In a far corner of Facebook I found someone citing two justices of the Supreme Court in an infamous marijuana case. I was pleased to be reminded of this. What follows are a few passages from the case, with my commentary — though what I write is indeed duplicative in spirit to the OP.

img_5132In the case of Gonzales v Raich the Supreme Court ruled that under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution, Congress may criminalize the production and use of homegrown cannabis even if state law allows its use for medicinal purposes. But of course the ruling applies to a lot more than just marijuana.

Justice Stevens, writing in the majority opinion, proves himself to be quite the lawyer:

The case is extremely troublesome because respondents have made such a strong showing that they will suffer irreparable harm if denied the use of marijuana to treat their serious medical illness.

But the question before us is not whether marijuana does in fact have valid therapeutic purposes, nor whether it is a good policy for the Federal Government to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in these circumstances.

Rather, the only question before us is whether Congress has the power to prohibit respondents’ activities.

Of the dissents, Justice Clarence Thomas’s was the most interesting:

If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption (not because it is interstate commerce, but because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce), then Congress’ Article I powers — as expanded by the Necessary and Proper Clause — have no meaningful limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs, guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to ‘appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of regulating commerce.’

And what is the consequence of a lack of constitutional limits?

If the majority is to be taken seriously, the Federal Government may now regulate quilting bees, clothes drives, and potluck suppers throughout the 50 States. This makes a mockery of Madison’s assurance to the people of New York that the ‘powers delegated’ to the Federal Government are ‘few and defined,’ while those of the States are ‘numerous and indefinite.’

What Thomas has indicated, here, is simple: the federal government behaves in an unconstitutional manner as a matter of course. When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was asked about the Constitutional rationale for Obamacare, for example, she expressed incredulity: “Are you serious? Are you serious?”

Politicians and ideologues are almost united in showing contempt for the Constitution and its structure.

For all our laws, we live in a lawless State. It is not just that the modern federal government exists by a sort of social consent that we may lie about the Constitution and that this is a good thing. Congress can make the general government do almost anything it wants, really, if enough politicians say so, and congresspeople think they get reëlected despite doing what they do.

This means that there are no effective foundational checks on government power. The checks are mainly political. Sure, lawyers still hold sway, and can use existing law even against existing political opponents — the whole Russiagate investigation sure seems like that is what is happening re Trump. But, at the merest crisis, we could slip into society-wide tyranny, not the little, sectoral tyrannies we now must endure. 

So, what is the bottom line? If you are an enthusiastic voter who is generally in favor of the shape of the U.S. Government and its wide regulatory reach, you are in league with the forces of tyranny. How so? By accepting all the little tyrannies we have now, and endorsing politicians who do not see themselves as in any way meaningfully checked by any constitutional structure.

I consider this no different in kind between apparatchiks in the Soviet Union or Nazi Party members in the Third Reich. It’s only a difference in degree.

We just haven’t had our Night of Long Knives yet.



Stormy Daniels

The Stormy Daniels Affair has reached something like closure: it happened, but President Trump will not likely be prosecuted for failing to disclose the $130,000 that his lawyer paid the porn star to keep her mouth shut.

For those few Americans who doubted the porn star’s allegation — effectively making the case one of “Stormy Whether-or-Not” — Wednesday’s revelations pretty much clarify the whole seedy business. 

The White House still officially denies the story. But that’s just stonewalling in the modern post-Reagan/post-Clinton style. Besides, Trump is a liar.

Yes, now we know that the President of the United States, about a decade ago, had spent an intimate evening with a porn star. Who really doubted this?

It seems, uh, “Trumpian.” 

And Ms. Daniels seems very . . . ’ho’. Which is not a shock, either. I mean, she’s a porn star. To engage in sex acts for money is what porn stars do. And engaging in sex acts for money is what prostitutes do. Sure, ’tis a pity she’s a “’ho.’”

Worse yet, she is a blackmailer — a dishonest blackmailer. She took the money — and still squawked.

Regardless, this has never about whether she is what she is. Or whether we know this by analytic or synthetic argument. Neither has it ever been about the president’s character.

It has always been about whether he or his lawyer illegally used campaign funds (or contributed funds themselves) to pay her off.

And it is now settled. It was his own funds that were used: his lawyer paid the harlot, and Trump paid his legal harlot — I mean, lawyer. We are left with the small matter of Trump not filling out an FEC form to include the payment.

Since one should be able to spend any amount of money on one’s political campaign, and since (I believe) regulations requiring reporting are un-American, this is, legally, a big Nothing.

Impeachable? Maybe. But he won’t be impeached. Not for this affair. And it looks like Mueller will not prosecute, either.

At bottom this is just . . . ugly and dumb.


Sometimes it seems as though people no longer know what freedom of speech is. The Stanley Fish argumentation in his infamous essay against the very coherence of free speech has not increased clarity or general understanding — though I take it that was indeed what Fish was trying to provide. So I have, in a number of venues, tried to explain free speech.

Recently on Quora I have answered two questions that sketch out what I believe to be the correct formulation of the idea:

I provided the gist of my understanding in the first essay:

Remember, freedom of speech is a term of art. It does not mean “all speech is free,” or that all symbolic acts are legally justifiable. Freedom of speech is merely speech broadly construed (semiosis) that does not aggress against the rights of others to be free. It is a way of defending freedom in the realm of speaking, listening, reading, writing, etc.

We cannot (rightly) possess a right to use speech to conspire against the rights of others.

The most important point to take away is this: a right to free speech does not mean that all speech is free.

