Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Choices

It seems likely that, come November, voters will face with a choice between John McCain and Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama (or suicide).

The last time voters faced such an abysmal choice in a presidential election was in 1996: Clinton (the other one) vs. Bob (tax collector for the welfare state) Dole. Before that, in 1992, there was G.H.W. (read my lips) Bush vs. the other Clinton and H. Ross Pee-rot (as it's pronounced in Texas). Suicide was very appealing in those days.

How about 1972? Nixon vs. McGovern: sleaze vs. socialism. Don't like that choice? Try 1968, with Nixon vs. Humphrey vs. Wallace: sleaze vs. socialism vs. state-enforced segregation.

That's as far back as I care to go on this trip down memory lane. If I go back too far, I'll remember that I voted for LBJ in 1964. Argh!

Fascism

David N. Mayer (MayerBlog) parses "fascism." He uses the term
in its broadest sense, as a political philosophy holding among its essential precepts the claims that individuals have no inherent rights, and that their interests are subordinate to, and therefore may be sacrificed for the sake of, the presumed collective good, whatever it’s called – “society,” “the race,” “the state,” the “Volk,” “the nation,” “the people,” “the proletariat,” “the common good,” or “the public interest.” Purists may object that what I’m really calling “fascism” would be more properly termed collectivism, and that my use of the term fascism is not only historically incorrect but also deliberately provocative – and to a great extent, they’d be right. In defending my use of the term, however, I’d note that as originally coined by Benito Mussolini, the fascist dictator of 1930s Italy, the term referred to the fasces, the bundle of rods wrapped around an axe carried by the lictors who guarded government officials in ancient Rome, where it symbolized the sovereign authority of the state. In this original sense of the term, fascism thus is roughly the equivalent of “statism,” the form of collectivism in which the entity known as “the state” holds the highest political authority in society.... I have an additional justification for using the term fascism. Notwithstanding the arguments of political scientists – who would distinguish fascism from other collectivist –isms such as communism, socialism, or national socialism (Nazism) – these distinctions are really irrelevant because all these forms of collectivism are equally pernicious to, and destructive of, individual rights and freedom. Leftists like to use the terms fascism or fascist as pejoratives because they naively believe that socialism is somehow less evil than collectivism of “the right” – that the murder of millions of people killed by Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union, by Mao in Red China, or by Pol Pot in communist Cambodia somehow was less evil than the murder of millions of people killed by Hitler’s regime in Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s regime in fascist Italy. Leftists have no legitimate claim on the truth, and neither do they have any monopoly on use of the terms fascism or fascist as pejoratives.
Mayer, in a typically long post at his excellent blog, goes on to tackle the
“Four Fascisms” of 2008 ... : (1) Eco-Fascism, the tyranny of radical environmentalists, including the global-warming hoax and other myths propagated by “green” activists as a rationale for imposing their agenda on us by force; (2) Nanny-State Fascism, the tyranny of the health police, who seek to turn everyone into wards of the state, including the movement pushing for “universal” health care – that is, government monopolization of the health care industry (what used to be called, and still is, socialized medicine); (3) Demopublican/ Replicrat Fascism, the tyranny of the two-party political system in the United States, particularly dangerous in 2008 as an election year; and last, (4) Islamo-Fascism, the danger of militant, fundamentalist Islam to the United States and the rest of the civilized world.
Go there and read. All of it. You many not agree with Mayer in every detail (I don't), but he aims at the right targets and hits them hard.

Related posts:
"FDR and Fascism" (20 Sep 2007)
"A Political Compass: Locating the United States" (13 Nov 2007)
"The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History since 1900" (01 Dec 2007)

The People's Romance

The preceding post is about the "libertarian" Left (LL) and its flirtation with state-imposed political correctness. The LL, while claiming to be anti-statist, wants all of us to behave in certain ways -- ways that the LL deems acceptable, of course. The LL's attitude reminds me of Daniel Klein's essay, "The People's Romance: Why People Love Government (as Much as They Do)." Here are some relevant excerpts of that essay:
Government creates common, effectively permanent institutions, such as the streets and roads, utility grids, the postal service, and the school system. In doing so, it determines and enforces the setting for an encompassing shared experience—or at least the myth of such experience. The business of politics creates an unfolding series of battles and dramas whose outcomes few can dismiss as unimportant. National and international news media invite citizens to envision themselves as part of an encompassing coordination of sentiments—whether the focal point is election-day results, the latest effort in the war on drugs, or emergency relief to hurricane victims — and encourage a corresponding regard for the state as a romantic force. I call the yearning for encompassing coordination of sentiment The People’s Romance (henceforth TPR)....

TPR helps us to understand how authoritarians and totalitarians think. If TPR is a principal value, with each person’s well-being thought to depend on everyone else’s proper participation, then it authorizes a kind of joint, though not necessarily absolute, ownership of everyone by everyone, which means, of course, by the government. One person’s conspicuous opting out of the romance really does damage the others’ interests....

TPR lives off coercion—which not only serves as a means of clamping down on discoordination, but also gives context for the sentiment coordination to be achieved....

[N]ested within the conventional view that government is not a mammoth apparatus of coercion is the tenet that society is an organization to which we belong. Either on the view that we constitute and control the government (“we are the government”) or on the view that by deciding to live in the polity we choose voluntarily to abide by the government’s rules (“no one is forcing you to stay here”), the social democrat holds that taxation and interventions such as a minimum wage law are not coercive. The government-rule structure, as they see it, is a matter of “social contract” persisting through time and binding on the complete collection of citizens. The implication is that the whole of society is a club, a collectively owned property, administered by the government....
Members of the LL would hotly dispute the idea that "society is an organization to which we belong" and "a club, a collectively owned property, administered by the government." Yet, at the same time, they seem to endorse state action that denies liberty in the name of liberty. Liberty is all right, in their view, as long as it produces outcomes of which they approve.

"Orwellian" and "doublethink" come to mind.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Political Correctness

"Political correctness" (or "politically correct," as an adjectival phrase) refers to
language, ideas, policies, or behavior seen as seeking to minimize offense to racial, cultural, or other identity groups.
PCness exists at three connected levels: the individual, voluntary associations, and state action (which draws on and influences the other two).

1. At the individual level, PCness is an exaggerated case of good manners. A PC person refrains from speaking or behaving in ways that might offend or seem to denigrate an "identity group," even at the expense of stereotyping and patronizing members of such groups (e.g., singling out for special attention, heaping fulsome praise).

2. At the next level, we find voluntary associations (e.g., churches, charities, political parties, academic faculties), whose members, because they share -- or profess to share -- certain ideas about "equality" and "social justice," feel bound by those ideas to adopt language, ideas, policies, and behavior that stereotype, patronize, and give special treatment to certain "identity groups." Some voluntary associations are organized solely for the purpose of seeking legislative and judicial enactment of special treatment, under the guise of "equal protection."

3. This brings us to the "highest" level: state action. Here, individuals, members of voluntary associations, and government officials (armed with the power of the state) seek to advance the cause of special treatment through legislative and judicial processes, so that such treatment becomes a legal norm, even if it is not a social one.

4. Finally, state action is taken as a moral command by those who are easily led and eager-to-please, thus reinforcing PCness and legitimating its expansion at all three levels.

That PCness is a widespread phenomenon proves nothing about its rightness and a lot about human nature and the coercive power of the state. In spite of that, some libertarians, who (understandably) are anxious to distance themselves from Ron Paul and the Rockwell crowd, have become apologists for PCness. Will Wilkinson, for example, suggests that
most PC episodes mocked and derided by the right are not state impositions. They are generally episodes of the voluntary social enforcement of relatively newly established moral/cultural norms.
Wilkinson grossly simplifies the complex dynamics of PCness, which I sketch above. His so-called "newly established ... norms" are, in fact, norms that have been embraced by insular élites (e.g., academics and think-tank denizens like Wilksinson) and then foisted upon "the masses" by the élites in charge of government and government-controlled institutions (e.g., tax-funded universities). Thus it is that proposals to allow same-sex marriage fare poorly when they are submitted to voters. Similarly, the "right" to an abortion, even 35 years after Roe v. Wade, remains far from universally accepted and meets greater popular resistance with the passage of time.

