I am not sure John McAfee should be running for the U. S. Presidency, but he sure should become the new Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man Alive.”

The advertisers wouldn’t even have to make things up. Just interview the man for an hour and they would have a whole season of commercials.

Stay thirsty, my friends.


In light of the deconstruction of the statist sophism, “rights vs. privileges,” floated in my previous essay, it is worth thinking about one of the odder uses of the word “privilege” in our time, the use of the word amongst modern feminists and the protestors of the Social Justice Warrior crowd — all those now under the thrall of the bizarre meme complex they call “intersectionality.”

For several years now I have struggled to make sense of the common charge, “white male privilege.”

I am told that it is something I possess. But I have to say, it sure is hard to pinpoint what advantages I get from this alleged “privilege.” With my name, on the Internet, many people are not even sure what race I can be said to fall into. Virkkala? What is that? So my Internet life — which makes up a considerable part of my life and livelihood — seems hardly to benefit from some sort of unearned racial advantage.

For the longest time I looked askance at the charge because I attributed to it a misidentification of my being treated, where I live, mostly justly, contrasted with folks in other areas of America and the world in which what was obviously lacking was not privilege, but justice.

To call a person privileged because they are treated justly seems to run afoul of the basic duality of rights vs. privileges. The chief problem with those whom we used to call, regularly, the “under-privileged,” is not that they lack privilege, but that they lack justice. One of the chief reasons they do not thrive, say in Africa or elsewhere, is that their surrounding social institutions are grossly unjust.

And those who are treated justly, but still remain impoverished — is it because they lack “privilege”? Really? Is not what really separates their lives from mine to be found in the unfortunate fact that while I have (at present) sources of income based on trade, they do not?

Remember, when we dissolved the duality rights vs. privileges? Rights are instruments of justice. Privilege differs, is characterized by allowed benefit from generosity or forbearance. But when we finally move beyond the duality to trade, we are talking about neither the strictly just nor the strictly privileged. We are talking about serving others through a particular form of voluntary cooperation.

Bastiat's great treatiseAnd these trades — exchanges —occur only when you possess something that someone else wants, and that person has something that you want. Both of you are willing to give up what you have for something deemed better that the other has.

This area of trade is where earning happens. Where productivity receives reward. Where we service one another in distinct transactions.

I trade some of my labor and attention and skill for someone else’s money, which they got from trading their labor and attention and skill.

Trade and its benefits depend, of course, on you possessing some labor and skill, and a willingness to attend to others. And, it is a truism: one’s initial skill set is not determined by one’s own self. Nature, circumstance, chance, Providence, and the like, determine our basic make-ups, and these influences produce vastly different beings in vastly different circumstances. Inequality. At start and on an ontological level. Obviously. But, no matter what your initial outlay of talents and prospects, over the course of your life you have a number of decisions to make, and the most pertinent ones facing you are not: how do I get more privilege? or how do I get more basic rights?

The hardest thing in the world to change are other people, especially when what you want from them comes at their cost. Granting privileges to you obviously comes at cost to them. And granting basic rights to you does also come at even greater cost.

How so? Well, privileges one person bestows on another come from generosity or charity, mainly, and diminish the grantor’s resources. (Ask yourself, why would they do that?) And, similarly, the justice that one person can “give” to another depends on that very difficult thing, coordination with many other people. While one person can be just towards another, the actual granting of a condition as a right to one or more people requires, for accomplishment, a general consensus or preponderance of social actors engaged in community mores. And the hardest social thing to do is coordinate the actions of many, many people.

What is easiest to do, as we go about living our lives, is to engage in specific transactions with others. We can give, or we can take. And between these two actions, we can engage in give-and-take, in mutually advantaged trade. That is, giving dependent upon taking; taking dependent on reciprocal gift. (See Condillac, Destutt de Tracy, Frédéric Bastiat, and the later writers in the Third School of Political Economy for more details on this.)

This is the source of most advancement. This is what successful “white men” do to get their alleged “privilege.”

But to ascribe privilege to what they are doing falsifies their actual behavior. What successful white men do is trade. They exert themselves. They figure out what talent or property they possess (or can legally acquire) that they can give to others — dependent upon a return, for remuneration.

So, the vast cadre of intersectional feminists who talk incessantly of The Patriarchy and of “privilege,” and scream and demand their “rights” to not be “oppressed” by a system of white male dominance, uh, this crowd of folks misses the main transactions that make up successful life.

