Monday, February 20, 2012

Natalism and Epistemology

In my completely unscientific opinion, possibly influenced by Facebook, natalism is making a comeback. Even if we've seen hundreds or thousands of baby pictures, we always seem able to spare some energy to look at a few more. Even if all babies look substantially alike there is still something reassuring about seeing new ones anyway.

There was very little cruelty for me or the people I remember as a young child, but there was also relatively little enthusiasm for their specialness as well. It was simply a matter of course that responsible adults of that time got married and had children, so the opportunity was there to take them for granted. Since then, there has been a signifcant demographic shift in the wind. Birth rates have been declining almost everywhere in the developed world. This has been less dramatic in the US less than some other countries, but has affected us too. Maybe because we've had the chance to experience actual scarcity, we appreciate the specialness of each baby more now than before.

The theologians say that God is omniscent, and I have no dispute with that. However, as a speculation if nothing else maybe it's at least as accurate to say that God is multiconscious. That's to say, instead of trying to emphasize that God completely comprehends the content of all knowledge, we can also say that He experiences all things from every vantage of perception.

As ordinary schmoes in the world we have the self-perception of consciousness and self-determination. That's our gift but it's also our trap. Part of the joy of seeing the little crawlers is the realization that there is a way out of the trap, even if it's not available to us directly.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Anyone But Newt

I haven't written much in this space about the Republican Presidential primaries (or anything else for that matter) but the momentarily at least the spirit moves so I'll put two cents in.

As we all know, there's been a lot of theatrics and volatility from the candidates this cycle. Some of this comes from the sort of candidates who ran or considered running. Some of it was from the demands of the Republican voting base. Whatever it was, largely as a result of this sometime around October or November I fell in love with Mitt Romney. Whatever other virtues or faults he may have, I was deeply impressed by his bearing and ability to concentrate on fulfilling objectives, without getting sucked into meaningless drama.

From there, in my estimation at least, everything fell into place. In particular, there's two things about Mitt's depth of experience that leads me to hope he'll be an excellent candidate and an excellent President. First of all, that the trend in American governance is to have ever-more complicated rules, jurisdictions, funding streams, bureaucracies and so on. For most of us on the Right, that means we want to elect political powers who is the most reactionarily opposed to such things, eg Ron Paul. That's a substantial mistake IMO. For largely the same reasons that these bureaucracies are unaccountable in their arbitrary authority over us as individuals, they are also substantially unaccountable to the nominally higher boxes in the org chart. We're past the point where we need liberal Democrats to expand the reach of government. As things stand now, government grows as a matter of simple inertia and extends its reach simply by running on autopilot. Therefore, I'm less interested in who wants to tear down various arms of government and much more interested in who can. By that standard, I find Mitt Romney to be an excellent candidate.

Moreover, Mitt has a particularly comprehensive resume to be President. He was an executive at Bain Capital, he successfully rescued the Salt Lake Olympics at a time where it appeared to be heading toward failure, and he was also governor of Massachusetts. In the course of such things, he's professionally interacted with a wide variety of people. It's not exactly the case that Mitt Romney already knows everybody he'll be dealing with if he becomes President, but he does know the types of people he'll be dealing with and in particular how to evaluate their credibility.

All this is the longhand way of say I'm supporting Mitt and background for this Victor Davis Hanson post at NRO today. I'd like to sympathize with VDH's point and dial down the intraparty antagonism, especially given that policy-wise Newt and Mitt are probably much closer to each other than either one is to President Obama.

Unfortunately that's not the only variable in the equation. The reality is that by any plausible standard, Newt really is de facto disqualified from the Presidency. Newt really did cheat on his second wife with his third wife. He really did buy, with said third wife, a half million dollars worth of jewelry from Tiffany's. He really was found guilty of ethics charges by the House of Representatives and paid $300K in fines to resolve them. He really did make a public spectacle over being forced to depart from the rear entrance of an airplane as opposed to the front entrance. He really did receive well over a million dollars for lobbying or consulting for Fannie Mae. You might be able to get away with one or two of these things, but not all of them. (And this list is by no means exhaustive. There's more where that came from.)

