Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Quick Note about Music

Here's a scholarly take on "modern" music, by Miles Hoffman, violist and artistic director of the American Chamber Players, and music commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition. It squares with my amateur musings, which are here, here, here, and here. Some excerpts of Hoffman's long and insightful essay:
The primary proposition in defense of avant-garde music of the relentlessly dissonant and persistently unpopular variety has always been that, through exposure and familiarity, we often come to appreciate, and even love, things that initially confuse or displease us. Here what we might call “the Beethoven Myth” comes into play. “Beethoven was misunderstood in his time,” the argument goes, “but now the whole world recognizes his genius. I am misunderstood in my time, therefore I am like Beethoven.” This reasoning, unfortunately, has been the refuge of countless second- and third-rate talents. Beethoven ate fish, too. If you eat fish, are you like Beethoven? But there’s a much graver flaw in the argument: Beethoven was not misunderstood in his time. Beethoven was without doubt the most famous composer in the world in his time, and the most admired. And if there were those who didn’t “get” his late string quartets, for example, there were plenty of others who did, and who rapidly accepted the quartets as masterpieces....

Have I exaggerated the intensity of the distaste that so much modernist music has aroused? No, sad to say, not if we keep certain factors in mind. One is the strength of the needs, the intensity of the desires, that we fulfill with music. Our expectations of music—expectations of the type nurtured, reinforced, and satisfied for generation upon generation—are enormous, and enormously important to us, and when those expectations are disappointed, we take it very badly indeed....

Inevitably, however, we return to the fact that there’s something basic to human nature in the perception of “pleasing sounds,” and in the strength of the tonal structures that begin and end with those sounds. Blue has remained blue to us over the centuries, and yellow yellow, and salt has never started tasting like sugar. With or without physics, consonances are consonances because to most people they sound good, and we abandon them at great risk. History will say—history says now—that the 12-tone movement was ultimately a dead end, and that the long modernist movement that followed it was a failure. Deeply flawed at their musical and philosophical roots, unloving and oblivious to human limits and human needs, these movements left us with far too many works that are at best unloved, at worst detested. They led modern classical music to crisis, confusion, and, in many quarters, despair, to a sense that we’ve wasted decades, and to a conviction that our only hope for whatever lies ahead starts with first making sure we abandon the path we’ve been on.

From a distance of centuries, knowledgeable observers can usually discern when specific cultural developments within societies or civilizations reached their peaks. The experts may argue over precise dates and details, but the existence of the peaks themselves is rarely in question. In the case of Western music, we don’t have to wait centuries for a verdict. We can say with confidence that the system of tonal harmony that flowered from the 1600s to the mid-1900s represents the broad summit of human accomplishment, and that our subsequent attempts to find successors or substitutes for that system are efforts—more or less noble—along a downhill slope. [But the joy of "serious" music began to diminish around 1900, when many leading composers (e.g., Mahler and R. Strauss, following the lead of Wagner and Bruckner), began to deploy tonality in pretentious, ponderous, and dreary works: ED.]

What lies ahead? Nobody can say, of course. But with the peak behind us, there’s no clear cause for optimism—no rational cause, anyway, to believe that another Beethoven (or Berlioz or Brahms...) is on the way. And even if he were on the way, in what musical language would he write when he got here? The present is totally free but totally uncertain, the immediate past offers little, and the more distant past is . . . past. And yet, irrational creatures that we are, we keeping hoping for the best, and it’s right that we do. We owe it to Music. The good news is that there are many composers today who, despite the uncertain footing, are striving valiantly, and successfully, to write works that are worthy of our admiration and affection. They write in a variety of styles, but the ones who are most successful are those who are finding ways—often by assimilating ethnic idioms and national popular traditions—to invest their music with both rhythmic vitality and lyricism. They’re finding ways to reconnect music to its eternal roots in dance and song.

Rhythmic vitality and lyricism. That's what it takes, and that's what's been missing from most "serious" music for the past 100 years or so.

An Agenda for the Supreme Court

I argued in Part VII of "Practical Libertarianism for Americans" that the practical way to redeem the promise of liberty is through a renaissance (or nascence) of pro-libertarian federalism -- under the guidance of Republican appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court. In light of the Court's anti-libertarian majorities in Gonzales v. Raich and Kelo v. City of New London (my commentary here, here, and here), it would take many years -- if not decades -- to see the Court safely into the hands of a pro-libertarian, federalist majority. I now almost despair of the possibility of such a sea change in the Court's composition. But with candidates like Janice Rogers Brown in the wings, hope is not dead.

Therefore, I will from time to time offer my agenda for a more libertarian Court. It is an admittedly ambitious agenda that would advance liberty, which must be understood as the negative right to be left alone -- in one's person, pursuits, and property -- as long as one leaves others alone. Liberty, in that sense, encompasses what the Founders intended by "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. In sum, the liberty right is a triune concept, with life as its basis and the pursuit of happiness (personal satisfaction or self-interest) as its end.

I begin with life, without which liberty is a nullity.

Defend Life

The Court should do three things under this heading: reverse the majority in Roe v. Wade, ensure that a person cannot -- unlike Terri Schiavo -- be euthanized at the whim of an interested party, and put a stop to forced mental screening. Abortion (especially selective abortion), involuntary euthanasia, and forced mental screening are steps down a slippery slope toward complete state control of human destiny.

Eugenics was considered "progressive" a century ago, and it is considered "progressive" today. After all, the state controls our economic and social destiny, why shouldn't it control our biological destiny as well? It's all for the best, isn't it? Ah, the banality of evil.

Defend American Sovereignty

In another post I stipulated the following:
1. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" summarizes the American ideal.

2. America's sovereignty provides a shield behind which Americans may pursue the American ideal.

3. Americans' ability to pursue the American ideal therefore depends on the successful defense of American interests and America's sovereignty.

4. Americans, acting through the state, should defend American interests and America's sovereignty.
The sovereignty of the United States is a shield for the benefits afforded Americans by the U.S. Constitution, most notably the enjoyment of civil liberties, the blessings of more-or-less free markets and free trade, and the protections of a common defense. To cede sovereignty is to risk the loss of those benefits. That is why we must always be cautious in our commitments to international organizations and laws.

We can and should work to make the U.S. more benign, that is, more libertarian. But if we didn't have our somewhat benign state to protect us it's quite likely that we'd live under one that's entirely evil. Remember Hitler and Stalin? Those bad guys were really bad -- and there are plenty more where they came from. Just look around you at the world we live in.

The warmaking power of the United States government is essential to the preservation of America's sovereignty and Americans' liberty. Yet the present Court has cavalierly undermined that warmaking power in its handling of the cases of detainees captured by American armed forces operating lawfully in Afghanistan and Iraq. (See this post and follow the links.) A future Court would do well to heed Justice Felix Frankfurter, who in the case of Korematsu v. United States (1944) said this:
The provisions of the Constitution which confer on the Congress and the President powers to enable this country to wage war are as much part of the Constitution as provisions looking to a nation at peace. And we have had recent occasion to quote approvingly the statement of former Chief Justice Hughes that the war power of the Government is 'the power to wage war successfully.'... Therefore, the validity of action under the war power must be judged wholly in the context of war. That action is not to be stigmatized as lawless because like action in times of peace would be lawless. To talk about a military order that expresses an allowable judgment of war needs by those entrusted with the duty of conducting war as 'an unconstitutional order' is to suffuse a part of the Constitution with an atmosphere of unconstitutionality. The respective spheres of action of military authorities and of judges are of course very different. But within their sphere, military authorities are no more outside the bounds of obedience to the Constitution than are judges within theirs. 'The war power of the United States, like its other powers ... is subject to applicable constitutional limitations',....To recognize that military orders are 'reasonably expedient military precautions' in time of war and yet to deny them constitutional legitimacy makes of the Constitution an instrument for dialectic subtleties not reasonably to be attributed to the hard-headed Framers, of whom a majority had had actual participation in war.

