Search This Blog

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Klavan on the culture and the arts

"The arts, naturally, inherently, by nature support the conservative view of man. They cannot help, left to themselves, produce a view of a spiritual people with a right to choose for themselves"

So concludes Andrew Klavan in a very funny and insightful speech.  Notes of some key points provided here for those who don't do video.

In light of his description of the speech as being about "sex and German philosophy," the following excerpt from a recent post seems relevant:
 A few years later, Nietzsche came along to proclaim that Duty was an illusion fostered by the Judaeo-Christian "slave morality." Nietzsche was not taken seriously until the period after World War II—a war that Hitler lost but that German philosophy won.

Today, in our academic and intellectual circles, Nietzsche and his disciple, the Nazi sympathizer, Martin Heidegger, are almost unanimously regarded as the two philosophical giants of the modern era. It is important to understand that their teachings are subversive, not only of bourgeois society and the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but also of secular humanism, secular rationalism, bourgeois morality—and, in the end, of Western Civilization itself.
 (body of speech runs until 23:00, philosophy starts around 15:30)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Meet The New McCarthyism, Same as the Old McCarthyism

Ace of Spades HQ tackles the confluence of Duck Dynasty, Justine Sacco, and Bob Newhart (here and here) far better than I ever could, but I can’t avoid the temptation to pile on, particularly since there is perhaps an otherwise unmentioned irony here.

Progressives are channeling Joe McCarthy. They are demanding the economic defenestration of anyone who dares commit the thoughtcrime of uttering anything, in any manner, that runs counter to Progressive orthodoxy.

Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame (full disclosure: I have never seen the show, and until the cries for his summary sacking spread across Progressives’ lips like wildfire in a gasoline soaked forest, I hadn’t even heard of it.) became a target for the New McCarthyism for explaining his religious beliefs about homosexuality, then compounded his thoughtcrime by making some “rascist” comments.

The scare quotes are there for a reason. Despite being a firm believer in free speech, if I was the Head Dude What’s in Charge, I’d be sorely tempted to ban passive voice, on pain of being banished from the intarwebz. Right behind that, I’d prohibit the use of terms like racist, sexist, homophobic, et al to anyone without a license to use them. Getting the license would be easy: simply demonstrate the ability to use the words correctly, with the understanding that the license will be revoked at the first offense.

Our own Harry Eagar demonstrates the point. In his Nutty rightwing remark of the year, he insists “Robertson is a flatout racist and a liar both.” based upon this this horrible, no good, very bad statement:

I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

(Note: Eagar saw fit only to quote the last sentence in his post. Dowd would be proud.)

He is on board with all right thinking Progressives. That means none of them understand the word “racist” well enough to get a license. There is not a syllable in that quote that remotely fits the definition, and there is no way to toss out the libelous “liar” accusation. But that is what progressives do when it comes to The Narrative, even though it requires epic point missing.

What point, you might ask? Although perhaps not, because it is so obvious that only a card carrying progressive could miss it: entitlements and welfare robbed blacks of their nobility.

Clearly that is a matter of opinion; who knows, it might be even be an opinion that doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. But it is a point that’s been made before, and was also subject to charges of racism from a long list of people who should have had their licenses revoked.

Justine Sacco got sacked for this tweet: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” (Full disclosure: not only have I never tweeted, I don’t even have a twitter account. Even fuller disclosure: I can’t see any way in which the world would be worse off if Twitter found itself in an alternate universe tomorrow.)

The New McCarthyists demanded her W-2 head for, well, what exactly? A joke in bad taste, perhaps. Seems a bit extreme, though, and if equitably applies would put Bill Maher in fear of unemployment with every other sentence coming out the front of his head.

Well, then, racism, of course. Except, and keep this in mind, those of you who hope to get that coveted license, there is nothing racist in that tweet. The AIDS infection rate among whites in Africa is a vanishingly small compared to blacks. So it can’t be racism, because it is a fact. Just as, if I suddenly lost my head and start tweeting I was to say this: “Going to San Francisco New Years Eve. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m not a poofter!” is homophobic.

Certainly, that begs accusations of tastelessness. But the New McCarthyites can’t possibly stop at a chiding; rather, they demand her firing because she committed what can only be called an offense against Proper Thought, because it certainly isn’t an offense against reality.

And Bob Newhart got the GLAAD treatment. Funny, in the sense that it isn’t at all funny, how an organization so relentlessly demanding of tolerance is so incapable of showing it.

It is time to call progressives on their hideous undermining of free speech in the punishment of thoughtcrime. I’m not talking about the relatively narrow confines of the Constitution, but rather the civic virtue that while people’s opinions are always open to contest, people shouldn’t be punished for uttering them.

By demanding, and getting, Duck Dynasty’s suspension, progressives have shown that a religiously derived personal viewpoint on homosexuality is a punishable crime. They have shown that utterances involving race deserve the sack, regardless of how factual they might be. (Lord help anyone who uses the thoughtcrime term “colored people”. That is blatantly racist, only “people of color” will do.) And people should be shamed into not appearing in front of religious organizations that work to promote their point of view, completely unlike GLAAD, which … wait. What? Oh.

Anyone who thinks the New Mcarthyism isn’t the same as the Old McCarthyism clearly isn’t paying attention. Except that its reincarnation is possibly worse. Before it was just Congress, now any lynch mob will do.


Obamacare Described in 1:43

If you're not a fan of Obamacare, you'll probably find the following very short video to be humorous:

Hat Tip: Mark Perry

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Breaking: Mankind Won't Go Extinct For Lack of Children

Many people worry about dropping birthrates and are concerned that one day mankind will become extinct for lack of children. For example, Hey Skipper recently wrote in the comments, "Self extinction is about 400 years off."

I've been meaning to do a population simulation for a long time. The simulation is fairly simple. Start with a population of 1,000,000,000 people. There are two types of "genes" in this population. The most common and also dominant gene is the "barren gene" and compels its individual to produce one child on average. Given that it takes two parents to produce a child, if this were the only "gene," the population would halve every generation and mankind would indeed go extinct in only a few hundred years.

The second "gene" is the "fruitful gene" and potentially compels its individual to have three children on average. However, since this "gene" is recessive, the individual is only compelled to have three children if he or she has two of these "genes." At the start of the simulation, only five-percent of the genes are of this type. So not only is it recessive, it's also rare.  If a double "fruitful" mates with a someone with at least one "barren gene", they split the difference and have two children.

The graph above shows the results of one run of the simulation (since it randomly combines each generation, the results are slightly different each time).  The population drops for 15 to 20 generations before turning the corner and recovering fully somewhere around the 40th generation. (If anybody wants the matlab code, let me know, I'll be happy to send it to you).

I think that this simulation is very pessimistic (i.e. the population will never drop that far).  I don't think the "fruitful gene" is fully recessive, I think it's more prevalent than five-percent, I think that "fruitful" people would seek each other out instead of mating randomly, and I think that the "fruitful gene" is probably more fruitful than just three kids.  For example: if the "fruitful" folk seek each other out instead of mating randomly, the population typically drops less than a factor of ten over 4 or 5 generations before recovering fully within 10; or when starting the simulation with 10% "fruitful genes" and having two fruitful parents produce four children, the population for only around 10 generations before recovering fully after 20.

The point of this is not to convince anybody, but rather to show why I'm highly skeptical of the claim that mankind will go extinct due to low birthrates.  I know too many highly educated, non-religious couples with access to birth control who have three or more children by choice.

The barren will go extinct, but not the fruitful.

Questions That Few Are Asking

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution asks:
"Let’s say that the Grinch really were to steal Christmas, would that be a Kaldor-Hicks potential Pareto improvement?"
Yup.  I wonder that all the time myself.

Merry Christmas all!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

An NYT Tongue Bath

Warning: Do not read this NYT Op-Ed without a sick-sack at hand. (Those with sensitive stomachs should give even the following quote a miss.)

Democrats have more of an affinity for jazz than Republicans. Even Jimmy Carter, not everybody’s idea of a hipster, invited Dizzy Gillespie to the White House. But among the Democrats, President Obama is the one who comes closest to the style of bebop called “the Cool.”

Cool jazz is exemplified by the saxophone of Lester Young and his protégé Stan Getz; the trumpet of Miles Davis (especially on his 1957 album “Birth of the Cool”); the vibraphone of Milt Jackson and the song stylings of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and June Christy.