The point for Newt-supporting conservatives to understand is, these are not bogus MSM narratives aimed at keeping conservatives down, they are just plain true and widely acknowledged by all parties as such. Newt is de facto disqualified for reasons having nothing to do with Mitt and if Mitt weren't running the GOP establishment would have to mobilize to find Anyone But Newt.

By contrast, Mitt's weaknesses aren't disqualifying. He helped create comprehensive collectivized medicine in Massachusetts, he's weak as a retail candidate, and he once made the family dog ride on the roof in a car trip. People can be upset about Romneycare if they want to, but that's not disqualifying. It's certainly legitimate to oppose Romney on those grounds, but for those who feel that way if they don't want Romney to have the nomination it's incumbent on them to find a different acceptable candidate. Newt Gingrich is not it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monetary Policy, pt II

More an addendum to the last post, especially regarding to the connection between monetary policy and fiscal policy.

David Frum has gotten into the act over last week or so, specifically criticizing the hard money tendencies of the Republican Party. Now, in the main I agree with Mr. Frum. In particular, I support Mitt Romney relative to Gov Perry in no small part because of the reasons mentioned by Mr. Frum. But the issue is a little more complicated than Mr. Frum allows, for reasons that are worth being made explicit to illustrate the connection between monetary policy and trust in governance.

It is a very fundamental requirement of any successful economy to have a credible currency and loose money threatens the integrity of the currency. There are the well-known historical cases of the Weimar Republic and Zimbabwe where the economies were brought to ruination because of a debased currency as well as many other less spectacular examples. The Establishment is completely dismissive of these concerns but frankly the comparisons are less outlandish for me. Let's listen to the Establishment from an outsider's point of view.

The outsider hears, "We're going to do the same things that caused economic collapse in Weimar Germany and Zimbabwe but we're not going to suffer the collapse like they did because we're smarter and we'll execute better. We'll be able to do this in spite of the fact that there are no immediate plans to meaningfully cut government spending and consequently no apparent opportunity to go back to a tighter monetarily policy. Trust us." Given that Americans' trust in institutions is at all time low, is it really surprising that this train of thought isn't getting much traction? On the other hand, even if a tight money policy is not promoting growth or employment, at least it is preserving the dollar as a store of value.

On a side note, it is worth noting that of the Republican Presidential candidates, Rep. Ron Paul is the most extreme hard-money candidate. The gold standard is not necessarily spoken of as a hard money policy but undoubtedly it is. This is a feature for many Paul supporters but I suspect this just flies over the heads of many others. Because nobody actually expects Paul to win the nomination, the isolationist/non-interventionist types don't have to trouble themselves too much about it. There's not anything particularly good or bad about this, except to point out that it's not just the media who believes Rep. Paul has no chance to win the nomination. In their heart of hearts, the Ronulans know it too.

Populism, Perry, Monetary Policy

There's been very little direct debate about monetary policy in American political culture, but the undercurrents of it are everywhere. Most prominently, Texas Gov. Rick Perry suggested that it would be treasonous for Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke to start a new round of quantitative easing before the election.

Yet there's one interesting counterpoint that as far as I know has drawn no comment at all from the blogosphere. During the Bryan era at the beginning of the 20th century, the populist faction of American politics favored soft money. Now, they favor hard money. Politically speaking, this tends to be associated with the Tea Party faction of conservative Republicans, but it's important to note that in the country at large this plays out mostly as a populist vs. elite issue, as Tyler Cowen and others have pointed out.

Back to Perry again. He has been roundly criticized (fairly, I think) for the reckless and inflammatory nature of his accusations against Mr. Bernanke. But as I think about it, it's worse than that. As the saying goes, it's worse than a crime, it's a mistake. The verdict on the performance of the Fed under this crisis will end up in macro textbooks some generations from now. We don't have to withhold our judgment till then. However, we should also get clear on what we should expect Mr. Bernanke and the Fed to accomplish. The subtext of Perry's accusations is that the us honest Americans are doing what we're supposed to, but the Washington elites are screwing everything up. But in this particular case at least, it's a bad rap: government spending and regulatory mismanagement, under the leadership of both parties and supported by the voters, has overburdened the economy and has left the monetary authorities without any good options.