Roderick Long is another "libertarian" who endorses PCness:
Another issue that inflames many libertarians against political correctness is the issue of speech codes on campuses. Yes, many speech codes are daft. But should people really enjoy exactly the same freedom of speech on university property that they would rightfully enjoy on their own property? Why, exactly?

If the answer is that the purposes of a university are best served by an atmosphere of free exchange of ideas -- is there no validity to the claim that certain kinds of speech might tend, through an intimidating effect, to undermine just such an atmosphere?...

At my university, several white fraternity members were recently disciplined for dressing up, some in Klan costumes and others in blackface, and enacting a mock lynching. Is the university guilty of violating their freedom of expression? I can't see that it is. Certainly those students have a natural right to dress up as they please and engage in whatever playacting they like, so long as they conduct themselves peacefully. But there is no natural right to be a student at Auburn University.
Long's argument is clever, but fallacious. The purposes of a university have nothing to do with the case. Speech is speech.* Long, a member of Auburn's faculty, is rightly disgusted by the actions of the fraternity members he mentions, but disgust does not excuse the suppression of speech by a State university. It is true that there is no "natural right" to be a student at Auburn, but there is, likewise, no "natural right" not to be offended.

Long describes himself as a "left-libertarian market anarchist" (whatever that is). Interestingly, he also writes for LewRockwell.com, which is intertwined with Rockwell's Ludwig von Mises Institute. It is ironic that Lew Rockwell, the Mises Institute, and those who affiliate with them are in bad odor with a long list of bloggers who characterize themselves as libertarians of one kind or another (e.g., here). Their displeasure centers on Ron Paul, his notorious newsletters (thought to have been written or co-written by Rockwell), Paul's supporters at the Institute, and (for good measure) the Institute itself.

In an earlier post, I noted my agreement with David Friedman's view of the affray:
There are a lot of different things going on in libertarian reactions to Ron Paul in general and the quotes from the Ron Paul newsletters in particular. One of them, I think, is a culture clash between different sorts of libertarians....

Loosely speaking, I think the clash can be described as between people who see non-PC speech as a positive virtue and those who see it as a fault--or, if you prefer, between people who approve of offending liberal sensibilities ("liberal" in the modern sense of the term) and those who share enough of those sensibilities to prefer not to offend them. The former group see the latter as wimps, the latter see the former as boors.
I added that "a bunch of moralist scolds have leaped at the opportunity to preach their respective, often contradictory, and sometimes wacky visions of libertarian purity." I now see that there's more to it. Here is Steven Horwitz, for example:
Yes, legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 involved some interference with private property and the right of association, but it also did away with a great deal of state-sponsored discrimination and was, in my view, a net gain for liberty.
Well, some parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, together with its progeny -- the Civil Rights Acts of 1968 and 1991 -- did advance liberty, but many parts did not. A principled libertarian would acknowledge that, and parse the Acts into their libertarian and anti-libertarian components. A moral scold who really, really wants the state to impose his attitudes on others would presume -- as Horwitz does -- to weigh legitimate gains (e.g., voting rights) against unconscionable losses (e.g., property rights and the right of association). But presumptuousness comes naturally to Horwitz because he stands high above reality, in his ivory tower.

Will Wilkinson is sympatico with Horwitz:
Government attempts to guarantee the worth of our liberties by recognizing positive rights to a minimum income or certain services like health care often (but not always) undermine the framework of market and civil institutions most likely to enhance liberty over the long run, and should be limited. But this is really an empirical question about what really does maximize individuals’ chances of formulating and realizing meaningful projects and lives.

Within this framework, racism, sexism, etc., which strongly limit the useful exercise of liberty are clear evils. Now, I am ambivalent about whether the state ought to step in and do anything about it.
Wilkinson, like Horwitz, is quite willing to submit to the state (or have others do so), where state action passes some kind of cost-benefit test. Wilkinson, unlike Horwitz, seems to ignore the fact that the state has tried already to do something about racism, sexism, etc., in the Civil Rights Acts. To the extent that balancing tests are relevant to the question of liberty, the Civil Rights Acts have been costly (both economically and socially) and, in the end, both futile and inimical to the comity of the races and sexes. Moreover, as both Horwitz and Wilkinson fail to acknowledge, state action is a blunt instrument, in that it penalizes many for the acts of the (relatively) few.

In any event, what more could the state do than it has done already? Well, there is always "hate crime" legislation, which (as Nat Hentoff points out) is tantamount to "thought crime" legislation. Perhaps that would satisfy Horwitz, Wilkinson, and their brethren on the "libertarian" Left. And, if that doesn't do the trick, there is always Cass Sunstein's proposal for policing thought on the internet. Sunstein, at least, doesn't pretend to be a libertarian.

O brave new world that hath such philosophers in't!
__________
* Except when it really isn't speech; for example: sit-ins (trespass), child pornography (sexual exploitation of minors), and divulging military secrets (treason, in fact if not in name).

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cell Phones and Driving, Once More

Almost two years ago I wrote about research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Administration and Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute which finds, unsurprisingly, that inattention is a main cause of traffic accidents. Further,
[t]he most common distraction for drivers is the use of cell phones. [T]he number of crashes and near-crashes attributable to dialing is nearly identical to the number associated with talking or listening.... [D]ialing a hand-held device (typically a cell phone) [increased the risk of a crash] by almost three times.
Moreover, as the American Psychological Association points out,
[p]sychological research is showing that when drivers use cell phones, whether hand-held or hands-off [emphasis added], their attention to the road drops and driving skills become even worse than if they had too much to drink. Epidemiological research has found that cell-phone use is associated with a four-fold increase in the odds of getting into an accident [see below] – a risk comparable to that of driving with blood alcohol at the legal limit....

David Strayer, PhD, of the Applied Cognition Laboratory at the University of Utah has studied cell-phone impact for more than five years. His lab, using driving high-fidelity simulators while controlling for driving difficulty and time on task, has obtained unambiguous scientific evidence that cell-phone conversations disrupt driving performance. Human attention has a limited capacity, and studies suggest that talking on the phone causes a kind of “inattention blindness” to the driving scene.

In one study, when drivers talked on a cell phone, their reactions to imperative events (such as braking for a traffic light or a decelerating vehicle) were significantly slower than when they were not talking on the cell phone. Sometimes, drivers were so impaired that they were involved in a traffic accident. Listening to the radio or books on tape did not impair driving performance, suggesting that listening per se is not enough to interfere. However, being involved in a conversation takes attention away from the ability to process information about the driving environment well enough to safely operate a motor vehicle....

Disturbingly, forthcoming research [since reported in "A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver" and "Cell-Phone Induced Driver Distraction"] will show that talking on a cell phone (even hands-free) hurts driving even more than driving with blood alcohol at the legal limit (.08 wt/vol). When talking on a cell phone, drivers using a high-fidelity simulator were slower to brake and had more “accidents” than when they weren't on the phone. Their impairment level was actually a little higher than that of people intoxicated by ethanol (alcohol).

The studies at Virginia Tech and the University of Utah rely on instrumented vehicles and simulators. Some skeptics dismiss the results of such studies because of their "artificiality." But the results are consistent with after-the-fact analyses of the role of cell-phone use in actual accidents. See, for example, "Association between Cellular Telephone Calls and Motor Vehicle Collisions," by Donald A Redelmeier and Robert J. Tibshirani (New England Journal of Medicine, February 1997), and "Role of mobile phones in motor vehicle crashes resulting in hospital attendance: a case-crossover study," by Suzanne P. McEvoy et al. (BMJ, a journal of the British Medical Association, July 12, 2005).