Restore Economic Liberty

The Supreme Court has long since given the States and the central government almost unlimited authority to dictate economic activity. In the wake of Raich and Kelo there is ample commentary about the Court's abuse of the Commerce Clause and the Takings Clause. So, I will turn here to other aspects of economic liberty that future Courts should restore.

I begin with the loss of freedom of contract. The Court upheld that freedom in Bronson v. Kinzie (1843). According to The Oxford Guide to United States Supreme Court Decisions (Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 33),
Chief Justice Roger B. Taney held that [a] legislative attempt to modify the terms of [an] existing mortgage was an unconstitutional impairment of the obligation of contract. Taney agreed that a state could alter the remedies available to enforce past as well as future contracts. He nonetheless emphasized that such changes could not materially impair the rights of creditors. In broad language Taney extolled the virtue of the Contract Clause: "It was undoubtedly adopted as part of the Constitution for a great and useful purpose. It was to maintain the integrity of contracts, and to secure their faithful execution throughout this Union."
The Oxford Guide continues :
The Court long adhered to the Bronson rule, invalidating state laws that interfered with contractual rights in the guise of regulating remedies. The decision was effectively superseded, however, by Home Building and Loan Association v. Blaisdell (1934), in which the justices ruled that contracts were subject to the reasonable exercise of state police power.
Just what is "reasonable exercise of state police power"? In Home Building and Loan Association, according to Chief Justice Hughes, writing for the Court, it is this:
We come back, then, directly, to the question of impairment. As to that, the conclusion reached by the court here seems to be that the relief [from mortgage foreclosures] afforded by the [Minnesota] statute does not contravene the constitutional provision because it is of a character appropriate to the emergency and allowed upon what are said to be reasonable conditions.
That is, the Court simply decided to uphold a Minnesota statute that altered the terms of a contract because it wanted to do so, not because it had constitutional authority for doing so. The Constitution doesn't forbid States to impair contracts except in emergencies or to exercise their "policing power"; the Constitution flatly forbids States to impair contracts. A libertarian Court would begin to restore freedom of contract by reversing Home Building and Loan Association v. Blaisdell.

It would take more than that, however, to restore freedom of contract in employment relationships, which long ago gave away to mandatory unionism, the minimum wage, and various other impediments to employment-at-will. A libertarian Court would do the right thing by throwing out the Wagner Act and its various offshoots, including the minimum wage, then turn its sights on affirmative action.

As for States' so-called policing power, an article at FindLaw tells this tale:
[I]deas embodying the social compact and natural rights, which had been espoused by Justice Bradley in his dissent in the Slaughter-House Cases, 43 had been transformed tentatively into constitutionally enforceable limitations upon government. 44 The consequence was that the States in exercising their police powers could foster only those purposes of health, morals, and safety which the Court had enumerated, and could employ only such means as would not unreasonably interfere with the fundamentally natural rights of liberty and property, which Justice Bradley had equated with freedom to pursue a lawful calling and to make contracts for that purpose. 45

So having narrowed the scope of the state's police power in deference to the natural rights of liberty and property, the Court next proceeded to read into the concepts currently accepted theories of laissez faire economics, reinforced by the doctrine of Social Darwinism as elaborated by Herbert Spencer, to the end that ''liberty,'' in particular, became synonymous with governmental hands-off in the field of private economic relations. In Budd v. New York, 46 Justice Brewer in dictum declared: ''The paternal theory of government is to me odious. The utmost possible liberty to the individual, and the fullest possible protection to him and his property, is both the limitation and duty of government.'' ...

To the State was transferred the task of demonstrating that a statute interfering with the natural right of liberty or property was in fact ''authorized'' by the Constitution, and not merely that the latter did not expressly prohibit enactment of the same.

In 1934 the Court in Nebbia v. New York 52 discarded this approach to economic legislation, and has not since returned to it. The modern approach was evidenced in a 1955 decision reversing a lower court's judgment invalidating a state statutory scheme regulating the sale of eyeglasses to the advantage of ophthalmologists and optometrists in private professional practice and adversely to opticians and to those employed by or using space in business establishments.
Nebbia has got to go. The reversal of Nebbia, accompanied by the reversal of Kelo, would prevent much of the economic harm that is done by State and local governments.

Also under this head, there is the anti-trust movement. It waxes and wanes, but when it waxes it does great harm to invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship -- the engines of economic progress. The prospect of earning inordinate profits entices inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs to take financial risks in an effort to develop and market goods and services that enrich lives. The realization of large profits encourages competition -- direct competition by offerors of equivalent goods and services, and indirect competition by offerors of substitutes. A libertarian Court would agree with my analysis and vitiate the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act as invalid extensions of federal power.

Finally -- for now -- a truly bold and principled Court would enforce the Constitution's express limitation of Congress's power in Article I, Section 8, by striking down or reining in the regulatory-welfare state, which is embodied in such institutions as the Social Security Administration, Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission, and Food and Drug Administration, to name but a few. (For much more, read this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this, and follow the links and sources cited therein.)

To be continued.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Practical Libertarianism -- A Summary

I have posted "Practical Libertarianism -- A Summary" at Liberty Corner II. That post completes and summarizes the series of essays entitled "Practical Libertarianism for Americans." Supporting details and links to additional sources can be found in the preceding posts of the series.

Some of my favorite bits:
My focus is on American libertarianism because the Constitution of the United States of America holds the promise of liberty. Building on that promise, Americans can strive to perfect liberty in the United States. But the rest of the world isn't bound by our Constitution, and it is foolish to think that the rest of the world prizes America's liberty. America's sovereignty and strength is the shield of America's liberty, imperfect as it may be.

What is libertarianism, and why should you embrace it? Here is a formal definition of libertarianism...:
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, shelter, or health care), only "negative rights" (such as to not be assaulted, abused or robbed). Libertarians further believe that the only legitimate use of force, whether public or private, is to protect these rights.
Here's my rendition:
If you are doing no harm to anyone, no one should harm you physically, coerce you, defraud or deceive you, steal from you, or tell you how to live your life. "No one" includes government, except to the extent that government is empowered -- by the people -- to defend life, liberty, and property through the circumscribed use of police, courts, and armed forces....
Fundamentalist libertarians argue that the only right is liberty, and that it is a natural right with which human beings are endowed a priori. In one rendition, liberty is immanent -- something that simply is in human nature, perhaps as a gift from God. In another rendition, humans are endowed with liberty as a logical necessity, because humans own themselves.

But appeals to immanence and self-ownership are no more meaningful than appeals to faith. Such appeals fail because they take liberty as a first principle. Liberty, which is a condition of existence, cannot be a first principle, it can only serve the first principle of existence, which is self-interest....

Rights -- though they can exist without the sanction of government and the protection of a state -- are political. That is, although rights may arise from human nature, they have no essence until they are recognized through interpersonal bargaining (politics), in the service of self-interest. It is bargaining that determines whether we recognize only the negative right of liberty, or the positive right of privilege as well. The preference of human beings -- revealed over eons of coexistence -- is to recognize both liberty (usually constrained to some degree) and privilege (which necessitates constraints on liberty).