Free speech “absolutists” get this wrong all the time, for they are constantly moved by their desire for consistency and absolutism to construe all speech as free. One reason for this is that they wish to use the First Amendment in a lawyerly way, with specific words carrying the most weight. They most strongly wish to avoid philosophy, and instead use the Constitution as a magic document, and the words in it as incantations that solve all problems.

We can see how well that has turned out.

And perhaps my free speech absolutist friends are afraid of Fishian (piscine?) error, of saying that if some speech is free and other speech is not, then the demarcating line must be arbitrary.

This is just simply not the case.

So, what is the line of demarcation between speech that is protected as free and speech that is not?

Freedom itself, in the wider context.

Most importantly, free speech really only makes sense in societies that regard general freedom (liberty) as in some sense primary. Indeed, it also only makes sense — and this can be seen best when paired up with freedom of religion and especially the press and association in the First Amendment listing — in a private property rights regime.

You have the right to speak freely on your property. You have the right to speak freely on property you have hired for the occasion.

It necessarily becomes murky regarding public places. This is especially murky regarding the freedom of the press when the press is a government outfit, like Britain BBC. What is “freedom of the press” regarding a government-run medium? All speech is finite, and its purveying is done under conditions of scarcity. Everyone must ration their resources. Including newspapers and blogs as well as radio and TV networks. So when the BBC makes an editorial decision, “free speech” is problematic: which words and ideas to broadcast is a constant decision-making process, with some telling others what to say and what listeners and viewers may hear. “Freedom of speech” is perilously close to meaningless. (But is not.) Which is why minimizing government is a necessity: it obviates basic principles and places government bodies in the position of serving some people and not others.

And government is, in theory, supposed to serve all people.

Oh, why did I bring up “freedom of the press”? That is not free speech, I can hear someone protest.

But it is. “The press” is just a technological way of distributing speech beyond our local realms, outside of our properties. It is free speech with extended borderlines. But the extension must always conform — as speech alone must conform — to individual rights in society.

It might be useful to remind today’s confused connoisseurs to see these concepts in a continuum:

freedom: of thought — of speech — of press

with the most basic being on the left and going from private to public as we read right.

And the context of property rights integrates everything. Without property rights there is no freedom of any kind. For freedom depends on exit rights and exclusion rights. Which, together, make up free association, which is implied by free speech and press freedom.

And, as I noted on Quora: No one has a right to contract a hitman to murder another. You cannot absolve yourself on “free speech” grounds for that sort of criminal speech. Similarly, you may not command someone you have reason to believe will follow your orders to commit a crime, either. The common law has long held that incitement to riot and similar acts do not constitute protected speech because free.

The idea is simple: freedom as both a fact and a right requires reciprocity. Your speech cannot be defended as free speech if your speech precludes others from their free speech.

It is an old idea, reciprocity. But people still get this wrong.

Maybe it would help to compare freedom of speech and press with freedom of religion. In the United States, the First Amendment prohibits Congress from messing about in religious matters, or favoring one religion over another, ceteris paribus.

But that does not mean everything declared “religious” is protected. It may be the case that you desire to sacrifice infants and virgins to your god Ashtaroth, but let us be realistic: sacrifice of this kind abridges the rights of infants and virgins. “Religion” is no excuse for crime.

This is not so nuanced an idea that it cannot be readily understood. No? But maybe it is difficult. After all, I cannot recall anyone else make this exact formulation.

So this is what I insist upon: all these British-American concepts are terms of art, and the art should not seem to us British and American citizens at all recondite. The art is liberty. As soon as you erode liberty either by erecting a Leviathan state (of any variety) or by engaging in piecemeal criminal activity, these freedoms become incoherent.


For a long time, my skepticism about catastrophic climate change did not take the form of “it could not happen,” or “human civilization has nothing to do with changes in climate.”

My skepticism was prompted, repeatedly, by activists and scientists who kept expressing certainty where certainty could not be had; were given to ignoring and even conspiring to ignore alternative explanations of the effects witnessed; were seemingly uninterested in the reliability of climate data or in questions concerning the relevance of the data they fixed upon rather than other possible data sets.

In all this, I never doubted that terrestrial climate was changing — though I have been dubious, off an on, about the exact shape of the trend lines and whether the climate was indeed ineluctably warming.

Indeed, when activists and scientists were calling climate trends “global warming” I was calling it “climate change”; when they switched I got suspicious.

But my chief problem has been that those most concerned about climate change refused to engage in anything like a stance of curiosity in public, always eschewing the rhetoric of inquiry for the rhetoric of conclusions, especially when confronting long-term trends. The reason I have always believed that climate is changing is that I know history and have read a lot of the science of prehistory, and climate goes in cycles. What climate change scientists have been caught doing is trying to erase the Medieval Warming Period from the record and certainly from the public conversation, and have treated the Little Ice Age as if it were best not to linger over — for fear, apparently, that people might recognize it for what it was, a LITTLE ICE AGE, a very cold period from which we have been emerging for the last 200 or so years.

I used to make a big deal about those two facts: medieval warming and early modern-period cooling. But now what it impresses me most? The facts relating to the end of the last Ice Age — 11,000 years ago or so — which were catastrophic to the American megafauna and to sea levels and climate patterns worldwide. If someone is concerned about current climate change, I would expect to see a lot more interested in past climate change. The fact that I do not suggests to me that they are not really interested in climate change as a subject, but only in current trends — and even that not much. For only a rather stupid person would try to consider current phenomena without reference to past phenomena.

Every climate change activist I’ve met, and most of the scientists I have watched online and on TV, strike me as specialized and not very wise — at best. Most strike me as fools. Or knaves.

And yet, climate change may very well be an important issue. And there might be some out-of-the-box things we could do to reduce human contributions to great, worldwide alterations longterm weather events and patterns.

