Saturday, July 31, 2004

Sayonara to Government Land-Grabbing?

I hope this starts a new trend (from the Detroit Free Press, via Michelle Malkin):
Poletown seizures are ruled unlawful
State Supreme Court restricts government rights to take land

July 31, 2004


Reversing more than two decades of land-use law, the Michigan Supreme Court late Friday overturned its own landmark 1981 Poletown decision and sharply restricted governments such as Detroit and Wayne County from seizing private land to give to other private users.

The unanimous decision is a decisive victory for property owners who object to the government seizing their land, only to give it to another private owner to build stadiums, theaters, factories, housing subdivisions and other economic development projects the government deems worthwhile.

Detroit and other municipalities have used the Poletown standard for years to justify land seizures as a way to revitalize.

In the decision, the court rejected Wayne County's attempt to seize private land south of Metro Airport for its proposed Pinnacle Aeropark high-technology park. The Pinnacle project, announced in 1999, is geared to making Wayne County a hub of international high-tech development linked to the airport....
Here's the best part:
Justice Robert Young, who wrote the lead opinion, called the 1981 case allowing Detroit's Poletown neighborhood to be cleared for a GM plant a "radical departure from fundamental constitutional principles."

"We overrule Poletown," Young wrote, "in order to vindicate our constitution, protect the people's property rights and preserve the legitimacy of the judicial branch as the expositor, not creator, of fundamental law."
It's exhilarating to read such utterances from a State supreme court.

The Berger Affair, Again reported yesterday that the National Archives denies a report that Sandy Berger is in the clear. Blogospheric lefties have been touting a report to the contrary by the Wall Street Journal. Here's the story:
"In spite of what the Wall Street Journal said, the National Archives really isn't commenting on this case because it's under investigation," Susan Cooper, chief spokeswoman for the Archives, told

The Journal reported in Friday editions:

"Officials looking into the removal of classified documents from the National Archives by former Clinton National Security Advisor Samuel Berger say no original materials are missing and nothing Mr. Berger reviewed was withheld from the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. ... The conclusion by Archives officials and others would seem to lay to rest the issue of whether any information was permanently destroyed or withheld from the commission."

The Journal report was picked up by ABC Radio network news, which further misreported the story by saying that the Justice Department had cleared Sandy Berger of all charges.

But Ms. Cooper disputed the claim that she or any other Archives official had said any such thing.

"We really have had nothing to say and will continue to have nothing to say about the particulars of the [Berger] case," Cooper told NewsMax. "I gather that there's somebody else in the food chain that has been talking about the case but it's not at the Archives."

In keeping with her no-comment policy, the Archives chief spokeswoman declined to confirm an earlier Washington Post report that Berger had destroyed four of the six copies of the Millennium Plot After Action Review stored in Archives files.

Cooper also declined to say whether draft copies of the document with original notes in the margins were among the papers Berger's lawyer Lanny Breuer said his client had "discarded."
Seems fair and balanced to me.

I've posted twice before about l'affaire Berger, here and here. In the first post I drew on 30 years' experience in dealing with classified information to question the veracity of Berger's claim that he "inadvertently" removed classified notes and documents from the National Archives. The second post was just for fun, comprising quips of the sort you might hear on late-night TV.

I won't guess at what Berger really did or why he did it. That's for the FBI and, possibly, the courts to resolve. Whatever Berger did at the National Archives may or may not be an indictable offense. Otherwise, it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of life. Here's why: Suppose that Berger was trying to cover up his failure, while he was Clinton's national security adviser, to authorize strikes on Osama bin Laden. How would reconstructing Berger's failure be of help in preventing future terrorist attacks? Hindsight in such matters is unlikely to produce useful foresight. It isn't enough to know that bin Laden is in your crosshairs, you must be willing to pull the trigger. Berger, apparently, wasn't willing to pull the trigger. Would a future Berger be willing to pull the trigger? There's no way of knowing, no way of ensuring that it would happen.

Friday, July 30, 2004

A Perfect Strategy for Bush

Don't say anything. Let Kerry do all the talking. The Iowa Electronic Markets price on a Bush victory has been rising since Kerry's acceptance speech and his dumb-ass statement about trying bin Laden in U.S. courts.

Here's Why I'm Afraid of Kerry

UPDATED, with a P.S.

From AP via Yahoo! News:
Kerry Favors Bin Laden Trial in U.S.

By RON FOURNIER and NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writers

NEWBURGH, N.Y. - John Kerry said Friday he would put Osama bin Laden on trial in U.S. courts rather than an international tribunal to ensure the "fastest, surest route" to a murder conviction if the terrorist mastermind is captured while he is president.

"I want him tried for murder in New York City, and in Virginia and in Pennsylvania," where planes hijacked by al-Qaida operatives crashed Sept. 11, 2001, Kerry said in his first interview as the Democratic presidential nominee.

The Saudi-bred terrorist is suspected of plotting attacks that have shed blood across the globe, not just in the United States. Kerry suggested he would place the highest priority on avenging American deaths.
Osama bin Laden isn't a criminal -- he's our enemy. He isn't "suspected of plotting attacks that have shed blood" -- he's known to have plotted those attacks. Kerry's limp-wristed handling of bin Laden would only make bin Laden's partisans guffaw. It would confirm their conception of America as irresolute and spineless. It would make us more, not less, vulnerable to terrorism.

We must not let that happen. If bin Laden is taken alive he should be marched to a place where CNN has cameras, then wrapped in plastique, doused with jet fuel, and torched.

P.S. If you wonder why I feel so intensely about bin Laden and company, please read this.

Libertarianism and Pre-emptive War: Part I

Randy Barnett at The Volokh Conspiracy has two new posts on the subject of libertarianism and war, here and here. Barnett's posts, the posts he links to, and the comments on some of those posts have highlighted the need for a clear definition of libertarianism. In particular, we need a definition of libertarianism as it applies to the defense of America. I will offer that definition here, then (in a later post) I will offer a doctrine of pre-emptive war that is consistent with my view of libertarianism.

According to Wikipedia,
Libertarianism is a political philosophy which advocates individual rights and a limited government. Libertarians believe that individuals should be free to do anything they want, so long as they do not infringe upon what they believe to be the equal rights of others. In this respect they agree with many other modern political ideologies. The difference arises from the definition of "rights". For libertarians, there are no 'positive rights' (such as to food or shelter or health care), only 'negative rights' (such as to not be assaulted, abused, robbed or censored). They further believe that the only legitimate use of force, whether public or private, is to protect those rights.
That's consistent with this passage from the Libertarian Party's introductory statement:
The Libertarian way is a logically consistent approach to politics based on the moral principle of self-ownership. Each individual has the right to control his or her own body, action, speech, and property. Government's only role is to help individuals defend themselves from force and fraud.
Note that Wikipedia's definition and the Libertarian Party's statement both acknowledge a role for government. It can't be said often enough: Liberty is not anarchy. The state is legitimate, though not everything the state does is legitimate.

That statement may not seem to say much about libertarianism, but it does when libertarianism is contrasted with its alternatives. There are four main points on the political compass:
• Anarchy is the stateless solution, in which individuals, families, clans, and bands may or may not cooperate to defend their lives and property from others. Of course, anarchy inevitably gives way to a state, a rather powerful and oppressive one at that, because under anarchy "might makes right."

• Libertarianism admits a minimal, neutral state to protect life and property, and therefore the liberty to enjoy them.

• Communitarianism uses the power of the state to regulate private institutions for the sake of "desirable" outcomes in such realms as income distribution, health, safety, education, and the environment

• Statism consists of outright state control of most institutions, including religion (which may be banned or allowed in only one form). Statism may be reached either as an extension of communitarianism or via anarchy or near-anarchy, as in Soviet Russia, the Third Reich, and Communist China.
In sum, those who say that the state is inherently unjust -- be they anarchists, anarcho-capitalists, and anarcho-libertarians -- are not libertarians, they are simply anarchists by various names. All of them must accept the logical consequences of their ideology: They have no right to life, liberty, or property; they must prey upon others or be preyed upon. Luckily for most of them, their proclaimed belief in anarchy is a cloistered virtue, cosseted in the United States by a state that is far more benevolent than the one that would arise from anarchy.

Libertarians, having a firmer grasp of reality, understand that living under anarchy, in what amounts to a constant state of warfare, diminishes liberty -- the ability to enjoy life and property -- for all but the strongest or most ruthless. They understand, further, that there is less to enjoy under anarchy, communitarianism, and statism because those ideologies are inimical to free markets and property rights. Libertarians therefore willingly accept a neutral state for defense from force and fraud. Libertarians understand that the presence of such a state actually makes life better for everyone but predators.