Like the president, cool musicians carried themselves with a regal bearing. Some members of the generation before them had to engage in minstrel-like antics to make a living. Cool musicians demanded respect, and when attacked didn’t blow up, but, like the president, responded stoically. One of his favorite words is “persistence,” the attitude of his hero, the saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the greatest surviving bebopper.

Gurrgh. Urrrrp. Yuck.

Thank You

In a recent Ed Driscoll post It's a Wonderful Fountainhead he stated:
Of course, atheism doesn’t necessarily mean socialism — even if that’s how it invariably works out...

 And to bring this post back to 2013, to understand why atheism actually does lead to socialism in real life, and as the Salon critic posited, “We all live in Pottersville now,” don’t miss National Review editor-at-large John O’Sullivan’s essay on “Our Post-Christian Society”:

John O'Sullivan in that column Our Post-Christian Society made the following points:
It is often said that we live in a post-Christian society. That is true, but its meaning is generally misunderstood. A post-Christian society is not merely a society in which agnosticism or atheism is the prevailing fundamental belief. It is a society rooted in the history, culture, and practices of Christianity but in which the religious beliefs of Christianity have been either rejected or, worse, forgotten. In other words a post-Christian society is a particular sort of Christian society. It is quite different, for instance, from a post-Muslim or a post-Buddhist society (if we can imagine such things). At an emotional level, its Christian character explains why many agnostics and atheists nonetheless find Christian hymns suitable and comforting at occasions such as funerals and weddings. Intellectually, its dormant Christian beliefs — notably those about the nature of Man — underpin our ideas on politics and foreign policy, as for instance on human rights. Even the Enlightenment — which strong secularists like to cite as the foundation of Western liberal polities — is an extension of Christianity as much as a rejection of it. In short, though much of what Christianity taught is forgotten, even unknown, by modern Europeans and Americans, they nonetheless act on its teachings every day.

But there are consequences to forgetting truths. One consequence is that while we instinctively want to preserve the morals and manners of the Christian tradition, we cannot quite explain or defend them intellectually. So we find ourselves seeking more contemporary (i.e., in practice, secular) reasons for preserving them or, when they decay completely, inventing regulations to mimic them. When courtesy is abandoned, we invent speech codes, which are blunter in their impact and repress legitimate disagreement along with insults. When female sexual modesty and male sexual restraint are discredited as puritanical, we draw up contractual arrangements to ensure that any sexual contact is voluntary on both sides. This means that sexual relationships (and their consequences) may occur more often but that they do so in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and legal wariness that poisons relations between men and women over the long run. Above all, when we no longer protect and strengthen the family on the grounds that it is a patriarchal institution harmful to the life chances of women, we encourage the family breakdown that leaves women worse off financially, pushes men into an irresponsible life, and damages their children socially and psychologically.

Family breakdown is in fact the largest single social disaster plaguing the post-Christian society. The family is a natural way of regulating and disciplining us and our ambitions in the activities of everyday life. It makes us frugal; it encourages saving, wealth creation, and the deferment of gratification; it compels us to provide for the future; above all it ensures that children are brought up and taught to become self-reliant, and that the weak, the sick, and the elderly have others to succor them. When the family breaks down, we get crime, drug-taking, impoverishment, psychological problems, and much else at the personal level; and we get a cycle of deprivation, the growth of an underclass, spiraling social-welfare costs, over-government, and severe budgetary problems at a national level. The result of family breakdown is that we have to replace the family with regulation after regulation. Our remedies — easier divorce, better financial arrangements for women after divorce, increased welfare for single mothers, bureaucratic agencies to compel men to make child-support payments, laws and regulations that disadvantage natural family relationships in court decisions on child care and adoption, and much else — never work as well as the stable families they replace. Indeed, very often they make the situation worse.

As someone interested in maintaining a free and prosperous society, this Irving Kristol lecture titled The Capitalist Future touched on several interrelated facets of society:

It is not, then, the economics of capitalism that is our fundamental, unmanageable problem. That problem today is located in the culture of our society, which is in the process of outflanking our relatively successful economy. While the society is bourgeois, the culture is increasingly, and belligerently, not.

Bourgeois society is a society in which certain virtues are accepted as a matter of course by the majority of the people. These virtues—today we defensively call them "values"—include a willingness to work hard to improve one’s condition, a respect for law, an appreciation of the merits of deferred gratification, a deference toward traditional religions, a concern for family and community, and so on. It is a commitment to such beliefs that creates a middle class, which then sustains a market economy. Today the old-fashioned animus against a market economy is being sublimated into an aggressive animus against the bourgeois society that is organically associated with our market economy. If you de-legitimize this bourgeois society, the market economy—almost incidentally, as it were—is also de-legitimized.

We have, then, been living through a cultural revolution which at one point threatened to become a political revolution—that flash point was experienced during the student revolution of the 1960s—one of those failed revolutions that was nevertheless enormously influential. In the United States it pretty much forced us to withdraw from Vietnam. It also led quickly and decisively to the capture of the Democratic party by its left wing in 1972, thereby importing a kind of permanent polarization into American politics. And in the cultural world its energies were channeled into what is now called post-modernism, whose basic theme was expressed in Paris, during the student rebellion of the 1960s, by one of the graffiti painted on the walls of the Sorbonne: "All Power to the Imagination." This academic irrationalism is the dominant intellectual mode, not only in the arts today, but in the study of the humanities in our institutions of higher learning.

From a dissenting culture, to a counterculture, we have finally arrived at a nihilistic anti-culture. This anti-culture permits the post-modernists to abolish the distinction between what used to be called "highbrow" art—it also used to be called "culture" without equivocation—and "popular" culture.


Whereas modernism had calmly accepted Nietzsche’s dictum that "God is dead," it generally interpreted this to mean simply that institutional religion was moribund. But only a handful of modernists jumped to the Nietzschean conclusion that "if God is dead, everything is now permitted": That was implicit in modernism, and more than implicit for those who believed themselves to be the avant-garde of modernism. But only with post-modernism has it become belligerently explicit, and a dominant motif in the culture at large.

For centuries, as the focus on religion as a central human experience continued to dim, the intellectual world remained remarkably complacent. The satisfying rituals of religion, it was thought, could be replaced by an esthetic experience of the arts. In truth, the aura of the sacred has largely been transferred from religion to the arts, so that the burning or even censorship of books is regarded as a greater sacrilege than the vandalization of churches or synagogues. As for the moral code traditionally provided by religion, it was assumed that, since modern individuals were rational moral agents, rational philosophy could be relied on to come up with a code that, if not identical with religion’s, was sufficiently congruent with it so that the practical moral effect was the same. From Immanuel Kant to John Dewey, that has been the basic assumption of secular rationalism and gives rise to the modern quasi-religion of secular humanism. Such a philosophical enterprise, it was believed, would converge on what John Dewey called "a common faith"—a faith in the ability of reason to solve all our human problems, including our human need for moral guidance.

But this is a faith that has failed. Secular rationalism has been unable to produce a compelling, self-justifying moral code. Philosophical analysis can analyze moral codes in interesting ways, but it cannot create them. And with this failure, the whole enterprise of secular humanism—the idea that man can define his humanity and shape the human future by reason and will alone—begins to lose its legitimacy. Over the past thirty years, all the major philosophical as well as cultural trends began to repudiate secular rationalism and secular humanism in favor of an intellectual and moral relativism and/or nihilism.

Bourgeois capitalism began with a kind of benign toleration of religion but a firm commitment to Judaeo-Christian morality. In this respect, Adam Smith and our Founding Fathers were of one mind, one sensibility. Their fundamental error, doubtless attributable to their rationalism, was a complacency about the relation of this morality to its religious roots.

The bourgeois capitalist revolution of the 18th century was successful precisely because it did incorporate the older Judaeo-Christian moral tradition into its basically secular, rationalist outlook. But its error was to scissor out this moral tradition from the religious context that nourished it. And so, in the nineteenth century, in all Western nations, we had what was called a "crisis of faith" among writers and philosophers. It was not yet a crisis in moral beliefs. George Eliot wrote that God was "inconceivable," immortality "unbelievable," but Duty nonetheless "peremptory." A few years later, Nietzsche came along to proclaim that Duty was an illusion fostered by the Judaeo-Christian "slave morality." Nietzsche was not taken seriously until the period after World War II—a war that Hitler lost but that German philosophy won.

