Monday, July 31, 2006

That Sums It Up

Israel's ambassador to the UN said,

for us, every dead Lebanese child is a mistake and a tragedy; for them, every dead Israeli child is a victory and a cause for celebration.

(Thanks to Kim Priestap of Wizbang! for the quotation.)

Living in the Past

I spent much time at my maternal grandmother's house in the 1940s. Grandma lived in a small village about 90 miles from my home town, so my visits to her lasted for whole weekends and sometimes for a week or two. I got to know Grandma, her house, and her village quite well -- so well that my memories of her and her surroundings are still vivid. When I reflect on those memories I realize that her house, and much of her village, was a throwback to the early 1900s. This was life at Grandma's house in the 1940s:

There was no indoor plumbing (that came later). Water was drawn at a pump in the backyard. Hands and faces were washed at a basin; baths were taken in a large galvanized tub in the shed attached to the house. The "toilet" was an outhouse tucked behind the garage (which held no automobile).

Where did we heat bath water? On the large, wood-burning range that sat in Grandma's kitchen. She arose early every morning to fire up the range, on which she cooked all meals.

Central heat? There was none. The wood-burning range and an kerosene stove supplied all the heat Grandma needed. The upstairs bedrooms relied -- in vain -- on the principle of rising heat.

Air conditioning? Absurd. The only relief on hot summer nights was to stay outside for as long as possible and then to sleep with a window open at each end of the house, in the hope of catching a breeze.

Grandma kept a kitchen garden, where she grew many of the vegetables that we ate with our meals: string beans, green peas, corn, radishes, and cabbages. (Nothing beats the taste of a pea fresh from the pod.) Grandma bought other foodstuffs at local markets, to which she walked three blocks.

She kept perishable items in an icebox. An icebox -- for the youngsters out there -- consisted of metal compartments encased in wood. The top compartment held a block of ice, which kept the contents of the other compartments cool, but which had to be replenished every few days.

The floors of Grandma's house were covered in linoleum and the walls were covered in wallpaper -- all in a style that dated back to the early 1900s. Most of the furnishings, too, dated from the early 1900s, when she wed my grandfather -- who died before I was born.

There was no TV, of course, and no telephone (that, too, came later). When Grandma needed to make a long-distance call to any of the eight of her (ten) children who didn't live in the village she walked four blocks to the office of the local phone company.

Grandma, herself, was a throwback to the late 1800s. Her vocabulary and attitudes reflected the era of her upbringing. She indulged her grandchildren with sweets and movies. But she expected good behavior and told us, in unmistakable terms, to straighten up when we misbehaved. We obeyed her -- and we loved her.

Many (perhaps most) of the other residents of the village lived just as Grandma lived, simply and quietly. The predominant evening sounds were those of crickets and tree toads, not cars and clubs and TVs at high volume. We could see the stars and, on occasion, the Northern Lights. Children could roam, day and night, without fear.

World War II had ended. The Depression had not returned. Life seemed good -- even to adults, who enjoyed what they had. Peace reigned, for a short while.

Sixty years on I sometimes retreat to my memories of Grandma, her house, and her village. Those memories take me back beyond my childhood in the 1940s to the even simpler and more peaceful times of a century ago.

Related posts:
The Good Old Days
Reveries
Thinking Back
Ghosts of Thanksgiving Past

Sunday, July 30, 2006

My Reference Shelf

You may have gone to Resources, my list of links to various sources of information (and timeless tracts) that are available on the web. I am a frequent visitor.

I am also a frequent visitor to the row of books that sits on a shelf above my computer. The books are arrayed roughly by subject but also (for aesthetic reasons) in "waves" by height (peak-trough-peak-through-peak). Here, from left to right, are the titles on my reference shelf (with links to editions that are available online):

The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, Edwin Meese III (chairman of the editorial advisory board)
The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions, Kermit L. Hall (editor)
The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
The Great Thoughts, George Seldes (editor)
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America (published by the U.S. Government Printing Office [GPO], 1972)
The Constitution of the United States of America (footnoted version "presented by" Emmanuel Celler, chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives, GPO, 1972)
Layman's Guide to Individual Rights under the United States Constitution (prepared by the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Committe on the Judiciary of the U.S. Senate, GPO, 1972)
FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression, Jim Powell
The Law, Frederic Bastiat
The Constitution of the United States of America ("presented by" Wayne Hays, chairman of the Committee on House Administration, GPO, 1972)
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America (pocket version published by Cato Institute)
The Summing Up, W. Somerset Maugham
The Great Quotations, George Seldes (editor)
The New American Roget's College Thesaurus in Dictionary Form
The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
The Federal Reserve System: Purposes and Functions (prepared and published by the Board of Governors, 1961)
The King's English, H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler
A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, H.W. Fowler (revised by Sir Ernest Gowers)
Modern American Usage: A Guide, Wilson Follett
A Manual of Style, University of Chicago Press
Legal Problem Solver (a Reader's Digest compendium)
Know Your Rights (a Reader's Digest compendium)
The Timetables of History, Bernard Grun
The Statistical History of the United States: From Colonial Times to the Present (prepared by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1976)
Relativity Visualized, Lewis Carroll Epstein
Amo, Amas, Amat and More: How to Use Latin to Your Own Advantage and to the Astonishment of Others, Eugene Ehrlich
Dictionary of Foreign Terms, C.O. Sylvester Mawson
Webster's New World French Dictionary (concise edition)
21st Century Dictionary of Acronyms and Abbreviations, Diana Ajian (compiler)
The Complete Plain Words, Sir Ernest Gowers
Harbrace College Handbook, John C. Hodges and Mary E. Whitten
Handbook of Mathematical Tables and Formulas, Richard Stevens Burington (compiler)
A Guide to American English, L.M. Myers
Principles of Speech, Alan H. Monroe
The Macmillan Handbook of English, John M. Kierzek and Walker Gibson
The 1,911 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, Robert Byrne
The Plain English Approach to Business Writing, Edward P. Bailey Jr.
The Art of Literary Research, Richard D. Altick
The Basic Patterns of Plot, Foster-Harris
Written Words: A Literary Introduction to English Composition, Arthur Norman and Lewis Sawin

I have many other reference works in other parts of my house. Those listed above just happen to be the ones at hand. I would be grateful for suggestions about other titles that I should keep handy.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Constitution: Who Has the Last Word?

The American Bar Association questions whether it is up to presidents to interpret the Constitution. (See this Washington Post story about an ABA panel's report on presidential signing statements.) Others argue that a president is co-equal with Congress and the judiciary when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. My own view is that the Constitution gives the last word to the judicial branch. Here, in relevant part, is what it says about the scope and exercise of judicial power:

ARTICLE III.
Sect. 1. The judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such Inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. . . .

Sect. 2. The judicial power shall extend to all cases in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority; to all cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers, and Consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; to controversies to which the United States shall be a party; to controversies between two or more States, between a State and citizen of another State (but only where a suit is brought by a State and not by a citizen of another State), between citizens of different States, between citizens of the same State claiming lands under grants of different States, and between a State, or the citizens thereof, and foreign States, citizens or subjects (but only where a suit is brought by one of the United States and not by a citizen or subject of a foreign state).

