Friday, August 31, 2012

"You and Your Family"

You always want to go to Rush Limbaugh to get your gut check on the previous day in politics.  Love him or hate him, Rush is the man with the golden gut.  And his analysis is that the core of Mitt Romney's acceptance speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention was this memorable line:
President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.
It deals very neatly with the central delusion at the heart of modern liberalism: we've got the social problem licked and now it is time to move on to bigger things.  All this, remember, while the whole "blue social model" is collapsing everywhere from Athens to LA.

All in all, the Republican National Convention was a success and showed us how the Romney campaign will be fighting the election.  It will be hope and change, based on Mitt's leadership, judgment and ability.  Against the proven incompetence of Barack Obama, who did the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way, i.e., the opposite of Aristotelian virtue.

Of course.  There are only two campaign themes.  There is "Four More Years" and there is "Hope and Change."  Everything else is just a detail.

But what bothers me is the central promise of modern politics: to help you and your family.  This is the basic "lie agreed upon" in modern life.  It is the idea that the big remote central government can stand ready to help you and your family.

Reality is something different.

Big government cannot help you and your family.  It can stabilize the credit system with Dutch finance.  It can build big bureaucratic programs that slosh money around, and that you can exploit for your own benefit.  It can, in emergency, mobilize to get food and supplies to you, although Walmart did that better after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Here's how Big Daddy can really help you and your family.  It's the story of Mitt Romney, Mormon church elder helping a family after a devastating automobile accident.  Andrew Ferguson tells the story.
I was struck by the story of a Mormon family called (unfortunately) Nixon. In the 1990s a car wreck rendered two of their boys quadriplegics. Drained financially from extraordinary expenses, Mr. Nixon got a call from Romney, whom he barely knew, asking if he could stop by on Christmas Eve. When the day came, all the Romneys arrived bearing presents, including a VCR and a new sound system the Romney boys set up. Later Romney told Nixon that he could take care of the children’s college tuition, which in the end proved unnecessary. “I knew how busy he was,” Nixon told the authors. “He was actually teaching his boys, saying, ‘This is what we do. We do this as a family.’ ”
It's not the same thing when government gives you an unemployment check after you have lost your job.  The politician is not coming round to your house to give you a hand. Not with his money, he ain't.

I've been hammering on the theme of "confiscation" in recent days.  What I really mean by that is exactly what liberals do and what Mitt Romney was promising in his speech: government that helps you and your family.  The problem is that it is the job of civil society to help you and your family.  The way that society works is that people help each other, and community leaders help more than most.  Every single thing that government "confiscates" is a string snipped out of that social safety web.

It is a fallacy and a delusion to believe that "helping" ever happens outside of the face-to-face society of family, friends, neighbors, and church members.

In the old days, in hunter-gatherer society, the whole of society was face to face.  So you relied on your fellow tribesmen and women to help you in need.  But the basic fact of modern society is that huge sectors are removed from face-to-face relationships and are organized not on a relationship basis but on a systems basis.  Thus Habermas talks about "steering media" like money that direct human behavior.  Instead of exchanging goods and services through face-to-face conversation, people do it by the hands-off exchange of money and markets.

The same thing applies to politics.  Politicians affect the conversation of the town meeting, the assembly of the whole community.  But they are really doing something else.  Modern politics is a spectator sport.  The voters sit in the stands experiencing the game vicariously while the professionals duke it out on the playing field.  President Obama's team playbook emphasizes fairness and sharing.  Governor Romney's team playbook emphasizes individuals striving to lift their families up.  When the game is over the spectators go to their voting booths and vote for the team of their choice.  To say that such a combat is "social" in the way that discussing tribal affairs over a camp-fire is social is to live in a dream world.

We can never go back to the community of the hunter-gatherer.  The Garden of Eden is gone forever.   Our world is much more complex.  We must learn to operate the levers of modern technology, from money and credit to power tools.  Yet, as James C. Scott has written, the world cannot operate as a pure mechanical system.  Humans still interact face to face, and it is the face-to-face communication that acts as the vital lubrication that makes the whole system work.  Great powerful automated systems are amazing.  But you still need the human touch to set it up, and apply a nudge and a check every so often.

That's the way to really "help you and your family."  Could we ever get a government with the wisdom to stand back and let us all get on with it?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ryan's Rhetoric: A Suggestion

You gotta love that Paul Ryan guy.  For his demeanor, his rhetoric, and his zingers.

How about those faded Obama posters?

But I want to add a new concept into the lexicon of conservative rhetoric.  It's a simple idea, as all good ideas are.  It's not my idea, but it is stolen from Roger Scruton in his new book on the environment, How to Think Seriously about the Environment.  He uses the concept of elite "confiscation" to critique the way in which our educated class confiscates problems away from ordinary people.

To illustrate his point, I am going to quote the various places in Environment where he uses the word "confiscate".
p. 134: "In all such cases top-down solutions have a tendency to confiscate problems from those whose problems they are."

p. 395: "the unscrupulous use of Trade-Related Property Rights to confiscate the social capital of peasant economies."

p. 158: "Once again we see the counter-productive nature of regulatory policies that confiscate risk and remove the incentive to prepare for it."

p. 171: "It comes from believing that this problem is our problem, and therefore my problem, as a member of the group. That belief disappears when anonymous bureaucracies confiscate our risks, and pretend that they can regulate them into extinction."

p. 402: "By acting always to enhance oikophilia [, love of home,] and not to confiscate its sphere of legitimate action, the state will prepare us for the sacrifices [to come]".

p. 400: "The greatest danger to the environment, it seems to me, comes from the growing tendency of governments to confiscate the powers and freedoms of autonomous associations, and to centralize all powers in their own hands."

p. 360: "[A]lthough [the EPA's] regulatory regime has provided guarantees against the worst forms of pollution it has done as much to confiscate as to support the oikophilia of ordinary Americans".

p. 150: "Any such regulation... should never confiscate a problem from those who have the job of solving it".
Do you get what he is saying?  He is indicting the whole big government idea, because its whole idea is to say: you poor diddums can't really be expected to educate your children, because we experts can do it better.  You can't really be expected to save for retirement, or deal with unemployment, or provide for your health care.  So why not let us tax your employer and the rich and we will do it all for you.

We conservatives usually like to talk about "responsibility," and that is fine.  But it really misses the point.  The whole thrust of progressive politics, starting with Marx, is to "confiscate" problems from society at large, to deny the opportunities for responsibility, and sequester them forever in the political sector where liberals live.

This confiscation is bad for one simple reason.  We humans are social animals.  We live by our cooperative social thoughts and acts.  But if we don't use them, they atrophy, just like a muscle that we don't exercise.