Today, in our academic and intellectual circles, Nietzsche and his disciple, the Nazi sympathizer, Martin Heidegger, are almost unanimously regarded as the two philosophical giants of the modern era. It is important to understand that their teachings are subversive, not only of bourgeois society and the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but also of secular humanism, secular rationalism, bourgeois morality—and, in the end, of Western Civilization itself.


 But a society needs more than sensible men and women if it is to prosper. It needs the energies of the creative imagination as expressed in religion and the arts. It is crucial to the lives of all our citizens, as of all human beings at all times, that they encounter a world that possesses a transcendent meaning, in which the human experience makes sense. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more de-humanizing, more certain to generate a crisis, than experiencing one’s life as a meaningless event in a meaningless world.

Maintaining a connection to the religious roots of the foundational principals that have made America exceptional probably depends upon traditional religious observance by a meaningful portion of the population.  Those of us who hold dear similar traditional morals and beliefs but are not regular participants in such observance are acting as free riders.  To those for whom it applies, I simply say, 'Thank you."

Shark Jumped

Inexplicably, Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming Climate Change Climate Disruption Global Warming has been in hiatus for going on 15 years.

No, that's wrong, because, as Slate's Phil Plait insists, with all the usual insults, it is still happening. It's only the surface temperatures that have flatlined.

To those in the pixel staring audience who might have an eyebrow quizzically arched at this point, Dr. Plait (an actual scientist who has worked on satellite based astronomy) admonishes:

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to the ongoing noise about global warming, then you’ve heard of the so-called pause. This is the idea that the planet hasn’t actually been warming for the past 15 years or so.

However, this is baloney. First off, the plot used by people who would deny the Earth is warming up (and that humans are behind it) only shows the temperature of the air over land and ocean. But our atmosphere (pardon the weird metaphor) doesn’t exist in a vacuum; the extra heat retained by our planet is also warming the oceans. In fact, most of that heat is going into deep ocean waters.


A new study shows that the temperatures over the past 15 years are still on the rise. The problem, say the authors, is that the global surface temperatures have been based on incomplete data, with some regions left out (most notably over Africa, the Arctic, and Antarctica).

Wait a minute. Can anyone see the galloping epistemological error here? Seriously, stop reading and think for a minute. In two paras, he has single handedly -- well okay, this is just the latest example, and the conveniently paywalled A New Study Says is piling on -- completely demolished the pretext for CAGW and its acronymically separated siblings.

The pretext for CAGW has been that climate models sufficiently ape the actual climate system so that it is possible to see how one variable, temperature, will vary with respect to another: CO2. Four assessment reports over the last twenty-five years have confidently, and with the help of sciency looking squiggly lines, predicted a relentless increase in surface temperatures along with CO2.

However, with the actual surface temperature observations on the verge of breaking through the model's lower bound, some 'splainin needs doing.

Enter heat going into deep ocean waters, and areas of sparse coverage biasing average temperatures downwards.

Okay, fine. Let's say both are true, despite the fact that the former reeks of handwaving and the latter more than a little too convenient.

Regardless, each demolishes every climate model used to create CAGW. Their central claim has been shown to be utterly wrong. Post hoc reasoning, rather than admitting this central fact, is a sign that even, or perhaps especially, scientists are indeed very religious people. And it isn't just the models that are left with conceptual sucking chest wounds. climate sensitivity is just as firmly based upon supposedly complete and correct climate models.

Scientifically speaking, then, the whole enterprise should be on the verge of being demoted from theory to hypothesis. When observations and models disagree, it is good to remember there is no such thing as a good theory that doesn't work in practice.

Here is Dr. Plaits penultimate paragraph:

I’ll note that this is one paper, and one result. I’m sure there will be legitimate debate over it in the climate-science community. And you can bet every last dollar you have that there will be illegitimate “debate” over it in the science-denial community. As I, and many others, have pointed out time and again, all they have is noise.

Sorry, doc, but I doubt you'd recognize science if it was a signed copy of "Fundamental Ideas and Problems of the Theory of Relativity" smacking you upside the head.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Progressives on Parade

Crooked Timber is an avowedly progressive blog. (Unsurprisingly, nearly all the contributors are academics; none are in reality-refereed fields.) A recent entry, Brother, that's socialism. You know it is. lauds an "impromptu" speech by David Simon (creator of The Wire ) at this years Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, Australia.

There is a reason for the scare quotes. That is the Guardian's characterization, perhaps looking to provide an excuse for incoherence. However, I find it singularly difficult to believe that a headliner for this event would go all the way to Australia, while giving no thought to what he was going to say.

Cutting straight to the chase, Simon asserts the US is arguably the most broken country in the world. Here is why, paraphrased:

Inequality. He's not a Marxist, but. "The ultimate tragedy of capitalism is its dominance without regard to a social compact …" He hates the notion that profit is the metric by which we measure the health of our society. He dates that to 1980. Between then and the beginning of the 20th century, the US created a consumer class by the the ongoing compromises between capital and organized labor. Then 1980 and poof, we suddenly believe in trickle down economics, and that a free market knows best,
… where now libertarianism in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought. It's astonishing to me. But it is. People are saying I don't need anything but my own ability to earn a profit. I'm not connected to society. I don't care how the road got built, I don't care where the firefighter comes from, I don't care who educates the kids other than my kids. I am me. It's the triumph of the self. I am me, hear me roar.
Therefore socialism. And because the US isn't socialist, it is a horror show:
You're seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you're seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You're seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we've put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons. No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.
Therefore socialism, because:
The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximise profit is juvenile. It's a juvenile notion and it's still being argued in my country passionately and we're going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I'm astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?
And Americans are idiots for the debacle of a debate over something as basic as healthcare policy [He said this despite six weeks of the unfolding disaster that is Obamacare in action]. So imagine how bad Americans are going to be when it "… comes to something as complicated as global warming.

Group health insurance is socialism, you idiots. And because it is, that is just the same as doing it for 300 million Americans. Americans are stupid because they don't get that.

Therefore, more New Deal. Which won't happen because the popular will is completely suppressed. Therefore, America is the most broken country in the world.

You can judge for yourself, but I think my summary fairly represents what he said.

Which is so astonishingly incoherent that it is hard to know where to start. Capital and organized labor can compromise in exactly the same way as electricity and doing the laundry. He can't have been alive since 1980 and glibly dismiss trickle down economics. He likes his strawmen by the squadron. He attributes to capital effects for which it cannot be the cause. Libertarians aren't fans of the war on drugs; by the way, where is the socialist paradise that has legalized them? Not satisfied with a mere squadron of strawmen, he concocts an entire army. He is a perfect example of why the Church of Warmenism is so attractive to progressives. He has no idea how it came to be that employers purchase health insurance, and can't understand the difference between a company and a society.

And we are the idiots?

So far, not really worthy of a post. Another progressive smugly mowing down straw armies by hurling talking points grabbed almost at random from the progressive bag of bollocks is hardly news. Far more interesting appalling is the thread that followed, from which there come such gems as:

#16: We are propagandized into a culture of the self, which Simon alludes to. [I am a firm believer in free speech, but if I was the Head Dude What's in Charge, the first thing to go would be passive voice. Why is that practically the progressive default writing style?] … The Left is not going to get anywhere in these circumstances without accepting class warfare as a fact, and without accepting the necessity of destroying individuals and institutions on the Right. [I think we have found Dzerzhinsky's replacement]

#17: The big problem, as I see it, with social democratic politics is that is has been true to its Marxist roots in embracing a deterministic notion of historical progress and so, almost a century after Bernstein called it into question, just haven’t given the problem of the parliamentary road to democratic socialism any serious attention. Part of that laziness of vision might be because of a ambivalence to the more decentralized strategies favored the cooperative movement, the unfavored sibling to the institutions of Big Labor and the Welfare State (almost everywhere except for Sweden interestingly). But whatever the cause, it is a problem that needs attention. [If you have a taste for leaden prose, progressives are far more likely to satisfy than anyone else. Why is that?]

#33: Expropriation must precede, logically and historically, the creation of democratic processes.

