In theory, I'm against laws banning smoking in bars and restaurants. I don't smoke, and I hate being in places where smoke is concentrated, but on principle, I think the government shouldn't tell bars and restaurants they can't allow people to smoke there. - Rod DreherBut even if, like Rod, I should oppose smoking bans in bars and restaurants, in practice this is one exercise of the nanny state that actually works.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Megan McArdle has written an interesting piece pushing back against the argument circulating on the Right that Obama's (and Bush's) wasteful fiscal policies are risking hyperinflation, instead supposing that we will have to endure a fiscal crisis instead. She might be right, but it looks to me like a distinction without a difference.
The next big economic bullet we have to contend with is the threat that the government's access to credit in arbitrarily large amounts will be lost or reduced. As that happens, interest rates will rise and the federal government will have to make some very difficult decisions. Megan's argument seems to operate under the assumption that when push comes to shove, the feds will choose to cut entitlement benefits rather than attempt to inflate away the debt. If that's true we have certainly not seen any movement in that direction so far. I know if I owned long term Treasury debt I would be less than reassured by Megan. Furthermore the actual bondholders don't necessarily believe her either, their problem is that they really don't have any good alternatives.
I agree with James Pethokoukis (and other commentators with a similar line) in the main, but his tone seems a bit churlish to me. The fact that GDP grew at 3.5% last quarter is good news, even if for technical reasons that number is exaggerating somewhat the growth in the real economy.
Instead of quibbling about whether last quarter's GDP growth rate was 3.5% or 2.0%, I would simply emphasize that appearances notwithstanding, we are actually in a recovery right now. This is what recovery looks like when Democrats are in power. If the voters want something better, they can vote Republican.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
“Barack Obama is a clever fellow who imbibed hatred of America with his mother’s milk, but worked his way up the elite ladder of education and career,” I wrote in Feb. 2008. He shares the resentment of Muslims against the encroachment of American culture, although not their religion. He has the empathetic skill set of an anthropologist who lives with his subjects, learns their language, and elicits their hopes and fears while remaining at emotional distance. That is, he is the political equivalent of a sociopath. The difference is that he is practicing not on a primitive tribe but on the population of the United States.” - David Goldman aka Spengler
We've seen quite a bit of this sort of thing from various people on the Right over the last year or so. Steve Sailer in particular has made an extensive study of it.
I have no particular beef with armchair psychoanalysis of political figures or prominent people in general. In many circumstances it's the only way to make sense of them. It's just that in this particular case I don't buy it, at least as it pertains to Barack Obama's performance as President of the United States.
Even if we accept that young Barack Obama was weaned on anti-Americanism, the 47-year old President Obama understands the gravity of his job and has circulated in "respectable" society long enough to render some analyses like Spengler's wrong if taken too literally. This is not just some speculation by the way, but clear from his performance through nine months in office. If Obama really intended to be the American Salvador Allende (and I for one was worried about it), he would have gone about things much differently.
No, the thing I fear about President Obama right now is that he is not just the President but also the First Groupie. Like some of his rockstar-worshipping fans, he in love with the sound of his own voice. As a consequence, he manages through atmospherics. The President's warm sonorous baritone isn't just a matter of soundbites, but serves in lieu of real engagement with America's problems.
Just a week or so ago, prominent establishment Republicans wanted the Right to coalesce around Republican nominee Scozzafava when it was clear that conservative insurgent Doug Hoffman had the message and the momentum in the race. Now, in the last day or so and less than a week before the election, Scozzafava has not only dropped out, she has endorsed the Democrat in the race, Bill Owens.
Now Dede Scozzafava hasn't written any books about sustainable agriculture or climate change, but she seems to me to be the pol's version of the dissident conservative. We are led to believe such people are supposedly motivated by reasons of high principle. But it's a crock. What really counts is the repudiation of the legitimate lower case r republicans left in America, ie, people like the Palins.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Some of us on the Right are skeptical of the Church's instincts as it pertains to economic or political things. This is a matter of some exasperation for Church partisans. They can say, as Boethius does, "Look, the Church rejects socialism, the Church respects private property, the Church opposes class warfare. It says so right here in Rerum Novarum, written by the pope himself"
Well, our suspicions are not merely paranoia. Here's a couple of interesting links of back-and-forth from Rep. Joseph Kennedy and Abp. Dolan of New York (hat tip to the Corner). Note especially the words of Abp. Dolan: there's nothing in them that suggests any wavering on the traditional doctrines of the Church, in this case the prohibition against abortion. But, without explicitly agreeing, he seems to acquiesce to Rep. Kennedy's premise that of course we all support Democratic-sponsored health care reform once we can resolve these small side-issue dealbreakers.