But as long as activists and scientists try to prove too much while restricting their focus, they will lose their battle.

This is worse than “crying wolf” when there is one. This is like “crying wolf” when it is a swarm of locusts attacking you, and standing around doing nothing but crying.


A partisan is a person who puts allegiance to a political faction above principle, prudence, and perception. It is a form of tribalism, but translated to the activist realm.

Parties are inevitable in a “democracy,” and so is partisanship. But the ugliness of it proves itself irresistable when folks take it to the extreme of “double standards everywhere,” when they forgive (or, worse yet, do not even notice) the sins of their own faction but go into panic and protest about the flipside sins of the other.

And that is where we are in America, now.

It is a commonplace to comment on how inexplicable, how crazy, current politics is. I am almost dumbfounded by this puzzlement, for this is precisely where America has been heading all my life. It is the result of the wild dialectic of action/reaction/overreaction in the context of being trapped by the internal contradictions (thanks, Proudhon!) of Late Stage Churning State Capitalism, where those who have any leverage on power (members of factions) find themselves stuck, unable to even speak the truth about their situation for fear of losing power.

Clinton+Gore (and the Supremes) gave us GWB; GWB+McCain gave us Obama: Obama+Hillary gave us Trump: each desperation move is an insult to the opposite side, which then ups the ante of idiocy.

The funny part is how neither side sees its own choices as reactions to the insults of the other, and how both sides tend to conform ever-more to negative stereotypes.

H. L. Mencken would have loved this age.

One of my more interesting friends on Facebook thinks he has figured it out:

What created Nazism was nihilism
There is at present no sign of this in America imho, nor do we have the other aggravating factors, but it is a post liberal development.

He is one of those conservatives who thinks that every problem is caused by “liberalism.” But he has an intellectual rather than partisan argument here. My responses to this theory have been negative, for the most part:

Deep-seated grievances turned to defiance of external enemies. A particularist ethic with a strong separation of ethics of amity/ethics of enmity, combined (naturally enough) with a warrior mindset. Yes, a revival of an old martial ethos married to a hatred of weakness and (interpreted and created) tribal antagonisms. A celebration of force. A deep commitment to constructing a utopia through central planning. A rejection of sexual selection by individualistic methods, preferring state breeding where natural attraction fails — part and parcel of the eugenic mindset and racial tribalism. Parallel to that, a rejection of market choice and distributed responsibility, with a harrowing commitment to dirigisme and wealth redistribution (establishing the most egalitarian welfare state so far). A contempt for liberalism and the “old” liberal order. A hatred of freedom and a love of power. A strong sense of hierarchy, with an obsessive reverence for the charismatic leader. A love of the mythic and a deep scorn for unfettered reason. (So, where is the nihilism?)

My argument being that we do not need a theory of “nihilism” to explain the ideological phenomena associated with the rise and murder spree of Nazism. My friend sent me some Leo Strauss essays to enlighten me. I promised to read them, but revealed my prejudice:

. . . my basic take on this subject as it played in 20th century philosophy is that there was altogether too much imputation of nihilism onto people, cultures, trends. It’s a fun word. A fun concept. It is “daring.” But it is often much ado about, literally, nothing.

Later I backpedalled a bit, referring to but not name-dropping Ivan Turgenev’s Yevgeny Bazarov:

Nihilism, according to Jordan Peterson, is an option after one abandons religion. It is worth remembering who invented the term, though, and what use he made of it?

But later yet I tried to expand the subject just to make sense of the main thesis:

Truth is, though, that there are several different forms of nihilism, and people often get confused.

Political nihilism comes in at least two forms: the kind that rejects all authority and seeks to destroy present institutions, and the kind that rejects the necessity for any kind of institutions. The first has some plausibility, at least in its original, Russian context; the latter is ridiculous.

Existential nihilism merely suggests that life has no meaning. I look at this differently: life presents us with a surfeit of meaning. What would that doctrine be called? Overwhelmingism?

Moral nihilism is often described as a disbelief in objective moral facts. So any non-cognitivist would qualify. Some might call me a nihilist in this sense, since I believe the TRUTH of the matter is that morality is a tool/toolkit that is primarily a matter of usefulness, secondarily a matter of “objective reality” — and that matters of value (as morals are built upon) are not matters of existents. Values’ facticity is not the same as other objects of our consciousness and our social constructions.

There are other kinds of nihilism too, but I’ve lost track of them in my forgetful brain.

So which type of nihilism led to Nazism?

Nazism is not any form of political nihilism.

Nazism is not existential nihilism, for its myths and values are clearly and dogmatically asserted.

So are we talking about moral nihilism?

I don’t think so.

Are you talking about anomie?

Probably not. This is a subject that will no doubt continue to be debated on my Facebook page.

re: Facebook “data breach” hysteria

What part of public information is hard to understand? If your phone number and address is in the phone book, those numbers aren’t private. I assume that the information on Facebook that I post publicly, and do not limit to just my “friends,” is freely nabbed by anyone from Apple, Russia, the local dogcatcher candidate, or the NSA.

And the latter I assume nabs EVERYTHING I place online, even “private” stuff in “the Cloud.”

The tizzy over possible Trump campaign benefits from Facebook data is of course sheer nincompoopery: the partisans now in panic mode were falling all over themselves in orgasmic hero-worshio when Obama did it.

I dislike the company and the platform for other reasons. I prefer Minds and Gab, and am coming to enjoy BitChute over YouTube. I joined Steemit but have done nothing there yet. If Minds looked better on my iPad, I would have abandoned Facebook almost completely by now.

Why rob banks? Cuz that’s where the money is!

