Friday, January 31, 2014

How Did We Get Here from There?

Here's a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger story about the republic of France.  Did you know that foreign investment in France has gone down by 77 percent in 2013?  Writes Tom Rogan:
That figure isn’t just bad, it’s unambiguously catastrophic. But the costs of President François Hollande’s failure aren’t simply economic. They’re also societal. Galvanized by popular disenchantment with the establishment, the French far Right hopes to win major victories in forthcoming local elections.

In short, the Fifth Republic isn’t looking so great.
Oh no, not Fascism!

But the question is: how can France be so stupid?  How can it build such a gigantic state and do nothing about it?  What is preventing it from declaring victory over Big Government and getting on with life?  Well, the answer is simple: chaps like Hollande from the grandes écoles.

The problem can't really be the people.  As Joseph Schumpeter wrote in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy back in the 1940s, Democracy is not the rule of the people, for the people clearly cannot rule.  Democray is the rule of the politicians.

So why don't the politicians Do Something about the mega-state?

Perhaps democracy isn't the rule of the politicians.  Maybe it's the rule of someone else.

What about Andre Codevilla's Ruling Class?
Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity...  America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.
Good enough.  But that suggests the "New Class" of Milovan Djilas, once an associate of Yugoslavia's Tito and Vice-president of Yugoslavia.  Djilas's New Class was "the privileged ruling class of bureaucrats and Communist Party functionaries" the "nomenclatura" that possessed not just power over the economy but over a nation's politics as well.

People like me are dissatisfied with this analysis because it does not address the idea that, in the aftermath of the death of God, the New Class or Ruling Class also operates as a kind of established secular church.  In our present society moral leadership and moral creativity comes not from divines but from people in the academy.

The trouble with the academy is that we are not talking about the detached moral leadership of medieval philosophers and scribes.  As Julian Benda claimed in The Treason of the Intellectuals in 1927, today's thinkers are not universalists; they have betrayed their calling.  Roger Kimball:
The “treason” or betrayal [Benda] sought to publish concerned the way that intellectuals had lately allowed political commitment to insinuate itself into their understanding of the intellectual vocation as such. Increasingly, Benda claimed, politics was “mingled with their work as artists, as men of learning, as philosophers.” The ideal of disinterestedness, the universality of truth: such guiding principles were contemptuously deployed as masks when they were not jettisoned altogether.
In other words, today's intellectuals are not just ivory-tower thinkers.  They come down from the mountain and use their ideas for political purposes in the street.  They now count political commitment as a virtue, not a conflict of interest.

The late Andrew Breitbart memorably said the "politics really is downstream from culture."  It's no use trying to change politics if you don't change the culture first.  But what if culture is downstream from religion, whether a transcendental religion such as Christianity or a secular religion such as socialism or progressivism?

So the best way to think about any human community is to think first about the people that are setting the agenda for moral discussion.  And in our society, those people are the professors.  They form, in essence, a established secular church.  They formulate correct opinion; they decide what is beyond the pale.  The media takes its cue from the academy: that is what all those experts are doing on your TV.  And the politicians take their cue from the media.  In other words, the "Cathedral."
The Cathedral has two parts: the accredited universities and the established press. The universities formulate public policy. The press guides public opinion. In other words, the universities make decisions, for which the press manufactures consent. It's as simple as a punch in the mouth.

The Cathedral operates as the brain of a broader power structure, the Polygon or Apparat - the permanent civil service. The Apparat is the civil service proper (all nonmilitary officials whose positions are immune to partisan politics, also known as "democracy"), plus all those formally outside government whose goal is to influence or implement public policy - ie, NGOs. (There's a reason NGOs have to remind themselves that they're "non-governmental.")
And further,
Today's Cathedral is not a personality cult. It is not a political party. It is something far more elegant and evolved. It is not even an organization in the conventional, hierarchical sense of the word - it has no Leader, no Central Committee, no nothing. It is a true peer-to-peer network, which makes it extraordinarily resilient. To even understand why it is so unanimous, why Harvard always agrees with Yale which is always on the same page as Berkeley which never picks any sort of a fight with the New York Times, except of course to argue that it is not progressive enough, takes quite a bit of thinking.
The point about the Cathedral is that it not only has political power, through the fact that it pwns the minds of the politicians.  Not only does it have cultural power in that it defines what it is to be enlightened and fashionable.  Its primary power is that it has moral power.  It decides what is acceptable to think and say, i.e., politically correct or what used to be called orthodoxy, and it decides what is "hate speech," i.e., politically incorrect or what used to be called heresy.