The problem for libertarians, therefore, is to convince the body politic of two complementary truths: Self-interest dictates that liberty should be the paramount right. The recognition of privilege as a co-equal right undermines the benefits that flow from liberty....

The logical incompatibility of liberty and privilege doesn't keep most people from wanting both. People want to be left alone, but it seems that almost everyone also yearns for some version of the welfare-regulatory state. People seem to believe that government does things that are more valuable than the freedom of action they forego because government does things. Most Americans simply don't understand the true costs and illusory benefits of the welfare-regulatory state.

Absent the welfare-regulatory state, most of the poor would be rich, by today's standards. And those who remain relatively poor or otherwise incapable of meeting their own needs -- because of age, infirmity, and so on -- would reap voluntary charity from their affluent compatriots....

[T]he bottom line:
  • 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 (from the chart entitled "Real GDP: 1870-1906, 1907-2004").
  • 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.
  • Moreover, 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 chart entitled "Real S&P Index vs. Real GDP.") 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.
That is the measurable price of privilege -- of ceding liberty piecemeal in the mistaken belief that one more government program, a bit more income redistribution, or yet another regulation will do little harm to the general welfare, and might even increase it....

When people are deprived of incentives through taxation, regulation, and welfare, they are less able and willing to strive for themselves. And it is self-striving that leads people to do things that are valued by others. Regulation and welfare (the "free lunch") impose costs (bureaucratic overhead), where there otherwise would be no costs, and distort the free-market signals that tell people how they can do better for themselves by doing better for others....

If liberty is so bounteous, why don't we enjoy it in full? Why are our lives so heavily regulated and legislated by so many federal, State, and local agencies at such a high cost? What happened to the promise of liberty given in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution? The answers to those questions are bound up in human nature and the nature of governance in a democracy....

It is easy to endorse liberty in principle and yet be its enemy in practice. Our need for control and our baser instincts lead many of us to become politicians and cause most of us to succumb to political rhetoric. Most of us simply lack the requisite temperament, or vision, for libertarianism.

Thomas Sowell, in A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, posits two opposing visions: the unconstrained vision (I would call it the idealistic vision) and the constrained vision (which I would call the realistic vision)....

In sum, it's all about trust and its opposite: control. You can trust others to do the right thing because it's to their benefit to do so, as it is in free markets and free societies. Or you can control others, economically and socially, through a morass of statutes, regulations, and judge-made law.

Trust doesn't mean an absence of rules, but the rules have only to be minimal, socially evolved rules of acceptable conduct, such as the Golden Rule or the last six of the Ten Commandments. The clearer and more intuitive the rules, the more likely they are to be enforced by self-interest, by fear of social opprobrium, and by pride in reputation -- with swift, sure, and hard justice as a backup.

But none of that goes down well with those who think that the road to happiness must be paved with hard-and-fast rules for everything and everyone. Otherwise, how would people know what to do?

The demand for control is fed by economic illiteracy, the prevalent failure to grasp such simple principles as these:
  • Incentives matter. Taxation, redistribution, and regulation result in the reduction and misdirection of economic activity and social trust.
  • There's no free lunch. Government can't provide something for nothing. It never could, it never will. Every governmental action has an opportunity cost: that which the private sector could do with the same resources. There's no such thing as "federal money" or "government money"; there's only "our money."
  • Government doesn't add value. At best it protects what we value, by defending us at home and abroad.
  • The economy isn't a zero-sum game. Bill Gates is immensely wealthy because he has created things that are of value to others. When Indian computer geeks man call centers for lower salaries than those of American computer geeks, it makes both Indians and Americans better off.
  • There's no such thing as "market failure." Rather, there is only failure of the market to provide what some people think it should provide. Even defense and justice (both classic examples of a "public good") could be provided by the market, as anarcho-capitalists aver, but minarchists (as I am) fear the consequences (warlord rivalry) and reluctantly trust in the state for those essential underpinnings of a free society.
Most people simply don't understand the consequences of the rules that they so fervently seek to impose on others. They have little idea of the measurable costs of intervention -- the 40-to-50 percent of GDP that goes into government programs, for instance -- and they have no idea of the hidden costs of that intervention -- the additionale of an additonal 40 percent of income and untold amounts of wealth. They simply cannot comprehend the indivisibility of economic and social liberty (though the Supreme Court's recent decisions in Raich and Kelo may open some eyes).

Control-seeking politicians -- most of whom also suffer from economic illiteracy -- are able to draw power from the masses by appealing to the insecurity and economic illiteracy of the masses. Once having drawn that power, they seek always to aggrandize it. What happens, then, is a ratcheting of government power, in response to never-ending demands for government to "do something" -- because government's previous efforts to "do something" have inevitably failed to achieve nirvana.

Thus we have been following a piecemeal route to serfdom -- adding link to link and chain to chain -- in spite of the Framers' best intentions and careful drafting. Why? Because the governed -- or dominant coalitions of them -- have donned willingly the chains that they have implored their governors to forge. Their bondage is voluntary, though certainly not informed. But their bondage is everyone's bondage....

Unchecked democracy undermines liberty and its blessings. Unchecked democracy imposes on everyone the mistakes and mistaken beliefs of the controlling faction. It defeats learning. It undoes the social fabric that underlies civility. It defeats the sublime rationality of free markets, which enable independent individuals to benefit each other through the pursuit of self-interest. As "anonymous" says, with brutal accuracy, "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on lunch."...

[A] not-so-funny thing has happened on the way to the state of liberty foreseen by Madison and the other Framers: Human nature has overcame constitutional obstacles. The governed and their governors have conspired to undermine the Constitution's checks and balances. People, given their mistrustful and ignorant nature, have turned to government for "solutions" to their "problems." Government, in its turn, has seized whatever power is necessary to go through the motions of providing "solutions." For rare is the legislator who doesn't want to legislate, the executive who doesn't want to act, and the judge who doesn't want to exercise his judgment by interpreting the law rather than simply apply it....

[T]he "checks and balances" in the Constitution are there to limit the federal government's ability to act, even within its sphere of authority. In the legislative branch neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate can pass a law unilaterally. In his sole constitutional role -- as head of the executive branch -- the President of the United States must sign acts of Congress before they become law, and may veto acts of Congress -- which may, in turn, override his vetoes. From its position atop the judicial branch, the Supreme Court is supposed to decide cases "arising under" (within the scope of) the Constitution, not to change the Constitution without benefit of convention or amendment.

The Constitution itself defines the sphere of authority of the federal government and balances that authority against the authority of the States and the rights of citizens. Although the Constitution specifies certain powers of the federal executive and judiciary (e.g., commanding the armed forces and judging cases arising under the Constitution), federal power rests squarely and solely upon the legislative authority of Congress, as defined in Article I, Sections 8, 9, and 10. The intentionally limited scope of federal authority is underscored by Amendments IX and X.

In spite of all that, we now have myriad statutes, regulations, and court rulings through which the federal government -- acting at the people's behest and in their name -- has arrogated unconstitutional power to itself (and sometimes to the States). And the people suffer....

At this moment in history, federalism seems the most promising option because the Left is now beginning to understand that the power of the federal government may be used not only to advance its agenda but also to thwart that agenda. Leftists, like conservatives and pragmatic libertarians, may be willing to settle for a "good" solution rather than hold out for the "best" of all possible worlds. But, as I will explain, the way to federalism isn't through a collaboration between Left and Right....