And then, when a crisis comes, we don't have the skill or the will to do the social thing.  We are no longer social animals, but dependent animals.

Scruton picks up a point made by Aaron Wildavsky, the idea of "resilience," which prepares us for adversity.  You can manage risks by "altering the object that presents them" or by "altering the subject that confronts them... by changing ourselves or our competences in order to cope better when things go wrong."

In the liberal welfare state the liberals confiscate risk and confiscate the opportunity for ordinary people to develop the resilience and the competence to cope with things when they go wrong.  Are they really helping us?  Or are they helping themselves, grabbing all the satisfactions of social life, of life in common, for themselves?

Whaddya think, Paul Ryan?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Trumping the Race Card

When Americans voted for Barack Obama in 2008, were we racists?  Were we voting for a man because of the color of his skin, rather than the content of his character?

In my case, I voted for Obama because it was time for Democrats to put their money where their mouth was on the War on Terror.  And anyway, I think that the essence of democracy is Buggins Turn.  You alternate the parties in power so they don't get paranoid.

So if Americans vote for Romney in 2012 does that make us racists?  If we don't like the way the US Justice Department decided not to prosecute New Black Panthers for standing in the polling station door does that make us racists?  If we don't like President Obama's liberal bureaucrats tearing up the consensus on welfare, does that make us racists?  If we don't agree with ObamaCare does that make us racists?

Jonah Goldberg is looking at the race card today and wondering why we haven't got to post-racial politics.  He reckons that if Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology, can judge Mitt Romney's lame birth-certificate joke as "resorting to 'some of the basest, most despicable bigotry we can imagine'", then things can't really be that bad on the race front.  I mean, can a lame joke be that much of a problem?

A lot of Americans thought that in voting for Obama they would put America into a post-racial era.  After all, if you vote for a black guy for president, then surely nobody can call you a racist any more.

Yeah.  Good luck with that, old chum.  But Goldberg thinks that the race baiters may be shooting themselves in the foot.
But I think both the cynical and the sincere race-obsessives fail to fully appreciate the damage they’re doing to their own cause. In 2008, the hope for many was that Obama would transcend race, moving the nation beyond the exhausting topic. Today, instead of being post-racial, our politics are saturated with ridiculous charges of racism. “No Drama Obama” is instead a source of constant drama, often hyped in the most ludicrous ways.
 What Obama has done, in the analysis of Shelby Steele, is change from a race "bargainer" to a race "challenger."  Race bargainers give whites the benefit of the doubt on race, on the understanding, nod nod, wink wink, that they vote those benefits.  Race challengers accuse whites of racism up front until they vote the benefits.

But what if typical white Americans have decided that enough is enough, forget the bargaining, forget the challenging, they have voted in a black president: been there done that?  Suppose average middle-class Americans reckon they now have to take care of their own needs in this sluggish Obama economy?

Well, who knows?  That's why we have elections.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What Comes Next?

Pat Buchanan says that this election is the "Last Hurrah" of the "New Majority" put together by Richard Nixon.  In 1972, Nixon "annexed the Northern Catholic ethnics and Southern Christian conservatives of FDR's coalition to win 49 states in 1972."  With the Todd Akin gaffe on "legitimate rape" that whole coalition seems like an embarrassment.

Come on Pat.  The social conservative majority had its Last Hurrah with Bush's 2004 reelection, and collapsed in the shame and ignominy of 2006 and 2008.  And if Todd Akin is a laughingstock, then the idea of the abortion ladies headlining the Democratic National Convention next week is absurd.

Nixon's majority has been history since 1992.  Instead, we are at the end of the Third Way era, the idea that you could have your cake and eat it too.

Here's what I think.  I think that the American people are confused and waiting for leadership.  You can see that from Frank Luntz's experience with undecided voters here.

After the exhaustion of the Bush years, the Democrats had a once in a generation opportunity to create a new coalition based on the promises of America's first black president to get beyond the partisan divisions of the previous decade.  People were hoping we could get beyond the race wars and the culture wars.

Instead, President Obama has intensified partisan division in the country.  Instead of putting race behind us, he has unleashed the race-card sharps.  Instead of using his majorities in Congress to craft a bipartisan consensus on economic policy, health care, and environment that would co-opt Republicans as junior partners in a new era in federal policy, he rammed stupid partisan garbage straight down the nation's throat.  President Obama has thrown a gigantic opportunity into the garbage can, and so everything is up for grabs.

My own view, expressed yesterday here, is that we have reached the end of the stunningly hypocritical "socially liberal, economically conservative era."  For years our top 20 percent has been happily talking socially liberal while acting socially conservative.  Meanwhile the bottom 30 percent has been descending into social hell, with reduced marriage for women and less work for men and shattered homes for children.  Our Democratic friends like to say that we should return to the days of high tax rates and good unionized jobs at good wages of the era from 1950 to 1979, but they are longing for a time that can never return.

Socially liberal and economically conservative are like oil and water.  If you want to be socially liberal then you are going to need a big government welfare state to pick up the pieces of shattered lives.  If you want to be economically conservative then you are going to have to be socially conservative too, because a small government requires big, responsible citizens.

So what does that mean for the future?  You could simplify it all into two ideas, but that would be too naive and simple.  But what the heck.

First of all, we need an America where ordinary people get to solve their own problems in their little platoons.  That means that liberals must stop "confiscating" problems and insisting that only they have the chops to solve big national problems.

Second, we need a social culture symbolized by the idea that abortion should be "safe, legal, and shameful."  In other words, we shouldn't be trying to legislate morality.  No indeed.  But humans are social animals.  That means that we collectively, in our conversations, rough out an idea of right and wrong, and then we properly judge those people that violate our ideas of right and wrong.  I'd say that one thing Americans ought to be able to agree on is that taking the life of an unborn child is not a good thing.  Sex is a serious business, and pretending that it is recreational, or just a matter between her and her doctor is a lie.  But criminalizing social issues is stupid.

Freedom means nothing if it does not mean the right to make a mistake.  But actions have consequences, and, socially liberal or socially conservative, economically liberal or economically conservative, a mistake is a mistake.  The question is: how do we, as social animals, help our fellow citizens in avoiding stupid, life-harming mistakes?

The second question is: when do we stop lying to ourselves?

Once America's top 20 percent resolves its stunning hypocrisy on the "social liberal, economically conservative" issue then the confusion of the Frank Luntz's undecided voters will disappear.  They will all start mouthing the platitudes of the New Responsibility consensus.

And the political party that best communicates the ideas of the New Responsibility era will win most of the elections.

Monday, August 27, 2012

America's Moral Challenge

Throughout its history, writes Michael Barone, the Republican Party has attracted "voters who are generally seen by themselves and by others as typical Americans."  For many years that also meant northern and Protestant.  And the Democratic Party base was Southern and also Northern Catholic.

