Thursday, March 31, 2005

Apropos Bankruptcy Reform

As I was saying about bankruptcy reform...'s the dialogue from Zits (the comic strip) of March 10:
Jeremy: You expect me to pay a $400 cell phone bill?

Dad: Who incurred the charges?

Jeremy: Me.

Dad: Who promised to be responsible for any overages?

Jeremy: Me.

Dad: Who assured me that this would never happen?

Jeremy: Me.

Dad: So then who should pay the bill?

Jeremy: I'm not sure I follow your logic.
Then on March 12:
Friend: A $400 cell phone bill?? Dude!

Jeremy: How was I supposed to know that text messages cost 10 cents each?

Jeremy: Okay, I knew that.

Jeremy: But how was I supposed to know that they charge for sending and receiving?

Jeremy: Okay, I guess I knew that, too.

Friend: I was going to say life is unfair. But I guess it really isn't.

Jeremy: I hate it when rules apply to me.
Thus spake the opponents of reform.

A Slate-lanche

From today's blogs The latest chatter in cyberspace at Slate:

Are 1,300 scientists crying wolf?: A report, released today and backed by more than 1300 scientists from 95 countries, suggests that "the human race is living beyond its means" and that two-thirds of the world's resources have been "used up." The comprehensive survey "concludes that human activities threaten the Earth's ability to sustain future generations."

Most bloggers aren't buying it. At Liberty Corner, [a] libertarian retiree...pooh-poohs the warnings, linking to another story full of dire, and ultimately inaccurate, estimates.
Thanks to Slate's David Wallace-Wells for the mention, which has yielded 13 hits in just over an hour.

FINAL (?) TALLY: The link from Slate yielded 77 hits (as of 5:38 p.m. CT, 04/02/05).

Are You Next?

Schiavo Dies 13 Days After Tube Removed

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Obesity Epidemic

Randall Parker -- a.k.a. FuturePundit and social engineer extraordinaire -- opines about obesity in "Response To Obesity Epidemic Should Be Urgent Priority." But obesity isn't contagious and therefore can't be an epidemic.

What's the problem, then? According to Parker,
food is cheap. As biotechnology advances food prices will rise more slowly than inflation. So food will become cheaper still.
That's a problem? Tell it to the poor.

Here's my solution: Let natural selection sort it out. If fatties aren't fit to live, they won't live as long as non-fatties or procreate at the same rate as non-fatties. So, if fatness is gene-related, there'll be fewer fatties in succeeding generations. Otherwise, I don't care how fat other people get, as long as I don't have to pay for their food addiction.

Yet Another Look at Democracy

James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds is a flawed masterpiece. Surowiecki seems to understand how unregulated markets make people better off, but in the end he succumbs to the notion that we can regulate our way to "the common good" through democracy. Surowiecki nevertheless gets it right when he says this:
[A] group of far more likely to come up with a good decision if the people i the group are independent of each other....

Independence is important to intelligent decision making for two reasons. First, it keeps the mistakes that people make from becoming correlated. Errors in individual judgment won't wreck the group's collective judgment as long as those errors aren't pointing systematically in the same direction....Second, independent individuals are more likely to have new information rather than the same old data everyone is already familiar with. The smartest groups, then, are made up of people with diverse perspectives who are able to stay independent of each other. Independence doesn't imply rationality or impartiality, though. You can be biased and irrational, but as long as you're independent, you won't make the group any dumber.
If only Surowiecki had stopped there, on page 41.

Democracy undoes independence. It imposes on everyone the mistakes and mistaken beliefs of a controlling faction. It defeats learning. It defeats the sublime rationality of markets, which enable independent individuals to benefit each other through the pursuit of self-interest.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

More about Democracy and Liberty

Fritz Machlup wrote this summary of a 1961 article (in German) by Friedrich Hayek:
[Hayek] asks why it is that personal liberty is in continual jeopardy and why the trend is toward its being increasingly restricted. The cause of liberty, he finds, rests on our awareness that our knowledge is inevitably limited. The purpose of liberty is to afford us an opportunity to obtain something unforeseeable; since it cannot be known what individuals will make of their freedom, it is all the more important to grant freedom to everybody....Liberty can endure only if it is defended not just when it is recognized to be useful in particular instances but rather continuously as a fundamental principle which may not be breached for the sake of any definite advantages obtainable at the cost of its suspension....It is not easy to convince the masses that they should sacrifice foreseeable benefits for unforeseeable ones. [From "Hayek's Contribution to Economics," in Essays on Hayek (1976), p. 41.]
That goes a long way toward explaining why unchecked democracy has become the enemy of liberty.

The Case Against Campus Speech Codes

The per curiam opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969):
The appellant, a leader of a Ku Klux Klan group, was convicted under the Ohio Criminal Syndicalism statute for "advocat[ing] . . . the duty, necessity, or propriety [445] of crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform" and for voluntarily assembl[ing] with any society, group, or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism. Ohio Rev.Code Ann. § 2923.13. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to one to 10 years' imprisonment. The appellant challenged the constitutionality of the criminal syndicalism statute under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, but the intermediate appellate court of Ohio affirmed his conviction without opinion. The Supreme Court of Ohio dismissed his appeal sua sponte "for the reason that no substantial constitutional question exists herein." It did not file an opinion or explain its conclusions. Appeal was taken to this Court, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 393 U.S. 94 (196). We reverse.

The record shows that a man, identified at trial as the appellant, telephoned an announcer-reporter on the staff of a Cincinnati television station and invited him to come to a Ku Klux Klan "rally" to be held at a farm in Hamilton County. With the cooperation of the organizers, the reporter and a cameraman attended the meeting and filmed the events. Portions of the films were later broadcast on the local station and on a national network.

The prosecution's case rested on the films and on testimony identifying the appellant as the person who communicated with the reporter and who spoke at the rally. The State also introduced into evidence several articles appearing in the film, including a pistol, a rifle, a shotgun, ammunition, a Bible, and a red hood worn by the speaker in the films.

One film showed 12 hooded figures, some of whom carried firearms. They were gathered around a large wooden cross, which they burned. No one was present [446] other than the participants and the newsmen who made the film. Most of the words uttered during the scene were incomprehensible when the film was projected, but scattered phrases could be understood that were derogatory of Negroes and, in one instance, of Jews. [note 1] Another scene on the same film showed the appellant, in Klan regalia, making a speech. The speech, in full, was as follows:

This is an organizers' meeting. We have had quite a few members here today which are--we have hundreds, hundreds of members throughout the State of Ohio. I can quote from a newspaper clipping from the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch, five weeks ago Sunday morning. The Klan has more members in the State of Ohio than does any other organization. We're not a revengent organization, but if our President, our Congress, our Supreme Court, continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race, it's possible that there might have to be some revengeance taken.

We are marching on Congress July the Fourth, four hundred thousand strong. From there, we are dividing into two groups, one group to march on St. Augustine, Florida, the other group to march into Mississippi. Thank you. [447]

The second film showed six hooded figures one of whom, later identified as the appellant, repeated a speech very similar to that recorded on the first film. The reference to the possibility of "revengeance" was omitted, and one sentence was added: "Personally, I believe the nigger should be returned to Africa, the Jew returned to Israel." Though some of the figures in the films carried weapons, the speaker did not.