Of course this ignores the multitude of problems with the various Democratic proposals that have nothing to do with abortion. So, statements such as Dolan's which I suggest are fairly typical are one step up and two steps back: the Church's doctrines are affirmed while at the same time seeming to place them in an improper or uncertain context and conceding too much to the Left on non-doctrinal issues.
Boethius has written a lot of worth responding to. At the risk of repetition, let's pick up on this business of the priority of labor over capital one more time.
Boethius, speaking with the Church, is certainly correct in one sense: we can have labor without capital but we cannot have capital without labor therefore labor is literally first. But as I argued in a prior comment, most contemporary thought on about this topic is about the ethics of compensation: how much labor gets vs. how much capital gets.
But even if we accept this to be an error, the train of thought is still interesting for me at least. The idea is that the material goods of the world are ordered to human welfare. Labor, having priority, is more fundamental to human welfare than capital therefore it must be compensated at the expense of capital if necessary. What's interesting about this is that if even if some of the Left's premises are faulty, not all of them are. In particular, I have no problem conceding to the Left that the goods of the world are properly ordered toward human welfare.
But there's something of a paradox that says that if property that is held privately serves public ends better than property that is held publicly. But paradox or not, that's what the history of the last 150 years or so tell us very strongly. There are substantial costs in trying anything else.
Monday, October 26, 2009
The great mistake made in regard to the matter now under consideration is to take up with the notion that class is naturally hostile to class, and that the wealthy and the working men are intended by nature to live in mutual conflict. So irrational and so false is this view that the direct contrary is the truth .
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Monday, October 05, 2009
Let's make a couple of clarifications with respect to Boethius' lastest post.
First of all, the is/ought gap I was talking about in this post is referring to Catholic Social Doctrine. Catholic Social Doctrine is primarily (but not exclusively) associated with a set of papal encyclicals starting with Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII (and Boethius conveniently linked to). This is not the same thing Christian doctrine in general, Christian exhortations such as the commandment to love one's enemies, or Christian foreign policy.
Second, the is/ought gap is not about "goals" as much as premises. CSD often tries to instruct us on the proper social and economic relations in situations that are only vaguely recognizable to most of us.
If I had to reduce this to one example, I'd pick the "priority of labor over capital," a catchphrase of both the Catholic Left and the secular Left as well. First of all, it's fundamentally mistaken to think that the disparagement of capital is the way to meet basic human needs. But more than that, to a substantial extent the priority of labor over capital is a logical non sequitur. There is not necessarily any "they" who doles some goodies for labor and some for capital (and who is also subject to moral instruction from popes).
This is especially revealing in the context of the modern industrial welfare state. If the place where we arbitrarily choose between labor and capital is foreign for us, the modern welfare state plainly is not. Not every nation with a social-service apparatus is the same of course, but there's enough commonality to treat it as one phenomenon. But in spite of being a tangible reality for most of us, the social encyclicals speak of the welfare state only in vague terms. This leaves the field open for the Catholic Left to identify the expansion of the welfare state as the "Catholic" solution for modern social relations. Whatever may be said for that (and those of us on the Right are skeptical), the world that describes is a much more boring place than the one that actually exists.
For at least a decade, Steve Sailer has found a good niche in the punditocracy by looking hard at margins of politically correct mainstream discourse. Nonetheless, I've got a strong gut feeling that this is fundamentally misguided.
First of all, the "fundamental Manichaeism" of black-white race relations is weaker now than at any time in American history. For the most part our cultural narratives have moved on to other things. Besides that, I think it's more effective to attack the "coolness deficit" directly. The GOP should emphasize that voting Republican signals the voter's intent to earn their own living. And, mooching off the taxpayers is not cool.
Saturday, October 03, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Here's a couple of interesting tidbits to put side by side (indirect hat tip to Tyler Cowen for both).
First, the heterodox economic "policy" department at Notre Dame is being disbanded. This department justified itself as an attempt to integrate Catholic Social Thought with modern economics. Believing what I do about modern major universities, this more or less amounted to rationalizations for some flavor of neo-Marxist, social democratic New Left politics. That could be too harsh, I am not that familiar with their work.
On the other hand, anyone who has been paying attention in the blogosphere surely knows that there is an economics department from a less prominent university which has been setting the world on fire for the last few years at least: the department at George Mason U.
This is an interesting state of affairs, especially in light of the history of Catholic Social Doctrine. I think it's fair to say that nowhere else is there a larger gap between things as they ought to be and things as they are. Independently of the reader's ecclesial affiliation, the encyclicals and other fundamental documents are substantial, profound meditations about social relations among people. Unfortunately, the constituents of Catholic Social Doctrine seem to describe with irritating frequency the correct course of action or state of mind for a world other than the one that actually exists to you and me.