But now everything has changed, and the Republican Party's base is typical Americans that are "white married Christians."  A consequence of this is that over the last two decades the Republican Party has lost the votes of educated suburbanites, as Democrats have attacked the social conservatism of non-college whites as "extremism" while still insisting that the GOP is the party of northeastern big-business WASPs.

You could say that the 2008 was a perfect storm for Republicans as affluent suburbanites recoiled from the Texas taint of the George W. Bush years and happily voted for America's first black president.

Today, of course, the affluent suburbanites aren't quite as affluent, and they feel that they didn't quite get what they bargained for in America's first post-partisan president.

But I think there is a real moral problem with the educated suburbanites that advertise themselves as "fiscally conservative and socially liberal."  Because I think that the socially liberal world-view is responsible for America's biggest problem.

The problem is exposed in Charles Murray's Coming Apart about white America.  Briefly, the top 20 percent, the educated elite, is doing fine.  But the bottom 30 percent is not doing fine.  And the main problem with the bottom 30 percent is that about half the children don't have married parents.  Lower-income women often don't get married to the fathers of their children, and lower-income men often don't work.

There is no particular mystery about this.  America is organized for the benefit of the upper 20 percent and the kind of life they want to lead.  The top 20 percent sends their kids to college-prep high schools and on to college and graduate school.  When they are established in a career at about 30 then it is time for marriage and children.  And 80 percent of 30-49-year-olds in the top 20 percent are married.

For people like this the "socially liberal" world view makes sense.  You are relaxed (but careful) about your sexual life, and take care not to get a kid started before you are ready for marriage.

But suppose you are not college material.  Suppose you don't get on in school.  Then you are living across the grain that the top 20 percent has designed and built for America, and things aren't going to be so easy for you.  There are credential problems associated with the good jobs; there is the minimum wage, which makes it difficult to get started and work your way up by acquiring skills as you go.  There are the swingeing taxes on employment, especially outdoor work like construction, that make labor expensive but sequesters a lot of labor income in government trust funds for Social Security, unemployment, and workers comp instead of giving it straight to the worker.

But heck, if you are a young man you still want to get laid, and if you are a young woman you still want to have a baby.  Social liberalism means that it's OK to get laid and it's OK to get an abortion or raise a kid as a single parent.

Only, of course, kids of single parents have much worse prospects that the kids of married parents, including the problem of abuse from the sexual partners of single parents.

Now I have a word for the situation in which the bottom 30 percent is placed by decades of government and social policy dictated by the top 20 percent.  I call it "injustice."  I think that the educated top 20 percent has ripped apart the culture and the well-being of the bottom 30 percent like a tornado.  They confiscated the right for the bottom 30 percent to solve their own problems and live life on their own terms.  The top 20 percent built the society they wanted for themselves and they threw money at the people that didn't want, or couldn't compete, in their Brave New World.

Nobody has asked "non-college whites" what they want.  And the college whites, the people that live in affluent suburbia and work in office parks with good salaries and benefits, have been led by liberal Democrats to sneer at the opinions of the non-college whites: "bitter clingers" as Candidate Obama explained to his rich-bitch contributors in 2008.

There is hypocrisy here.  The top 20 percent do not actually live the "socially liberal" lifestyle they affect to support.  They are pretty family oriented and pretty careful about their sexual behavior.  After all, the upper-20-percent life trajectory requires a careful husbanding of human and economic capital.   You need to study hard in school and then work hard in your profession.  You need to select a mate carefully, to make sure that your investments in your career aren't compromised.  Fortunately, if you make a mistake--an unwanted baby or an arrest from an excess of high spirits--then Mom will clean up your mess for you.

In my view the great challenge for America in the years ahead is to thrash out a new moral culture.

No, wait.  In my view the great challenge for the upper 20 percent in the years ahead is to give the "typical American" non-college whites the cultural space to build out their own authentic culture without marginalizing it as "extremism" or "bigotry."

This will not be easy for the top 20 percent.  It will take an effort in "consciousness raising" similar to the effort that pushed the civil rights revolution through in the 1950s and 1960s.

The problem is that just as there were powerful Southerners standing in the schoolhouse door pushing back against civil rights there are powerful liberals today in education, politics and culture pushing back against any move to mainstream marriage and reform education and the workplace to make it more non-college friendly.

So things are going to get worse before they get better.  And many people in the bottom 30 percent will suffer grievously.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Who Is Mitt Romney?

Presidential campaigns almost always package their candidate as a kind of demi-god.  There's no mystery about this.  Modern presidents are almost always presented as the Father of their country, a leader of the American tribe, and presidential handlers naturally want to touch the mystic chords of memory that attach humans to their tribal leader.

In the case of Barack Obama, this reached a crescendo of kitsch in the famous acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention at which he spoke in front of a faux Greek temple.  The good thing about all the messianic rubbish of 2008 is that the real Obama came nothing near the absurd image that the liberal echo-chamber gave us.  People are disappointed, even demoralized.

Mitt Romney, in the Wall Street Journal today seems not to care about his "image," the perception that people get of Romney the man.
[T]he former businessman and governor, who gets more respect than adoration from voters, vows in an interview that he won't be part of the celebrity-style culture often favored by politicians. Despite pressure to be more revealing, he says he won't use his campaign as "a way to personalize me like I'm a piece of meat."
No doubt.  But you can be sure that his handlers are focused like lasers on using next week's Republican National Convention to get out to the voters an idea of who Mitt Romney is.

Probably he is not much more that what he seems, a results-focused business executive who has lived in the world of private equity, getting new businesses off the ground and trying to fix troubled businesses and turn them around.

Really, if you wanted to pick a guy to symbolize what America needs after a generation of putting things off, it would be the guy who writes, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, about fixing a problem of fraudulent billing at a Bain Capital company.  A competitor had been fined for fraudulent billing, so Mitt decided they had better check up on their diagnostic laboratory company, Damon.  Sure enough, Damon was doing it too.  So Mitt swung into action and audited Damon.  Writes Mitt:
The experience taught me that when you see a problem, run toward it or it will only get worse.
There is a military motto that says the same thing:  "March towards the sound of the guns."  Why?  Because if you get to the battle-field in time you will have a chance to decide the outcome.

This tells us that Mitt Romney is a classic leader with the will to win.

In the old days, military leaders ran a highly disciplined organization that used soldiers like dumb pawns in a game of chess.  And big government followed the example of early-modern armies, building rigid bureaucracies.  Same with big business and its rigid assembly lines.