Libertarians can and do argue about how the state should go about protecting individuals from force and fraud, but one cannot be a libertarian and argue that the state is inherently an unjust institution. That untenable position is reserved for anarchists and crypto-anarchists. As "Decnavda" says in a comment on a post by John Quiggin at Crooked Timber:
I think this is entirely a means vs. ends problem, in two senses:

1. Libertarians (NOT anarcho-capitalists) believe in strong police enforcement of property rights, but their belief in these property rights places many restrictions on HOW the police can engage in this strong enforcement. The same would apply to war. You can believe that a war against a dictator is justified…but also believe in major restrictions on how that war is fought. Thus, a privately owned power plant may be an illegitimate target, while actual military bases would undoubtedly be legitimate. It may be that a libertarian legitimate war is IMPOSSIBLE to fight on PRACTICAL grounds.

2. There are two types of libertarianism: “pure” deontological libertarianism and consequentialist libertarianism[*]….A consequentialist libertarian could easily conclude…that a war against a dictator, although inevitably resulting in the deaths of innocents, will advance the overall cause of freedom.

Indeed…it seems to me that the problem discussed here is not with libertarianism, but with deontology. Not only could a consequentialist libertarian easily support a war against a dictator, but ANY deontologist would have to oppose any modern war except to repel invasion. Is there ANY deontological moral code that would authorize the intentional killing of innocent workers at power plants?
There are, of course, consequentialist libertarians who argue that we only make the world more dangerous (for ourselves as well as others) by going to war in the absence of imminent danger to the homeland. But that's an argument about how and when to go to war, not about whether to go to war or whether pre-emptive war is always unjustified.

The deontological view -- what Randy Barnett would call "defenseism" -- is more troublesome. Deontological libertarians ("defenseists") seem to say that we should never attack until we are under attack, and then we must be very careful about what and whom we attack. Such a view, aside from being suicidal in practice, implies that the innocents and private property of the United States are somehow less worthy of protection than the innocents and private property of other lands.

That leads me to these thoughts, which I ask "defenseists" and reluctant consequentialists to consider.

You, the innocent, are targets simply because you're Americans. Your main enemy -- Osama bin Laden and his ilk -- don't care about the lives and property of innocents. Your main enemy doesn't care what you think about George Bush, the invasion of Iraq, or pre-emptive war. Your main enemy doesn't care whether you're anarchists, crypto-anarchists, libertarians, communitarians, or even neo-fascists. You don't have to choose sides, your main enemy has already done it for you.

The only ideology your main enemy values is Islamism, and he would impose an Islamic state upon you if he could. But he will settle for killing and terrorizing you so that you retreat from the Middle East. He will then control it and you will become poorer and ever more vulnerable to his threats of death and destruction. Now ask yourself whether you are willing to acquiesce in your enemy's aims before you acquiesce in actions that might -- unavoidably -- result in the killing of foreign innocents and the destruction of their property.

That's all for now. This post positions me to lay out a doctrine of pre-emptive war that is consistent with libertarianism, properly understood. I'll do that in a future post.
[* Editor's note: Borrowing from Wikipedia, a deontological libertarian believes that the use of force is always wrong, except in self-defense; a consequentialist maintains "that the rightness or wrongness of an action depends on the consequences of the act and hence on the circumstances in which it is performed."]

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?

This post is now here.

Kerry, the Libertarian Non-agressor

"Any attack will be met with a serious response." That's what he said. Makes you feel safer already, doesn't it?

Libertarianism and Foreign Policy

Randy Barnett at The Volokh Conspiracy writes again about libertarianism and foreign policy. He kindly mentions my posts on the subject (here and here). He also quotes some libertarian readers who are "defenseists" ("let the other guy shoot first") and others who, like me, don't believe in passivity. I'll come back to this subject. For now, I just want to acknowledge Barnett's latest post and thank him for the links.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Required Reading

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- that's most of the boat crew officers who served with Kerry in Vietnam -- say things like this:
During Lt.(jg) Kerry's tour, he was under my command for two or three specific operations, before his rapid exit. Trust, loyalty and judgment are the key, operative words. His turncoat performance in 1971 in his grubby shirt and his medal-tossing escapade, coupled with his slanderous lines in the recent book portraying us that served, including all POWs and MIAs, as murderous war criminals, I believe, will have a lasting effect on all military veterans and their families.

Kerry would be described as devious, self-absorbing, manipulative, disdain for authority, disruptive, but the most common phrase that you'd hear is "requires constant supervision."

-- Captain Charles Plumly, USN (retired)
There's plenty more where that came from.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Libertarians and the Common Defense

Randy Barnett of The Volokh Conspiracy and I have both taken libertarian isolationists to task. My posts are here and here. Barnett's latest is here. I've said this:
It is not aggression to seek out and destroy the aggressor before he attacks you, it is self-defense. If you were armed and you knew that another armed person meant you harm, why would you not shoot first? This isn't just about Iraq, where there seems to be some nit-picking debate about what weapons Saddam might or might not have been making or intending to use, and about what sort of relationship Saddam might or might not have had with al Qaeda. This is a matter of principle. Let's get the principle right, then argue about the facts.
Barnett, in his latest post, says this:
[The] rule of law doctrine of "imminent threat" is not a necessary prerequisite of justified self defense in all cases. As I discuss in The Structure of Liberty, what is needed to justify self-defense in principle is a communication of intent to invade rights in a context that suggests its seriousness. A communication constitutes a threat that violates the rights of another if it puts him in reasonable fear of being the victim of a battery or worse.

The example I give in SOL is of someone, let's say it is me, who takes a full page advertisement in The New York Times announcing my intention to murder [a certain person] at some time within the next 7 days. Assuming it is not obviously a joke, and that I apparently have the means to carry out my threat, would [that person] have to wait until I came around to his house and made an overt threatening act, which ordinarily is required by the law of self defense? Given the nature of this "standing threat," need there also be a showing of imminence?

I think under these special circumstances, [that person] should not have to wait until I chose a time and place convenient for my attack but could seek me out to preemptively defend himself against me at a time and place of his convenience. In SOL I call this "extended self-defense." What makes this hypothetical unusual and unrealistic is the unambiguously objective manifestation of intent in the advertisement. The advertisement is what constitutes the threat that is the necessary condition of self defense and no further overt act is required. Under these circumstances [that person] is entitled, in my view, to "preempt" my attack before I ever perform an act that can be deemed "imminent" (like produce a weapon and point it in his direction). But this is so abnormal a hypothetical (criminals do not normally advertise their intentions) that it does not undermine the normal importance of imminence or to the law of self defense.

But advertisements and imminent acts (like massing armies on borders) are not the only ways to communicate a threat. So would speeches coupled with less normally obvious behavior. If the content of these other communications are sufficiently clear, then self defense would be warranted even in the absence of an overt act that constitutes an imminent threat. So "imminence" may not be a requirement of even a defenseist foreign policy (assuming that a [defenseist] foreign policy is logically entailed by libertarianism, which I doubt). What is required is a threat....

None of this however, is to argue that a military invasion is always (or ever) a good foreign policy. Many libertarians are "noninterventionists" who seem to oppose almost any military invasion outside the territory of the US on the ground that the unintended consequences of such actions are likely to be terrible, as indeed they often are.

My original point was simply that this type of noninterventionism, whether right or wrong, does not follow from Libertarian principles as some of its adherents apparently assume. It is more a pragmatic judgment of the sorts of rightful actions that will or will not yield good consequences. This judgment could lead to certain principles of foreign policy, but these should not be confused with Libertarian first principles. In addition, while I respect those who hold to this position, it tends to ignore the unintended consequences of nonaction, which can be just as harmful. Unintended consequences is a concept that, logically, runs in both directions....

Finally let me hasten to add that, though I have thought a lot about Iraq as a citizen, with these posts I have only just begun to think about the relationship of Libertarianism with foreign policy. I am completely open to being persuaded that this analysis is completely wrong (as well as to encouragement that I am on the right track). Indeed, I had hoped that, by raising the issue, someone else would [do] the [heavy] lifting and save me the trouble....
My sentiments, exactly. As I said in my last post on the subject,
I'm still waiting for a libertarian who specializes in foreign and defense policy to offer a policy paper that advocates something other than an isolationist foreign policy and a "don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" defense policy.
I guess I'll have to dust off my old "defense analyst" credentials and do the job myself. But don't expect anything soon.