Some Catholics both Left and Right, want to think this is another example of anti-Catholic bias, in particular the reduction of man to an economic beast. That's a bum rap. If the exponents of CSD could do their work in the idiom of (and accountable to) the standards of modern econometrics, they would get a hearing from mainstream economists. Unfortunately CSD loses quite a bit when viewed through the prism of empirical data, and what's left over isn't very interesting.
Of course, that's not the end of the story. A couple of months ago Pope Benedict XVI released CARITAS IN VERITATE, his third encyclical. This work has generated lots of commentary like all encyclicals. But my sense is, what sets this letter apart from the other social encyclicals is that it confronts the world of late industrial capitalism as we actually recognize it, instead of how the popes saw it.
As I finish, let's also note the particular constituents of "Masonomics" mentioned earlier. For me, there's two important points to gathered from Tyler's short list. One, that economics is not necessarily afraid of the gooier, less pecuniary parts of our psyche. They're part of life. And in the subtext, that George Mason is not afraid of the econometric standards of the rest of the profession. If you can pull it off, it's not a bad place to be.
President Obama needs to make a decision: Either give the general the resources he believes he needs, or change the mission. I'm for changing the mission. Concentrate on the continued destruction of al Qaeda and its allies. Nothing else matters in this mess. - Ralph Peters
Most conservative commentators have been urging President Obama to deploy more troops to Afghanistan, but at least I've got Ralph Peters for company in going the other way. It seems to me there's some fairly obvious reasons why the strategic blueprint for Iraq shouldn't be exported to Afghanistan.
The consequences of troop withdrawal much different in Afghanistan than Iraq. Iraq, for all its flaws has been a nation and a civilization for a long time. If that were going to cease being the case because of lack of American security, America would have been blamed. Maybe we could live with that (fwiw, I could). But, whoever survived the rat fight after we left would have won lots of money, personnel, and resources at their disposal for terrorism, ethnic cleansing, diplomatic intimidation, anti-American propaganda and the rest of it. So we really did have to finish the job there, especially when there was a readily available means to do it.
These things do not apply to Afghanistan. There are no hungry bands of jackal-terrorists waiting to terrorize the docile civilians as soon as the Yanks leave. If anything, they go to Afghanistan for sanctuary, to get away from everybody else in the world who doesn't like them either. And given that we do not need nation-building in Afghanistan (and with doubtful likelihood of being able to accomplish it), we should adjust our personnel requirements accordingly.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I am fundamentally ambivalent toward Rod Dreher's cultural program. But I am much less ambivalent in support of his argument against the popular Right opposition to "elitism". I remember this rankling me all the way back to 1996 wherein Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp campaigned against "elites", which was fundamentally misplaced even then. The Marines, brain surgeons, and the CalTech faculty are elites. At some level elites are plainly a good thing. Rich Daley and Chris Dodd are in no way elite, they are the Establishment. Those of us on the Right, especially, should not confuse ourselves about the difference.
Monday, September 14, 2009
I suspect Glenn Reynolds is right in his characterization of the Tea Parties as fundamentally anti-partisan. Of course this contradicts the liberal allegations that the whole phenomenon is just right-wing astroturfing. Still, this is not good news IMO.
We can sympathize with the Tea Partiers' suspicion that the two major parties in Washington are Tweedledee and Tweedledum. But ultimately that is a sucker's game. There is a fundamental difference between one party with actual prinicples who fails to uphold them in practice versus another party horrific prinicples or none at all. Public opinion can fight rear-guard actions well, but I strongly suspect nothing good is going to happen from Washington until the political prospects of actual Republicans are much stronger.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Hat tip to Reihan for this. Reihan argues that the Dems in Congress will eventually pass something, so we should consider mitigating the eventual bill to the extent that we can. I disagree, to the extent that Demo-style health care "reform" is not at all inevitable and in fact will substantially depend on the Republican message over the next six weeks or so.
As I have mentioned more than once, a big part of the GOP's decline over the last five years or so is bandwidth. The party's representatives could say whatever, and people simply quit listening. But right now, as it relates to health care, we've got bandwidth. It's been such a struggle to get to this point, we've got to say something to convey the idea that health care reform can be something other than a bigger welfare state.
