Category Archives: Constitution

You Didn’t Build That

Detroit did not need a Thomas Jefferson or a Mohandas Gandhi or another great political philosopher with a world-changing idea — it needed someone to fix the potholes, balance the books, keep order on the streets, see to the schools, and keep the city agencies orderly and honest and effective. Without that, all of Detroit’s productive capital — physical, financial, and human — was devalued and ultimately dispersed.

A nation as rich as ours can afford a great deal of stupidity, but hubris is expensive.

Detroit’s success was a very complicated story. Its failure is a simpler one.

How did Detroit become the “Motor City” at the center of the U.S. automotive business? It wasn’t obvious that it would be: At the end of the 19th century, more than 100 automobile companies were organized in the United States, most of them in New England and Ohio. But Michigan won out because it had a hugely important advantage in one natural resource: smart people.

Ask a half-dozen car guys why Detroit beat out the rest, and you’ll get a half-dozen answers: Maybe because Henry Ford and Ransom Olds lived in Michigan, or maybe because Standard Oil helped to lift the gasoline-powered Michigan manufacturers over competitors in Cleveland and Boston, which leaned toward steam and electric power. (Electric cars — imagine that.) But one of the main reasons Detroit became the Motor City is that it already was a motor city: Before it was a powerhouse in the automobile business, it was an important center for manufacturing marine engines (as was Cleveland), and as such was home to a work force with skills relevant to building automobiles — metalworkers, mechanics, engineers, machinists, experienced laborers. The most useful kind of intelligence resides in particular people and in particular intellectual communities, whether those are theoretical physicists or construction workers. That kind of intelligence cannot be boxed up and redistributed like surplus cheese. It is where it is, and it is there because of organic developments that cannot be managed.

Henry Ford offered good wages and an intelligently organized production process, but he didn’t exnihilate those skilled workers into existence; he just hired them. The larger and more complex the intellectual ecosystem of Detroit became, the greater the advantage provided by its workforce was — and the more it became a magnet for the best workers.

And Henry Ford wouldn’t have got very far without them.

. . .

(I will here offer the obligatory periodic reminder that the story about Henry Ford’s bootstrapping the automobile market into existence by paying his workers enough to afford his products is a myth, pure folk economics.)

Henry Ford’s problems are our problems still. North Carolina is the Detroit of the American upholstered-furniture industry, and its biggest problem right now is finding skilled workers to man the industry’s factories. A program set up by furniture manufacturers and a local community college is training up new workers as fast as it can, but that is not fast enough: “The good news is we can graduate 150 people a year,” one furniture executive told the Wall Street Journal. “The bad news is that the industry needs 800 to 1,000 people.” Another recruiter described hiring an upholsterer through a temp agency as “winning the lottery.”

And yet millions of Americans somehow manage to languish in persistent joblessness.

The story is familiar, with businesses ranging from the literally old-timey (mechanical-watch manufacturers) to the high-tech (chemical companies) complaining loud and long that they cannot fill their openings, that highly skilled, reliable labor is impossible to find. Old-fashioned business strategies such as (radical idea!) substantially raising wages are not always effective. (Keep trying, guys; it worked for Henry Ford — eventually.) Industry groups have put together training and apprenticeship programs such as the one for furniture-makers in North Carolina, where a $600, eleven-month course prepares workers for jobs that can pay in excess of $75,000 a year. The Institute of Swiss Watchmaking operates training programs in Fort Worth, Texas, along with Hong Kong and Shanghai. For those on shorter timelines, there are still a bunch of oil-and-gas companies that will pay you to get a commercial driver’s license and then hire you when you do.

If the demand-side story is familiar, then so are the excuses from the potential supply side. If you’ve followed the intramural debate on the right between the classical free-market conservatives and the new right-wing anti-capitalists, then you’ve heard this before: “I want a good job, but I don’t want to move to one of those awful, expensive, godless coastal metros to get it.” “Okay, but there are lots of jobs to be had in lots of other places that aren’t Palo Alto.” “But I don’t want to invest four years in college and go into debt to do it.” “Okay, there are jobs to be had in West Texas gas fields and North Carolina furniture factories and all sorts of other places that don’t require a four-year degree.” “But. . . .”

There’s always another “but.”

Furniture-factory recruiters tell the Wall Street Journal that potential workers sometimes turn their noses up at their training programs because there is no guarantee that demand for workers will be as strong years in the future as it is today. Factories trying to recruit Millennials also have discovered that starting the workday at 6:30 a.m. is an obstacle. The usual thumbsuckers offer the usual thumbsucking excuses. A cynical man might wonder what exactly would get these folks to take the job — an iron rice bowl?

There’s a reason so many of the complaints we hear about China are characterized not by horror at the brutality of the Chinese regime but by frank envy of its command-and-control powers.

Tom Friedman calls it being “China for a day.” Marco Rubio calls it “industrial policy.”