The Ohio Criminal Syndicalism Statute was enacted in 1919. From 1917 to 1920, identical or quite similar laws were adopted by 20 States and two territories. E. Dowell, A History of Criminal Syndicalism Legislation in the United States 21 (1939). In 1927, this Court sustained the constitutionality of California's Criminal Syndicalism Act, Cal.Penal Code §§ 11400-11402, the text of which is quite similar to that of the laws of Ohio. Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927). The Court upheld the statute on the ground that, without more, "advocating" violent means to effect political and economic change involves such danger to the security of the State that the State may outlaw it. Cf. Fiske v. Kansas, 274 U.S. 380 (1927). But Whitney has been thoroughly discredited by later decisions. See Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, at 507 (1951). These later decisions have fashioned the principle that the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action. [note 2] As we [448] said in Noto v. United States, 367 U.S. 290, 297-298 (1961), "the mere abstract teaching . . . of the moral propriety or even moral necessity for a resort to force and violence is not the same as preparing a group for violent action and steeling it to such action." See also Herndon v. Lowry, 301 U.S. 242, 259-261 (1937); Bond v. Floyd, 385 U.S. 116, 134 (1966). A statute which fails to draw this distinction impermissibly intrudes upon the freedoms guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It sweeps within its condemnation speech which our Constitution has immunized from governmental control. Cf. Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298 (1957); De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353 (1937); Stromberg v. California, 283 U.S. 359 (1931). See also United States v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258 (1967); Keyishian v. Board of Regents, 385 U.S. 589 (1967); Elfbrandt v. Russell, 384 U.S. 11 (1966); Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500 (1964); Baggett v. Bullitt, 377 U.S. 360 (1964).

Measured by this test, Ohio's Criminal Syndicalism Act cannot be sustained. The Act punishes persons who "advocate or teach the duty, necessity, or propriety" of violence "as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform"; or who publish or circulate or display any book or paper containing such advocacy; or who "justify" the commission of violent acts "with intent to exemplify, spread or advocate the propriety of the doctrines of criminal syndicalism"; or who "voluntarily assemble" with a group formed "to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism." Neither the indictment nor the trial judge's instructions to the jury in any way refined the statute's bald definition of the crime [449] in terms of mere advocacy not distinguished from incitement to imminent lawless action. [note 3]

Accordingly, we are here confronted with a statute which, by its own words and as applied, purports to punish mere advocacy and to forbid, on pain of criminal punishment, assembly with others merely to advocate the described type of action. [note 4] Such a statute falls within the condemnation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The contrary teaching of Whitney v. California, supra, cannot be supported, and that decision is therefore overruled.


With that precedent in mind, I have to ask why it is permissible for a publicly funded university to have a speech code of any kind.

Favorite Posts: Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

It Made My Day


Claim: Thief who tries to rob a gun shop is shot dead by those in the store.

Status: True.

On 3 February 1990, David Zaback attempted to hold up H&J Leather & Firearms Ltd., a gun shop located in Renton Highlands near Seattle, Washington. About 4:40 p.m. that day, he entered the crowded shop and announced his intention to rob it by Gun telling everyone to put their hands on the counter and saying if anybody moved, he'd kill them. He then spotted a uniformed policeman having coffee with Wendall Woodall, the shop's owner. What happened next is less than clear in terms of who shot first, but there was an exchange of gunfire between David Zaback, the would-be robber; Timothy Lally, an 18-year veteran of the King County police force; and Danny Morris, one of the shop's clerks.

Zaback, who had fired three times, was shot three times in the chest and once in the arm. He died in the hospital about four hours after the shooting. No one else was injured during the incident, and no charges were subsequently laid against Lally or Morris.
Lally and Morris should have been given a cut of the money taxpayers didn't have to spend on Zaback's trial, appeals, and imprisonment.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Reversed Causality

Jim VandeHei of The Washington Post -- writing in the usual, no-liberal-bias mode of that "august" rag -- complains:

Fortune 500 companies that invested millions of dollars in electing Republicans are emerging as the earliest beneficiaries of a government controlled by President Bush and the largest GOP House and Senate majority in a half century.

MBNA Corp., the credit card behemoth and fifth-largest contributor to Bush's two presidential campaigns, is among those on the verge of prevailing in an eight-year fight to curtail personal bankruptcies. Exxon Mobil Corp. and others are close to winning the right to drill for oil in Alaska's wildlife refuge, which they have tried to pass for better than a decade. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., another big contributor to Bush and the GOP, and other big companies recently won long-sought protections from class-action lawsuits.

Republicans have pursued such issues for much of the past decade, asserting that free market policies are the smartest way to grow the economy. But now it appears they finally have the legislative muscle to push some of their agenda through Congress and onto the desk of a president eager to sign pro-business measures into law. The chief reason is Bush's victory in 2004 and GOP gains in Congress, especially in the Senate, where much of corporate America's agenda has bogged down in recent years, according to Republicans and Democrats.

"These are not real high-profile, sexy issues like the war or Social Security, but these are issues that have huge economic consequences," said Charles R. Black Jr., a GOP lobbyist and one of the president's top fundraisers. "And there is more to come on that score."

The implication, of course, is that Bush's corporate supporters were buying favors. That's not how it works. You support the candidate who's most aligned with your interests, not because you can buy favors from that candidate but because you don't have to buy favors from that candidate.

As for Bush's "pro-business" bias, it's a pro-growth, pro-jobs bias. But liberals wouldn't understand that. It's too complex for their allegedly nuanced minds to grasp. They'd rather have welfare and crime.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

As Time Goes By

Nearly a year ago I noted the lingering presence of some once-famous persons who were then still alive at 90 (and more). Here's how that list looks today:

George Kennan 100, Max Schmeling 98, Dale Messick 98, Fay Wray 96, John Mills 96 [97], Eddie Albert 95 [96], Estée Lauder 95, Al Lopez 95, Henri Cartier-Bresson 95, Michael DeBakey 95 [96], John Kenneth Galbraith 95 [96], George Beverly Shea 95 [96], Ernest Gallo 95 [96], Peter Rodino, Jr. 94 [95], Luise Rainer 94 [95], Constance Cummings 93 [94], Artie Shaw 93, Gloria Stuart 93 [94], Kitty Carlisle 93 [94], John Wooden 93 [94], Joseph Barbera 93 [94], Mitch Miller 92 [93], Jane Wyatt 92 [93], Byron Nelson 92 [93], Karl Malden 92 [93], Archibald Cox 91, Art Linkletter 91 [92], Julia Child 91, Lady Bird Johnson 91 [92], Frankie Laine 91, Oleg Cassini 91, Risë Stevens 90 [91], Robert Mondavi 90 [91], Ralph Edwards 90 [91], Geraldine Fitzgerald 90 [91], Tony Martin 90 [91], Jane Wyman 90 [91], Kevin McCarthy 90 [91], Sammy Baugh 90 [91], William Westmoreland 90 [91], Frances Langford 90

Eighty percent survived: 34 of 42. Amazing, to me.

And here are some "newcomers":

Irwin Corey 90, Jack LaLanne 90, Ruth Hussey 90, Richard Widmark 90, John Profumo 90, Harry Morgan 90

UPDATE: I'm adding actor Charles Lane to my list of oldtimers of interest. Lane, who celebrated his 100th birthday on January 26, made his first movie 1931 and (apparently) his last in 1995. That's longevity for you. Lane's career as a character actor in 254 feature films included roles in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic and Old Lace, It's a Wonderful Life, The Farmer's Daughter, and The Music Man. Amazing. Here's Charles Lane:

(Thanks to Dead or Alive? and its "People Alive over 85" feature for the list of oldtimers.)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

But It's Not Music

Tyler Cowen celebrates Pierre Boulez:

Today is his eightieth birthday, here are some appreciations and critiques. I side with George Benjamin:

...a rigorous compositional skill is coupled to an imagination of extraordinary aural refinement. Pli Selon Pli, Eclat/Multiples, the spectacularly inventive orchestral Notations, Explosante-Fixe - these are among the most beautiful works of our time. Boulez's music has a very distinctive flavour - a love of rare timbres and spicy harmonies, a supreme formal elegance and a passion for virtuosity and vehement energy. The polemics that periodically surround him obscure the intensely poetic source of his musical vision.

