, and creates dozens of new bureaucratic committees with the IPAC, the Independent Payments Advisory Commission, at the very center of its bureaucratic lotus flower.  Maybe some lofty academics have a gleam in their eye, but you wouldn't know it from the liberals you meet at parties, who have an unquenchable faith in "single-payer" healthcare.

No, I suspect that there really is little chance that the Democrats will agree to reform their welfare state in time.  Why should they?  It would mean suggesting to their voters that they have been lying to them all this time.  The only way Democrats will go for reform is when "austerity" hits, when the government is forced to reduce spending because it can't sell its debt to the bond market.

The world doesn't work by timely accommodations to reality.  It works by "creative destruction," as George Will writes in an article about that good old American institution, Sears.  In the middle of the 20th century everyone shopped at Sears.  But a chap called Sam Walton in Bentonville, Arkansas, had a different idea, and today Sears is going down for the count.

What will the government of the future look like?  Don't look now, liberals, but the best leading indicator is the military.  The big battalion model grew up in the era of gunpowder as generals learned to differentiate the feudal host into rigidly hierarchical and disciplined regiments.  They built a rigidly bureaucratic government to tax the people so they could afford their expensive, bureaucratic armies.

But the rigid model began to break up in the 19th century with rifled gun barrels and the "lethal battlefield."  By the end of World War I the armies had developed a new model based on the squad, often led by an NCO. In the 1920s the German Army under Gen. von Seeckt decided that it needed a new kind of soldier: "self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility."

Today, the US armed forces operate under just that kind of philosophy.  Responsibility is pushed downwards as far as possible.  And with the rise of special forces, the trend is likely to intensify.

The bureaucratic model gradually spread from the regiments of the absolute monarchs to the social programs of the welfare state.  Today, government is a monolithic monster that rewards place-men and people who go along to get along.  If liberals really want government to be effective they will have to change the model to the responsibility model that now obtains in the armed forces and also in the private sector.

But conservatives must ask: do we really want a new generation of liberal government employees "self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility?"  Imagine the damage they could do!  On the other hand, perhaps the responsibility model would force government to be less oppressive and less hegemonic.

It would probably be better for us all if government goes down for the count, so that almosts everyone would agree that big government was a human disaster that must never be repeated.  But that would mean horrible suffering for the folks that drank the Kool-Aid and turned their lives over to government.  That would be a tragedy, not just for them but for all of us.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Obama Doesn't Care About Debt

Should we worry about the debt and the deficit?  Everyone says they do, politicians especially.  But nobody does anything about it.

Except now.  Except for Rep. Paul Ryan and his second House budget.  The first one is here, and the second one is here.  The White House doesn't like Ryan's budget.
The House budget once again fails the test of balance, fairness, and shared responsibility. It would shower the wealthiest few Americans with an average tax cut of at least $150,000, while preserving taxpayer giveaways to oil companies and breaks for Wall Street hedge fund managers.
What Democrats care about is their programs.  Writes David Harsanyi:
Democrats are willing to move heaven and earth for the things they do care about. They were prepared to whip up political turmoil and put the presidency and Congress on the line to pass Obamacare. Yet they won't risk offering a budget, lest anyone glimpse their priorities.
Some of the things that Democrats care about are patronage/clientage things, like the great social programs that dish out benefits to ordinary voters and dish out a little on the side to the poor.  Other things are elite things, like green energy and the environment and abortion, which are issues that the educated class cares about.

But debt and deficits? Not so much.  Because for Democrats the programs are the thing.  They figure that, one way or another, their programs will survive in the rough and tumble of partisan politics.

Unfortunately, in the long term, the one sure thing about governments is default. The point about debt and deficits is that, when you get to the Grecian formula, where the government cannot issue debt except upon ruinous terms, and the next step is sovereign debt default, then ordinary people are going to suffer.

Why?  Because when you Go Greek two things happen that are bad for ordinary people.

First of all, the government defaults on its debt and devalues the value of money and ordinary people are usually invested in government debt through their savings and their pension funds.  So ordinary people get screwed out of their savings.

The other thing is that government expenditures get cut.  When you look at where the money goes, and the place to look for that is,  you see that most of it goes to ordinary people for ordinary Social Security, ordinary Medicare, ordinary Education, and then some stuff for Welfare.  Out of $6 trillion a year in spending, you get about one trillion each for Pensions, Healthcare, Education and Defense, plus (once we get out of the Great Recession) $0.5 trillion for Welfare.  So that is $4.5 trillion out of the $6 trillion.  And that is before interest on the national debt.