. . .

If you are willing to consider the full, mind-bending complexity of the U.S. economy, then Elizabeth Warren’s “You Didn’t Build That!” argument becomes, in a sense, Leonard Read’s argument in “I, Pencil.” Everything touches everything else, and burdens are shared in complicated ways. Senator Warren’s story is an attempt to create a compelling moral narrative for managerial progressivism, the dusty intellectual antique installed firmly in the center of her brain. But while her political conclusions do not necessarily follow from the facts, she isn’t wrong about the facts themselves. Entrepreneurship does not happen in a vacuum, and nobody seriously thinks it does.

(Senator Warren leans heavily on an old politician’s trick: Arguing with positions that nobody really supports; in this, she is a lot like our friends on the new anti-capitalist right, who believe they have a patent on the idea that there is life beyond the market.)

Consider the early days of the automotive industry: When Alexander Winton drove from Cleveland to New York City to promote his new automobile, the trip took nine days and was thought to be such a feat that he was greeted by a million people upon arriving in Manhattan. The roads were, as Winton put it, “outrageous.” A few years later, an enthusiast in another Winton automobile made the first coast-to-coast automobile road trip in the United States, from San Francisco to New York.

. . .

The complexity of real-world economic relationships is the point of “I, Pencil,” Read’s famous essay, which illustrates that even something as straightforward, ubiquitous, and cheap as a No. 2 pencil relies on a vast network of industrial processes, specialized knowledge, trade, etc. so vast as to be well beyond the comprehension of any single organization, much less any individual. That’s the miracle: Nobody knows how to make a pencil, but we have plenty of them, anyway. Read took this as an argument against central planning, and he might be reasonably criticized for minimizing the role of the public sector; Senator Warren takes the same entangling relationships as an argument for more central planning, even though she occasionally remembers to make a rhetorical gesture in the direction of capitalism. Read was basically right and Warren is basically wrong, but Warren’s distortion of the underlying principle does not diminish the importance of public-sector and non-market institutions in the ecosystem of Readian economic complexity.

The complicated truth is that Henry Ford (and every other entrepreneur) drafted behind both public-sector and private-sector investments that preceded him and his own innovations. The marine-engine business helped lay the foundations for the subsequent success of Detroit’s automotive industry, but so did roads and schools and the like. There’s a word for that: civilization. Isaac Newton was not the only one who stood on the shoulders of giants. All of us do. (And not just giants: Nobody invented the automobile or the internal-combustion engine. There were thousands and thousands of contributors to that subtle and spectacular evolution.)

If it seems like we have drifted a long way from the original point about the role of the work force in the entrepreneurial process, we haven’t.

. . .

The current argument about the future of capitalism is about a lot of different things, some of which are only tangentially related to one another. Some of these considerations are matters of narrow political self-interest: Senator Rubio et al. have discovered that there is some juice in Trumpian neo-mercantilism and believe, with good reason, that there is even a little cross-partisan appeal to it. They have failed to articulate a set of policies or meaningful principles to go along with that hunch, but if President Trump has shown Republicans anything, it is that policies and principles are optional for a working majority of right-leaning voters, who can be had at the price of some vague grumbling about the national interest and intellectually dishonest claptrap about how “market fundamentalists on the right want more record-setting days in the stock market above all else,” as Senator Rubio put it.

I will reiterate here two things: The first is that Senator Rubio is engaged in a political fight to the death with a straw man, and that so far the fullest expression of his conception of the national interest in economic policy is subsidies for politically connected sugar producers in Florida. In politics, vague principles rarely stand up to specific demands from specific constituents.

On the wider cultural front, the fight about the future of capitalism is in no small part a matter of status competition, less a question of economic development than of how we talk about economic issues. Practitioners of resentment politics wish to reduce the prestige of cultural rivals, and so we have the strange spectacle of our so-called nationalists abominating the actual centers of American power, prestige, and influence: Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the Ivy League, Hollywood, etc.

Both Warren-style progressives and right-wing critics such as my friend Michael Brendan Dougherty seek to undermine the heroic account of entrepreneurship and corporate success traditionally put forward by apologists for capitalism. For these critics, the professional and financial elites represent a morally corrupt class that needs to be taken down a peg — those of you who have followed this conversation for a while will remember that Dougherty’s famous thought experiment about Garbutt, N.Y., had conservatives advancing the interests of “a typical coke-sniffer in Westport” and his in-laws down the road in Darien. Their argument is at heart about social status, holding that the finance workers in Fairfield County and the multinational firms that employ them deserve less admiration, as do the start-up founders and venture capitalists on the opposite coast, which is why it is important that they be cocaine enthusiasts or sexual deviants or whatever for purposes of political narrative if not in real life, where the coastal elites practice the bourgeois values (stable marriages and thrift and relative sobriety and all that) to a remarkable extent.