This principle, er, old joke, helps explain a recent Republican brainstorm: how to secure for Americans that very European subsidy, paid “parental leave.”*

The new idea is to pay for the desired time off with Social Security funds.

Social Security is, after all, a ginormous funnel through which a huge percentage of nearly every worker’s wealth gets “redistributed”: from young workers to retirees, from today to a distant tomorrow.

So, siphoning some largesse off for this wish-list item strikes some folks as natural.

Who are these geniuses?

Well, The Hill reports that “Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is working with Ivanka Trump to craft a paid family leave plan that will appeal to fellow Republicans,” and cites Sen. Mike Lee (R.-Ut.) as with Rubio in that endeavor.

“Such a proposal,” The Hill elaborates, “would address concerns of Republicans who don’t want to raise taxes to pay for family leave.”

Shikha Dalmia, writing at Reason, expresses the obvious concern: “it isn’t like Social Security has a ton of spare cash lying around to dole out to people other than retirees.”

But, not so fast: Republicans have given the notion a tincture of plausibility: they’ve pitched the program as a way to “take control of one’s Social Security account.” The “paid leave” would be treated as early withdrawals from Social Security, offset by postponing retirement.

Unfortunately, we don’t have real accounts. Each participant has a list of tax payments and a schedule of promised benefits — legally changable at any time. The proposed offset would itself be offset by the bringing forward of Social Security insolvency.

The willingness of politicians to rob the Social Security “kitty” is, apparently, something we can always count on.

Which makes Social Security itself something we can count on even less.


* Remember when the idea was just half as big? That is, when it was mere “maternity leave”?

What we now know for sure: feminism is crazed lunacy.

But when did we know it?

IMG_2080This varies from person to person, I guess. I have not called myself a “feminist” since my 20s, but for most of those subsequent decades, I tried not to come off as too extreme in my opposition. Why? Probably for the reason most skeptics of feminism have not: the term is associated with sexual equality, which I just call “individual rights” — and I did not want to erode that notion in any way. But as the years have gone on — leading inevitably to my death, to the death of the human race, and (I gather) to the heat death of the universe — it has become clear that today’s feminists are not interested in sexual equality. They talk, instead, about “gender,” cannot keep a somewhat nebulous concept even they straight (oops: my heteronormativity is showing! I should have said “queer”). And their relentless attacks on white heterosexual men, and their demands to give special favors to “the oppressed classes” of women and POCs and LBGT+ers, show their lack of interest in equality of rights before the law, and a nasty itch for compensatory preferences and class-figured “equality of outcomes.”

Which is why they seem so dangerous.

But crazed lunacy? That can be seen in their lack of empathy and broad-mindedness, in seeing other people’s point of view. The grand example? “Manspreading.”

This is a term that grew out of the grand feminist epithet, “Mansplaining.” Now, this concept did not bug me, for it merely meant the habit of some men to explain to women their own experience.

Though male tendencies to do this do seem to spring from the dimorphism of our brains — men are stronger systematizers, so we tend to turn, say, emotional complaints into logical problems, and women, less tolerant of systematically modeled explanations, tend to object to that — you would have to be something of a mome not to see how this could be reasonably interpreted as disrespectful and logically odd (not a contradiction, necessarily, but logically odd, as P. H. Nowell-Smith used the term). So, “mansplaining” did not bother me too much.


Then the word began to be used to condemn men for explaining anything to women — including their own male experiences! The outrageous overreach of this occurs when feminist women accuse of Men’s Rights Activists of mansplaining, just for defending their own individual rights and sexually differentiated experiences.

Which leads us to the moment when it became obvious to me that feminism had run off the rails completely: when young feminists concocted men’s dread crime of spreading their legs in public.

Manspreading, or man-sitting, is the practice of men sitting in public transport with legs wide apart, thereby covering more than one seat. Both this posture and the use of the neologism”manspreading” have occasioned some internet criticism and debates in the US, UK, Turkey, and Canada. The public debate began when an anti-manspreading campaign started on the social media website Tumblr in 2013; the term appeared a year later. added the word “manspreading” in August 2015. Use of the term has been criticized as “a caricature of feminism” and the practice has been juxtaposed with examples of women taking up excessive space in public spaces with bags.

Now, this Wikipedia entry ably indicates its absurdity even in this first paragraph of the encyclopedia entry. It is the reductio ad absurdum of feminism — but advanced by self-identified feminists. And the habit of taking up more than one seat is something I have witnessed, and often, in America — when corpulent women bulge onto additional seats and into the aisle. Not a pretty picture. But “fat spreading” is not something that went viral. Manspreading did.

Why? Because young women have been trained by the feminist tradition to nag at men as a right and a . . . privilege. For being women. The superior sex.

Er, gender.

It is ridiculous in this case because it is exactly the opposite of mansplaining: it is womansplaining — women explaining to men the nature of men’s own bodies.

I remember reading one of the first articles on the subject. The young woman feminist said [something to the effect of] “come on, guys, your balls are not that big.”

Well, one hates to bring up personal experience in such matters. But I can assure the reader, I never boast about testicular massiveness. Nevertheless, I could explain to you, at length, about testicular pain. Merely from keeping my legs together. It is a thing. I believe it gets worse with age. Men spread their legs because they do not wish to incur sharp and persistent pain.

But the young feminists apparently never even asked men what they were doing. The men, of course, may not have noticed what they were doing. And perhaps men, so ready (usually) to please women, have eagerly tried to comply.

I wonder how many men now experience enduring agony in their genitals merely to please these women.

But I won’t do it, and I completely sympathize with those men who despise any woman who complains about manspreading.