But eventually military and business leaders changed their organization model.  They changed to the model advocated by Gen. Hans von Seeckt in the 1920s, who wanted soldiers that were "self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility."

Now every army wants the same, and every business too.  That is why businesses are always going on about "teams."  That is why Bain Capital always worked hard to educate and train the people they supported with their money.  They knew that success wasn't about the money; it was about the team.

But there is one sector of America that hasn't got the message.  It is liberals and big government.  That is why President Obama pushed through his ludicrous ObamaCare that will reduce health care to a single rigid one-size-fits-all administrative program, run from the top down with no self-reliance, no dedication, and no joyful responsibility.  Just political blame games.

The problem with big government is not just that it is cumbersome and ineffective and that, when it really gets serious, as in the Soviet Union and Mao's China, its centralized plans end up killing people in their millions.  The problem is that big government is inhuman.

Barack Obama comes from a world that hasn't got the message.  Mitt Romney comes from a world that has.  So America has a choice this fall.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Let's Play the Race Card

PJMedia's chief honcho Roger L. Simon tells a little story about his journey from left to right today.  After he had "come out" he got a call from Michael Berman, brother of a liberal congressman from west LA and a liberal campaign mastermind.  Only Michael was no longer a liberal.  Why?
Because of what the Democratic Party did to black people, he said.
But some people, like Francis Fukuyama, still haven't got the message.  He uses a long piece about the TV series The Wire that chronicles the mean streets of Baltimore, Maryland--the gangs, the drugs, the wasted lives--to worry about the black and the white underclass.  So what does The Wire suggest to him?  Off he goes into the weeds of liberal delusion.
Blacks were the only social group that faced caste-like barriers to mobility. Their social and economic liberation and subsequent advancement required political power to achieve, first in a Civil War that ended slavery and left more than 600,000 Americans dead, and then in a long struggle against legal segregation whose end required strenuous enforcement by Federal authorities.
The trouble is, he continues, that many on the right think that the end of segregation solved the race issue, and that the "government efforts like the Great Society’s War on Poverty were a counterproductive failure" and that nothing can "be done with regard to inner-city social policy."

The message of The Wire is that the mess in the inner city comes less from "poor individual choices than [from] dysfunctional institutions", he writes.  Self help won't do the trick.  And while we think that nothing can be done here in the US, inequality is decreasing in Latin America through growth and "intelligently crafted conditional cash transfer programs like Oportunidades in Mexico and Bolsa Família in Brazil."

No doubt.  Meanwhile the US is spending a trillion a year on education, $0.7 trillion on welfare, not to mention $2 trillion a year on middle-class entitlements.  So do we now pile additional top-down programs on top of the utter waste of the current corrupt and ineffective programs?  Or what?

Fukuyama talks airily about the inadequacy of "self help" but conveniently forgets that the urban problem has always been a cultural problem, of immigrants to the city finding a way to acquire the culture and the skills that it takes to make it in the city.  And he forgets, what he wrote at the top of his article, that politicians and experts don't really give a damn about the poor.  The politicians just want their votes, and the experts just want their sinecures and their tenure.  If the politicians don't care and the experts are just thinking about their careers, who else is going to get the black underclass out of the ditch if not blacks themselves?

It all comes down to this.  America has got to dish out some "tough love."  No, not to African Americans, but to educated elite liberals.  For too long educated liberals have sucked at the government teat and, burping from the rich nanny's milk, have pompously told the rest of us what to think and what to do.

It's time we told the liberals to "get lost."  Because, as Michael Berman told Roger L. Simon, anyone who has seen what Democrats and liberals have done to African Americans cannot in good conscience vote for Democrats.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What's the Matter with South Chicago?

Back in 2004 Thomas Frank famously fumed in What's the Matter with Kansas? about the white working class that couldn't understand its economic interests, and voted instead for the Republicans.

This sort of notion is not new; it issues from the Marxian idea of "false consciousness," that people think the wrong way unless they are properly educated by the vanguard of the proletariat.

But conservatives make a similar mistake.  Here is Peter Ferrara calling for a campaign of "Cracking the Left's Fortresses."  It's the familiar refrain that Republicans don't try to talk to blacks in the inner cities.  Don't blacks realize that liberals are selling them down the river with lousy schools and death-spiral dependency?  We should do outreach with their leaders and ministers.
Hispanics and even African Americans have many more conservatives in their ranks than voting patterns would indicate. This is even more true of Asians. Even American Jews are more conservative than their ballots suggest. All these groups vote so predominantly Democrat because the Democrats tell them the Republicans hate them. The Republicans and conservatives tell them nothing, which seemingly reinforces the Democrat narrative.
Well maybe.  And it wouldn't hurt for a top-down initiative to talk to blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.  But let us turn this around and get back to "What's the Matter with Kansas?"  There might be a good reason that the white working class doesn't voter Democratic any more.  It might have to do with the fact that the white working class views Democrats as fighting for women and minorities and not family people like them.  It might have to do with the fact that the white working class is taking the brunt of Affirmative Action.  It might not be "false consciousness" at all.

On this view, we should accept that blacks and Hispanics are perfectly rational in voting for Democrats.

In fact, immigrants have always tended to vote Democratic, going back to the Irish in the mid 19th century.  They have done so because the Democratic Party has always promoted a culture of patronage and clientage, and the folks just arriving in the city respond to that.  That's how things work in the countryside: you attach yourself to a powerful cacique and hope to receive a benefit from your loyalty.

Each immigrant group goes through a similar process.  First they think of themselves as Irish.  Then Irish-Americans.  Then, finally, middle-class Americans.

Back in 2008. according to CNN's exit polls, Americans divided up by race, in percent, as follows.  Whites 55-43 for McCain and 75 percent of the vote, with Blacks 95-5 for Obama at 13 percent of the vote, Hispanics 67-31 for Obama at 9 percent of the vote, and Asians 62-35 for Obama at 2 percent of the vote.  Really the only group that votes by race is the black vote, and the extreme vote of 95% for Obama is understandable for the first black president.

But Hispanics, we are told, don't vote by race.  As they graduate into the middle class they start to vote Republican.

Now we know why blacks vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.  They do it because the Democrats scare them, and teach them to hate whites, with the race card.  Chaps like Reverend Wright in South Chicago spew race hatred from the pulpit.  You can't get to 95-5 without fear and hate.  But every day there is an African American somewhere graduating into the middle class who may wonder if it's really true that the Republicans will bring back Jim Crow.  Also, I suspect, there is a growing and desperate hunger in African Americans to achieve middle-class respectability.  Why not?  Everyone else has experienced that hunger.  One fine day that hunger will break up the fear and hate.  Because once people get into the middle class, and get what used to be called a "competence," they start to believe that they can make it in the market economy and the world without needing to truckle to a powerful patron.