At the same time, the same critics argue that we should have more sympathy for those who are stuck in economically stagnant and socially backward communities and who do not wish to leave them. Dougherty presents this explicitly as a sympathy deficit on the part of the capitalism camp: “Any investments he made in himself previously are for naught. People rooted in their home towns? That sentimentalism is for effete readers of Edmund Burke. Join the hyper-mobile world.”

Though the protectionism put forward by the likes of Trump and Rubio is couched in the language of national interest, it is the opposite of that: Americans as a whole would be better off with lower food prices, but a small handful of Americans is much better off with higher prices secured by the policies supported by Rubio and other like-minded politicians. Americans as a whole are much better off when markets are allowed to allocate resources efficiently, but there is a vast and politically significant archipelago of communities that would prefer that certain inefficiencies be preserved, because their livings are tied to those inefficiencies and their communities have been built atop them. Detroit in 1960 was on top of the world — it was the highest-income city in the United States. Detroit would have been very comfortable if it could have been frozen in time, economically, in that moment. And a very wide array of politicians and activists, from local union leaders to President Ronald Reagan, took extraordinary steps to try to preserve the position of the U.S. automotive industry, with the disastrous consequences that you can see in front of you in Detroit today.

The things that gave Detroit its critical advantages in the early 20th century were not things that could be planned out in advance by super-intelligent philosopher-kings in the bureaucracies. Creating a marine-engine industry that would help to prepare the workforce for an automotive industry that would not exist until decades in the future is not the kind of plan that mere mortals can conceptualize or execute. If you had tried to explain to the best and most forward-looking thinkers of Detroit’s golden years that China and India would soon enough be significant high-tech competitors, they would have laughed at you. Also, if you’d told them that one of the biggest and most valuable U.S. companies in 2019 would be an electronic bulletin board where you can go to denounce your aunt as a hate-monger, they would have been perplexed, as, indeed, some of us are. Remember that many of the best minds of the time believed that the automobile would be a passing fad.

Conservatives like to laugh at Paul Krugman, revisiting his long-ago prediction that the Internet would prove no more economically significant than the fax machine, but nobody is really very good at predicting the future of economic developments at any meaningful level of detail. Go spend some time around private-equity investors and see how they come by their billions: They are smart, but they are not superhuman, and they do not have any special insight into long-term economic trends — they do a tremendous amount of grunt-work discovering and creating value in ordinary companies and complex deals, inch-worming their way through. That’s how a lot of wealth gets built. That’s the real world. And Senator Rubio scoffs at it as fiddling with “financial flows detached from real production,” as though factories just built themselves.

. . .

You couldn’t have planned Detroit’s success. But you could have avoided its catastrophic failure. Detroit was not done in by lack of clever industrial policy or by shortage of some other species of cleverness. It was done in by corrupt and ineffective government and a local political culture that went from bad to worse to much worse to Coleman Young. They tried to save Detroit with tariffs and failed. They could have saved it with safe streets and functional schools and the hundred thousand other tiny needful things that good governments do well.

Good government — including a steady, stable, predictable policy environment — multiplies the value of labor, just as training and capital do. That is why investment capital around the world for years has flowed largely to well-governed countries, most of them liberal democracies, with the largest recipients of foreign direct investment being the United States and the European Union. (China, the important exception to that rule, is not well-governed; it is governed brutally but predictably, an ugly but useful reminder that stability has economic value, too.) There are many places that businesses could go in search of low wages and a loose regulatory environment, but you aren’t driving a car made in Haiti or using a computer built in Burundi. Investors aren’t putting a lot of money into factories in Yemen or Afghanistan.

. . .

The U.S. government is in many cases a force for instability and non-confidence in our national economic life. Peter Navarro’s position as Trump’s China hand is as ridiculously implausible as Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma, but there he is, whispering into the president’s ear. Senator Rubio is no less implausible in his belief that he has eagle eyes to detect subtle national interests in complex economic affairs of which he has no substantial first-hand knowledge. His problem isn’t stupidity — it’s hubris.

A nation as rich as ours can afford a great deal of stupidity, but hubris is expensive.

Senator Rubio represents a government that has shown little competence in the small and ordinary things. It cannot even manage to follow its own ordinary processes for creating budgets or appropriating funds, instead lurching from season to season with a series of “emergency” measures in a state of never-ending crisis. You might think that that would be the cause of some modesty and circumspection in Washington. You would be wrong.

Rather than monkeying around with things that are beyond his ken and outside of the credible operating capacity of the U.S. government, Senator Rubio should be seeing to some of the things that might actually make a difference. The U.S. government is on a catastrophic fiscal course that will, without reform, eventually result in a ruinous debt crisis the likes of which the world has never seen. (We’ve seen fiscal crises in Canada and Argentina, but the U.S. economy represents nearly a quarter of the world’s economic output.) We have entitlement programs that are in need of reform, decaying and archaic infrastructure under federal purview, serious K–12 educational problems entangled with federal policy, a tax code in great need of simplification, a series of worldwide military engagements that have failed or are on the verge of failing, enormous deficits, an out-of-control presidency and administrative state, etc., all of it under the responsibility of a federal apparatus that cannot even produce an accurate count of how many programs it administers. Senator Rubio and his colleagues are like fast-food workers who haven’t yet mastered the drive-thru but demand a seat on the board of the company: They are not doing a very good job with the responsibilities they already have.

