The Piccolino Eponymy: An instance of excessive artistic self-reference, as in “songs about songs” and “songs about dances,” or “movie scripts about writers” and “films about actors,” but going that extra mile by identifying itself as its own title.

“Turkey in the Straw” probably seemed the height of brilliance at its debut, and in the early days of its popularity, because of that key passage in its lyrics where it names itself as its own very tuneful self, that is, “Turkey in the Straw.”

But it seemed “kinda dumb” when I first heard it, and remains, to this day, just the most memorable dumb song that refers to itself as its own title. Years later people would sing “Let’s do the…” Twist, Hokey-Pokey, who-knows-what. No real difference.

Some whole genres solipsistically do this on a regular basis, not by particular title but in praise of the genre itself: “It’s only ‘rock ’n’ roll’ but I like it.” Yawn. (I say this as I quote from my favorite rock concept album.)

Named for the worst song in a great movie, Top Hat. The song, of course, is one whose lyrics celebrate a song titled “The Piccolino.”

Answered on Quora: “Would Republicans hate Hillary Clinton if not for HillaryCare?”

The human animal is a hierarchical one, but how and whether a man or a woman acquiesces (or readily assents) to any particular Alpha leader depends a great deal on … sexual style.

Bill Clinton’s sexual style seems “caring” and non-threatening to left tribalists, but comes off as predatory and insincere to right tribals. His extra-marital dalliances served as a straightforward affront to those of conservative temper, who have stronger commitments to monogamy than do those on the left. No surprise there, since those on the left have some grounds to claim the sexual revolution as legitimately and primarily theirs.

William Jefferson’s wife is a much colder creature, in no way easy to accept by anyone. Still, her leftist and feminist shibboleths please left tribals, while they offend rightists. Further, her apparently open marriage and tight political allegiance with her husband seems calculating and downright malign to those who were offended by him.

So of course the hatred for Hillary runs deep.

HillaryCare offended those of a more conservative temper not simply because it was more socialistic than later ObamaCare, but also because it was a major policy change constructed mostly — and quite deliberately — in secret. Hillary loves secrecy and working “behind the scenes” even unto this day, as the email server scandal continues to balloon out of all proportion.

This shows that Hillary has no real talent for democratic co-operation or compromise.

She can compromise, sure, but the compromises are all back-room deals, usually made with big companies and monied interests. They smack of corruption in more than one way. From cattle future trades to the illegal support she regularly receives from big corporations (one of my relatives boasted, once, being paid by a major pharmaceutical to “give” her campaign money), Hillary appears as nothing other than a “player,” a deceitful manipulator of interests; she is probably the most obviously corrupt pol of our time.

What she is, in fine, is an imperial politician, better suited to an ancient royal court or a modern totalitarian dictatorship than a constitutional republic.

The simple fact that her supporters don’t see this as a problem strikes her opponents as not merely bizarre, but as an indicator of how lost the progressive cause has become.

It is best to see the distrust of HillaryCare as merely emblematic, not constitutive, of her opposition’s deep distrust and loathing for The woman herself.

When approaching the abyss, laugh, but don’t dance. When aiming at Zeno’s target, don’t expect always to hit it, though don’t attribute your failure to Zeno’s loopy logic. (That goes for you, too, Eros.) Do not fear the gods; do not fear death; good things are easy to get; suffering is easy to endure.

Modern paraphrase of the last line, the Epicurean Tetrapharmikon:

Do not fear the gods, or lack thereof; do not fear death, one’s ultimate dissolution, or de-systemization; do not fear boredom; when in pain, distract yourself, attend to the not-painful, maybe even try to get some work done.

Humility is the best policy. It’s either all-too-apt, or an instance of being on the high end of the Dunning-Kruger skills continuum.

It’s better to be thought of at that high end, and overzealously self-deprecating, than actually at the low end of the continuum and comporting oneself as an ass.

I’m thinking of a new judgmental trap, however: The Dunning Macleod Effect. I name it after economist H. Dunning Macleod, of course.

10672307_833793376655015_7764855380977681825_nMacleod was one of his time’s most lucid writers on economics. He was also fantastically knowledgeable about the history of the science and the practice of finance — far in excess of most of his better-thought-of contemporaries. He knew what he knew, too. No false humility. But this self-knowledge not only encouraged him to make some important and quite sensible claims that ran completely contrary to the accepted paradigm of his day, it also emboldened him to think that every one of his paradigm-shifting notions was just as valuable as the rest. And he was occasionally wrong — sometimes spectacularly so; more often he got close to the truth, and then veered off at the last moment, making his error more noticeable if not more intolerable.

Unfortunately, his self-confident iconoclasm signaled to his peers that they could safely ignore nearly everything he said, dismissing his good ideas along with the bad.

All most readers took from Macleod was his suggested name change for the discipline, from “political economy” to “economics.” That proved his only substantial legacy. Everything else that he was right about had to enter the tradition from other sources. (Though it is worth noting that Herbert Spencer’s best essay on economics, “State Tampering With Money and Banks,” was a review of one of Dunning Macleod’s many treatises, a notable expansion on his ideas.)