In all cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and consuls, and those in which a State shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases before mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact (except that jury findings of fact are not subject to appellate review), with such exceptions and under such regulations as the Congress shall make. . . .

[Italicized text in the first paragraph of Section 2 reflects changes made by the Eleventh Amendment. Italicized text in the second paragraph of Section 2 reflects the Seventh Amendment and the double-jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment.]

There are specific limitations on the scope of judicial power. But those limitations do not apply to the laws of the United States or its treaties.

There are specific limitations on the exercise of judicial power. First, there is the distinction between the Supreme Court's original and appellate jurisdiction. Second, there is Congress's ability to limit the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. But that grant of power to Congress does not enable it to limit the scope of the judicial branch's power. It remains as stated in Section 2 of Article III. The only question is whether it may be exercised by the Supreme Court or must be exercised by a lower court.

Where does that leave Congress, the presidency, and the courts? Well, Congress can pass unconstitutional laws for as long there are majorities willing to do so. Presidents can sign unconstitional laws for as long as there are presidents who are willing to sign such laws. And presidents can ignore courts when courts find laws unconstitional, or when courts declare that the president has violated the Constitution. (Though presidents try to be subtle about ignoring courts, for presidents traditionally pay lip service to the notion that the final word goes to the courts.) And courts can continue to vest unconstitutional powers in government for as long as there are courts willing to do so -- as they have been, in significant ways, from the onset of the New Deal.

All of that is just another way of saying that the Constitution's "check and balances" and its (notional) grant of judicial supremacy have failed to do what they were supposed to do. They have not checked the enactment of unconstitutional laws. They have not checked judicial rulings that fly in the face of the Constitution. Rather, there has been a "race to the bottom" by the three branches, each vying to outdo the other in the undoing of the Constitution.

That is why I have argued for a changes to the Constitution that would enable Congress to check the judiciary, and enable the States to check the federal government. The three branches of the federal government no longer would be able to go their own way with respect to the Constitution. The imperial judiciary would be subject to rebuke and correction by the people's elected representatives in Congress, and then all three branches would be subject to rebuke and correction by the people, acting through the States. For the details, read this.

Related posts:
The Erosion of the Constitutional Contract
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers
A Timeless Indictment
When Must the Executive Enforce the Law?
More on the Debate about Judicial Supremacy
Another Look at Judicial Supremacy
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Supremacy
Judicial Interpretation
Delicious Thoughts about Federalism
Is Nullification the Answer to Judicial Supremacy?
The Alternative to Nullification
No Way Out?
The Wrong Case for Judicial Review
An Agenda for the Supreme Court
What Is The Living Constitution?
The Supreme Court: Our Last, Best Hope for a Semblance of Liberty
The Case of the (Happily) Missing Supreme Court Nominee(s)
States' Rights and Skunks
An Answer to Judicial Supremacy?
The Original Meaning of the Ninth Amendment
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States' "Police Power"
Amend the Constitution or Amend the Supreme Court?
Substantive Due Process Redux?
Hudson v. Michigan and the Constitution
Certain Unalienable Rights . . .
A New Constitution: Revised Again
Advantage: The Constitution
The Bad News about Wal-Mart's Victory in Maryland
Kelo, Revisited

Today's Wisdom

Courtesy of The New Media Journal:

"It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it."

We may have failed, once again, to heed MacArthur's advice.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Kelo Revisited

Larry Kudlow comments about Kelo, in light of two recent decisions by the supreme courts of Oklahoma and Ohio:

Kelo was a dreadful decision.

It had anti-private property rights, anti-capitalist and anti-growth stains all over it, and the political system is repudiating it (as it should) just about everywhere.

Oklahoma’s Supreme Court repudiated it, now comes Ohio’s highest court, in addition to almost twenty states which have passed laws protecting property rights.

To put it simply: Kelo was un-American.

Kelo, in case you need a reminder, was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in its October 2004 term. A 5-4 majority of the Court (led by Justice John Paul Stevens) upheld the right of the City of New London, Connecticut, to condemn private property for redevelopment. The majority's rationale, in brief:

  • The city's redevelopment plan serves a public purpose under the "takings clause" of the Fifth Amendment because the plan enables the city to generate higher tax revenues.
  • The Court should defer to the judgment of the States and their political subdivisions as to what constitutes a public purpose. (The majority wrote that "For more than a century, our public use jurisprudence has wisely eschewed rigid formulas and intrusive scrutiny in favor of affording legislatures broad latitude in determining what public needs justify the use of the takings power.")
  • In other words, the "takings clause" does not really apply to the States.

Not only is Kelo un-American -- in the best, libertarian sense of that term -- it is flat wrong. Note, for instance, the logical inconsistency in the majority's finding. If the propriety of takings really is a matter for States to decide -- as the majority would have it -- there was no need for the Court to enter a judgment about the compliance of New London's condemnation with the Fifth Amendment. All the Court needed to do was to upheld the City of New London's actions, without determining their appropriateness under the "takings clause."

Some libertarian commentators (e.g., here and here) have gone so far as to argue that Kelo was rightly decided because it upholds the principle of federalism. I wonder how they feel about Dred Scott?

Kelo was wrongly decided, in part, because Barron v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore (1833), was wrongly decided. In that case, Chief Justice John Marshall opined that the Fifth Amendment is not binding on the States. As I explain here, the Fifth Amendment (all of it) was meant to apply to the States as well as to the federal government. Kelo also was wrongly decided because the meaning of the "takings clause" has been corrupted. As Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissent from the Kelo majority,

. . . I would revisit our Public Use Clause cases and consider returning to the original meaning of the Public Use Clause: that the government may take property only if it actually uses or gives the public a legal right to use the property.

Given all that, it is wrong for the U.S. Supreme Court to defer routinely to the takings of State and local governments, as if those takings are not a matter for federal scrutiny under the Fifth Amendment. Further, it is incumbent on the U.S. Supreme Court to reject takings by State and local governments whenever those takings are not for actual public use of property.

The Kelo majority shirked its constitutional duty when it deferred to the City of New London's blatant seizure of private property for a private use. The majority's opinion was nothing but a flimsy pretext to favor the collective over the individual and to flout property rights.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Greenwald Saga

Nine days ago I made a modest effort to address one of Glenn Greenwald's many polemical effusions. But Greenwald has been up to a lot more than Left-wing propagandizing. Patterico has the full story, here. That's all I'll say. Go there, and enjoy.

Diagnosing the Left

Thomas Lifson, writing at The American Thinker about a post at One Cosmos, says

I think it is almost unquestionable that the Left’s belief systems have proven incongruent with the real world. Communism didn’t work and only survives as a pretext for despotism in North Korea and China. Welfare is a trap, and poor people’s lot in America has improved since access to it was term-limited. Higher taxes on “the rich” depress economic growth and throw people out of work. The list could go on.

With their gods having failed them, leftists have turned to cant, ritual, and hysterical repetition of their golden oldie playlist of slogans. And most of all, to demoinization of their opponents. It is fairly primitive, and often comic, with tinges of tragedy.