And thus they miss on the pleasures of voluntary society while condemning themselves to fruitless lives of coercive protesting and exclusionary tactics to promote “inclusion.”

By focusing on privilege, and insisting on rights to be given stuff, to demand reparations, to be equalized at the base, natural stages of their lives — to be made equal, or to compensate for some perceived inequality — they debilitate their lives and the lives of the people they aim to help. For, really, no matter where you are in life, if you cry about the injustices of inequality or the perfidy of Fate, and do not engage in strategies of advancement through voluntary cooperation, via trade, you are worse than under-privileged. You are self-condemned to frustration and failure, and will, therefore, miss out on the blessings of civilization — which has, it should be obvious to us all, lifted man out of rough natural life, and into something comparatively easier.

Civilized life is not about privilege, folks. Civility is about what you do in relationship to others. If you want to know what oppression is, do not look to our initial unequal conditions, but to the discrete transactions among people that are based on initiated coercion.

And, if you want to see people thrive? Then treat people justly, as having the basic minimal rights, and follow up with a myriad of transactions . . . yes, undertake the many, many next steps, to cooperate with others in a friendly (or at least not unfriendly) manner.

Without whining and hectoring.



There are two kinds of people in this world: those who divide people into two categories, and those who don’t. I’m in the latter category. . . .

Japing paradox aside, I do try to avoid dualistic constructions in philosophy and explanation. It doesn’t take long in political discourse, anyway, to see that many popular dualities, though conceived as exhaustive, are anything but. Human experience does not often easily fit neatly into two.

Indeed, in the work of Aristotle we encounter a vision of ethics that does not regard Right and Wrong as the foundational antagonism, but Deficiency and Excess as a basic duality, with a middle point between these  extremes serving as equilibrium, and constituting the virtue. Aristotle provides numerous examples in the Nicomachean Ethics. When I was a young man, I devised a schema of cardinal virtues, not dissimilar to Aristotle’s, but distinct. I distinguished three cardinal self-regarding virtues and three cardinal other-regarding virtues. Each virtue could  be conceived  as middle point between one or more sets of antagonisms. My schema looked like this:


The emotional realm I conceived in terms of the Will to Pleasure, and saw Temperance as a midway point between the lusts for pleasure and expressions of passions, on the one hand, and a deadly anhedonia and fearfulness, on the other. The person prone to anger was not temperate, but neither was the person incapable of strong feeling of any kind. The point of temperance was not to be evenly emoting at all times, but to be close enough to an emotionally stable point to be able to feel appropriately in any given situation.

Very Aristotelian, no? The other virtues I explained along similar lines, with wills-to contrasting with schemes of avoidance, fleeings-from. But in none of this discussion of a basic concept of ethics (and not the only important concept, either) did I give in to a simple dualism. Instead, I saw the experience of life in a three-fold division, and, within each division, each cardinal virtue understood as a mid-point between extremes (thus making another three-value logic) . . . and then divided into two, according to the center of regard, or direction  of concern or interest.

So when I began seriously to consider social life outside of a simple listing of virtues, but as issues to be argued over within the political realm, I became immediately suspicious of all the dualities I was presented with. As Chris Sciabarra explained so well in the opening of chapters of Total Freedom, what is needed to understand complex reality is more than a two-valued logic, the binary clicking of either-or. What is needed is a dialectical mindset, one that comprehends shifting perspective and a multiplication of entities. Shave with Occam’s Razor, sure; but you don’t grow hair that way.

Recently, James Gill and I have been making videos. He is in charge, and he aims to catch me in thought. Amidst my mumbles, I say some things that I regard as sensible. Here is the most popular of these videos, from a set reacting to Sarah Silverman’s defense of Socialist Bernie Sanders, which went viral on Facebook:

You see that I take on a statist sophism: that the basics of life be seen as “rights,” not “privileges.” And the listener tends to agree. Privilege is something only a few may have. Rights are universal. We want the basics to be universal, no?

Well, before we hastily cave to the statists’ rhetorical trap, look at it. Are these our only two options?

No. As I explained in the video, there is at least one missing third option, between the unearned advantage of privilege, and the coercible, obligatory focus of a right. What is it? It is the realm of contract, cooperation, and earnings.