This is especially topical today in light of the news that Thomas Sargent (and Christopher Sims) have won the most recent Nobel Prize for economics. As Professor Cowen summarizes,
One of his most important (and depressing) papers is Sargent, Thomas J. and Neil Wallace (1981). “Some Unpleasant Monetarist Arithmetic“. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Quarterly Review 5 (3): 1–17. The main idea of this paper is that good monetary policy requires good fiscal policy. Otherwise the fight against inflation will not be credible. This is probably his most important paper.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Me to California: Drop Dead, pt V

The Republicans’ plan looks pretty ugly, but I do not see any plausible alternatives. And I see one big opportunity: This is the chance to pry the parasitic government-employee unions off the body politic.
They have bankrupted the states, and the resulting crisis gives us the means and the opportunity to put an end to their plunder. When those contracts get renegotiated, Republicans should insist that they address more than pensions. - Kevin Williamson,
National Review

Monday, October 04, 2010

School at 3:05

I wouldn’t mind this bilge nearly as much if Ed Schultz showed the slightest bit of talent or style in spewing it. - Jonah Goldberg
One thing that makes politics difficult for me is that it's very difficult to see anybody remotely prominent from the other team worthy of any respect. Rachel Maddow seems like a nice person and President Obama gave some good speeches but it gets real thin real fast. Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann, the Prez, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi et al are horrific no-talent hacks.

Our team has Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Phil Gramm, Mitt Romney, John McCain. A distant and somewhat unlikable bunch to be frank but people who have led real lives and accomplished real things nonetheless.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

How To Start A Recovery

"Public servants, public service users and the poor are going to pay most of the price for the slash and burn Emergency Budget." - Luke Akehurst

Monday, April 12, 2010

Names Changed to Protect the Guilty

Some guy has been involved in politics and political activism in some fashion for the past decade ranging from work on poverty issues, increasing accessibility to education, increasing voter participation, first nations representation, and energy efficiency and environmental issues. He is currently exploring opportunities to volunteer, contribute to his community, build a family, and embody a more vibrant sense of citizenship in some place.

He is a Fellow with a think tank (website coming) and is involved in national organizing as the Field Coordinator for an some activist group, a grassroots, not-for-profit organization flowing out of some cause. He also writes about political issues at a website where he is a contributor and founding member.

I chased a few links at a website I read sometimes and found this (slightly edited to remove identifying info). We can't know for sure, of course, but it seems a fair assertion to say that every significant part of this man's life is about manipulating the worldview of modern industrial society toward stealing from other people.

If he were, for example, merely some kind of anti-poverty activist we might suppose he was motivated by genuine solidarity with the poor. But that is way too narrow for our protagonist. His breadth of concern extends to education, the environment, the first nations (that's Canuck for Indians/Native Americans if you weren't aware), energy efficiency, and probably the DH rule as well.

The idea that we are supposed to somehow pay for the things we want out of the resources we have is either disdained or more likely never occurred to our protagonist in the first place.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What He Said, pt XIV

My theory of the ruling class is that it comes from the lower right quadrant. That is, people who are highly educated but lacking in useful skills. If you will, the suits are in the lower-right quadrant and the geeks are in the upper-right quadrant.

My theory is that the ruling class gets its strongest support from people in the lower-right quadrant. They identify strongly with the ruling class. Placing an artificially high value on educational credentials is in the interest of the ruling class and everyone else in the lower-right quadrant. If it were not for the protection provided by credentialism and government employment, my guess is that many of those in the lower-right quadrant would have incomes no higher than those of people who are not college educated.

The challenge for the ruling class is to keep the other three quadrants from uniting in opposition to the ruling class. To try to retain support among the highly-educated who are skilled, the ruling class tries to blur the distinction between the upper-right quadrant and the lower-right quadrant. The ruling class would prefer to lump them all together into "the educated elite," or "technocrats." I fell for that one for a long time, but just recently the light bulb came on--hence the matrix. - Arnold Kling

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Since the health care vote, David Frum has written a much-circulated piece on his site where he criticizes the conservative/Republican strategy on health care over the last year or so. Basically, he argues that we should have found a place to cut a deal and cut our losses.