Redelmeier and Tibshirani analyzed 26,798 cell-phone calls over a 14-month period and found that
[t]he risk of a collision when using a cellular telephone was four times higher than the risk when a cellular telephone was not being used (relative risk, 4.3; 95 percent confidence interval, 3.0 to 6.5). The relative risk was similar for drivers who differed in personal characteristics such as age and driving experience; calls close to the time of the collision were particularly hazardous (relative risk, 4.8 for calls placed within 5 minutes of the collision, as compared with 1.3 for calls placed more than 15 minutes before the collision; P<0.001);> risk, 5.9) offered no safety advantage over hand-held units (relative risk, 3.9; P not significant).
McEvoy et al. queried "456 drivers aged ≥ 17 years who owned or used mobile phones and had been involved in road crashes necessitating hospital attendance between April 2002 and July 2004." The results:
Driver’s use of a mobile phone up to 10 minutes before a crash was associated with a fourfold increased likelihood of crashing (odds ratio 4.1, 95% confidence interval 2.2 to 7.7, P < p =" 0.003)." n =" 21)">All of the studies cited above are microscopic; that is, they examine the behaviors of specific drivers and/or the causes of specific accidents (or simulated accidents). They are also remarkably consistent in their findings: Using a cell phone while driving is risky -- about as risky as driving while drunk.

Saurabh Bhargava and Vikram Pathania (hereafter B&P) are graduate students in economics at UC Berkeley who claim to have refuted the kinds of findings summarized above. Their effort is documented in "Driving Under the (Cellular) Influence: The Link Between Cell Phone Use and Vehicle Crashes" (AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, Working Paper 07-15, July 2007). As B&P explain, they
investigate[d] the causal link between cellular usage and crash rates by exploiting a natural experiment induced by a popular feature of cell phone plans in recent years—the discontinuity in marginal pricing at 9 pm on weekdays when plans transition from “peak” to “off-peak” pricing. We first document[ed] a jump in call volume of about 20-30% at “peak” to “off-peak” switching times for two large samples of callers from 2000-2001 and 2005. Using a double difference estimator which uses the era prior to price switching as a control (as well as weekends as a second control), we [found] no evidence for a rise in crashes after 9 pm on weekdays from 2002-2005.
What B&P found, in fact, is a slightly negative relationship between the rise in call volume and the accident rate. (See tables 5 and 6 on pages 28 and 29, and related discussion.) How could that be, if it is inherently reckless to use a cell phone while driving?

B&P's paradoxical results flow from serious shortcomings in their analysis:
  • The actual use of cell phones by drivers isn't known very well; B&P cite only broad averages based on survey samples.
  • The extent to which cell-phone use by drivers actually rises or falls at the switch-over certainly isn't known.
  • The results rest on differences in accident rates between two periods: 1990-98 (before the introduction of "off-peak" pricing) and 2002-04 (after the introduction of "off-peak" pricing). But those two periods differ in potentially significant ways: the incidence of younger persons (i.e., more reckless drivers) in the population, the per capita consumption of alcohol, and the design of motor vehicles and highways. B&P acknowledge the second and third factors, but address none of them quantitatively. (See tables A1, a summary of data sources, and table A2, which gives summary statistics.)
  • B&P conduct three additional analyses (page 30) that, they claim, confirm their "basic results." First, they find (unsurprisingly), a negative correlation between accidents and cell-phone ownership over time, but they merely acknowledge "that there are unobserved variables which are correlated with the growth in cell phone ownership across regions and time." Second, their examination of the relationship between accident rates and cell-phone ownership across areas of varying population density (metropolitan, urban/suburban, rural) is unnecessarily convoluted and, therefore, unconvincing. Third, they trot out the apparent ineffectiveness of legislative bans on cell-phone use with fatal-accident rates in five jurisdictions, but they offer no statistics about the level of enforcement efforts that accompanied or followed the bans.
The bottom line is that B&P's analysis fails to control for time-related variations in critical variables. For reasons detailed in the addendum to this post, time-series analysis is inadequate to the task at hand.

B&P expose some relevant cross-section data, but neglect its implications in their haste to exonerate cell-phone use as a cause of accidents. Figures 2 and 3 (page 4) give indices of cell-phone calls and fatal crashes in 2005, in 10-minute bins from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. A set of observations for a single year offers the advantage of controlling for time-related factors (proportion of young persons in the population, per capita alcohol consumption, and automobile and highway design). B&P do not divulge the data underlying figures 2 and 3, but -- given the scale on which the figures are drawn -- the data are readily discernible. Regression analysis yields this result:
Index of fatal-accident rate =
23.249
- (0.074 x number of minutes after 8 p.m.)
+ (9.787 if weekend, zero if weekday)
+ (0.199 x index of outgoing cell-phone calls)

The t-values of the intercept and coefficients are 2.469, -3.423, 6.183, and 2.670, respectively (all significant at the 0.95 level or higher). The adjusted R-squared of the equation is 0.695. The mean values of the dependent and explanatory variables are 49.692, 60, 0.5, and 130.385, respectively. The standard error of the estimate (3.984)/the mean of the dependent variable (49.692) = 0.080. The equation is significant at the 0.99 level.
The signs of the intercept and the variables are intuitively correct. One would expect (a) a positive "baseline" rate of fatal accidents; (b) a negative relationship between the lateness of the day and the accident rate, as the number of vehicles on the road diminishes and the use of cell phones shifts from the highway to the home; (c) a higher accident rate on weekends, when there is more "partying," especially among younger (i.e., more reckless) drivers; and (d) a positive relationship between cell-phone use and accidents.

In fact, at the mean values of the variables, a 1-percent rise in aggregate cell-phone use leads to a 0.26-percent rise in the index of fatal accidents, which is equivalent to a 0.52-percent rise in the rate of such accidents. Putting it another way, cell-phone use accounted for about 50 percent of fatal accidents during the hours of 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. in 2005. That may overstate the contribution of cell-phone use to fatal accidents, but (given the evidence cited earlier in this post) I have no doubt that it points in the right direction. For example:
  • If Redelmeier and Tibshirani (see above) are right about the relative of risk of collision arising from cell-phone use (relative risk of 4.3 = 3.3 x baseline rate), and
  • about 15 percent of drivers are on cell phones between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., and
  • fatal accidents rise in proportion to total accidents, then
  • an estimate of about 50 percent is not unreasonable.
Despite having statistically exonerated cell-phone users as a menace to others, B&P concede the opposite. This is from the UC Berkeley press release announcing their paper:
The economists [B&P] don't dispute that using cell phones while driving can be dangerous. Bhargava conducted his own personal experiment, talking on his cell phone while driving in Minnesota this summer. Acknowledging that he doesn't often drive, much less drive and talk on the cell phone at the same time, Bhargava said he almost crashed twice on that trip.

"Our research should not be viewed as an endorsement to use cell phones in a negligent way," he said. "It certainly may be risky for a marginal user."

Pathania added another cautionary note: "Since we know that certain demographic groups such as teenagers frequently call and text while driving, and that they are also risky, inexperienced drivers, further research is needed in this area. Laws banning cell phone use in cars for such groups may well have some merit."

Reality trumps cock-eyed statistical analysis every time.

The moral of the story is that cell phones and driving don't mix. I am sticking with the bottom line of my earlier post:

[F]or the vast majority of drivers there is no alternative to the use of public streets and highways. Relatively few persons can afford private jets and helicopters for commuting and shopping. And as far as I know there are no private, drunk-drivers-and-cell-phones-banned highways. Yes, there might be a market for [such] highways, but that's not the reality of here-and-now.