In summary, the Left's vision of federalism is to devolve the central government's acquired anti-libertarian powers to somewhat less remote commissars at the State and local level. The Left simply isn't to be trusted as a partner in the shaping of a new federalism. A pro-libertarian federalism would not only limit the power of the central government but would also limit the power of State and local governments to advance the Left's anti-libertarian agenda.

The only way to advance pro-libertarian federalism is to ensure that the Left neither controls the central government nor has little influence over its policies. This is especially true of the U.S. Supreme Court. For the surest way to return to a form of federalism that, in the main, advances liberty and prosperity is through Court rulings of the kind so feared by publius and his ilk: "the overruling of the post-New Deal regulatory state."

Something resembling pro-libertarian federalism will come about only if a Republican president, aided by a strongly Republican Senate, is able to stock the courts with judges who are committed to the restraint of government power -- at all levels of government. (Janice Rogers Brown is that kind of judge.)

Certainly not all decisions by all Republican appointees to the bench will satisfy all libertarians, many of whom seem to focus on narrowly tailored "rights," such as abortion and gay marriage. But by siding with the Left on such issues, libertarians effectively abjure more basic rights -- rights that broadly affect the ability of most Americans to pursue happiness -- such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of contract.

In the real world there are real choices. The real choice for libertarians is between what seems "best" for a few and what is actually "better" for the many. I choose the latter, without hesitation.

Pro-libertarian federalism is the best practical way to redeem the promise of liberty. The surest route to pro-libertarian federalism, it seems to me, can be found through the Republican Party. The GOP may not be reliably anti-statist, but it is less statist than the Left. And it is more likely to defend our basic rights -- in the courts, in the streets, and in foreign fields.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

What's With the Name Calling?

The titles of two recent entries, "Nicholas Kristof Is an Idiot" and "Brian Leiter Is an Idiot," might have you wondering if this blog has suddenly become one of those hate-filled, shout-at-everything rantfests that one encounters on the Left and Right fringes of the blogosphere. No, it's just that two supremely anti-libertarian decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court (Raich and Kelo), coming back to back, are tantamount to a declaration of war on liberty. And as I said here,
"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." Well, I won't take it quietly.
For starters, I'm going to spend more time firing back at the enemies of liberty as they pop up on my radar screen. I will focus on American enemies of liberty -- like Kristof and Leiter -- because they are parasites who would destroy the host on which they feed: the very liberty that enables them to spew their half-baked, anti-libertarian ideologies, at great personal profit. As I said, they are idiots.

Nicholas Kristof Is an Idiot

Nicholas D. Kristof, a Lefty columnist for The New York Times, today succumbs to budget-deficit hysteria. Here's a sample:
[T]hree-fourths of our new debt is now being purchased by foreigners, with China the biggest buyer of all. That gives China leverage over us, and it undermines our national security.
Let's see here: We have China's money; the Chinese would like to get it back from us, with interest. Who has leverage over whom?

I wonder what Kristof would have to say about government debt if Clinton were still in the White House and the debt had been incurred to buy out America's health-care system and give flying lessons to members of al Qaeda?

Kristof, like most debt-hysterics (or pseudo-hysterics) misunderstands the true significance of the central government's debt. I summarized it here:
The debt really is a measure of the extent to which spending by the U.S. government has exceeded taxes collected by the U.S. government since 1789. In other words, the damage has already been done: first, by government spending, which on balance diverts resources from productive uses; second, by the inflationary effects of government spending, which deficits merely aggravate.
...and explained it more fully here:
Government spending, however it is financed, is a way of commandeering resources that otherwise would flow to private consumption and investment (i.e., capital formation). To the extent that government activities fail to pay their own way by yielding goods and services of equivalent value -- and they don't (a) -- the resources used by government are simply wasted -- thrown down a rat hole (b).

Government nevertheless goes through the charade of taxing and borrowing to finance its activities, instead of simply sending goon squads to impress those resources into government service. Thus the total amount of money in circulation remains more or less unaffected by government spending, while the total output of real goods and services (including capital assets) is reduced as government commandeers resources. The result, of course, is inflationary (c).

In particular, the injection of government bonds into financial markets, with the help of the Federal Reserve's authority to create money, means that the total nominal value of financial assets is at least the same as it would have been in the absence of government borrowing, and probably higher (d). At the same time, government spending reduces the output of real assets, thus diluting the value of financial assets. Financial assets are fungible, so the holder of a government bond has the same claim on real assets as the holder of, say, a share of Berkshire Hathaway stock.

Think of it this way: Every time the government issues a new bond because it's spending more money, your real share of stock in America's economy becomes worth less, even if the nominal price of the stock rises. Depressing, isn't it?
a. An official estimate of the annual benefits flowing from federal regulations places the value of those benefits at less than $200 billion. But the annual cost of those regulations -- including the hidden costs not included in the government estimate -- is approaching or has exceeded $1 trillion, as discussed here, here, here, and here. But that's just the tip of the iceberg that rammed into the American economy about 100 years ago, as I [have shown] in Part V [and the addendum to Part V] of "Practical Libertarianism for Americans."

b. I exclude most expenditures on defense and justice from that indictment.

c. That is, government spending causes prices to be higher than they otherwise would be because total spending remains about the same as it would have been, whereas real output is reduced. Whether or not those nominal prices rise (the usual meaning of inflation) depends on the rate at which government spending grows relative to the growth of output of real consumer goods, services, and assets.

d. The total nominal value of financial assets is approximately unaffected by government borrowing, if you accept the crowding-out theory. The total nominal value of financial assets rises with government borrowing if you don't, if you don't accept the crowding-out theory. I don't.

A Familiar Story

Today's Dilbert reminds me of my (former) pointy-haired boss, the analytic paralytic:

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Brian Leiter Is an Idiot

Brian Leiter,* a lawprof at the University of Texas, writes:
Why is it even remotely relevant what [the] words [of the Constitution] meant when the Constitution was adopted? The right has been pushing this non-sequitur for a couple of decades now, but they still have no answers to the simplest questions about the legal or moral relevance of the "original meaning" or "original intent" of Constitutional provisions. Those who produced the "original" meanings have no claim of democratically sanctioned authority over us.
Hmmm... I recently came upon similar words, in Lysander Spooner's 1870 essay, "The Constitution of No Authority." Spooner's anarchistic thesis is that the Constitution never was and never will be binding because it isn't a voluntary contract entered into by those presumed to be bound by it. That is, by Spooner's reckoning, the Constitution was simply imposed on us by Madison and his cronies.

What Leiter the Lefty and Spooner the Anarchist fail to grasp is that the binding nature of the Constitution's original meaning is implicit in the fact that it can be amended. The Framers' willingness to submit their work to emendations proves that the Constitution, as it was then understood, was meant to be binding in perpetuity, unless and until those who came later chose to amend it in order to change its meaning. Acceptance is implied consent.

Leiter presumably objects to the notion of implied consent (if it has crossed his mind) because the process of amending the Constitution relies on supermajorities. That's "undemocratic," don't you know? I wonder how Leiter would feel if a mere majority of the Texas legislature were to strip him of his cushy professorship? That would be democratic, after all.