And many of those are responsibilities that cannot be taken on by anybody else: If the United States is to have an immigration system characterized by intelligence and decency, or a federal criminal-justice system characterized by justice, then the federal government is the instrument that is going to bring that about. These tasks cannot be delegated to the Chamber of Commerce or the Rotary Club. But rather than see to these, and other authentic federal responsibilities, Senator Rubio would spend his days micromanaging the world’s mining markets lest the sneaky Chi-Comms hoard all the ytterbium.

(Seriously.)

What was true for Detroit is true for the United States as a whole. The first step toward success in government is avoiding failure, and what emerges from the complicated story of Detroit’s success and the relatively simple story of its failure is not that government must master economic complexity and put it in harness but rather that government must do a lot of relatively simple things well. Detroit did not need a Thomas Jefferson or a Mohandas Gandhi or another great political philosopher with a world-changing idea — it needed someone to fix the potholes, balance the books, keep order on the streets, see to the schools, and keep the city agencies orderly and honest and effective. Without that, all of Detroit’s productive capital — physical, financial, and human — was devalued and ultimately dispersed.

Detroit’s fall happened hard and fast. As the poet said, Goin’ down slow ain’t the only way to go. Deride “financial flows detached from real production” all you like, but if you want workers to have jobs, then you need enterprises to employ them. If you want enterprises to employ them, then you need investment. And if you want investment, then you need good government and a stable, predictable policy environment, not Senator Rubio freelancing around the economy like a kid trying to play chess without even knowing how the horsey-thingies move.
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The U.S. economy is a vastly complex system with countless variables. Here’s a puzzle with only three variables: 1. There are about 5.7 million unemployed people in the United States right now. 2. We have thousands and thousands of jobs going unfilled because employers cannot find workers to fill them. 3. We spend about $10 billion a week on unemployment benefits.

Sort that out and the ytterbium will take care of itself.

You Didn’t Build That, by Kevin Williamson

Statolatry, Ozymandias

The Clerisy and the Kakistocracy and the Administrative State

If anything, both Left and Right have developed a newly intense resentment of the way in which purely private actors can exercise tremendous influence over their lives: corporate mergers and restructurings take away jobs and upend the economic situation of communities dependent on them; Facebook and Twitter endeavor to silence unpopular political views, or else are used as vehicles for ochlocratic attacks on hapless Starbucks staffers and Chipotle managers; in 2008–09, the world economy was convulsed by the fact that a great many Wall Street firms made bad investments that they did not quite even understand, necessitating trillions of dollars in bailouts and “quantitative easing” to stave off economic disaster. It is easier for a man to walk away from his wife and children than from his credit-card debt or student loans. Nobody seems to really know what his health insurance will cover — or what it will cover the day after tomorrow. A third of the teachers participating in a grant program found themselves saddled with loans — loans they had never signed up for, sometimes amounting to tens of thousands of dollars —because of paperwork issues. Innocent men and women are wrongly prosecuted and end up financially ruined even when they escape jail, and even as prosecutors boldly boast about abusing their powers.

The burden of these developments always seems to fall on those who do not have much money or power. You miss filing a 1040EZ one year and you’ll get your bank account hijacked by the IRS; Lois Lerner hijacks the entire IRS for a political project and she ends up with pension that’s twice what most American households earn in a year. Corporate executives flit from one gilt perch to the next, politicians flout both law and morality without real consequence, and their cronies and minions rarely miss a paycheck. Meanwhile, the New York Times is full of advertisements for Rolex and Cartier, Tiffany and Zegna — and stories about how nobody can really be expected to get by on $200,000 a year.

In Francis Fukuyama’s magisterial Origins of Political Order, he specifies three things that undergird the development of political development: the state, the rule of law, and accountability. The first we have plenty of — more of than we need, really. The other two . . . less so. Irrespective of how you feel about the current legal efforts being made against President Trump, it is impossible for any intelligent person to look at the situation and conclude that anybody — anybody — involved in this mess is simply working to apply the law rather than conducting a political jihad or counter-jihad through legal means — lawfare, as they call it. The rule of law took a beating during the Obama administration, and the chaos of the Trump administration does not seem likely to contribute much to its recuperation.

Who’s in Charge Here?

Crony capitalism and statolatry all the way down.

