Friday, June 6, 2014

The Party of the Ruling Class

How do we deal with the meme that sank Mitt Romney, the idea that he was an unfeeling rich man that didn't care about "people like me."  Mona Charen makes the point directly.
Many Republicans now recognize that they must propose reforms that speak to middle- and working-class voters, and shed their image as the party of the rich.
But what is it that makes the Republican Party the "party of the rich?"  Is it that the rich Koch Brothers push the Republican line?  Or that Mitt Romney laid off a union steelworker? Perhaps it's because the Republican Party does not rush in with a new program when people are hurting.

But it was George W. Bush who said: "when people are hurting, the government's gotta move."  And this was the guy that didn't care about New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina.

OK, so the Democratic Party is the Mommy Party that believes that you must rescue little Johnny from everyone of his escapades.  The Republican Party is the Daddy Party that believes that when Johnny goes off to college it's time for helicopter parents to fly back to the pad and let Johnny figure things out on his own.

But the Democrats still get a lot of mileage out of the "party of the rich" meme even though you and I know that most rich people -- especially 2nd generation liberal trustafarians, and certainly the ones living in the richest zip codes -- vote Democratic.  Of course they do.  Their mothers get them into selective colleges by hook or by crook and they come out as good conforming members of the ruling class.

William Tucker just went to a class reunion at his top-ranked New England college, and he was just about the only Republican voice there in a class that includes one Nobel prizewinner and one on the way. "All of my classmates have prospered to a degree that none of us would have anticipated when we were swilling beer and pulling all-nighters back in the day."
There’s a predictably high portion of doctors, lawyers, research scientists, and college professors, but also an uncommon number who seem to have stumbled into finance, almost inadvertently.
And they are all liberals.  Tucker attends breakout sessions where everyone agrees with the liberal agenda except him.
When I arrived around 9 a.m. an earnest group of about 50 classmates and their wives was already deeply engrossed in the question of how to save the nation’s spirit. This time the discussion was more unguarded. “We’ve got to make this non-partisan,” said one panelist. “We’ve got to get Republicans involved.” “Of course Republicans are wrong about everything but we’ve still got to make them feel like they’re a part of it,” said another. After another hour of this I stood up and said once again I disagreed with every word but didn’t want to take up people’s time. “No, tell us what you think,” they insisted. So I let loose.
Talk about a meeting of the ruling class!  You can't make this up.  Tucker tells the group to "several gasps of disapproval from wives in the audience" about "a small museum in Colorado" that spent two years getting regulatory approval to divert a stream to build a generator. I mean, you can't just let people run around diverting streams in Idaho, darling!

And they call the Republican Party the "party of the rich."

Now there's no doubt that if you called Tucker's classmates and their wives "the rich" to their faces they would be insulted and the wives would gasp.  They know they can't be the rich because they are Democrats and the Republican Party is the "party of the rich."

So what's the strategic thing to do?  It probably won't work to counterattack with "so's your father" stuff.  It doesn't matter that the Democratic Party is the party of the rich and the crony capitalists.  Frontal attacks tend to be very costly and end up achieving nothing.  See: World War I.

No, I suggest creating the meme that the Democratic Party is the "party of the ruling class," the people that won't let you alone, that want to boss you around about everything from stupid light bulbs to baking wedding cakes.

The point about the "party of the rich" meme is that liberals want ordinary people to think that Republicans are callous moneybags swilling martinis up at the country club that just "don't care about people like me."

The point about the "party of the ruling class" meme is that conservatives want ordinary people to think that liberals are bossy meddlers swilling Chardonnay up at the faculty lounge that won't leave you alone and insist on telling you how to live your life.  Everybody knows some stuck-up little academic Hitler that uses their teaching or administrative position to make life miserable for everyone around them.

I know.  Just one little meme isn't going to change the world.  But it's a start.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bergdahl: Obamis Just Don't Understand Honor

Many conservatives are puzzling over why, just why, the Obama administration would get itself into such a mess over the Bergdahl prisoner exchange.  How could anyone treat Bergdahl's likely desertion as just a matter of missing a class on Monday?

The answer is simple.  It is honor.  Lefties don't understand honor, male or female.  And especially they don't understand military honor. The whole point of the left has been to expunge honor from the culture, except for the honor-among-thieves culture among lefties and community organizers.  Yeah.  It's one thing for Obama's Organizing for America buddies to "have his back."  But not for the rest of us.

If you want to understand the whole question of honor, a good place to start is James Bowman's Honor, A History. It comes down to this, writes Bowman:
 [T]he basic honor of the savage -- bravery for men, chastity for women -- is still recognizable beneath the surfaces of the popular culture that has done so much to efface it.
But it is not just the act of bravery that is important; it is the reputation for bravery.  And by bravery we mean the reputation for standing in line with your fellow kinsmen or fellow soldiers and not running away in the heat of battle.  In the Greek hoplite honor and bravery meant literally standing in the shield line and not breaking away, for victory in hoplite battle usually went to the side whose shield wall collapsed last.

That is where the duel comes in.  The aristocratic duel is a corruption of the code of honor.  It goes beyond the idea that my deeds of courage speak for themselves; it says if that you attack my reputation for bravery I will kill you.

In the development of the modern nation state the idea of honor developed from bravery among kinsmen to bravery among hoplite soldiers to bravery in the army of the nation state.  That is why the bravery of Sergeant York in World War I is such a big deal and why the cowardice of Private Eddie Slovik in World War II was such a big deal.

And that's why the apparent desertion of Sgt. Bergdahl is such a big deal to the men and women in the armed forces.  It's about their loyalty to to their buddies, then their unit, and finally the United States.  That is the code of honor in the US armed forces.

Obama & Co. don't understand that because they have a different code of honor.  It is not to family, not to nation.  It is to the movement, the progressive movement, or whatever the current left-wing thing is at the time.

Obama & Co., with Hollywood, celebrate the anti-hero who makes a point of declaring that he does not owe loyalty to family or to his city or his nation.  So to them Sgt. Bergdahl's hesitance about doing the army thing is only natural.  That's how Obama & Co. feel too.  Enough of this nationalist nonsense!  Peace and Justice!  And that's how the mainstream media seem to owe loyalty to Obama and his agenda rather than to the United States and the rule of law.  In their code, the United States and the military are rather shabby things.  And the constitution was drawn up by slave-owners.  What matters is to fight racism, sexism, and inequality.

Of course all along the Obamis have known that they need to bow to the national gods.  They must say that there is no blue America or red America, but just one exceptional America, and when their minds are focused by the need to win the election they can stay on message.

But they don't really believe a word of all that exceptionalism crap.  They just say it because they must.  Just as they know they must wear those stupid American flag pins.  Their loyalty and honor code is, we might suggest, the the honor code of the community organizer.  The loyalty and the celebrated acts of bravery are the acts to advance the banner of progressivism.  Like the UAW and the Battle of the Overpass.  Or the Movement against the Vietnam War.  Or the Battle for Women's Rights, or the Battle for Marriage Equality.

I would argue that the entire left-wing movement is really a crazed millennial cult.  That everything it does leads to a dead end, whether the economic dead end of communism, the free-stuff dead end of the welfare state, the reproductive dead end of feminism and homosexualism, the population dead end of environmentalism.

Actually, we've seen this before.  Rodney Stark has a name for our modernacademic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex.  He calls it upper-class asceticism.  It starts with Buddhism, and the young prince Gautama Siddhartha giving up his princedom, his wife and children, for a higher life.

Ring a bell does it?

According to liberal philosopher Charles Taylor the trick is to combine a commitment to human flourishing with a commitment to something higher.  So you can't reduce life just to human flourishing.  Nor can you reduce it to upper-class asceticism unless you are a liberal trustafarian.

But back on Earth our liberal masters are screwing up royally, because they have selected themselves into an upper-class ascetic cult and are trying to force-feed the rest of us on their divine manna from heaven.  So they wrong-foot themselves again and again, and sooner or later the American people are going to take notice.

The folks that really need to take notice are the millennials, because they are the folks getting most royally screwed by the Obama doctrine.  But first they have to unlearn everything they learned from their liberal unionized teachers from K through grad school.