To paraphrase what I wrote here, the Left wants a society that operates according to its strictures. But those strictures are so at odds with human nature and morality that society often (though not often enough) rejects the Left's agenda. When Leftists cannot satisfy their power-lust in the real world, they compensate by imagining a theoretical world of doom. It is as if they walk around under a thought balloon which reads "Take that!"

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Yates Verdict

This (Yates not guilty by reason of insanity) reminds me of this, this, this, and this. Enough said.

UPDATE: Well, not quite enough said. I must refer you to this commentary, by Mike Gallagher, which examines the broader implications of the willingness to find a guilty person "not guilty."

An Ideal World

Revised in response to the astute comment by the proprietor of the late, lamented Occam's Carbuncle.

Thomas Hobbes argued that anarchy would lead to a human condition that is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." If the Gore-Moore-Sheehan axis of stupidity were to prevail, our lives would be collective, poor, primitive, submissive, stupid, and short.

How so? Gore, Moore, Sheehan, and their ilk -- that is to say, what remains of the Democrat Party and those to its left -- subscribe to an Alice-in-Wonderland view of reality, in which

  • the state knows best (as long as they control the state). (Collective)
  • it is fitting and proper to thwart endeavor and punish success through regulation and taxation. (Poor)
  • technological regress is not too small a price to pay for environmental extremism. (Primitive)
  • our enemies are merely persons with a different world-view, and peace is won by wishing for it, not fighting for it. (Submissive)
  • such things are believed. (Stupid)

Our lives, therefore, would be short because we are poor, primitive, and submissive, and stupid.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Consent of the Governed

A common view among anarcho-libertarians is that the Constitution of the United States is not a binding "social contract" -- and never has been -- because

  • the Constitution was imposed on many Americans who were not parties to its ratification or who opposed its ratification, and
  • regardless of the circumstances of the adoption of the Constitution, one generation cannot impose a contractual obligation on later generations.

I have addressed those objections before, but I have further thoughts.

As to the first objection: Consensus on any set of complex issues is impossible. But why should that prevent a majority from imposing its rules on a commingled minority whose adherence to the rules is necessary to the attainment of their purpose? If that purpose is to establish a regime which fosters liberty -- requiring, among other things, a commitment to mutual defense -- it would be foolish for the majority to lessen its commitment to liberty for the sake of assuaging the minority. Opponents of the regime cannot claim to be oppressed if the regime allows them to express their opposition peacefully, which the Constitution does.

Moreover, the original Constitution became effective only when ratified by three-fourths of the signatory States (nine of the twelve States that sent delegates to the Constitutional Convention). And it bound only the ratifying States. The other three States (plus Rhode Island, which did not send delegates to the Constitutional Convention) could have refused to ratify it -- as New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island nearly did -- and could therefore have remained outside the Union. (Click here for a chronology of the States' ratifications.)

As to the second objection: The Constitution allows for amendments. (Click here and scroll down to Article V.) An amendment may be proposed by two-thirds of both houses of Congress or a two-thirds of the delegations of the States meeting in convention. An amendment must be approved by three-fourths of the States. The only matter now beyond amendment is "that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate." In other words, the Constitution can be changed by essentially the same process by which it was adopted: three-fourths of the States must agree to an amendment. But, thankfully, the Constitutions cannot be changed easily, in response to whims and passions that might diminish the Constitution's guarantees of liberty.

So, yes, one may object to the Constitution, one may refuse to concede its legitimacy, and one may object to being forced by the state to abide by it. But here's the catch: Such objections and reservations are valid only to the extent that the Constitution actually deprives one of liberty. Inasmuch as it does not do that (except in the fevered minds of anarcho-libertarians), and inasmuch as it fosters liberty, such objections are nothing more than irresponsible tantrums masquerading as a political philosophy.

Most of us are glad of the Constitution and accept it as a bulwark of liberty. The anarcho-libertarian alternative is anarchy, which is a way-station to warlordism and dictatorship. I fail to understand why a small (crackpot) minority should be relieved of its false sense of oppression so that all of us might "enjoy" the "benefits" of anarchy.

For more about the impossibility of peaceful, libertarian anarchy, read these posts:

Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?
My View of Warlordism, Seconded
The Fatal Naïveté of Anarcho-Libertarianism
Anarcho-Libertarian 'Stretching'
QandO Saved Me the Trouble

An essential ingredient of anarcho-libertarianism is the non-aggression principle, which I address here:

Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part I
Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only
Understanding Libertarian Hawks
More about Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
More Final(?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution
"Peace for Our Time"
Idiotarian Libertarians and the Non-Aggression Principle

Contrary to anarcho-libertarians, liberty is not an essence that wafts from heaven to imbue our souls. It is a set of compromises about how we live with each other. To more deeply explore the meaning of liberty and the proper role of the state in assuring it, read these posts:

Practical Libertarianism for Americans (links to a series)
The Meaning of Liberty (a series gathered in a single post)
Actionable Harm and the Role of the State

Finally, there is Varieties of Libertarianism, which summarizes and compares the tenets of anarcho-libertariansim (or anarcho-capitalism as it is usually called) and the other main branches of libertarianism.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Impossibility of a Perfect Game

A "perfect game" in baseball is said to be one in which no batter for one of the teams reaches base safely in the course of nine innings (or more), all of which are pitched by the same pitcher for the other team. A "perfect game," in other words, is perfect only from the standpoint of one team -- the team that does not allow an opposing batter to reach base safely. The pitcher for that team is credited with pitching a "perfect game," even though the attainment of "perfection" depends as much on the other players on the field as it does on the pitcher.

In sum, the traditional "perfect game" is a mark of defensive success and offensive failure. That strikes me as a wrong-headed way of defining perfection in a sport where the object is to win by outscoring the other side. A perfect offensive game -- from the standpoint of one team -- would be one in which none of its batters is ever retired. And a doubly perfect offensive game -- from the standpoint of both teams -- would be one in which no batter from either side is ever retired.

But neither a perfect offensive game nor a doubly perfect offensive game is possible -- given the present rules of baseball -- because the teams would never complete the first inning. A perfect offensive game might go into the bottom of the first inning, but it could never go beyond that; that is, if the team that bats in the top of the first inning (the visiting team) is retired, the team that bats in the bottom of the first inning (the home team) would never be retired. A doubly perfect offensive game would never reach the bottom of the first inning because the visiting team would never be retired.

A perfect or doubly perfect offensive game is therefore impossible because, under the present rules of baseball, a game isnt' "a game" unless it lasts at least five innings (four and one-half if the home team is leading after the top of the fifth inning). Or, to put it another way, a perfect or doubly perfect offensive game is a pardoxical concept:

  • Such a game requires that at least one side is never retired.
  • If one side is never retired, the game cannot be completed.
  • If the game is not completed it cannot be counted as a perfect game.

Who's on first?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Idiotarian Libertarians and the Non-Aggression Principle

There's an internecine brawl in progress about libertarianism and war. It began with a post by Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy. It has spread to a post by Jonathan Wilde at Catallarchy, to which I have added my comment. I have written many relevant posts on the subject. (Check out the links here, and see especially this, this, this, this, this, and this.)

A typical "idiotarian libertarian" view of war appears in the first comment about Ilya Somin's post; viz.:

I don't actually understand how someone can call themselves libertarian and be pro-war.