...I can avoid the (remote) risk of death by second-hand smoke by avoiding places where people smoke. But I cannot avoid the (less-than-remote) risk of death at the hands of a drunk or cell-phone yakker. Therefore, I say, arrest the drunks, cell-phone users, nail-polishers, newspaper-readers, and others of their ilk on sight; slap them with heavy fines; add jail terms for repeat offenders; and penalize them even more harshly if they take life, cause injury, or inflict property damage.

See the addendum at Liberty Corner II.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mr. Laffer Speaks...

...and he is right:
Mark my words: If the Democrats succeed in implementing their plan to tax the rich and cut taxes on the middle and lower income earners, this country will experience a fiscal crisis of serious proportions that will last for years and years until a new Harding, Kennedy or Reagan comes along.
Related post: "The Laffer Curve, 'Fiscal Responsibility,' and Economic Growth" (26 Oct 2007)

The Future of Marriage

While Stephanie Coontz explains (hopes for) the decline of marriage -- from her over-educated, yuppie, "liberal" perspective -- ugly reality persists. From a post at MarriageDebate.com:
"About 80% of black babies are born to unwed moms," Indianapolis Star, January 24, 2008:

About eight in 10 black children in Indiana are born to unwed parents -- a start to life that sets them up for problems during adolescence and beyond, according to an Indiana Black Expo report [being released Friday]...

Child Trends, a nonpartisan national children's research organization, reports children born to single mothers are more likely to:

  • Live in poverty and experience social and emotional problems.
  • Have low educational attainment, engage in sex at younger ages and have a premarital birth.
  • Enter adulthood neither in school nor employed, or have lower occupational status and income, and more troubled marriages and divorces than those born to married parents.

The issues that spin out of struggling single-parent families show up throughout the new Black Expo report, including the teen birth rate of 81 per 1,000 for blacks. That is almost twice the state's overall teen birth rate of 43.5 per 1,000.

Contrast that slice of harsh reality with Coontz's smug tone:
[T]he time has passed when we can construct our social policies, work schedules, health insurance systems, sex education programs — or even our moral and ethical beliefs about who owes what to whom — on the assumption that all long-term commitments and care-giving obligations should or can be organized through marriage. Of course we must seek ways to make marriage more possible for couples and to strengthen the marriages they contract. But we must be equally concerned to help couples who don’t marry become better co-parents, to help single parents and cohabiting couples meet their obligations, and to teach divorced parents how to minimize their conflicts and improve their parenting.
Who is this "we" of whom Coontz writes? Is it government? Is it "liberal" know-it-alls like Coontz? What we (the real we) need is less government involvement in family matters, not more. We certainly don't need the amoral, socially destructive "help" of Coontz and her ilk.

Related posts:
A Century of Progress?
Feminist Balderdash
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
The Left, Abortion, and Adolescence
Consider the Children
Same-Sex Marriage
"Equal Protection" and Homosexual Marriage
Marriage and Children
Abortion and the Slippery Slope
Equal Time: The Sequel
The Adolescent Rebellion Syndrome
Social Norms and Liberty
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
A "Person" or a "Life"?
The Case against Genetic Engineering
How Much Jail Time?
The Political Case for Traditional Morality
Parents and the State
Ahead of His Time
"Family Values," Liberty, and the State

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Highways and Conservatives

A true conservative -- one who favors limited government and private solutions to so-called social problems -- does not support tax-funded highways, even when those highways are crowded. But Ross Douthat and Jonah Goldberg do, thereby revealing themselves as big-government "conservatives."

Jonah Goldberg, as you probably know, is the author of Liberal Fascism. In his stance on the matter of highways. he reveals himself as a neoconservative, big-government, twenty-first century fascist.

The answer to the problem of crowded highways isn't to build more of them at taxpayers' expense -- in the style of Hitler and Mussolini -- it is to let the private sector work its magic. Absent government control of highways and the taxes that support highways, more efficient modes of transportation would be offered by private carriers and manufacturers of transportation systems; employers would finally get serious about telecommuting; and some commuters might even opt for simpler lives or forms of employment that don't require commuting.

In sum, the market and lifestyle distortions caused by tax-funded highways would be diminished, if not removed entirely. A pox on "highway fascism."

UPDATE (01/25/08): In a related development, Below the Beltway passes along some good news for taxpayers:

The federal government will not fund the Metro extension to Dulles International Airport without drastic changes, officials said yesterday, effectively scuttling a $5 billion project planned for more than 40 years and widely considered crucial to the region’s economic future.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Federal Transit Administration chief James S. Simpson stunned Virginia politicians at a meeting on Capitol Hill yesterday when they outlined what Simpson called “an extraordinarily large set of challenges” that disqualifies the project from receiving $900 million in federal money. Without that, the project would die.

"Federal money" is money taken from taxpayers across the United States.

Related post: "Traffic-Congestion Hysteria" (09 May 2005)

Poland: Where the "Bad News" is Good

Guest post:

These days when, as a conservative, even the "good news" is bad, it's nice to hear some good "bad news." By that, I mean "bad" to the socialist-minded media. I am speaking of Poland, a veritable recusant country in the hyper-liberal European Union. When the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled against France for barring a lesbian woman from adopting a child, Polish politicians took the lead in denouncing the decision. Apparently 90% of Poles oppose adoptions by alternative lifestylers.

Last spring, Warsaw played host to the World Congress of Families and defiantly opposed EU pressure for "same-sex marriages" and abortion. Poland has repeatedly stymied efforts to introduce homosexual propaganda as being subversive of public morals, especially as regards children. Currently Poland prohibits abortion in all but a few cases, despite political and economic penalties leavied by the EU. And while this is this not perfect, it is a far cry from the drive-through abortion practices of most countries. Fortunately there has been an ongoing effort (though momentarily defeated) to close even that contradictory loophole (permitting "eugenic abortions") by religious conservatives.

No doubt Poland's unusually strong social conservatism has much to do with its pugnacious Catholic heritage and legacy of sucessful non-violent resistance to totalitarian occupiers (both Nazis and Communists). One more bit of "bad news" for Euro-leftists is the tiny island nation of Malta, famed for its heroic resistance to both Ottoman Turkish and German sieges. Today it faces a new, more subtle political siege against its pro-life, pro family government (see related item).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board: Reflections on Architecture

Guest post:

A recent exhibit at the Library of Virginia, Never Built Virginia (January 11 - May 21, 2008), documents architectural designs that never made it off the drawing board. Ranging in designs from prosaic 19th century churches to ugly modern high rises, the exhibit forms an interesting cultural and aesthetic chronicle. There are a few items which stand out, like the magnificent Greco-Roman concept for the Library of Virginia, proposed in the 1930s. Unfortunately it was shelved in favor of a drab art deco structure (not the best specimen of that style) when the library was rebuilt in 1940. The state library has since been relocated to a retro-modern, and not totally ungraceful, building just down the street.

Not all modernism is bad, but a little bit goes a long way. And when we are told that "Virginia's deep-rooted traditionalism doomed many [architectural] schemes" we can be glad. After looking at plans from a few decades ago for the James River area—consisting of angular, massive poured concrete structures—it is fortunate that development was postponed until the recent neo-classical revival, when most of the buildings being put up exhibit tasteful Georgian lines to match the historic downtown.

One of the architects highlighted in Never Built Virginia is Haigh Jamgochian, a 1960s disciple of hyper-modernism. That he is a misanthropic recluse who has a made a career (like so many modern "creative" people) by not actually doing anything, seems appropriate. Admittedly his drawings and models are curious to look at, like the whimsical futurist predictions of old science fiction movies. Jamgochian cites the original Star Trek show as an early influence. But the minute you actually throw up such edifices on real streets, amidst venerable brick, stone and stucco structures, the effect is monstrous. Jamgochian was not very successful in selling his designs, but there are still plenty of disasters scattered about Richmond from the '60s and '70s to damage the landscape. Fortunately, as an established east coast city, enough of the traditional buildings have survived to maintain its character.