But it's not music. As Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, says:

Boulez arrived in Paris from the provinces in 1942....As a Schoenbergian atonalist,...he...found himself dissatisfied with twelve-tone music as it was then practiced. He was bothered by the fact that Schoenberg had radicalized harmony but still treated rhythm and form in traditional, even hackneyed ways. So he began working toward the idea of “serialism,” in which durations, dynamics, and instrumental attacks were organized along the same principles that governed the twelve-tone series. He achieved a mode of writing that was, if nothing else, internally consistent....

Even in the fifties and sixties, as Boulez abandoned strict serialism and began to write in a more fluid, impressionist style, he remained a composer of vibration, activity, unrest. He set the profile of “modern music” as it is popularly conceived and as it is still widely practiced—a rapid sequence of jabbing gestures, like the squigglings of a seismograph.

As I wrote a while back:
What happened around 1900 is that classical music became -- and still is, for the most part -- an "inside game" for composers and music critics. So-called serious composers (barring Gershwin and a few other holdouts) began treating music as a pure exercise in notational innovation, as a technical challenge to performers, and as a way of "daring" audiences to be "open minded" (i.e., to tolerate nonsense). But the result isn't music, it's self-indulgent crap (there's no other word for it).

False Advertising

Prof. Gavin Kennedy of Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland -- who presumes to lecture us about the meaning of Adam Smith's writings -- is in fact a professional bull**** artist:

His books on Negotiating include:

  • Managing Negotiations (co-author) (1980; 3rd edition, 1987 Business Books Ltd)
  • Everything is Negotiable (1983) (2nd edition, 1990 Arrow Books)
  • Negotiate Anywhere (1985 Arrow Books) Superdeal
  • How to Negotiate Anything (1986 Hutchinson)
  • The Economist Pocket Negotiator(1988 Basil Blackwell and the Economist Publications)
He is a co-author of the Negotiating Skills Portfolio (1986 Scotwork) and The Art of Negotiation, a Rank Training film, (1983) which is now available in the interactive format. He is also author of the video package: Everything is Negotiable, from Guild Sound, and Vision, 1987. Currently, he is working on Beyond Selling , a new training video for Rank. Professor Kennedy is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
And what does Prof. Kennedy have to say about Adam Smith? Among Kennedy's pearls of wisdom are these:
Smith never wrote a word about "capitalism", yet he is hailed as the "high priest of capitalism"....He is alleged to be an advocate of "Laissez Faire" though he never used these words....
Yes, and the American Constitution doesn't include the phrases "checks and balances" or "limited government," but it demonstrably incorporates checks and balances and aims to limit the power of the central government.

Does the word "Bible" appear in the Bible? I doubt it. But the Bible is the Bible, nevertheless.

Poor Prof. Kennedy. If his name weren't painted on his forehead he wouldn't know who he is. Perhaps he doesn't. Perhaps he thinks he's Adam Smith.

The McCain-Feingold Insurrection

I have joined it. See the sidebar.

(Thanks to Josh's Weblog for the tip.)

Why Fight for Life?

Those who resist the culture of death by decree do so for the same reason as those who resist taxation, regulation, and redistribution: to compromise is to surrender yet more of life -- perhaps life itself -- to the state.

Friday, March 25, 2005


The preservation of life and liberty necessarily requires a willingness to compromise on what -- in the comfortable world of abstraction -- seem to be inviolable principles. For example:
  • The First Amendment doesn't grant anyone the right to go on the air to compromise a military operation by American forces.
  • An armed person or group of persons demonstrably bent on committing mayhem must be disarmed before the mayhem occurs, the Second Amendment notwithstanding.
  • Regardless of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, a person who is caught in the act of transmitting a command to a terrorist cell should be deprived immediately of all the rights normally accorded a criminal suspect and questioned by the most effective means, for as long as it takes.
There can be no absolute liberties where life is at stake. Without life liberty is meaningless.

It's Not Anti-intellectualism, Stupid

The New York Sun reports:
[A] former provost of [Columbia University], Jonathan Cole, who in a speech on Tuesday night before a restive gathering of professors and students strongly suggested that [President] blinker wasn't doing enough to defend faculty members from accusations that they have intimidated Jewish students.

Speaking for almost an hour and drawing applause from the audience, which included some of the scholars under investigation, Mr. Cole said in no uncertain terms that Columbia is under attack by what he described as outside political forces.

When the content of a professor's views is under attack, Mr. Cole said, "leaders of research universities must come to the professor's defense."

He said the pressures bearing down on the university reminded him of the climate that existed on American campuses a half-century ago during the McCarthy era.

"We are witnessing a rising tide of anti-intellectualism," Mr. Cole said, calling the present situation at the university "another era of intolerance and repression."...

In recent months, Mr. Bollinger has had several meetings in his office with leaders of the Jewish community - some of whom have demanded that Mr. Bollinger seriously investigate the student complaints - to assuage their concerns.

Last night, with the public spotlight on his next moves and with a number of Columbia trustees in the audience, Mr. Bollinger delivered an exegesis on the scope, meaning, and history of academic freedom.

Mr. Bollinger said it was "preposterous to characterize Columbia as anti-Semitic" and said the university would not "punish professors or students for the speech or ideas they express as part of public debate about public issues."

He also said the university "should not elevate our autonomy as individual faculty above all other values" or accept "transgressions" among faculty members "without consequences."

Saying the classroom must not be turned into a "political convention," Mr. Bollinger said, "We should not accept the argument that we as teachers can do what we want because students are of sufficient good sense to know bias and indoctrination when they see it."

The students who have aired complaints claim that some professors in the department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture suppress opinion sympathetic of Israel and inappropriately substitute political activism for teaching.

An assistant professor of modern Arab politics, Joseph Massad, is accused of threatening to expel a student from his classroom because she defended Israel's military actions. Mr. Massad denies the charge. Mr. Massad is undergoing his fifth-year review. According to a source, a committee within the Middle East studies department evaluating Mr. Massad has recommended that he continue teaching in the department.

Mr. Cole on Tuesday night cast Mr. Massad as an exemplary teacher who is under no obligation to give equal weight to student opinions expressed during class. Just as a Jewish history professor doesn't have to take seriously a student who denies the Holocaust, Mr. Massad is not required to give equal time to an argument denying the 1982 Shatila refugee camp massacre in Lebanon, he said.

"The American research university is deigned to be unsettling," Mr. Cole said. "The university must have and always welcome dissenting voices."...

Mr. Cole's speech was arranged by Columbia's Center for Comparative Literature and Society and was followed by a presentation delivered by anthropologist Mahmood Mamdani, who argued that the "classroom is being politicized from the outside."...

Philosopher Akeel Bilgrami, a member of the audience, raised his hand and said it must be exposed that "a handful of students are responsible for the university's crisis," referring to the group of undergraduate students who have come forward with complaints. Mr. Bilgrami is a signer of a 2002 petition urging the university to boycott companies selling arms and military hardware to Israel.

The director of the center and the event's moderator, Gayatri Spivak, told the audience that an electronic recording of the event was prohibited. Asked by an audience member why no recording devices could be used, she said Mr. Cole requested that his speech not be recorded and that his decision was justified because of the way the press has manipulated her own words.