I'm sure that with his professorship at stake Leiter would prove himself a hypocrite about democracy, just as he has proved himself a hypocrite about the concept of original meaning, which he accepts when it suits him:
Suppose the legislature prohibits the killing of "fish"” within 100 miles of the coast, intending quite clearly (as the legislative history reveals) to protect whales, but not realizing that "fish" is a natural kind term that does not include whales within its extension. The new theory of reference tells us that the statute protects sea bass but not whales, yet surely a court that interpreted the statute as also protecting whales would not be making a mistake. Indeed, one might think the reverse is true: for a court not to protect whales would be to contravene the will of the legislature, and thus, indirectly, the will of the people.
Actually, it's all about original meaning, isn't it? But Leiter's views about original meaning seem to depend very much on whose whale is being harpooned.
* Our hero:

"American Exceptionalism," from the Left

Howard Zinn, ranting from the Left, assembles a hodge-podge of non-sequiturs, false premises, and excluded middles in his attack on American exceptionalism ("The Power and the Glory," Boston Review). Or is it an attack on American self-defense, religion, and G.W. Bush? It's all of the above, premised on the notion that because America isn't perfect it must be evil and resisted by the rest of the world. Same to you, Howard.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Short Answer to Libertarian Paternalism

Here's the fatal flaw in "libertarian paternalism" and all other forms of statism:
If we are systematically flawed in our efforts to see what is good for ourselves, how much worse must we be at seeing what is good for others, about whom we can know far less and with whose interests we can have at best partial empathy!

-- Nick Weininger, writing at Catallarchy

Free Markets, Free People, and Utter Disgust with Government

The societal value of a good or service -- its value to persons other than its producer -- is neither intrinsic nor determined by, say, the amount of labor that goes into its production. The societal value of a good or service can be determined only when a free market establishes a price for that good or service. This simple assertion, which I will prove below, explains why government intervention in the economy -- through spending, redistribution, and regulation -- causes the economy to underperform and creates general harm, as I have shown here, for instance.

Consider this: I may labor skillfully for days on end to carve a miniature portrait of John Stuart Mill on the shell of a walnut, but if no one wants to buy that portrait, it has no value to others. Does it still have a value? Well, if I decide -- before setting out on my quixotic carving task -- that I would want the carving for myself, whether or not anyone will buy it, then I am ascribing a personal value to the work. My personal value is the market value of the labor I forbore to sell to a willing buyer so that I could carve the likeness of John Stuart Mill. But that value is my value, not a societal value, which is zero because I cannot turn around and sell the carving for the value of the labor that I forbore to sell to a willing buyer.

Some will say "So what?" If I derive value from a carving I can't sell, at least I have something of value to show for my labor. Here's "what": Suppose I do nothing with my time but make carvings that no one will buy. Suppose, further, that a powerful clique of persons wants to encourage me in my artistic endeavors and therefore forces others to buy my carvings at a price and frequency that enables me to feed, clothe, and shelter myself. If you are one of the persons who is forced to buy one of my carvings, you receive nothing of value for yourself, but -- thanks to the powerful clique -- I deprive you of some portion of the food, clothing, or shelter you might have been able to buy from income you earned from willing buyers of your product or service.

The same powerful clique might as well force you and others to give me money in exchange for nothing. It would amount to the same thing, inasmuch as no one places any value on my walnut carvings. If it happens that your neighbor comes to acquire a taste for walnut carvings, he may be happy with the exchange. But that does you no good; cost-benefit analysis to the contrary, you neighbor's happiness and yours are incommensurable. If your neighbor wants walnut carvings, let him buy his own; if he wants to give money to indigent walnut carvers, let him give his own. Why should you help subsidize his acquired taste for walnut carvings?

The powerful clique of my metaphor stands for government, of course. The powerful clique's decisions are analogous to government spending, redistribution, and regulation, which:
  • Deprive you of a portion of your earnings in order to subsidize the production of government services that you may not want.
  • Force you to donate some of your earnings to persons who produce nothing for the money they receive.
  • Effectively dictate the kinds of goods and services that may or may not be produced. (It is but a small further step to dictate how goods and services must be produced.)
Free markets, by contrast, call forth only those goods and services that are of value to you. Unless you are a net beneficiary of government intervention -- and relatively few of us are -- the powerful clique that is government invariably makes you worse off through spending, redistribution, and regulation.

But, you may ask, what about providing for the aged, the poor, the handicapped, and the elderly; what about protecting the environment, ensuring the safety of drugs, assuring that medical doctors are properly trained, providing for the common defense, and all the other functions that have been assigned to government?

The short answer is this: Read this blog, starting with this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this, and following the links and sources cited therein.

The slightly longer answer is this: There is almost nothing government can do for you that you can't do for yourself, or that you can't buy in a truly free market, including environmental protection (to name but one supposedly indispensable function of government). With government out of the way we would be so much more prosperous that there would be few needy persons and ample private charity for those who cannot fend for themselves. Asking government to "solve problems" is somewhat like gambling at a casino; the odds are against you because the house takes its cut. But it's worse than that, because government cannot know what you know about what you want and how to produce what others want. As I wrote here,
think of yourself as a business. You are good at producing certain things -- as a family member, friend, co-worker, employee, or employer -- and you know how to go about producing those things. What you don't know, you can learn through education, experience, and the voluntary counsel of family, friends, co-workers, and employers. But you are unique -- no one but you knows your economic and social preferences. If you are left to your own devices you will make the best decisions about how to run the "business" of getting on with your life. When everyone is similarly empowered, a not-so-miraculous thing happens: As each person gets on with the "business" of his or her own of life, each person tends to make choices that others find congenial. As you reward others with what you produce for them, economically and socially, they reward you in return. If they reward you insufficiently, you can give your "business" to those who will reward you more handsomely. But when government meddles in your affairs -- except to protect you from actual harm -- it damages the network of voluntary associations upon which you depend in order to run your "business" most beneficially to yourself and others. The state can protect your ability to run the "business" of your life, but once you let it tell you how to run your life, you compromise your ability to make choices that are right for you.
The government that forbids you to raise cannabis for your own use and that can seize your property at will is the same government that's here to "help" you "solve" your problems. It's "help" like that which makes us less free and less prosperous, day by day.

As the character Howard Beale said in Network, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." Well, I won't take it quietly. In fact, I am close to changing my mind about defense, which I have long argued is a legitimate function of government. Look what happens: We create a government for self-defense and the next thing we know it's telling us how to run our lives. Enough is more than enough. We are careening down the slippery slope toward serfdom.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Last Straw?


This decision, in Kelo v. City of New London, coming on top of the decision in Raich, drives me to the edge of despair:
Supreme Court Rules Cities May Seize Homes

WASHINGTON - A divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for private development in a decision anxiously awaited in communities where economic growth often is at war with individual property rights.

The 5-4 ruling — assailed by dissenting Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as handing "disproportionate influence and power" to the well-heeled in America — was a defeat for Connecticut residents whose homes are slated for destruction to make room for an office complex. They had argued that cities have no right to take their land except for projects with a clear public use, such as roads or schools, or to revitalize blighted areas.

As a result, cities now have wide power to bulldoze residences for projects such as shopping malls and hotel complexes in order to generate tax revenue.

The state is in the saddle and its steed is trampling liberty with abandon.

UPDATE: Some would blame today's market drop on the price of crude:
Stocks slump after oil taps $60
Dow posts biggest one-day drop in more than 2 months
But a look at the intraday chart suggests that the selloff began just after the news of the Court's decision in Kelo. It's bad for people and bad for business (which also makes it bad for people).

State and local governments now have the power to shut down any business on any pretext that can be labelled a "public purpose." The regulatory hazards of doing business have just been magnified and the trajectory of economic growth has been pushed downward, again, in yet another blow to liberty. It began, in earnest, about 100 years ago. And there's no letup in sight.