As longtime readers know, I am related to The Swing Voter, which is to say, my mother is usually a surprisingly reliable barometer of public sentiment. She loved the speech and thinks Republicans need to put something real on the table. She was shocked and appalled by the Joe Wilson booing. Until we get more reliable polls, I would assume that this was the general sentiment among independents. - Megan McArdle
I agree with Megan's mother on both counts. I didn't see the Obama speech, but the big controversy over Rep. Joe Wilson crudely interrupting the President can't help. No one is afraid of some old guy in a funny hat at a town hall meeting. But, a typical voter might very well be skeptical of an elected official who lacks enough self-control to keep basic decorum. In a slightly different context, Jon Henke gets it exactly right here, especially in the way cites the reasons William F. Buckley purged the John Birch Society out of mainstream conservatism. In short, we must attempt to demonstrate to the public at large that we ought to be governing.
Which, come to think of it, is a useful guideline for handling the substance of health care reform as well. First, that the status quo in health care system is not very good, so we have lots of opportunities to propose improvements to it that we're willing to be held accountable for. And more important than that, that we don't have to accept the liberals' framework for health care reform in the name of political feasibility. We should put together our proposals as if we were the governing majority, because if we handle this right we very well may be soon enough.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
There's been a lot of angst, mostly not but entirely from the other team, about the flaky nature of the opposition Right these days. This is a typical lament.
The Left is befuddled that so far there's little if any backlash against the alleged gun nuts, birthers, "death panel" opponents, militia members, and red-baiters who have figured in a prominent role in the various town halls held across the country over the last month or so. For me, this is easy to explain: flaky or not, the public at large fears nothing of those people. Instead, the public is tremendously afraid for the future of the economy and has very little if any confidence in the Obama Administration's ability to handle it.
That said, the liberals are correct to say the mainstream Right should do a better job policing what comes out of the broader Right into the public debate. In particular, the mainstream Right should reject any no-enemies-on-the-Right mentality. The biggest reason for this is actually very practical. The mainstream Right has the chance, right now, to reclaim the control over the dominant narrative of American politics (and with it political power) if it's willing to take the risk of putting real alternatives forward. But nobody is going to substantially change their opinion about the fundamental priorities of our country based on a dispute over a birth certificate.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Michael Barone wrote in December of last year that Obama's electoral success was the result of a top-and-bottom coalition of the American electorate, roughly speaking the rich and destitute against the upper-middle class. He further notes that top-and-bottom coalitions tend to be unstable, and not just because there is too much divergence of interests but also because the establishment put in place by such a coalition only gets access to a very distorted picture of the reality around them.
We'll think about how this affects the Obama Administration some other time, but for now let's consider the opponents of the various Democratic health care plans circulating around. If not exactly top-and-bottom, we are definitely both ends against the middle. Mainstream conservatives want to reform and reduce the welfare state as much as is prudent. Medicare beneficiaries are want to keep the status quo. This is flying under radar a little bit now because in the media all the opponents get mushed together. But people will be figuring it out soon enough. Reihan has a piece on this today.
We need to make clear, that for the sake of the opposing the Obama bill, the old people are joining us, we're not joining them. So when people want to know what we would do, we have to be ready to tell them.
One interesting twist in the global warming debate is, for all that we've heard that the "science is indisputable", we've heard very little about the engineering. As far as I know, until the public debate over global warming, there was never any serious consideration to the idea that the earth's overall climate patterns were a plausible object for engineering to our specifications.
But of course that's exactly what most of the anti-global warming agenda is. Through cap-and-trade, Kyoto, carbon taxes, or something else, the proposition is that we have reasonably direct control over the trajectory of the climate. I have grave doubts about this, and largely for that reason I oppose cap-and-trade and all the rest.
Having said that, there is such a thing as geo-engineering, which is usually taken to describe less drastic measures to affect the climate in ways that we supposedly prefer. Most of this discussion tends to take place on the Right, like today's piece by Reihan, as an end-run around draconian controls over the economy. I have no idea whether any of it is going to work, though I hope that it does. However, I'd much prefer to see it come from the other team. If they want to stop global warming, here's their chance. The other team could actually spend their energy on something useful for a change.
Monday, August 17, 2009
As for the second question, this is where I realize that liberals often really just do not grok what libertarians are about. For them, this is a battle between people who like health care companies, and want to defend them, and people who like the government. But I don't care about the pharmaceutical companies qua pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical companies are interested in what is good for pharmaceutical companies. I am interest in what is good for society. - Megan McArdle
Oddly enough, I'm with the liberals on this one, at least as far as Megan characterizes the difference between liberals and libertarians. As Megan writes elsewhere, the business model of Big Pharma is contingent on the idea that somebody has to pay full retail. The way this has worked over time, that somebody turns out to be the US consumer. Other countries with various forms of collectivized medicine bully Big Pharma into selling its intellectual property cheap, and Big Pharma folds every time. That, in turn, puts substantial pressure on the American political establishment toward some kind of collectivized medicine here, and Surprise!, here we are. Those of us who might otherwise be supportive of Big Pharma shouldn't put ourselves in a situation we're defending Big Pharma's interest when it's not willing to defend itself.