Perhaps the most that can be said for classic modernism is its symmetry. Of course symmetry is not enough to make a good building. But it's impossible to imagine good design without it. In that respect postmodernism, with its chaotic fragmentation, is only a further step in the direction of artistic decay in which even traditional elements are haphazardly plundered in the way that barbarians of the Dark Ages appropriated bits and pieces from handsome temples and palaces to construct their poorly made hovels. The effect is to evoke not so much admiration as pity.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Stimulus Package

If there is a "stimulus package," and if it is delivered in the form of rebates, it will be tantamount to a tax cut. Tax cuts work.

Pace Arnold Kling.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Libertarian Culture Clash

David Friedman (Ideas) is right:
There are a lot of different things going on in libertarian reactions to Ron Paul in general and the quotes from the Ron Paul newsletters in particular. One of them, I think, is a culture clash between different sorts of libertarians....

Loosely speaking, I think the clash can be described as between people who see non-PC speech as a positive virtue and those who see it as a fault--or, if you prefer, between people who approve of offending liberal sensibilities ("liberal" in the modern sense of the term) and those who share enough of those sensibilities to prefer not to offend them. The former group see the latter as wimps, the latter see the former as boors.
What else is going on? Well, for one thing, a bunch of moralist scolds have leaped at the opportunity to preach their respective, often contradictory, and sometimes wacky visions of libertarian purity. When they have finished with Ron Paul and his gaggle of white supremacists and conspiracy theorists, they will return to bashing each other. Political purity may be self-satisfying, but it wins few converts and fewer elections.

Just to be clear about it, I hold no brief for Ron Paul.

On This Date

Wikipedia has several lists of events associated with January 21.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Arts: Where Regress is "Progress"

Bookworm (of Bookworm Room) shares my disdain of modern art forms, some of which I express and explain here:
"Speaking of Modern Art" (24 Jul 2004)
"Making Sense about Classical Music" (23 Aug 2004)
"An Addendum about Classical Music" (24 Aug 2004)
"My Views on 'Classical' Music, Vindicated" (02 Feb 2005)
"A Quick Note about Music" (29 Jun 2005)
"All That Jazz" (03 Nov 2006)
In the early decades of the twentieth century, the visual, auditory, and verbal arts became an "inside game." Painters, sculptors, composers (of "serious" music), choreographers, and writers of fiction began to create works not for the enjoyment of audiences but for the sake of exploring "new" forms. Given that the various arts had been perfected by the early 1900s, the only way to explore "new" forms was to regress toward primitive ones -- toward a lack of structure, as Bookworm calls it. Aside from its baneful influence on many true artists, the regression toward the primitive has enabled persons of inferior talent (and none) to call themselves "artists." Thus modernism is banal when it is not ugly.

Painters, sculptors, etc., have been encouraged in their efforts to explore "new" forms by critics, by advocates of change and rebellion for its own sake (e.g., "liberals" and "bohemians"), and by undiscriminating patrons, anxious to be au courant. Critics have a special stake in modernism because they are needed to "explain" its incomprehensibility and ugliness to the unwashed.

The unwashed have nevertheless rebelled against modernism, and so its practitioners and defenders have responded with condescension, one form of which is the challenge to be "open minded" (i.e., to tolerate the second-rate and nonsensical). A good example of condescension is heard on Composers Datebook, a syndicated feature that runs on some NPR stations. Every Composers Datebook program closes by "reminding you that all music was once new." As if to lump Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven.

All music, painting, sculpture, dance, and literature was once new, but not all of it is good. Much (most?) of what has been produced since 1900 is inferior, self-indulgent crap.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

How to Think about Secession


At the risk of being called a "Doughface libertarian," which I am not, I must express some reservations about Timothy Sandefur's paper, "How Libertarians Ought to Think about the U.S. Civil War."

Sandefur avers that "the Constitution does prohibit secession"; therefore, the States do not have the power to secede under the Tenth Amendment, which says:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
But the Constitution nowhere expressly prohibits secession. Sandefur's argument that the Constitution does prohibit secession is an inferential one that rests on his conclusion that the action of a State (qua State)
cannot change the nature of the federal Constitution as adopted in 1787: it is a binding government of the whole people of the United States. No state may unilaterally leave the union.
Actually, the people of the each State were at liberty not to adopt the Constitution. The Constitution could have gone into effect upon being ratified by the conventions of nine of the thirteen States:
The ratification of the conventions of nine states, shall be sufficient for the establishment of this constitution...
In which case, however, the Constitution would have been binding only upon the States whose people ratified it; that is,
...between the states so ratifying the same.
That the people of all thirteen States did, eventually, ratify the Constitution is another matter. Four of the States could have remained outside the Union; that is, they could have "seceded" preemptively.

How could a State have the right to decline membership in the Union but not to withdraw from membership in the Union? Was the act of ratification equivalent to a Christian marriage vow (before Henry VIII)? It would seem so, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in Texas v. White (1868) anticipated Sandefur's arguments; for example:
When...Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation. All the obligations of perpetual union, and all the guaranties of republican government in the Union, attached at once to the State. The act which consummated her admission into the Union was something more than a compact; it was the incorporation of a new member into the political body. And it was final. The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration, or revocation, except through revolution, or through consent of the States.

Considered therefore as transactions under the Constitution, the ordinance of secession, adopted by the convention and ratified by a majority of the citizens of Texas, and all the acts of her legislature intended to give effect to that ordinance, were absolutely null. They were utterly without operation in law. The obligations of the State, as a member of the Union, and of every citizen of the State, as a citizen of the United States, remained perfect and unimpaired. It certainly follows that the State did not cease to be a State, nor her citizens to be citizens of the Union.
But such fine reasoning, which echoes the pre-Civil War position of Union loyalists, did not prevent the secession (or rebellion) of eleven States. It would have been bad -- bad for slaves, bad for the defense of a diminished Union -- had the South prevailed in its effort to withdraw from the Union. But the failure of the South's effort, in the end, was due to the force of arms, not the intentions of the Framers of the Constitution. Justice Grier fully grasped that point in his dissent from the majority in Texas v. White:
Is Texas one of these United States? Or was she such at the time this [case] was filed, or since?
This is to be decided as a political fact, not as a legal fiction. This court is bound to know and notice the public history of the nation....
It is true that no organized rebellion now exists there, and the courts of the United States now exercise jurisdiction over the people of that province. But this is no test of the State's being in the Union; Dacotah is no State, and yet the courts of the United States administer justice there as they do in Texas. The Indian tribes, who are governed by military force, cannot claim to be States of the Union. Wherein does the condition of Texas differ from theirs?... I can only submit to the fact as decided by the political position of the government; and I am not disposed to join in any essay to prove Texas to be a State of the Union, when Congress have decided that she is not. It is a question of fact, I repeat, and of fact only. Politically, Texas is not a State in this Union. Whether rightfully out of it or not is a question not before the court.
Legalistic arguments about secession are irrelevant, even if they are intellectually entertaining. Secession is a political issue, and as Clausewitz said, "war is the continuation of politics by other means." In paraphrase of Stalin, I ask: How many divisions does the Supreme Court (or a blogging lawyer) have?

For a deeper analysis of secession, see "How Libertarians Ought to Think about the Constitution."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Is Inflation Inevitable?