Sweet Reason from the Left

Reactions to an appearance by George Neumayr, executive editor of The American Spectator on PBS's NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, in a segment entitled "Public Broadcasting Under Fire":
Your whole organization is a sorry pile of manure in the first place but that crap that Neumayr was spreading on tonight's "NewsHour" was an embarrassment even for a sorry bunch like you.

Christ on a Ritz, could that sorry bastard possibly be the best you could offer to state your warped and perverted view of PBS....

You have overstepped the bounds of free speech this time....

Dick Cheney's use of F--- has liberated me from restraining my vitriol in these circumstances, about the only thing that lying, war/death-profiteering canker's ever done for the rest of us....

I'm not happy with PBS as I think it lets you people off too lightly when it should expose you as the elitist parasitic vermin you are. But I'm an adult and realize that PBS doesn't belong to me....

Please tell [Mr. Neumayr] that he needs to have his chin tucked. It's fat and hangs over his collar. He could also benefit from bigger lips. His oral cavity looks more like a hole than a mouth....

You sicken me....

You should discourage Mr. Neumayr from seeking the camera -- he just comes across as the typical twitchy repressed gay Catholic weirdo. Basically, he's a repulsive pile of pixels on our digital screens. The fact that the cartoon didn't show the Klan lynching the queer mommies clearly has his goat -- and judging by some of the confessions on talk shows recently, conservatives are likely to be jealous of their farm animals....

Just saw your smug little face on PBS -- stick it in your [bleep]....

Doesn't Mr. Neumayr realize the only good conservative is a dead conservative?...
The tolerant, loving Left has spoken.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Baseball and the Constants of the Universe

Consider this:
Some things never change. Physicists call them the constants of nature. Such quantities as the velocity of light, c, Newton's constant of gravitation, G, and the mass of the electron, me, are assumed to be the same at all places and times in the universe. They form the scaffolding around which the theories of physics are erected, and they define the fabric of our universe. Physics has progressed by making ever more accurate measurements of their values.

And yet, remarkably, no one has ever successfully predicted or explained any of the constants. Physicists have no idea why they take the special numerical values that they do. In SI units, c is 299,792,458; G is 6.673 X 10-11; and me is 9.10938188 X 10-31--numbers that follow no discernible pattern. The only thread running through the values is that if many of them were even slightly different, complex atomic structures such as living beings would not be possible. The desire to explain the constants has been one of the driving forces behind efforts to develop a complete unified description of nature, or "theory of everything." Physicists have hoped that such a theory would show that each of the constants of nature could have only one logically possible value. It would reveal an underlying order to the seeming arbitrariness of nature.

In recent years, however, the status of the constants has grown more muddled, not less. Researchers have found that the best candidate for a theory of everything, the variant of string theory called M-theory, is self-consistent only if the universe has more than four dimensions of space and time--as many as seven more. One implication is that the constants we observe may not, in fact, be the truly fundamental ones. Those live in the full higher-dimensional space, and we see only their three-dimensional "shadows."

Meanwhile physicists have also come to appreciate that the values of many of the constants may be the result of mere happenstance, acquired during random events and elementary particle processes early in the history of the universe.
I like the happenstance theory. Suppose a fledgling baseball fan knows only one fact about major league baseball, namely, the lifetime batting average of Ty Cobb, which is .367. That average is not a "law of nature" but, rather, the byproduct of Cobb's 11,429 official at-bats in regular-season play (which excludes the times he was walked or hit by a pitch). Cobb happened to collect 4,191 base hits in those 11,429 official at-bats; thus his lifetime average of .367. If Cobb had retired a few years earlier, his lifetime batting average would have been higher; a few years later, it would have been lower. Then there are the thousands of other "unobserved" persons who played major league baseball and compiled batting averages lower than Ty Cobb's.

Scientific knowledge, in some respects, is as superficial as the knowledge of the fledgling baseball fan. The "constants" of nature have been found to take certain values. But until scientists understand "why" the constants take the values that they do -- just as we know "why" Ty Cobb batted .367 over his career -- scientists will have only superficial and partial knowledge of our universe.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) said near the end of his life,
I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all un-discovered before me.
Almost 300 hundred years have passed since Newton wrote those words. Yet, any living scientist who is worthy of being called a scientist would take them for his own.

Monday, June 20, 2005

An Alternative to Death and Taxes?

The tragic death of Jeffrey Yu-Chang Kao in Houston, Tex., on November 5, 2003, at the hands of a Houston Metro bus driver, could lead to the removal of a layer of immunity from local governments in Texas. That's good news for the victims of negligent government employees and bad news for the taxpayers of Texas. A better alternative, for everyone, would be to privatize public transit, as well as other pseudo-governmental functions.

Because Houston Metro is operated by the Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas, claims against it are capped under the Texas Tort Claims Act. Judicial interpretation of the act (scroll to I.B.7) has resulted in a $100,000 cap on the damages payable in a death caused by the actions of an employee of the State or one of its political subdivisions. Metro, as an arm of Harris County, is sheltered by the cap. If it weren't it might by now be out of business, given its track record.

Jeffrey Kao's widow, Loan-Anh Tran Kao, has since November 2004 publicized the case through a statement at a website, which links to an on-line petition addressed to the Texas State Legislature. Ms. Kao closes her statement by saying:
After Jeff's accident, for the first time in my life, I felt powerless. I wanted to empower myself. I did not know where to start. I had been told time and time again that any efforts to force METRO to be held accountable for its actions would be futile and that the prudent action was to accept the $100,000 liability limit. However, I refused to believe that an entity set up to serve the public and funded by the public is not and cannot be held accountable to the public. Thus, I am doing the only thing I know to do right now and that is to work to change a law that makes METRO value a person's life at only $100,000. This limit was established in 1973, was not indexed for inflation or cost of living and has not been changed since 1973. It is time for a change.
In the petition she adds:
I cannot undo the damage that has been inflicted upon my family. I can, however, with your help, make sure that, to the extent humanly possible, no one else will have to lose a love one. Metro must be held accountable for not putting safety first. Metro should not be protected by a $100,000 liability cap when it does not put safety first.
The $100,000 cap would be $330,000 if inflated to keep pace with the rise in the CPI since 1973. That's not much money for a life. Removal of the cap makes more sense, from a claimant's point of view. And that's exactly what a Texas legislator has proposed.

On March 16, 2005, State Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale (R-Houston), placed before the Texas House of Representatives a bill (H.B. No. 2588) that would, among other things, remove the cap on the damages for which a political subdivision of the State of Texas may be liable:
(b) Notwithstanding any other law, sovereign immunity of a political subdivision described by Sections 101.001(3)(B) and (C) to suit and from liability is waived, and the political subdivision is liable to a claimant to the same extent as a private person according to Texas law.
The bill is still in committee, and the Texas Legislature has adjourned until 2007. (Gov. Rick Perry has called a special session, but that session will focus on public-school finance.) Perhaps the Legislature will take up the bill two years from now. If it does, my heart wants the bill to become law, for the sake of Ms. Kao and other victims of negligence by public employees. My mind tells me that the removal of the cap would harm the taxpayers of Texas, with little effect on the behavior of public employees. My libertarianism tells me that there must be a way to save lives and taxpayers' money.

I'm entirely in sympathy with anyone who has suffered at the hands of a negligent person or entity -- especially a government entity that is able to evade the consequences of its negligence by hiding behind its shield of sovereign immunity. After all, the true sovereign in the United States is -- or is supposed to be -- the people, not government. That's the best argument for removing the shield of sovereign immunity from all political subdivisions of the State of Texas, not to mention all political entities in the United States. But...