Friday, August 14, 2009
David Frum is following the money on the health care front. He seems to be worried that the Big Pharma's money on the airwaves is about to change the tide. I don't think so. I agree with Patrick Ruffini that in today's environment, message beats money. Money might be the deciding factor where the difference of opinion sways between the 40-yard lines on the political football field, but this particular game is going up and down the field.
This is especially interesting in the case of Big Pharma's ads in favor of health care reform. Liberals hate Big Pharma and the terms of this deal, that the liberals will not force price reductions on prescription drugs and Big Pharma will carry the political water for getting a bill through Congress, are not ones that I would trust holding up on either side.
There's another small point worth making relating to Spengler's essay. As much as we are conditioned to think that Jews and Muslims are now and are eternally destined to be at war like Oceania and Eurasia from 1984, historically it's just hasn't been that way. There were thousands or millions of Jews who lived more or less peacefully as a minority in the Muslim Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I. In fact, Spengler points out that most Jewish Israelis today are not descended from the refugees of the Holocaust, but instead refugees from Arab lands formerly under Ottoman rule.
The radicalization of Palestinian Muslims against the Jews dates from the interwar period and was achieved largely through the efforts of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, with a substantial assist from Adolf Hitler himself. As circumstances mandate, we may have to deal with such people, but we cannot afford to legitimize them as the authentic voice of the region.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Fundamentally, however, the difference between the systems is psychological. In Britain you worry what will happen when you fall ill; many Americans worry about what will happen if you fall ill. - Alex Massie (HT:Rod Dreher)
Another way to put this is that Britons' health anxieties tend to be about the availability of treatment, whereas Americans' health anxieties are financial. And our financial anxieties over health care are going to continue (and most likely increase in intensity) until there is substantial change in our health care system. Therefore, we should all understand that the defeat of the Obama plans is a means, not at end.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
It is here that I think the seeds of a Republican political recovery in 2010 are born. Republicans don't need to convince the electorate that Obama is the second coming of Karl Marx. They need merely to establish that if one has any doubt that the stimulus, or Government Motors, or health care will work out exactly as planned, the only prudent thing is to vote Republican as a hedge. - Patrick Ruffini
This is okay for the moment, where the Obama health plan is running into a firestorm of public disapproval. It may even be smart, for the sake of bandwidth, wrt something like health care where we'll have to admit we don't have all the answers either when people start to care again. But ultimately they will, we'll have to show something concrete so we might as well get started on it now.
As a campaign manager, I'd much, much rather be running the guy with a message and no money versus the guy with money and no message. Why? Because the guy with a message will eventually find momentum, which will deliver all the money he needs when he needs it. - Patrick Ruffini
There's more at stake in the political process now than there has been in recent history. Whereas before the voters were happy to let the political establishment run on autopilot, now they want to assert more input. Therefore they're willing to take on more of the spadework themselves if their favored candidate has a message that's strong and clear.
It's pretty amusing that after mocking community organizers during the presidential campaign, conservatives have enthusiastically adopted Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky's community organizing how-to, as a guide for mounting an effective opposition. - Ezra Klein
You heard it here first.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
There's a cliche about how porcupines have sex (answer: very carefully) that's topical to the current problems with health care, especially as far as the Republicans are concerned. Even if we agree that the various iterations of the Obama health care plan ought to be defeated, Stacy McCain is wrong to criticize David Frum for looking at the bigger picture.
I'm not exactly sure if Frum is trying to say we should acquiesce to some kind of health care reform for the sake of exploding the third-rail status of the big entitlements. If he is, I don't necessarily agree with it. But, we do have to acknowledge that the cost of health care is creating substantial pressure against the status quo and that the GOP currently operates in a very limited bandwidth environment. Therefore it must conserve it's message as best as it can. In particular,
1. Health care costs are a very serious problem.
2. Just because the status quo is unsatisfactory, it does not follow that any change is an improvement.
3. So far we have no reason to be sure that any of the Democratic plans are better than the status quo.
4. The Democrats are in the majority so we have to respond on their terms.
5. As soon as the Democrats have a coherent explanation for why their plan improves the status quo, we'll consider it.
6. If the Democrats want to know how we'd attack the issue, we'll tell them.
7. So far, the Democrats haven't shown any interest in that.
I'm afraid this might already be too complicated, but on balance I don't think it is. The key is not to get distracted trying to push our own polemic.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Spenger has a very interesting new post up at Asia Times today. I want to take it in a little bit and decide what I think about it later. I do have one immediate quibble though.