I get most of what I want not by demanding each item as a right, or begging for each good as a privilege in someone else’s grants economy. Instead, I engage in trade. Or some other form of mutual cooperation. And, by agreement, I gain what I need. How? By offering and supplying something within my power and personal economy that at least one other person desires more than I desire it. This is the logic of exchange. It is a beautiful thing. When we come to terms, the results are beautiful and peaceful and harmonious.

We would surely want as much of life to fall under this realm of transaction, not under the realm of the coerced or the extorted or begged.

But socialists and other statists  continually elide any mention of this, when they push for some new realm of life to be sucked into the vortex of government, the maw of the State. They just put before us the simple binary, the duality Rights vs. Privileges.

And, in so doing, they lie.

It is a lie by omission of a great truth.

It is what you expect con artists to do, distracting our attention from the best option to get us to settle for a brummagem alternative.

Of course, most socialists are not deliberately lying. Like all religious zealots, what is lacking is a sense of piercing honesty, free inquiry, even curiosity. They have a simple vision of the world they are pushing — their utopia — and they will not let something complex like reality, or difficult, like truth, get in their way.

Thus it is with most dualisms. As I go through the usual lists of everyday dualities, we shall see how true this is.


Two months ago I advanced the thesis that the Left (generally speaking) bred its own Nemesis, in the form of Donald Trump. Interestingly, Trump has succeeded largely for the same reason left-leaning Democrats have achieved so many of their successes, by leveraging the attention of the major media.

Of course, as is known, the political and cultural Left garners loving attention and intellectual cover from the media. Trump garnered media attention more in the way celebrity gossip and train wrecks garner attention: out of prurient interest. Trump egged on the media, and gained hatred of many, by taunting the establishment arbiters of taste. That is, more accurately, by fearlessly breaking the taboos the Left had set on political speech in America and around the world.

And many Americans ate it up. Trump’s core constituency, the “under-educated” (“I  love the under-educated,” Trump said, and I am sure he meant it) amongst the GOP voters and the growing  mass of independents, has been seriously mistreated by America’s liberal elites, who despise Flyover  Country.  And Trump gave mouth to the deepening rage against the intelligentsia  and government-employee classes, and profited thereby.

And he also instantiated the proof against this class’s favorite hobbyhorse, campaign finance reform. The Left generally likes regulating campaign finance because leftists pretend that, without Big Corporate Money, there would be a more level playing field, “for the little guy.” But that is hardly the whole story. Since the Left instinctively realizes that it has the advantage, ideologically, in the marketplace of ideas, with the schools and media outlets mostly square and set in the Left’s own camp, campaign finance reform is a way for the Left to secure a raw advantage.

Donald Trump showed that anyone willing to play the media’s weakness for spectacle can get around much of the financial regs. He leveraged  billions of dollars worth of attention, just by speaking out to Power. Campaign finance reform is a way for the Left to rig the system in their favor, and the Nemesis the Left bred found the Achilles Heal in this contest.

But there are other lessons to be learned. The Republican Establishment bred its Nemesis, too. As I have been writing these last few days, Trump’s appeal comes in part from his utter contempt for the “stupid people” who run the country . . . including those who run the party he contends within.

The long history of betrayal by the official GOP spokespeople of nearly everything the party stands for (except war) placed manure on the field that Trump now harvests.

By these betrayals, the Establishment Right weakened the direction and sense of purpose that the Reaganites have tried to muster, and which the Tea Party tried to re-focus more narrowly.

It is probably true that the GOP insiders never really believed in the Reaganite vision. “Limited government” has limited appeal to a major party, which lives and dies by granting special favors, by inculcating a general sense of grievance and hope for advantage. And because of this realpolitik, Republican politicians ground their gears for three decades, never really limiting government, always contributing to its growth, especially of its debt. They were all talk and no action.

The modern, Reaganite GOP has always been a lie.

And lies have consequences. People begin to figure things out. And many, many Republicans, along with a large swath of Democrats and independents, begin to look not for principled leadership, but, instead, charismatic leadership (note: it is still the case that Trump has won mostly in open primary states, and lost, generally, in closed ones, thus showing that his most important constituency is not Republican as such, but populist-independent). The Tyrant thus appears on the scene, offering vague promises of greatness, and a barely sub rosa agenda of destruction.

That destruction is not just set against the mainstream Left, but against the mainstream Right. The Republican Party itself.

The Right, too, bred its Nemesis.

Screenshot 2016-05-04 13.56.01

I do not usually waste this space with predictions and snap judgments. That is what I use Facebook for. But perhaps now, as America slides into a chaotic election year where anything and everything seems up for grabs, I will yammer in my usual Facebook manner.