Tort lawyers and irresponsible juries are (unwittingly) working hand-in-glove with tax-spend-and-regulate governments (federal, State, and local) to drive the American economy to its knees. Taking the lid off tort claims may seem just when viewed in the context of a particular case, but it could have dire long-term consequences for the taxpayers of Texas, and other States.

Why should we expect government employees to be any less negligent just because a change in the law uncaps tort claims against government entities? If criminal prosecutions won't deter negligence, nothing will. Government employees can and will continue to act irresponsibly because their bosses -- unlike the owners of private businesses -- have no bottom-line incentive to enforce responsible behavior. After all, who will end up paying the claims allowed by a change in the law? Not government employees or their bosses. No sir, tort lawyers will go where the money is: in the pockets of taxpayers.

The real, long-term solution to the twin problems of negligence and liability is to get government out of the transit business -- and all the other businesses that it's in, namely, providing roads, schools, recreation, health care, social services, etc. Government, at all levels, should focus on its few legitimate lines of work, principally, defense and criminal justice.

But let's start with the transit business. If transit systems were truly private -- neither operated by a government entity nor in an agency relationship with a government entity -- there'd be no cap on claims and the cost of claims would be passed on to users of the system, not to taxpayers (as taxpayers). The right course of action for the Texas legislature isn't to remove the cap on liability claims but to remove the counties and cities of Texas from the transit business.

It says on Houston Metro's own website that the "Texas State Legislature authorized the creation of local transit authorities in 1973." Well, that was back in the bad old days when "socially responsible" Democrats controlled the Texas legislature. It seems to me that the current, Republican-controlled legislature should do the Republican thing and order the privatization of local transit systems in Texas.

That would accomplish three things at a stroke:

1. There'd be no cap on damages caused by negligent government employees.

2. There'd be a compelling (profit) incentive to ensure the safe operation of transit vehicles. For example, in 2004 the U.S. Postal Service's motor-vehicle accident rate was 10.4 per million miles (see p. 12), whereas UPS's rate was less than one accident per million miles.

3. The users of transit systems would pay for those systems -- not the general public. (The users might cry "unfair" because of the existence of "free" public roads, but that's changing in Texas.)

Houston Metro's total operating expense in fiscal year 2003 was $395.6 million (including depreciation and amortization). Fares covered only $47.3 million (12 percent) of that total. The deficit was covered by sales taxes collected by the city and county on behalf of the transit authority. In other words, many taxpayers who don't ride Metro subsidize those who do. And taxpayers who do ride Metro are simply subsidizing themselves. There's no such thing as a free ride.

That's not to say private entities couldn't be lured into the business, if they were allowed to raise fares and eliminate unprofitable routes. A Houstonite who absolutely can't bear the thought of paying for his own commute can always move to Los Angeles, a.k.a. Houston-on-the-Pacific.

So here's my suggestion for the Texas State Legislature:

1. Remove the liability cap, as proposed by Rep. Van Arsdale.

2. Rescind the statutory authority for public transit systems and set a date certain for privatization.

3. Require municipalities to contract-out their transit systems during the transition period. That transition period would enable contractors to test the market to determine the most profitable combination of routes, schedules, and fares. The transition period also would give transit riders and entrepreneurs time to test and implement alternatives, such as carpooling, commercial van services, etc.

4. Municipalities would be required to contract-out to several operators, whose territories would overlap in high-density areas, to encourage competition.

5. The operators would acquire public-transit facilities and equipment through long-term lease-purchase arrangements at favorable terms. (After all, an asset that produces negative earnings is worthless to its owner -- taxpayers, in this case.)

The privatization of transit systems in Texas might start a trend toward the privatization of other government-run businesses that aren't properly the business of government.

If it did nothing else, privatization would reduce incidents of lethal negligence and keep tort lawyers out of taxpayers' pockets.

This post is also available at Blogger News Network.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Baseball Nostalgia

UPDATED 06/20/05, 12:46 PM

Baseball is a nostalgic sport because of the individuality of major league parks, especially those that were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. (Some, like Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field, are memorable in their uniqueness.) Thus one remembers not only the players but also where they played. The play and the playing field are inextricably bound in the game of baseball.

I was a Detroit Tigers fan for a long time, thanks to my maternal grandmother, who introduced me to baseball in the 1940s. Whenever I visited her (see here), the evening's entertainment would either be a Tigers' game on the radio or a film at the local movie house (as we called motion picture theatres in Michigan). The Detroit Tigers of my memory are bound up with Briggs Stadium (1912-1999), originally Navin Field and later Tiger Stadium. Here's the view from the stands on the first-base side, looking toward the third-base side:

Note the proximity of the stands to fair territory. Note also the position of the upper deck, which is directly above the lower deck, rather than set back as in modern stadiums. The best way to watch a ball game at Briggs Stadium was to sit in the upper deck somewhere between first base and third base, which -- as you can see -- afforded a bird's eye view of the action.

Until 1987 (the last year in which Detroit won a division championship), the Tigers often fielded contending teams but seldom won a league championship or World Series. From childhood to early adulthood I had to live on past glories: pennants in 1907-9, 1934-5, 1940, 1945; World Series wins in 1935 and 1945. That was it until the Tigers led the league and won the World Series in 1968 and again in 1984, by which time I had lost my deep attachment to baseball and the Tigers.

One reason for my alienation from the team and the game is the rise of modern ballparks that are tricked up to look "old" but aren't built so that the upper deck sits directly over the lower deck. Upper-deck seats in the Tigers' present home at Comerica Park -- like upper-deck seats in other modern ballparks -- should come equipped with binoculars:

The hallmark of the Tigers for many decades was offensive prowess. The Tigers put on a good show, even when they weren't winning pennants. In the 55 seasons from 1907 through 1961, for example, Detroit batters led the league in batting average 21 times:

Ty Cobb: batting champion 1907-1913, 1915, 1917-19; .367 lifetime batting average; 22 seasons with Detroit (Cobb is shown here early in his career, which spanned 1905-28.)

Harry Heilmann (right): 1921, 1923, 1925, 1927; .342 lifetime; 15 seasons with Detroit (Heilmann is seen here with Rogers Hornsby in 1929.)

Heinie Manush* (left): 1926; .330; 5 (This is Manush as a Washington Senator in 1933, with teammates Fred Schulte and Goose Goslin.)

Charlie Gehringer (third from left): 1937; .320; 19 (In this 1934 photo Gehringer is flanked by Hank Greenberg, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig.)

George Kell: 1949; .306; 5 (This photo is from 1949.)

Al Kaline (right): 1955; .297; 22 (Kaline poses with teammate Rocky Colavito in 1960.)

Harvey Kuenn: 1959; .303; 8 (This photo is from 1953, Kuenn's first full season with Detroit.)

Norm Cash (third from left): 1961; .271; 15 (In this 1961 photo Cash is seen with Roger Maris, Colavito, and Mickey Mantle.)

Hall of Famers whose primary team was Detroit:

"Wahoo" Sam Crawford (major leagues, 1899-1917; Detroit, 1903-17)

Ty Cobb (pictured above) (1905-28; 1905-26)

Harry Heilmann (pictured above) (1914, 1916-29, 1930-31; 1914, 1916-29)

Charlie Gehringer
(pictured above) (1924-42)

Hank Greenberg (pictured above) (1930, 1933-41, 1945-47; 1930, 1933-41, 1945-46)

"Prince Hal" Newhouser (1939-55; 1939-54)

George Kell (pictured above) (1943-57; 1946-52)

Al Kaline (pictured above) (1953-74; 1953-74)

That's a continuous line of Hall of Famers from 1903 through 1974. Then the string ran out, and Detroit won only one more league championship and World Series.