The Clerisy

We can see much more clearly now the decadent path on which Western culture had been descending for the better part of the Twentieth Century. To one who reached his maturity in the ‘Fifties, when God was in His heaven and all seemed right with the world, perhaps the most surprising fact is the speed with which cultural decay has undermined seemingly solid institutions. Here is one measure: In the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies the chant of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civilization’s got to go” was the more or less exclusive mantra of coddled college students with too much time on their hands and too little in their heads. That same slogan today has infected the bloodstream of the entire Democratic Party, and appears to be the very raison d’etre of its dominant wing. Similar sentiments, mutatis mutandis, are echoed by many liberal interest groups, the professoriate, and the news media. The barbarians, in a word, are not only inside the gates; they are far more numerous, dispersed, and powerful than they once were.

. . .

I think it beyond argument that we do face a genuine crisis, that it is very deep, and that it is essentially moral and intellectual rather than merely political in the narrow sense of that term. I also think that conditions are likely to get worse before we see improvement. But when and if the denouement arrives, I believe the resolution will strain our constitutional order as nothing before. I say this because a significant percentage of the population seems to have lost faith in the foundations of the American constitutional order. That should not be altogether surprising, inasmuch as they have been badly tutored. The loudest and most influential among their instructors have argued for two generations or more that the Founders’ Constitution is not merely mistaken in this or that feature, but is fundamentally flawed, even illegitimate. For many if not most left-wing intellectuals it is seen as an anti-democratic plot foisted upon naïve citizens by corrupt white males. This disposition, once the more or less exclusive property of hot-headed pamphleteers, agitators, and the professoriate, has surfaced increasingly in the rhetoric of prominent public officials, who disparage the Constitution they have taken a solemn oath to protect and defend.

The Constitution of their oath, however, is not the constitution that attracts their loyalty. Their constitution does not derive from the laws of Nature and Nature’s God; and it is certainly not devoted to securing natural rights and limited government. Theirs, rather, is a constitution in thrall to the prospect of perpetual change and ever-expanding government. This view of constitutional things in the United States was born over a century ago in the writings of leading Progressive thinkers and politicians. They set about to alter the foundations of the American regime, and to a remarkable degree they have succeeded. Their teaching dominates schooling at every level, book publishing, the news media, and popular culture. Despite occasional setbacks, the Progressive chattering class seems confident that its agenda will remain in the vanguard of American political culture.

The Struggle Ahead

 


The Administrative State and the New “Conservative” Majority on the Supreme Court

 

Hey NRA!

Hey NRA! Stop killing our kids! That's our job! Sincerely, Planned Parenthood.

Hey NRA! Stop killing our kids! That’s our job! Sincerely, Planned Parenthood.

Gun control means more government.

Interestingly, we do have a movement in the United States in which a far larger percentage of high school and college students engage each year: the March for Life.

The March for Life rally is an annual event that even the progressive Daily Beast acknowledges “has become something of a magnet for college and high school groups.” This is all-but-ignored by the media and certainly never held up by the left as a reason to overturn Roe v. Wade, let alone repeal a Constitutional amendment.

Crowd size estimates are difficult, and March for Life attendance varies each year. However, the March for Life has attracted larger crowds each year (excepting 2016 when a blizzard in DC affected attendance): estimates for 2012 show that 400,000 attended, in 2013, an estimated 650,000 attended.

Crowd size isn’t the narrative, though some media outlets attempted to make it a part of the narrative with outrageous claims about “March for Our Lives” attendance.

When was the last time you saw a CNN town hall that focused on the “schoolchildren” who oppose abortion and support life? When was the last time you saw a group of pro-life high school students hailed as the voice of their generation, a voice we should all listen to without question? When was the last time a pro-life student became so well-known that he or she appeared on morning, daytime, and evening talk shows and was the 24/7 topic of cable news outlets?

According to the leftist anti-Second Amendment crowd, we need to take seriously the demands of teenagers . . . unless the issue is abortion. As usual, the issue is not “the children,” the issue is forwarding an anti-American agenda and using “the children” as pawns.

abortion
March for Our Lives Narrative Continues to Unravel: Only 10% Teens

The Parkland Kids Have A Lot In Common With Pentecostal Child Preachers

Porn



Sing Sing Sing – Carnegie Hall 1938

We know that porn causes sexual disorders. We know it normalizes violence towards women. We know it’s a leading contributor to divorce. Thirty percent of men between the ages of 18 and 30 use it daily, while 10 percent of the population believe they are porn addicts. The average age of exposure is 11. Were it not for our oversaturation in sex, we wouldn’t think twice about banning it.

There is a greater principle at work here, too, and it’s equally promising: young men and women on both sides of the political spectrum are questioning the Sexual Revolution. Last November, The Spectator’s Lara Prendergast called out those prudish elements of the sisterhood whipping up a “Sexual Reformation”:

“The old feminist trope says that it is not a woman’s responsibility to worry about her own safety; it is a man’s job not to harass her. Yet women are clearly taking increasingly extreme measures to protect themselves because a small number of vocal campaigners are telling us that all our worst fears about men are true—and we must take action.”