Think about it. Being absolutely against war means being against self-defense. What the commenter means, I guess, is that a central principle of libertarianism is non-aggression,

which holds that "aggression" — which is defined as the initiation of physical force or the threat of such upon persons or their property — is inherently illegitimate. The principle does not preclude retaliation against aggression.

The non-aggression principle -- in the hands of idiotarian libertarians -- puts non-aggression (a means) above the end (liberty). The non-aggression principle works only among those who agree to observe it and to accept an enforceable penalty when they fail to observe it. That’s why it’s barely relevant to domestic affairs and completely irrelevant with respect to international relations.

The Bad News about Wal-Mart's Victory in Maryland

It's not news that a federal judge has overturned Maryland's anti-Wal-Mart law, which would have dictated how much Wal-Mart must contribute to the health-insurance premiums of its Maryland employees. Lost in the celebratory noise, however, is the fact that Wal-Mart's "victory" is a hollow one for liberty, as I will explain.

First, the Maryland law, which was scheduled to take effect next January 1. Here, from the law firm of McGuireWoods, is a good description of the law's intended effect and how it was tailored to attack Wal-Mart:

The Fair Share Health-Care Fund Act, Md. Code Ann., Lab. & Empl. § 8.5-101, et seq. (“Fair Share Act”), was enacted in January of this year and was to become effective January 1, 2007. By its terms, the Fair Share Act applies to non-governmental employers of 10,000 or more people in Maryland, but effectively covers only Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. The Fair Share Act requires that a for-profit employer that “does not spend up to 8% of the total wages paid to employees in the state on health insurance costs, shall pay to the Secretary an amount equal to the difference between what the employer spends for health insurance costs, and an amount equal to 8% of the total wages paid to employees in the State.” The Fair Share Act also requires certain reporting and disclosure requirements separate from those required under ERISA.

Only four non-governmental entities employ 10,000 or more in Maryland: Johns Hopkins University, Northrop Grumman Corp., Giant Food, Inc. and Wal-Mart. Johns Hopkins, as a non-profit, meets a lower 6% standard for such institutions set by the Act. Northrop Grumman successfully lobbied for an exclusion for compensation paid above the Maryland median income, thus permitting Northrop Grumman to meet the 8% standard. Giant Food, which actively lobbied for passage of the law, spends well over 8% of wages to Maryland employees on healthcare. Wal-Mart was thus the clear target of this legislation.

Note that Giant Food lobbied the Maryland legislature in an effort to harm a competitor: Wal-Mart. Welcome to the real world of regulation, where "bootleggers and Baptists" collude.

Anyway, Wal-Mart's "victory" is not a victory for liberty because Maryland's law (according to the federal judge who overturned it) is preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. In other words, neither Wal-Mart nor any other employer or employee in the U.S. has a right to enter into voluntary contracts regarding the terms and conditions of employment. The feds have the final say. Maryland's "Wal-Mart law" just happened to encroach on the feds' territory, and so it was chucked out.

Well, the decision is good for Wal-Mart (which is okay) and -- if upheld -- it does set a useful precedent. Quoting again from McGuire Woods:

The Court's ERISA analysis, if upheld on appeal, will help employers challenge similar existing and proposed legislation, including the Chicago “big-box” retail store ordinance expected to be voted upon July 26. If adopted, this ordinance would initially raise the local minimum wage to $9.25 per hour, and would also give workers $1.50 per hour in benefits, at stores of at least 90,000 square feet that are owned by retailers having $1 billion in sales.

But that's not progress toward liberty. Progress would be to get government out of employment relationships, thus honoring the Constitution's guarantee of liberty of contract. That guarantee was affirmed in Lochner v. New York (1905) but dismissed in Nebbia v. New York (1934), never to be seen since.

Related posts:
An Agenda for the Supreme Court
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States' "Police Power"
Where's Substantive Due Process When You Need It?
Substantive Due Process Redux?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

What to Do about Liberal Error

A thoughtful reader, who describes himself as a liberal, ends an e-mail with this suggestion:

Instead of berating the media and pointing figures, conservative groups should promote young conservatives to consider careers outside banking, finance, medicine, business and law.

My first reaction is that "berating" and "finger pointing" -- aimed at specific journalistic (and academic) instances of error and propagandizing -- are a necessary part of the "dialogue" that informs public opinion. It would be a dereliction of duty on the part of conservative-libertarian commentators not to identify and chastise journalistic and academic half-truths, untruths, and improprieties. True, some conservative-libertarian commentators go over the top, just as do some of their liberal counterparts. Neither of the extremes, I think (I hope), is very influential because their excesses are so obvious, their stridency so off-putting. They seem to spend most of their time and energy in talking to each other and working themselves into a rage. If an occasional spark of light emerges from the volumes of heat they generate . . . well, that's why we have freedom of speech.

But I do agree that more young conservatives and libertarians should be encouraged to take up careers in professions dominated by liberals. There is, to some extent, a temperamental barrier. Some professions (e.g., the dramatic arts) seem to attract few persons of a conservative or libertarian bent. (Hollywood conservatives and libertarians, where you can find them, are notable for their rarity, as are academic conservatives and libertarians.) But there are conservative-libertarian enclaves in academia and journalism. A question then arises as to whether conservatives and libertarians should (a) expand those enclaves, as a draw for aspiring young conservatives and libertarians; (b) encourage the entry of young conservatives and libertarians into the liberal enclaves (by dint of talent and training, of course); or (c) do both.

I think (c) is the right answer. That is, there should be identifiably conservative-libertarian media outlets and academic outposts, and conservative-libertarians should compete with liberals on their own turf, to the extent that they are able to "infiltrate" traditional bastions of liberalism.

But it is incumbent on conservatives and libertarians to attack liberal error, as it arises. The attack, to be effective, must be factual and logical, not merely rhetorical.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Last(?) Word about Income Inequality

It's here, in a post by Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek, and in the linked paper from which he draws. Roberts demolishes, along the way, the lunacies of Paul Krugman, whose Leftism blinds him to economic principles that even he once understood.

Related posts:
Why Class Warfare Is Bad for Everyone
Fighting Myths with Facts
Debunking More Myths of Income Inequality
Ten Commandments of Economics
More Commandments of Economics
Zero-Sum Thinking
On Income Inequality
The Causes of Economic Growth

Current Reading

I am reading The Sea, by John Banville -- one of my favorite authors. The Sea won the 2005 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, an honor justly deserved. Last night, I read (and re-read) a paragraph that exemplifies Banville's command of language and ability to paint word-pictures:

I wonder if other people when they were children had this kind of image, at once vague and particular, of what they would be like when they grew up. I am not speaking of hopes and aspirations, vague ambitions, that kind of thing. From the outset I was very precise and definite in my expectations. I did not want to be an engine driver or a famous explorer. When I peered wishfully through the mists from the all too real then to the blissfully imagined now, this is, as I have said, exactly how I would have foreseen my future self, a man of leisurely interests and scant ambition sitting in a room just like this one, in my sea-captain's chair, leaning at my little table, in just this season, the year declining toward its end in clement weather, the leaves scampering, the brightness imperceptibly fading from the days and the street lamps coming on only a fraction earlier each evening. Yes, this is what I thought adulthood would be, a kind of long indian summer, a state of tranquillity, of calm incuriousness, with nothing left of the barely bearable raw immediacy of childhood, all the things solved that had puzzled me when I was small, all mysteries settled, all questions answered, and the moments dripping away, unnoticed almost, drip by golden drip, toward the final, almost unnoticed, quietus.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Michigan Condones Self-Defense

From FoxNews:

LANSING, Mich. — Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed legislation Thursday that supporters say is aimed at strengthening and clarifying self-defense rights in Michigan.