Politicians and the educated class don't need to worry too much about deficits and debt and default.  They have skills and assets and connections.  They will probably come out of it OK.  But ordinary people will get screwed.

Back when the Soviet Union collapsed, I asked a Pole about conditions in the old Communist block.  He said that it really hit old people the worst.  They ended up "eating the paint off the walls."  There is no reason to expect that things will be any different when our government runs out of other peoples' money.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

No It's Not the Internet, Peggy

As a baby-boomer male, I guess that I know less than nothing about the world of today's battle of the sexes.  But I take a flaccid note of the voices of the young and strong.

Here is "Christian libertarian" Vox Day taking out after Peggy Noonan for suggesting that today's War on Women issues from the baleful influence of the Internet.

Oh no it doesn't, writes Vox.  It issues from the profound injustice visited upon young men these days.  It started for him the day that a girl started a fight with him on the playground and he got into trouble. "[G]irls were just as good as boys, but we must never, ever hit them back even when they physically attacked us."
It is neither the Internet nor the anonymous commentary it provides that has brought about the ongoing revolution of the male perspective concerning what once used to be known as "the fair sex." It is, rather, the result of the first generation steeped in feminist propaganda from kindergarten to college graduation reaching an age where their voices are finally being heard. And the voice of the male half of Generation X and those generations following it is a contemptuous one indeed, because many of these men, including some of the most articulate, understand how utterly they were lied to by every authority figure they ever knew concerning the opposite sex.
Here's how:
  • In high school Gen X was told that girls wanted "nice guys" but found that they preferred "socially dominant and the athletic".
  • In college Gen X was told that girls were just as interested in sex as boys were.  Only it turned out that sex was rape for any reason--or for no reason.
  • "When we entered the workforce, we were told that women only wanted equal pay for equal work, then watched as they called in sick more often than we did, came in later and went home earlier than we did, asked us for help in doing their jobs, then were handed promotions and raises by virtue of their affairs with the middle managers and executives."
  • And woe betide anyone that committed the sin of expressing interest in a woman while "insufficiently attractive".
So Vox Day's generation has rejected the pretty lies they were taught.  Through better experience they have won through to a new social horizon.
What Peggy Noonan does not realize is that whereas men once assumed that a woman was a lady until proven otherwise, increasing numbers of them assume women are shallow and superficial until they are provided with credible evidence to the contrary.
And as the "game" theoretician Heartiste insists, there is no darker hell than the world of the "beta male".  Here he suggests to Charles Murray that rather than shame men into shaping up he should try shaming women instead.

One thinks of Stein's Law.  "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop,"

Monday, March 19, 2012

Obama's Flubbed Debt Deal and January 2013

Is the mainstream media stepping away from Obama?  That's one possibility in the wake of a tick-tock story in the Washington Post about the debt-deal negotiations last August.

The official line, of course, is that the Republicans are to blame because they refused to compromise.  But WaPo reporters Peter Wallsten, Lori Montgomery and Scott Wilson tiptoe up to a different judgement.
Obama, nervous about how to defend the emerging agreement to his own Democratic base, upped the ante in a way that made it more difficult for Boehner — already facing long odds — to sell it to his party. Eventually, the president tried to put the original framework back in play, but by then it was too late. The moment of making history had passed.
Or you can take Rush Limbaugh's Monday morning judgement: Obama lied. The Republicans had agreed to a tax increase. But Obama wouldn't agree to a plan that would upset his base.

Who knows what really went on. But it becomes more and more clear that the liberals will not agree to genuine spending cuts until the US goes Greek. And after all, why should they? If the money is still there, they should insist on their programs, their tenure, and their sinecures.

The Democrats' man at the Wall Street Journal, Alan Blinder, worries that the federal government is heading for a fiscal cliff in January 2013 unless something is done.
If the House and Senate don't act in time, a list of things will happen that are anathema either to Republicans or Democrats or both. The Bush tax cuts will expire. The temporary payroll tax cut will end. Unemployment benefits will be severely curtailed. And all on Jan. 1, 2013. Happy New Year!
On top of that there are $1.2 billion in spending cuts from the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that kick in in January.  All told, Blinder predicts 3.5 percent GDP in fiscal contraction in January from tax increases and spending cuts in January unless something is done.