Prendergast reminds one of Wendy Kaminer, who in 1992 wrote in The Atlantic warning that anti-porn feminism “promotes a view of men as lubricious brutes, and that has united authoritarians on the left and the right in an assault on free speech.” In fact, we are brutes—at least when we’re told to indulge our most lubricious appetites and play out our most bestial fantasies.

What’s happening is that these “sex-negative” feminists are coming back around to the idea of the Fall of Man. Russell Kirk, in his “Ten Conservative Principles,” explained that “human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults”:

“…if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: ‘the ceremony of innocence is drowned.’ The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.”

Until the advent of fusionism, no conservative would have doubted that the government is (to a strictly limited extent) one of those safeguards. The idea that mankind’s Fallenness is a grave threat to social stability, and that we must in extreme cases use the force of law to restrain our destructive appetites, is not a progressive one. It’s deeply conservative.

We on the right shouldn’t pooh-pooh them for it. We should welcome them with open arms. We should explain that their horror at man’s potential for depravity is not only valid: it’s central to both orthodox Christianity and Anglo-American conservatism.

In fact, Kirk wouldn’t be surprised to hear of the traditionalist remnant finding common cause with leftists. As he wrote in “Libertarians: Chirping Sectaries”:

Conservatives have no intention of compromising with socialists; but even such an alliance, ridiculous though it would be, is more nearly conceivable than the coalition of conservatives and libertarians. The socialists at least declare the existence of some sort of moral order; the libertarians are quite bottomless.

After three centuries of “Enlightened” faith in mankind’s invincible goodness and wisdom, liberals are finally coming back around to the ancient notion of Fallenness.

Fighting Porn: The Reviving Cause Social Conservatism Needs

You mustn’t kill your children.

Smoke weed, snort cocaine, watch porn, but don’t kill a living human organism, for any reason, ever. Anyone who describes himself as a libertarian has been subjected to at least one game of “Would You Legalize . . . ?”

For me, the answer is mostly “Yes.”

Weed? Yes. Cocaine? Yes. Heroin? Yes. I’d legalize all the drugs. Not because I am indifferent to drug use — I have seen addiction up close and personal, closer and more personally than I ever wanted to, and I know what it does to people. I’m in favor of drug legalization for reasons deontological (I believe that people have the right to do what they will with their own bodies) and consequentialist (I believe heroin users would be better off if heroin were still made by Bayer, with modern pharmaceutical quality controls).

You mustn’t kill your children.

What about prostitution? Yes, I’d legalize that, too, mostly for the same reasons I’d legalize drugs. I don’t think prostitution is good for women or men, but I think the criminalization of prostitution makes it worse, creating more problems than it ameliorates. Again, one need not be indifferent to the issue to believe that the police power of the state is the wrong instrument to use in many cases. The state is big, stupid, and violent — violence is what government does — and adding violence to the equation is not very likely to make life better for people working as prostitutes. They endure too much violence as it is.

. . .

Some of my pro-abortion friends are very fond of the Monty Python school of reproductive theology. You know the song: “Every sperm is sacred / every sperm is great / when a sperm is wasted / God gets quite irate.” They ask: “How can you be against abortion while considering masturbation an act of mass murder? Huh? Huh?” (Abortion politics makes people stupid.) One hears a lot from them about “potential” lives.

But on the matter of abortion, we aren’t talking about “potential” anything. A sperm cell or an egg cell has your DNA. It’s part of your body. I may not think everything you do with your own body is good or wise (not every tattoo is advisable), but I’m not going to throw you in prison over it, either.

You mustn’t kill your children.

I have heard endless stupid metaphysical disputes about abortion, from legalistic disputes about “personhood” (a cowardly intellectual dodge if ever there were one) to medieval-style claims about what used to be called “ensoulment.” None of that is of any interest. What happens in abortion happens to a 1) living 2) human 3) organism. The tissue in question is living tissue, not dead tissue; it is human tissue, not rutabaga or aardvark tissue; it is arranged in an organism, not as a tumor or a fingernail clipping. It has its own DNA and it will continue on a life course — maybe majestic, maybe tragic — as it grows, because it is a living human individual at the earliest stages of its development. A “clump of cells”? Yes, which is what living human organism is at that stage in its life.

You mustn’t kill your children.

Not at any age. Not at any stage of development. Not for any reason. Debate, disagree, dissent, fight, cajole, persuade, argue all you want about war and peace, taxes, the welfare state, global warming, the Palestinian question, immigration, Donald Trump, animal rights, the Second Amendment, libel laws, school choice, the literary merits of Ayn Rand. I’ll have all those fights with you and more. Smoke all the weed you like and watch all the porn you want. Keep up with the Kardashians and live like them, too, if that seems best to you. I won’t pretend it’s a good idea, but it’s a free country.