While the two panelists, Messrs. Cole and Mamdani, railed against intrusion by trustees and donors into academic governance, Ms. Spivak called for outside pressure on Columbia for it to hire more female faculty members. She called gender inequality a "real problem, whereas this is made up," referring to the complaints against the Middle East scholars.

So, outside pressure is bad if it's aimed at leftists but good if it supports leftists. Such is leftist logic.

As for "anti-intellectualism," I call it disgust. Disgust that universities have gone far beyond any pretense of seeking truth. Universities today -- by and large -- merely seek to advance an anti-capitalist, anti-free speech, anti-American agenda. If that upsets donors and trustees and causes them to bring pressure to bear on universities, I say hurrah! Donors and trustee have speech rights, too. And they should use them.

Those who fund universities -- donors and taxpayers -- have a legitimate interest in ensuring that universities use their money wisely.

Favorite Posts: Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

Can You Throw a Curveball?

Throwing a curveball is easy, just do as it says here. Well, try doing it until you really know how to do it, that is, until your brain and muscles work together in just the right way. Which may never happen, or happen very often, no matter how many articles you read or how much you practice.

The moral of the story is simple: Don't presume to know how things work until you've actually done them yourself.

That's why I don't trust a politician who hasn't put his own money at risk in a business on which his livelihood depends. Such a politician has no real idea of the debilitating effects of taxation and regulation on the entrepreneurial spirit, job creation, and employee compensation.

That's why I don't trust a politician who thinks that fallible human beings can magically solve problems when they become government employees.

That's why I don't trust a politician to do the right thing when it comes to dealing with a tragedy like the Schiavo case if that politician hasn't faced the death of a loved one whose life might yet be saved.

Full disclosure:
  • In my days of playing catch, which I did seriously for many years, I seldom broke off a good curveball even though I could throw fast, far, and with good control.
  • I have owned and operated a business into which I poured a substantial portion of my savings and which was the sole source of income for my family and me.
  • I worked in and closely with the federal government for 32 years.
  • I have a child whose life was in mortal danger but was saved by a timely operation, from which he has long since recovered fully.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Social Security, in a Few Words

I've argued at length in favor of the privatization of Social Security, and I've offered my solution to the looming crisis. (Go here for the solution and links to my posts about privatization.) Now comes Thomas R. Saving to explain the crisis and the need for privatization in two pages.

Tell Us What You Really Think, John

John Lanchester, a British author of excellent novels (e.g., Fragrant Harbour and Mr Phillips), is laden with the usual left-wing baggage of the illiterati:
The Labour Party of semi-fond memory was a broadish church but it had some consistent currents within it. It was left of centre, socially liberal, anti-authoritarian, anti-American, pacifistic, anti-big-business, keen on benefits for the poor, and in favour of nationalisation. In government, New Labour has been right of centre, moralistic, authoritarian; it has been involved in three wars, is slavishly submissive to big business, is keener to promote the distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor than any government in the last hundred years, and is bent on extending into health and education and transport an experimental programme of private-public partnerships which allocates risk to the public sector and profits to the private. As for its attitude to America, that is comparable only to the ‘coital lock’ which makes it impossible to separate dogs during sex.
Unlike Geoffrey R. Stone, however, I wouldn't call on government to suppress Lanchester's views even though Manchester, as a best-selling author commands a prominent niche in "the marketplace of ideas," whence he is able to "warp the public debate." In fact, I love it when lefty celebrities spew their stupidity. It's a reminder that the market rewards performance, no matter how "undeserving" are those who reap the rewards.

And I still love to listen to old Joan Baez LPs. But as Laura Ingraham says, Shut Up and Sing.

The Thing about Science

Just when you think you "know" something, you find out that you don't:
Mendel's Law May Be Flawed

Associated Press
11:22 AM Mar. 23, 2005 PT

Challenging a scientific law of inheritance that has stood for 150 years, scientists say plants sometimes select better bits of DNA in order to develop normally even when their predecessors carried genetic flaws.

The conclusion by Purdue University molecular biologists contradicts at least some basic rules of plant evolution that were believed to be absolute since the mid-1800s, when Austrian monk Gregor Mendel experimented with peas and saw that traits are passed on from one generation to the next. Mendelian genetics has been the foundation of both crop hybridization and the understanding of basic cell mutations and trait inheritance....

Scientists said the discovery raises questions of whether humans also have the potential for avoiding genetic flaws or even repairing them, although they said the actual proteins responsible for making these fixes probably would be different in plants....

"This means that inheritance can happen more flexibly than we thought," said Robert Pruitt, the paper's senior author.
Does this news vindicate the long-scorned Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck (1744-1829)? According to Wikipedia,

Lamarck is remembered today mainly in connection with a discredited theory of heredity, the "inheritance of acquired traits", but Charles Darwin and others acknowledged him as an early proponent of ideas about evolution. In 1861, for example, Darwin wrote:

"Lamarck was the first man whose conclusions on the subject excited much attention. This justly celebrated naturalist first published his views in 1801. . . he first did the eminent service of arousing attention to the probability of all changes in the organic, as well as in the inorganic world, being the result of law, and not of miraculous interposition."

Lamarck's own theory of evolution was in fact based on the idea that individuals adapt during their own lifetimes and transmit traits they acquire to their offspring. Offspring then adapt from where the parents left off, enabling evolution to advance. As a mechanism for adaptation, Lamarck proposed that individuals increased specific capabilities by exercising them, while losing others through disuse. While this conception of evolution did not originate wholly with Lamarck, he has come to personify pre-Darwinian ideas about biological evolution, now called Lamarckism.

And so the wheel of science turns.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Good News, Bad News for Free Speech

Many bloggers will like this rule being considered by the Federal Election Commission (via The Volokh Conspiracy):
No expenditure results where an individual, acting independently or as a volunteer, without receiving compensation, performs Internet activities using computer equipment and services that he or she personally owns for the purpose of influencing any Federal election, whether or not the individual’s activities are known to or coordinated with any candidate, authorized committee or party committee.
That's the "good" news. The bad news it that such a rule might be required in the first place. Whatever happened to this quaint concept:
Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech.... [Amendment I, Constitution of the United States of America]
If it was good enough for little Jemmy Madison, it should be good enough for the intellectual pipsqueaks who now prowl the corridors of Congress.

Killing Free Speech in Order to Save It


We all know about McCain-Feingold. Now we have the slippery logic of Prof. Geoffrey R. Stone of the University of Chicago Law School. Stone is a colleague of Cass Sunstein, a fellow traveler on the road to thought control.

Stone is debating Eugene Volokh at Legal Affairs Debate Club, on the topic "Forget Free Speech?" Stone slides this immodest proposal into his rather slick "defense" of free speech:
I agree that private employers are different. Even in employment discrimination law, we recognize that it would be inappropriate for the law to intrude too deeply into personal relationships. Thus, small employers are exempt. Similarly, we don't make it unlawful for a person to refuse to date a person of another race. Thus, the law shouldn't concern itself with individuals who decide not to buy the Dixie Chicks's records because they dislike their political views.

But the logic of this doesn't extend to a decision, for example, by General Motors to refuse to employ people who oppose the war in Iraq. Large corporations have substantial market power, and I see no reason to allow them to leverage that market power in this way any more than we let them discriminate on the basis of religion....