Early in the aughts, when public discussion of the penis was everywhere, I predicted that soon “cunt” would become common in everyday speech. The pejorative use of the term for objectionable women aptly affixes to any woman who marshals the term as a critique of icky male habits.

Now, the context: Girls are taught to keep their legs together. And for good reason. Opening a woman’s legs provides easier access to her femalia, into which the penis was designed (so to speak) by nature to penetrate. It is the reasonable life plan of a woman to restrict access to this much desired hot spot, and so keeping one’s legs together became part of heteronormative practice, for heteronormativity doubles down on the basic evolutionary strategies of the sexes, protecting women from most men while enabling them to secure the cooperation of a limited set of men (usually one) in exchange for access to the Delta of Venus.

And, because the female of our species lack descending sex organs of a rather obviously fragile nature held on by the thinnest of tissues, but with all-too many nerve endings . . . their characteristic habit of keeping legs tightly closed, when sitting, is easy for them.

The suspicion we non-feminists have had for a long, long time is that feminists have been trying to turn men into women. This issue is the prime example.

Experience and standards that are apt for females get applied, dogmatically, to men — even when inapt and wildly inappropriate.

And it may be inappropriate indeed. I am no anatomist, or diagnostician, but I suspect that men who have been keeping their legs together at the behest of female expectations may have contributed to the startling decline in testosterone levels in the modern male population. But this is just conjecture. Regardless of medical consequences other than discomfort and pain, men closing or crossing their legs was once seen as effeminate for good reasons.

So, this is now the paradigmatic issue upon which I define feminism: the application to men and boys the standards appropriate for, and experience derived from, women and girls.

As epitomized on Broadly, a few days ago, with “100 Easy Ways to Make Women’s Lives More Bearable.” The tenth demand is most objectionable:


All-caps, even. As if her point had one quantum of wisdom to it.

It does not.

It may be time to stop thinking so much “of the women.” Frankly, Dani Beckett (perpetrator of the above indecent inanity), I am not interested in “making women’s lives more bearable”: feminists can stop complaining about trivialities (their feminist etiquette breached by male extremity splays) and stop expecting the world to revolve around them. Take your female privilege and stuff it.

On a kinder note: I suggest re-introducing into our culture that now-forbidden power, common sense.



I have friends who are entirely dependent upon the State for their livelihood — and I am not just referring to elderly retirees. Most of these aid recipients have received disability retirement pensions from the Social Security system. These folks are not in any way anomalous in American life. You might be surprised to learn how many disability recipients there are.

More interesting, however, is this fact: no small number of these folks — indeed, most of my friends on state aid — are not die-hard Democrats demanding vast increases in the size and scope of the welfare state.

Not a few are conservatives — one of my closest friends is an authoritarian conservative of the Bill O’Reilly sort — and they rail against lazy people and welfare queens and all the rest.

Yes, they think and vote this way even though they are mostly or entirely dependent upon the taxpayers.

What is going on here? This strikes many people as paradoxical. Many are the Democrats who think that “being a Democrat” is precisely what these state aid recipients should be: grateful, die-hard supporters of the welfare state, devoted to its expansion.

After all, the Democratic Party is the party most enthusiastic about state aid programs like this. And Democrats expect fealty.

What is the matter with Kansas? asked one prominent leftist scrivener. So many Kansans would be so much better off if they voted Democratic and siphoned more special favors off the state — ultimately, off of producing Americans — and “as a matter of right.”

Vladimir Gimpelson and Daniel Treisman, writing in the Washington Post a few years ago, expressed their wonder as to why the very poorest of the poor in our country are so lax in their demands for more redistribution — for programs and handouts that (our querists think) would be “in their interest.” The two professors’ think piece (a summary of an allegedly scholarly study) is entitled “Why don’t democracies take from the rich and give to the poor?” and it presses the question, seeking answers:

Since the time of ancient Greece, political theorists and observers have feared that inequality leads to instability. The greater the income gap, the more the poor have to gain by taking from the rich. In democracies, the thinking goes, inequality should predispose voters to demand government redistribution. In dictatorships, the rich, fearing Robin Hood policies, should resist democratization. And the poor, locked out of power and wealth, should be more tempted by revolution.

Though these arguments have been around since Aristotle, it’s hard to find evidence for them in the real world.

And they cite some recent scholarship on this. Democracies do not turn revolutionary.

Why? Scholars have suggested a variety of things that might derail political unrest. Belief that the economic system is fair, or the hope of being rich someday, or even organized religion might reconcile people to the gap between rich and poor. Or it could be that, with their assets hidden in Swiss bank accounts, the rich these days have just become too hard to expropriate.

But there’s a simpler possibility: Maybe inequality fails to trigger the expected political consequences because most people just don’t know how large the gap is between the wealthy and the rest of us.

“If people don’t know how much they stand to gain and at what cost,“ they conjecture, “why would they take political action?”

Amusingly, that “if” premise is only half-interrogated:

We looked at eight cross-national surveys to see what people believe about inequality. Time and again, large numbers of respondents had no clue what the income distribution looked like in their country, how it had been changing recently, and where in that distribution they personally fit.

The authors conclude that while “Americans still seem relatively relaxed about income inequality,” that may very well “be changing.”

Right. But though the subject of the (in)elasticity of demand for redistribution is interesting for several reasons, my concern is different. Indeed, I wish to begin by interrogating the part of the premise the professors take for granted: do the poor really have anything to gain by increased redistribution of wealth?

As present, after all, the fifth and lowest quintile of market income earners in America do not pay federal income taxes. They are, in fact, net tax consumers. Maybe the poor do not demand more because they have an inkling about how much they get now.