You mustn’t kill your children.

Marching for Life

Struggling Cities Don’t Need Creative Class Leadership

Maintain the water and sewer lines, the streets, and the street lights.

Any unbiased observer of our cities can see that mediocrity is the salient characteristic of the typical local American politician. Another important problem in small and mid-sized cities is that they are poor and in need of revitalization, especially in Rust Belt areas. A natural conclusion to draw from the coincidence of inept leadership and socioeconomic decay is that better leaders are needed. But in the poorest, most troubled cities, talented leadership is not much of an asset, and it can be a liability. Talent does real harm by raising false expectations of a revival—distracting from mundane yet essential operational matters, and forestalling state intervention at critical junctures.

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One of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s major legacies was to make the public feel entitled to hold politicians directly responsible for the health of the economy. As a result, elected officials at all levels of government are now held to totally unrealistic standards. This is nowhere more clearly so than in the case of struggling cities.

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The council-manager system has not achieved its ideal. A century of experience with the form of government—Dayton, Ohio was the first major city to adopt council-manager, in 1913—has produced numerous examples of waste and corruption. It appears that politicians will always want to meddle in administrative matters, and top city administrators, if they want to survive in their position, must cultivate and use political skills to some degree. But you can say this for council-manager: At least it has the right ideal, and everyone has a right to expect competent delivery of basic municipal services.

But there’s no such thing as a right to revitalization. City reformers call for inspired leadership because they see it as a condition of revitalization, but what if that’s impossible? Our conception of urban renaissance is unduly influenced by the experience of a small handful of large cities. If you look past New York, San Francisco and Boston, and survey their dozens of small and mid-sized Rust Belt peers, it is very difficult to find an example of true revitalization. In a forthcoming research report, I survey 96 major poor cities in the Rust Belt and find that every single one has seen its poverty rate increase since 1970.

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The best argument for the benefits of talented urban leadership its ability to question the power of public-sector unions. Someone from outside city politics is more likely to grasp the many bizarre pathologies that result from having allowed teachers, police officers, and other public servants to assert formal influence over their own compensation and terms of employment, regardless of what’s in the public interest. Government unions are able to do this via their sway over the electoral process, selecting the “management” with whom they will be negotiating their contracts.

In the contemporary urban era, the threat of municipal bankruptcy looms large. Due to the steady corrosion of their tax bases, and the escalating costs of bonded debt and retirement-benefit liabilities, poor cities have a thin margin of error, fiscally speaking. Cities that have seen no substantive economic growth for decades should not be making retirement-benefit promises that stretch sixty years out into the future. And yet this practice is routine for all cities that still compensate their workforces through defined-benefit pensions.

If fiscal policy is one of the most important issues in urban politics today, and government unions are the greatest barrier to a more responsible fiscal policy, then bringing in more talented outsiders to mayor’s offices across the nation may be one of most important things we could do to help cities. But those who came up through a city’s political system are likely to view government unions’ stranglehold on city finances and operations with a “twas always thus” attitude. Examples of outsiders who grasped the lunacy of municipal compensation structures are Hartford’s Bronin and New York’s Michael Bloomberg.

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Perhaps the biggest problem with the talented-outsider mayor is that he is apt to get ideas. He may be more educated than the local doofuses, but that does not mean he is fully enlightened. It’s a case where a little knowledge can become a dangerous thing. State and local politicians who are known as big thinkers will always be strong candidates for a “public official of the year” award from Governing magazine or singled out as one of “America’s 11 Most Interesting Mayors” by Politico. New York and DC-based reporters from national publications are naturally attracted to mayors who can speak the language of urbanism.

But too much of urbanists’ advice for small and mid-sized cities consists of trying to impose lessons from successful top tier cities such as New York, Washington, San Francisco and Boston. Poor small and mid-sized cities should spend more time comparing themselves to other poor, small, and mid-sized cities. If you’ve lost half your population since 1950, you probably don’t have an affordable housing crisis; you’re not grappling with the challenges of density but rather a lack of density. If you have no wealth to redistribute in the first place, then Bill de Blasio can teach you little about the joys of redistribution.

In public budgeting, which is the area of greatest concern for many cities today, getting ideas is especially dangerous.

Struggling Cities Don’t Need Creative Class Leadership

See also, “Illinois Government Is a Dysfunctional Mess

Tax Reform

Making the tax code fairer and flatter will accomplish the Trump administration’s goal of draining the swamp by weakening the power that corporate lobbyists have in Washington. The corporate side of the tax ledger, which has created a policy status quo in which some industries are taxed at a 35 percent rate while others pay no taxes, is a horrid mishmash of social engineering and corporate welfare. Lowering the rate and broadening the base will stop the government from picking winners and losers and fire a warning shot across the bow of the corporations whose tax rate is determined more by their lobbying teams than by smart policy.