But this is silly.  The reason that all this stuff has been kicked down the road to January 2013 is that there is a stalemate between liberals and conservatives right now.  Liberals don't want to reduce their programs and conservatives are damned if they are going to cough up more dough to fund the liberal welfare state.  Sooner or later, the American people are going to have to choose.  Otherwise, as in the case of Greece, other forces will start to choose for them.

In November the American people will get to choose whether they want President Obama to impose the Democratic solution on this stalemate or whether they want a Republican to impose a Republican solution.  Whatever the solution is, it will be something of a kludge, representing the political state of play that will emerge from the election results.

My betting is that the Democrats would have got a better deal in August 2011 than they will get after November 2012.

Hey, that's democracy.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Democrats' Educated Voter Problem

Everyone likes to pose our great political divides as Republican problems, as in the "gender gap" and in "moderate voters hate Republican social conservatives."

No doubt, and that matters in swing states like Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina where the pundits say the November election will be decided.  Why?  Let William Tucker tell you.
Now, what do these three states have in common? Very simply, they are the nation's new "suburbs," the emerging middle ground between urban centers of the East and West Coasts and Upper Midwest... These are Joel Garreau's "Edge Cities" or David Brooks' "Latte Towns" -- take your pick -- inhabited by Richard Florida's "Creative Class." Their voters are college-educated, employed well-paying, high-status jobs, but far enough away from the media centers so that they haven't yet bought into the liberal dogma that the only way for things to be "fair" in America is to vote for Democrats.
These folks are the paradigmatic voters that say they are "economically conservative and socially liberal."  Actually, according to my interpretation of Charles Murray in Coming Apart, they are reverse hypocrites.  They act socially conservative but talk socially liberal.  Go figure.

Let's stipulate that those college-educated folks with their high-paying jobs hate the bitter clingers and their God and their guns.

But what about the other side of the equation?  Remember how Candidate Obama was going to heal the wounds of the Red-Blue divide?  Remember how he only got out a teeny squeak of his "share-the-wealth" agenda to Joe the Plumber back in 2008?

Not any more.  These days President Obama is class-warrior-in-chief.

How about this reckless statement.  Suppose those college-educated folks in Colorado and Virginia and North Carolina just hate the class-warfare rubbish coming out of Democrats' mouths--from the president to the superb Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and on down the Democratic food chain to the execrable Occupy crowd--suggesting that rich folks, the one percent, "pay a little more."

Class warfare may play well in the inner city or with the government union employee that gets two to three emails a day from the union boss telling her how she is being screwed by the Republican governor.  But the college-educated employee working for a young technology company is an achiever.  He or she has made a big investment in education and a career.   Share-the-wealth means that he or she will have to pay more taxes out to slackers.  It means that the return on all that investment and achievement is going to be reduced.

Yet here we have President Obama doing the Democratic equivalent of Rick Santorum.  The "socially liberal" educated voter hates Rick Santorum and his social conservatism.  Why wouldn't the "economically conservative"educated voter hate President Obama and his economic class warfare?

Just asking.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Obama Really Believed in Green Energy

President Obama is batting on a bit of a sticky wicket these days. Gasoline prices are increasing, reaching $5.00 per gallon in some places, and he is having to pretend that he didn't want this all along. From Jonah Goldberg:
Obama was recently asked by Fox News’s Ed Henry whether high gas prices are a deliberate result of White House policies. His response was telling. “From a political perspective, do you think the president of the United States going into reelection wants gas prices to go up higher? Is there anybody here who thinks that makes a lot of sense?”
If you parse the statement you can see that the president is not opposed to high gas prices per se. He just doesn't like high gas prices when "going into reelection."

But it turns out that the president is not the cynical political monster we imagine. He really believes his green energy hokum. He really thought that green energy was going to jump start the economy. James Pethokoukis:
Week after week, [White House economic adviser Christina] Romer would march in with an estimate of the jobs all the investments in clean energy would produce; week after week, Obama would send her back to check the numbers. "I don’t get it," he’d say. "We make these large-scale investments in infrastructure. What do you mean, there are no jobs?"
Let me help out here Mr. President. Green energy is a fantasy, at least for the next 20 years. That's because the whole point of energy is to have concentrated energy. Nuclear is more concentrated that oil; oil is more concentrated than coal; coal is more concentrated than wood. Wind and solar and biomass are less concentrated than the above. So people won't use them unless you force them. And because they are economically worse than current oil and gas technology, green jobs are going to cause a net decrease in jobs, as the Spanish have discovered.