To the point about using antidiscrimination laws to promote tolerance of people of other races, religious, and ethnicities, I would say the same about political differences. Isn't that the view that Lee Bollinger championed as a primary function of the First Amendment itself? Certainly, a more "tolerant society," a less polarized society, one in which citizens come to understand, in Jefferson's words, that not "every difference of opinion is a difference of principle," is something to which we should aspire. And, as for the Klansman, perhaps tolerating his presence in the workplace would be good both for him and for us. No?
So, let's just take another big slice out of liberty and prosperity by placing yet another burden on the private sector, the burden of being an equal-viewpoint employer. Why should General Motors, regardless of its size, be required to operate under such constraints? General Motors ought to be able to hire persons whose performance will help the bottom line, and thus help society. If an employee says something that embarrasses General Motors and potentially hurts its bottom line, General Motors ought to be able to fire that person -- no ifs, ands, or buts.

But in the world of Sunstein and Stone, we can -- and must -- legislate and regulate our way to a "tolerant society." Hah! Notice how well it worked when forced busing was used to integrate schools?

Stone, slippery lawyer that he is, doesn't give a hoot about Klansmen. What he really wants is to make it illegal for employers to fire anyone for saying anything that seems critical of government policy (Republican policy, in particular). When that's done, he can take up the cudgels for the Dixie Chicks and go after radio stations that refuse to play their songs.

What Sunstein and Stone mean by "free speech" is "forced listening." Reminds me of the brainwashing scene in the movie 1984. They'll like the results as long as they get to play Big Brother.

UPDATE: Yep, Big Brother. Here's Stone in a later installment of the debate:
Even if I concede arguendo that private discrimination on the basis of viewpoint need not be equated with private discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or gender, we have to be concerned about private discrimination that begins seriously to threaten the marketplace of ideas. The point isn't that such private discrimination would be unconstitutional, but that the government should step in and prohibit such discrimination through legislation if it begins to warp public debate.
In other words, if I'm in control of government and I decide that "private discrimination on the basis of viewpoint" has threatened "the marketplace of ideas," I should step in to prohibit such discrimination when, in my infallible judgment, it begins to "warp" public debate. I therefore decree the following:
  • An employer can't fire anyone who makes a public statement critical of the employer.
  • A right-wing radio talk-show host who has a huge audience must give equal time to left-wing ideas.
What Stone and his ilk don't seem to understand (or choose to ignore) is that government involvement (choosing sides) warps the public debate. For every employer who fires a critical employee and for every popular right-wing talk-show host there are legions of protestors and political opponents whose messages the mainstream media amplify, with gusto. That's the marketplace of ideas in action. Or do Stone and his ilk favor the suppression of the mainstream media? I doubt it very much. They're just looking for a pseudo-legal justification for the suppression of speech they don't like.

What the marketplace of ideas needs is less government involvement, not more.

UPDATE II: Stone, in his most recent volley, adds this:
My argument does not meet any of the conditions for McCarthyism (unless you think I am being intentionally manipulative in order to score partisan political gain).
He said it.

UPDATE III: And Eugene Volokh nails him:

It does sound, though, like the definition of "McCarthyism" that's being suggested is mighty convenient for its users....After all, under this definition exactly the same criticisms—with exactly the same level of substantive merit—would be "McCarthyism" when used by one side and quite proper when used by the other.

Cheney says that voting for Kerry would endanger the nation. That's McCarthyism, because it comes from this bad administration. Nancy Pelosi says that voting for Bush would endanger the nation. That's just fine, if you think Democrats are open-minded, unself-righteous (except, of course, when they're harshly deriding the Bush Administration), attentive to separation of powers and the rule of law, interested in debate, and sophisticated and introspective, with complex views of faith and suitable appreciation for gray areas. Oh, and also respectful of international law and filibusters.

Such use of the term "McCarthyism," which seems to presuppose what it's trying to show—which is that one's targets are bad people—isn't terribly useful for sober analysis. Wouldn't it have been more profitable to instead discuss, for instance, whether voting for Bush or Kerry would indeed endanger the nation? That was actually a pretty important question a few months ago.

As best I can tell, public debate about the Administration, the war, civil liberties, and the best ways to fight terrorism has been quite vibrant. If there's a "substantial chilling effect on the willingness of individual citizens to criticize the government," I haven't noticed it. The 2004 Democratic election campaign, for instance, didn't seem to be unduly obsequious to the Bush Administration. Nor do I see much evidence of "an exaggerated sense of fear in the public," or even attempts to create such a fear. The world is a dangerous place and I have no reason to think that people are any more fearful of terrorism than they ought to be.

So I think free speech in America is pretty healthy. There are some exceptions; I have long, for instance, criticized hostile environment harassment law, a vague, broad, and viewpoint-based set of speech restrictions. Likewise, some media responses to supposedly unpatriotic speech have indeed been misplaced; Bill Maher, for example, got a bum deal. And, sure, many people in many places—government, universities, the media—are smug and closed-minded, and too often try to name-call people into submission. That ought to be fought. Still, things today are pretty good.

And tomorrow? No-one can tell for sure, but fortunately there are plenty of people and organizations who will fight future attempts at repression, whether from the left or from the right. Geof, I know you'll be one of them, and I'm very glad about that.
In other words, if you really favor free speech, you favor it for everyone,* not just the lefties favored by Stone.
* I make an exception for overtly traitorous speech, which I come to in a future post about legal absolutism.

Crime and Punishment

Crime, like charity, begins at home, and home is therefore the first line of defense against crime.

A second line of defense is necessary and -- in these times -- essential to the general welfare. That line of defense is justice, administered by the community through the state.

The linch-pin of justice is punishment by law. The operative word is "punishment" -- not "correction" or rehabilitation." Crime is not deterred or prevented by the promise of rehabilitation. (Who commits a crime in the hope or fear of being rehabilitated?)

Even though deterrence seems to work generally, it doesn't always work. For sociopaths and psychopaths who are undeterred by the concept of punishment, the answer is punishment of a kind that will ensure that they can no longer do harm to others: life in prison or death at the hands of the state.

There are those who equate death at the hands of the state with murder. This is nonsense and sentimental clap-trap on a par with counseling unilateral disarmament or pacifism in the face of an invading horde. By such reasoning, we would not have (finally) risen to the task of removing Herr Hitler from the scene. How many sob-sisters (of whatever gender) would wish that we had stayed on the sidelines while Hitler applied the "final solution"?

Justice serves civilization and social solidarity. First, of course, it deters and prevents wrong-doing. Second, it meets the deep, common need for catharsis through vengeance, while protecting the innocent (and all of us) by replacing mob rule with due process of law.

Justice -- to serve its purposes -- must be swift, sure, and hard. That is, it must work and be seen to work, by the just and unjust alike.

Related posts:
Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?
Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty
Abortion and Crime
Saving the Innocent?
Saving the Innocent?: Part II
More on Abortion and Crime
More Punishment Means Less Crime
More About Crime and Punishment
More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote
Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty
Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Another Argument for the Death Penalty
Less Punishment Means More Crime
Crime, Explained

Our Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor

…certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life(when it isn't inconvenient to others), Liberty (in name only) and the pursuit of Happiness(through a maze of taxes, laws, and regulations).

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Protecting Your Civil Liberties

Judge Won't Order Schiavo Tube Reinserted

The ACLU, of course, applauds the decision:
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) of Florida, praised the ruling: "What this judge did is protect the freedom of people to make their own end-of-life decisions without the intrusion of politicians."
But Terri Schiavo didn't make her own "end-of-life" decision. It's her putative husband's decision, not hers.

UPDATE: Timing is everything. Terri Schiavo suffered the heart attack that brought on her "persistent vegitative state" in 1990. She received "continuing neurological testing, and regular and aggressive speech/occupational therapy through 1994." Why did Michael Schiavo wait until May 1998 before petitioning a court for the removal of his wife's feeding tube?