Inflation is inevitable as long as government spending, taxation, and regulation continue to inhibit productivity gains by stifling innovation, entrepreneurship, and risk-taking. The historical record shows as much:

Real GDP is nominal (current-dollar) GDP divided by the GDP deflator, a measure of changes in the overall level of prices for the goods and services that make up GDP. I derived five-year averages from the estimates of real GDP and the GDP deflator for 1790 through 2006, as provided by Louis D. Johnston and Samuel H. Williamson, "The Annual Real and Nominal GDP for the United States, 1790 - Present." Economic History Services, July 27, 2007, URL : http://eh.net/hmit/gdp/. UPDATE (01/30/08): The averages for 2005 include estimates of real GDP and the GDP deflator for 2007, as issued by the Bureau of Economic Analysis on January 30, 2008.
Before the early 1900s -- before federal income taxes were made constitutional, before government spending rose from less than 10 percent to about 30 percent of GDP, before the Federal Reserve was created, and before the nation's businesses were engulfed in a regulatory tsunami -- the U.S. experienced prolonged periods of deflation, accompanied by rapid economic growth.

The only sustained periods of deflation since 1900 occurred in conjunction with the deep (but relatively brief) recession of the early 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The real issue is not inflation per se, it is government. Inflation is a symptom of chronic, government-induced, economic weakness. There is no way, really, to "fight inflation" but to remove the heavy hand of government from the economy.

Related posts:
"The Destruction of Income and Wealth by the State" (01 Jan 2005)
"Why Government Spending Is Inherently Inflationary" (18 Sep 2005)
"Ten Commandments of Economics" (02 Dec 2005)
"More Commandments of Economics" (06 Dec 2005)
"Liberty, General Welfare, and the State" (06 Feb 2006)
"Monopoly and the General Welfare" (25 Feb 2006)
"The Causes of Economic Growth" (08 Apr 2006)
"Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death Spiral of Liberty" (03 Aug 2006)
"The Anti-Phillips Curve" (25 Aug 2006)
"Median Household Income and Bad Government" (18 Sep 2006)
"Toward a Capital Theory of Value" (12 Jan 2007)
"Things to Come" (27 Jun 2007)
"The Laffer Curve, "Fiscal Responsibility, and Economic Growth" (26 Oct 2007)
"A Political Compass: Locating the United States" (13 Nov 2007)
"Intellectuals and Capitalism" (15 Jan 2008)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Religion and the Inculcation of Values

Apropos the preceding post and "Religion and the Inculcation of Morality," I offer these thoughts by Christopher Dawson:
[T]he Liberal movement, with its humanitarian idealism and its belief in the law of nature and the rights of man, owes its origin to an irregular union between the humanist tradition and a religious ideal that was inspired by Christian moral values, though not by Christian faith.... [T]he whole development of liberalism and humanitarianism, which has been of such immense importance in the history of the modern world, derived its spiritual impetus from the Christian tradition that it attempted to replace, and when that tradition disappears this spiritual impetus is lost, and liberalism in its turn is replaced by the crudity and amoral ideology of the totalitarian state.

"Europe in Eclipse" (1954), compiled in
The Dynamics of World History
UPDATE (01/19/08): Relatedly, Mark Steyn writes today:
...Jonah Goldberg has a brilliant new book out called Liberal Fascism, which I hope to address at length in the weeks ahead. I note, however, that American liberals, not surprisingly, don't care for the title. As it happens, the phrase is H.G. Wells's, and he meant it approvingly. Unity [Mitford]'s dreamboat Fuhrer described himself as "a man of the left."... Even when they're not in thrall to the personality dictators, a big chunk of Western elites have a strange yen for the sterner ways of distant cultures, from Hillary Clinton's Hallmark sentimentalization ("It Takes A Village," etc.) of a tribal existence that's truly nasty, brutish and short to Germaine Greer's more explicit defence of "female genital mutilation." Late in life, Miss Greer has finally found a form of patriarchal oppression that gets her groove back as much as National Socialism did Unity Mitford's.

If you're unlucky, it's not just the elites who fall for ideologically exotic suitors. It would seem to me, given how easily the Continent embraced all the most idiotic "isms" three-quarters of a century ago, that it will surely take up some equally unlovely ones as it faces its perfect storm of an aging native population, a surging Muslim immigrant population, and an unsustainable welfare state...

A Western nation voluntarily embracing sharia? Sounds silly. But so does Unity Mitford. Liberal democracy is squaresville and predictable, small-scale and unheroic, deeply unglamorous compared to the alternatives. And kind of boring. Until it's gone.

A Sensible Atheist Speaks

David Friedman (Ideas) writes:
Part of my skepticism with regard to the efforts of my fellow atheists [e.g., Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris] to demonstrate how absurd the opposing position is comes from knowing a fair number of intelligent, reasonable, thoughtful people who believe in God--including one I am married to. Part comes from weaknesses I can perceive in the foundations for my own view of the world. At some point, I think, each of us is using the superb pattern recognition software that evolution has equipped us with to see a coherent pattern in the world around us--and since the problem is a harder one than the software was designed to deal with, it isn't that surprising that we sometimes get different answers.
UPDATE (01/20/08): Friedman ends a follow-up post with this thought:
My own conclusion, as before, is that I do not think God exists. But neither do I think that conclusion so obviously true that all reasonable people ought to accept it.
Amen.

Related posts:
"The Universe...Four Possibilities" (07 Jan 2007)
"The Greatest Mystery" (24 Dec 2007)
"Religion and the Inculcation of Morality," which links to many other related posts (12 Nov 2007)

Whither the Stock Market? (II)

UPDATED (03/12/08)

On November 14, 2007, I wrote:
Is it possible that the current bull market reached a temporary peak in May of this year, and is now descending toward a secondary bottom that it will not reach for a few years?
This was my tentative answer, then:
A reversal that lasts a year or two seems entirely possible to me.
My less tentative answer, now, is that the stock market (as measured by the Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 Composite Index) has crossed into "bear country." That is, it has met the two conditions which indicate a "correction" or bear market that will last for months or years:
  • the index has dropped below its 250-trading-day average, and
  • the 250-day average is moving downward (if imperceptibly).
To see that this is so, go to BigCharts.

1. At the top of the page, in the box for symbol or keyword, type "DWC" and click on the "advanced chart" button.

2 A list of "companies" will appear. Select "Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 Composite Index" by clicking on the icon for that item which is labeled "A."

3. Then, make the following entries or selections in the panel on the left side of the screen:
Time Frame
Time -- select "1 year"
Frequency -- select "daily"

Indicators
Moving averages -- select "SMA" and type "250" in the box to the right of that

Chart style
Price display -- select "logarithmic"
Chart size -- select "medium"

At the bottom, click on "save chart settings." Then, return to the top of the panel and click "draw chart." Change the length of time to "1 month, "2 months, "3 months," and "6 months," then redraw the chart each time.
What you will see in each chart (as of today) is a dip in the 250-trading-day average. More obviously, you will see that the value of the index has moved below the 250-day average. It is therefore likely that the market has entered a downward phase that could last for months or years.

To see why, change your "Time" selection to "all data" and redraw the chart. The resulting graphic shows 25 years of the index and its 250-day average for the last 24 years. You can see that a market downturn of several months' or years' duration has ensued whenever the index has dropped below its 250-day average and the 250-day average has turned down.

On the other side of the coin, how can you know -- for sure -- when a downturn has ended and the market is in recovery? Answer: The end of a downturn is confirmed when the index rises upward through the 250-day average and the 250-day average is rising.

Regardless of the current state of the market, please remember this:
Don't bail out now, unless you absolutely, positively need the money. I could be wrong about the reversal. In any event, stocks are for the long run.
P.S. By my reckoning, every downturn in the 250-day average since 1970 has signaled every recession since 1970.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Conspicuous Consumption and Race

"Conspicuous Consumption and Race" is a paper by Kerwin Kofi Charles, Erik Hurst, and Nikolai Roussanov, which I have summarized and addressed here. Now comes Ray Fisman, writing at Slate, to add his $0.02 worth:

A few years ago, Bill Cosby set off a firestorm with a speech excoriating his fellow African-Americans for, among other things, buying $500 sneakers instead of educational toys for their children. In a recent book, Come On People, he repeats his argument that black Americans spend too much money on designer clothes and fancy cars, and don't invest sufficiently in their futures....