Actually, I suspect that the poorest grossly underestimate the levels of their subsidy. Indeed, I suspect that Professors Gimpelson and Treisman — economist and political scientist, respectively — would underestimate the current levels of subsidy. You see, our professors at the Post are only interested in “income inequality” and how it is perceived, and how these two things stack up against the demand for further redistribution that they have somehow measured. (Maybe I will carefully read their paper, but I haven’t yet, and nothing they write suggests to me that they are onto something very important.)

So, what is the level of subsidy in America? Well, after-tax, after-subsidy incomes show that the lowest income quintile in these United States have an effective (net) negative tax rate of over 200 percent:


That is, they do not pay taxes, net of the full panoply of state benefits (SNAP, SSI, Section 8 housing, etc.). They get subsidized to the tune of 213 percent.

This is a huge amount of handouts. Sure, too many businesses receive subsidies in America — far too many — and some rich folk make a lot of money off the government, but, evened out, it is the poor who right now do get the lions’ (or pigs’) share of redistributed wealth.

And it is rather astounding that our two professors of egalitarian studies (for that seems to be their real profession, here) nowhere indicate that the poor right now are living off of the rich. Our professors just assume that “the poor” should demand even more.

Now, I could spend many paragraphs explaining the complexities of income statistics, the slippery nature of the “increasing inequality” meme. Because it tracks statisticians’ artifacts — a five-fold division of society by incomes — and the amount of wealth that changes in these quintiles, and not the majority of individuals who do indeed move from one quintile to another and then back again as they navigate the arcs of their lives, all this inequality talk is mostly confusion and error. But I am going to let others handle those niceties. I am going back, doggedly, to that basic query: why don’t the poor demand more?

Yesterday, on the YouTube show Right Angle, Steve Green, Scott Ott, and Bill Whittle offered some possible answers — responding to the Post piece:

  1. “There aren’t enough poor people” in our country to actually vote themselves more — America is richer than you think, says Steve Green. While the professors think the poor overestimate their wealth levels, Green in effect says that the professors overestimate the number of the poor — and in a democracy, numbers count.
  2. And Green offers another reason for lack of egalitarian envy: “even our poor people are kick-ass Americans.”
  3. Bill Whittle suggests that our poor Americans have more than a hunch that, by world standards, they are rich — and yes, our poor are richer than many another country’s poor. It would be ungrateful to demand more. And perhaps (Whittle moves on quickly) our poor have a broader perspective — and more “moral fiber” — than our professors.
  4. Whittle also wanders into the point hinted at above: this talk of income quintiles obscures the truths of income mobility. The American system of merit “allows people to move up and allows people to move down.” Given this reality, it would be stupid for the poor to scuttle their best way out.
  5. Scott Ott notes that, as a general rule, the folks most exercised by income inequality are people far above the gutter. The suggestion here is that maybe talk of income inequality does not really serve the poor. Maybe it serves a class or classes of the better-off. Alas, Ott does not explore this latent idea in his answer, but goes on to speculate that America’s low-income earners just do not buy into the solution as a workable feature to rise out of their ruts.

To explore the notion that Ott skips over too quickly, you might best turn to netizen-philosopher Stefan Molyneux, who talks about “languasites.” In a world of Makers and Takers, these “language parasites” find tricky ways to assuage the fears (and other anxieties and insecurities) of the Makers and thus leech off of them. A grand example can be found in Lucian of Samosata’s Hermotimus, or The Rival Philosophies, in which we encounter an earnest student of Stoicism milked of his wealth and diverted from his youth in the vain pursuit of . . . enlightenment . . . which is translated as “Happiness” in the edition I own, Marcus Aurelius and His Times: The Transition from Paganism to Christianity (1945), Irwin Edman (introduction), p. 172.

This idea of the linguasite (“tongue parasite,” with some loose construction — but surely better than “languasite”) is awfully pregnant, and it might be useful to prod Molyneux further on just who does and does not fall into that category. But the idea is fairly clear. And in the context of the income inequality obsession, what we have here are the second-hand dealers in ideas who F. A. Hayek wrote about. More importantly, we have a class idea, here. Many members of the cognitive elite somehow find themselves ensconced in key positions in the welfare state. Might not they develop a natural class interest in promoting the idea no matter its effects on the poor themselves? College professors, for instance, are consulted by bureaucracies and legislators, and teach many future government functionaries, lobbyists, lawyers and journalists who make their livings transforming society away from the ugliness of consumer-determined merit and into “rationally-determined” social justice.

And here we come to the interesting aspect of the welfare state: the establishment of classes based on state redistribution.

Now, we have to forget Marxian analysis, for his simple oppression/exploitation theory of class was based on a misconstrued of the nature of trade and productivity in a market economy. And we can glide right over the classical liberal class theory (very interesting, and not entirely irrelevant) that Marx pilfered to concoct his grand farrago. We should turn to Joseph Schumpeter, instead.

imageClasses form around perceptions of success, wrote the great economist in an under-appreciated study. “What makes a subgroup of society,” I wrote in the Laissez Faire Books edition a few years ago, “‘organically’ related enough to qualify as special, as constituting a class?” The answer can be found in “social factors like honor, which was, after all, the basis of the first major governance system of civilization. And honor depends on — is, indeed, obsessive about — success. It is not failure but success that ‘exerts a continuing effect’” that forms a class. But let us turn to Schumpeter for a fuller picture:

[S]uccess brings in its wake important functional positions and other powers over material resources. The position of the physical individual becomes entrenched, and with it that of the family. This opens up further opportunities to the family, often to an even greater degree than to the successful individual himself, though these positive factors are to some extent offset by the deadening effect on the original impetus of exalted position and security, by the diversion and complication of interests, and perhaps also by the sheer exhaustion of energies which everyday experience shows to be not uncommon. Coordinate families then merge into a social class, welded together by a bond, the substance and effect of which we now understand. This relationship assumes a life of its own and is then able to grant protection and confer prestige.