#48: My favorite kooky little gem would be having governments (at any level, but especially the national level) going into business as competitors of private business. Key areas of re-industrialization (consumer electronics, clothing and textiles, etc.) would be targeted by chartering, and initially capitalizing, co-operative, employee/ government-owned, manufacturing entities of various kinds, with an eye to moving gradually toward worker-ownership and operation of virtually all industry …

… Increase taxable base for SSI to 500g and means test. [Progressives really do love expropriation.]

#55: Expropriation is an attitude, a recognition that there is no private property or personal rights.

Communities, as opposed to collections of individuals are formed, I believe, at the moment and in the act of public open (at least to themselves) expropriation. [I'm sensing a pattern here.]

#76: There will and must be crime, even if it is nothing more than illegal strikes and mass demonstrations and occupations of property and public spaces (and who can question, really, the legitimacy of the outbursts of spontaneous rage that can seize whole communities?). The question is always: How much crime, and how much, if any, violence? That is the nut, and it’s a hard one.

#101: The [US] “Constitutional Republic” is probably the most efficient anti-democratic system, creating as I said a Leviathan to limit democracy and implant authoritarianism in the minds of the citizens. Elitist and propertarian.

And the esteemed David Simon wonders why we idiot Americans are so suspicious of socialism.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Just like breathing

It has been pretty obvious for quite some time, to anyone paying attention, that this President is an extraordinarily mendacious fellow.  Most of the lies didn't matter to people, they were too far removed from their existence to be of any consequence.  "If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance," is entirely different kind of lie.  Cancellation notices can't be spun.  Lies and lies about lies and lies about lies about lies just make the matter worse.

Andrew Klavan has a video and some thoughts to share:
It is now apparent to any honest observer that Obama is a rank incompetent too arrogant and foolish to alter his political philosophy even after reality has proven it false. As his record at the time of his original candidacy should have warned us, he has no business in the Oval Office. He simply isn’t up for the job.

And what is extra tragicomical about Obama’s spectacular failure is that so many of the journalists who cover him are ALSO content to have him play rather than be the president — just as they themselves are content to play at heroically helping the poor and minorities even as their left-wing policies make the poor even poorer and the marginalized more marginalized still.
The reason for this is that both Obama and many of our journalists were trained in the post-modern academy where they were taught that there is no such thing as moral truth but only culturally inculcated narratives. In such a world, the moral narrative that can be drummed into the head of the populace is the truth that wins. Convincing people that a good has been achieved is the same as achieving it.

Roger L. Simon had this to offer:
I suspect that Obama’s core belief — his key religious value, if you will — is an American form of taqiyya — the Muslim dictate that it is permissible to lie to non-believers for the preservation of Islam. He believes in left-wing taqiyya. (Ironically, taqiyya is largely Shiite and Obama wishes to negotiate with Shiite Iran, masters of the lie.)

Now I do not think for a second that Obama is a Muslim any more than I think he is a Christian. He is a typical postmodern agnostic who only goes to church — and then rarely — for political purposes. But he grew up in the Islamic world in the midst of the psychological climate of taqiyya, with preservation of the group taking precedence over even the hint of democracy. And that climate harmonized completely with his other influences — anti-imperialism augmented by Alinksyite methods, themselves anti-democratic.

He never had a moral basis for honesty. Lying, from the Choom Gang through Reverend Wright and beyond, was his lifestyle. And he had the consolation that he was lying for a better good. No one ever told him otherwise. If that goes on for long enough, you lose contact with truth. It becomes almost a non-existent phenomenon, an irrelevancy.
In a very real way, Obama’s confluence of influences has replaced traditional religion and become a religion — with everything he does based on faith, but not a faith that has anything to do with God.

VDH weighs in  here
What is the common denominator of the Obama administration’s serial scandals — the Justice Department’s spying on AP, the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the NSA surveillance, the lies about Benghazi and the ACA — and much of the White House damage-control rhetoric? In a word: the advancement of postmodern notions of justice at the expense of traditional truth.
By the 1980s, in law schools, university social-science departments, and the humanities in general, the old relativist idea of Plato’s noble lies was given a new French facelift. Traditional morality and ethics were dismissed as arbitrary constructs, predicated on privileged notions of race, class, and gender. The new moral architecture did not rely on archaic abidance by the niceties of “truth,” which simply reinforced traditional oppressive hierarchies.

Instead, social justice by definition transcended the sham of traditional ideas of truth and falsity. The true became the advocacy of fairness, while the real lie was the reactionary adherence to a set of oppressive norms. All this was faculty-lounge fluff, but soon it filtered out into the larger culture.

Not to be outdone the point is made by  Daniel Greenfield: see this

If You Don’t Trust Americans to Choose Their Own Health Insurance…

… Why would you trust them enough to tell them the truth that they won’t be able to choose their own health insurance?
The elitism implicit in progressivism makes deceit mandatory.

If Americans are little more than apes who can sorta be trusted to drive cars, but not to pick them out, then they aren’t advanced enough to be told the truth. And indeed that is the rationale that was advanced for Obama’s plan lie.
It’s behind the resistance to the Upton Keep Your Plan Act.

If Americans are too stupid to know what’s good for them, then you have to lie to them and lie to them some more. When they lose their plans and get outraged, tell them that their plans were bad substandard scam plans.
Progressives lie casually because they don’t view the people whom they are lying to as being advanced enough and evolved enough to be worthy of the truth.

And if they did believe the American people deserved the truth and deserved to make their own choices, they wouldn’t lie to them.
That’s what this conflict is really about. That’s what the clash between Socialism and the Free Market, between slavery and freedom is about.
The left doesn’t feel bad about lying, because it doesn’t view the people it is lying to as having the same degree of personhood, intelligence and legal rights as they do.

Like I said, the prez is particularly mendacious.

More about the rhetoric here 
Except for diehard, "true believer" progressives, it has finally begun to dawn on Americans that ObamaCare was sold to us under false pretenses. But the selling of ObamaCare was accomplished not only with lies. It also relied on the clever use of rhetoric: the language of persuasion. But even now, after the lies have been exposed, the rhetoric just keeps coming.
What I'm in the market for is a little truth in advertising. But all I hear is dishonest rhetoric, such as the claim that with ObamaCare some 30 million Americans now have health insurance. That's a reference to the ObamaCare expansion of Medicaid. But Medicaid isn't insurance; it's welfare. Equating a "free" government program with private products willingly bought by consumers with their own money might qualify as some lamer kind of rhetoric.
Progressives have a knack for drawing distinctions were none exist and for lumping together things that should be kept apart and distinct. It's called rhetoric, and we need to be able to recognize it if we don't want to be sold a bill of goods again.

And then we have this here 

 Every morning the media paws through a dictionary looking for the most innocuous ways to describe Obama’s big health care lie.

Obama wasn’t the first politician to lie. He won’t be the last. But most politicians who lie don’t have an army of reporters swarming around them to explain that they didn’t lie, but just inflated their misspeaking. One man did not get up in front of the microphones and cameras and lie over and over again. The entire liberal establishment lied. And it’s still lying.

The media’s lies and excuses, even more than the original Obama lie, reveal why liberals can never be trusted.

If Obama had only lied about being on crack or with an intern, that might be an impeachable act, but an understandable human failing. But he wasn’t lying to cover up something shameful that he did. He lied because he didn’t think Americans deserved to keep their health plans… or the truth.
Obama lied because he is a liberal.

That Obama would lie was an inevitable as the sun rising in the morning and the taxman coming in the spring. The lie was baked into the nature of the progressive movement that he identified with and its social experiments with human lives for the greater good that he participated in.

Lying isn’t incidental to a liberal. Liberal is another word for liar. Someone who believes, as Obama and his media cronies do, that Americans are too stupid and ignorant to be trusted to choose their own health care, isn’t about to trust them with the truth.

Liberals don’t believe that the people they lie to are their equals. If they did, not only wouldn’t they lie to them, but they wouldn’t subscribe to a skewed leftist take on liberalism that compels them to take away choices from people for their own good.

You don’t take away someone’s right to choose unless you think that they are inferior to you.

If you think that the average person is a moron, then the only answer is to set up to a totalitarian system to nudge the marching morons into the death panels for their own greater good while lying to them that the death panelists are really the judges for the next hot talent competition.

If ordinary people don’t deserve the basic decency of being allowed to make decisions about their own health care, then they also don’t deserve the basic decency of not being lied to their faces about those decisions being taken away from them.