If signaling [conspicuous consumption] is just part of a deeper human impulse to seek status in our communities, what's wrong with that, anyway? If a household chooses to spend a lot on visible consumption because it gets happiness from achieving high standing among its neighbors, why should we care? To return to [Bill] Cosby's concerns, if blacks are spending more on shoes and cars and jewelry, they must be spending less on something else. And that something else turns out to be mostly health and education. According to the study, black households spend more than 50 percent less on health care than whites of comparable incomes and 20 percent less on education. Unfortunately, these are exactly the investments that the black families need to make in order to close the black-white income gap.

Okay, so far, but in his next (and concluding) paragraph Fisman says this:

In his controversial speech, Bill Cosby appealed to the African-American community to start investing in their futures. What's troubling about the message of this study is that Cosby and others may not be battling against a black culture of consumption, but a more deeply seated human pursuit of status. In this sense, Cosby's critics may be right—only when black incomes catch up to white incomes will the apparent black-white gap in spending on visible goods disappear.

Here, Fisman reveals himself as a racial paternalist. "Deeply seated culture" may be a reason for conspicuous consumption, but it is not an excuse for it. We are not dumb animals; we are human beings, capable of thinking about our future and how to make it better, and capable of acting on our thoughts.

Fisman's article is a thinly disguised apology for income redistribution and affirmative action. To which I say this: Those who have chosen to rise above their cultural and "instinctual" disadvantages should not be forced to subsidize those who have chosen to be bound by those disadvantages.

Index of Economic Freedom, 2008

The Heritage Foundation has published the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom. I am not impressed by the degree of economic freedom in the world, given that the United States ranks fifth; Canada, sixth, and the UK, tenth.

Intellectuals and Capitalism

Why is "capitalism" a dirty word in academia?
Andrew Norton notes that disaffected intellectuals since Rousseau have been attacking capitalism for its failure to meet ‘true human needs.’(26) The claim is unfounded, so what is it about capitalism that so upsets them?

Joseph Schumpeter offered part of the answer. He observed that capitalism has brought into being an educated class that has no responsibility for practical affairs, and that this class can only make a mark by criticising the system that feeds them.(27) Intellectuals attack capitalism because that is how they sell books and build careers.

More recently, Robert Nozick has noted that intellectuals spend their childhoods excelling at school, where they occupy the top positions in the hierarchy, only to find later in life that their market value is much lower than they believe they are worth. Seeing ‘mere traders’ enjoying higher pay than them is unbearable, and it generates irreconcilable disaffection with the market system.(28)

But the best explanation for the intellectuals’ distaste for capitalism was offered by Friedrich Hayek in The Fatal Conceit.(29) Hayek understood that capitalism offends intellectual pride, while socialism flatters it. Humans like to believe they can design better systems than those that tradition or evolution have bequeathed. We distrust evolved systems, like markets, which seem to work without intelligent direction according to laws and dynamics that no one fully understands.

Nobody planned the global capitalist system, nobody runs it, and nobody really comprehends it. This particularly offends intellectuals, for capitalism renders them redundant. It gets on perfectly well without them. It does not need them to make it run, to coordinate it, or to redesign it. The intellectual critics of capitalism believe they know what is good for us, but millions of people interacting in the marketplace keep rebuffing them. This, ultimately, is why they believe capitalism is ‘bad for the soul’: it fulfils human needs without first seeking their moral approval.
"Why Capitalism Is Good for You," by Peter Saunders
Related posts:
"Lefty Profs" (21 Feb 2006)
"Why So Few Free-Market Economists?" (12 Oct 2006)
"Academic Bias" (22 Oct 2007)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hillary Admits Error

Error, in this case, being Democrats' opposition to deficit spending (when it's the result of GOP tax cuts) because it's "fiscally irresponsible." Now that she's running (scared) for president, Hillary has changed her tune:
"Stimulus shouldn't be paid for," declared Mrs. Clinton on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "The stimulus, by the very nature of the economic problems we're facing, is going to require an injection of federal funding."
You will notice, however, that she's calling for more spending (for the children, I presume), not further tax cuts. How cynical can you get?

Related posts:
"Curing Debt Hysteria in One Easy Lesson" (21 Apr 2004)
"Debt Hysteria, Revisited" (17 Sep 2005)

The Current Crop of Candidates

If you have read my posts "Presidential Legacies" and "The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History since 1900" it will not surprise you to know that I find little to admire in the current crop of presidential candidates. The candidate who comes closest to matching my views on a range of issues (seven points of agreement on eleven issues) is Fred Thompson, who has the proverbial "snowball's chance in hell" of winning anything.

All I can hope for, at this point, is a GOP winner in November. That's not because I much like any of the GOP candidates (I don't), but because I would rather have Supreme Court appointments in the hands of a Republican president. From that perspective, even Rudy Giuliani looks good.

UPDATE (01/21/08): A McCain-Clinton presidential contest seems most likely at this point. A President McCain might very well subject prospective Supreme Court nominees to a McCain-Feingold litmus test. George Will writes:

McCain says he would nominate Supreme Court justices similar to Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Sam Alito. But how likely is he to nominate jurists who resemble those four: They consider his signature achievement constitutionally dubious.

When the Supreme Court upheld McCain-Feingold 5-4, Scalia and Thomas were in the minority. That was before Alito replaced Sandra Day O'Connor, who was in the majority. Two years later, McCain filed his own brief supporting federal suppression of a right-to-life group's issue advertisement in Wisconsin because it mentioned a candidate for federal office during the McCain-Feingold blackout period prior to an election. The court ruled 5-4 against McCain's position, with Alito in the majority.

McCain and Clinton: Not a dime's worth of difference as far as I can see. Both are statists to the core.

If the LP comes up with a candidate who's better than Michael Badnarik (the LP's 2004 nominee), I might just waste my vote on that candidate.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Quotation of the Day

Mark Steyn quotes Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History
Civilizations die from suicide, not murder.
Precisely.

There are valid, libertarian reasons not to accept everything that is claimed to be a libertarian cause (e.g., sodomistic "marriage," abortion on demand, and absolute freedom of speech). Those reasons are libertarian in that they go to the foundation of liberty, which can exist only in a civil society founded on the mutual respect, trust, and restraint that arise from the observance of socially evolved norms. The undoing of those norms by the state in the name of liberty is a form of civilizational suicide.

Related posts:
"Rights and Liberty" (12 Dec 2007)
"Optimality, Liberty, and the Golden Rule" (18 Dec 2007)

Drinking and Voting

Is it necessary to drink heavily before voting for a Democrat? The answer seems to be "yes," based on the results of the 2004 presidential election:
Sources: Share of popular vote, by State, derived from this page at Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Index of alcohol consumption (total of beer, wine, and spirits) in 2005, by State, derived from "Per capita ethanol consumption for States, census regions, and the United States, 1970–2005" at the website of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health.
The four most bibulous (not Bible-reading) jurisdictions are Delaware (index of 2.59), Nevada (2.83), the District of Columbia (3.05), and New Hampshire (3.26). New Hampshirites should change their motto, "Live Free or Die," to "Live Hard and Die Cold."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ron Paul: Anticipating the Smoking Gun

My guest blogger, Postmodern Conservative, was on the right track in these posts (dated 12/13/07 and 12/20/07). James Kirchick of TNR published his "smoking gun" article on 01/08/08.

France, Happiness, and Socialism

What price happiness? French President Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking an answer to the eternal question — so that happiness can be included in measurements of French economic growth.
That's the lede of an AP story, "French Use Happiness As Economic Measure" (January 10, 2008). The story continues:
Sarkozy said he asked U.S. economist Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel economics prize and a critic of free market economists, and Armatya Sen of India, who won the 1998 Nobel prize for work on developing countries, to lead the analysis in France....