Getting It Right about the Patriot Act

Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy responds to a claim by Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution about the Patriot Act. In Kerr's words,
Alex has a post suggesting that the Patriot Act is a bad law because it has been used to do some dumb things. Here is the post...:
Yeah, I feel much safer now

The USA Patriot Act has so far been used to fine PayPal $10 million dollars in an effort to crack down on internet gambling, it's been used to intimidate a New York artist's collective, and most recently to shut down a Stargate fan site.
Kerr then assembles the facts, which lead him to this conclusion:
So, at least as I see it: (1) it is true that a provision in the Patriot Act was used to crack down on Internet gambling, leading to a civil settlement; (2) it is not fair to say that the Patriot Act was used to intimidate a group of artists; and (3) the Patriot Act was not used to shut down a fan site.
More importantly, there's a lot we don't know about the effects of the Patriot Act, namely, (1) the extent to which it has deterred terrorism or made it more difficult and (2) the extent to which it has yielded valuable information about terrorist plots that have been thwarted or are being monitored.

Economists are shockingly naive at times. Well, not shockingly to me, because I've worked with so many of them.

Fair and Balanced Commentary

Scott Simon of NPR (yes, that's National Public Radio) assesses Michael Moore's Farenheit 911 in an OpinionJournal piece entitled "When Punchline Trumps Honesty". Here's the bottom line:
[W]hen 9/11 Commission Chairman Kean has to take a minute at a press conference, as he did last Thursday, to knock down a proven falsehood like the secret flights of the bin Laden family, you wonder if those who urge people to see Moore's film are informing or contaminating the debate. I see more McCarthy than Murrow in the work of Michael Moore. No matter how hot a blowtorch burns, it doesn't shed much light.
I may have to rethink my aversion to NPR. Well, I might give Scott Simon a shot. But Nina Tottenberg is just too much.

In the "Useless but Fascinating Information" Department

Courtesy Futurepundit, "Structures in United States Cover Area Equal to Ohio":
If all the highways, streets, buildings, parking lots and other solid structures in the 48 contiguous United States were pieced together like a giant jigsaw puzzle, they would almost cover the state of Ohio. That is the result of a study by Christopher Elvidge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who along with colleagues from several universities and agencies produced the first national map and inventory of impervious surface areas (ISA) in the United States.

Kerry's Multilateralism Knows No Bounds

From AP via Yahoo! News: Kerry Urges More Time for 9/11 Panel:
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said Tuesday that the Sept. 11 commission should continue working another 18 months to ensure its proposed reforms are adopted, a challenge embraced by the bipartisan panel.
Why bother to elect a president and a Congress, then cede critical governmental functions to an extra-governmental body? But, Kerry is -- for once -- consistent. He would let the UN dictate U.S. foreign and defense policy.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Is There Hope for the "Newspaper of Record"?

Daniel Okrent, "public editor" (ombudsman?) of The New York times, admits today that The Times is a liberal newspaper. (Free registration required.) Some bloggers have badly misread Okrent's piece as an apologia for his paper's slant. If anything, it's really an explanation and an apology.

The explanation, which is reasonable, amounts to this:
The Times has chosen to be an unashamed product of the city whose name it bears, a condition magnified by the been-there-done-that irony afflicting too many journalists. Articles containing the word "postmodern" have appeared in The Times an average of four times a week this year - true fact! - and if that doesn't reflect a Manhattan sensibility, I'm Noam Chomsky.
Okay, but what about the apology? Here it is:
[I]t's one thing to make the paper's pages a congenial home for editorial polemicists, conceptual artists, the fashion-forward or other like-minded souls..., and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear. I don't think it's intentional when The Times does this. But negligence doesn't have to be intentional.

The gay marriage issue provides a perfect example....

[F]or those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it's disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading....I've learned where gay couples go to celebrate their marriages; I've met gay couples picking out bridal dresses; I've been introduced to couples who have been together for decades and have now sanctified their vows in Canada, couples who have successfully integrated the world of competitive ballroom dancing, couples whose lives are the platonic model of suburban stability.

Every one of these articles was perfectly legitimate. Cumulatively, though, they would make a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause. You wouldn't even need the articles: run the headlines over the invariably sunny pictures of invariably happy people that ran with most of these pieces, and you'd have the makings of a life insurance commercial.

This implicit advocacy is underscored by what hasn't appeared. Apart from one excursion into the legal ramifications of custody battles..., potentially nettlesome effects of gay marriage have been virtually absent from The Times since the issue exploded last winter.

The San Francisco Chronicle runs an uninflected article about Congressional testimony from a Stanford scholar making the case that gay marriage in the Netherlands has had a deleterious effect on heterosexual marriage. The Boston Globe explores the potential impact of same-sex marriage on tax revenues, and the paucity of reliable research on child-rearing in gay families. But in The Times, I have learned next to nothing about these issues, nor about partner abuse in the gay community, about any social difficulties that might be encountered by children of gay couples or about divorce rates (or causes, or consequences) among the 7,000 couples legally joined in Vermont since civil union was established there four years ago.

On a topic that has produced one of the defining debates of our time, Times editors have failed to provide the three-dimensional perspective balanced journalism requires. This has not occurred because of management fiat, but because getting outside one's own value system takes a great deal of self-questioning. Six years ago, the ownership of this sophisticated New York institution decided to make it a truly national paper. Today, only 50 percent of The Times's readership resides in metropolitan New York, but the paper's heart, mind and habits remain embedded here. You can take the paper out of the city, but without an effort to take the city and all its attendant provocations, experiments and attitudes out of the paper, readers with a different worldview will find The Times an alien beast.
Well said. But will Okrent follow through after his August vacation? Will The Times do anything to balance the egregious leftward slant of its news columns? The blogosphere will be watchfully waiting to see what happens.

Through a Crystal Ball Darkly: Prospects for a Kerry Presidency

If Bush doesn't recover from his slide, he'll lose the White House. And it's entirely possible that Republicans will lose the Senate (see here and here). A Bush loss might also cut into Republicans' majority in the House.

Republicans could nevertheless stymie Kerry's domestic agenda. Even if Democrats were to re-take the Senate by a narrow margin that certainly wouldn't ensure the passage of Kerry's agenda in the upper body. (Look at what Democrats have been able to do to Bush's appellate court nominees.) Throw in Republican control of the House and Kerry's agenda could be DOA, unless he's able, like Clinton, to evoke a popular backlash against Republican "meanies".

Assuming the best on the domestic front -- that is, deadlock -- what about the war on terror? All wouldn't be lost if Kerry were to win the White House. He says dangerous multilateralist things about defense policy. But, in these times of clear and present danger, even a Democrat president will put defense above the trappings of internationalism. A massive failure to defend the homeland or to secure vital overseas interests would ensure a rout in the mid-term elections and a one-term presidency, if not impeachment.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Drip, Drip, Drip

The Bush-Kerry race tightened to a virtual dead heat after Kerry picked Edwards as his running mate. (Yes, there was an Edwards "bounce".) Bush kept a slim lead through most of July, but that lead has been dripping down the drain for about five days.

Perhaps the drippage is in anticipation of a Kerry "bounce" from the Democrat convention. Perhaps it's due to the 9/11 report, which could only hurt Bush. Perhaps it's due to lackluster news about the economy and the war. Perhaps it's a combination of all these factors. In any event, Bush now leads in only one of my three projections, and that lead hinges on Florida, which is Bush's by a hair (as of tonight).

Will August bring better news for Bush? Will he get a September "bounce" from the GOP convention? Stay tuned, as the electoral projections turn.

Whining about Teachers' Pay: Another Lesson about the Evils of Public Education

I thought I was through with the subject of public schools, but I came across this piece of trash at It's about how little teachers make, which forces them to augment their income in ways the author considers demeaning:
I vividly remember, while growing up in the Chicago suburbs in the '70s, knowing that my sixth-grade math teacher was also—even during the school year—a licensed and active travel agent, and I recall seeing a number of my high-school teachers, all with master's degrees or Ph.D.'s, painting houses and cutting lawns during the summer. This kind of thing still happens all over the country, and it's a disgrace. When teachers are forced to tend the yards of students' homes, to clean houses, or to sell stereos on nights and weekends, the quality of education is diminished, the profession is disrespected, and we parody the notion that we hold our schools and teachers in the highest regard. Teachers with two and three jobs are tired, their families are frustrated, and the students they teach, who want to —- and should -— consider their instructors exalted figures, learn instead to think of teaching as a part-time gig, the day job for the guy who sells Game Boys at Circuit City.
Socialist psychobabble! What's worse is that "We pay orthodontists an average of $350,000, and no one would say that their impact on the lives of kids is greater than a teacher's." Then there's this: "[A] San Francisco dockworker makes about $115,000, while the clerk who logs shipping records into the longshoreman's computer makes $136,000."