The Tigers may rise again, but probably not until they can find and keep a perennial contender for the batting championship -- if not a Cobb, then a Heilmann, Gehringer, or Kaline. Those were the days. A great ballpark and great hitters. Perhaps gone forever, along with Briggs Stadium and lifetime contracts.

* Henry Emmet (Heinie) Manush: born Tuscumbia, Alabama, 1901; died Sarasota, Florida, 1971; played in the major leagues 1923-39; elected to the Hall of Fame, 1954. Immortalized on film in Obliging Young Lady (1942) when Edmond O'Brien, in the role of Red Reddy, walks down the aisle of a passenger train and begins to say "Heinie Manush" in time with the "clickety clack" of the train wheels. Soon, all the passengers are saying "Heinie Manush" in unison. I saw the film on TV about 40 years after its release. I may have been the only person watching who got the joke.

Friday, June 17, 2005

A Hollywood Circle

Note: The images shown below aren't from the films mentioned in the text.

William Powell (1892-1984) played Moriarty in his film debut, the 1922 version of Sherlock Holmes, which starred

John Barrymore (1882-1942) as the legendary sleuth. Barrymore appeared as Mercutio in the 1936 version of Romeo and Juliet, in which

Norma Shearer (1902-83) played Juliet. Shearer starred as Mary Haines in 1939's The Women, as did

Joan Crawford (1904-77), in the role of Crystal Allen. Crawford and

Bette Davis (1908-89) co-starred in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), playing Blanche Hudson and Baby Jane Hudson, respectively. Davis played Libby Strong to the Sarah Webber of

Lillian Gish (1893-1993) in 1987's The Whales of August. To complete the circle: Gish had the title role in Romala (1924), playing opposite William Powell as Tito.

From William Powell to William Powell, in six steps.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"Sorry" Is Right

Excerpts of Megan O'Connor's column about "the latest chatter in cyberspace," from today's edition of Slate .

First excerpt:

Bloggers discuss the Senate's apology for not passing an anti-lynching law; they also tackle a proposed increase in the retirement age and a new study on virginity pledges.

So, so sorry: The Senate issued a formal apology for its decades-long failure to enact an anti-lynching law, but the fact that only 80 of the 100 senators co-sponsored the bill irked some.

Bloggers focus on the missing 20: Responding to a list of "pro-lynching senators" posted by the liberal Atrios, commenter Samurai Sam writes, "I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this. It just makes me choke to think we've made so little progress in race relations in the past 40 years. Or, more correctly, that the North and both coasts have made the progress and the South and some of the Midwest have not." ...

Listen up, Lefties. Lynching isn't a federal matter, per se. The Senate has nothing to apologize for because the Senate should never have considered an anti-lynching bill in the first place. Lynching is murder. The only time murder should be a federal offense is when it's committed in the District of Columbia or on federal property that doesn't lie within the boundaries of a State. If a State isn't granting its citizens equal protection of its laws, that's a violation of the U.S. Constitution which should be dealt with case by case. Just as the U.S. Supreme Court should be striking down anti-business State regulations, as it did before the New Deal.

Second excerpt:

Not-so-golden years: Republican senators are considering a bill that would raise the Social Security retirement age to 69 over the next two decades. The proposal was presented last week as part of a plan to ensure "greater financial solvency" to Social Security.

Supporters think it's just plain good sense: "Raising the eligibility age for Social Security really should be part of any commonsense solution," argues The Yellow Line's Alan Stewart Carl, a "former democrat and a former republican." He writes, "In 1940, the average life expectancy was 64 years while right now it's around 77Â… If we're living longer, shouldn't we be able to work longer?" Commenter Jonathan Cortis agrees: "With a combination of raising the retirement age and raising the cap on social security wages, we may just be able to bring SS back to the PAYGO system FDR envisioned."

Opponents use the chance to complain about President Bush and Republicans: "What people need to understand is that there is no Social Security 'shortfall' at all until 2042," says The Land of Ding's Andrew Dingfelder, a new blogger. " Â… The problem is that Bush is spending money like a drunken sailor and giving tax cuts to his wealthy benefactors at the same time." Other bloggers complain about New York Times' columnist John Tierney's suggestion that Americans spend too much time in retirement: At the liberal Delusions of Grandeur, Emeryroolz writes, "Tierney seems to think it's INSANE to not want to work until you drop dead? Spoken like a guy who's never done an honest day's work in his life."...

Actually, Tierney said this:
With the help of groups like AARP, the elderly have learned to fight for the right to retire earlier and get bigger benefits than the previous generation - all financed by making succeeding generations pay higher taxes than they ever did themselves.

The result is a system that burdens the young and creates perverse incentives for people to retire when they're still middle-aged. Once you've worked 35 years, more work often yields only a tiny increase in your benefits (sometimes none at all), but you still have to keep paying the onerous Social Security tax, which has more than doubled over the last half century.

If the elderly were willing to work longer, there would be lower taxes on everyone and fewer struggling young families. There would be more national wealth and tax revenue available to help the needy, including people no longer able to work as well as the many elderly below the poverty line because they get so little Social Security.

Getting that kind of system seems politically hopeless at the moment here, but it already exists in Chile. Its pension system has a stronger safety net for the older poor than America's (relative to each country's wages) and more incentives for people to work, because Chileans' contributions go directly into their own private accounts instead of a common pool like Social Security.

But Lefties don't want to discuss facts and logic. They just want to smear everyone who disagrees with their illogical positions. They want to believe that, under the present Social Security system, manna for the elderly falls from heaven, when it's actually extracted from the pockets of workers. When it comes to Social Security, Lefties are knee-jerk idiots. And that's not a smear, that's an obvious fact.

Third excerpt:

Virginity pledges: Contradicting earlier findings, the Heritage Foundation has published a study concluding that young people who took virginity pledges contracted fewer STDs, were more likely to abstain from sex; and were less likely to become prostitutes. The Times reports that other experts find the results "provocative, but Â… flawed."

Bloggers criticize the Heritage Foundation's motives and ideology. "It's not surprising that an organization dedicated to pursuing an ideological agenda might abandon good science in the name of politics," writes Publius of The Third Estate. Journalist Doug Ireland condemns the Times for failing to point out the ideology of the "oh-so-conservative" foundation. "By giving such play and credence today to this mendacious and unscientific Heritage study," he writes, "the Times is encouraging the myth that abstinence-only sex ed and virginity pledges help stop the spread of AIDS and STDs—when, in fact, the reverse is true. Shameful." Matthew Yglesias, writing at the American Prospect blog, TAPPED, further criticizes the Times, saying, "The only newsworthy information in the story is that the Bush Department of Health and Human Services has decided for some reason to start contracting out research on controversial questions to an ideological think tank that is non-partisan in name only, rather than to proper independent analysts."

Harvard's "independent," left-wing department of sociology, for instance?

Anyway, I do not doubt that "young people who took virginity pledges contracted fewer STDs, were more likely to abstain from sex; and were less likely to become prostitutes." Young people who take such pledges are more likely, in the first place, to abstain from sex, etc. Correlation isn't causation. That's all that need be said.

But Lefties get exercised about such matters because they don't want to admit the simple fact that abstinence is the best insurance against contracting a sexually transmitted disease. The "anything goes" cult -- of which the Left has long been the leading proponent -- is responsible for the decline of moral standards and for the rise of STDs. Now, there's causation for you.