If Obama had trusted and respected Americans, he wouldn’t have lied to them about ObamaCare. But if he had really trusted and respected them, he wouldn’t have inflicted ObamaCare on them.
Obama’s crime isn’t the lie. The lie is the cover-up of the crime. The crime is that Obama packaged a tax, a welfare program and a government takeover of health care together and called it reform.
The media has shown that Obama’s lie was no isolated incident by lying about the lie for the same reason that he told the lie. The health plan lie wasn’t the lie of one politician protecting his reputation; it was the big lie of a liberal establishment protecting its agenda.

The liberal media manipulates its readers, listeners and viewers the same way that liberal governments manipulate their citizens. Unlike Clinton’s lie, Obama’s lie was not one man’s mistake, but a movement’s arrogance. And not only hasn’t Obama stopped lying about his lie, but the media and the rest of his movement haven’t stopped lying about his lie.

Obama’s big health care lie shows why liberals can’t be trusted. Any movement that believes its members are superior to ordinary people cannot be trusted to represent them or to tell them the truth.

Andrew McCarthy explains the scheme behind the Obamacare fraud.

I could go on and on but, let's conclude with some fun:

"Selling hope's like selling soap, son, I'll tell you why
You can't make either one without a little bit of lye"

Well, last one by Ed Driscoll.
 The president and the officials around him are the product of the same progressive version of higher education that simultaneously excises politics from the study of government and public policy while politicizing education. This higher education denigrates experience; exalts rational administration; reveres abstract moral reasoning; confidently counts on the mainstream press to play for the progressive political team; accords to words fabulous abilities to remake reality; and believes itself to speak for the people while haughtily despising their way of life.

For a certain type of Postmodernist, perhaps a Rococo Marxist,  eventually this chronic lying  becomes involuntary, just like breathing.

Sunday, December 01, 2013


Arnold Kling describes an acronym:
I like to use the acronym FOOL, which stands for Fear Of Others’ Liberty. I think that many of us are FOOLs. I count myself a FOOL, at least to some extent. 
Once you are a FOOL, then you may be willing, yea, eager, to delegate the job of constraining someone else’s liberty. We don’t all want to be policemen or prison guards, but most of us are glad that there are people doing those jobs. 
If I delegate the job of constraining someone else’s liberty, then, unless I happen to be a despot, those who have the power to constrain someone else’s liberty have the power to constrain my liberty as well. That is roughly what we mean by equality before the law.
Yup, we're FOOLs we are, one and all.  Some more than others.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Right Effect, Wrong Cause

Yesterday the NYT proffered its latest The Great Divide column. Before I go any further, in the NYT's own words:

The Great Divide is a series on inequality — the haves, the have-nots and everyone in between — in the United States and around the world, and its implications for economics, politics, society and culture. The series moderator is Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, a Columbia professor and a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and chief economist for the World Bank.*

This latest instructional column from the enlightened to the rest of us, How Can We Jump-Start the Struggle for Gender Equality? purports to demonstrate that something went wrong during the Vanguard's Righteous March to Parity Between the Sexes. Besides, that is, all those fussy dimorphic details which, since they are unimportant to the Vanguard are unimportant in fact.

[Starting in the 1960s, the] traditional division of labor by gender was challenged from all sides. Women’s share of the labor force, husbands’ share of housework, the integration of occupations once categorized by gender and women’s share of management jobs all rocketed upward from the 1970s till sometime in the 1990s. Women went from earning fewer than 10 percent of law and medicine degrees in 1970 to earning almost half of them by the early 2000s.

I don't think it is possible to cogently argue that, circa 1968, women were not subject to all manner of legal handicaps due to their choosing poorly as to which team they were to be conceived into. Similarly, I think that no matter how hard you might look, or no matter how many rocks you might wish to overturn, you would be hard pressed to find anyone wishing to reimpose all those petty, demeaning, senseless shackles.

Wonderful, even more indefensible nonsense for history's ash heap. Game over. Post over, sans point.

Not so fast, wonder wings. After making occupational advances across the board for two decades …

… the movement toward equality stopped. The labor force hit 46 percent female in 1994, and it hasn’t changed much since. Women’s full-time annual earnings were 76 percent of men’s in 2001, and 77 percent in 2011. Although women do earn a majority of academic degrees, their specialties pay less, so that earnings even for women with doctorate degrees working full time are 77 percent of men’s. Attitudinal changes also stalled. In two decades there has been little change in the level of agreement with the statement, “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.

There are a couple things worth remembering here. Just as Jim Crow laws were a grotesque imposition on blacks because of their race, women were also subject to nearly endless impositions because of their gender. In the early 1960s, it was difficult for women to own property, obtain credit, and were barred from many jobs. And we must give credit where it is due. Progressives were the ones taking on Jim Crow, and tearing down the equally pervasive, demeaning, and unjustified subjugation of women.

And then they succumbed to Progressivism's twin diseases: submerging individuals within the group, and rampaging hubris. Both are on prominent display in the quoted para above, and throughout the article. It doesn't matter what individual women, or men, want; only that groups adhere to Progressives' insistence upon the only equality that matters — outcome. Attitudinal changes have "stalled", because they fail to adhere to the Progressive notion of what constitutes the correct attitude.

Progressives fancy themselves as being reality based and, ipso facto, correct in their every thought and deed. Whether Creationist or Dawkinsian, there is precious little disagreement to be found that women and men have always faced very different life challenges. Yet it is the Dawkinsian Progressive who falls, and falls hard, for the belief, as religious as anything you might find in revealed texts, that evolution stops at the neck line.

According to Dr. Cohen, sociology professor and author of a coming-real-soon-now book "The Family: Diversity, Inequality and Social Change", the blame lies with men and society. Men haven't moved into traditionally female occupations, and our society has failed to implement work-family policies oriented towards promoting gender equality.

Unfortunately for Dr. Cohen's Progressive vision, reality bites.

Here is a list of “non-traditional” (i.e., less than 25% female) occupations.

As it turns out, there are quite a lot of them, with an average female participation rate of roughly 10%. Taking a for instance, it is hard to imagine how work-family policies, no matter what they might be, differentially impact nursing and being a mechanic. Yet nursing remains overwhelmingly female, and any occupation with the word “mechanic” attached is at least 96% male. (My occupation, pilot, is 98.7% male, despite a cornucopia of job offers for any qualified female.) It appears that the other foot can be shod with the same shoe: women don't appear the least inclined to move into traditionally male occupations.

Maybe something more than stalled attitudes is involved. Maybe a great many women are concluding that, given a choice, they would far rather be nurses than mechanics. And just as many men are wondering why they would want to be primary school teachers when they could be working on cars.

If that is so, and the list of still “traditional” occupations suggests it is, then perhaps evolution didn’t stop at the neck line, and, consequently, equality of opportunity should not be expected to yield anything remotely resembling equality of outcome. Maybe, just maybe, unfair evolutionary discrimination has tilted the playing field in many more directions than just plumbing and upper body strength. Mechanical aptitude is unfairly — by Progressive standards — distributed. So why should we attribute to "stalled attitudes", or defective work-family policies, that which is far better explained by nature itself?

Which points at a fundamental objection to Dr. Cohen's urging us to imitate Iceland's family policies, and chiding "frightened traditionalists" in the US who are, poor benighted dears, averse to state-run child care.

There's even a term for it: Parity Error. So long as women are not eager to become mechanics, pilots, carpenters, masons, welders, ad nauseum, then men must do those things.

According to Dr. Cohen, If you want a society in which men are welcome and willing to be day care workers, you may need a workplace culture that accepts — or encourages — fathers’ spending more time at home with their children. To unblock the path toward gender equality, these policies may be the best ideas we have.

Until he concocts policies that encourage women to do things they resolutely refuse to do, then the best ideas Progressives have are no better than bolting a kick-stand on a tricycle.

* The reality deficits in this piece are so glaring and central that whatever Dr. Stiglitz' brilliance in economics, he is utterly devoid of skeptical moderation.

Postmodernism, it's continued relevance

In a recent post on this blog I linked to a Lee Harris column which asked "why isn't socialism dead?"  The key point was that socialism lives on in the dimension of myth.  The author concluded that piece:
This is why socialism isn't dead, and why in our own century it may well spring back into life with a force and vigor shocking to those who have, with good reason, declared socialism to be no longer viable. It is also why Georges Sorel is perhaps even more relevant today than he was a hundred years ago. He knew that it was hopeless to guide men by reason and argument alone. Men need myths -- and until capitalism can come up with a transformative myth of its own, it may well be that many men will prefer to find their myths in the same place they found them in the first part of the twentieth century -- the myth of revolutionary socialism.