Mencius Moldbug has lots of ideas.  Some of them are good, and some not so good.  But his idea of the "Cathedral" magnificently encodes the nature of the modern ruling class and our current moral, cultural and political predicament.

Anyone that wants to get somewhere from here has to start with the fact of the "Cathedral."  Because the Cathedral is what has got us to our present moment.

And don't forget, if you want to change things:  As far as the Cathedral is concerned, the world is working pretty well right now.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Rape of the German Women

According to the feminists, we are not to construe statements like "Intercourse is the pure, sterile, formal expression of men's contempt for women" from Andrea Dworkin as "all sex is rape."

But, to echo a famous feminist politician.  "What difference at this point does it make?"

The difference to me is that I just can't trust what feminists say about anything because it is so transparently obvious that it is all about the politics.

But I still think about Briseis, the trophy concubine of Achilles and the cause of the dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon on the plains of Ilium before Troy.  What did Briseis think about her father and mother and brother being killed and then becoming the concubine of the very man that killed them?

I got an approach to an answer in the harrowing book A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City.  It describes what a woman has to go through to survive when living at the mercy of Red Army troops that have just battled their way into the capital of Germany in April 1945.

Here is what she does.  After being forcibly raped a few times this 34-year-old journalist comes to a decision:
Damn this to hell! I say it out loud. Then I make up my mind. No question about it.

I have to find a single wolf to keep away the pack.  An officer, as high-ranking as possible, a commandant, a general, whatever I can manage.  After all, what are my brains for, my little knowledge of the enemy's language.
It's the morning of April 28, 1945 and goes out and finds herself an officer.  He brings food and drink every night and everyone in the apartment has a jolly time, partying the night away until it's time to go to bed and for her to get violated.  And when his unit moves on, another officer takes his place.

It was the adult fecund women that took the brunt of the rape.  The women mostly managed to hide the teenaged virgins in attics and false ceiling, and the older women were mostly spared.

These young, sexually experienced women had the skills to manage their conquerors, to avoid gang rape, and to exchange, as far as possible, sex for survival.

It was the young innocents that suffered most psychological damage.  Not knowing how to manage men sexually, they were the ones that ended up being most brutally violated.

Here's the chronology of a conquered city.  You never know.
  • By April 20 water and electricity are out.  
  • On April 26 Germans are looting an abandoned barracks for food and drink.  
  • On April 27 the Russians arrive and the worst rape occurs.  
  • On May 2 the city surrenders.  
  • On May 9 the Russian sugar daddies leave.  
  • On May 11 they get new ration cards and start to venture out to find friends in other neighborhoods.  
  • On May 14 there's "a Russian truck full of flour" on her street.  Food is back.
  • On May 15 she registers for work.  
  • On May 16 she acts as translator for a Russian lieutenant charged to check out all the banks in her neighborhood.  
  • On May 19 the water comes back on.  
  • On May 22 she gets to work shoveling debris.  
  • On May 24 she works stripping factories of everything movable for transport to Russia.  
  • On May 25 she starts work washing soldiers' clothing. 
  • On May 26 the electricity and the radio come back on. "They say that millions of people -- mostly Jews -- were cremated in the East and that their ashes were used for fertilizer."  
  • On June 3 she starts working (for free) for a Hungarian who wants to start a publishing venture.  
  • On June 8 the streetcar starts operations (briefly).  
  • On June 16 her German pre-war lover turns up.
Her lover Gerd looks at her diary.  What's this abbreviation "Schgd?"
I had to laugh: "Schändung," of course -- rape. He looked at me as if I were out of my mind but said nothing more.
You get a new understanding of violence and human sexuality from the extreme experience of a woman trying to survive in a conquered city during the key month when order has broken down.

And you get to understand what women want.  They want to make the best of the situation.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Clueless Clots of Silicon Valley

We conservatives thought that the tech revolution would usher in an era of small government.  But it turns out that the Gateses and the Jobses and the Google guys are Democrats.

I don't know whether it is snobbery -- because every educated person in America is taught from an early age to shun the gap-toothed fundamentalists and Puritans that run the Republican Party.  Or maybe it is crony capitalism -- because those corporate greedists learn pretty quickly that the guys they need to keep happy are the Democrats.  Or else.