No, "we" don't pay orthodontists. Orthodontists, who practice a profession the entry to which is controlled by a high-class union and licensing laws, are paid willingly by their patients. As for those dockworkers and shipping clerks, they simply belong to a more rapacious union than the ones that represent teachers. Public-school teachers -- unlike orthodontists, dock workers, and shipping clerks -- are paid with money that governments coerce from taxpayers. There's not a moral dime's worth of difference between any of these professions. They're just practicing different forms of income redistribution.

But none of that explains why public-school teachers make what they make, which is not too little and -- given that many of them are unionized and all of them are feeding at the public trough -- is probably too much. After all, those teachers who don't think they're making "enough" can always get a second job (as many of them do) or take up a different occupation (as many of them do). But no one's forcing them to teach. When's the last time a school district shanghaied a passer-by, dragged him into a classroom, and said "teach, or it's off to Circuit City with ye"?

Why then, do public-school teachers make what they make? Our old friends Supply, Demand, and Competition have the answer.

Let's start with Demand. Governments have a virtual monopoly on education through the 12th grade. Through a long process of acculturation and co-option, governments have delegated their monopoly power to the "professional educators" (hereafter, Educators) who run school systems. These Educators, through another long process of acculturation and co-option, have developed a model of the ideal teacher. That model, which they apply ruthlessly, places far greater emphasis on arcane, pseudo-scientific teaching techniques than it does on the substance of what is to be taught. Competence in a subject is far less important than "competence" in the cabbala of education.

Not being content with form over substance, Educators demand low student-teacher ratios, even though the value of low student-teacher ratios is mythical. Educators also demand that taxpayers equip classrooms with the latest gadgets, not because the gadgets are especially useful teaching devices but because other school districts have them. (It's a pedantic arms race.)

Thus, given the sums that Educators are able to extract from taxpayers without facing outright rebellion, they effectively choose quantity over quality. That is, were it not for low student-teacher ratios and expensive gadgets, they could have fewer but somewhat more competent teachers at a higher average salary. Instead they willingly accept more but somewhat less competent teachers at a lower average salary.

Now comes Supply. Teaching doesn't attract many of the best and brightest, who have more lucrative options. (As I've just said, Educators themselves are to blame for the level of teachers' salaries.) But there's more to it than that. Teaching doesn't attract the best and brightest because they are repulsed by the emphasis on form (pseudo-scientific credentials) over substance. The best and the brightest are often willing to accept lower wages in return for stimulating work. Public-school teaching can be stimulating, but public schools, by and large, insist on ritual conformity to pseudo-scientific educational psychobabble, discourage originality ("here's the approved textbook and here's the approved syllabus"), cater mainly to the lowest common denominator in the student body, and tolerate disruptive behavior. Public-school teachers are as much day-care providers as they are teachers. Well, day care isn't a profession that attracts many of the best and brightest.

Finally enters the wraith of Competition, whose shadow doesn't darken public schools. And that's the root of the problem. Educators (the big "E" variety) get away with putting form above substance and quantity above quality because parents have no choice. The tax collector sucks parents dry, and few of them have recourse to vouchers for private education. And it's all the doing of the Education monopoly, as I've explained before.

If vouchers were widely available so that private schools could compete robustly with public schools -- and if governments allowed private schools to focus on substance (results), not form (credits in "education" classes) -- they would hire more of the best and brightest as teachers. That would draw more and more students away from public schools until public schools were forced to compete with private schools in terms of quality. Then public schools would strive to hire some of the best and brightest for their own classrooms. The next thing you know (well, maybe after a decade or so), America's children would be getting the world's best education from relatively well paid teachers. But not many of them would be holdovers from today's public schools.

Professional Educators and their unions aren't about to let that happen. They may not be the best and brightest, but they have their priorities: first, jobs for the mediocre; second, baby-sitting (it's easier than real teaching); third, teaching (to the extent they know enough to teach something).

Political Correctness

Political correctness is an artifact of dictatorship by utopians who seize the machinery of power and try to shape the world to their liking.

Speaking of Modern Art

It's this kind of balderdash that makes me grit my teeth:
Mathematicians, philosophers and physicists at the beginning of the 20th century were recognising that many absolute truths were convenient caricatures of a universe that might be far stranger, far further from common sense than anyone thought. Western painting had its own scientific assumptions, established in the Renaissance. Picasso and Braque unmasked these as conventions. The concepts of absolute gravity and time that gave way to relative ones in the early 20th century had been established by Newton in the 1600s. The doctrine of single-point perspective, whose inadequacies Braque and Picasso exposed, had been asserted by Leon Battista Alberti and Filippo Brunelleschi two centuries before.

The perspective system invented in Florence in the 15th century was a shorthand for the way things looked, a brilliantly usable fiction of the appearance of the world. Our sense impressions are complicated, chaotic data that the brain has to make sense of. Seeing in pictures appears to be necessary in our lives. Alberti and Brunelleschi showed how those pictures can be made consistent and logical by fixing a distant point towards which objects recede - what's further away looks smaller than what's near. [Picasso and Braque] did not make their intellectual revolution against this centuries-old system in a cool, considered mood, but with turbulence and fury. There was a violence in their assault on perspective.

Picasso's first essay in the new painting, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), associates the death of the picture with sexual aggression and "primitive" release. It is an overturning of civilised lies, one of which is the neat illusion of perspective. Braque put his anger into words. "The whole Renaissance tradition is antipathetic to me," he said. "The hard-and-fast rules of perspective, which it succeeded in imposing on art, were a ghastly mistake..."
Pretentious twaddle! Art draws on perfectible techniques; science limitlessly accrues knowledge.

The truth is that in art -- as in "serious" music -- the best work that could be done had been done by about 1900. That left Picasso, Braque, and their ilk -- like Schoenberg, Berg, and their ilk -- with two options: Create new works using the tools that had been perfected by the masters who came before them, or disown the tools in a fit of adolescent rebellion. The artists and "serious" composers of the 20th century, in the main, took the second option.

I Had No Idea It Was So Bad

I remember reading about the fire that destroyed 100 pieces of contemporary "art" in Charles Saatchi's collection. The fire was generally thought to be an an appropriate act of God. Now I know why. See for yourself.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Why I Am Not a Conservative

Professor Bainbridge is shocked, simply shocked, by a passage from Randy Barnett's post about "Libertarians on War". Bainbridge says:
Do people really believe this crap?...The government as a whole is "unjust"? Please. I doubt whether Barnett believes such nonsense, but his post implies that some people do. Unfathomable.

Here then we find the essential difference between sensible conservatism and the lunacy of libertarian anarchy.
Bainbridge paints libertarians with too broad a brush. Admittedly, there are some sophomoric anarchists among us. Then there are thoughtful libertarians (Barnett and myself, among many) who understand that government has an important, if limited, role to play in the affairs of humankind. Government's most important role is as the protector of life, liberty, and property.

Bainbridge goes on to quote A Nickel's Worth of Free Advice, which quotes Russell Kirk:
[I]n any tolerable society, order is the first need. Liberty and justice may be established only after order is reasonably secure. But the libertarians give primacy to an abstract Liberty. Conservatives, knowing the 'liberty inheres in some sensible object', are aware that freedom may be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the Constitutional order of these United States. In exalting an absolute and indefinable "liberty" at the expense of order the libertarians imperil the very freedom that they praise.
Wrong, but not too bad. At least Kirk is on the verge of saying the right thing about the role of government. But then he says:
Society requires not only that the passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the mass and body, as well as in the individual, the inclinations of men should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their passions brought into subjection.
I agree with Kirk if he means that the state may -- in the name of protecting life, liberty, and property -- protect us from -- and punish -- such acts as fraud, theft, assault, and murder. If he means that we must be censored or prosecuted for engaging in solitary and consensual acts that do not harm others, then he has gone down the slippery slope toward oppression. That's what I fear Kirk has in mind when he says:
The libertarians contend -- so far as they endure any binding at all -- that the nexus of society is self-interest, closely joined to cash payment. But the conservatives declare that society is a community of souls, joining the dead, the living, and those yet unborn; and that it coheres through what Aristotle called friendship and Christians call love of neighbor.
Calling society a "community of souls" is sheer romantic nonsense, and it's but a step away from justifying a theocratic welfare state. There's a lot more to libertarianism than "self-interest, closely joined to cash payment," but I'd rather have such a "cold" society than Kirk's suffocating Father-knows-best society.

In my "cold" society, those who choose to believe in "a community of souls" may practice that belief among themselves. They may even practice any form of "love of neighbor" they wish to, as long as their neighbor consents. But they may not impose their beliefs and practices on me. That's libertarianism for you.