People now will be allowed to use deadly force, with no duty to retreat, if they reasonably think they face imminent death, great bodily harm or sexual assault. They can use deadly force on their property or anywhere they have a legal right to be.

The legislation also protects people from civil lawsuits if they have used force in self-defense.

Is Granholm is running for re-election? Yes.

"Proportionate Response" in Perspective

"Proportionate response," as it has come to be used lately, means that a nation with more potent military forces than those of than its enemies should give the enemies a "handicap," just as a better golfer gives a lesser golfer a handicap in a country-club match.

Israel, to name the nation in question, has a potent military force precisely because it is surrounded by enemies who would destroy it. Israel is most decidely not playing a country-club golf match or playing a game of tit for tat. Israel is fighting for its survival. It needs every ounce of military might it possesses, and then some. Proportionality, in this case, should mean the application by Israel of enough of its military might to ensure its survival. Israel cannot afford to err on the side of caution.

What about the civilian casualties that Israel inflicts -- incidentally and unwillingly -- as it defends itself? Regrettable, yes. But what about the civilian casualties among Israelis if Israel fails to defend itself adequately? Or don't the lives of Israelis matter? Apparently not, to those who cynically cry "disproportionate response" as Israel defends itself.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

About Stem-Cell Research and Vetoes

Putting aside the pro-life and humanitarian aspects of embryonic stem-cell research, I have this to say:

The federal government has no business funding research of any kind, except that which is intended to foster the common defense.

Regardless of the reasons for President Bush's veto of a bill to provide federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research, he was right to veto it. Now that Bush has found his veto pen, perhaps he will use it more often and on measures of greater fiscal import.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Anti-Bush or Pro-Treason?

It's sometimes hard to tell the difference.

Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald (as he modestly calls his blog) gets snippy in a post about "right wing" bloggers. (Patriots are safer targets when they're called "right wingers.") The post (dated July 16) is "Journalists: It's time for some articles on the pro-Bush blogosphere." Greenwald expends a couple of updates ranting about Little Green Footballs and Michelle Malkin. Their sins? Greenwald speaks:

UPDATE: Helpfully right on cue, LGF has a post today entitled "The Media are the Enemy" -- a title which really summarizes one of the principal points made on a daily basis by the blogs maintained by Powerline, Instapundit, and Malkin. Today's treasonous act is that a NYT photographer took photographs of a member of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army engaged in combat with American forces. Apparently, taking a photograph of someone engaged in a war is the same as aiding and abetting them and being on their side and rooting for them to win. Hence, photographers who take photographs of the enemy are themselves "the enemy." . . .

UPDATE II: Michelle Malkin's post today is entitled "In the Company of the Enemy" and she pointedly says: "Which side are they on? The New York Times settles the question definitively" -- both with an editorial that criticizes the Leader and with the photographs found by LGF. She then links to John Hinderaker at Powerline, who cleverly observes that there was nothing courageous about the photographer taking those photographs because there was no "likelihood that a member of the Iraqi "insurgency" would regard a representative of the New York Times as an enemy."

This photographer-as-traitor lunacy spreading among them like wildfire may make it seem like I fortuitously picked a good day to highlight the extremism and treason-obsession of the pro-Bush blogosphere. But today is nothing new. This goes on every day with the right's largest blogs. Every day, a new traitor, more treason, more journalists and Democrats who deserve to be hanged.

It smacks of nothing but treason to take a photograph of a sniper taking aim on the soldiers of your own country instead of telling the soldiers of your own country where the sniper is located. But Greenwald doesn't try to explain why the act wasn't treasonous -- as if he could. He merely attacks those who call it treasonous. Why? Because they're "pro-Bush."

Being for the defense of this nation and against treason isn't a pro-or-anti-Bush issue. (Well, it shouldn't be one, anyway.) The problem we have here isn't with the likes of LGF, Michelle Malkin, and Powerline. No, the problem is with the likes of Glenn Greenwald, who reflexively defends anyone and anything that seems opposed to the policies of the Bush administration, even treasonous newspapers.

The New York Times treasonously publishes classified information that aids terrorists. But that's all right with the Greewalds of this world, as long as it goes against the wishes of the Bush administration. The fact that publishing such information undermines the war on terror doesn't matter to a Greenwald, as long as you're anti-Bush.

All of that is lost on Greenwald. He is wedded to the notion that his anti-Bush stance is a courageous one because he harbors the delusion that he is part of a beleaguered minority. For example, in a reply to a commenter he says that

[t]he left-wing blogosphere performs functions for liberals which no other venue is performing, while the right-wing blogosphere is largely redundant and arguably unnecessary in light of Fox News, right-wing radio, Townhall, Drudge and other similar venues.

It's as if ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, NPR, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, etc., etc., etc., were objective sources of information rather than megaphones for the anti-Bush, anti-war (because it's anti-Bush) crowd. Greenwald is a fish in water. In his distorted view of reality, anti-Americanism is the norm and patriotism is an aberration.

Related posts:
Treasonous Speech?
I Dare Call It Treason
Shall We All Hang Separately?
Foxhole Rats
Foxhole Rats, Redux
Know Thine Enemy

The Faces of Appeasement
We Have Met the Enemy . . .
Whose Liberties Are We Fighting For?
More Foxhole Rats
Hanging Separately
In Which I Reply to the Executive Editor of The New York Times
The Wages of Publicity
The New York Times: A Hot-Bed of Post-Americanism
Post-Americans and Their Progeny

Monday, July 17, 2006

Advantage: The Constitution

Speaking of American royalty (the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, that is), the following lines of succession have led to the present Court:
Chief Justice
Jay
Rutledge, J.* (elevated from associate justice)
Ellsworth
Marshall, J.
Taney
Chase, S.P.
White, M.R.
Fuller
White, E.D.*
Taft
Hughes*
Stone*
Vinson
Warren
Burger
Rehnquist*
Roberts, J.G.