But now it looks like the Silicon Valley guys are heading for trouble.  The local lefties in the Bay Area are starting to target the tech giants for their special attention.  And the techies are feeling confused. Walter Russell Mead writes.
[It] feels like a weird and painful betrayal—both to the techies who like to think of themselves as benign and progressives, and to the hipster left who thought that this corporate wave would be different.
 But, of course, these chaps are living in a fool's paradise.  Seen from a distance, the new tech giants are no different than the new giant industries of the 19th century.
 Many start-up industries are individualistic and libertarian in culture even when they depend heavily on state action.Many start-up industries are individualistic and libertarian in culture even when they depend heavily on state action. Think of 19th century railroads and their subsidies, for example. With tech, despite the usual wacky individualism and libertarian rhetoric, it has been DARPA and defense spending all along as a major engine of growth. It’s an association that goes back to World War Two, when the massive data processing needs of total war laid the foundation for the computer age.
The reality is that whether or not business is interested in government, government is interested in business.  Politicians are quick to grasp the power potential in the new technologies and immediately move to use it for their own power projects.

As frisky tech startups becomes Big Tech the left targets them as the enemy.  And, as Mead reminds us:
The pressure groups and government agencies of the blue state are desperate for revenue. Silicon Valley has money. The question becomes: how to extract wealth from those horrible techsters and redistribute it where, in the judgment of blue politicos and interest groups, it will do the most good?
 Hey Big Tech!  Isn't it time you re-evaluated who your friends are?  We conservatives may not be as hip and fashionable as you like, and we may be terminally embarrassing with our god-bothering, but think about it.

We conservatives think that government should be limited, and that means that its power to meddle with Big Tech should be limited.

What do you think about that, Google guys?  Don't you think that you should start hedging your bets and putting a bit of money on the same horses as those evil monsters, the Koch Brothers?  Not to mention the unmentionable ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, bête noire of the left?

Because you chaps are going to need a bit of covering fire from the right starting from right now, and if you don't get that, you really are the clueless clots, the mindless nerds, that everyone takes you for. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Never Call a Voter a Fool

The truth is that we voters are fools.  We vote for politicians that tell us things we want to hear and then we act all outraged when they betray us.

That is why H.L. Mencken said that "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

What the common people want is free stuff, and what they get is the cost of free stuff.

Right now our Democratic friends are offering the common people extended unemployment benefits. Sounds like a good idea except that the longer people -- especially middle-aged men -- stay on unemployment the more likely they will never work again.

What about a higher minimum wage? Sounds like a good idea except that the science says that the minimum wage discriminates against young, low-skilled workers, and particularly young, low-skilled minority workers.  Maybe that's why the young unemployment rate is higher than adult unemployment and minority youth unemployment is the highest of all.

But how do you talk to voters who are fools?  The women voters that bought the Obamacare promises?  The youth that bought the free contraception, student loan promises?

All you can do is blame Obama.  All you can do is say they lied.

But then you have an opening.  You can say that this is what big government looks like.  Big government doesn't care about someone like you.  Never has, never will.

Big government only cares about power and influence.  If you want a society that cares about people like you then there is only one thing to do.  Vote against big government and start working for the family, church, and neighborhood organizations that know you personally and care for you individually.

Here's the thing.  It is only people that are related to you and know you personally that will be there when you need help.  As you will be there for the people that are related to you and know you personally.

Government doesn't care about you; it just cares about your vote.  The best thing for the economy would be to get the government out of its monetary and fiscal meddling.  Oh yeah, we need government as the lender of last resort, because capitalism is punctuated by crashes and panics.  It's pretty scary, but a lot less scary than what came before: periodic famine and starvation.

But when government gives out free stuff it is setting people up for a fall.  All that Fannie/Freddie credit?  Millions of people took the bait and ended up losing their homes and everything?  All that help for the poor?  It ended up killing work and marriage in the lower orders.  Medicare for seniors like me?  It's ended up as a racket where physicians go to conferences to learn how to "upcode."  Social Security?  It reduces savings, the foundation of the future.

You can see Republican Senate candidate Ben Sasse trying to break through to the voters as he campaigns for the US Senate in Nebraska.
[H]e faces a barrage of questions about health care, from workers watching their costs skyrocket and small-business owners worried about growth. There are broader concerns, too: “One of the most common questions I get is some version of whether we've come to the end of America,” says Sasse. “People are worried that we’re in decline, and that one of the reasons we’re in decline is because our leaders refuse to discuss it.” When the subject comes up, Sasse tries to acknowledge these concerns and sound a few hopeful notes. Then he says ordinary citizens must do their part: “We have to teach the American idea to our kids. The inertia of motion does not preserve a republic.”
Maybe that's all a politician can do: "sound a few hopeful notes."