Everyone says that they are in favor of science, but the fact is that science cannot tell the future. Therefore we humans are forced to use faith when preparing for the future. Conservatives have faith in the market and the free enterprise economy to adapt successfully to whatever the future may bring. Liberals have faith in the ability of government and academic experts to prepare for the future.

The only time that you can change anyone's mind is when things go wrong. Of course, you don't change the minds of the true believers. You just change the minds of the folks who went along to get along, the proverbial "moderates."  In the case of green energy and global warming, the American people have gone along because green energy and global warming were about the only narrative they heard from their news broadcasts, their teachers, and their children.  Until now.

Now it seems pretty clear that something is wrong with the green energy/global warming "consensus" and so now is a moment for conservatives to get in and push a conservative energy strategy based on oil and gas--especially the new and exciting horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology--and maybe spend a little money midwifing a move to modular nuclear in the years ahead.

On nuclear, the big problem is the popular notion that if there is a nuclear accident we are all going to die. Even though in the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami the current death toll is: death from tsunami: 20,000; death from nuclear radiation: zero.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Limits of Rule 13

President Obama, we are told, is an avid student of Saul Alinsky, the lefty that developed the art of community organizing into a science.  And nothing that Alinsky said or did eclipses his famous Rule 13 on page 130 of Rules for Radicals.
Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.
That's how you keep your supporters amped up and committed to the cause.

But there's a problem and I trust that the president and his handlers understand it.  The whole lefty political-action playbook is based on a vital assumption.  It is that "we", the community organizer and his flock, are the underdogs.  "We" are oppressed and marginalized by the big corporation or the big government that bears down on us and exploits us like slaves, and against which we are peacefully protesting.

But suppose that "we" is the Obama administration of the United States of America.  Doesn't it get a bit difficult to pose as the underdog when you have $3.8 trillion, the Pentagon, the FBI, the Justice Department and the EPA at your command?

This morning there's a flap about an Obama internet ad that attacks Sarah Palin, among others.  Was this wise?  Let us count the ways:
  1. What with the movie Game Change I thought Sarah Palin was an ignorant idiot that didn't know what the Fed does.  So why would she be worth the bother of an attack?  All it does it give her the opportunity to sound like she knows something after all. "Party like it's 1773" and all that.
  2. It deploys the power and might of the United States government against a private person.  Liberals have demolished whole National Forests declaiming against the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950s.  You'll remember that the big deal was using the power of government to persecute innocent individuals with unpopular views.
  3. Back to the point about Alinsky.  If you are the government, and you are freezing, personalizing, and polarizing some individual, a lot of people are going to think, wow, next thing they will be coming for me.
There is no question that the president and his top aides, men like red-diaper baby David Axelrod, are really smart when it comes to the day-to-day tactics of political campaigns.  But you don't want to give a has-been like Sarah Palin a chance to write this about the president's failures:
Just off the top of my head, a few of these concerning issues include: a debt crisis that has us hurtling towards a Greek-style collapse, entitlement programs going bankrupt, a credit downgrade for the first time in our history, a government takeover of the health care industry that makes care more expensive and puts a rationing panel of faceless bureaucrats between you and your doctor (aka a “death panel”), $4 and $5 gas at the pump exacerbated by an anti-drilling agenda that rejects good paying energy sector jobs and makes us more dependent on dangerous foreign regimes, a war in Afghanistan that seems unfocused and unending, a global presidential apology tour that’s made us look feeble and ridiculous, a housing market in the tank, the longest streak of high unemployment since World War II, private-sector job creators and industry strangled by burdensome regulations and an out-of-control Obama EPA, an attack on the Constitutional protection of religious liberty, an attack on private industry in right-to-work states, crony capitalism run amok in an administration in bed with their favored cronies to the detriment of genuine free market capitalism, green energy pay-to-play kickbacks to Obama campaign donors, and a Justice Department still stonewalling on a bungled operation that armed violent Mexican drug lords and led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent people.

I’m sure I missed a few things, but the list is just for starters.
I know, I know.  Sarah Palin didn't actually write all that (although it does contain some of her rhetorical tics like "fearful" and "detriment").  But then President Obama doesn't write his stuff either.