Finally, Bainbridge shouldn't be too quick to condemn libertarians because some of us are kooks about government. "Kook" is an old and still valid adjective for many conservatives. But I wouldn't dream of applying it to Professor Bainbridge.

Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy, Revisited


I posted "Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy on June 29. In that post I said
I've noticed that most "professional libertarians" -- those affiliated with places like Cato Institute and Reason Foundation -- have an isolationist (or "hands off") view of foreign policy and military ventures....

It's wise to be skeptical about the emanations from Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon. But knee-jerk isolationism is unwise -- and unbecoming a libertarian. Libertarians generally take the view that defense is a legitimate function of government. Waiting until the enemy is at our shores or hidden among us isn't an effective defense strategy....

Libertarian specialists in foreign and defense affairs would be more credible if they would spend more time saying what's worthwhile and suitable, and less time saying "no" to whatever comes out of Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon.

In sum, libertarian think-tankers should be innovators, and not mere reactionaries, when it comes to foreign and defense policy. A detailed, coherent libertarian statement with a positive vision of foreign policy and military posture could be a compelling document....

P.S. A nutty, Mises Institute-type position paper that tries to explain why defense isn't a public good will get you laughed out of town and might even cost you some big
I went on vacation the next day, and so I missed Randy Barnett's June 30 post at The Volokh Conspiracy, in which Barnett says
the time may be ripe for a full fledged debate on the relationship between libertarianism and foreign policy. It appears that there is an assumption on the part of many libertarian intellectuals that libertarian principles entail a very specific version of "noninterventionism" in foreign policy....

I do fear that the recent anti war vociferousness of some libertarian intellectuals, of whom I have the highest regard and respect, may unfairly tag all libertarians with a very particular set of foreign policy positions about which even radical libertarians actually differ....

I confess that my instincts here are driven by the fact that I disagree sharply with the anti war stance of these libertarians, and they with me, but I do not believe my libertarian principles, or my commitment to them, have changed in the slightest....
Today Barnett writes
I was pleased to see that my suggestion a while back that there should be a debate on the relationship between Libertarianism and foreign policy was taken up by some bloggers. Most recently by Brian Doss at the always thoughtful Catallarchy ("The Problem with Libertarians Today"). Some...considered this an invitation to debate the merits of the war in Iraq, but I was more concerned with the degree to which Libertarianism qua Libertarianism says anything about foreign policy. Because Libertarianism is essentially a philosophy of individual rights, I doubt it says much about what policies either individuals or collective institutions ought to pursue other than that they should not violate the rights of individuals in pursuing them.

Even if, as many Libertarians believe, governments themselves inherently violate rights, it does not follow (as some Libertarians appear to assume) that everything such an unjust institution does is a rights violation....One of the biggest errors made by Libertarian anarchists is assuming that because an institution is an unjust monopoly (because it confiscates its income by force and puts its competitors out of business by force), this makes everything such institutions do also unjust. The latter proposition simply does not follow from the former.

As for Iraq, there were a number of valid legal justifications for initiating the latest hostilities, but if I start to describe them here I will provoke a different discussion than I intend. Any such discussion would inevitably implicate international law or The Law of Nations, which I also do not believe follows from Libertarian first principles. Sometimes it appears to me that the governments of "nations" are simply assumed by Libertarians to have the same sorts of rights in the international sphere that Libertarians specifies for individual persons....Other times even these same Libertarians know better.

However legal or justified the war in Iraq may have been, though, this does not make its initiation good foreign policy (though I think it was). And this is my point. I do not think Libertarianism qua Libertarianism tells us much about what good foreign policy may be, any more than it tells us what good business or personal policies may be. As was well-expressed by Duncan Frissell at Technoptimist (in a post with which I have some disagreement):
Libertarianism qua libertarianism is only a political philosophy and lacks theories of esthetics, ethics, theology, epistemology, and personal behavior. Libertarians as individuals are perfectly free within their political philosophy to espouse white supremacy, pacifism, private ownership of nuclear weapons, Anglo-Catholicism, atheism, the worship of Shiva, vegetarianism, the Atkins' Diet, grammatical prescriptivism, progressive education, etc.
This claim is central to my recent paper "The Moral Foundations of Modern Libertarianism"....
And what does Catallarchy's Brian Doss have to say?
[S]ince the advent of 9/11 and the War(s), the current Libertarian party and large swathes of fellow small-L ideological libertarians have also seemed to abandon reason and have adopted a single-issue litmus test by which to separate the Elect from the Damned. That issue is whether or not you are against The War, in all of its guises, completely and without reservation, exception, or caveat. If you are, you are a True...Libertarian. If you deviate in the slightest from the orthodoxy / received wisdom on The War, then you are Damned....
There's a lot more in that vein -- and it's enjoyable reading for a pro-war libertarian like me -- but it doesn't really go beyond what Barnett and I have said about the reasonableness of being a pro-war libertarian.

I'm still waiting for a libertarian who specializes in foreign and defense policy to offer a policy paper that advocates something other than an isolationist foreign policy and a "don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" defense policy. Perhaps this is all there is to say: A legitimate function of the state is to preserve the life, liberty, and property of its citizens. Sometimes the state will be more effective in that respect if it seeks out and destroys its citizens' enemies before those enemies strike. But I think that the proposition can be elaborated and supported by facts as well as logic. Is there a libertarian foreign-defense policy specialist in the house?

P.S. This, from the LCD, certainly isn't what I'm looking for, but it's a good sample of the shallowness of intransigent antiwar libertarians. Jeremy says:
If we follow Rothbard, all libertarian theory must be built up from this axiom: "no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else." And if we add in Jefferson's statement that governments "deriv[e] their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed," then Rothbard's statement applies equally to states. Individuals can only delegate rights that they already possess. If no individual can use force (other than in clear cases of self defense), then no government can do so either. If you have a problem with this, than libertarianism might not be for you.
It is not aggression to seek out and destroy the aggressor before he attacks you, it is self-defense. If you were armed and you knew that another armed person meant you harm, why would you not shoot first? This isn't just about Iraq, where there seems to be some nit-picking debate about what weapons Saddam might or might not have been making or intending to use, and about what sort of relationship Saddam might or might not have had with al Qaeda. This is a matter of principle. Let's get the principle right, then argue about the facts.

An American in Europe

Bruce Bawer, a patriotic ex-pat (he now lives in Norway), sees Europeans for what they are.

Culturally superior? Ha!
Yes, many Europeans were book lovers —- but which country’s literature most engaged them? Many of them revered education -— but to which country’s universities did they most wish to send their children? (Answer: the same country that performs the majority of the world’s scientific research and wins most of the Nobel Prizes.) Yes, American television was responsible for drivel like “The Ricki Lake Show” -— but Europeans, I learned, watched this stuff just as eagerly as Americans did (only to turn around, of course, and mock it as a reflection of American boorishness)....And yes, more Europeans were multilingual—but then, if each of the fifty states had its own language, Americans would be multilingual, too.
More sophisticated? Bah!
Living in Europe, I gradually came to appreciate American virtues I’d always taken for granted, or even disdained -- among them a lack of self-seriousness, a grasp of irony and self-deprecating humor, a friendly informality with strangers, an unashamed curiosity, an openness to new experience, an innate optimism, a willingness to think for oneself and speak one’s mind and question the accepted way of doing things. (One reason why Europeans view Americans as ignorant is that when we don’t know something, we’re more likely to admit it freely and ask questions.)...Americans, it seemed to me, were more likely to think for themselves and trust their own judgments, and less easily cowed by authorities or bossed around by “experts”; they believed in their own ability to make things better. No wonder so many smart, ambitious young Europeans look for inspiration to the United States, which has a dynamism their own countries lack, and which communicates the idea that life can be an adventure and that there’s important, exciting work to be done. Reagan-style “morning in America” clichés may make some of us wince, but they reflect something genuine and valuable in the American air. Europeans may or may not have more of a “sense of history” than Americans do...but America has something else that matters—a belief in the future.
Open minded? Fah!
Then came September 11. Briefly, Western European hostility toward the U.S. yielded to sincere, if shallow, solidarity (“We are all Americans”). But the enmity soon re-established itself (a fact confirmed for me daily on the websites of the many Western European newspapers I had begun reading online). With the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it intensified. Yet the endlessly reiterated claim that George W. Bush “squandered” Western Europe’s post-9/11 sympathy is nonsense. The sympathy was a blip; the anti-Americanism is chronic....If Europe’s intellectual and political elite was briefly pro-America after 9/11, it was because America was suddenly a victim, and European intellectuals are accustomed to sympathizing reflexively with victims (or, more specifically, with perceived or self-proclaimed victims, such as Arafat). That support began to wane the moment it became clear that Americans had no intention of being victims.
At least one European intellectual has it right:
To [Jean-Francois] Revel, the tenacity of European anti-Americanism...suggests “that we are in the presence, not of rational analysis, but of obsession” -- an obsession driven, he adds, by a desire to maintain public hostility to Jeffersonian democracy. The European establishment, Revel notes, soft-pedals the fact that Europeans “invented the great criminal ideologies of the twentieth century”; it defangs Communism (at “the top French business school,” students think Stalin’s great error was to “prioritize capital goods over . . . consumer goods”); and it identifies the U.S., “contrary to every lesson of real history . . . as the singular threat to democracy.” Revel’s vigorous assault on all this foolishness might easily have been dismissed in France (or denied publication altogether) but for the fact that he’s a member of that revered symbol of French national culture, the Académie Française.

