Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More To Life Than Money

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.

What He Said, pt V

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

The Few, The Proud

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

My Party, pt III

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

The Message, pt VIII

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.

Jokers pt II, Message pt VII

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

Time for the Health Care Debate

With apologies for my long absence, I return with an observation on Health Care. I recently assented to watch Bill Moyers opine on this topic on Bill Maher's show (hopefully earning some advance credit to my time in purgatory). Moyers, whom I consider a thoughtful, old-style Democrat, said something to the effect that universal health care is the sign of a compassionate society. It's hard to disagree with a statement phrased thus without sounding unfeeling; and indeed, I hardly could disagree with the root idea. The question for me, as always, is 'what constitutes the society to which you refer?'

It is obvious to anyone with rudimentary knowledge of economics and bureaucracy that health care for 260 million strangers is a nightmare. We don't consider the health of the French to be our concern. Why should Donald Trump be personally concerned with health care for a barber in Omaha? Or vice versa? My point being that a smaller conception of 'society' makes a realistic and 'targetted' compassion possible, whereas the United States is simply too large and diverse for that sort of thinking.

The worst part of the collectivistic thinking that drives so much liberal political thought is that for most people, it provides an excuse to be anything but compassionate. "I gave at the office" is a reasonable response to any actual human being seeking financial help from us. Ironically, it turns out to be roughly the same response that Scrooge gives to his bleeding heart nephew. Aren't there work prisons still operating? Scrooge no doubt felt that the money taken from him in taxes should be enough of his contribution to 'society', and this obviates the obligation he might have to giving a hoot about Tiny Tim, in spite of the fact that humanly speaking, he should care about him. He's the son of his only employee!

In any case, the quandary for conservatives as I see it is that, being tied for now to the Party of Lincoln and his grand, centralizing war and the rhetoric necessitated by it, we end up by default thinking in terms of a national culture and 'society' rather than particular local one confederated for common defense. Consolidation of the society is a bonanza for politically connected business, such as military contractors and Big Pharma. In my opinion, a principled conservatism much return to a political theory of local particularity and scale back on the march toward socialism, so ably abetted by Nixon and the Bush dynasty.

Hi Koz!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Jokers To The Right

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.