And the folks that will struggle hardest with that will be millennial women.  Nothing personal, but my life experience is that women actually believe what they have been taught, whereas men tend to think that the whole school thing is a joke.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

We Need a Religion of Limited Government

Young Voices Associate Cathy Reisenwitz has taken a look at the new ideas in YGNetwork's "Room to Grow" proposals, and wonders what's the point.  Forget the "new" ideas.  How about some good "old" ideas?
Here’s a old/new idea: get government out of the way. cut off the spigot. end the subsidies. cut the regulations. help the middle class by allowing the market to work for them.
Cathy quotes Cato scholar Scott Lincicome:
“To advocate new in-kind or monetary transfers (tax credits, wage subsidies or whatever) to the poor and middle class without also fixing the policies that inflate prices and hinder consumption won’t actually permit these Americans to improve their and their families’ lives,” Lincicome writes. “Put simply: who cares if you have a few extra dollars per week from the government if the cost of many highly-regulated and subsidized necessities keeps outpacing any such increase?”
Who cares?  Ordinary people care about their own personal subsidy, their own personal "few extra dollars per week." It's true that "Bankers, lenders, schools, realtors are all 'helped' tremendously by artificially high prices, demand boosts, and regulatory capture."  And it's true that ordinary people get nickels and dimes compared to the C-spots that the big boys get from Big Government.  But ordinary people are attached to their nickel-and-dime subsidies.  Low-paid educated young people say Yea! when Pune-born Brahmin Kshama Sawant calls for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, even though it hurts minority youth and pushes marginal employers off the books.  Middle-income people rely on and support the mortgage interest deduction even though the rich benefit far more.

The trouble is that if you actually come out and propose to cut all the subsidies and transfers you won't get elected dogcatcher.  That's because politics has always been and always will be about looting and pillaging.  Join my free company, the young aristocrat used to say, and you'll get your share of the loot.  Vote for me, the modern politician says, and I'll make those greedy employers pay you more out of their profits.  The Tea Party hates bailouts for big banks, but don't start talking about reforming Social Security and Medicare.

The point about limited government is precisely that it proposes to limit the looting and pillaging.  It says that if everyone backs off their demands for loot we will all be better off in the long run.  But in the long run we are all dead.

In The Faith Instinct Nicholas Wade gets to the heart of the matter.  How do humans control the freeloader and the freebooter, the looter and the pillager?  With religion.  It is religion that says "thou shalt not steal" and "thou shalt not covet."  And religion usually throws in a God that knows what you are doing even if you hide your looting from the people in your community.  God will judge you for your transgressions on the Day of Judgment, and don't you forget it.

The problem is that left-wing politics from Marx to Pelosi says that it's OK to loot and pillage, as long as you are a member of a traditionally marginalized minority.  Hey, it's not just OK, it's the epitome of fairness and justice!  Lefties have made a religion out of free-loading.  As the pundit says: this will not end well.

Obviously, it's not going to be easy to turn things around.  The point about religion, including today's left-wing sects, is that it is faith; you believe in spite of setbacks and defeats, and that certainly applies to our liberal friends.  We won't turn things around with a book or two, or even a rational discussion of the zero-sum game of subsidies and carve-outs.

What it will take is a new religion, one that will inspire millions of people with the idea of limited government without subsidies, and fill their hearts with a new idea of the good.  This will not be a political movement, but a moral and cultural movement that redefines the idea of the good.  It will have to inspire ordinary people to reject the blandishments of politicians and activists, because to the new believers such offers of free stuff are simply wrong, and not just wrong but offensively wrong.

Personally, I don't doubt that the Republicans emerging in the race for President in 2016 know what needs to be done: cut spending, subsidies, carve-outs, reform entitlements, reform education away from the "blob" status quo.  But a politician has to practice the art of the possible, and conduct the charm offensive that gets him to 51% of the vote.  And that, as a famous US politician once demonstrated, means leaning heavily on vague promises of Hope and Change, and blurring the actual details of the Change to come.

I'm with you Cathy Reisenwitz.  But I also know that to get where you want to go will take a long journey, and a transformation in the hearts of millions of Americans.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Critiquing Obama from the Enlightened Left

Every time we hear of a new incident of Obama administration lawlessness, we have to wonder.  Do liberals really not see this as a problem?

We know what is going on.  The news media and the cultural czars reckon that Obama and the liberal activists and the Democratic Party have their heart in the right place and so the corner-cutting on Obamacare, the bogus wait-list scam at the VA, the ludicrous exchange of several Taliban leaders for a US deserter, all these are just friction.  The Obamis know the media feels this way, so they figure that they can get away with anything.

But they might look behind them, because it's one thing to roll over the law when you are winning.  It's another thing to violate the law to cover up your mistakes.

I get where the liberals are coming from.  They are on a mission to create a peaceful and just society, and they know that what with the racists, sexists, and homophobes out there, that there is very little time left in the Obama administration to fight inequality and save the planet.

So liberals lose sight of the fact that the USA is a society, not a church, and its job is not to right all wrongs but a rather more modest goal: to keep people out of the streets.

The purpose of laws and constitutions and rules of law is not to hamstring good liberal governance, but to keep the opposition from flooding into the streets.

Let's make this even clearer.  Suppose that all liberals are good guys and all conservatives are evil racists.  Liberals should still govern according to law and not cut corners because when the government cuts corners the opposition starts to get really angry.  It starts to wonder if the governing party will cancel the next election.  It starts organizing for civil war.

So here is my question: What's the point of cutting corners on the fight against inequality and saving the planet if the nation dissolves into civil war and we all start blowing each other up?

There are, of course, two lefty governing narratives.  One is the Fabian Society/Progressive era narrative that educated, progressive people are "nature's noblemen" and therefore ought to rule.  Noemie Emery beautifully captures the fatuity of the movement with this:
They had a dream. For almost a hundred years now, the famed academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex has dreamed of a government run by their kind of people (i.e., nature’s noblemen), whose intelligence, wit, and refined sensibilities would bring us a heaven on earth. Their keen intellects would cut through the clutter as mere mortals’ couldn’t. They would lift up the wretched, oppressed by cruel forces. Above all, they would counter the greed of the merchants, the limited views of the business community, and the ignorance of the conformist and dim middle class.
The only problem is that government, any government, is force, and politics is division, dividing the electorate in half, so every new government program replaces voluntary cooperation with force.  The reason that the academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex is in trouble is that, stripped of its kindly librarian image, it is force.  Meanwhile the whole point of social animals is to reduce the expense and the incidence of force to a minimum.

The other narrative is the revolutionary tradition associated with Marx.  The Marxists made the argument that even if the middle-class governments of the 19th century obeyed the law it was still unacceptable, because exploitation, and therefore revolution was the only remedy.  But Marxism ran into problems.

By the end of the 19th century it was clear that, even if the bourgeoisie were beasts and that 19th century government was nothing but the executive committee of the bourgeoisie, the workers were not getting "immiserated" but were actually prospering in a modest way.  If that were true then maybe revolution wasn't the answer.

By 1920 it was clear that the workers of the world identified first with their homelands and only second with their class.   By 1940 it was clear that the bourgeoisie wasn't the only power center dealing out exploitation.  You had Bolsheviks not just bullying but killing people by the millions.  By 1950, you could add fascists and Nazis to that list.  By 1970 you could add the Maoists.

So the thinking Marxist had to rethink.  What had gone wrong with the Enlightenment and the revolutionary projects?  That's what "critical theory" and the Frankfurt School was all about.  The marquee effort of the early Frankfurt School was The Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno.  Writing in California during World War II as refugees from Germany, they wondered if the problem wasn't in the very nature of the 18th century Enlightenment, for "What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men."  They also observed how the conversation in the public square of the 18th century coffeehouse had become institutionalized in the propaganda blasts of mass media.

Some of the Frankfurt Schoolers were just lefty charlatans.  I am thinking of the New Left's darling Herbert Marcuse and his specious doctrine of "Repressive Tolerance."

But then we come to my guy Jürgen Habermas.  A student of Adorno, he is acutely conscious of how the average German just went along with the Hitlerian crimes, just going along to get along.  And he appreciates how even the welfare state has is authoritarian aspects.  What is left then of "enlightenment and emancipation" in such a world?

In the 1960s Habermas tried to locate "critical theory" within a triad of "interest" in Knowledge and Human Interests.  According to Thomas McCarthy in The Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas the technical interest is about developing knowledge in the natural sciences in the "behavioral system of instrumental, feedback-monitored action".  He takes up C.S. Peirce's pragmatism about developing knowledge that is reliable "in arriving at beliefs that future events will confirm rather than render problematic".  Good knowledge helps humans be successful in their interactions with nature.