Associate-1
Wilson
Washington
Baldwin
Grier
Strong
Woods
Lamar, L.Q.C.
Jackson, H.E.
Peckham
Lurton
McReynolds
Byrnes
Rutledge, W.B.
Minton
Brennan
Souter

Associate-2
Cushing
Story
Woodbury
Curtis
Clifford
Gray
Holmes
Cardozo
Frankfurter
Goldberg
Fortas
Blackmun
Breyer

Associate-3
Blair
Chase, S.
Duvall
Barbour
Daniel
Miller
Brown
Moody
Van Devanter
Black
Powell
Kennedy

Associate-4
Rutledge** (later elevated to Chief)
Johnson
Patterson
Livingston
Thompson
Nelson
Hunt
Blatchford
White, E.D.**
Lamar, J.R.
Brandeis
Douglas
Stevens

Associate-5 (line of succession ended in 1867)

Associate-6
Todd
Trimble
McLean
Swayne
Matthews
Brewer
Hughes**
Clarke
Sutherland
Reed
Whittaker
White, B.R.
Ginsburg

Associate-7 (line of succession ended in 1865)

Associate-8
McKinley
Campbell
Davis
Harlan, J.M.
Pitney
Sanford
Roberts, O.J.
Burton
Stewart
O'Connor
Alito

Associate-9
Field
McKenna
Stone**
Jackson, R.H.
Harlan, J.M. II
Rehnquist**
Scalia

Associate-10
Bradley
Shiras
Day
Butler
Murphy
Clark
Marshall, T.
Thomas

Sources: Appendix Two, "Nominations and Successions of the Justices," The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions, edited by Kermit L. Hall, Oxford University Press, 1999; "Members of the Supreme Court of the United States," from the website of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Because Congress has from time to time changed the size of the Court, not all of today's justices hold a seat that was established in the earliest days of the Republic. The chief justiceship and associate justice seats 1 through 5 all date from 1789-90. The other associate justiceships were established in 1807 (#6), 1837 (#7), 1838 (#8), 1863 (#9), and 1870 (#10).

On the whole, the present members of the Court are more observant of the original Constitution than their predecessors. Here's how I rate them (+ is better, = is the same, x is worse):

+ Roberts (succeeded Rehnquist)

= Souter (Brennan)

= Breyer (Blackmun)

= Kennedy (Powell)

= Stevens (Douglas)

x Ginsburg (White)

+ Alito (O'Connor)

+ Scalia (Rehnquist)

+ Thomas (Marshall)

That's a net gain of three "strict constructionists." Progress, yes. But more is needed.

Related posts:
The Erosion of the Constitutional Contract
Unintended Irony from a Few Framers
A Timeless Indictment
When Must the Executive Enforce the Law?
More on the Debate about Judicial Supremacy
Another Look at Judicial Supremacy
Freedom of Contract and the Rise of Judicial Supremacy
Judicial Interpretation
Delicious Thoughts about Federalism
Is Nullification the Answer to Judicial Supremacy?
The Alternative to Nullification
No Way Out?
The Wrong Case for Judicial Review
An Agenda for the Supreme Court
What Is The Living Constitution?
The Supreme Court: Our Last, Best Hope for a Semblance of Liberty
The Case of the (Happily) Missing Supreme Court Nominee(s)
States' Rights and Skunks
An Answer to Judicial Supremacy?
The Original Meaning of the Ninth Amendment
Substantive Due Process, Liberty of Contract, and States' "Police Power"
Amend the Constitution or Amend the Supreme Court?
Substantive Due Process Redux?
Hudson v. Michigan and the Constitution
Certain Unalienable Rights . . .
A New Constitution: Revised Again

Sunday, July 16, 2006

American Royalty

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Appointed for life. The final arbiters of the Constitution.

Not infallible, but possibly omnipotent.

The antidote? Read "An Answer to Judicial Supremacy?" and the posts linked therein.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Peace for Our Time"

That seems to be the unspoken motto of Cato Institute's vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, Ted Galen Carpenter. In a recent emission about the Iran problem, Carpenter considers various military and non-military options, and rejects each of them, except the least effective (to which I will come). He is especially exercised by the notion of a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities:

If the United States attacks yet another Muslim country (which would make three in the last five years), there will not be a Muslim from Morocco to Malaysia who will not believe that Washington is out to destroy their culture and religion. America’s troubles with the Islamic world do not yet constitute a war of civilizations, but [a pre-emptive] strategy could well produce that result.

This is wrong at several levels. First, there is a "war" of civilizations, that war being between radical Islam and the liberal traditions of the West. (By liberal, I mean dedicated to liberty -- as in the tradition of Adam Smith and the Framers of the Constitution -- not dedicated to statism -- as in the tradition of the Roosevelts and today's Democrat Party.) We cannot default in that war simply for the sake of mollifying the "Muslim street."

Second, if the clear purpose of an attack on Iran is the defeat of a dangerous, radical Islamic regime bent on the destruction of liberal values, those who choose to side with that regime would have be unworthy allies in the first place. And -- to anyone who is not blinded by hatred of the U.S. -- our purpose would be clear, given the history of the Iranian regime and its support of anti-American and anti-Western causes.

Third, hearts and minds were aren't won by cringing indecisiveness, they are won by bold action. The "masses" tend to side with a "winner."

Fourth, Iran's regime is far from universally loved in the Islamic world. Many Muslims would rejoice in its humiliation and eventual ouster.

Fifth, massive hatred of the U.S. among mostly powerless Muslims -- if it came to that -- would be better than the alternative, which is to permit powerful Muslims (e.g., the Iranian regime) to pursue their military ambitions.

Carpenter, true to form, nevertheless counsels appeasement:

We should make a serious diplomatic effort to get Iran to give up its quest for nuclear weapons–and that means going substantially beyond the scope of the current EU-3-led negotiations. Washington should propose a grand bargain to Tehran. That means giving an assurance that the United States will not use force against Iran the way we did against such nonnuclear adversaries as Serbia and Iraq. It also means offering restored diplomatic relations and normal economic relations. In return, Iran would be required to open its nuclear program to unfettered international inspections to guarantee that the program is used solely for peaceful power-generation purposes.

It is possible that Tehran would spurn a proposed grand bargain, since the Iranian political elite seems divided about whether to seek a rapprochement with the United States. Indeed, Iran may be unalterably determined to join the global nuclear weapons club. But we will never know for certain unless we make the offer.

If Iran turns down the proposal, Washington’s fall-back position should be to rely on deterrence. The one thing we should not do is start yet another war.

Even if Iran were to "accept" such a proposal it likely would do just what North Korea did when it "accepted" Bill Clinton's proposal in 1994: continue on its present path in secret. (Is there no end to the naïveté of the anti-any-war crowd?)

The fallback to deterrence rings hollow, at least coming from someone like Carpenter, who would counsel restraint in the face of every provocation short of an Iranian missile attack on the continental United States. Deterrence is meaningful only if it promises the use of military force against Iran for any action against the U.S. or Israel, wherever such action occurs. (The action against Israel may have occurred today. AP reports: "Elite Iranian troops helped Hezbollah fire a sophisticated radar-guided missile at an Israeli warship in a surprise blow by militants who had been using only low-tech weapons, Israeli officials said Saturday.")

Why involve Israel? Because our failure to defend a long-standing ally against an overt or covert attack by Iran would invite Iran to attack U.S. overseas interests with impunity.

When Neville Chamberlain declined to defend Czechoslovakia, and instead signed the Munich Agreement, he encouraged Hitler's aggressive designs on Europe. Carpenter and his ilk counsel another Munich. Will they never learn?

We can avoid another Munich -- and its certain consequences -- only if we do not delude ourselves about Iran's intentions, and only if we take decisive action when Iran attacks our allies or our interests.