I speculate that one of the great triumphs of the modern welfare state has been to reroute the mechanisms of class away from natural groupings like family and clan and into the artificial, state-bounded and -funded institutions like the Academy.

And maybe one reason professors promote redistribution, in their writings and lectures, more enthusiastically than the poor do, with their votes, is that the subsidized poor serve as trophies of the cognitive elites. Perhaps increasing state redistribution is not advocated by the elites because it really helps the poor, but because it is emblematic of class success, and thus class cohesion and prestige. The poor do not gain prestige by sucking up more taxpayer-funded resources. But boy, members of the cognitive elite do!

But is that all there is to it? Class interest?

I think not. I suspect, anyway, a bit of economic rationality going on here. I suspect that not a few normal people look at the demographics of redistribution and become alarmed. My wards-of-the-state friends are dependent upon continued support. Increasing the ranks of the recipients, or even the amounts generally redistributed, does not make the system they depend upon more secure.

Do you see the incentive here? No small number of state aid recipients oppose expansion of the programs that support them. And while socialist ideologues might think that these clients of the State are somehow naturally beholden to a robust welfare state ideology, and that by voting Republican (or worse, Libertarian) they are “voting against their interests,” this is simply not the case. People “on welfare” have a very compelling interest to not support the increase in the size and scope of the programs that supports them.

Let me restate why: increasing the number of recipients of such aid programs could very well jeopardize the financial stability of those very programs, endangering the livelihood of current recipients.

This is a very basic point. To not notice this point is to miss something about the nature of economic redistribution: that it depends on a larger population of contributors putting wealth into the system than taking out of it. The more recipients of taxed funds we add puts a strain on those taxed, especially if the ratio gets out of hand. On pure economic grounds, it makes sense to be a member of a small group gaining at the expense of the majority than a large group gaining at the expense of a minority.

We cannot all live at the non-reciprocal expense of others.

One might call this perspective common sense. But it is not “folk economics” — it is theoretically sound; the rationale works out in extended analysis. Indeed, one of the problems with the sustainability of Social Security in the United States — and of similar programs throughout the West — is that the ratio of contributors to recipients is getting smaller. The trend line is foreboding. It is the reason we are at last taking Social Security off the proverbial “third rail” and contemplating reforms such as raising the retirement age and raising the income ceiling for FICA contributions, er, taxes.*

What is astounding to me is that this elementary fact of redistribution — that it cannot be complete, that socialism itself is a fantasy never capable of delivering on its promises, for we cannot all be Takers. There must be Makers. And there should be a reasonable ratio between them to make the programs sustainable.

That this notion of redistribution has seemingly evaporated from the public conversation strikes me as odd. I do not even hear libertarians, the strongest critics of government redistribution of wealth, bring it up very often, and cannot now think of an instance where it became part of a general theory of redistribution. But the more I think about this, the more basic it seems.

Indeed, it applies to criminology, too: the more theft going on in society — and remember, theft is merely the illegal redistribution of wealth — the more crime would drag society down. It is in the interest even of criminals to discourage crime generally. Perhaps for this reason (if not this reason alone) criminals rarely oppose laws against theft and murder and the like. They realize social systems cannot be stable where everyone plays criminal. They simply make an exception for themselves. They try to bet against the house, hoping to squeak through the cracks of the system and gain “rents” that would evaporate if too many criminals tried to game the system. It is instructive to recognize the fact that criminals themselves rarely even try to take up the pretense that theft and murder are good ideas to spread around. It is as exceptions to the rule that criminals’ livelihoods make any sense at all.

That is perhaps one reason why, when crime becomes “organized,” territory and limitation of criminal acts according to “honor” and other codes, become common. It is also one reason why police often are deferential to organized crime: a monopoly of a service limits the supply of the service, and criminal monopoly is better than no such monopoly, which would mean more crime. And thus greater the threat of unsustainability. Yes, crime can serve as an excellent example of “market failure” — that is, for situations where the criminals, acting in their separate self-interests, yield themselves a net detriment, not benefit.

All of this reiterates one basic thesis: leftism is parasitic upon the system it despises. Nearly all leftists I have ever met abhor the idea of “profit.” They consider business activity necessarily “dirty.” They are distrustful of markets, and see in markets only internecine competition and, in fact, predation and parasitism.

This view of social life I regard as obviously and completely at odds with reality, the inverse of the truth. Redistribution is parasitism. Leftism is the philosophy that parasitism via State redistribution is good in and of itself — perhaps better than production in the market. And socialism is the bizarre notion that “we can all be parasites” — though of course socialists do not state their doctrine in such a bald, unvarnished way. Instead, socialists cook up shaky theories purporting to show that market distribution is not productive, that the rich who gain so much by trade are in fact “exploiters” of the poor, and that the poor would be better off without the rich . . . or at least better off were the rich sucked dry.

It used to be understood among old-fashioned Progressives and FDR/LBJ-style “liberals” that one could go too far in redistributing wealth. But by earnestly grinding through their rationales for taking from some to give to others, modern progressives have lost sight of the basic realities inherent in the system they propose. And so they cannot see — or at least countenance talking about at any length — any point in emphasizing those limits.

This can be clearly seen in the cultural divide between The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. The Occupiers characteristically demanded more redistribution and more regulation and generally derided the evils of big business. The Tea Party, on the other hand, was concerned with curbing government spending and aiming to balance budgets. Democrats mocked those “tea baggers” who seemed to misunderstand basic realities, such as when signs were held aloft saying “Keep the Government Out of My Medicare.” And that sort of thing is indeed hilarious. But the idea still remains that adding people onto Medicare rolls and under-funding the system does not help people who have come to rely upon Medicare.