Some of us on the mainstream Right have criticized Frum for insufficient loyalty to the cause over the last couple of years. It's mostly a bad rap. Unlike most dissident conservatives, he is not in the game to express disapproval of the Hannity-Palin axis. His story is a little more subtle. The Hannity-Palin axis is mildly distasteful, but more than that their politics and the people they represent are quite limited, so in the final analysis they are losers.

All of this is background to the main point, which is that Frum's problem is not disloyalty, but he is sometimes wrong on the merits and this is one such example. There are very few silver linings in the health care debacle, but the biggest one is that we have comprehensively disproved the proposition that the Democrats' health care reform was inevitable and continuous growth of the welfare state is something that we have to acquiesce to for the sake of making marginal improvements here or there.

As it is, the American people know they can resist, if they choose. It's also useful for our relations with the other team, strained as they are. They may be stonger than us, but their actions are never wise or just, and we shouldn't pretend that they are.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What She Said, pt XIII

Oh, wait--suddenly it doesn't seem quite fair that Republicans could just ignore the will of their constituents that way, does it? Yet I guarantee you that there are a lot of GOP members out there tonight who think that they should get at least one free "Screw You" vote to balance out what the Democrats just did. - Megan McArdle

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


For example, I asked about a topic that is on many peoples' minds right now: sovereign debt problems. The near-term deficit is basically not a problem; amortized over 15 or 20 years, the U.S. economy can afford this level of debt. But the long term deficit is a big problem, and I asked one of our "senior treasury officials" whether he was worried that we would cross some threshold where either the debt becomes a major drag on growth, or markets start demanding significantly higher yields to lend us money.

His answer was smart, if not totally reassuring. Ultimately, this is not about some numeric figure, like Ken Rogoff's 80% of GDP; it's about what the market believes. If the market believes that we are going to get our budget in order (at least sort of), then the deficits we're running over the next five or ten years can be sustained. If the market questions this, then we're in big trouble. The reason U.S. debt is the "risk free" rate is that in the past, we've always gotten it together in the end. - Megan McArdle
Not only have we gotten it together in the end, the market has perceived that we've gotten it together before we actually did. And even then the principal of our debt hasn't actually been repaid for a long long time. It's just gotten relatively smaller as the economy has gotten larger. In the end, creditworthiness is essentially a matter of perception. At one level this is kind of obvious but it has important consequences.

Among other things, it is being put in jeopardy by the current health care bill. If in spite of all the turmoil in public finance, we intend to add to the problem instead of attempting to address it, we are less trustworthy, financially speaking than we were before.

At the individual level, this is also related to my signalling argument for voting Republican. It's not circulated very much, but it's quite persuasive for me at least. I wish the party pushed it more than it has.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Not Exactly Nothing

The sad fact is that there's not much to be done for the long term unemployed, other than the obvious step of making sure that they don't miss any meals. Government retraining programs have a dismal record. So do tax credits for hiring workers, which are notoriously easy to game. Stimulus is a blunt tool. And the government can't hire the workers itself. What's left? Threatening employers at gunpoint?

The answer is, nothing. - Megan McArdle
Megan is appropriately pessimistic about the government's ability to create jobs. But that doesn't mean the government can't discourage or destroy the ability of the private sector to create jobs which it plainly can. For the government to avoid this is not nothing. Consider:
No. What I think is: These are the people who go to the wall when the cost of employing someone gets too high. We’ve spent the last seventy years increasing the hidden overhead and downside risks associated with hiring a worker — which meant the minimum revenue-per-employee threshold below which hiring doesn’t make sense has crept up and up and up, gradually. This effect was partly masked by credit and asset bubbles, but those have now popped. Increasingly it’s not just the classic hard-core unemployables (alcoholics, criminal deviants, crazies) that can’t pull enough weight to justify a paycheck; it’s the marginal ones, the mediocre, and the mildly dysfunctional.

If that doesn’t scare the crap out of you, you’re not paying attention. It’s a recipe for long-term structural unemployment at European levels of 10%, 15%, and up. What’s even crazier is that the Obama administration wants to respond to this problem by…raising taxes and piling more regulatory burden on employers. - Eric Raymond (HT: Arnold Kling)