This is the challenge that capitalism faces in the world today -- whether it will rise to the challenge is perhaps the most urgent question of our time, and those who refuse to confront this challenge are doing no service to reason or to human dignity and freedom. Bad myths can only be driven out by better myths, and unless capitalism can provide a better myth than socialism, the latter will again prevail.
I prefer to use a term other than capitalism as do most of the readers of this blog.  There are even bigger problems than word usage.  There is a combination of the myth of socialism and the propagation of a toxic idea meant to undermine the ability of a free society to defend itself.  Dr. Sanity offers the following:
 What are these "dangerous trends that began decades ago"? To understand what is happening in the world today, one must understand the a philosophy that has taken root in Western Civilization and brought us to this point in history--and, yes, ideas really matter; and when you are basing your society on bad ones, then you can expect bad things to happen.

The philosophy that is behind these dangerous trends is Postmodernism; and Barack Obama represents the culmination and embodiment of the perfect postmodern demagogue.

There have been prior posts on this blog   dealing with Postmodernism as well as  additional posts at at Dr. Sanity blog.  She continues:
We can think of the four pillars--POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, MULTICULTURALISM, RADICAL ENVIRONMENTALISM, and TERRORISM-- as the foundation for both the socialist revival (particularly in the Western hemisphere recently) and for the rapid advancement of the Islamic Jihad and Islamic fundamentalism.

Below is a flow chart that has been adapted from Stephen Hick's book, Explaining Postmodernism (p. 173), which summarizes the evolution of these four strategies/pillars of leftist/progressive thought; and though I have written about it before, it is well worth repeating over and over again as the perfect postmodern storm that swirls around approaches a Category 5; and as reason, truth, and reality are belittled and ignored by our leaders:

The refusal to accept failure combined with the spawn of Postmodernism gives the radical left considerable ability to undermine freedom.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Eternal Flame

I'm not talking about the eternal flame at the grave site of JFK, this being the 50th anniversary of his death.  Well let me get right to it...

In light of the horrors brought about in the twentieth century by the revolutionary myth of socialism, it is easy to sympathize with those who believe mankind could not possibly be tempted to try the socialist experiment again. If the liberal rationalist Renan was surprised that "Socialists were beyond discouragement" at the beginning of the twentieth century, how much more surprised must his contemporary counterparts be to discover that socialism is also beyond discouragement at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Yet this is a lesson that Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, under the guidance of their mentor, Fidel Castro, seem determined to impress upon us.

It may well be that socialism isn't dead because socialism cannot die. As Sorel argued, the revolutionary myth may, like religion, continue to thrive in "the profounder regions of our mental life," in those realms unreachable by mere reason and argument, where even a hundred proofs of failure are insufficient to wean us from those primordial illusions that we so badly wish to be true. Who doesn't want to see the wicked and the arrogant put in their place? Who among the downtrodden and the dispossessed can fail to be stirred by the promise of a world in which all men are equal, and each has what he needs?

Here we have the problem facing those who, like Hernando de Soto, believe that capitalism is the only rational alternative left after the disastrous collapse of so many socialist experiments. Yes, capitalism is the only rational method of proceeding; but is the mere appeal to reason sufficient to make the mass of men and women, especially among the poor and the rejected, shut their ears to those who promise them the socialist apocalypse, especially when the men who are making these promises possess charisma and glamour, and are willing to stand up, in revolutionary defiance, to their oppressors?

The shrewd and realistic Florentine statesman and thinker, Guicciardini, once advised: "Never fight against religion...this concept has too much empire over the minds of men." And to the extent that socialism is a religion, then those who wish to fight it with mere reason and argument may well be in for a losing battle. Furthermore, as populism spreads, it is inevitable that the myth of socialism will gain in strength among the people who have the least cause to be happy with their place in the capitalist world-order, and who will naturally be overjoyed to put their faith in those who promise them a quick fix to their poverty and an end to their suffering.

Earlier in the article the author states:

  Instead, he argues that it is only by refusing to accept the failure of socialism that one can become a "true revolutionary." Indeed, for Sorel, the whole point of the myth of the socialist revolution is not that the human societies will be transformed in the distant future, but that the individuals who dedicate their lives to this myth will be transformed into comrades and revolutionaries in the present. In short, revolution is not a means to achieve socialism; rather, the myth of socialism is a useful illusion that turns ordinary men into comrades and revolutionaries united in a common struggle -- a band of brothers, so to speak.

Sorel, for whom religion was important, drew a comparison between the Christian and the socialist revolutionary. The Christian's life is transformed because he accepts the myth that Christ will one day return and usher in the end of time; the revolutionary socialist's life is transformed because he accepts the myth that one day socialism will triumph, and justice for all will prevail. What mattered for Sorel, in both cases, is not the scientific truth or falsity of the myth believed in, but what believing in the myth does to the lives of those who have accepted it, and who refuse to be daunted by the repeated failure of their apocalyptic expectations. How many times have Christians in the last two thousand years been convinced that the Second Coming was at hand, only to be bitterly disappointed -- yet none of these disappointments was ever enough to keep them from holding on to their great myth. So, too, Sorel argued, the myth of socialism will continue to have power, despite the various failures of socialist experiments, so long as there are revolutionaries who are unwilling to relinquish their great myth. That is why he rejected scientific socialism -- if it was merely science, it lacked the power of a religion to change individual's lives. Thus for Sorel there was "an...analogy between religion and the revolutionary Socialism which aims at the apprenticeship, preparation, and even the reconstruction of the individual -- a gigantic task."

So the eternal flame of the socialist myth will continue to burn in the hearts and minds of some.  It is why socialists can not tolerate competing belief systems and why they do not respect the rights of the individual or a preference for voluntary cooperation instead of coercion. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Happened in 1973?

Via Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek, here's an interesting chart related to income inequality:

One thing that's interesting, is that in the last 100 years, the very rich did not get that much richer than everybody else.

Russ dissects the chart:
Let’s just look at the bottom 99%, the clear light circles. Put all your biases aside for a moment. Just look at it and try to summarize what you see. I see four different eras. From 1913 until roughly 1940, it’s flat. From 1940 to 1973, it’s rising almost steadily, roughly tripling. Then for 20 years, 1973–1993, it’s basically flat. Then in 1993, it starts to rise but the increases are erratic.
I would describe it slightly differently.  There was a brief spike up during WWII, then things were roughly flat till around 1950 which is when Income Growth for the bottom 99% started rising steadily.

Russ wonders why the change in 1973:
When the left talks about the middle class being “hollowed out,” or stagnation in the standard of living of average American, they like to blame it on declining unionization, a fraying social contract between business and labor, or the rich hoarding more for themselves and leaving less for the rest of us via tax policy or regulation. But none of these kinds of explanations are likely to explain the sharpness in the change of the rate of growth starting in 1973. Private sector unionization has been declining steadily since 1950. I don’t think the social contract got revised in an especially tough way in 1973. And I don’t think the rich had a big confab in 1973 when they remade public policy. Was there a big change in tax policy or regulation in 1973? If there was, I missed it.
His explanation?  Well, I'll let you go directly to Cafe Hayek to find out the cause of flattening Income Growth for the bottom 99% starting in 1973.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Anti-Anti-Trust: The Standard Oil Case

I've concluded over years of occasional study that Antitrust law does more harm than good, particularly when viewed from perspective of the consumer.  There are a wide variety of subtle reasons why I believe this and my plan is to occasionally write about various aspects of those reasons.