The practical interest is about developing knowledge as a social project:
the dimension in which concepts, methods, theories, and so forth are discussed and agreed upon, in which the framework of shared meanings, norms, values, and so on is grounded, is the dimension of symbolic interaction that is neither identical with nor reducible to instrumental action.
We climate deniers can see how the practical interest applies to "settled" climate science.  It's not just science, it's a community of scientists.

Then there is "critical theory" and its emancipatory interest.  On Habermas' reading, the Enlightenment itself was supposed to be emancipatory. Thus: "Emancipation by enlightenment required the will to be rational." Thus Kant's sapere aude! to have the courage to use your own reason. Habermas traces the theme of emancipation through Fichte, Hegel, Marx.  Yet these thinkers could not stop the positivist movement that reduced the scope of reason so that "reason became scientific reason."  But the point of critical theory is to look at the existing structure of power, of received notions about reality and forms of life, and to reflect upon them.  It is the struggle to be free of the chains of the past.

Of course "critical theory" was tremendous fun for lefties when the criticism was all about the bourgeoisie and capitalism and whacking away at the patriarchy and institutional racism.  But our liberal friends are noticeably reticent when it comes to a reflective attitude towards their own tradition and its narratives.

For instance, one might ask: how much is left of enlightenment and emancipation in a society that taxes its citizens out of 35-40 percent of their daily labor?  There seems to me to be an "emancipatory interest" in reflecting upon the dominatory aspects of an authoritarian state that minutely taxes and regulates every citizen up the ying-yang.  We might profitably read Habermas, who says that we must balance the "systems" aspects of capitalism and bureaucracy with the intersubjectivity and discourse of equals in the "lifeworld."

Just how much intersubjectivity and discourse is going on in Obama's America when liberal bullies are out everywhere demanding that people "check their privilege" when they are not falling on their fainting couches when some ageing billionaire says nasty things to his 30-ish mistress?

I was reading a piece today in which the writer suggested that either President Obama doesn't know what he is doing or, more problematic, he does know.  My guess is that at a tactical level, President Obama does know what he is doing, and he doesn't care that he is tearing up the Constitution and the rule of law.  But at at a much higher level he has no clue about the nightmare he is setting up for his party and the nation.

Either way, what's really needed in America is a genuine "critical theory" that looks at the embedded social and cultural structures not just of "advanced capitalism" and mass media but at the whole "academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex."

Because if you ask me the present ruling class of the academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex really has no clue what it is doing to America.  Today we have Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (H/T saying that the new EPA standards to reduce coal plant emissions "will strengthen public health, create new jobs, spur innovation and lower electricity rates."

Can she really believe that?  If she doesn't, then she is just a canting politician.  If she does believe it, then it's "Houston, we have a problem."

Friday, May 30, 2014

Liberals Don't Know Better

Here's a nice little piece from the Wall Street Journal.  Guess what: the Obamis at the Census Bureau don't like the way racial classifications are going with the Hispanic community.  You see, according to Amitai Etzioni,
[M]ore that two million Hispanics changed their racial classification to "white" in the 2010 census from "some other race" in 2000.  Overall, according to official data, 53% of Hispanics classified themselves as white in 2010.
Oh no!  We can't have that!  Millions of Hispanics calling themselves white?  What will happen to the Democrats' race politics?  What will happen to all those vital majority-minority congressional districts? What will happen to the racial spoils system. So now the liberal racists at the Census Bureau are working overtime -- and no doubt getting substantial bonuses -- figuring out how to corral Hispanics back into nice convenient categories to help liberals play race politics.

It's cool, isn't it!  The New York Times calls George Zimmerman a "white Hispanic" when it fits the narrative.  But when a more specific classification is needed to bolster up liberal political hegemony, fuggetaboudit.

Here's a cool idea!  Let's add an "honorary white" racial category on the Census form for people that want to be in with the patriarchy and the neo-colonialist set.  And for people that just think it would be cool to be white.

The interesting thing is that the government doesn't need racial classifications unless it's planning to do race-based government.  In fact the only reason the government needs any data is for purposes of command and control.  Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott. No kidding!

This command and control thing applies to everything.  If the government weren't mucking around with the economy, stimulating and money printing and subsidizing and taxing over 30 percent of the yearly income of the people, it wouldn't need any data.  Oh sure, it would need to be the lender of last resort during a financial panic.  But you don't need much data for that, because the people that desperately need to borrow money to maintain liquidity will identify themselves to the appropriate authorities.

But when the government gets into some activity it needs data.  Principally, of course, it needs data so it can figure out what to do when things go wrong, in accordance with the inevitable unanticipated consequences of government action.

In this spring of 2014, as the VA implodes and the president flubs his speech at West Point, liberals are getting ready to do the Fantine thing and sing:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
and so on.  Back before Barack Obama liberals certainly had a dream; it was about them and their intelligence and compassion and wisdom.  But it's turning into a nightmare and so liberals are getting ready to think of themselves as helpless victims, just like poor Fantine did back in the horrible days before the welfare state.

Only liberals did this to themselves.  They have tried to make politics do things it can't do.  They have used their power to put government to work on things that government can't do.  Because government is force, and force is only good for breaking things and force has to be a last resort.

That's just the liberal stupidity side of things.  Then there are things that go beyond stupidity.  There is the liberal record on exhuming racism out of its well-deserved grave and making race and class and gender the center of liberal neo-tribal politics.

We cannot know what awaits us at the end of neo-tribal liberal identity politics, although it is encouraging that ordinary Hispanics don't seem to want to be marginalized off in a corner of the liberal plantation and 53% of them call themselves whites.

But we got where we are today because of liberals. As Noemie Emery writes:
They had a dream. For almost a hundred years now, the famed academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex has dreamed of a government run by their kind of people (i.e., nature’s noblemen), whose intelligence, wit, and refined sensibilities would bring us a heaven on earth.
Because liberals knew better. Only now the dream is every day turning into a nightmare.  Hey Fantine!  Let's sing it together:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by...
 Now the dream is over, pal.  Get used to it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Moral Dilemmas in "The Secret Life of Violet Grant"

What do you get if you mix romance with history and politics and throw in a little spy thriller?  You get The Secret Life of Violet Grant by my New York Times bestselling daughter Beatriz Williams.  Now available in bookstores everywhere.

What can I say about it except go and order yours?  And what more can I say without ruining your whole experience with plot spoilers?

Let's start with this.  Manhattan girl-about-town Vivian Schuyler -- the same Schuylers that my man Alexander Hamilton married into centuries ago -- gets a suitcase in the mail in 1964.  It seems to have belonged to her great-aunt Violet that disappeared mysteriously right before World War I.  What gives?  
Well, Vivian is a spunky kid, even if she is rich, and even if she only got her job as fact-checker at Metropolitan magazine because she's the best friend of the owner's daughter.  In fact Vivian might remind you of the spunky heroines of those now-forgotten 1930s screwball comedies. So she ignores the warnings from Mums and Dadums about the danger of family scandal and bores right in to the suitcase mystery to figure out just what happened back in 1914.  That sets up a glorious romp through Manhattan with lots of drinking and smoking on the one hand and the gradual unraveling of the life of the mystery of the great-aunt Violet who left New York in 1912 as a young science graduate to join the masters of the universe trying to figure out the nature of the atom in Britain and Germany.

In between the dizzying plot twists we get a lot of moral dilemmas.  What do you do if you find that you and your best friend are in love with the same man?  What do you do when your lover wants you to have an abortion?  What do you do if an educated girl comes to you wanting an abortion?  What do you do if you think that a young woman in the office is being improperly treated?

Sorry, liberals.  These questions are considered not as black and white political issues of rights and "Justice!" but as moral dilemmas that challenge good people in their daily lives, that don't have easy answers, and that ought to be worked out without the clunking fist of government.

The biggest issue, that comes up again and again, is who can you trust?  When someone says they love you, do they really love you or are they trying to use you?  And what are you prepared to sacrifice for love? I think I can say, without betraying the story, that in Violet Grant these questions remains open right down to the last page.

Violet Grant is my daughter's third novel with Putnam and, if you ask me, she is getting better with every book.  Beatriz Williams is willing to take risks, and the more she writes, the bigger the risks.

The central question is, if you are writing a novel that mixes romance, history, politics, and a bit of spy thriller, how far can you go?  How much is enough?  What will the punters like?  The only thing to do is to put pen to paper and find out.  And that's what Beatriz Williams has done.  And what she has done is deliver a glorious romp that, if you pay attention, is really about the Big Things: love, courage, honor, decency, and sacrifice.  And their opposites.