There is no magic bullet here.  The reason that the white working class has abandoned the Democratic Party is that it perceives that the Democratic Party doesn't care about people like them.  There will come a day when the black middle class feels the same way.  Given the disappointment with Obama, that day may be closer than we think.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Wages of Hate

When you are the ruling class, you get a special benefit.  You get to call the other guys nasty names, and there is not much they can do about it.

The Brits used to say, well, but we brought the rule of law to India.  Quite so, old chap.  But the Brits also conquered India and used its wealth to help fight the Napoleonic Wars.  They were such outrageous looters that Edmund Burke spent ten years trying to impeach and convict the Governor of Bengal, Warren Hastings.

The British Empire is history.  Now we have new ruling classes, and they get to put their narrative gloss on their rise to power.  For liberals, history is a progression: from helping the workers to helping African Americans to helping women to helping gays.

One of the ways you acquire the power to do all that is by demonizing the opposition.  We are the good guys that care for workers, blacks, women, gays, you say, and they are the bad guys, defending sweat-shops, Jim Crow, the patriarchy, and hate.

So, in the last couple of decades, liberals have liberally used the rhetorical device of "hate" to demonize their opponents.  If you disagree with liberals you are "divisive" and a "hater."  If you voice your disagreement, you are committing "hate speech."  And woe betide anyone that makes a liberal feel "uncomfortable."

The truth is that all politics is a contest of divisiveness.  The whole point of an election is to divide the electorate in two, with 51 percent or more on your side.  The whole point of a political movement is to mobilize people on the side of the angels, to march them to a better tomorrow.  Needless to say, anyone that resists our march to a better tomorrow is the enemy: misguided at best, evil incarnate at worst.

Our liberal friends have had the better of the name-calling business for most of the last century.  You can tell this by the moments when they were on the defensive: the Red hunting after the Bolshevik Revolution and the Sacco-Vanzetti trial; the McCarthy era; the accusations of un-patriotism during Vietnam; Bush's Patriot Act.  Whenever the liberals have been on the political defensive they have reacted as though the world was coming to an end, they have furiously objected to their marginalization, and made an event of it.

But if you are an ordinary American, you had better be careful what you say not just occasionally but all the time, especially in college and on the job.  You could easily be accused of racism or sexism, and you could lose your job or get expelled from school.

Here is how to define political power: it's the ability to define what other people are allowed to say.  Most of the time, in our time, it is liberals that get to do that.

But, of course, every ruling class eventually provokes a head of rebellion.  That goes with the nature of political power, which is to use government force to distribute money and privileges to your supporters.  People get fed up with the lies and the self-dealing and the injustice that goes with government power.  And so one day the ruling class wakes up and finds that is unpopular.

Could that be happening in 2012?  Who knows?  But one thing about the Internet and blogs and youTube.  It makes it possible for the opposition to spread the word under the radar and make fun of the ruling class.  An example is President Obama's "You didn't build that" comment.  The comment has gone viral and seems to have insulted every small businessman in the land.

Liberals have had a good run defining themselves as the good guys, defining near riots as peaceful protests, and intimidation as peaceful picketing.  And they have succeeded in defining every dissent from their orthodoxy as dangerous breaches of the peace.  Imagine if, e.g., Tea Party activists had occupied the Wisconsin State Capitol in 2011.

But eventually the rules of the game change, and the confident ruling class finds that its power is challenged.  Robespierre, the diligent price-controller, finds himself in the tumbril cart on the way to the guillotine to shouts of "Dirty Maximum!"

A new ruling class comes to power.  Among other things, they get to define the word "hate."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Beyond Mediscare

Nobody knows which way the current argument about Medicare will go.  Is Paul Ryan proposing to "end Medicare as we know it" or has President Obama already ended Medicare as we know it by cutting it by $716 billion over the next ten years?  It's a battle of the sound bites.

What disturbs me is the bigger question.  Never mind the rough and tumble of the campaign.  Let us think about the bigger questions about government and society.

Let's start with Medicare itself (I am a Medicare recipient).  The current unfunded liability for Medicare, the benefits promised beyond what will be collected by existing taxes, is $80 trillion or so.  How is such a sum of money to be found?  Who could or should be forced to pay for this?  How can this money physically be forced upon Americans without wrecking the economy?  The fact is that the $80 trillion deficit is a moral and physical maelstrom, an utter failure of the political system.  It is a blinking neon sign that millions of people are going to be cruelly taxed and/or cruelly abandoned in the next 30 years.

As for Social Security, its unfunded liability is a mere $8 trillion.  But the problem is that Social Security, the primary means of retirement for most Americans, is not a savings program.  The FICA taxes are not saved in a retirement account invested in securities that create jobs for the next generation, the generation that will work while the retired generation clips coupons.  It is money taken from a worker's paycheck and sent directly to a beneficiary.

Never mind about Medicare and Social Security.  They are huge unexploded bombs that one day will blow up if they aren't defused.  Let's talk about the real corrosion in the body politic.  You get a feeling of the problem reading Victor Davis Hanson about the hollowing out of California: the dreamland of the coastal cities and their green liberal professional class and its dreadful hell, the blitzed out Central Valley.  Government regulation has set up rigidities, from land use to wage rates to unpayable pensions, that prevent society from solving problems and adjusting to new conditions.

There is the scandal of education, utterly non-responsive to the needs of children, and utterly failing to educate the children of the poor.  There is the mess of welfare, doling out pensions to twenty-somethings.  There is the wasteland of housing, monument to "affordable housing" and government mortgage subsidies.  There is the horror of college debt, weighing down a whole generation.  There is the cratered carcass of Medicaid.  There is the fatuity of green energy, a crony capitalist swamp of subsidies and pay-for-play.  There is the maelstrom of government employee pensions.  There is the exploding problem of disability, as the ranks of the "disabled" soars towards 7 percent of the workforce.

All these programs are liberal programs, and that's the problem.  Your liberal friends have no idea that the whole thing is flushing down the toilet.  That's because the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media carefully see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil about the cratering welfare state.  I suspect that it is not a case of evil intent, but a case of denial.  Liberal journalists just cannot bring themselves to look reality in the face and admit that their glorious vision is a terrifying tornado that is tearing society up by its roots.

Here's an interesting problem.  Our liberal friends can't see that in the coming era it will be liberals that symbolize the cruel, oppressive ruling elite, living by injustice and looting.  How can that be, they will wail, when we are the evolved, educated people that live to right wrongs and end injustice?

Because, honey, every political ruling class ends up using its power to look after Number One, and liberals are humans too.