The Vatican's Middle East "foreign policy" has been soft-headed for at least a couple of decades now. But I don't think the Vatican has any nostalgia for some pre-1948 Israel-free period of Christian ascendancy in the Middle East. If anything, the Church is nostalgic for the apostolic period when these local Churches were founded.
The Vatican wants to think of the Middle East in a pre-Islamic context. Of course the Middle East was pre-Islamic in the apostolic period and thinking in this way subconsciously emphasizes that the Christian apologetic is some ways palpable and tangible. The Coptics and the Maronites and various Christian communities came into being through the historically contingent acts of real people. In an indirect way we are reminded that Jesus Christ was a real person who walked the earth and His disciples really did carry His Word among the nations.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
David Goldman (ie, "Spengler") has a new post up wherein he argues that a GOP revival based on Obama's overreach is mostly wishful thinking. His thesis is distressingly plausible but IMO ultimately wrong. In Chicago, people who vote Democrat fall into two groups. The first are those who want to make the clout-based spoils system work for them. The other are those who want to associate themselves culturally with blue-state America.
For the purposes of extrapolation, it's this latter group which is important. For liberal urban professionals, the machine politics of the Daleys are a just a tax, not one that they're particularly happy with but a tolerable one. More than that, it's one that they can't do anything about. Even if they were willing to vote Republican, the party here runs at such a huge organizational deficit that disillusionment with the Democrats is more likely to turn to apathy than anger.
For America at large, the opposite is true. The financial burdens of welfare-state America are onerous, and getting worse under Obama. And the American people are for now still sovereign, and the expression of their sovereignty is the ability to veto the apparatchiks of government by voting Republican. Furthermore, even though it's not necessarily being expressed this way, the feeling of sovereignty being lost is growing among the voters. It's a close-run thing but I wouldn't be writing the GOP's obituary quite yet.
Those are words I'd never thought I'd write.
"Imagine Barack Obama was born in Kenya. So what?
This isn't like Bill Clinton murdering Vince Foster and running drugs through the Arkansas airport.It's not like George W. Bush having foreknowledge of 9/11. As I understand it, the argument here is that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, but that his mother said he was born in the United States and even had relatives lie to that effect. Presumably, she also told young Barack that he was born in Hawaii. The big reveal here is...what?" - Ezra Klein
Thursday, July 30, 2009
The health care debate has been in sort of a holding pattern for a couple of weeks now: the Democrats don't know exactly what problem they're trying to solve. Some days they want cost reduction, on others they want to guarantee access to low-income Americans (frankly, I don't think they can make progress on either count but I'm just a skeptic). In any case, they know that they want to pass a health care bill of some kind to claim a political victory.
In the last couple of days, there have been a couple of developments. The Blue Dog (ie, centrist) Democrats in the House supposedly cut a deal with Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman to make the "public option" health care plan contingent on this or that and set the doctor reimbursement rates at this instead of that. In response, the liberals on the committee revolted. They are threatening to walk if they don't get the public option they want.
From the pov of preventing the further collectivization of medicine, this is a bad tactical development. Once we get to the point of being accountable for accomplishing something useful, the liberals don't have a plausible story to sell to the American people. More than anyone, they have to be able to book a political win for its own sake. They have to give the centrists whatever they want to get a bill through Congress, and they will. As I see it, this maneuver is a preemptive attempt to save face now in order vote for half a loaf later. Thus, I'd say we're in more danger of getting the camel's nose under the tent now than earlier in the week.
When the supposed right to health care is widely recognized, as in the United Kingdom, it tends to reduce moral imagination. Whenever I deny the existence of a right to health care to a Briton who asserts it, he replies, “So you think it is all right for people to be left to die in the street?” - Theodore Dalrymple (HT: The Corner)This phenomenon is sadly familiar to anyone who has watched Prime Minister's Questions on C-Span for the last decade or so. No matter what the question, Tony and Gordon's answer is always, "Which nurses (or schools or police) are you going to cut?" In the end, the joke is on the taxpayer because the Tories (like the GOP over here) don't really intend to cut very much.
More than that, the moral imagination is tied to the practical imagination, and the UK is lacking in both.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
"Information wants to be free." This is something of a cliche among hackers and futurists.
Because information can be copied and propagated much faster than real things, intellectual property is never exactly the same thing as real property. And because the development of private property was such an important building block in the history of economic development, we tried to put extend the concept we developed for land, horses, and bushels of grain to software and naming rights. But this is an abstraction, and abstractions leak.
One result of this is a quasi-Marxist exploitation of capital in an anti-matter universe. Instead of the capitalist denying to the laborer the fruit of his work, the consumer gets the benefit of millions of dollars in various kinds of technological development without having to compensate the capital that funded it. The moral of this story isn't to feel sorry for the capitalists. Among other things, for the most part developers of intellectual property couldn't have developed it without access to other intellectual property which may not have been compsenated either.