Related posts:
Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part I
Right On! For Libertarian Hawks Only
Understanding Libertarian Hawks
More about Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Sorting Out the Libertarian Hawks and Doves
Libertarianism and Preemptive War: Part II
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Non-Aggression?
More Final(?) Words about Preemption and the Constitution

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Baseball Expansion

In a recent post I outlined a scheme for realigning major league baseball. The scheme includes an expansion of the number of major league teams by 2 from the present number of 30. "Aaagh," yell the knee-jerk purists (as opposed to the thoughtful purists, like me), "expansion dilutes the quality of the game."

That's true only in the sense that the quality of the game wouldn't be what it could be in the absence of expansion. But expansion doesn't dilute the quality of the game if expansion keeps pace with population growth. (I take population as a reasonable index of the number of persons who are able to play baseball at a given level of skill, given that 32 teams would require only 800 players, out of a population of 300,000,000 -- and growing.)

The population of the United States in 2006 is about twice the population of the United States in 1950. There were 16 major league teams in 1950. Twice 16 is 32. Q.E.D.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mathematical Economics

Those economists who mainly use the language of mathematics like to say (and perhaps even believe) that mathematical expression is more precise than mere words. But, as Arnold Kling points out, mathematical economics is a language of "faux precision," which is useful only when applied to well defined, narrow problems. It cannot address the big issues -- such as economic growth -- which depend on variables (such as the rule of law) that defy mathematical expression and quantification.

I would go a step further and argue that mathematical economics borders on obscurantism. It is a cult whose followers speak an arcane language not only to communicate among themselves but to obscure the essentially bankrupt nature of their craft from others. Mathematical expression actually hides the assumptions that underlie it. It is far easier to identify and challenge the assumptions of "literary" economics than it is to identify and challenge the assumptions of mathematical economics.

I daresay this is true even for persons who are conversant in mathematics. They may be able to manipulate easily the equations of mathematical economics, but they can do so without grasping the deeper meanings -- the assumptions -- hidden in those equations. In fact, the ease of manipulating the equations gives them a false sense of mastery over the underlying, non-mathematical concepts.

But much of the economics profession is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the essential incompetence of mathematical economists. I quote Arnold Kling again:

One of the best incumbent-protection rackets going today is for mathematical theorists in economics departments. The top departments will not certify someone as being qualified to have an advanced degree without first subjecting the student to the most rigorous mathematical economic theory. The rationale for this is reminiscent of fraternity hazing. "We went through it, so should they."

Mathematical hazing persists even though there are signs that the prestige of math is on the decline within the profession. The important Clark Medal, awarded to the most accomplished American economist under the age of 40, has not gone to a mathematical theorist since 1989.

These hazing rituals can have real consequences. In medicine, the controversial tradition of long work hours for medical residents has come under scrutiny over the last few years. In economics, mathematical hazing is not causing immediate harm to medical patients. But it probably is working to the long-term detriment of the profession.

The hazing ritual in economics has the real consequence of making much of economics irrelevant -- and dead wrong.

Related posts:
About Economic Forecasting
Is Economics a Science?
Economics as Science
Maybe Economics Is a Science
Hemibel Thinking
Physics Envy
Proof That "Smart" Economists Can Be Stupid
Time to Retire the Fair Model
The Thing about Science
What's Wrong with Game Theory
Debunking "Scientific Objectivity"
Science's Anti-Scientific Bent
Libertarian Paternalism
A Libertarian Paternalist's Dream World
The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism
Second-Guessing, Paternalism, Parentalism, and Choice
Another Thought about Libertarian Paternalism
Another Voice Against the New Paternalism
Slippery Paternalists
Ten Commandments of Economics
More Commandments of Economics
Science, Axioms, and Economics

Home Run Kings

There are many ways to compare performances in baseball. The most common way to compare home-run hitters is by the number of home runs compiled in a career or in a season. With Barry Bonds in (perhaps futile) pursuit of Hank Aaron's career home-run record, there is renewed attention to question of the "greatest" home-run hitter of all time. Here's the usual list of the top-10 home run hitters, through the 2005 season, with relevant embellishments:

1. Most Regular-Season Home Runs, Career

Player

Years

Times led league in HR

Total HR

Total AB

HR per AB

Hank Aaron

1954-1976

4

755

12,364

0.061

Babe Ruth

1914-1935

12

714

8,398

0.085

Barry Bonds

1986-2005

2

708

9,140

0.077

Willie Mays

1951-1973

4

660

10,881

0.061

Sammy Sosa

1989-2005

2

588

8,401

0.070

Frank Robinson

1956-1976

1

586

10,006

0.059

Mark McGwire

1986-2001

4

583

6,187

0.094

Harmon Killebrew

1954-1975

6

573

8,147

0.070

Rafael Palmeiro

1986-2005

0

569

10,472

0.054

Reggie Jackson

1967-1987

4

563

9,864

0.057

The right column of Table 1 (home runs per at-bat) gives away one of the shortcomings of looking at total home runs; namely, that statistic recognizes longevity as much as it does prowess. Let's look, instead, at career leaders ranked by home runs per at-bat, first including active players under the age of 40 (Table 2) and then excluding them (Table 3):

2. Most Regular-Season Home Runs per At-Bat, Career*

Player

Years

Times led league in HR

Total HR

Total AB

HR per AB

Mark McGwire

1986-2001

4

583

6,187

0.094

Babe Ruth

1914-1935

12

714

8,398

0.085

Barry Bonds

1986-2005

2

708

9,140

0.077

Jim Thome

1991-2005

1

430

5,919

0.073

Manny Ramirez

1993-2005

1

435

6,126

0.071

Ralph Kiner

1946-1955

7

369

5,205

0.071

Harmon Killebrew

1954-1975

6

573

8,147

0.070

Sammy Sosa

1989-2005

2

588

8,401

0.070

Alex Rodriguez

1994-2005

4

429

6,195

0.069

Ken Griffey Jr.

1989-2005

4

536

7,870

0.068

* Includes active players with a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances.

3. Most Regular-Season Home Runs per At-Bat, Career*

Player

Years

Times led league in HR

Total HR

Total AB

HR per AB

Mark McGwire

1986-2001

4

583

6,187

0.094

Babe Ruth

1914-1935

12

714

8,398

0.085

Barry Bonds

1986-2005

2

708

9,140

0.077

Ralph Kiner

1946-1955

7

369

5,205

0.071

Harmon Killebrew

1954-1975

6

573

8,147

0.070

Sammy Sosa

1989-2005

2

588

8,401

0.070

Ted Williams

1939-1960

4

521

7,706

0.068

Dave Kingman

1971-1986

2

442

6,677

0.066

Mickey Mantle

1951-1968

4

536

8,102

0.066

Jimmie Foxx

1925-1945

4

534

8,134

0.066

* Includes only those active players who are 40 years of age or older.

Tables 2 and 3 give a better indication of prowess than Table 1, but they do not take into account how the game of baseball has changed with time. A way to do that is to see how often a player excelled at hitting home runs, relative to his peers:

4. Most Seasons Leading League in Home Runs*

Player

Years

Times led league in HR

Total HR

Total AB

HR per AB

Babe Ruth

1914-1935

12

714

8,398

0.085

Mike Schmidt

1972-1989

8

548

8,352

0.066

Ralph Kiner

1946-1955

7

369

5,205

0.071

Harmon Killebrew

1954-1975

6

573

8,147

0.070

Mel Ott

1926-1947

6

511

9,456

0.054

Mark McGwire

1986-2001

4

583

6,187

0.094

Alex Rodriguez

1994-2005

4

429

6,195

0.069

Ted Williams

1939-1960

4

521

7,706

0.068

Ken Griffey Jr.