That's why we moderns came up with the idea of limited government.  At least limited government limits the power of government to create and perpetuate injustice.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Republican Voter vs. Democratic Voter

The furor over President Obama's "You Didn't Build That" riff is that it exposes the fundamental divide between the average Republican voter and the average Democratic voter.  I am not talking about elite voters here.

The average Democratic voter is what I call a "monthly pay-ment" person.  Yes, she is the kind of person that pronounces "payment" as "pay-ment."  She wants to allocate all risk and uncertainty away from her and reduce her life to a monthy payment.  We also talk about her as "living from paycheck to paycheck."  For this person anything not included in the monthly check must come like manna from heaven, because she does not think about making an investment in her future to, e.g., get a better job.  She just thinks about getting to the next paycheck.  It is this kind of voter to whom community organizers speak.

The average Republican voter thinks more strategically.  He thinks about getting a good job, marrying a pretty wife and having a couple of kids.  He thinks about saving up for a home and the kids' college education.  He thinks about saving for retirement.  He sees that the future may have its ups and downs.  That's why he listens to Dave Ramsay on the radio and keeps an emergency reserve.

You can see where the president's "you didn't build that" speech comes in.  For the paycheck-to-paycheck person the speech tells truth, for the successful business person won the lottery. Life is something that just happens to you.  It is not something you try to bend and shape.

For the rugged individualist, the speech is an insult; it denies all those years of struggle.

Now, of course, in reality we are all nothing without society.  On the other hand we are nothing without the people that strive and succeed.  The question is: how do we relate to the fact of society and the fact that we can each of us make a difference?

The Progressive movement of a century ago was based on the idea that we needed more rationalization in society.  Society needed to be designed better and run better by educated experts rather than autodidact empiricists.  But Progressives and after them liberals always needed to get elected to perform their rational wonders.  And in practice that meant appealing to people who wanted stuff from government.  So the high-flown rationalism always found itself in coalition with hard-headed street populism.  However noble your intentions, you had to appeal to the working stiff or the minority.  Thus the progressives won the working class vote with a class-warfare politics, the black vote with a racist politics, and the feminist vote with a sexist politics.  And all the while they insisted that it was the other guys who were classist, racist, sexist!

President Obama, a leftist from his early youth, ran in 2008 in a way that elided the racism, sexism, and classism of his politics.  But as soon as he got elected he rang alarm bells in the average middle class person that wanted to build lives at a distance from government.  Hence the Tea Party.

The good thing is that Obama's frank leftist governance has set up a decisive battle for 2012.  If Mitt Romney wins, he will have a mandate to roll back the excesses of a century of progressive politics.  If he loses then we have to go over the waterfall before we can change the national direction.

It ain't pretty, but what did you expect?  That life could be reduced to a monthly payment?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ryan Enthusiasm

Rule One about US politics is that liberals don't understand conservatives.  Today's proof of that rule is that Democrats are saying that the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as vice-presidential nominee shows that Mitt Romney is panicking.

So I guess that the enthusiastic crowds suddenly showing up at Romney rallies are panicked bitter clingers.

On the contrary it looks like the Ryan pick has ignited enthusiasm in the Republican base.  That will go a long way to increasing the Republican presidential vote from 60 million in November 2008 to, maybe, 70 million in 2012.

To confirm that "something" has happened with the Ryan pick, the traffic at is up by 80-90 percent consistently in the three days since the Ryan announcement.

Now, why are Republican voters energized by Paul Ryan?  Well there can only be one reason.  They are energized because they know that Paul Ryan is Chairman of the House Budget Committee and he is the author of the Ryan budget plan that reforms Medicare-Medicaid and brings the out-of-control budget back into balance.

Apparently Paul Ryan right now has 50 percent name recognition.  I guess that all the people that knew about him are Republicans.  But Democrats ought to know a bit about him, because they have been running ads of Paul Ryan pushing grannie in her wheel-chair off a cliff!

When you think about it, it makes sense that Republican voters and Democratic voters divide on the question of Medicare.  For Republicans, Medicare should be something that enables them to choose sensibly between health care plans to find one that meets their health care needs at the right price.  Republicans don't want to have to hack through a government bureaucracy to get health care.

For Democratic voters, Medicare is a "right," which means that it is a benefit provided by political power.  Whatever it is, it is; the people rely on the politicians to "save" their Medicare.  Republicans expect to pay for health care, and they figure that, as paying customers, they ought to be able to get the best.  Democrats just expect health care to be provided as a benefit.

Why is Ryan enthusiasm important?  Republicans stayed home in 2008.  The Republican vote was 59.9 million, down from 62 million in 2004.  My guess is that it will take 70 million to win decisively in 2012.  Obama polled 69.4 million in 2008, but I'd be surprised if he got more that 66 million this November.

With real enthusiasm in the Republican base, overflowing into the homes of their suburban neighbors, there is always the mad hope that maybe 70 million is just for starters.  We won't know until November.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Panic Friday

Oh no!  President Obama is up by over four points in the Friday morning RCP Average, by 48.4% to 44.0%.  Mitt's losing!

That seems to be the panicked reaction of the right-wing commentariat today, from here and here and here.  And of course it could be true.

Here's a awful possibility.  Perhaps when President Obama said "you didn't build that" the American people agreed with him.  Perhaps when Joe Soptic complained about Mitt Romney not caring about his cancer-riddled wife, the president reached the forelock-touching peasant in all of us, who just wants to vote for a president that "cares about people like me."

If that is so, then Mitt Romney's goose is cooked, and so is the goose of the American people.  Because we are entering the end-game of the liberal welfare state, and there is no more money.

If the game is up, you would still expect a lot of people to vote for a man who promises to make the rich pay a little more so that they can continue to receive their entitlement benefits.  The French people just voted decisively for that, and we will see what will result.  On my view, increased taxes to pay for more entitlements is just more looting, the basis of the liberal entitlement state.  When you keep the looting down to a dull roar, you can have a prosperous society.  But when you crank it up, it just hastens the day of collapse: sovereign debt default, inflation, and asset seizure.

It is still understandable that most people would like to put off the evil day when the entitlements run out, government employees get laid off, grannie goes over a cliff, and the underclass goes back to work.

But if the American people want a path out of the liberal death spiral, then they have a candidate in Mitt Romney who, by temperament, experience, and principle, will give it to them.

We humans live by hope.  That's why when Pandora opened her box, and all the evil in the world flew out, there was still Hope left behind.  But the truth about life is that everything doesn't get kissed all better and tucked in by bedtime.  The human story is a story of great achievement--and also great disasters.  Sometimes the only way forward is through the searing heat of the furnace crucible where everything gets melted down and only then recast.

Look at China.  Dynasty after dynasty has started out young and vigorous and ended up unable to pay its bills and field a decent army when the latest version of the Mongols swarms over the border.  Why?  Because the state revenue ends up getting pissed away on special interests and regime supporters rather than vital services.