And on what basis did Judge George W. Greer in February 2000 decide that Terri Schiavo would have chosen to have her feeding tube removed? He made a god-like decision to kill Terri Schiavo, pursuant to Michael Schiavo's petition. His decision was predicated not on Terri Schiavo's expressed wishes -- which are undocumented -- but on his view that Terri Schiavo cannot be healed.

A month later, as if to prove himself right, Judge Greer refused to allow "swallowing tests" on Terri Schiavo. Then, in April 2001, he refused to entertain testimony from a former girlfriend of Michael Schiavo that he had lied about Terri Schiavo’s wishes. Why? Because the testimony would have been "untimely." Judge Greer had already made up his mind to kill Terri Schiavo, you see.

UPDATE II: Donald Sensing (One Hand Clapping) has a post about Judge Andrew Napolitano's take on the case:
[Napolitano] said that the relevant transcripts, which he has examined, reveal that the Florida courts ruled that it was Terri's actual desire, based on testimony by Michael Schiavo and others, all of whom were cross-examined, that she had legitimately expressed a desire not to be kept alive in the medical condition she came into....

Napolitano didn't discuss the fact the Florida law allowed for acceptance in this case of hearsay testimony that Terri had expressed a desire not to be kept alive in her present condition.
Hearsay testimony. How convenient. The next steps down this slippery slope will go something like this:

1. A family will petition a court to end the life of an aged parent who is sentient but in declining health.

2. The family will produce as evidence for their petition a sociological study on a par with Kenneth Clark's phony "doll test," on which the Supreme Court relied in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The study will "prove" that persons over the age of 80 have a death-wish.

3. A court will approve the petition.

4. The court's decision will become a controlling precedent.

5. Say "goodnight," Gracie.

FINAL UPDATE: Yankee from Mississippi, in a post titled "This Is All I'll Say," says it best:
I think that with the current structure of the law, there is no legitimate way to save [Terri Schiavo's] life. And by legitimate, I mean any way that would not seriously call into question the competency and institutional credibility of our justice system. Whether or not this should be the law is, of course, an entirely different matter. Perhaps once everyone is done fighting for and over this poor woman, they will get down to actually solving the problem, one way or the other.
The way to solve the problem, in my opinion, is to enact a "presumption of life" amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment would require documentary evidence of a person's wish to die when the alternative is life on a feeding tube or respirator. The amendment would authorize Congress to specify, by law, a simple and legally binding testatmentary form that could be executed in the presence of impartial witnesses. A properly executed form would be uncontestable.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Metaphor of the Day...

...if not the century. Apropos the Schiavo case, especially "those who brim with passion not just for the state-approved quietus, but with fury for those who oppose it," James Lileks concludes, "you never think you have need of any chocks until you're in the truck, and you realize it's rolling down the hill. Backwards." Down a slippery slope.

UPDATE: Then, there's this, from Mark Steyn:

In practice, a culture that thinks Terri Schiavo's life...has no value winds up ascribing no value to life in general. Hence, the shrivelled fertility rates in Europe and in blue-state America: John Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest birth rates; George W Bush took 25 of the 26 states with the highest.

The 19th-century Shaker communities were forbidden from breeding and could increase their number only by conversion. The Euro-Canadian-Democratic Party welfare secularists seem to have chosen the same predicament voluntarily, and are likely to meet the same fate. The martyrdom culture of radical Islam is a literal dead end. But so is the slyer death culture of post-Christian radical narcissism. This is the political issue that will determine all the others: it's the demography, stupid.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Twisted Logic of Euthanasia

From NRO's K.J. Lopez:

'Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all."

Peter Singer, a bioethics professor at Princeton University, penned this chillingly cold line in his book "Practical Ethics."

In case you're not freezing yet: Singer explains that, "Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time." Hence, they're disposable.

And when you're asleep you have no sense of your own existence over time. Moral: Don't fall asleep or Dr. Singer will have you euthanized.


Friday, March 18, 2005

My Kind of Justice


An Iranian serial killer who murdered at least 20 children has been executed in front a large crowd of spectators. Eugene Volokh goes along with it. So do I. Coincidentally, a friend sent this today:

LOL, as they say.

UPDATE: Volokh recants. I don't. He and his conscience, Mark Kleiman, simply assume that we're stuck with the sorry state to which criminal justice has descended in this country. But that's giving up on the game before it has started. It's not possible to return to swift, certain, and harsh justice -- that is, to justice that punishes and deters crime -- without trying to do so.

Rousseau's Daycare

That's the title of an article which appears in Latin Mass (Winter 2005). The article isn't on line, but here are some snippets:
Apparently, the frustration of the spoiled child who cannot assert himself in society resulted in the "alienation" that is at the heart of Marx's theory and which concept was inherited from Rousseau.

It is undoubtedly a fear of personal responsibility, guided by the doctrine of modern secularism, that has helped build the modern daycare regime that caters to adults as well as their unfortunate offspring.
My own thoughts about Rousseau are here, here, here, here, and here.

Funding the Welfare State

Arnold Kling points to a debate between Tyler Cowen and Max Sawicky about the future of the welfare state, at WSJ Online. Tyler would have won the debate hands down if he had shown, as I have, that free markets -- protected by strict enforcement of laws against force and fraud -- would make almost everyone wealthier. So much wealthier that they could easily afford to buy off the few remaining free-loaders.

But reason and facts seem unlikely to prevail. Sawicky is probably right when he says "Social Security and Medicare spending will increase faster than GDP, requiring increases in taxes, and there is not a damn thing anyone can do about it." Consider this headline: "Senate Passes Budget With Medicaid Intact."

I fear that we're faced with this:

Here's the prospect: In the coming decades the productive sectors of the economy will be taxed another 15-20 percent of GDP for the support of the nonproductive sectors of the economy. That will bring the total bill for government to something like 60 percent of the output of the productive sectors of the economy (see this). Why will it happen? Because Congress is afraid to make the transition from unproductive transfer payments to productive investments.

Where will it end? The United States will become a third-rate economic power, burdened by a massive welfare state and tied in knots by social and economic regulations. We are on The Road to Serfdom -- no doubt about it -- unless Congress takes my advice.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Social Welfare Function

Arnold Kling asks:

Does the usefulness of the concept of a social welfare function stand or fall on its mathematical properties?

And I answer:

The concept of a "social welfare function" (with or without mathematical properties) is meaningless. You can write equations until kingdom come, but no equation you write can make commensurate the happiness or unhappiness of individuals.

Consider the case in which a nation (call it US) is formed in order to defend its citizens from outside attack by an enemy nation (call it AQ). (That's the main reason the United States was formed, strange as it may now seem.) Assuming that the citizens of US are unanimous in their opposition to AQ, and unanimous in their support of measures taken to deter AQ, each of them will be happier if their unified support actually deters an attack by AQ. But AQ will be unhappy (or less happy) because it can't attack US with impunity. The happiness of US (even if it could be expressed mathematically), isn't offset by the unhappiness of AQ (even if it could be expressed mathematically). In fact, US's happiness is increased by AQ's unhappiness, even though neither can be quantified.

Suppose, however, that a faction of US citizens (call it LW) is unhappy because of certain actions being taken to prevent an attack by AQ. The actions that make LW unhappy don't make me unhappy. In fact, they add to my happiness because I despise LW; anything that makes LW unhappy makes me happier. Thus, I'll continue to be happy, despite LW's unhappiness, unless and until (a) LW's unhappiness leads to a political decision to stop defending US against AQ or (b) AQ attacks US successfully.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. My happiness (or unhappiness) is mine, and yours is yours. The best we can say is that voluntary exchange in free markets, protected by strict enforcement of laws against force and fraud, would make almost everyone happier -- and wealthier. So much wealthier that there'd be plenty of money with which to buy off the free-loaders. But that's another story.