1989-2005

4

536

7,870

0.068

Mickey Mantle

1951-1968

4

536

8,102

0.066

Jimmie Foxx

1925-1945

4

534

8,134

0.066

Hank Greenberg

1930-1947

4

331

5,193

0.064

Willie Mays

1951-1973

4

660

10,881

0.061

Hank Aaron

1954-1976

4

755

12,364

0.061

Reggie Jackson

1967-1987

4

563

9,864

0.057

Johnny Mize

1936-1953

4

359

6,443

0.056

Hack Wilson

1923-1934

4

244

4,760

0.051

Chuck Klein

1928-1944

4

300

6,486

0.046

Cy Williams

1912-1930

4

251

6,780

0.037

* Excludes players who compiled most of their at-bats before 1920.

The criterion used in Table 4 still falls short because it doesn't take into account home-run frequency, which -- as I suggest above -- is a better indicator of prowess. Thus this comparison:

5. Most Seasons Leading League in Home Runs per At-Bat*

Player

Seasons

Times led league in HR/AB

Total HR

Total AB

HR/AB

Babe Ruth

1914-1935

13

714

8,398

0.085

Mel Ott

1926-1947

10

511

9,456

0.054

Mark McGwire**

1986-2001

8

583

6,187

0.094

Barry Bonds

1986-2005

8

708

9,140

0.077

Ralph Kiner

1946-1955

7

369

5,205

0.071

Harmon Killebrew

1954-1975

6

573

8,147

0.070

Ted Williams

1939-1960

6

521

7,706

0.068

Mike Schmidt

1972-1989

6

548

8,352

0.066

Willie McCovey

1959-1980

5

521

8,197

0.064

Cy Williams

1912-1930

5

251

6,780

0.037

Manny Ramirez

1993-2005

4

435

6,126

0.071

Jimmie Foxx

1925-1945

4

534

8,134

0.066

Willie Mays

1951-1973

4

660

10,881

0.061

* Excludes players who compiled most of their at-bats before 1920.


** McGwire switched leagues during the 1997 season. His totals for the entire season gave him a better HR/AB record than the official leader in either league. I have therefore credited McGwire with leading in HR/AB 8 times, as against his official record of leading 7 times.

There we have it, dominance against one's peers by a purer measure of prowess: home runs per at-bat in a season. Even purer measures are possible. As a Sabermetrician would tell you, seasonal performance should be adjusted for the characteristics of the ballparks a player played in, for the quality of the teams he played on (relative to the opposition), the equipment, the rules (e.g., height of the pitching mound), and so on.

Such adjustments might, for example, knock Mel Ott from his second-place perch because Ott (a left-handed batter) played his entire career (about one-half of his games) at the Polo Grounds, with its short foul lines (only 258 feet down the right-field line) and cavernous center field:

But Ott had to pull the ball sharply to take advantage of the peculiar geometry of the Polo Grounds, which meant that he had to adopt and perfect a peculiar batting style (a matter of skill). Because of that style, pitchers could more easily avoid throwing him pitches that he could pull, and fielders could more readily position themselves to defend the outfield gaps. In spite of that, Ott compiled a lifetime batting average of .304 while leading his league in HR/AB 10 times! Ott stays on the list, as do the other odd-balls:

  • Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, with their weight-training and performance-enhancing substances.
  • Cy Williams, a left-handed batter who compiled a lot of his home runs in the friendly confines of Baker's Bowl, with its "short porch" in right field -- only 280 feet down the line, and not much more than that into right-center:

But Willams wasn't a fluke. He led his league in AB/HR five times in a 12-season span (1916-1927), and batted .292 over the course of his career, almost half of which was in the "dead ball" era.

It's impossible, really, to compare players who were not contemporaries. That's why I like Table 5. It affords the best picture of home-run prowess across time. Ruth still stands at the top of the list; the long-forgotten Mel Ott and Cy Williams are restored to the prominence they enjoyed when they played; and Ralph Kiner, Harmon Killebrew, Ted Williams, Mike Schmidt, and Willie McCovey re-gain their proper places of pre-eminence, unshadowed by players who racked up home runs through sheer longevity. Should McGwire and Bonds really be listed among the greats? Certainly they were the greats of their era, however they got there. That's all I have to say about that -- for now.

And so, with the help of Table 5, we can trace the succession of pre-eminent home-run hitters who played most or all of their careers in the "lively ball" era:

  • American League -- Babe Ruth (13 times in the span from 1918 through 1931), Jimmie Foxx (4 times during 1932-1939), Ted Williams (6, 1941-1957), Harmon Killebrew (6, 1959-1970), Mark McGwire (6, 1987-1997), and Manny Ramirez (4, 1999-2005). Those six players combined to lead the league in HR/AB in 39 of the 88 seasons from 1918 through 2005.

    Go back to hitters who played mostly in the "dead ball" era and you find Frank (Home Run Baker) and Harry Davis, who dominated the AL's home run lists (such as they were). Davis was a 4-time leader in HR/AB, from 1904 through 1907; Baker, a 4-time leader in the span from 1911 through 1916. Throw in, from the "lively ball" era, Lou Gehrig (2 times), Hank Greenberg (3), Gus Zernial (3), Mickey Mantle (2), Norm Cash (2), Dick Allen (2), Gorman Thomas (2), Reggie Jackson (2), Ron Kittle (2), Jose Canseco (2), Ken Griffey (2), and Jim Thome (2). Now you have a list of 20 players who combined to lead the AL in 73 of the 102 seasons from 1904 through 2005. That's a select group of fearsome sluggers.
  • National League -- Cy Williams (5 times in the span of 1916 through 1927), Mel Ott (10 times, 1929-1944), Ralph Kiner (7, 1947-1952), Willie Mays (4, 1955-1965), Willie McCovey (5, 1963-1970), Mike Scmidt (6, 1974-1986), and Barry Bonds (8, 1992-2004). Those seven players combined to lead the league in HR/AB in 45 of 90 seasons from 1916 through 2005.

    Now add Gavvy Cravath, another name from the "dead ball" era. Cravath -- Ruth's predecessor as all-time leader in total home runs -- led the NL in HR/AB 6 times during the seven seasons of 1912 through 1918. Throw in, from the "lively ball" era, Rogers Hornsby (2), Hack Wilson (2), Wally Berger (2), Eddie Matthews (3), Hank Aaron (3), Dave Kingman (3), George Foster (2), Darryl Strawberry (3), and Mark McGwire (2, his 70 and 65 HR seasons) and you have a mere 17 players who combined to lead the NL in 73 of the 94 seasons from 1912 through 2005. Another select group of dominating sluggers.

To see who filled the gaps, go here.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Players' statistics from Baseball-Reference.com; ballpark stats and photos from Ballparks by Munsey and Suppes.