Today our American experiment is in peril because the regime has promised unsustainable entitlements to millions of people.  In consequence vital services are going unfunded, the financial system is getting wrecked, and resources are getting sucked away from growth and investment into pension payments to regime supporters.

Stein's Law applies.  If a thing cannot go on forever, it will stop.  The Fram oil-filter guy is still right.  You can pay me now, or pay me later.

And people will still panic on Friday.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Who Killed His Wife?

By now the fabled Priorities USA PAC ad "Mitt Killed My Wife" is entering the annals of not just below-the-belt politics, but stupid below-the-belt politics.

The way that the ad told the story, poor Joe Soptic was laid off from his steel-plant job and the next thing we know his wife is dying of cancer because he couldn't afford health insurance.

Only now we are getting the details.  At the time that Soptic was laid off in 2001 (two years after Mitt left Bain, and after he refused a buy-out) his wife was working and had health insurance.

But in 2002 or 2003 she had to quit her job with a rotator cuff injury.  Then she went on disability, it appears.

But wait!  If you are on Social Security Disability you can get on Medicare after 24 months, even if you aren't yet 65.  Mrs. Soptic, it appears, finally went to the hospital in 2006 with pneumonia and tragically died.  But that is at least three years after her accident.

Something doesn't add up.  Not if the Soptic family was really concerned about making sure that its members were protected with health insurance.

The new digital media age has changed the rules for the old helpless-victim sob story.  It used to be that the mainstream media would roll out the sob story and would never give us the back-story, and there was nothing you could do about it.  But now anyone can do a bit of sleuthing and get the back story.  And put it on the Internet, and push back on the mainstream media.  What a world!

And it often turns out the the helpless victims usually aren't quite as helpless as the mainstream media want us to think.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Any Lemonade for Mitt?

Is there any way for Mitt Romney to make lemonade out of the Obama "Mitt killed my Wife" ads?

The ad template is as old as the hills.  The bosses close the plant to preserve their profits and the working man goes to the wall.

But is there a way to turn this around and say that, well, at least we tried?  Bain took a sick company, injected new money into it, but in the end the company couldn't compete against the Korean imports.  so we closed down the plants and gave all the laid-off workers two years of severance pay, or whatever it was.

Probably not.  Probably not because the mainstream media doesn't want to give an evil Republican that kind of space.  They prefer to stay on the peasant culture meme.  Here was a loyal peasant that always bowed to the lord as he passed by in his fancy carriage, and always paid his rent and did his bit weeding the cabbages on the lord's estate.  But when the lord had no more use for him, he threw him away.  And there wasn't even any common land left on which to feed a goose.

There is another meme that politicians often use: "tough choices."  Something like this:

"For over twenty years, I am proud to have led Bain Capital, creating new businesses and trying to save businesses that had come on hard times.  There were many great successes, like Staples.  But there were also failures, failing companies that couldn't be saved, even after investing hundreds of millions of dollars.  President Obama has made sure you know all about them.  But you know what?  When you are in business, it's different from politics.  There is no place to hide.  Either you are creating jobs and profits, or you end up going down the tubes.  It is a horrible experience to realize that you can't save a company, even though you know that, as much as it costs you in economic losses, it costs the laid-off workers much more.  In politics, on the other hand, there is always someone else to blame."

Of course, I'd really like to know a bit more of the back story to the laid-off worker.  How come he didn't do anything about his wife getting sick?  Did she really not tell him?  What about their children?  Daughters usually know what is going on.  Did they really do nothing to help mom?

Of course, there is the other side of this.  In highly unionized industries like basic steel, semi-skilled workers once got to enjoy incredibly high wages and benefits from a job that might just involve pressing a button.  If the job goes away they are screwed, because they do not have skills worth anything near what they were getting paid.  But that, of course, is the fault of the politicians that gave unions huge coercive powers, powers big enough to drive healthy companies into the ditch and pitch out all their workers onto a wild and barren heath without the means to survive and thrive.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Impossible Gridlock or Impossible Ideologues

For liberal Froma Harrop, the problem is the non-negotiable Tea Partiers.
The tea party movement has become the dead bad-luck bird hanging around the GOP establishment's neck. Its anger-fueled energy has forced moderate Republicans off ballots in places where moderates tend to win. It has burdened otherwise centrist Republicans with radical positions that don't go well with a general electorate. The Grand Old Party is being taken over by an ideological fringe with unclear motives, a loose grasp on reality and little interest in actually governing.
But for conservative Michael Walsh the truth is a mirror image.  Even if Romney wins in November, Republicans are still pushing upstream against the progressive tide.
They know from history that American counter-revolutions never really restore the status quo ante, and that “progressive” ideas are nearly impossible to root out, especially with the media blocking for them. And they know their unfireable, beetling minions in the judiciary and the regulatory agencies aren’t going anywhere soon, no matter who wins.
Notice the contrast.  Froma Harrop says that the impossible Tea Partiers will never amount to anything because they won't compromise.  Walsh says the Republican revolution will never work because they will never get the power to dislodge the immovable liberal bureaucracy.

On the other hand, at The Atlantic Philip K. Howard writes that the problem is the partisan stalemate. Nothing can be done because "we," conservative or liberal, cannot upset "our" base, the people we have mobilized to fight to the death for our party.
American government is a deviant subculture. Its leaders stand on soapboxes and polarize the public by pointing fingers while secretly doing the bidding of special interests. Many public employees plod through life with their noses in rule books, indifferent to the actual needs of the public and unaccountable to anyone. The professionals who interact with government -- lawyers and lobbyists -- make sure every issue is viewed through the blinders of a particular interest, not through the broader lens of the common good. Government is almost completely isolated from the public it supposedly serves.
Well, all I can say to all that is good old Stein's Law.  If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.  In my view we are in a Clausewitzean decisive battle.  There is no doubt that the liberal welfare state cannot go on forever.  It has promised benefits way beyond what the economy can deliver.

So there is a choice.  It is the choice is between Argentina or civil society.  Do we go on, like Argentina, from devaluation to easy money to crisis to devaluation, with a corrosive populist politics that claims to want to squeeze the rich like sponges, but actually keeps the working class in feudal bondage and serves the crony capitalists?  Or do we change course,  back out the big government programs and replace them with a revived civil society?

I would that the United States would not go the way of Argentina.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What Do Liberals Really Believe?

Government is force, and politics is power.  Politicians and activists are bullies--when they are not being cowards.  So people that follow politics have to lie to themselves a lot in order to persuade themselves that they are on the side of the angels instead of the thugs.