Naming Names, Placing Blame, and Safety

The husband of a woman who died at the Pentagon on 9/11 says about the 9/11 Commission's report, "They don't name names. No one takes the blame." Many of the names are known: Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, Mohammed Atta and the other 18 hijackers, and their co-conspirators in Europe and the Middle East who have been captured. The blame is theirs.

The Commission says the nation is not yet safe. It is safer than it was on 9/10, and can be made even more safe. But nothing is ever perfectly safe. Even nearly perfect safety comes at a very high cost. We can attain a high level of safety by killing as many terrorist bastards as possible.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A Good Summing Up of Libertarianism

Randy Barnett, a professor of law at Boston University and a co-conspirator at The Volokh Conspiracy, has just published "The Moral Foundations of Modern Libertarianism". Here are excerpts of his conclusion:
Unlike moral or religious theorists, a libertarian, qua libertarian, is not seeking a universal and comprehensive answer to the question of how persons ought to behave. Rather a libertarian seeks a universal answer to the question of when the use of force is justified....Libertarians seek a political theory that could be accepted by persons of diverse approaches to morality living together and interacting in what Hayek called the Great Society.
It works for me, especially when "force" is understood to include coercion by the state.

The 9/11 Report: A Preview

From via Yahoo News (excerpts of the news report, with my commentary):
911 panel report: 'We must act'
Reforms 'need to be enacted and enacted speedily'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The chairman of the panel investigating the attacks of September 11, 2001, said his commission found that the "United States government was simply not active enough in combating the terrorist threat before 9/11."
I'd say "no kidding," but that would be insensitive. I'd add that the terrorists might well have been able to do something atrocious, no matter how vigilant the government, because war isn't a one-sided affair.
Thomas Kean and his fellow panelists are citing a "failure of imagination" that they say kept U.S. officials from understanding the al Qaeda threat before the attacks on New York and Washington.
A "failure of imagination" is endemic to government. Bureaucracy is inimical to imagination. The best way to defeat terrorists is to give tough, clever, technologically equipped free-lancers a budget and a few ground rules and turn them loose on the problem. There's imagination for you.
In a news conference Thursday, Kean said that the United States is "faced with one of the greatest security challenges in our long history."

"Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude is now possible and even probable. We do not have the luxury of time," Kean said.

"We must prepare and we must act. The al Qaeda network and its affiliates are sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal."
As I was saying.
Commission member Jamie Gorelick said the panel has made a strong effort to show the factual basis behind the recommendations.

She warned that "policymakers ignore that at their peril.

"There are bad consequences to being in the middle of a political season and there are also good ones," she said, "because everyone who is running for office can be asked, 'Do you support these recommendations?'"
Gorelick, as you will remember, was a big part of the problem. Now she thinks she's part of the solution. That's our government in action.
As expected, the report calls for a national intelligence chief and a counterterrorism center modeled on the military's unified commands.

It also proposes that a joint congressional committee be created to oversee homeland security.
I've read elsewhere that the report also chastises Congress for the meddling that weakened our intelligence services. So, Congress deserves another chance -- to meddle some more?
The report concluded that the emergence of al Qaeda in the late 1990s "presented challenges to U.S. governmental institutions that they were not well-designed to meet."

"The most important failure was one of imagination," commissioners wrote. "We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat."

The report concluded that although "imagination is not usually a gift associated with bureaucracies," because previous al Qaeda attacks used vehicles to deliver explosives, "the leap to the use of other vehicles such as boats ... or planes is not far-fetched."
They had it right about imagination not being associated with bureaucracies. The rest is pure hindsight.
The report lists missed "operational opportunities" it said could have hindered or broken up the plot, blamed largely on lack of communication between the CIA and FBI.

"Information was not shared, sometimes inadvertently or because of legal misunderstandings," commissioners found.
The Gorelick effect.
"Since the plotters were flexible and resourceful, we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated them. What we can say with a good deal of confidence is that none of the measures adopted by the United States government before 9/11 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the al Qaeda plot," Kean said.
How's that for bold, imaginative thinking? But what do you expect from a fact-finding commission? I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of the full report. It'll make a good doorstop.

The Sentinel: A Tragic Parable of Economic Reality

The principles of economics can be illustrated by the tale of a not-so-mythical country. Its history comprises three eras: life gets better, life stays the same, and life gets worse.

Life Gets Better

1. Self-sufficient individuals, families, and clans (economic units) produce their own goods and services.

2. Specialization and barter lead to greater output of all goods and services, which aren't distributed equally because the distribution of resources (including intelligence, competence, and ambition) isn't equal. Some economic units are relatively rich; some are relatively poor.

3. Simple accounting through coins and tallies saves time and promotes greater output, to the benefit of all economic units.

4. Investments in new technology (capital) yield more and/or better and/or newer products and services, to the benefit of all economic units (though the investors reap additional rewards for their foresight and the risks they take when they invest).

5. Credit (borrowing to finance consumption and or investment) enable consumers to ride out bad times and producers to increase their investments in new capital.

6. Population growth yields more economic units, whose efforts -- as they become skilled (through education and training by their elders) -- cause per capita income to rise.

Life Stays the Same

7. Economic units band together in common defense against criminals and foreign marauders. They select one of their own for the job of Sentinel, and share in the cost of his sustenance. Though the cost of keeping a sentinel reduces their incomes, they consider the resulting protection and peace of mind worth it.

8. The Sentinel diligently performs his mission, year after year, for decades. The economic units of the country continue to pay willingly for his sustenance. The country prospers.

Life Gets Worse

9. A drought descends on the country. It isn't the first drought, but it's the worst one the country has experienced. Crops wither and game animals die before they can be taken for food. Many economic units survive the drought because they had emergency stores of food. Others suffer hunger, which makes them less able to fend for themselves and exposes them to the ravages of disease. Death becomes more common and begins to strike young as well as old. The toll of hunger, disease, and death is greater among the poorer economic units.

10. Before the drought ends, as it will in time, the Sentinel (responding to the pleas of the poor and the guilt-ridden rich), and ignoring the arguments of those who understand the country's economy, begins to impose taxes on those with high incomes and give the money to those with low incomes. That the Sentinel isn't authorized to redistribute income is another argument he disdains, for he has become addicted to power and seizes an opportunity to expand it.

11. Bit by bit, the Sentinel assumes greater control over economic activity -- indeed over the lives of those he was hired to protect. He creates new schemes for transferring income from the richer economic units to the poorer ones, which grow increasingly dependent on the Sentinel. He even creates schemes for taxing all economic units and bestowing special benefits on selected economic units, so that the units receiving the special benefits think they are getting something for nothing. More of the rich decide to support the Sentinel, as they come to see that they can use his power to gain special benefits for themselves. Others continue to support him because they believe that they are better off because of the special benefits he bestows on them. Still others arise and mature without having known life without the all-powerful Sentinel; they assume that the Sentinel has always been and always will be the arbiter of their economic fate.

12. Lonely voices try to explain that almost everyone is worse off because of the Sentinel's meddling in their affairs. Those lonely voices explain logically that the Sentinel has assumed powers that aren't rightly his, that the country would have recovered from the great drought without the Sentinel's help, that the Sentinel's activities actually diminish the country's wealth and income by stifling commerce and discouraging thrift and initiative, and that the Sentinel's actions discourage private acts of charity toward those who are truly incapable of caring for themselves.

13. The lonely voices are ignored, for the lonely voices are drowned by the clamor of those who are dependent on the Sentinel, those who cannot understand how the Sentinel makes them worse off, those for whom the Sentinel has become a totem, and those who simply want the Sentinel to tell others how to run their lives.