(See also this post.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Destruction of Income and Wealth



(Links to previous entries in this series are at the end of this post.)

The Destruction of Income

I wrote in Part V about the loss of income that has resulted from the intrusions of the regulatory-welfare state into America's economy.

Real (inflation-adjusted) GDP began to rise sharply after the Civil War, thanks mainly to the Second Industrial Revolution. Despite the occasional slump -- which the economy worked its way out of, thank you -- things continued to go well until about 1906. Then the trajectory of GDP growth fell suddenly, sharply, and (it seems) permanently. The Panic of 1907 coincided with, but did not cause, the deceleration of America's economy.

Data on real GDP for 1870-2003 are from Louis Johnston and Samuel H. Williamson, "The Annual Real and Nominal GDP for the United States, 1789 - Present." Economic History Services, March 2004, URL: Real GDP for 2004 estimated by deflating nominal 2004 GDP (source at footnote a) by increase in CPI between 2000 and 2004 (from Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The stock market -- an accurate, if volatile, indicator of the nation's economic health -- corroborates my judgment about the downward shift in economic growth. After 1906 the S&P 500 (as reconstructed back to 1870) dropped to a new trendline that has a shallower slope and an intercept that is 48 percent lower than that of the trendline for 1870-1906.

Real S&P price index constructed from annual closing prices of the S&P 500 Composite Index (series "S&P 500® Composite Price Index (w/GFD extension)"), available at Global Financial Data, Inc., and the GDP deflator (see notes for previous chart).

What happened around 1906? First, the regulatory state began to encroach on American industry with the passage of the Food and Drug Act and the vindictive application of the Sherman Antitrust Act, beginning with Standard Oil (the Microsoft of its day). There followed the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment (enabling the federal government to tax incomes); the passage of the Clayton Antitrust Act (a more draconian version of the Sherman Act, which also set the stage for unionism); World War I (a high-taxing, big-spending, economic-control operation that whet the appetite of future New Dealers); a respite (the boom of the 1920s, which was owed to the Harding-Coolidge laissez-faire policy toward the economy); and the Great Depression and World War II (truly tragic events that imbued in the nation a false belief in the efficacy of the big-spending, high-taxing, regulating, welfare state).

The stock-market debacle of 1916-20 was as bad as the crash of 1929-33 (see second chart above), and the ensuing recession of 1920-21 was "sharp and deep," as the unemployment rate rose to 12 percent in 1921. But Americans and American politicians didn't panic and scramble to "fix" the economy by adopting one perverse scheme after another. Thus prosperity ensued.

But less than 10 years later -- at the onset of the Great Depression -- Americans and American politicians lost their bearings and joined Germany, Italy, and Russia on the road to serfdom. Most Americans still believe that government intervention brought us out of the Depression. That bit of shopworn conventional wisdom has been debunked thoroughly by Jim Powell, in FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Great Depression, and Murray N. Rothbard, in America's Great Depression. The bottom line of FDR's Folly is stark:
The Great Depression was a government failure, brought on principally by Federal Reserve policies that abruptly cut the money supply; unit banking laws that made thousands of banks more vulnerable to failure; Hoover's tariff's, which throttled trade; Hoover's taxes, which took unprecedented amounts of money out of people's pockets at the worst possible time; and Hoover's other policies, which made it more difficult for the economy to recover. High unemployment lasted as long as it did because of all the New Deal policies that took more money out of people's pockets, disrupted the money supply, restricted production, harassed employers, destroyed jobs, discouraged investment, and subverted economic liberty needed for sustained business recovery [p. 167].
All we got out of the New Deal was an addiction to government intervention, as people were taught to fear the free market and to believe, perversely, that government intervention led to economic salvation. The inculcation of those attitudes set the stage for the vast regulatory-welfare state that has arisen in the United States since World War II. (See footnote c.)

You know the rest of the story: Spend, tax, redistribute, regulate, elect, spend, tax, redistribute, regulate, elect, ad infinitum. We became locked into the welfare state in the 1970s (see the chart at footnote a), and the regulatory burden on Americans is huge and growing. The payoff:
  • Real GDP (in year 2000 dollars) was about $10.7 trillion in 2004.
  • If government had grown no more meddlesome after 1906, real GDP might have been $18.7 trillion (see first chart above).
  • That is, real GDP per American would have been about $63,000 (in year 2000 dollars) instead of $36,000.
  • That's a deadweight loss to the average American of more than 40 percent of the income he or she might have enjoyed, absent the regulatory-welfare state.
  • That loss is in addition to the 40-50 percent of current output which government drains from the productive sectors of the economy.
And that is the price of privilege -- of ceding liberty piecemeal in the mistaken belief that helping this interest group or imposing that regulation will do little harm to the general welfare, and might even increase it.

The Destruction of Wealth

The destruction of income necessarily results in the destruction of wealth; income not received cannot be saved and invested.

How much wealth has been forgone because of the vast amounts of income that have been destroyed in the past 100 years? I can't hazard a guess. But by drawing on the data presented in the charts above I can estimate how much higher stock prices would be today if government were no more intrusive than it had been a century ago. Consider this chart of the relationship between GDP and the S&P index (data for 1870-1906 are plotted in green, data for 1907-2004 are plotted in red):

As I noted above, GDP in 2004 might have been $18.7 trillion if government had grown no more intrusive after the early 1900s. Taking that level of GDP and using the relationship between GDP and the S&P for 1870-1906 (shown in green), the S&P price index for 2004 would have been 30.8 (with 1870 = 1). The actual S&P price index for 2004 stood at 20.4.* In other words, the stocks of corporations in the S&P 500 are currently undervalued by one-third because of the depradations of the regulatory-welfare state, which have lowered investors' expectations for future earnings.** The effect of those lowered expectations is shown in the difference between the green (1870-1906) and red (1907-2004) trendlines.

And that's only the portion of wealth that's represented in the S&P 500. Think of all the other forms in which wealth is stored: stocks not included in the S&P 500, corporate bonds, mortgages, home equity, and so on.

If government had left its grubby hands off the economy, there never would have been a Great Depression, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the myriad regulations that have us tied in knots.
* The index for 2004 is significantly out of line with the trendline for 1907-2004, which suggests that there is still some air in the stock market bubble. Or it could be that the market is anticipating the expected growth surge I wrote about toward the end of Part V -- a surge that may not take place if environmental hysteria prevails and Social Security taxes are raised.

** As Jeremy Siegel, author of Stocks for the Long Run, explains in a piece at the Library of Economics and Liberty:
The price of a share of stock, like that of any other financial asset, equals the present value of the expected stream of future cash payments to the owner. The cash payments available to a shareholder are uncertain and subject to the earnings of the firm....

[T]he price of a stock can rise even if the firm does not pay a dividend and never intends to do so. If and when the assets of these firms are sold or liquidated, a cash distribution will be made and shareholders will realize a capital gain. Some firms pursue this policy to enable their shareholders to realize lower taxes, since taxes on capital gains are deferred and often paid at a lower rate.

I. Introduction

II. Terminology

Addendum to Part II: Notes on the State of Liberty in American Law

III. The origin and essence of rights

IV. Liberty and its prerequisites

Addendum to Part IV: More Hayek

V. The economic consequences of liberty

Get Ready for Higher Social Security Taxes and Slower Economic Growth

From "Beltway Buzz" at National Review Online:
Senate Splits On Early Social Security Vote

The Senate voted 50-50 yesterday on a nonbinding measure declaring Congress should reject a Social Security reform plan that requires “deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt.”

