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."