14. The mythical country nevertheless survives and thrives because even the Sentinel cannot rob it of its resources or blunt the drive and inventiveness of its economic units. Will it ever thrive to the extent of its potential? That's unlikely. Will it ever stop thriving and go into a long and perhaps irreversible decline, as have other nations that vested too much power in their Sentinels? It might happen.

Recommended Reading

Recently I mentioned Juno & Juliet, by Julian Gough. It's a novel about identical twin sisters who have arrived in Galway to attend university. Juliet tells the tale, which is at first hilariously comic and gradually becomes serious and almost tragic. Gough manages the transition gracefully, without the intervention of a sudden accident or disease. The characters remain true to their original characterizations. The narration and dialog remain fresh and witty, even as the mood darkens somewhat. A minor masterpiece of plotting, dialog, and storytelling.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Words of Caution for the Cautious

From "More sorry than safe" (, by Brendan O'Neill:
Professor Sir Colin Berry is not a big fan of the 'precautionary principle', the idea that scientists, medical researchers, technologists and just about everybody else these days should err on the side of caution lest they cause harm to human health or the environment. Berry is one of Britain's leading scientists; he has held some of the most prestigious posts in British medicine, including head of the Department of Morbid Anatomy at the Royal London Hospital from 1976 to 2002. Now he watches as his 'good profession' threatens to be undermined by what he says is an 'unscientific demand' to put precaution first.

One of the most common definitions of the precautionary principle is that put forward by Soren Holm and John Harris in their critique of it in Nature magazine in 1999: 'When an activity raises threats of serious or irreversible harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures that prevent the possibility of harm shall be taken even if the causal link between the activity and the possible harm has not been proven or the causal link is weak and the harm is unlikely to occur.' For Berry, this is one of the biggest problems with the precautionary principle - the notion that we could ever fully predict the outcome of an experiment or piece of research before it is complete, and that if we can't then we should play it safe. 'It doesn't allow for the unknown', he says. 'Or for taking a risk in order to do something potentially useful.'

Berry says it is in the nature of scientific and medical research that you start out before you have all the information to hand - indeed, almost all of the great scientific advancements of the past 200 years have been a process of 'learning as we went along'. 'Consider blood transfusions', he says. 'When we started doing them, we knew about some blood groups but there were others we didn't know about. We only came to know of these other blood groups when patients started to have transfusion reactions. There was an unknown, but we were able to learn from it and refine the process.'

He wonders whether, if the precautionary principle had been about for the past 200 years rather than the past 20, breakthroughs such as blood transfusions would ever have been made. 'I certainly don't think we would have radiotherapy or the various applications of x-rays if Marie Curie had been under pressure to comply with the precautionary principle', he says. In the early twentieth century, Polish-born physicist and chemist Curie devoted her working life to the study of radium, paving the way for nuclear physics and the treatment of cancer. It cost her her life - she died from leukaemia in 1934, almost blind, her fingers burned by radium. 'Curie's work caused her "irreversible harm"', says Berry. 'The precautionary principle would not have permitted her to take such risks, and the world would have been a worse place for it.'...

Berry points to the restrictions imposed on DDT - the pesticide used to get rid of malaria-carrying mosquitoes - as another example of how the 'application of precaution' can cause death and disease. In some third world countries where malaria had been all but eradicated over the past 20 years, there have been epidemics of the disease since DDT was restricted. Currently malaria is on the rise in all the tropical regions of the planet; in 2000, it killed more than one million and made 300million seriously ill. 'Campaigners claimed that DDT was bad for the environment; they said that it caused harm to American birds of prey. I'm sorry, but why should people in the third world at risk from malaria care about American birds of prey? Decisions about these things should be based on local needs and on empirical evidence.'

The same should go for genetically modified crops, reckons Berry. 'If we want to miss out on this new technology, that's our lookout. But we should not be in a position to restrict the use of GM in the third world. As an African said recently, "You go ahead and ban GM crops, but can we eat first?"' Berry says the restriction of the use of potentially life-saving technologies in the third world is 'a kind of environmental imperialism - if something is perceived to be bad for some American bird, then no one else in the world can use it either. That is absurd; we really cannot go on like this.'...

'Almost no new technology can be assured to be risk-free. If your position is that you don't accept any incremental risk, you are in effect saying no to all new technologies, whether it be a better anaesthetic, a better car, a better aeroplane, a safer environment for children - in fact anything worth having.'

Wisdom about the War on Terror

Ralph Peters, in recent article entitled "In Praise of Attrition", has this to say about the war on terror:
It isn’t a question of whether or not we want to fight a war of attrition against religion-fueled terrorists. We’re in a war of attrition with them. We have no realistic choice. Indeed, our enemies are, in some respects, better suited to both global and local wars of maneuver than we are. They have a world in which to hide, and the world is full of targets for them. They do not heed laws or boundaries. They make and observe no treaties. They do not expect the approval of the United Nations Security Council. They do not face election cycles. And their weapons are largely provided by our own societies.

Of course, we shall hear no end of fatuous arguments to the effect that we can’t kill our way out of the problem. Well, until a better methodology is discovered, killing every terrorist we can find is a good interim solution. The truth is that even if you can’t kill yourself out of the problem, you can make the problem a great deal smaller by effective targeting....

And we shall hear that killing terrorists only creates more terrorists. This is sophomoric nonsense. The surest way to swell the ranks of terror is to follow the approach we did in the decade before 9/11 and do nothing of substance. Success breeds success. Everybody loves a winner. The clichés exist because they’re true. Al Qaeda and related terrorist groups metastasized because they were viewed in the Muslim world as standing up to the West successfully and handing the Great Satan America embarrassing defeats with impunity. Some fanatics will flock to the standard of terror, no matter what we do. But it’s far easier for Islamic societies to purge themselves of terrorists if the terrorists are on the losing end of the global struggle than if they’re allowed to become triumphant heroes to every jobless, unstable teenager in the Middle East and beyond....

It is not a matter of whether attrition is good or bad. It’s necessary. Only the shedding of their blood defeats resolute enemies. Especially in our struggle with God-obsessed terrorists -- the most implacable enemies our nation has ever faced -- there is no economical solution. Unquestionably, our long-term strategy must include a wide range of efforts to do what we, as outsiders, can to address the environmental conditions in which terrorism arises and thrives (often disappointingly little -- it’s a self-help world). But, for now, all we can do is to impress our enemies, our allies, and all the populations in between that we are winning and will continue to win.

The only way to do that is through killing.

For Baseball Fans

Here's a site that's easier to navigate than and quite comprehensive:

Enough, Already

To Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Linda Ronstadt, John Fogerty, Willie Nelson, and Whoopi Goldberg, and Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, and Sean Penn...

...and to all the other trendy singers and actors who think Bush is evil and America has taken the wrong path, I say this:

Shut up and do what made you rich. Just don't try to think profound thoughts, you're not up to it.

The Majority Doesn't Rule the Blogosphere

I've taken two flawed political surveys, here and here. The first asks ambiguous questions; the second doesn't distinguish conservatives from libertarians. It's obvious, nevertheless, that lefties dominate the blogosphere, if the surveys capture a representative sample of bloggers. But numbers aren't everything. Most of the authoritative blogs are libertarian-conservative. Take that, lefties.

Berger Bits

From via Yahoo News:
Berger drops out as Kerry foreign-policy adviser
By Jill Lawrence and Mimi Hall, USA TODAY

Former national security adviser Samuel [Sandy] Berger stepped aside from his work as a foreign-policy adviser to Democrat John Kerry's presidential campaign Tuesday, after Berger acknowledged that he had mishandled classified documents that were under review by the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.

Berger, who had been considered a leading candidate for secretary of State in a Kerry administration, has been under investigation by the Justice Department (news - web sites) since October for removing classified documents from a secure reading room at the National Archives.
Will Kerry see if Willie (The Actor) Sutton is available as a replacement? The famed bank robber has been dead 24 years, but so what. Elvis has been dead longer and he's still making appearances. Then there's Robert Goulet's voice...

Berger should join Winona Ryder's support group for kleptomaniacs. Maybe Winona could give Sandy some dieting tips, too.

I don't know why Kerry would want a petty thief like Berger as an adviser when he's got a real pro as a running mate. Edwards has milked taxpayers and consumers for millions in legal awards and settlements, and he's not under investigation by the FBI.

If Berger really, truly "inadvertently" walked off with classified documents, maybe his old boss, Bill Clinton, really, truly didn't do whatever it is he says he didn't do (Whitewater, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky, you name it).

Sandy can always plead not guilty by reason of obesity, now that it's officially a disease. Even if he's found guilty, he'll probably get off with 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. A slap on the waist, so to speak.