I approach many narratives with skepticism, and the Antitrust narrative is one of those.  When looking at Antitrust cases, I've noticed that the glorious narrative of noble "Trust Busters" courageously fighting uber-powerful, evil corporations for the benefit of the consumer doesn't hold up very well and is quite dependent on spin.  In other words, the facts don't speak for themselves.  The following is one example (from ANTITRUST: THE CASE FOR REPEAL by Dominick T.. Armentano):
The conventional account of the Standard Oil case goes something like this.  The Standard Oil Company employed ruthless business practices to monopolize the petroleum industry in the nineteenth century.  After achieving its monopoly, Standard reduced market output and raised the market price of kerosene, the industry's major product. The federal government indicted Standard under the Sherman Act at the very pinnacle of its monopolistic power, proved in court that it had acted unreasonably toward consumers and competitors, and obtained a divestiture of the company that helped to restore competition in the petroleum industry. 
This account has almost nothing in common with the actual facts.  It is not possible to review the entire history of the case here, but a summary of the government findings against and actual conduct of Standard Oil will serve to make the point. 
The Standard Oil Company was a major force in the development of the petroleum industry in the nineteenth century.  It grew from being a small Ohio corporation in 1870, with perhaps a 4-percent market share, to become a giant, multidivisional conglomerate company by 1890, when it enjoyed as much as 85 percent of the domestic petroleum refining market.  This growth was the result of shrewd bargaining for crude oil, intelligent investments in research and development, rebates from railroads, strict financial accounting, vertical and horizontal integration to realize specific efficiencies, investments in tank cars and pipelines to more effectively control the transportation of crude oil and refined product, and a host of other managerial innovations.  Internally-generated efficiency allowed the company to purchase other businesses and manage additional assets with the same commitment to efficiency and even to expand its corporate operations abroad. 
Standard Oil's efficiency made the company extremely successful: it kept its costs low and was able to sell more and more of its refined product, usually at a lower and lower price, in the open marketplace.  Prices for kerosene fell from 30 cents a gallon in 1869 to 9 cents in 1880, 7.4 cents in 1890, and 5.9 cents in 1897.  Most important, this feat was accomplished in a market open to competitors, the number and organizational size of which increased greatly after 1890.  Indeed, the competitors grew so quickly in the years preceding the federal antitrust case that Standard's market share in petroleum refining declined from roughly 85 percent in 1890 to 64 percent in 1911.  In 1911, at least 147 refining companies were competing with Standard, including such large firms as Gulf, Texaco, Union, Pure, Associated Oil and Gas, and Shell.
So, before and during the period when Antitrust action was brought against Standard Oil, prices were plummeting and Standard Oil's market share dropped significantly.  Harm to the consumer was nowhere to be seen and, in fact, consumers benefited hugely from the price drop.

There are quite a number of other Antitrust cases like this that follow this "Anti" narrative.  The common wisdom is often just a particularly spin and narrative which don't reflect the facts particularly well.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Textin' in the Girls Room

My daughters aren't allowed to use their phones at school.  So when they need to reach me during the school day about rides or other after school activities, they sneak into the girls room to use their phones to text me.

In my day it was "Smokin' in the Boys Room:"

Now it's "Textin' in the Girls Room." The new lyrics would be:

Textin' in the girls room
Textin' in the girls room
Teacher don't you fill me up with your rules
Everybody knows that textin' ain't allowed in school!

Friday, November 08, 2013

The $317,000 Question

With the rollout of Obamacare being such an epic fiasco that using the term risks libeling epic fiascos, it's easy to lose sight of the problems Obamacare was meant to address in the first place.

Perhaps that is too generous.  That the healthcare system in the US is a shambolic contraption is an assertion that can probably be made without fear of contradiction, even on the internet.  But nothing I read in the run-up to Obamacare's passage, or since, has seemed to this glorified heavy equipment operator of even coming close to properly conceiving the problem, never mind the inherent tradeoffs in any conceivable "solution".  

(In the following, I am going to make notional assertions, most of which I'm not going to source, as a basis to conceptualize what is in play.  Which is kind of like saying I'm making it all up; keep in mind that since my argument is conceptual, it does not rely upon numerical exactitude.)

In the developed world, 21st Century edition, almost everybody dies from disease or decrepitude, rather than misadventure. To simplify things, assume that everyone dies from illness or old age.  To simplify even further, so far as healthcare goes, the difference between the two is without distinction.

As a first approximation, all people have, from the point of view of the health care system, a bathtub shaped lifecycle:  significant involvement in the beginning, quickly dropping to very little involvement, until shortly before the end, roughly two years, when the demand for health care resources quickly rises.

Oddly, that healthcare lifecycle cost doesn't vary a heck of a lot with lifespan: it is the sides of the bathtub that matter, not how wide it is.  The proximate cause of our ultimate demise isn't particularly germane to its cost.  Non-smokers live longer than smokers, but they die no more cheaply.

Time for a hard fact: on average, the lifecycle cost to the healthcare system of a human is $317,000.

Already, the first conceptual hurdle is staring us in the face:  anyone using the words "health" and "insurance" next to each other is to demonstrate for all to see a comprehensive inability to grasp what insurance is about.  To wit, insurance pools risk.  A great many homeowners buy fire insurance, very few of them have their homes go up in smoke.  But if all houses were built knowing in advance that they would eventually burn down, there would be nobody around to take the other side of that bet.  As David Cohen, a longtime member of the PJA, memorably put it, the fire insurance market consists of bets by homeowners that their houses will burn down, and counter bets by insurance companies that they won't.  

Clearly, when it comes to healthcare costs, that doesn't apply, because all the houses, or near enough as makes no difference, burn down.  So what healthcare "coverage" really amounts to is cost shifting.

That is what poses the question at the top of this post.  Assume everyone lives to 75, and the average per-capita lifecycle cost is $317,000.  The simplest answer to that $317,000 question is to leave it up to the individual.  Ignoring troublesome things like inflation and interest return, all good libertarians will start self-funding their own life cycle costs from the git-go, to the tune of $4300 per year.  

That doesn't sound like much, except that for a good libertarian family of four that ends up at close as darnnit to $17,000 a year.  For some of us libertarians, while that is indeed a chunk o' cash, it is manageable.  However, not everyone is above average, and $17,000 per year would go some considerable way towards crowding out some of the luxuries in life. Like food and clothing.  

To make an expensive problem worse, healthcare is not merely a commodity. If my neighbor's house burns down, and they neglected to bet that it would, tough.  In my travels, I have been places (socialist, oddly enough) where that is apparently the attitude to the physically afflicted.  That simply isn't on the cards here in the US.  We will not tolerate the prospect of people with gaping, oozing, chest wounds panhandling.  

Looking at this problem from a life-cycle cost point of view has already led to a couple inescapable conclusions.  Paying for healthcare requires cost-shifting from the healthy to the sick, from the young to the old.  

Viewed through the prism of an insurance bet, it makes sense for a healthy mid-20s male to forego health care "insurance" altogether, or go with a high deductible catastrophic policy and self-insure up to the deductible.  Similarly, it doesn't seem to make much sense for me, having some time ago undergone that special operation, to nonetheless be required to pay for maternity coverage. 

But that is making the mistake of parsing a lifecycle into discreet events, then not checking to see if the sums add. Virtually all women have children, virtually all men become fathers, and essentially everyone living in the high-clover that precedes middle age will find themselves elderly.

Thus far, it sounds like I am making an argument for a single-payer system.  That is the seemingly obvious solution.  After all, if lifecycle costs are largely invariant, and are too high for the less well off, then those considerations pose a powerful moral argument for a system of redistributive taxation and cost shifting.

Unfortunately, single payer systems suffer the same problems to which socialist solutions seem prone: rationing, and pervasive shabbiness.  Moreover, single-payer systems free ride on the US healthcare market for innovation.

Instead, we first need to look at the US healthcare system posing two problems:  cost and affordability.  

Obamacare's fundamental problem, leaving aside the rampant fraud required for its passage, and then the staggering effort to first find, then harness, all the universe's incompetence for its implementation, was in taking a fiendishly difficult problem and trying to solve it all at once (as opposed to the GOP, which, SFAIK, has been entirely missing in action on this).

Instead, the better approach would have been to first address cost.  A great deal of the healthcare we consume does no good.  What is useful is almost always (except in more competitive realms such as elective plastic surgery and orthodontia) far more expensive than other activities that seemingly require similar skills and resources.  Even though healthcare isn't simply a commodity, it isn't immune from supply and demand; healthcare policies seem designed to shield the consumer from cost, leading to overconsumption.  The medical profession is decades behind aviation in adopting standardized procedures; inevitably there are more medical errors, more litigation, and less defense against litigation due to the absence of standards.  End defensive medicine.  The scope of healthcare is (thanks to some truly goofy court decisions) far too wide; infertility isn't fair, and I am sure that to some it comes as a crushing disappointment, but that may not be, to others, sufficient cause for having their wallets lightened.  None of this requires a massive federal bureaucracy, or thousands of pages of incomprehensible legislations, or truckloads of regulations to implement legislation.