Just don't call it Hope and Change.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Are Corporations Robber Barons or Cringing Courtiers?

Screw the insurance companies!  That's the knee-jerk instinct of many Americans. Why, just think of their profits — as in profits before people.

Sorry to disappoint, but "Health Plans" have a net profit margin of 3.3 percent whereas Microsoft has a profit margin of 28%.  Eevil Exxon has a net profit margin of about 10%.  So there.

Of course, there is no doubt that corporations have a lot of influence in the corridors of political power.  But the question is, are corporations powers in their own right, like the barons of feudal Europe, or are they more like courtiers of absolute monarchies?

Are corporations like the lusty and rebellious barons of Shakespeare's Wars of the Roses plays, or cringing courtiers subservient to the king's vizier, the Cardinal Wolsey or Thomas Cromwell of the day?

Let's look at today's issue, raised by Charles Krauthammer.  "Stop the Bailout!" he thunders.

You see, buried in Sections 1341 and 1342 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are two little sweeteners for the insurance companies.
First, Section 1341, the “reinsurance” fund collected from insurers and self-insuring employers at a nifty $63 a head. (Who do you think the cost is passed on to?) This yields about $20 billion over three years to cover losses.

Then there is Section 1342, the “risk corridor” provision that mandates a major taxpayer payout covering up to 80 percent of insurance-company losses.
Isn't that special?

But back to the question.  With this nice little bailout tucked into Obamacare, who is the real power?  Is it the government, telling the insurance companies: Hey, you wanna do business in this town, you gotta play with us.  Or is it the insurance companies telling the government: Hey, you want us to play doggo for this new government program and keep Harry and Louise off the air, you gotta pay.

 Maybe the real answer is the delicious irony.  Here we have the Democrats: they have been demagoguing against the insurance companies for decades and have trained everyone to believe that they are sworn to fight for the people against the insurance companies.

So let's see if they mean it.  Let's make the "first order of business for the returning Congress: The No Bailout for Insurance Companies Act of 2014," writes Krauthammer.
Make it one line long: “Sections 1341 and 1342 of the Affordable Care Act are hereby repealed.”
I think I will go and write letters to my two compassionate and caring United States senators: Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).  Surely they will come down on the side of the people against the powerful.

But I'm still puzzled about whether corporations are the bosses or the courtiers.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Lily-livered RINOs and TIT FOR TAT

We true conservatives love to tie ourselves in knots over the lily-livered RINOs, that seem to betray our movement every time we turn around, by compromising with the socialist Democrats.  Here's Jeffrey Lord at the American Spectator ritually damning Karl Rove and all "Republican socialists" to hell and back again.
Karl Rove (i.e., architect of the American Crossroads SuperPAC), the Chamber of Commerce, and the Washington GOP Establishment have declared war on the Reaganite conservative base of the Republican Party.

Welcome to the 2014 election.
What's the problem?  Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, 
major donors and advocacy groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads, are preparing an aggressive effort to groom and support more centrist Republican candidates for Congress in 2014’s midterm elections. 
Actually the Democrats did a similar thing in their successful mid-term effort in 2006.  They recruited a bunch of centrist-looking candidates in swing districts and ended up winning 31 seats in the House.  Many of those centrist candidates got shown the door in the 2010 elections, sacrificed to the god of Obamacare.

But meanwhile, those "centrists" helped the Dems pass their liberal agenda in the Congresses of 2007-2010.

But what about the spineless RINOs in Congress like Speaker Boehner that recently spouted off against the conservative Tea Party groups?

Look.  The whole point of a legislature is to compromise with the other side.  You get together, do a little horse-trading, and out comes a sausage.  The remarkable thing about the Obama years is how little legislative compromise took place.   When the Dems had a solid majority they rammed their stuff through without Republican votes.  And since 2010 they have proceeded with high-profile standoffs like the Debt Ceiling of 2011, the Fiscal Cliff of late 2012, and the Government Shutdown of October 2013.  Yet when Rep. Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Murray (D-WA) were tasked with a budget solution for the next two years they quickly came up with a compromise that split Dem-Rep differences down the middle.