First, I do not trust Trump, and I wonder about anyone who does. But then, I do not trust Hillary or Kasich or much of anybody else. So, my Trumpophile friends, do not take this personally.

I would never vote for him, as I have repeatedly said, for the same reason I would never vote for Bernie Sanders: he is a protectionist.

The Tyranny of SocialismI do not vote for protectionists. It would be like letting a Flat Earther teach geography to your children.

Sanders is of course worse than a mere protectionist. He is a socialist, which Bastiat or Guyot (I forget which one!  — oh, it has to be Yves Guyot) noted is just protectionism taken to the extreme of absurdity. I have many friends enthusiastic about Sanders. I shake my head as one shakes one’s uppermost orb in awe of the ignorance of even one’s best friends.

He may actually wrest the Democratic nomination from Hillary. It will be a long shot, but stranger things have happened in conventions. The fact that Hillary is being investigated for high crimes and misdemeanors should mean something to Democrats. But they sold their souls to power long ago, so it has not yet sunk in that Hillary could actually lose to Trump on grounds that normal Americans care about: corruption, honesty, competence.
Socialist Fallacies
Into this strange brew will be thrown third party challengers. Whenever the race seems certain, minor party challengers rush in to collect the consequent windfall protest votes. The Libertarian Party, my favorite gang of political junkies, has been quixotically slamming heads to walls for decades to maintain ballot status in a system rigged on several levels against them. And the Libertarians have something none of the other minor parties possess: ballot status in all or nearly all of the 50 states. And some territories. And, I gather, the District of Columbia.

Usually, the Libertarian candidate gets a few votes. Last election, Gary Johnson got more than just a few, though hardly enough to really matter.

But this year, whoever gets the LP candidacy slot has a chance to make a showing never before possible. Not because it is not a close race this year, but because Trump and Clinton have such huge negatives, and, if Bernie nabs the Democracy’s wreath and runs to the main ring, his negatives would soar as well. He is a socialist. A self-professed socialist. A fucking socialist. In America. Should he win, as I indicated an hour or so ago, he would put an end to American Exceptionalism, reducing America to another wannabe tit-sucking European state. The Servile Society would flower in full, and I would be eying the brochures to Chile or Bali or India or even corrupt post-Communist China.

To be an American individualist living under a Socialist president? I really would have to think about it, even if that puts me in the mirror camp of the star of the execrable Girls, who says she would leave America were Trump to be elected.

Hey: if Trump becomes president, I wouldn’t be shouting hosannas. But I wouldn’t leave. A front-row seat to the circus could compensate for such a horrid turn of events.
The Outcome of Individualism
Meanwhile, two LINOs and three minor figure diehard Libertarians vie for the wreath of Liberty. John McAfee is an astoundingly persuasive speaker, and half his answers to questions are magnificent. Alas, the other half are wretchedly bad. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is growing into the role of Imp Against the  State, calmly (most of the time) and casually making the case for a freer society and more stable government. He seems to have more appeal, and seems more ready than McAfee and the Real Libertarians to garner the possible huge reservoir of protest votes that now leaven the bubbling stew of the current polity.

If Gary Johnson runs, but cannot break 10 percent, just give up, Libertarians. Dismantle the party and try something different.

As I have been explaining here, and on Facebook, I believe the Republican Party is, in effect, undergoing a hostile takeover. Sheldon Richman notes (on Twitter) that the mechanism of this takeover, the open primary, is just the kind of “rigged system” that The Donald likes to bitch about, but which he actually benefits from.

Here, a neoconservative and a neopopulist debate the whole thing, not quite recognizing the true nature of the shift in the GOP:

O’Reilly and Krauthammer call it a “split in the party.” But that merely explains why the GOP is weak, not why Trump is winning. They do recognize that Trump is really appealing to independent voters and Democrats. Hence the realignment.

It is especially droll that Republican witlessness and cowardice, combined with Democratic loyalty to a much-hated party hack and corrupt insider, may give us a Socialist in office, next year.

American Exceptionalism, 1776-2016.

Hours ago I surveyed the current field of major party candidates in the context of two challengers, both of whom hope (almost certainly in vain) for contested conventions.

And in my hurry to marshal a dozen thoughts into as few words as possible, I forgot to mention one important thing: the realignment of the Republican Party could happen contested convention or no. If Trump breezes through the rest of the primary season, and into a successful crowning ceremony in Cleveland next July, he may very well change the nature of the GOP. In fact, it is more likely to occur under a Trump sweep.