So the signs really meant “Keep Progressives Out of My Medicare.”

But Democrats — who now seem almost uniformly “progressive” — have missed the point. They cannot see sustainability as a legitimate issue. Politicians like Sen. Elizabeth Warren have gone so far as to call the conscientious Tea Party activists “anarchists.” It is hard to imagine a more absurd charge. But, when you hold to the crazy idea that more government is always better government, you will tend to say absurd things.

So we exist now at this strange point in history when the Democratic Party has lost its grip on power even though it is the party of special interest promises and Potlatch “generosity.” The last moment of possible turnaround for the Democrats was, I think, when they turned on the Tea Party. Had they embraced the Tea Party, and made a public effort to rein in spending, they would now be dominant and their hold on power unassailble. But that was not to be. They had become so blind to the realities of redistribution and its parasitism upon productive capitalism that they lost savvy people even amongst the recipient cohorts. Sure, leftism has always been parasitic on the system it hankers to destroy. But parasitism only works on a principle of hormesis. It is the hygiene theory of immunity as applied to the body politic. The hookworm is the parasitic drain. Too many, and the host dies.

The idea that progressives now regard contemplation and discussion of this principle utterly verboten says a lot about their divorce from reality. Their fantasy now runs their policy prescriptions. And it may very well be a function of class prestige that is one of the drivers for this. Sure, there are other factors — like the socialist soteriology, or the entelechy at the heart of the left’s other-obsession memeplex — but we should not overestimate the wisdom of the elites or the folly of the poorest among us.



N.B.  There is, of course, another very basic reason for state aid recipients not to support increasing the register of aid recipients: they may want to think of themselves as deserving recipients, and fear that others placed on the rolls for laxer standards might be seen as unworthy, or as being dangerously discouraged from finding alternate means of support. And the more folks going onto the rolls for comparatively trivial reasons might poison the well politically, and tar all recipients as unworthy of help. To what extent this fear is a rational, moral or merely a petty rationalization, I will consider at another time.


This is the golden age of clever analogies. Short “memes” get shared online, and many of them are quite good. And then there are the ones that fall apart.

Consider this effort in the Ban The Guns Sweepstakes:

I assume this “phil h” fellow invented it. And the first time I saw it, I thought, “not bad.” But the second and third and fourth time I saw it? I saw the problems.

A lot of my friends immediately objected to the condescension in the example: statists treat us like kids. Children.

But it’s worse than just that. The condescension is double: he talks of “giving” out sticks. As if what people possess were a matter of what they “receive” rather than what they work for, earn. Have by right.

But the most deceptive aspect of the meme comes in Option C: it uses a singular construction, not the plural that would parallel current debate. The gun grabbers mean to take away “all the sticks.” Not just the malefactor’s stick. But by leaving this in the singular, we are subliminally cued to understand this in a more reasonable light. Adults do take away sticks from irresponsible kids. And perhaps use the stick to swat the little malefactor on the behind. That’s nothing like what leftists really are up to. They want all the sticks taken away.

And think again about that “give” and “take away” — this language completely distorts how kids actually acquire sticks. A realistic scenario would reformulate it as “let kids find sticks and play with them” in contrast to “take away all sticks and denude the trees and parks of branches and. . . .”

The authoritarian attitude is just a part of the paternalist/maternalist Family Model of the State. It’s the wrong model, as should be obvious in this debate. And especially in this really pathetic attempt at persuasion.



asked & answered on Quora: “Is life really unfair?”

Herbert Spencer

“Fairness” is a principle human beings and other animals discover in play. We humans then try to apply it to coöperation-based interactions of a more productive nature — in domestic, tribal, and business endeavors. The next step is to move the concept and its principles to handle situations of violent conflict.

And, finally, the principles are shanghaied to cover (and make up for) the workings of Fate and Chance.

For every step beyond play, “fairness” becomes trickier to apply.

It is very tempting to regard justice as identical with (or subsumed by) fairness. But it is worth noting that the principles of justice as they have evolved from ancient times into the modern age were chiefly concerned with preventing the worst harms. (This is a truth made clearest by philosopher Bernard Gert.) They did not make up for the vagaries of time and chance and the vast causal gyrations of the universe — the forces that make me homely, you beautiful and that person over there ugly and sick and deformed.

Traditional justice is a limited affair, a virtue that cannot cover everything. Unfortunately, there has developed a major competing vision of justice — “justice as fairness” in a cosmic context. Social justice — utopian or Rawlsian or neo-Marxian or what-have-you — is such a radical paradigm shift that it spells a complete paradigm revolution.

And not in a good way.

This extension of fairness standards to make up for the workings of nature is socially destabilizing. Indeed, it threatens at every application to overthrow the great advances made in traditional justice with the tweaks that happen when society moves beyond the tribal and agrarian and into open society status. Our approach to justice should be studied, not wishful. Instead of either traditional justice or revolutionary justice, I suggest evolutionary justice, as pioneered by Herbert Spencer and F. A. Hayek. With this approach, our moral reasonings are moderated by reason rationally restrained. Evolutionary justice interposes between traditional and makeshift authoritarian dogmas and the more grandiose claims of cosmic fairness.

Caution. Please. It’s hard enough applying fairness to games, much less work and family and all that. Extending it to cover all the fortuitous differences among humans and the higher animals is . . . well, the word is hubristic.


Pictured: Herbert Spencer, author of the Synthetic Philosophy.