Guess what:  When you leave people alone they will usually cooperate and compromise.  Why?  Because that's the most successful way to operate.  Robert Axelrod proved it in The Evolution of Cooperation.  The most successful way to deal with other people is demonstrated by an iterative Prisoners Dilemma game.  The most successful strategy, called "TIT FOR TAT", cooperates on the first move and then echoes the "opponent's" move thereafter.  If the opponent "defects" (refuses to cooperate) then TIT FOR TAT defects on the next move.  If the opponent cooperates, then TIT FOR TAT cooperates on the next move.

Axelrod calls the TIT FOR TAT strategy: cooperative -- because offering to cooperate on the first move, "provocable" -- because it punishes bad behavior immediately, and nice -- because it forgives immediately a defector that returns to cooperation.  It all comes down to four rules:

  1. Don't be envious.
  2. Don't be the first to defect.
  3. Reciprocate both cooperation and defection.
  4. Don't be too clever.

Guess what: the TIT FOR TAT strategy worked in the trenches in World War I when the opposing sides tried not to kill each other in between battles.

We conservatives should not expect our congressional leaders to be in the forefront of the ideological wars; that's not their job.  Culture war is the job of the activist groups.  Compromise, given the reality of the present correlation of forces, is the job of the legislators.

But how in the world can we ever expect to win against the liberals?  Here we must turn to the late Andrew Breitbart who said that politics is downstream from culture.  First you must win the culture; then you can win at politics.

And that is conservatives' Big Problem.  We seem to be eternally playing catchup in the culture wars, getting defined as narrow-minded bigots by the cultural big-shots in the media and the activist attack dogs like GLAAD.

But how can we ever win against the big battalions of the liberals?  Well, it's not so much a question of big battalions as big ideas.  It means persuading, and in particular, persuading women: that abortion is cruel and kills little babies, that a sexual free-for-all hurts women and children, that no-fault divorce hurts women and children most of all.  And that big government, always and everywhere, means force and compulsion that must inevitably reach into every woman's home and tell her what to think and do, how to raise her children, or else.

Obamacare, anyone?

There will always be RINOs and compromisers that seem to be selling the activists out.  But the solution is not to beat up the RINOs but change the culture so that the natural place for compromisers to compromise is towards the conservative position rather than the liberal position.

Yeah, I know.  Changing the culture is hard.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Dems to Offer More Free Stuff in 2014

Now that the budget negotiations are safely out of the way it's time to get back to business.  And for Democrats that means selling more free stuff.  On CNN this morning there was a New Years piece on the struggle of living on the minimum wage.  Yeah, let's raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour, and... well, science says that the minimum wage increases unemployment.

Here's another fabulous idea from the Democrats.  Extend the extended unemployment benefits.  Even though science says that unemployment benefits encourage the unemployed to delay getting back into the job market and that every idle day without work reduces your job skills.

Over in the UK the Labour Party is proposing an energy price freeze.  You gotta love the pure effrontery of this.  Energy prices in Britain are going up because of the Labour-backed green energy programs that spread subsidies out to uneconomic wind and solar farms and sock the electric customers with the bills.  There's no question about the science on this.  Subsidies distort the market and result in a net decrease in income and prosperity.

But what about global warming and climate change?  Surely we have to do something before the temperature goes up and the oceans inundate the Statue of Liberty!  Well no.  Temperatures have been about flat for the last 17 years, diverging significantly from computer model predictions.  And there is the ominous fact that the sun appears to be entering a quiet phase, perhaps even a grand minimum like the Dalton Minumum in the early 19th century.  There seems to be a correlation between a quiet sun with few sunspots and cold global temperatures.  Science doesn't know why.

Our liberal friends make a big deal about the settled science on climate -- which isn't that settled -- and completely ignore the settled science on energy subsidies and on basic economics.  There's no mystery about this, of course.  Minimum wages and unemployment benefits are free stuff that liberals use to entice and rile up their voters, and to hell with the settled science.  Green politics is based on crony science, cooked up by bribed apologists in the academy, but liberals love the power of building wind farms and bullet trains and HOV lanes and rail transit.  Because they love politics and political power.

But I wonder how in the world conservatives can win over the American people that don't know a blind thing about economics and climate change except what they heard on the news.

The answer is, I suppose, that we win over the American people when they get pissed off with their health insurance premiums going into the stratosphere.  When gas prices and electric rates ratchet up.  When something goes wrong and they want someone to blame.

But the other side is that voters will always respond to the temptation of the free stuff.  And politicians will tempt the voters with free stuff, settled science or not.