I tell you what I think.  I think that in the last week we've seen some blood in the water.  Everyone thought the Obama administration was cleaning up on its opponents and winning the message war.  Yet all of a sudden, the polls are turning south and the president looks vulnerable.  So maybe while the courtiers were applauding the Obamis were shooting themselves in the foot.

And here's why.  I think that the American people expect the president to be presidential.  He is, after all, supposed to be president of all the people, not just his liberal base.  It's a tricky thing, running for reelection as president.  You want to destroy your opponent, but you need to present yourself as the sunny, confident father of the people.  It's not as easy as it looks.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Yes We Can," Mr President

You remember the good old days.  When Candidate Obama campaigned around the country exclaiming: "Yes We Can!"

But now he's running around whining that no, we can't.  The late Steve Jobs complained about this to Walter Isaacson, his biographer.  Remember the dinner that Obama had with Silicon Valley tech titans?  It didn't go very well.
According to his biography, when Jobs organized a dinner of Internet executives with Mr. Obama, he concluded, "The president is very smart, but he kept explaining to us reasons why things can't get done." He added, "It infuriates me."
Golly, who would have thought it?  Here's another meeting Jobs had with the president.
In Jobs’s meeting with Obama, held at the Westin San Francisco Airport in the fall of 2010, he told the president that setting up factories in China was easier than in the United States, where “regulations and unnecessary costs” make it difficult. Jobs also criticized the American education system, calling it “crippled by union work rules.”
 Gosh!  Obama's America is a place where "No, we can't."  What went wrong?

Now we have the president's ill-considered No We Can't Have $2.50 a Gallon Gasoline remarks.  Newt Gingrich has suggested that if we pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy we can get to $2.50 a gallon gasoline, down from its present $4.00 per gallon.

No we can't, said the president in his weekly radio address.
But you and I both know that with only 2% of the world’s oil reserves, we can’t just drill our way to lower gas prices – not when consume 20 percent of the world’s oil. We need an all-of-the-above strategy that relies less on foreign oil and more on American-made energy – solar, wind, natural gas, biofuels, and more.
Lots of people on the left jumped in and agreed with the president, people like Ezra Klein. But others have pointed out that the president just doesn't understand how markets work.  Markets anticipate the future, so if the president really implemented an all-of-the-above policy with regard to fossil fuels and allowed more drilling on federal lands, allowed drilling offshore, okayed the Keystone pipeline, kept the EPA out of gasoline formulations, etc., you would see a change in gasoline prices.  A lot bigger than anyone would think.

But of course liberals don't want that kind of energy policy.  That is why they all jump in and say it is impossible.  They believe in Peak Oil, in global warming, in CO2 as a pollutant, in getting out of cars and into mass transit, in future technologies like wind and solar, and on and on.  The last thing they want is low gasoline prices, except in the two months before a presidential election when gas prices are hovering around $4.00 per gallon and Americans are hollering for relief.

But we have a different idea.  Yes we can, Mr. President.  Because Big Government is all about Can't.  And Americans are all about Can Do.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

ObamaCare's Culture of Compulsion

It's tempting to ask the Catholic Church: where were you?  Now, finally, at the eleventh hour, the leaders of the US Catholic Church have come out and opposed ObamaCare on the grounds that it forces Catholic employers to pay for contraception and abortifacient services in violation of long-standing Church moral policy about contraception and abortion.

After all, the Catholic Church, at least since the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum, has held to the principle of subsidiarity.  From Wikipedia:
The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person. Subsidiarity assumes that these human persons are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, labor unions and other voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole. "Positive subsidiarity", which is the ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, such as the right to work, decent housing, health care, etc., is another important aspect of the subsidiarity principle.
The idea is that, because humans are social beings, that government should only do things that people cannot do for themselves and cannot do for each other in mediating structures.  Why is this?  Because government is force.  Whenever you have government involved in anything it involves force.  When force enters the equation it means that the normal interactions of humans as social beings has broken down and needs to be compelled, to be forced to provide something that people cannot or will not do themselves.

The fact is that our liberal friends obviously understand that.  Otherwise they would not be trying to change the subject on ObamaCare.   When they say that the issue on Catholic employers is a question of women's reproductive rights, they are saying that reproductive rights are only possible if employers are forced to provide a service that costs $9 per month.  That is a joke.  We are talking here about three lattes a month or a couple of beers.  We are talking about ten percent of the cost of a fully supported iPhone with voice plan and data plan.  Our liberal friends understand very well that they are trespassing on First Amendment rights.  That is why they are changing the subject.