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How much companies pay in taxes varies heavily by industry. The construction and retail industries, for example, pay the highest average rates, at 27 percent, while the utilities industry pays the lowest average rate at 10 percent. This is no accident. Congress passed a law during the 2008 financial crisis designed to stimulate capital investment by allowing companies to take immediate write-offs, and the utilities industry is a capital-intensive industry. The utilities industry also heavily benefits from subsidies for green energy — so the utilities that have invested in solar, wind, and other renewables have gotten massive tax benefits from the government.

Corporate lobbyists and tax-preparation firms wield a lot of political clout in order to keep it this way. There’s a massive benefit to big corporations using their lobbying power to secure special tax breaks when a 35 percent rate looms over their head, and tax preparation firms get to bill longer hours with a more complicated code that’s filled with credits and deductions. A lower rate means that corporations won’t have the incentive to work as hard to secure the distortionary tax breaks they currently enjoy.

Tax reform can finally drain the swamp by getting rid of lobbyists

Trump’s Ignorance, Stupidity, Pettiness, and Malice, Continued

President Donald Trump’s recent (most recent) testing of the censorship waters is disturbing in a by-now-familiar way, combining the hallmark elements of the president’s political style: ignorance, stupidity, pettiness, and malice.

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It is not entirely surprising that the president doesn’t quite know what the FCC is or what it does. He was elected to the highest office in the land without quite understanding how a bill becomes a law — alas, Schoolhouse Rock has failed us! — and without really quite knowing what it is a president does. God help us all if he ever gets interested in the Federal Reserve or the Department of Energy.

Trump vs. the First Amendment

“Tom Price was a man who couldn’t be trusted”

The decline and fall of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price should not primarily be remembered as the story of a man who luxuriated wastefully on the taxpayer dime. It’s mostly about a man we couldn’t trust.
. . .
– Price has a history of ethically questionable behavior, such as apparently making money off of stocks affected by his own legislative action.

So this isn’t a guy who made a selfish mistake and cost the taxpayers money. This is a guy who concealed his activities and didn’t shoot straight. A man like that can’t be a cabinet secretary.

Maybe he’ll be a successful healthcare lobbyist.

Tom Price was a man who couldn’t be trusted

“Politics is unalloyed idiocy”

[O]ne of the reasons why I so thoroughly detest politics: it insults my intelligence. Even overlooking all of its many other faults, politics remains insufferable because it’s so completely imbecilic. It traffics in assertions that are either hilariously false or utterly meaningless. Politicians and their operatives then expect those of us on the receiving end of their moronic assertions not only to believe these assertions to be true, but also to marvel at the amazingness of the politicians who, we are assured, regularly perform the unbelievable feats described by the assertions.

Politics is unalloyed idiocy treated even by – indeed, especially by – the intelligentsia as if it is a solemn and serious undertaking. But it’s not. Politics is overwhelmingly the domain of megalomaniacal frauds, liars, and con artists.

Politics

History and “Presentism” and Other People’s Money

[Camille Paglia says,] “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.’

This is a point that deserves repeated amplification. It explains, for instance, much of the indignation we see and hear on college campuses, wherein twenty-year-olds decry twenty-first-century American racism and sexism. The first response to their charges should not be to debate present conditions. It should be to ask them about actual conditions of the past—Jim Crow, the franchise for women and blacks, poverty rates and public health in former times . . . The answers will demonstrate that the only way to believe that America 2017 is a particularly vicious time for certain identities is to know nothing about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And we know, of course, how little history young Americans actually possess.

Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.” Thanks to the (presumed) sensitivity of modern youth, Paglia says, students have not had a “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history . . . . Ancient history must be taught . . . . I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.” Without that background, she implies, our only standard of appraising current circumstances is current circumstances plus a few utopian dreams. We have so much material prosperity, they think, so why don’t we have more perfect people to enjoy it?

Not only does this outlook produce a dangerous parochialism and fervor among the young. It hampers their education. When people judge the present solely in present terms, not in relation to the past, diversity becomes not the pursuit of knowledge of other cultures, religions, and civilizations. It becomes, Paglia says, a “banner” under which we presume to “remedy” contemporary social sins. At that point, we should realize, education has turned into indoctrination.

Camille Paglia’s Teaching

“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana (a rephrasing of what he said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”)


Innocents Betrayed

For example, what’s happening in Venezuela is just “bad luck”….
– “Castro, Chavez, and ‘bad luck’
– “Venezuela’s descent into anarchy is only beginning

Also seeAs the Left Surges Back, Marxism’s Bloody Legacy is Covered Up“, by Roger Scruton

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as “bad luck.”

Robert A. Heinlein

When socialism runs out of money and has no more free stuff to give, it wreaks havoc on a country’s economy and its people. Just ask Venezuela.

If You Want Medicare For All, Get Used To Eating Rabbit Now


Roger Scruton on socialism