Some commentators, even those with impeccable libertarian-conservative credentials, are willing to give Berger the benefit of the doubt. But I say: guilty until proven incompetent.

Can you imagine Berger as secretary of state? He'd be visiting the Middle East and leave secret anti-terrorism strategy papers in his trousers, which he would send out for pressing.

Oops, I forgot, Kerry would be president, so there wouldn't be a secret anti-terrorism strategy. It would have been approved by the United Nations.

You may have heard some of these lines from Letterman or Leno, but I didn't. I never watch their shows -- I'm too old to stay up that late.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

A Foolish Consistency

Noam Scheiber, writing on his blog at The New Republic online, says:
Conservative activists tend to lobby on behalf of a fairly comprehensive agenda, stretching from abortion to gay marriage to tax cuts to education spending. (Even conservative organizations set up to lobby on single issues, like business regulation or gay marriage, tend to coordinate pretty closely with other conservative activists....)

Liberal activists, on the other hand, tend to be much more focused on single issues: the abortion rights people don't get too worked up about labor issues, labor doesn't get too worked up about environmental issues, environmentalists don't get too worked up about gay rights, etc.
But they all manage to come together as Democrats, don't they? So what's the difference between conservative activists and liberal activists, other than party affiliation? It's a fairly consistent set of principles -- generally present in conservatives and generally lacking in liberals.

Libertarians, on the other hand, are completely principled and hew rather closely to their principles. Perhaps that's why they'll never govern.

How Not to Keep a Secret

Captain's Quarters is exactly right about Sandy Berger's supposedly inadvertent removal of classified documents from the National Archives:
Perhaps [Berger's] explanation will fly for those who have never worked around classified documents, but since I spent three years producing such material, I can tell you that it's impossible to "inadvertently" take or destroy them. For one thing, such documents are required to have covers -- bright covers in primary colors that indicate their level of classification. Each sheet of paper is required to have the classification level of the page (each page may be classified differently) at the top and bottom of each side of the paper. Documents with higher classifications are numbered, and each copy is tracked with an access log, and nowadays I suppose they're tracking them by computers.

Under these rules, it's difficult to see how anyone could "inadvertently" mix up handwritten notes with classified documents, especially when sticking them into one's jacket and pants.
Moreover, Sandy Berger -- of all people -- should know that you don't just make notes of classified information and blithely stuff the notes in your jacket and trousers. Notes of classified information are classified and must be marked and handled properly. Unless Berger had access to an authorized storage facility, and approval to take the classified notes to that facility, he had no business walking out the the National Archives with classified notes. You don't simply take them home and stuff them in a desk drawer.

This smells worse than last week's garbage.

A Roundup of Losers


Worst head of government (next to Jacques Chirac): President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines

Worst post-Clintonian coverup: Kleptomaniac Sandy Berger

Worst coverage of post-Clintonian coverup: New York Times

Loudest whiners: and Common Cause

Most self-indulgent yuppie couple: Amy and Peter, baby-killers

Always a loser: Yasser Arafat

Always losers: California's (girlie men) Democrats

Latest blow to the pseudo-science of climatology: The real cause of global warming

Worst "professional" economist: Paul Krugman

Least principled columnist (a lot of competition for this one): Paul Krugman (this is a minute sample)

Worst liar (also hotly contested): Joe Wilson

Worst musical performance: Linda Ronstadt

Monday, July 19, 2004


Tom Smith at The Right Coast asks "what is Canadian culture? And is it worth preserving?" Beats me. I say that as an American (I insist on the label, our neighbors north and south notwithstanding) whose ancestors are Anglo-Canadian (father's side) and French-Canadian (mother's side).

Canada is the U.S. with a colder climate. (Quebec? Think of Louisiana as a popsicle.) What does Canada have that we lack in the U.S.? Higher gasoline prices, socialized medicine, less freedom of speech, a serious secessionist movement, and a Queen. (Yes, the British Monarch is still considered Queen of Canada, for what that's worth.)

"Canadian culture" isn't exactly an oxymoron, it's more like a talking dog: a bizarre curiosity. Canada has given us some wonderful writers: Robertson Davies, Carol Shields (ex-American), and Elizabeth Hay, to name most of them. But that hardly makes up for Peter Jennings.

Trial Lawyers

I'd rather deter torts and compensate their victims through litigation, and the threat of litigation, than resort to legislation and regulation. (Resorting to legislation and regulation is, as the cliche goes, like taking a shotgun to a fly.) Litigation, however, has become legislation via the courts. And, in most States, it's really a get-rich-and-stay-rich scheme for a bunch of trial lawyers.

Tort law, as practiced by John Edwards and his ilk, goes beyond deterring and rectifying torts. The mind-boggling awards and settlements gleaned by trial lawyers, with the permission of the States, have bad consequences for consumers: higher prices and fewer products and services -- medical services among them. Edwards and company may care about the "little guy" who can bring them big bucks; they care nothing for the many little guys who pay higher prices and find medical care harder to get.

Tort reform is as overdue as a deadbeat's car payments. But tort reform isn't possible if Democrats are in power.

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  • The Lesser of Two Evils?

    Today's Republican Party (it's not my father's Republican Party) is in thrall to a lot of people I wouldn't want to have a beer with, even if they drank beer. Democrats, many of whom I enjoy having a beer with, fear what they see as a Republican plot to install a theocratic state.

    Most Democrats (and not a few Republicans) seem willing enough to regulate every facet of the economy and promote dependency on the welfare state through income redistribution -- all of which really tends to make most people worse off, even the relatively poor among us. (The law of unintended consequences and all that.) Not only that, but I'm willing to bet that most allies of affirmative action (which isn't equal protection of the law) and campus speech codes are Democrats.

    So Democrats practice a truncated version of libertarianism, and Republicans are becoming me-too Democrats with a somewhat different social agenda. Today's version of the Libertarian Party is a lost cause, having retreated into ostrich-like isolationism. (Even Kerry is better on defense than your average card-carrying Libertarian.)

    What we're left with is a choice between the lesser of two evils: Republican or Democrat, the lady or the tiger? Which of the evils we choose depends on which one we fear the least. As for me, I really don't fear the rise of a theocratic state, regardless of what some Republicans might like to do about things like prayer in public schools. In fact, we used to live in a quasi-theocratic state, which is gone for good. (Remember when we said The Lord's Prayer in public school? Remember when we couldn't buy a mixed drink in Virginia or buy alcohol on a Sunday?) The regulatory-welfare state, on the other hand, has been with us for decades and only occasionally stops growing.

    No one is forcing us to pray or go to church, but "they" (that includes Republicans) are making most of us worse off through regulation (that includes censorship by the FCC), welfare (that includes corporate welfare), and pork-barrel spending (Democrats have no monopoly on that). And, of course, there's quite a political base for regulation, welfare, and pork, because their costs are subtle and well concealed from most people. The myth of the "free lunch" lives on.

    Is there a "lesser evil" left to choose? I'm beginning to think not.

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  • Sunday, July 18, 2004

    Liberty or Anarchy?

    I recently remarked flippantly to a friend that I wouldn't wear a certain brand of footwear in public because doing so might brand me "liberal". His retort:
    Probably a large percentage of the wearers of Brand X are true libertarians, whereas you are a control libertarian. These folks moved to the mountains, work "off the formal economy" and thus don’t pay any taxes, ignore all forms of government, and don’t really care about anyone’s political or personal views.
    I think I like being a "control libertarian" -- whatever that is. Perhaps it means that I have good personal hygeine and save my tax returns for three years. I know that I care about others' personal or political views only to the extent that those views might affect my taxes or my physical security. (Oh, and sometimes those views are good fodder for this blog.) In fact, I spend as much time as possible reading novels and ignoring others' personal and political views.

    Those "true libertarians" who don't pay taxes and ignore all forms of government aren't libertarians, they're neo-anarchists (that's a fancy term for hippie drop-out). Libertarians aren't anarchists, because libertarians understand that liberty is impossible without just enough government to protect us from each other and from our enemies. As Wikipedia
    puts it (emphasis added by me):
    Libertarianism is a political philosophy which advocates individual rights and a limited government. Libertarians believe individuals should be free to do anything they want, so long as they do not infringe upon what they believe to be the equal rights of others. In this respect they agree with many other modern political ideologies. The difference arises from the definition of "rights". For libertarians, there are no "positive rights" (such as to food or shelter or health care), only "negative rights" (such as to not be assaulted, abused, robbed or censored). They further believe that the only legitimate use of force, whether public or private, is to protect those rights.
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