What else is there?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Ruling Class's Sickness Unto Death

All ruling classes are the same.  They all suffer under the delusion that their particular power and wisdom is needed to bring order to a chaotic world.  They experience themselves as parents trying to control unruly children.

So in Europe the ruling class decided after World War II that it needed to create a new, wise, continental over-class that would prevent another outbreak of dangerous nationalism.  It slowly built up a vast oligarchy of the great and the good to rule over the crazed plebs.  After all, if the German people could vote for a Hitler once, they could do it again.  So a wise elite would write the laws and work behind the scenes to neuter the passions of the masses.

(It did not stop to think that Nazism and Fascism might be practical responses to the failures of the old regimes and their proud elites.)

Well, we now see what has happened in Europe.  Even apart from the clumsy and corrupt European Commission in Europe which rules without the consent of the governed, we have the abominable Euro, the currency without a country that is tearing Europe apart.  It is, of course, appropriate that it is a failed currency that is doing the job of destruction because it has been the policy of inflated and devalued currencies that has been the universal resort of the 20th century educated ruling class when caught in a jam.  The ruling class built a huge administrative government to deliver countless benefits to the people to keep them off the streets, but it needed a constant resort to the thievery of inflation to clean up its economic messes.

In the United States the problems are similar, but different.  Here the ruling class has been executing on a similar plan of administrative supremacy, but has to have constant resort to the tribal instincts of race, gender, and class in order to cudgel the ordinary voter into maintaining the status quo and the ruling class in power.   The elite that stands for progress and enlightenment can only stay in power by resorting to the crudest appeals to race and difference.

It is well to turn back the clock and remember what the educated class originally intended.  It thought of itself as advanced and rational.  It thought that its well-considered policies would lead the people upwards out of tribe and faction into the sunny uplands of education and universalism.

You can see this delusion in every page of Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty.  To Piketty and to tens of thousands like him in the ruling class, the administrative state is a "social state" delivering social justice in programs of free or subsidized services so that people have their "rights."  So it does. But he forgets that the "rights" were imagined by people like him.  The programs were designed and implemented by people like him, and the money, power, and love of beautiful women are all supposed to go to people like him.

That is why "people like him" don't like capitalism.  It cannot, surely cannot be just that under capitalism the money, power and beautiful women get snapped up by jumped-up barrow boys that just struck it lucky, and not given by a grateful populace to "people like him."

In fact, of course, the policy of administrative supremacy is a blast from the past.  It retreats to the politics of the village big man and the bureaucracy of the absolute monarch.  It is not a vehicle for enlightenment, it is a means of domination.  Thus, the more that the educated ruling class extends its programs of centralized administration the more it builds a structure of domination in which all people except the favored few are reduced to peonage.

The program of administrative centralism does not elevate the common man, and teach him the ways of the modern world.  It forces him back into the villages and cramped superstitions of the pre-industrial world.  Soon enough we will find out that the administrative state is bankrupt and failed, and the rule of the educated elite will be as discredited as the rule of the Caesars, the landed barons or the absolute monarchs.  People will rise up and topple the castles of power and something else will take its place.

What went wrong?  The educated elite believed too much in political power.  It could have remained satisfied with merely presiding over the evolutions of capitalism, but it didn't.  It wanted to rule over capitalism.

And the problem with political power and government is that it is good only for one thing: war.  It might be a foreign war on a dastardly enemy.  If not a foreign war then any government will instinctively start searching for enemies at home, and it will find them.

That is what all the furies over racism and the supposed Republican war on women and the constant turmoil on campus over diversity is about.  Government must have its enemy.

Our liberal friends don't see any enemies abroad.  They think that foreign policy very soon declines into neo-colonialism and imperialism, and they are probably right.

But the problem is that without foreign enemies, our liberal enemies find them at home.  So we get wars on poverty, on pollution, on bigotry, on racism, on corporate greed, on religion, on family.  And the bigger the government, the bigger the war.

We are the American people.  We don't want to be dragged into an endless war against each other.  Do we?

But the ruling class can't help itself.  It must have its war to fight, otherwise it loses its mandate to rule.

And so it will go, until the American people rise up and rebel against their rulers and change their ruling class, as the ordinary people of Europe are threatening to do.

Nothing new here.  Every ruling class creates injustice and domination, because every ruling class is blinded by its pride.

Thus we may say that every ruling class is blind to its faults until it is probably too late.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Beyond Tea Parties and UKIPs

It's jolly good fun to see that UKIP and its pubbable leader Nigel Farage tearing up the pavement in Britain over the weekend. Farage is a poster boy for the old working class man who said: "I like a drink and I like a smoke." But UKIP is rather like the Tea Party.  It's mad as hell, but don't touch its Medicare (or its NHS).

Look, I get it.  People work their entire lives paying those unjust payroll taxes; they see drifters and grifters playing the system for all the freebies they can get and they are damned if they are going to give their share up to some iffy reform of Social Security that tosses them to the mercies of the Wall Street casino.

(Only isn't it interesting that the S&P has practically doubled and the NASDAQ has practically tripled on Obama's watch while the ordinary working stiff can barely find a job. Yea the 1%, Barack!)

But Social Security and Medicare and the NHS are the problem, people.  Not the banksters or the frackers or the special interests or even the welfare moms and the idle single males.

The problem is as old as Eve.  The Serpent tempted me, and I did eat.  The politicians dangled free stuff before me, and I did vote.

Back in the dawn of the modern age, when the feudal system was breaking up in England in the 13th century, almost everyone kicked their kids out of the house at puberty.  They went into an apprenticeship or they went into "service".  They had to find a way to contribute, to earn a living wage; they were, to coin a phrase, "on their own."

We now know that a similar, but harsher, system obtained in China where the feudal system broke down in about 500 AD.  The Chinese owned their own land and distributed their land among their sons, so if you had more than one son the next generation ended up with less land per head.  If you didn't work hard and acquire more land your sons ended up without enough land to marry on.  Then they became hired laborers and never married and your seed died out.

It's the system I call responsible individualism.  Lefties call it Social Darwinism.  But in truth all human society, as all nature, is a form of Darwinism. Only the adaptable survive.  It might be social adaptation; it might be genetic adaptation.  But the rule of life is: adapt or die.

So the responsible individual has to grasp the nettle.  He has to say, first thing every morning: how can I contribute?  He cannot say, first thing: I got my rights!  The point about social cooperation is social cooperation, not social distribution.

Now, in his Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century Thomas Piketty proudly rehearses the intergenerational solidarity of the welfare state, which he calls the "social state" or the European Social Model.  In his social state the young generation pay for the benefits of the old generation, and this is wonderful.

No it isn't, because this social solidarity is based on force, on the votes of the elderly to force the young 'uns to pay brutal taxes.  It says: I got my rights; I got mine coming.  You call it social solidarity?  If you ask me, it isn't social, and it isn't solid.

Here is my idea of intergenerational solidarity.  The middle-aged work.  And they work until they have saved enough of a pile to provide a retirement income. (OK some people just cannot do that and we help them.)  This means, on a societal level, that you cannot retire until you have created enough jobs for young people to support you in your old age.  If there's a war or there's a recession, and the stock market is in the tank, then you have to put off your retirement for a few years.  That is what I call intergenerational solidarity; that's what I call generational justice.  People work to contribute; they don't march for their "rights."

So long as we continue in our politics to emphasize rights, and so long as we Eves allow the political serpents to tempt us, so long will our nation lurch from crisis to crisis.

The current "free stuff" political model is a primitive throwback to the age of agriculture and the hunter gatherers before the industrial revolution where land was wealth, and rape and pillage was the way to get a leg up in a zero-sum world.  But today people are wealth: human ingenuity and cooperation.  In Britain they began to really see this at the end of the 17th century in the Glorious Revolution where Whigs and Tories divided over the source of national wealth.  Tories thought in terms of land and its limits; Whigs thought that the new manufacturing and trade was a source of perhaps unlimited wealth.  Guess who was right?

We are still having that argument today.  Do we divide out a fixed pie in political programs and benefits?  Or do we work together as free and independent individuals to create new and bigger pies of perhaps unlimited size?

The good thing about the Obama administration is that you probably couldn't imagine a better way to demonstrate the utter bankruptcy of the fixed pie paradigm.