Why? Because, unless Trump wins the presidency and governs in a manner more-or-less acceptable to libertarians, social conservatives, Main Streeters and neoconservatives — surely an impossible task — his win will signal the breakdown of the Republican Fantasy.

What is that fantasy? It is the Reaganite vision, wherein social conservatives, business people, free-marketers and neocon warriors all get what they want, and that getting is compatible . . . that these four groups are four great groups that group best together.

What could happen is that Trump brings in moderate Democrats and independents into the Republican fold, sending others hither to the winds.

I suspect that, if Trump is true to his rhetoric, it will be the libertarians, and possibly the neocons, who will make for the exits. That will leave the Republican Party a more nationalist and protectionist — but perhaps less imperialistic — force in modern politics.

You are familiar with the quadrant view of political ideologies, between Authoritarians, right-wingers (pseudo-conservatives), left-wingers (pseudo-progressives) and Libertarians. Right now the authoritarians are partially on the outs. If Trump succeeds, the shift  in the complexion of the GOP would almost certainly move more authoritarian. Here is a good example of the chart, with my perception of the current complexion of Republican constituency, and then with a possible future, more Trumpian:


Of course, one of the things about Trump is: he is unpredictable. He is The Mule.

And as such, who knows, really, how he would govern?

On the other hand, if Trump wins the nomination but loses the presidency, would the more authoritarian voters he pulled in change the permanent complexion of the Party of Lincoln? It seems doubtful, but considering how unsuccessful the coalition has been, despite its obvious persistence, its unraveling sure seems inevitable.

Another thing I neglected to mention concerns the punishing vote.

We spend a lot of time in politics talking about what people are for: for this, for that.

But Obama got in office in part out of a reaction against Bush in particular and Republicans in general. Voters — especially the marginal, independent voter — voted Democrat to punish Republicans. Who truly did need punishing.

Will marginal voters reverse themselves, and punish the Democrats, who really should be punished?

By talking to Democrats, I’d guess no. But the logic of the marginal voter suggests that punishing Democrats may indeed be a factor, and may lead to a lot of Trump votes in November. Remember: democracy’s chief success and function is not the expression of any general will, but the peaceful removal of individuals and groups from power.

Trouble is, it won’t be a simple two-party field in November, and there is almost as much Hillary Hate as Trump Hate. This suggests to me not only that many current Bernie Sanders voters will vote Trump, but a not-insignificant number will protest and vote Libertarian. As in the Libertarian Party and its presumptive nominee Gary Johnson, on the ballot, I am told, in every state in the union. And Johnson may finally take those quasi-libertarians who usually vote Republican. The question then becomes, of the punishment-prone voters, how many will vote Trump and how many will vote Johnson? Could Johnson help Hillary get the election?

Or could the eventual Electoral College make-up send the election to the House of Representatives?

We live in interesting times.






The second-place presidential challengers in both major parties are actively seeking contested conventions.

Interestingly, both sport some legit outsider cachet — being senators on the outs of their respective parties (Sanders by being an independent socialist, Cruz by being a Tea Party Republican) — but it is worth remembering that the GOP front runner has even more claim to outsider status, having never worked in government in any capacity. Further, the GOP frontrunner is bringing in voters from outside the normal party fold. The fact that he turns off even more voters is, well, problematic for his candidacy. The Democracy’s frontrunner is her party’s chosen Favorite Daughter, the heir apparent, an old-time government hack with a disastrous track record but all the insider cred one might hope for. She also has huge disapproval, too, though not quite as large as the Republican frontman’s.

If one or both parties go into contested conventions, the complexion of one or both could change.

At present, the old Democracy is the party of government employee unions, higher ed enclaves, major media cheerleading, and minority special interest groups, and serves as the dominant arbiter of insider power (which is why it is so heavily funded by big businesses), based on interest group access to direct government policy. Its ideology is conservative in that it aims to consolidate existing power structures along political lines. Its adherents seem oddly uninterested in shoring up the stability of its major policy institutions, however, having just risked even more instability by engaging in a major increase in the scope of government, in the health care industry. (The why of that, below.)