It's just that the inability to monetize intellectual achievements tends to retard their growth. As society gets wealthier it gets tech-ier, and this problem gets bigger. It would have been nice to confront it in better economic circumstances. The current economic crisis has suffered from really bad timing, on many different levels.
Monday, July 27, 2009
If we stipulate that, historically speaking, loyalties to political parties in America have largely been a matter of tribal allegiance (and I think we should), then what now? Certainly generations of votes from residents of Vermont and Illinois haven't stopped the current residents of those states from voting for the other team.
There's two explanations for this: the first is that party loyalties are still tribal, it's just that the members of the tribes are different. The other one is that whereas party loyalties have been tribal for most of America's history, they are ideological now. It may be some of both. This is an odd situation in American politics, but as Robinson points out that there is at least one clear antecedent for it: the founding era of the Republican party. Was the GOP the political expression of the abolition movement, or the successor the Whigs and Federalists in the North and Midwest? Well, both.
Ultimately the regional differences of that era weren't settled until the Civil War (and to some extent not even then). That might be a bad omen for us today. But you also could say that the unification of America into the truly United States was hard enough to come by, therefore not to be given up easily.
"Technology Entrepreneurs Will Save Us." That's the title of this blog post by Rich Karlgaard. If I were the sort to rail against the messianic pretensions of free-market fundamentalists, this would worth a good laugh. But I'm not, so let's just say I'm not convinced of Rich's thesis from a simple pragmatic angle.
What is tech? Leaving all the gooey futuristic stuff aside, for thirty years or so it's largely consisted of advances in chips, software, and biotech. These are still decent fields for development, but the consumer has largely adjusted to them and is not looking to buy the latest of their wares.
If I had to guess, the next frontier with the potential of reenergizing the economy will be Spiritual technology. The thing is, if it's spiritual, is it really tech? And if it is, will people pay for it? I have something of a contrary streak, so I tend to answer no to entrepreneurial people but yes to religious people.
This, by Peter Lawler, has been the occasion of some back and forth between Daniel Larison and the PoMoCons. For me, I think Lawler is correct to argue that the coalition of the unwilling is really at bottom an attempt to repudiate man as an Aristotlean political animal.
The European elites are postpolitical fantasists. Ie, they want to move past citizenship and nationhood, on the assumption that if technocrats can maintain enough social control over the populace then disputes over honor and treasure can be cooled down before they escalate to war. "Midwestern isolationists", ie, the paleocons are prepolitical fantasists. If we all stay at home hoeing vegetables in the backyard, we'll never have any contoversy with foreigners worth going to war over.
Larison is right to note that anti-capitalism really doesn't enter into it, at least here.
I'm with Megan McArdle on this one. From a free-market perspective we'd like to be able to rely on reputational concerns as a corrective against exploitation in the private health care insurance market (like we do for other kinds of insurance). But I don't think we can, at least not nearly as much. The insurance companies are the only ones who can accurately monitor the financial impact of a course of treatment, and the tempatation to leverage that is and will remain too great. This is a substantial part of the reason why health care economics will continue to be difficult for a while.
I have a hunch that cost reduction in health care won't happen until patients have lots of nasty conversations about money with doctors. Neither party really wants that, so here we are.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
The French economist Jean-Baptiste Say formulated Say's Law, usually summarized as "supply creates its own demand", roughly the same time that Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations. That is, in a wide enough context, overproduction is impossible. The process of production creates demand among the producers, in fact exactly enough to buy the product according to an accounting identity.
According to John Kenneth Galbraith, Say's Law is an article of faith among economists, meaning that it is taken for granted by professional economists without much in the way of empirical evidence. This might actually be the case in a different way at the moment. Before we knew pretty well that other people wanted houses, cars, and computers and so on. Now, we have to create that don't exist and take it on faith that somebody will buy them.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
In the fickle world of politics, I'm not willing to stop with understanding 'at the gut level'. - Boethius
First of all, there is no reason why we have to stop at the gut level to explain the loyalties of mainstream American conservatives. They can be made quite explicit. As I mentioned a few posts ago, they have loyalties to the Republican party on one end and Greater Red State America on the other. It's just that for most people who spend less time analyzing this sort of thing than I do, these loyalties are intuited rather than stated.