But don't think that rights and benefits politics will just go Poof! in 2016.  The story of the dog in the manger wasn't written as a joke.  The world is full of manger dogs, blindly barring the way to prosperity, because.  People will not give up their free stuff until ruin is staring them in the face.

But at least in 2016 the American people will be thinking: It's Time for a Change.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Trouble with Keynes Is Us

Why has Keynesianism survived down to the present day?  Most TV commentators understand the economy in orthodox Keynesian terms.  The survival of Keynesianism is not that hard to understand, according to Sheldon Richman.
I’d have said it’s because Keynesianism gives intellectual cover for what politicians would want to do anyway: borrow, spend, and create money.
Another explanation Richman offers is from Lawrence H. White of George Mason University. Keynes gave people hope in the black despair of the Great Depression.  For economists, it gave them hope that they could solve the unemployment problem without going to totalitarianism.

My view is that the power of Keynes is to give not just politicians and economists but ordinary people the hope that they can continue doing what they are doing without making the wrenching changes that they desperately fear they must make.  Hey, no problem, the politicians can say!  Just sit back and let us do a bit of stimulus here, and a bit of quantitative easing there, and presto, it's recovery summer!  Because everyone wants to keep doing what they are doing until there is no longer any possible hope to continue in the old way.

The orthodox Austrian explanation of the business cycle centers on the idea that a recession is an inevitable consequence of the previous easy credit boom, because investments that looked solid in the boom are suddenly revealed as malinvestments.  Thus the people and resources marshalled into the lines of business now revealed as malinvestments must be liquidated, sooner or later. But nobody wants to hear that!  They don't want to confront what they know they must eventually do.  They want to continue in the old ways, and they sensibly elect politicians that will let them do it.

Of course it is the ordinary people that suffer losses to their wealth in the subsequent inflation and they lose their jobs in the malinvested industries anyway.  Then they will blame the politicians and the whole cycle can begin again.

We can excuse the politicians: theirs is the art of the possible, and if there is no majority for a party that offers orthodox capitalism with sound money and no freebies then a politician is a fool to offer it.

But the economists have no such excuse.  They know the problems with Keynesianism, or they ought to if they are as smart as they claim.  But we know why they are on the Keynesian train.  It is the same reason that the climate scientists are all aboard the global warming train.  It is money, power and the love of beautiful women.  That is one side of the coin.  But there is another reverse side of the coin.  If you don't get with the program you will get the brush off.  There won't be any professorships or adviser jobs for you.  So you'll abandon your economics Ph.D. and get into another line of business, and nobody wants to do that.

So what about the Obama economy?  How long can this miserable "recovery" continue?  Nobody knows.  But you can imagine that by November 2016 the American people will think it is "Time for a Change."  But the ghost of Keynes will still be with us.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Anti-Piketty: Because Conservatives Hate Compulsion

It's been a rough two weeks, but somebody had to do it. I just finished reading through Thomas Piketty's Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century and lived to blog about it.  You can start the blog commentary here. Now it's done and I've broken through into open country.

I get what Piketty is all about.  He's a bright young chap, darling of the French ruling class, and he's returning the compliment, as a good bribed apologist should.  What's needed, to save the authoritarian welfare state -- euphemistically called the "social state" or the "European Social Model" -- is force.  Its debt is way too large and so we must take money from the rich; that's OK, because their wealth is currently spiraling out of control. We must conduct a searching "financial cadaster" of all the world's private wealth and then bravely tax it.  Only thencan we resume the wonderful work of providing free education and health care.  And pensions.

No wonder our liberal friends love this Frenchy's ideas.

But I hate 'em.  The ideas, not the liberals.  Not so much because of the tendentious idea that the whole thing is due to r > g, that the return from capital is greater than the economic growth rate.  Of course it is!  Piketty's r and his g are apples and oranges.  The rate of return on capital is time discount + risk + surprise.  The growth rate is what's left.  They have nothing to do with each other.

No, what I hate is the compulsion.  Here we are, social animals as we are, and the only thing that a brilliant lefty can think to do in the current emergency is to bellow Captain Kirk's insistent request of Scotty for more power?  Just hand over 15-20 percent of your wealth and we'll fix everything?  You think I'm dumb or something?  Don't you lefties realize that your centralized one-size-fits-all model always ends up at the VA with secret waiting lists and people dying waiting for treatment?

But I can see the advantage of pretense, the pretense that this time with this trillion dollar program we have a perfect system to deliver... whatever: health care for our veterans, or to the uninsured, or to the traditionally marginalized.  Because then President Obama can always do the Casablanca line and be shocked, shocked that there are death panels going on at the VA.

Of course, I realize that we have our present centralized system because that's what most of the American people want.  They may be living in the modern capitalistic era but they think and feel like tribesmen. They look to the tribal leader as the powerful patron to keep them safe.  And so they whine and moan about the service and about "them".  But they are too cheap to turn away from the "free stuff" and pay their own way.

Let's turn away from this dysfunctional swamp and think beautiful thoughts.  Conservative thoughts.

Conservatism says that government is force.  So you have to face the truth that everything the government does is force.  If you do that it clears the mind.

You think educating little children can only be achieved confining them for twelve years in government child-custodial facilities with no time off for good behavior?  Really?

You think that the only way to get health care to the poor is by forcing everyone in society into a comprehensive and mandatory system run by bureaucrats and politicians?  Really?

You think that intergenerational solidarity means that old people get to vote to force young people to give them pensions?  Really?

That's the point about conservatism.  It starts with the faith, against all odds, that there must be a better way to deliver the benefits of society -- social services, if you will -- than force.

Because the problem with government is that the only thing that government knows is force.  And that means that it turns every question, every issue, into a war.  Now governments have always been pretty keen to go to war with the neighboring states.  No mystery about that: border war is in our genes, going all the way back to the chimpanzees.  Our problem is that if our government doesn't have a foreign war to fight it will stir up an argument at home.  It will conjure up some mortal peril, like inequality, or climate change, or the uninsured, that can only be overcome with the overwhelming force, mobilizing every citizen to fight the foe.  It could be spiraling inequality or it could be a rising sea level.  It doesn't matter, because the only thing needful is for government to have a war to fight.

Our lefty friends are firmly convinced that they are on the side of Peace and Justice.  Only first, of course, it will take a war on want, on poverty, on inflation, on bigots, on denialists, on racists, before the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth can begin.

Conservatives say that, if we are going to have a war, let's at least have a war against Commies in Russia or Islamists in the Middle East.  Let's not declare war on each other.

Why, we might end up in a real civil war and end up killing each other.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Waiting for Piketty

If I were home right now I could be at home reading Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty First Century.  But I'm not at home.  So I have to wonder about the alleged argument of his book.  That capitalists make 4-5 percent on their money, but the GDP only increases 1.5 percent per year.  Therefore inequality.

Heather Wilhelm argues today that the fuss over Piketty reflects the frustration of the up-and-coming professional in a lefty city. She quotes David Brooks.
“If you are a young professional in a major city, you experience inequality firsthand,” Brooks wrote. “But the inequality you experience most acutely is not inequality down, toward the poor; it’s inequality up, toward the rich.”

Frustrated up-and-comers, he notes, mix and mingle with the wealthy, brushing elbows at cocktail parties, facing the constant indignity of having other people’s privilege shoved in their faces: “You wait in line at the post office,” he writes, “but they have staff to do it for them.”
Yes.  It must be insupportable to have to kow-tow to rich guys like Donald Sterling.

But I wonder what the Piketty thesis means.  What does it mean that capitalists are making 4-5 percent on their money?  What is the 4-5 percent compensating them for?  Is it too much or too little?  Or put it this way?  How much return on capital is economically necessary to yield 1.5 percent real GDP growth?  Return on capital is a tricky thing.  At one end it is the return on widow-and-orphan bonds, supposedly secured by bond covenants and collateral.  Those chaps don't deserve anything.  Right?  At the other end it is a reward for risk, taking a flier on an uncertain future.  How much is enough for that?

And that is to say nothing about whether we should do anything about inequality, let alone use it as a reason to give governments more money.

So I sit here and wait.  For the moment when I get to read what the New York Times calls "the big-think book of the moment."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Word for Paul Ryan: White Women

Recently snarky BuzzFeed reporter MvKay Coppins followed Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) around as he worked to build outreach to blacks.

Yeah.  Whaddya know. Ryan was uncomfortable relating to black male convicts.  But when he went on to a lunch with businessmen he had all the one-liners down perfect.