By term of art, the party is “progressive,” in that it supports causes loosely associated with the left and its socialist obsessions. But, with the exception of Obamacare (the latest program), these institutions are not new and thus no longer revolutionary, but quite establishment. This gives the movement its conservative feel. The recent rise of Bernie Sanders’s more radical socialism threatens to destabilize the party’s hold on power by unhinging the establishment institutions — but it also exhibits strong conservative streaks. Like so often happens on the left, the younger generation of activists now promotes a culture of censorship and outrageously authoritarian moralizing, one that reminds me of the more dogmatic conservative hectoring I grew up with.

Mrs. Grundy has become Ms. Grundy.

The Republican Party is in almost complete disarray. Since the Reagan era, it has existed as a loose union of at least three distinct groups:

  1. The traditional business interests, hovering between Main Street and Wall Street officially, but in actuality between those trad businesses and the Pentagon insider complex;
  2. The libertarian contingent, a small but influential cadre of limited government enthusiasts and their Ordinary Joe Citizen (and occasional business leader) sympathizers; and
  3. The social conservatives, dominated by Protestant evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons, whose main interest in politics is what the libertarians often characterize “private morality.”

Into these three groups migrated the cadre of neoconservatives, disaffected liberal intellectuals mainly concerned with foreign policy. What politicians have done is appeal serially or simultaneously to all four — logically an impossible task, but then politics is not logic — and then, when in power, betraying them all … except the neocons and the military industrial complex.

The series of betrayals led first to the Tea Party revolt, and now to The Donald.

The two are quite distinct.

Outwardly, the Republican Party is conservative. But the truth is, with the exception of the smallish-but-powerful libertarian contingent, the party is also ideologically (term-of-art) progressive. Only the libertarians say they want to dismantle the welfare state (and much more) of federal government. The rest of the GOP blithely pretends to be for a strict construction of the Constitution. But that is pretty much the same way that the Communist Party of China is communist, or in the way a Unitarian believes in God.

Arguably, the main line of Republicans can be distinguished from Democrats in policy terms by their greater commitment to the financial stability of Progressive and New Deal institutions. (The Democrats, being culturally closer to socialists, and who because of reasons of culture think of themselves as “radicals,” are more heedless of questions of financial stability, and do indeed like to scratch the itch of progressively putting more and more of society under the rubric of political governance, which is ipso facto destabilizing, except at the extreme of totalitarianism — see Stalin or the Inca for examples.)

The social conservative wing of the GOP has been most betrayed by its leaders. This should hardly be a shock: socially conservative mores cannot thrive in the context of a well-developed welfare state, which has as a major function the replacement of men as providers in marriage with the State (taxpayers) as providers for mothers and children regardless of marital status. There are a dozen other reasons social conservatism is a lost cause, but the continued existence of the welfare state is the biggest.

The libertarians are the next most betrayed. And this is as easy to explain, for the logic of government involvement in a post-Constitutional state is Special Advantage — precisely what libertarians are against. Politics, the art of “compromise,” exists to wheel and deal special favors. Besides, the military-industrial wing relies almost entirely on not thinking carefully about government spending.

So, GOP voters flail about. And I haven’t even talked about the foreign war/terrorist problem or the illegal immigrant issue.

It is interesting that Trump appears to be slated for the contest this autumn. As near as I can make out, he is a maverick moderate Democrat, the kind hardly welcome in the Democracy any longer, but self-packaged in a stand-up comic act. He is unique enough, however, that he might buck all the odds and even become president, for, as I have said before, he is unpredictable in normal terms. His appeal transcends the GOP’s core constituencies, what with his combination of Big Biz protectionism and half-assessed “commonsense” foreign policy.

He is The Mule.

And Hillary’s the Ass.

Spectacularly corrupt and incompetent, she nevertheless benefits from the leverage of her husband’s expert political networking, and from the fact that she is a putatively powerful woman at a time when women are beginning to think in class terms. But really, her stint in the Senate was unexceptional, and her work as a Secretary of State helped destabilize the mid-East in ways that make the word “blunder” seem like a euphemism.

Of course, the two contenders at the margins of credibility, Cruz and Sanders, are surely worse.

Ted Cruz, a hyper-intelligent Tea Party pugilist, has something rare in politics: courage. But he has only begun his fight, and has little to show for it. And, what is more, he is not blessed with either personal charm or masculine pulchritude. He looks like a cartoon villain, with eerie shadows of Nixon running across his lower face.