Richard Layard, a professor at the London School of Economics and author of the 2005 book "Happiness: Lessons from a New Science," said Sarkozy may be seeking recognition for policies, popular in Europe, that promote well-being but don't show up in the GDP statistics....

Jean-Philippe Cotis, the former OECD chief economist who took over as head of France's statistics office Insee two months ago, said Wednesday that a measure of happiness would complement GDP by taking into account factors such as leisure time — something France has a lot of.

France's unemployment rate is stubbornly high, and when French people do work they spend less time on the job — 35.9 hours per week compared with the EU average of 37.4.
In other words, if you don't have the political clout (or stomach) to repeal France's state-imposed limit on the length of the workweek (35 hours), then you justify it by "proving" that it makes the French happier. (Pourquoi pas?)

And who better to do the job than Stiglitz and Sen, socialists both? Layard's endorsement of the effort is a dead giveaway, for Layard is a leading proponent of the politics of envy and leveling.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Joseph Sobran: Final Verdict

Guest post:

Aristotle famously said: "I love Plato, but I love truth even more." Can defenders of Joseph Sobran say the same?

While I don't wish to make a blanket condemnation of paleocons, I am disappointed how many of them are wedded to an "old boys' club" mentality. One sees this in the emotive rebuttal by Scott P. Richert (published on Taki Theodoracopulos' blog) to James Hitchock's criticism of Sobran and other paleocons in Human Life Review. Richert waxes nostalgic over Sobran's essays for past issues of Human Life Review. But this is a case of resting on past laurels. Sobran may have done some good in the past but, if like Ezra Pound, a brilliant mind suddenly takes up with bizarre attitudes, this does not mean we should do the same.

What also bothers me is Richert's mudslinging. He treats Hitchcock like a sophomoric upstart. Never mind that Hitchcock is a veteran conservative commentator and university professor (with a 1965 doctorate from Princeton), who has been in print at least as long as Sobran (who got started with National Review in 1972). To put Richert's argument as simplistically as it deserves: "Hitchcock is just another neo-con hack. Neo-cons are stupid. Therefore, Hitchcock's criticism is invalid." This is the sort of ideological denunciation and deflection that one expects from Marxists.

Here are Hitchcock's accusations (all documented in the article):

During the 2006 election campaign... Joseph Sobran, a Catholic who considers himself one of the few remaining spokesmen for authentic conservatism... characterized James Webb, the Democratic candidate for senator from Virginia,... as someone “who commanded my immediate trust and respect”....

Despite [Howard] Phillips’ obvious lack of interest in the abortion issue, Sobran has often endorsed the Constitution Party, which he says is the only reliably prolife party in America, and after the election (November 16 [2006]) he found it impossible to distinguish between two “factions” pretending to be two different political parties, but he expressed great satisfaction that Webb’s opponent, the “arrogant” Senator George Allen (who happened to be anti-abortion), had been defeated; then he declared (December 21) that Bush was a worse president than William J. Clinton (who happened to be by far the most zealously pro-abortion president ever to occupy the White House).

[Sobran] praised the pro-abortion Democratic Senator Joseph Biden as “someone who takes his faith very seriously”....

Sobran questions the justice and wisdom of American involvement in World War II.

After the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, Sobran wrote a series of articles questioning (and sometimes ridiculing) the fear that al-Qaeda constitutes a threat to American security, and five years later... he reported that for him the real experience of terror was having to undergo a security check at Dulles Airport.

Does Richert address these? Not that I can tell.

I had my own dispute with a Sobran supporter recently. I was told that the controversial columnist was witty and incisive (it is his selling point against humdrum mainstream conservatives). But when I pointed out his collaboration with holocaust revisionists, this was chalked up to sheer guilelessness. So which is it? Either Sobran is a genius, in which case he must be right to get cozy with far-right racialists and anti-war leftists, or he's a political naïf whose contributions to the conservative cause are extremely limited.... in fact, non-existent at this point.

Previous post: "Sobran's Intellectual Decline and Fall"

A Misdirected Apology

American Thinker Blog notes that Columbia University professors are apologizing to Ahmadinejad for the "insulting remarks" (i.e., factual statements) aimed at the Iranian nut-case by Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, on September 24.

Would the same Leftist grovelers think to apologize to conservative academics whom they have barred from or driven out of Columbia? I don't think so.

What is it with Leftists and anti-American regimes? The question answers itself.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Power of a Woman's Tears

It's not hard to believe that Hillary Clinton won the Democrat primary in New Hampshire because of the tears she shed (or almost shed) the day before the primary. Her mediagenic emotional moment must have garnered sympathy from many a female voter -- perhaps from many of them who hadn't planned to vote, until the tears welled up.

It's as if a goodly fraction of the women of New Hampshire rose up and said, "We are woman...we cry." This is a qualification for office?

One Hall of Famer

By my standards, only Goose Gossage and Less Smith should have been elected to the Hall of Fame yesterday. Well, the Goose made it. Better yet, no undeserving player was selected from a long list of undeserving candidates.

If only it were politic to un-elect the undeserving, membership in the Hall would really mean something.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Why Popularity Is a Bad Thing

A popular phenomenon (a song, a political movement, a cliché, an item of merchandise, a TV show or movie) is one that a large fraction of the population enjoys, endorses, practices, purchases, or watches. The fans, followers, speakers, buyers, and watchers who make a phenomenon popular are of two types: those who find intrinsic merit in the thing; those who find merit in adhering to what is popular. On which half of the population do you suppose the popularity of a thing mainly depends: the more intelligent half or the less intelligent half?

Now, do you really think popularity is a good thing?

Sobran's Intellectual Decline and Fall

Guest post:

As a disillusioned paleocon, I've complained about the old-right infatuation with extremism in my discussion of the late Samuel Francis. A further example of the paleocon meltdown is the career of Joseph Sobran, former National Review editor turned embittered pamphleteer, holocaust revisionist, and part-time campaigner for the Democratic Party—he has favored liberal candidates against Republicans, and has a decided preference for Democratic foreign policy. Not surprisingly, Sobran has alienated many readers over the years. Recently his erratic political musings were documented by a major Catholic intellectual (James Hitchcock, “Abortion and the ‘Catholic Right’,” Human Life Review, Spring 2007). This is particularly important because Sobran has marketed himself as a latter-day ultramontanist, publishing in Catholic journals like The Wanderer.

Sobran justifies his rhetorical excesses by pointing to the opposite extreme. But surely one can oppose racial quotas and reverse racism without endorsing the nearest Klan leader. Sobran, however, doesn't have that sense of finesse. As early as 1986 he was offering cautionary praise (but praise nonetheless) for Instauration, a journal published by Wilmot Robertson who wrote The Dispossessed Majority, the bible of high-brow American racialism. As an aside, Robertson is as anti-Christian as he is anti-Jewish. The point here is that it's hard to write off Sobran's extremist statements as occasional foibles. No one can commit that many faux pas without really trying!

When people started criticizing Sobran, one of the first persons who rushed to his aid was Mark Weber, long-time member (currently director) of the Institute for Historical Review. The IHR is well known as a "holocaust revisionist" front for neo-Nazism. Sobran has returned the favor many times by championing the "courageous" views of the IHR. Sobran's worst bit of journalistic muddling is seen in his piece "For Fear of the Jews," which adopts his usual ingénue style of coy provocation. In it he tells us that Mark Weber is really a nice guy, which is quite beside the point (he's trying to whitewash Adolf Hitler, who wasn't a nice guy). As it turns out, Sobran was penning things for the Journal for Historical Review throughout the 1990s, including an essay on "Jewish Power" (January/February, 1999). In 2001 and 2003, Sobran attended conferences hosted by David Irving, who shares Weber's habit of Hitlerian spin control.

Next time, an answer to apologists for Joe Sobran....