I think it's wonderful that Paul Ryan, who is my idea of a worthy and principled politician, is trying to find ways of connecting to black voters.  It's not going to yield much in the way of votes for a long while, I'm afraid.

But there is something for more important out there for Paul Ryan to work on.  White women.  And I'll tell you why.

I attended a reunion at the consulting firm I used to work for up until 1996.  It was an engineering firm, and most of the folks there were practicing or retired engineers.  Salt of the earth guys, and all that.

But one thing hit me between the eyes.  I talked to some of the women there, technicians and assistants mostly, and a couple of them said they were "looking for work."

These are women in their fifties to sixties.  And they are looking for work.

Hello Obama economy.

Here is my advice to Paul Ryan and the Republican presidential contenders. Forget about the black vote for now.  Get to work on the white women vote.  Because white women are getting hammered, and I reckon they are up for grabs in 2014 and 2016.

What are these women thinking?  What do they think has gone wrong?  How can Republicans communicate the idea that government is not the solution?  How can Republicans gently shift them away from the idea that Hillary Clinton needs to be the First Woman President?

The problem is that women more than men are suckers for the liberal line in everything from the schools to the local news to the War on Women propaganda.  Women are more social; they are more conformist; they go with the program.

But we conservatives and Republicans are asking women to buck the local news, show the finger to cries of sexism, ignore their aggressive liberal women friends, and try something new and dangerous.

We are asking women to buck the collective consensus on women's victimhood that lets government take care of things.  Instead we want them to become responsible individualists and vote for small government and large people.

We want them to buck the idea that free contraception and unlimited abortion are the keys to women's liberation.

We want them to back away from government schooling, global warming, hyper-regulation of business, when all the government experts are telling women to go with the program.

How do we do that, Rep. Ryan?  That's far more important and necessary than a worthy -- and necessarily long term -- effort to find common ground with African Americans.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Telling it like it is: The Obama Purges

If we go back to the good old days of the Stalin Purges in the 1930s, what do we learn?  What made them different from just good old jailing of regime opponents?

After all, with modern police and incarceration methods, a repressive government can easily jail and disappear its opponents.  That's what the Argentine generals did to the lefty Montoneros back during their military junta days.  Argentine lefties are still complaining about it.

For Stalin, merely arresting his co-Bolshevik revolutionaries and disappearing them wasn't enough.  They had to confess.  There had to be a conspiracy against the father of his people, Comrade Stalin.  The heretics had to grovel before being tossed into the auto da fè.

So the Stalin Purges echoed the spirit of the Spanish Inquisition, another enforcer of orthodoxy.  Actually, in modern terms, the Spanish Inquisition was pretty mild.  It usually never got further than showing its victims the instruments of torture.  That was enough to get them to confess to horrible crimes and heresies.

When Barack Obama was elected as the United States First Black President many Americans thought that the long national nightmare on race was over.  We thought that the lion would lie down with the lamb and the race wars would be consigned to the dustbin of history.  We instinctively thought that the president would tell the race baiters to cool their jets.

In fact the opposite has occurred.  Whenever there is a race incident, from a black professor being stopped and frisked at his house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or a black kid getting gunned down by a White Hispanic, or a rich sports-team owner spewing racial epithets at his mistress, the president steps in and amps up the outrage.

Now you would think that, fifty years after the end of government-sponsored racial segregation that we could draw a line under racism and say, look, there are a lot of white people that don't like black people.  But the fact is that they don't have political power.  There are laws to penalize racist acts.  Let's not get too overheated about what is in peoples' hearts and minds.

Government, after all, is not supposed to be worrying about hearts and minds, but the law.  That's what Janet Reno told us when the mood took her.

Forget government, it is religion that is supposed to worry about hearts and minds.

But our modern secular religions combine politics and religion into a single proto-totalitarian cult of the state.  Therefore in a modern secular liberal society, it does too matter what people are thinking.  And it does too matter that racist and sexist thoughts are swirling around out there.  It follows that they should be expunged, and that proper confessions should be made after people have been shown the instruments of torture.

President Obama has set a clear example to his co-religionists.  Heretics should be hunted down and publicly shamed.

With the example of their lightbringer before them, the followers of President Obama diligently search not just for criminal acts against the government of secular liberalism, but heretical thoughts against the gods of race, gender, and class.

Do they ever.

So we are justified in calling the present era the years of the Obama Purges.

President Obama and his supporters are eager to teach their ideological opponents a lesson.  Resistance is futile, they communicate in word and deed.

Maybe so.  But the problem with repression is that there are two responses.  One is to knuckle under to the new world order.  The other is to form a movement of resistance.  Some people conform; others rebel.

Which response will win out?

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Real Inequality Problem

Liberals are all worked up about inequality, and we know why.  They want more power.

Thus we can expect the argument for all liberal proposals to give liberals more power and control over the American people to be: Because inequality.

But there really is an inequality problem, writes Cathy Reisenwitz, and Republicans need to face up to it.  You can't just dismiss is as class warfare.  Otherwise the battlefield will belong to Democrats.
Googleing “income inequality” brings up a host of non-jealousy related reasons to care about it. One reason is that it hurts economic growth when the rich see their incomes rise but the poor don’t. The reason? The poor spend their extra wages, unlike the wealthy. Another reason is that income inequality hurts class mobility by making it more difficult for kids to go to college.
You can agree or disagree with those ideas, but people believe them.

I haven't read Thomas Piketty's Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century yet, so I can't comment on his idea that capitalist earn 4-5 percent on their money in perpetuity, while ordinary stiffs get back 1-2 percent because that how fast GDP growth works.  My copy arrives May 2.

But Piketty's reported solution is a laugher.  A global wealth tax?  So the Google guys will pay 1 percent of their wealth per year so politicians can spend it on programs rather than the Google guys on better software?

I don't think so.  Politicians spend money on their supporters, not on growing the economy to reduce inequality.

And really, looking at inequality without looking at the operations of government is clueless. (But then Piketty wouldn't have had the success he's had if he proposed to curb government!)

Let's enumerate a few ways in which government promotes inequality, while accepting the idea that the capitalists have an unfair advantage.

  1. Social Security.  This is a government transfer program not a wealth builder.  Let's reform Social Security so that people have private accounts that they can pass on, tax-free, to their descendants.
  2. Medicare.  This is a government transfer program that encourages seniors to consume excessive amounts of routine healthcare.  Let's reform Medicare so that people save in their working years for Medicare, and pay for routine health care in retirement out of their personal capital income.  Then they get to pass the residue on to their descendants, tax-free.
  3. Unemployment, Workers Comp, Disability.  All these programs take money out of the hands of working people and give the monies to politicians.  Suppose people had their own personal unemployment account.  Then they could forego their right to long periods between jobs and get a new job quicker.  They would end up richer and could enjoy the capitalist income that the rich enjoy.  Then they could pass on their filthy lucre to their descendants.
  4. Crony capitalism.  All the cool things that government does, from mass transit to renewable energy, benefits rich, well-connected supporters of politicians.  How unequal is that?
Yeah.  And so on.  So now let's just segue to Charles Murray, who is now too controversial to speak at Azusa Pacific University.  Murray has been writing the same book for 30 years.  First it was Losing Ground.  Now it's Coming Apart.  Murray makes the point, again and again, that the welfare state is really cool for the top 25 percent.  We 25% guys are educated, have cool jobs, stay married and send our kids to college.  But the further down you go, the more you are talking about government benefits and less marriage and less work and less community.

You wanna talk about inequality, you need to talk about the murrain that the liberal welfare state has sown among the poor.

But liberals don't want to talk about that, and they don't want anyone else to talk about it either.  Because inequality.

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Gross Output:" Does It Matter?

Today, Friday April 25, 2014, the federal government's Bureau of Economic Analysis produced its first report on "Gross Output" as part of its report on GDP by industry. It is a computation of the economy's output similar to Gross Domestic Product, except that it includes as output all the intermediary stages in the production of the domestic product.  You can find the data here.

Does it matter?  Economist Mark Skousen argues that it does.  In the Wall Street Journal he writes:
Why pay attention to gross output? For starters, research I published in 1990 shows it does a better job of measuring total economic activity. GDP is a useful measure of a country's standard of living and economic growth. But its focus on final output omits intermediate production and as a result creates much mischief in our understanding of how the economy works.
And, Mark writes, it corrects "the misguided Keynesian notion that consumer and government spending drive the economy rather than saving, business investment, technology and entrepreneurship."