Five Republicans voted with all 44 Democrats and one independent.

The Senate also voted 100-0 to declare strengthening Social Security is a “national priority.”
There's a lot of political posturing in those votes, of course, but they point to this outcome: Congress will not go along with any sort of privatization scheme. Congress will instead vote to raise Social Security taxes so that it can avoid "deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt."

Precisely how will Congress raise Social Security taxes? Most likely it will raise the salary cap, in order to collect more taxes from the "rich" who make more than $90,000 a year. The predictable result: Money will be diverted from private purchases of stocks and bonds, which finance growth-producing capital investments, and directed to the elderly, who will apply it toward the consumption of non-producing goods and services.* That will impede economic growth and make it even harder to fund "promised" Social Security benefits, which will trigger further increases in Social Security taxes, etc., etc., etc.

I weep.

UPDATE: But perhaps I should dry my tears of rage and frustration:
Numbers You Don't See Everyday

Rasmussen Reports, who were very accurate in their 2004 presidential election prediction, have some contrarian numbers on Social Security.

In their poll of 2,000 adults, Rasmussen finds that only 28 percent prefer doing nothing about Social Security, while 60 percent favor change.

38 percent favor personal retirement accounts, while 46 percent are opposed. A percentage large enough to lift either side above 50 percent remains undecided.

When asked if they prefer personal accounts or “no change”, 45 to 37 percent favor personal accounts.

Finally, 51 to 27 percent favor personal accounts with no benefit changes to those over 55.

Thanks, again, to "Beltway Buzz."
* Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution, writes about Public Finance and Public Policy, a new textbook by Jonathan Gruber. According to Tabarrok, one of Gruber's findings is that "Social security crowds out about 35 cents of private savings for every social security dollar."

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Liberty, Democracy, and Voting Rights

I wrote recently that
we have come to [the regulatory-welfare] state because public opinion, elite opinion, and the media have combined to undo the great work of the Framers, whose Constitution prevented tyranny by the majority. Unchecked democracy has become the enemy of liberty and, therefore, of material progress. As Michael Munger says, "The real key to freedom is to secure people from tyranny by the majority, or freedom from democracy."

The last best hope for liberty and prosperity lies in the neutralization of public opinion through a renewal of constitutional principles.
A post at the now-defunct Blogger News Network caused me to leave this comment (edited lightly):
Restrict voting to persons aged 30 or older whose adjusted gross income in the preceding year was no less than one standard deviation below the mean for all filers of Form 1040 (or one of its variants). A registrant must be able to pass two tests: (1) a standardized literacy test at a level of comprehension equivalent to that of the average graduate of a suburban high school in the Midwest, circa 1955; and (2) a test of constitutional literacy, consisting of 25 multiple-choice questions on such topics as the functions of the three branches of the federal government, the rights reserved to States and people, and enumerated powers.

In other words, voters ought to have a real stake in the outcome, a modicum of intelligence, and an understanding of the proper role of government. Our drift away from those three principles that has brought us to the point where democracy -- as it's practiced in the United States -- is the enemy of liberty.

An Unreconstructed Stalinist Mangles History

Eric (The Red) Hobsbawm of the Guardian Unlimited, writes about "The last of the utopian projects," subtitled "Perestroika plunged Russia into social ruin - and the world into an unprecedented superpower bid for global domination."

Unprecedented? Lest we forget, there were the Greeks, the Romans, the Huns, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the English, the Axis, and the Russians -- to name several aspiring dominators of the globe (or those portions of it worth dominating) that come immediately to mind.

But Hobsbawm will leap into any rhetorical chasm for the sake of celebrating communism and denigrating the United States. He betrays himself at the outset of his fatuous flapdoodle when he says this:
I have a lasting admiration for Mikhail Gorbachev. It is an admiration shared by all who know that, but for his initiatives, the world might still be living under the shadow of the catastrophe of a nuclear war....
Poppycock! We're not "living under the shadow of the catastrophe of a nuclear war" because Reagan stared down Gorbachev.

But what do you expect from an old Stalinist?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Analysis Paralysis

During the late presidential campaign I observed of John Kerry:
The difference between Kerry and Bush isn't experience, it's temperament. I worked for a Kerry-like CEO -- always asking questions, probing answers, asking more questions, ad infinitum. He always postponed decisions as long as possible, not because he lacked the facts but because he had confused himself with the facts. He sought facts for their own sake, not because they would help him plot the best path toward a specific goal. He was almost purely inductive, hoping to find his principles in a morass of information.

That's how Kerry, with his limitless flip-flopping, has struck me -- a man without principles who hopes to discover them in the next piece of information that he receives....

To change metaphors: You don't advance the ball down the field by counting the laces on it. You advance the ball down the field by knowing where the goal is and then choosing the plays that will help you reach it. Kerry knows how many laces there are. Bush figures out where to throw the ball, and all Kerry knows how to do is carp like an armchair quarterback when some of the passes aren't caught.
I was reminded of that passage by this one, from an essay by Larry McMurtry:
A compulsion to over-informedness is most apt to occur in individuals who have been arrested at a graduate school level of development; it is an intellectual infirmity, rather than a sign of health, and is so common now that it perhaps deserves to be elevated to the status of a syndrome: the Star-Pupil syndrome. If the desire to shine as a pupil is sustained too long it can cause even the most committed worker to work badly. [Film Flam: Essays on Hollywood, "Movie Tripping: My Own Rotten Film Festival," p. 204.]
That is why, in my experience, persons who have acquired a Ph.D. -- or who lack one but work in a "learned institution" -- tend to count the laces on the football instead of trying to advance it down the field.

Shakespeare said it best, in Hamlet (Act III, Scene 1):
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Bankruptcy Reform Update

I've updated an earlier post about the bankruptcy-reform bill that's making its way through Congress. An e-mail from a reader prompted the update.

Oops. I remembered a point I meant to make in the first update, so now there's a second update.

And a third one.

Friday, March 11, 2005

A Quasi-Jacksonian Solution


The Pentagon is seeking to enlist help from the State Department and other agencies in a plan to cut by more than half the population at its detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in part by transferring hundreds of suspected terrorists to prisons in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen, according to senior administration officials....

The White House first embraced using Guantánamo as a holding place for terrorism suspects taken in Afghanistan, in part because the base was seen as beyond the jurisdiction of United States law. But recent court rulings have held that prisoners there may challenge their detentions in federal court.

Indeed, the Pentagon has halted, for the last six months, the flow of new terrorism suspects into the prison, Defense Department officials said. In January, a senior American official said in an interview that most prisoners at Guantánamo no longer had any intelligence value and were not being regularly interrogated.

The proposed transfers would represent a major acceleration of Pentagon efforts that have transferred 65 prisoners from Guantánamo to foreign countries.
Reminds me of this:
On March 3, 1832, Chief Justice Marshall handed down the unanimous opinion of the Court. The Cherokee Nation was sovereign. Georgia law no longer applied to the Cherokee. Justice Story wrote “The Court has done its duty. Now let the Nation do theirs.” At some point, Andrew Jackson supposedly said “Marshall made the ruling, let him enforce it."
It seems that the White House has taken my advice, after a fashion.


Judges are still getting into the act:
A federal judge on Saturday prohibited the government from transferring 13 Yemeni prisoners from the military's detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, until a hearing could be held on their lawyers' fear that they might face torture if sent to another country.
With results like this:
Authorities have begun legal action against two Frenchmen for alleged terrorist-related activity following their release from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, judicial officials said Saturday.