As far as the larger issue of why we are or should be loyal to the United States as opposed to Des Moines, for all of its defects it is America where we have our citizenship. Ironically enough the best explanation I've seen for this recently comes from the Tarnac9, a small group of French antiglobalization activists (or terrorists, whichever you prefer):
The moment has come to put the category of “citizenship”, the heredity of an urban modernity that doesn’t exist in anywhere, into discussion. In the metropolis, being a citizen means simply reentering in the biopolitical job of governmentability, seconding the “legality” of a State, of a Nation and of a Republic that doesn’t exist if not only as ganglion of the Empire’s organized repression. The singularity exceeds citizenship. Vindicating one’s own singularity against citizenship is the slogan that, for example, migrants write daily with their blood on the Mediterranean coasts, in the CPT in revolt, on the wall of steel that divides Tijuana from San Diego or on the membrane of flesh and cement that separates the Rom bidonvilles from the shamefully sparkling City Center. Citizenship has become the award for faithful allegiance to the imperial order. The singularity, as soon as it can, happily does without it. Only the singularity can destroy the walls, borders, membranes and limits constructed as the infrastructure of dominion by biopower. - Tarnac9 (HT: also ironically, FirstThings)
Ie, it is at the level of our citizenship that our nihilist adversaries seek to attack us. That makes sense when you think about it because the state is legitimately accountable to its citizens and its those who wish to divert American power to their own ends must defeat that bond of accountability.
Of course America is an odd beast in this respect because we are citizens of the United States but the states are still theoretically at least sovereign. In the interest of localism we can wish that the states had more real power at the expense of the federal government and in fact the GOP has made that part of its program. Sometimes the Republicans go the mattresses for this and other times they just pay lip service to it. But in either case the United States (both as a nation and a government) is the level where the American polity interacts with the rest of the world. And for the sake of its integrity we should be loyal to it.
The flip side to this, is where the government acts in ways that are not plausibly intended to represent the American polity as a whole, then there is no duty of loyalty. The various Farm Bills, housing assistance programs and so on may be good ideas in some sense but first and foremost they are redistribution schemes that grant or withhold favors to some subset of Americans, and for that reason no one owes any loyalty to them. It was the Iraq war that upset this particular apple cart for a lot of people. Because we had all gotten used to the modern Leviathan state as the battleground of the spoils system, we had lost the ability to appreciate circumstances where the debt of loyalty really does apply.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
William Kristol and James Pethokoukis have items out suggesting that the Obama Administration is ready to take a combative turn as it pushes to get cap-and-trade and some kind of health care reform through Congress. Republicans and the right-wing blogosphere will be complaining soon about being bulldozed if they're not already. I don't care about it that much in the abstract: I think it's making an unnecessary fetish out of the sausage-making parts of lawmaking. Ultimately, the other team has the majorities. It's naive to think they won't make use of them.
But concretely speaking, it's another story. Whenever the President has tried to short-circuit the deliberative process on a big-ticket bill, it's never for a good cause. Recent examples of this are the Bush Administration's attempt at comprehensive immigration reform, Medicare Part D, and the Obama stimulus. War opponents tend to include the Iraq War vote as well, but think that one is a bad rap.
What makes the Obama bills uniquely bad is that their proponents can't explain in complete sentences what these bills are intended to accomplish and how they're supposed to do it. If this state of affairs continues, and the liberal base continues to insist that these bills get pushed through (as Kristol and Pethokoukis imply), we are looking at the seeds of 1994 all over again: no bills and no majorities.
Monday, July 20, 2009
I agree that many of the Al Qaeda folks would like to impose Islamic culture, with the religion that comes with it. But part of their rhetoric involves pointing out the compromised nature of Islam in places like Saudi Arabia, where U.S. interests have corrupted the ruling elites (in [Osama] Bin Laden's eyes). But again, I doubt that it is fully 'U.S. interests' being served there, rather than the interests of the financial elite whose bases of operation are, unsurprisingly, New York and Washington. -- BoethiusThere's a lot to respond to in Boethius' latest, but I wanted to note this train of thought tends to legitimize the likes of Osama as the legitimate leadership of that area of the world. Not that we should reject it out of hand necessarily but it is problematic. It's especially topical in Bin Laden's case because he is a non-state actor who lacks control over the machinery of a state, in contrast to Saddam, eg.
And not that it makes much difference, but Bid Laden's gripes against the US-Saudi relationship are pretty weak anyway. He doesn't like the fact that Saudi Arabia has relied on US petroleum engineers to help drill its oil and that the US stationed soldiers on the Arabian peninsula. But the US pays fair market value to everybody it trades with, and there wouldn't have been any US soldiers in Saudi Arabia if Saddam Hussein didn't invade Kuwait, with the threat to invade Saudi Arabia shortly thereafter.
Just like in relations between neighbors, in relations between nations we want to mind our own business and avoid giving offense unnecessarily. That doesn't mean it's plausible to do it.