OK, Good.  But what difference does it make to, e.g.,  I pulled up the first numbers from the BEA to take a look.  Right now, there are only numbers going back to 2005.  I hope that this will change.  Here's what you get.

Gross Output vs. Gross Domestic Product
YearGross Output
$ billion
$ billion

OK. That's nice. You can see that Gross Output was tooling along at 1.8 times GDP until the Great Recession, and then it retreated back to 1.71 in 2009.  By 2013 still hasn't recovered to its pre-recession relation.

So what does it look if you run a chart of federal spending over at

Here's federal spending as a percent of GDP.

And here's federal spending as a percent of Gross Output.

What does it tell us?  Not much.  Maybe the Great Recession looks a little deeper with the GO numbers than the GDP numbers, but who cares?

What we really need is for the BEA to extend the data series back to 1930, like their GDP series.  You would think that  today's economy has more intermediary production than the economy of 1930.  But we can't be sure unless we get to take a look.

Friday, April 18, 2014

When Stupid LIberals Become Evil

I wonder if it’s time to update Charles Krauthammer’s catchphrase about liberals and conservatives. Conservatives think liberals are stupid; liberals think conservatives are evil, says Dr. K.

Because if you are stupid enough to believe that your political opponents are “evil”, then you are stupid enough to wander into the paths of evil. Like right now.

If you are stupid enough to think that the practice of politics is exhausted by the politics of the community organizer, and that the only thing you need to do is to rally your troops with racist, sexist, classist catchphrases, then you really don’t deserve to govern in America.

I have my own catchphrases, and one of them is that “politics is division.”

There is, or at least I hope there is, a warning in that catchphrase. If you want to have a society in which people are doing something more than fighting each other over loot and plunder then you’ll have to make your politics extend to something a little bigger than mere division of the nation into “us” -- the good, the evolved, the educated -- and “them.”

And we know that liberals know this because they keep blathering on about the “other.” Except that if you are a sophisticated liberal that knows your German philosophy you will talk on a slightly higher plane about “ego” and “alter” of course.

When liberals reduce their politics, as the president seems to be doing this season, to efforts to rile up the race base, with speeches at the convention of the racist National Action Network, or rile up the feminist base with lawyers’ protection bills like the Paycheck Fairness Act that makes employers guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent, or with class appeals like the president’s minimum wage policy, when liberals do that then conservatives have every reason to wonder if liberals are something worse than stupid.

Because you are basically saying that there is no compromise with the other side. They must be destroyed.

How are you going to be able to work with people across the aisle after such a season of naked race, sex, and class baiting?

Now we have the IRS scandal, which seems to be escalating beyond mere efforts to embarrass conservatives trying to organize for political action into efforts to trick conservatives into criminal acts.

In the opinion of J. Christian Adams these efforts of the liberals stem from the thinking and the doing of their left-wing activist base. He goes into a lot of detail showing how these groups have persuaded themselves that right-wing speech is illegitimate and should be censored.  They even have University of California at Irvine Law Professor Rick Hasen with a blog to bring all the speech regulators together.

We all make a joke about this, and chuckle about the inanities of “political correctness.” But think about this. Liberals, the ones that lecture us about the “other,” seem not to understand the danger to themselves of censoring the “other’” speech.

What do I mean by this? I mean this: Does it not occur to liberals that when you censor other peoples’ speech it makes them really angry? Does it not occur to liberals that one of the reasons we have the First Amendment is to provide people with a safety valve? They may not get what they want from the political process but at least they have the right to peaceably assemble and present their grievances. If people present their ideas and then get defeated in a fair election, they they are likely to go home and feel that they have at least had a chance to make their case.

The only way this regulation of other peoples' speech works in the long term is if you are prepared to go Full Monty totalitarian and put your opponents in the gulag.  I presume that liberals are not planning to do that.  Not yet.

So why don’t liberals have the common courtesy of letting their opponents organize politically without harassment?  How come that they are stupid enough to harass their opponents enough to make them really angry?

Well we know how all this comes about. It comes about because politics for liberals is a kind of religion. It is not just a practical thing about repressing violent foreign powers and violent domestic criminals. Politics is also about right and wrong, good and evil. It is also about saving society from injustice.

It is very easy, when your politics is to you religious, to make the next logical step, and try to suppress the Evil One. Nobody needs to ask Satan how he feels about things; you just stick it to him.

This is why I think that liberals are in for the worst times they can imagine. Ordinary, decent people are going to be shocked and indignant as they slowly get the picture on the corruptions and the repressions of the Obama administration -- let alone angry that they can’t keep their doctor and can’t keep their health plan.

Of all people, liberals should know this. They were beside themselves during the Bush administration, absolutely outraged by Christian conservatives in positions of government power. Can they not therefore see that conservatives might be absolutely outraged by what they experience as liberal abuse of power?

Answer: no they can’t. They can’t see it. It’s comical, in a way, because liberals have built a huge edifice of developmental psychology to account for the fact that most people can’t see other peoples’ point of view, starting with people that cannot even experience the possibility of other points of view. Only at the upper reaches of developmental psychological systems are there people that can put themselves in the place of the “other” and can understand the fact of other people, other ideas, other world views as perfectly natural and physical. Yet the liberal psychologists are about the worst when it comes to political intolerance.

And because liberals live in a bubble and have a way of forbidding anyone from uttering a discouraging word, they won’t know what’s hit them until it’s hit them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stop Complicating Home Finance

The US Senate is presently putting together what reads like Obamacare for Mortgages, a fiendishly complicated bill that will privatize, yet super-regulate home mortgages -- with a ton of special subsidy programs to queer the whole thing into a nightmare.  At least that's what the Wall Street Journal reports.

So the political elite hasn't learned from the Great Crash of 2008.  And no wonder.  Democrats have been indefatigable in blaming greedy bankers for the problem, rather than face the truth, that the deliberate federal policy to subsidize home mortgages forced bankers to extend loans to people that couldn't afford them.  If you read The New York Times and listen to NPR you wouldn't have a clue about what really went down.

It gets worse.  Here's a report on some focus groups of Option-ARM mortgage borrowers conducted for now-defunct Washington Mutual back in 2003.  The borrowers really had no clue what they had signed up for, with low payments and negative amortization for now followed by huge increased payments later on.  They knew they had a great deal -- for now -- but really weren't thinking too hard about what came later.

Yes.  WaMu was staggeringly negligent in pushing out mortgages to people that didn't have a clue what they were getting into.  But WaMu was just dutifully implementing national policy, pushed  by liberals for a generation.  It started with liberal activists complaining about "red-lining" in the 1970s.  Red-lining referred to the reluctance banks showed in loaning money on inner-city homes.  And why not?  Decaying inner city neighborhoods are not the place to loan money on demand deposits. It's simple prudence.  So we had to make sure that a certain share of mortgages went to "sub-prime" borrowers.

Because liberals are smart and compassionate.

And when the whole thing blew up, liberals blamed the greedy bankers.

Yes, of course the bankers were greedy.  Anyone that works close to government is greedy, because there's a lot of free stuff going on if you are smart enough and pushy enough to get in line for the handouts.

Given the financial ignorance of most people, the government's role should be to regulate the financial system to make it as simple as possible.  But that would make it harder to buy peoples' votes and hand out free stuff.

Given the financial ignorance of most people, we should reform the home mortgage business to remove the subsidies, to disabuse people of the notion that their homes are an "investment."

Given the financial ignorance of most people, we should get the government out of mortgage finance.

But the realities of legislating means that any reform of Fannie and Freddie will have to buy off the powerful special interests, in finance, in real estate, and in the liberal activist community.

Which means that the cure will probably be worse than the disease.

The real cruelty of the Liberal Century is the idea that government can be smart and intelligent -- if run by intelligent, large-minded people with the help of rational experts.

No it can't.  That's what we know now after a century.  Governing makes you dumb.  Governing makes you stupid.  Government makes you cruel.  You can take the largest-minded person in the world, but if you put them in charge of a government or a government program, they will turn out stupid.

This is not rocket science.  Government is force; politics is division.  When you put government in charge of something it will turn it into a bureaucratic monstrosity, pushing people around.  And the politicians will be figuring out how to divide people and how to buy votes with the money sloshing around in the government program.

Suppose the program turns out to be a complete mess?  How do you unwind the mess of bureaucratic rules; how do you persuade people to give up their nice little subsidies?