Oh, and end the tax code's insane preference for employer purchased healthcare (Full disclosure:  this is an admission against interest.)

Yet even if we managed all that, and entered that nirvana where we purchased only what was useful, and its cost stood nearish to reality, it would still be too expensive for many to find affordable.  

Which is where the nut gets really hard to crack.  No one, not even the Rethuglicans and Teahadists, (who, as we all know, are eternally disappointed because we don't have enough poor people, and the ones we do have don't suffer nearly enough) is the least bit interested in people foregoing useful medical treatment due to lack of money.  Yet it is just as clear that given the scope of modern medicine, the cost of delivery will never be low enough for the affordability problem to disappear.

What then?  

IMHO, the least worst option is something akin to the Earned Income Tax Credit.  A per capita amount that is deemed (note the passive voice here -- it hides a great deal) sufficient to purchase adequate health coverage.  Obviously, this would require increasing taxes on the well off, but this amounts to making explicit that which is already the case -- cost shifting to those with extensive coverage.  Then I would pair that with a Health Savings Account that would be allowed to accrue indefinitely.  The consequence would be allowing more people over time to effectively self-insure, while exposing providers to price sensitivity.

By failing, for whatever reasons, to outline the problem President Obama certainly sold a bill of goods to Americans, and may well have done so to himself, as well.  He squandered an opportunity to make a systematic approach to a fiendishly difficult problem, instead succumbing to the curse of Progressives: a fetish for process and bureaucracy.  The result in the short term, has been a website that makes the Costa Concordia seem brilliant, and, in the long term, an adverse selection problem that will leave Obamacare with a far bigger hole below the water line.

Unfortunately, the Republican contribution to dealing with this ongoing sucking chest wound has proceeded no further than blank stares and slack, drooling, jaws.

The choice between Obamacare and [crickets], gives new meaning to the phrase "Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea."

[Apologies for any disorganized thinking and writing, or offenses against grammar and clarity.  There is no time left for any of that high-falutin proof reading stuff.]

Monday, November 04, 2013

Big Power Corrupts Bigly

In 2010, General Electric (NYSE:GE) had revenues of $149 billion.  That's larger than the gross domestic product of all but about one-quarter of the countries on earth.  General Electric may also be the most diverse company in the world, involved in everything from jet engines to coffee makers, power plants to sealants, finance to lighting, and General Electric's "economy" is more diverse than the economy of many nations and most governments. They have over 300,000 employees working all over the world.  General Electric is currently number 6 on the list of Fortune 500 companies.  They are almost a nation unto themselves.

In 2010, GE had profits of $14,200,000,000, of which $5,100,000,000 was earned in the United States, yet GE paid no U.S. taxes:
...low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies. 
Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore. G.E.’s giant tax department, led by a bow-tied former Treasury official named John Samuels, is often referred to as the world’s best tax law firm. Indeed, the company’s slogan “Imagination at Work” fits this department well. The team includes former officials not just from the Treasury, but also from the I.R.S. and virtually all the tax-writing committees in Congress.
Other huge companies are also using hordes of lawyers and lobbyists to collude with the government to avoid taxes and let others bear the burden of funding the government:
While General Electric is one of the most skilled at reducing its tax burden, many other companies have become better at this as well. Although the top corporate tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, one of the highest in the world, companies have been increasingly using a maze of shelters, tax credits and subsidies to pay far less. [...] 
Such strategies ... have pushed down the corporate share of the nation’s tax receipts — from 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.
And Big Government, including Obama, is definitely a willing player in the collusion:
Obama ... has designated G.E.’s chief executive, Jeffrey R. Immelt, as his liaison to the business community and as the chairman of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and it is expected to discuss corporate taxes. 
“He understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy,” Mr. Obama said of Mr. Immelt, on his appointment in January, after touring a G.E. factory in upstate New York that makes turbines and generators for sale around the world. 
A review of company filings and Congressional records shows that one of the most striking advantages of General Electric is its ability to lobby for, win and take advantage of tax breaks.
I don't mean to pick on GE.  While they've been the most successful at the tax avoidance game, Big Money (Wall Street), Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Military, etc. all have been quite successful at collaborating with Big Government to fleece the rest of the country via favorable tax and regulatory treatment for these important election campaign donors.  The Bigs fund the elections of the politicians and bureaucrats and the government largess is the return payment for that funding.

The solution is quite simple.  First, eliminate the corporate income tax completely, especially since it only represents 6.6 percent of all federal revenue anyway.  This will immediately eliminate all the current collusion and corruption.  This should actually be moderately easy to get through Congress, if not right now, then eventually.

Second, institute a revenue tax (NOT income tax), on all revenues over some amount, say $10 billion, with no loopholes, and increasing rates as revenues increase beyond $10 billion.  If economies of scale still favor the company even with the revenue tax, fine.  If not, the shareholders will force a breakup of the company because the new pieces will then be more profitable in aggregate because each piece will be smaller and able to avoid the tax on revenue.  This would help reduce the number of Bigs and their inherently corrupt relationship with Big Government.

Limiting the number of large and powerful companies would be a good thing since, to paraphrase Lord Acton, power corrupts and big power corrupts bigly.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Symbol, Information Channel, and Meaning

My wife and I visited Indonesia in the early 1990s and did a lot of hiking to visit quite a number of old temples and ruins.  We were quite shocked to encounter a huge number of swastikas adorning these temples in various forms.

We later learned that the swastika symbol has been in existence for 5,000 years and that the Sanskrit meaning of the word "swastika" is "it is good."  The information channel from the creators of the temples thousands of years ago to my wife and me was so intensely corrupted by the Nazi's adoption of that symbol, that our first reactions assumed some sort of virulent antisemitism, hatred, violence, and murder.

I've had the humorous opportunity to watch two daughters and their friends evolve in their choice of clothes between the ages of 13 and 16.  At 13, an overwhelming percentage choose to dress totally inappropriately every possible chance they get.  The 13 year old boys take very little notice as they're not yet ready to "appreciate" that sort of thing.  16 to 19 year old boys take a lot of notice, and that makes this period rather dangerous for everyone involved.

The 13 year old girls believe that the message they're sending is something like, "hey, I can dress like the popular stars of the world." The message is intended only for other girls with which they associate.  They have no idea what message they are sending to the slightly older boys.

The humorous part is that these same girls at 15 or 16 are often appalled and ashamed of how they had dressed when they were 13.  At that point they understand how the message of their dress was received by many others (especially the boys) and they dress much, much more conservatively.  And little sisters who are now 13 get quite a talking to by their older sisters when the younger ones start dressing like sluts - the older sisters often make mom look quite permissive! This is definitely an example of how the channel transmitting the information badly distorts the intended meaning on the receiving end.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Michael Ashmore, of Hooks, Texas, leans against the White House fence with his confederate flag.  He and other demonstrators have walked here after attending a rally at the WWII Memorial to protest its' closing on October, 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Embarrassingly, I either never knew or had forgotten what a confederate flag looked like.  Like the swastika above, it has extreme negative connotations, the topmost being extreme racism towards blacks, including being pro-slavery.  Unlike those who adorned their temples with swastikas thousands of years ago and couldn't possibly guess that their sacred symbol would have horribly negative connotations in the distant future, someone who waves a symbol at a political rally doesn't have that excuse.  The best defense is a fairly lame one, and is that like the naive 13-year old girls discussed above, he didn't understand how poorly the message of waving a confederate flag in front of the White House would be received by a substantial majority of the citizens of the United States, including both liberals and conservatives.

That does, indeed, seem to be the excuse.  Here is an excerpt of something he's written about the event in response to the negative press coverage:
"You sit behind your laptop and type articles about people you don’t know. You sit there and think you know the true meaning of the confederate flag, but in truth you only know what people have told you.Did you know that the confederate flag was flown on the USS Columbia ( CL-56) during WWII. 
"You would be surprised that the confederate flag is often used as a symbol for culture and to display love for one’s country. So to sit there and say you know me is a lie. I fought for my country, My family and my friends."
And according to Wikipedia, that is all true.  Nonetheless, by being oblivious to how the information channel would color and deliver his message, he managed to single-handedly paint the tea party, conservatives, marines specifically, and the military in general, as racist - at least in the minds of many liberals and conservatives.