Capitalist enthusiasts do this a lot.  The fact is that the Anglo-American empire utterly conquered the world in the last three centuries and not one stone has been left un-turned.  But we Anglo-Americans like to tell the story that we have ushered in an age of milk and honey.  Maybe we did, but we also took a lot of sled-dogs behind the rock and clubbed them to death.

Our liberal friends are like that too.   They are convinced that they are the harbingers of peace and justice even as they shatter civil society, turn every human activity into a government program, and break every rule that they set.

Want some examples?  Here are just two from today.

In Massachusetts, the failure of RomneyCare has prompted liberal politicians there to pass a "cost-containment" bill.  It will basically allow the state government to dictate the operation of the entire health care industry in Massachusetts.
Under the plan, all Massachusetts doctors, hospitals and other providers must register with a new state bureaucracy as a condition of licensure—that is, permission to practice...

An 11-member board known as the Health Policy Commission will use the data to set and enforce rules to ensure that total Massachusetts health spending, public and private, grows no more than projected gross state product through 2017, and 0.5 percentage points lower thereafter. (And Paul Ryan's Medicare projections are unrealistic?)

No registered provider is allowed to make "any material change to its operations or governance structure," the bill says, without the commission's approval. The commission can also rewrite the terms of provider contracts with insurers and payment levels and methods if they are "deemed to be excessive."
Or there is this.  The Obama Department of Labor doesn't want defense contractors to follow the law in sending out layoff notices to employees in advance of the November election.
One of Big Labor's legal pride and joys is the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, a 1988 law that requires federal contractors to tell employees at least 60 days in advance of potential large-scale layoffs. Well, what do you know, last week the Department of Labor issued "guidance" on its website that this law doesn't need to be followed for the purposes of the looming January 1 budget sequester.
When Republicans are in office, the mainstream media blows items like these into major scandals.  There is extravagant talk about the rule of law and abuse of power.  In the Obama years we have seen many flagrant abuses similar to today's mere two abuses of power, and the mainstream media has said nothing.

The brutal truth about politics is that it is civil war by other means.  Partisans on both sides excuse the abuses of "their" side while howling about the abuses of the other guys.  That's why we need reporters to make a fuss about any abuse of power.  It's a pity that the media so rarely live up to their responsibilities.

Well, there is this, from Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct:
Men like power and will seize it if they can. But if they can't rule, their next preference is that no one rule over them.
Maybe, just maybe, this fall the human second preference will rear its noble head.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Unemployment Sideways

Imagine if John McCain had won the 2008 election and unemployment was currently at 8.3 percent.  Yes.  The howls, the scandal, the monstrosity, the cruelty of it all would be bellowed out of every MSM outlet.  And there would be no chance, not one, that McCain could get reelected.

But here we are, and either employment increased last month by 163,000, according to the Establishment Survey, or declined by 195,000, according to the Household Survey.  Either way, the economy is not growing fast enough to get Americans back to work.  Right now, we are about half way back to the number of jobs in the US at the start of 2008 before the crash.

Let us not forget that the Obama administration deliberately made a policy choice back in 2009.  They would push the hugely expensive ObamaCare and the hugely bureaucratic Dodd-Frank financial reform.  And they would push their expensive green energy, and they would obstruct fossil fuel development.

If you had wanted to implement a slow recovery from the worst financial crash since the Great Depression, that is the policy mix you would have chosen.  We can assume that the Obama people didn't think that their interventions would be that harmful to the economy.  After all, everyone wants to be reelected.  They probably didn't really think about it.  They just went ahead with their agenda and assumed that their trillion dollar stimulus program would be enough to get the economy going.

But it hasn't.  And the evidence is that the Obamis really don't understand a thing about the economy.  Their new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is busily reintroducing the failed policies from the Community Reinvestment Act that forced banks to loan money to unqualified borrowers.  Don't they get it?  When you leverage up the economy with bad loans you set up a big financial crash when things start to go south!  Just like in 2008!

And then the president says "you didn't build that."  Well, yeah.  Business people don't build roads and bridges.  But they do everything else.  You could look it up.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Inequality Two-step

Inequality is the polite drawing-room version of the Exploitation narrative.  The Exploitation narrative, so ably set up by Marx, says that the workers inevitably get screwed by their employers.  So government is needed to redress the balance.

The Inequality narrative is more nuanced. It says that inequality is getting worse, so government is needed to redress the balance.  In a review of Timothy Noah's book on inequality, The Great Divergence, Scott Winship takes us through the many mansions of liberal ideas on inequality, and how it is getting worse.  Of course, liberals like to tell this story in a Three Ages template.  First there was a Golden Age after World War II when inequality was low due to strong labor unions, but then, after 1973, it all fell apart as the rich got richer faster.  In the new age, liberals will rectify the problem.  Here is Timothy Noah's solution.
Noah wants to “soak the rich,” create a public-jobs program, “impose price controls” on colleges, “revive the labor movement,” and “elect Democratic Presidents.”
The poor do better under Democratic presidents, you see, although I doubt if they are doing very well under Democratic President Obama.  And the Buffett Rule will stop people from becoming rich.

The problem with the Inequality narrative is that people don't stay where they are put.  Thomas Sowell:
The turnover of people is substantial in all brackets — and is huge in the top 1 percent. Most people in that bracket are there for only one year in a decade.

All sorts of statements are made in politics and in the media as if that top 1 percent is an enduring class of people, rather than an ever-changing collection of individuals who have a spike in their income in a particular year for one reason or another. Turnover in other income brackets is also substantial.

There is nothing mysterious about this. Most people start out at the bottom, in entry-level jobs, and their incomes rise over time as they acquire more skills and experience.
So, what does it do when you impose over this changing situation big clumsy government programs that assume that "the poor" and "the rich" are enduring categories?

There are three steps to the Inequality program, and every step is fraught with questions.  First of all, how much inequality is in fact harmful and unjust?  Second, can programs be devised to ameliorate inequality?  Finally, can any program avoid the introduction of new, legally mandated inequalities?

The record isn't good.  Let's look at a few.  We have universal education, yet clearly middle and upper income people benefit from the education system much more than the poor.  The poor get lousy schools, and the children of the rich get lifetime professorships.  We have national pensions.  But that means that the poor never get a chance to accumulate real wealth, since the government collects their retirement savings through taxes and then returns it in a benefit payment.  Upper-middle class people save money for homes and retirement.  But the money is not just directed at single uses.  It is available throughout life, for starting a business, sending kids to college, for travel, for end of life care.

The liberal approach to everything is a rigid, one-size-fits-all government program, that is so big and clumsy that it can never be reformed.  The smart people figure out how to game the system and the poor get left with the crumbs.

There has to be a better way to deal with inequality.