Exactly.  You can't.  Short of Armageddon, people are going to demand to keep their goodies.

They will keep on demanding their goodies until the invading soldiers are going house to house raping the women, and the question is no longer subsidies and handouts, but getting food to stave off starvation.

Meanwhile the mortgage mess remains a mortgage mess.  Thanks a lot, liberals.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Liberalism will end as a joke

You can't be serious.  That is perhaps what conservatives feel as each new Obama era folly hits the headlines.

This week we saw Democrats in the House claiming that the Republican pursuit of Lois Lerner was McCarthyism.

We heard of the Dallas office of the IRS brimming with pro-Obama election fever.

We saw liberal students and faculty getting Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born woman who has risen from tribalism to an icon of freedom, uninvited as Commencement speaker at Brandeis.

We saw the Obama administration ginning up their female base with yet another equal pay act.

We saw dear old baseball legend Hank Aaron linking Obama critics to the KKK.

Yeah, I know.  Marx told us that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

But I wonder if there is a deeper truth there.  Beyond the idea that a movement begins as a cause, then becomes a business, and finally becomes a racket, I suggest that the final phase of any human endeavor is to become the butt of jokes.

And why is that?  It is because any human institution eventually gets inherited by fools, and fools are too stupid to realize they are running the place into the ground.  And so their clumsy pretense at wisdom and cunning becomes the butt of jokes.

And one day it all goes up in smoke.

Yeah, I know.  We Obama haters are desperate for a divination from the heavens that indicates that our prayers for a life after Obama will be answered.

But somehow, I have a feeling that the next 30 months leading up to the 2014 midterm and the 2016 presidential election will see a meltdown seldom seen before in US politics.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How do we beat the secular religious thugs?

The defenestration of Brendan Eich last week electrified the conservative world.  Imagine!  A guy contributes money to an initiative campaign in 2008 and that disqualifies him from running Mozilla, the non-profit foundation that makes Firefox.

So the gay rights movement has progressed from hiding in the shadows to forcing its opponents into the shadows.  That is what you call progress.

But we conservatives ask: what can we do about this?  How can we stop the lefty bullies from bullying everyone in America to kow-tow to their household gods?

The answer, of course, is Michael Novak and his Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.  In that book Novak develops what I call the Greater Separation of Powers.  It is the idea that the public square in modern society amounts to three sectors: political, economic, and moral/cultural.

When the power of the political and the economic and the moral/cultural sectors are united, you get what is called "totalitarianism."  Not good, eh Vlad?  I mean Lenin, not Putin.

In the United States our founders built a constitution based on the concept of the separation of powers that Baron Montesquieu had formulated in his Spirit of the Laws.  The three branches of government, legislative, executive, and judicial, should be separate and should fight each other for power.

The founders also pushed the idea of the separation of the political and the moral/cultural in the notion of the separation of church and state.  They didn't want an "established" church, where the government picked winners and losers on the moral/cultural front.

You can see why.  When people on a moral crusade -- such as women's rights, or climate change, or gay rights -- get the bit between their teeth, they tend to get a little carried away.  They start to recreate the Holy Office of the Inquisition, or, if you like, the OGPU, the Gestapo, the KGB.  They start by showing people with the wrong opinions the instruments of torture, and they go on from there.

So it's a good thing to separate government power from religious power, including secular religious power.  Everyone agrees about that except liberals, because liberals cannot see that their politics is in fact a religion.  There are none so blind as those who will not see.

The Brendan Eich business was not an exercise of government power, but a moral/cultural attack on a private foundation.  So it points to the next frontier in the separation of powers.

What power should moral/cultural activists have over the economic sector?  And that reminds us of the other separation of powers issues that has been boiling over for the last century and a half.  What power should the political sector have over the economic sector?

The problem of political power over the economic sector has been a contentious one forever.  Most people fear that economic power is a monster that must be held in check by the strongest political chains, or else.  The whole point of Marxism is that economic power is to the worker what the landed warrior class of the feudal era was to the peasant.

But classical political economy starting not later than the late 18th century has argued that economic power is only powerful if it responds to the market, if it makes and sells things that people want to buy. History has proved the theory correct.  There is nothing worse for prosperity than subordinating the economic sector to the whims of the political sector.

And the late Great Recession proves the rule.  Here we had government subsidizing home mortgages for a generation and forcing the credit system to loan money to sub-prime borrowers.

Now the credit system runs on two articles of faith (i.e., credere, to believe).  First, it must believe that people will make their payments.  Second, it must believe that when people can't make payments then their loan can be liquidated by the collateral pledged to guarantee the loan.

Earth to liberals:  when you force the borrowers to lend to sub-prime borrowers and you also force lenders to make low down-payment loans, you are setting up a double-whammy of a financial panic!  Because when the downturn comes not only will subprime borrowers not be able to make their payments but their under-collaterized loans can't be properly liquidated.

So that's why Michael Novak recommends a Greater Separation of Powers.  The political sector should have limited power to lord it over the economic sector and that goes for the moral/cultural sector too.

As for the economic sector, it seems that most corporate honchos couldn't care much about political and moral/cultural matters.  Except when they go to government for crony capitalist special favors.  And when they retire and decide to spend all their money on charitable giving.

Yeah.  It's not too difficult to figure out how to get out of the mess we are in.  Just reduce the power of the politicians and the moralists.  And let the economy take care of itself.

It will, you know.  Nobody knows nothing about the economy, and the political activists and moral activists least of all.  The best thing to do it just to look on the economy with wonder.  And then cash your dividend checks.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Two Midnight Rule: What Do You Expect?

What happens when government takes over health care?  You get dozens of bureaucratic horrors like the "two midnight" rule for Medicare.  What is the two midnight rule?  It is rule CMS 1599-F.
This new, Obamacare-forced rule specified that a hospital stay can only be paid for by Medicare insurance if that stay “(1) expects the beneficiary to require a stay that crosses at least two midnights and (2) admits the beneficiary to the hospital based upon that expectation.”
In the American Spectator, Jeffrey Lord does a fine job of playing the Democratic Party helpless victims game, telling the story of one Frank Alfisi, who died because he needed to be admitted to hospital to get a kidney dialysis.  A dialysis doesn't need a two day stay, so Medicare wouldn't cover it and the hospital wouldn't perform the dialysis.  Alfisi was too sick for a regular dialysis.

So President Obama killed Frank Alfisi.

On the contrary, this is what you get when you put the government in charge of things.

This is what you get when you pretend that the government can act like a compassionate daughter, like Frank's daughter Amy.

This is what happens when you believe politicians that say that they care about people.

This is what happens when people buy health insurance and assume that it takes care of everything.

The fact is that all institutions, from government to insurance companies to hospitals, run on rules.  The rules are arbitrary.  The rules say that we will do stuff for you if you the facts say one thing, and we won't do it if they say another.

Of course our modern world is drenched in institutions like this, starting with the rule of abstract principles.  Everything is subject to the tyranny of rules and principles.

In fact, of course, life is a lot messier than the rules and the abstract principles pretend.  You see it in the assumptions of Newtonian mechanics, that it is dealing with point particles and frictionless motion.

And you see it in the assumptions of 1,000 page bills to reform the whole health care system.

There are two things that can overcome the rules.

One of them is money.  If you have the money, you can tell the hospital: screw the rules; I'll pay for the admission and the dialysis.  Unfortunately for Frank Alfisi he had already spent all his money caring for his deceased wife in her terminal illness.

The other thing is love.  You can say: I don't mind what it costs, we are going to stump up the cash for dear old Dad.

But in our degenerate age we prefer to re-enact the helpless victim as poster boy melodrama.  We ask, with TV cameras rolling, how "they" could be so heartless as to deny care to Frank or to deny coverage to Betty.  Everyone knows their role, from tough reporter to tearful relative, and plays it to perfection.

Some of the better modern thinkers have recognized the problems with the modern age of reason.  They recognize that instrumental reason is mechanical, that institutions based on modern reason act "strategically," that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.  That something else is needed, something other than systems and bureaucracies.

The modern era has been going for about 200-500 years, depending on your taste.  It's long past time for anyone to be shocked by the heartlessness of modernity.  We should all recognize that modern governments and insurance companies and hospitals are purely "strategic" institutions.

If you don't want to fall between the cracks you need a Plan B.  Otherwise the "two midnight" rule or its close bureaucratic relative is going to get you.