And Bernie Sanders is a socialist. He has a portrait of Eugene V. Debs on the wall of his Senate office, has defended “bread lines” in practice and theory, and has praised Castro and the Sandanistas. Worse yet, he does not understand the economies of the countries he says our nation should emulate, Denmark and Sweden — both sporting freer markets than we can boast of. He wants “more regulation,” in the witless way that progressives always seem to push, but that is not what his beloved Scandinavia seems to have re-established.

On the face of it, none of these candidates could win, in a normal election. But America is on the brink of insolvency and loss of empire, and Americans are beginning to feel it. Anything can happen.

This will not be a normal election. It may not even sport normal, carefully orchestrated party conventions. We may get to see something like honesty burble to the surface every now and then.


Simple corruption in politics we understand, clearly. The paradigmatic corrupt act? Bribery.

But it is obvious that there is more than one form of corruption. I’ve been touching on this in my latest LocoFoco videos, and, on-again, off-again, in this and other forums.

Paul Jacob deals with this, too, in his most recent bout of Common Sense, titled “When in Rome”:

Americans concerned with government corruption really should study Italy.


“You know Italians,” septuagenarian Elio Ciampanella was quoted in the New York Times last week. “If there is a law, they will try to find ways to go around it!”

But it is not just ordinary citizens — the people — who are evading bad laws. It is government workers who won’t do their jobs, and who engage in a wide range of corrupt deals and shady incompetence.

I know, this seems awfully unfair to the Italians. What I’ve said is the case with governments around the world. But not equally. (Scandinavian countries have a long history of government worker probity, if not ultra-competence.) And Italians do have a well-earned reputation for government corruption.

Arguably, it’s the form freedom takes in Italy.

Be that true or not, Mr. Ciampanella’s story, as related in the Times, is a fascinating one. He asked for a government-subsidized apartment, and had to wait ten years to get one . . . only to discover the problem wasn’t a lack of apartments, but a surfeit.

Yes, the government owned too many apartments to keep track of!

And so they didn’t.

And gave special deals to “special people.”

In other words: incompetence and corruption as a way of life.

Market institutions that behave so chaotically and with so little attention to efficiency go out of business. But government? That’s “necessary,” so: too big to fail. And so, commonly excused.

No wonder, then, that the common-sense approach to government is to limit it.

This final idea, the idea of limiting corruption by limiting its very opportunity — by circumscribing the scope of government itself — is one that I have been trying to formulate well in the past few years. It seems foreign to my contemporaries, however. The whole mindset of statism, at least in this instantiation in the modern progressive, resists the idea, as if it were anti-matter. The commonsense notion seems almost unmeaning to progressives.

What I learn from Paul Jacob, however, is that incompetence and corruption might be linked.

And that is worth thinking about.

The image is shamelessly nabbed from This is Common Sense.



Investigations into “folk physics” and “folk psychology” I’ve encountered.

But arguably the most egregious divergence between scientific discipline and common opinion has to be “folk statistics.” But this word pair doesn’t seem to be a thing. (I didn’t drill deeply into my recent keyword search, but the first few pages turned up nothing useful — if you know differently, please advise.)

It is not just popular discussions of risk and uncertainty that are infected by poorly understood statistical concepts. There is a deep fear of anything being labeled “abnormal,” as if normality were the most important thing in the world.

I accepted the bulk of my abnormalities at age 7; most of the rest by a decade later. So it can get a bit annoying to witness adults fret about whether or not they or someone the love might find themselves on the receiving end of a designation as abnormal. Oh, what a tragedy: you don’t fit in to the herd perfectly! You might be an individual.

My rule in discussing statistics with people is to assume “we’re all outliers here” and let it go at that. But that is just a decency, in most situations.

Folk statistics, as a research program, would have to research common misperceptions between whole and part, problems of getting decent samplings of relevant populations, the common misattribution of causation to correlated data, and the most basic statistical errors such as confusing the mean, the median, and modal examples. Surely a study of how folks engage in statistical thinking on the fly could present a fruitful way to develop an easy thesis. After all, the examples of folk physics and folk psychology are ready at hand, and the mostly unlearned population of American suckers (“one born every minute,” we are told) should make for a rich soil to till. And the possibility of emergent savvy, in the “wisdom of crowds,” could make the study even important.

But surely the biggest topic, lurking at every corner, would be the common fear of abnormality, and the common assumptions that falling into the “normal” category implies a norm in the prescriptive sense.

The researcher into this realm would have to learn to suppress the phrase “Oh, grow up.” The occasions to use it will be many.


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