We know what is going on here.  Since time immemorial, politicians have bought the votes of the credulous by offering them free services to be paid for with other peoples' money.  In a way, the smaller this free service, the better.  After all, who can object to the cost of a mere $9 a month.  How cheap can you get?

But the fact is that government is force.  Politics is the threat of force.   And every subsection in a thousand page bill is another little instance where the life of humans as social beings is replaced by government force.  In each case we are talking about something that is removed from flexible social cooperation and replaced by rigid police force.

I suppose that many provisions in any thousand-page bill are not there because of some pressing need, but are really there as a demonstration of power by some organized special interest.  Attention must be paid!  Thus, if you are a feminist, you want to make sure that the nation's comprehensive and mandatory universal health program includes your big issues--contraception and abortion--otherwise you are demonstrating to the world that you don't really count as a power in the land; you are irrelevant.  When the special interests are sitting around the table, it matters that your issue gets added to the grand bargain that reflects your relative weight in the councils of power.

But every new addition to the power of government adds to the phalanx of force, and it diminishes the "autonomy and dignity of the individual."  It also diminishes the autonomy and dignity of all subsidiary institutions of social cooperation below the level of government that imposes its new rule of force.

In the Bush years our liberal friends sometimes became hysterical over the intolerable compulsions that Bush's policy laid upon them.  They do not seem to be so sensitive to the dangers of government force now that they are doing the forcing.

It is wonderful that the Catholic Church has woken up from a sound sleep and manned the ramparts of freedom.  Here's another wonderful thought.  How about we now discuss the forced confinement of children in government custodial facilities from age 7 to age 18?  What does that do to the "autonomy and dignity of the individual" child and its individual parent?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Misunderstanding Charles Murray

What is it about liberals, anyway?  Why did they gang-tackle Charles Murray on The Bell Curve? And why does liberal Joan Walsh of Salon miss the point of Murray's latest book, Coming Apart? 

I suppose it's because she sees everything through a lens of social justice, in that everyone's position in society is a consequence of white racism, or a consequence of how much support they get from government.

The point of Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 is that the white working class are suffering many of the same pathologies as the minority underclass: a decline in marriage, an increase in single parenthood, a detachment from community organizations, and a retreat among single men from work.

The reason Murray made his book exclusively about whites was that he wanted to detach from his argument any question of racism.  Folks like Joan Walsh live by the accusation of racism.  If brown people are doing badly, it must be due to racism. The argument that Charles Murray wants to make is that if the white working class is experiencing increases in social pathology then something other than racism must be at work.  Maybe it is government programs!

Joan Walsh lives by the notion that a Democratic majority of "the young, women, lower-income blacks, Latinos and Asians" is waiting to take over--if not this year then next.  The suffering white working class could throw a wrench in the works if it votes Republican in 2012, and that would be a pity.  And in due course, social justice activists will have to pay attention to their grievances.
The forces of social justice have always looked out for the rights and singular insights of minority populations. We’re about to have a new one to think about.
And that's even though "low income white people have benefited from the long legal and extralegal history of racial subjugation and white supremacy".

Actually Walsh is wrong about that Democratic majority.  If it forms, it would be the young, single women, all blacks, lower-income Latinos and lower-income Asians.  And I'm not so sure about the young, since they have been disproportionately affected by Obamanomics and might be having second thoughts about hope and change.

But Walsh does make a telling point about white seniors.  The most Republican counties are the ones that get most federal payments, "crop subsidies, housing assistance, and Medicaid payments".  In other words, Republicans are all on welfare.   Tea Party supporters, for instance, have no intention of giving up their Medicare, yet that is just what Paul Ryan and the Republican Party want to do; they want to end Medicare as we know it.

Will white seniors continue to support the Republican Party if it takes away their Medicare and replaces it with a fixed subsidy?  Maybe that would be the issue that creates a Democratic majority.

But that would turn Joan Walsh's social justice notions on their head, because a Republican reform of Medicare would make wealthy seniors--like me--pay more.  So she is hoping for a realignment based upon Republicans making Medicare more progressive?

No wonder she doesn't get the point of Coming Apart.