Thus the Dunning Macleod Effect: discouraging a necessary degree of self-criticism while encouraging hyper-criticism and even dismissal by others. It’s as if breaking a paradigm taboo uncorks the inner crank while corking up the staid status quo.



Robert Reich is the American left’s most enthusiastic demagogue. His propaganda pleases swaths of barely educated Americans into thinking that there is careful analysis and “science” deeply embedded into their predictable policy preferences. Every now and then I seek his Internet presence out, hoping to find titterworthy nuggets of nincompoopery. I am rarely disappointed.

On January 23, 2015, at his Facebook site, I grabbed the above post, and its first three responses. It is actually above the usual quality. Reich presents three theses, each sporting a sort of superficial plausibility. But each is, nevertheless, wrongheaded. It’s long past midnight as I write this, so I’m not going to essay anything other than a hit-and-run point-by-point commentary:

Herewith the three biggest mythologies that prevent us from seeing what’s really happening to our political economy:

It is “myths,” not “mythologies.” Reich tarted up his post with the wrong big word.

1. The “job creators” are CEOs, corporations, and the rich, whose taxes must be low in order to induce them to create more jobs. Rubbish. The real job creators are the vast middle class and the poor, whose spending induces businesses to create jobs. Which is why raising the minimum wage, extending overtime protection, enlarging the Earned Income Tax Credit, and reducing middle-class taxes are all necessary.

Literally, CEOs, corporations, and entrepreneurs are the job creators. They are the ones who take capitalists’ (investors’) wealth and invest it into productive processes that include labor, which is hired and paid from the funds managed by CEOs and other managers, corporations, proprietorships, partnerships, and entrepreneurs. The funds come from savers — mostly but by no means exclusively “the rich” — or any who have a stock of capital that can be devoted to production.

So what is Reich trying to say here?

Well, he is echoing a point made most strenuously by several strains of economists since  J.-B. Say, at least: that it is consumers who ultimately pay the wages, and indeed the profits, of  business. But Reich simplifies the story too much.

It is one thing to say “consumers ultimately pay” as a theorem of advanced economic reasoning. It is another to deny the reality of who pays what, or of the inconvenient fact that Reich does not ever mention: the possibility of loss.

For while it is true that all capitalist production is directed for ultimate consumption — Carl Menger made this point most clearly — it is also true that many business enterprises fail to satisfy consumer demand. Fickle horde  that they are, consumers are free to balk at paying the amount for the goods produced at prices that would cover costs. The spurned business then fails to make a profit — indeed, suffers loss — and the prospect of satisfying consumer demand (not “spending” as such, but expected spending) that “induced” the enterprise in the first place failed. Didn’t pan out.

So, who lost here?

Not the consumers: they didn’t buy what they didn’t want.

Not the workers in the business that ultimately failed: they got paid, even if their work turned out to be, in the ultimate sense, “unproductive.”

That is, they produced goods that no one wanted, so it would have been better had they done something else. The trades with consumers did not amount to enough to make the effort worthwhile, but, meanwhile, the workers got paid. Their wages, which served (from the business’s and investors’ point of view) as an advance on the expected profits, were paid not ultimately by the consumers (who did not go along with the hope) but by the capitalists (investors via entrepreneurs or managers). The sense in which workers jobs are paid by consumers does not  hold true when the business fails to supply enough goods at the right prices for profit. In cases of failure, value has been lost, and the hit gets taken by the investors.

This is important because it shows that merely inducing investor and entrepreneurial production is not enough. It has to be successful production. Unsuccessful businesses are also induced by consumer demand. But they are of little or no use.

So when you take wealth (money) away from those with savings (“the rich”) to give to those with less in savings, so that the latter (“the poor”) can spend money for goods the better to “induce” investment . . . that money taken away was money that would have been used to invest. Or spend.

Here is the tricky part. In the model provided by Reich, the rich have money and the poor do not; the “vast middle class” has some. So, apparently, he believes that when the rich spend or invest their money, it does not matter for “the economy.” Only spending by the non-rich matters. Why on earth would that be? To the extent that “the rich” spend money on consumer goods, their money “induces” productive processes, too. Which would employ non-rich in the process.

Further, the money the rich save for later tends not to be hoarded in vaults or under four-post beds, but invested directly or lent out at interest, where it either spurs investment or consumer spending (depending on whether the loans are commercial loans or consumer loans). Thus the third commenter to Reich’s post gets the award for most witless point possible.

The truth is, taking from some to give to others hurts those some to help those others. And in context of the fact that it is in mutually beneficial trades that advances in wealth get made (as goods make their way to those who value them most) the unseemly fixation on robbing from the rich to pull a Robin Hood act flouts that principle of increasing value, advancing wealth creation. Indeed, taking from the rich not only hurts the rich, but it also has the unfortunate effect of decreasing (by some margin) jobs.

It is Reich’s point that is “rubbish.” Robbing from the rich may seem wonderful if you are poor, but if your best hope of a job evaporates because you have taken the wealth that would have gone to creating the job, then no advance has been made at all.

There is an embedded assumption in Reich’s scenario that not only seems true, but is. For this appears to be the universal rule: people, rich or poor, try to meet their most urgent needs first, consuming to stave off hunger first, then to stave off malnutrition, the to satisfy more aesthetic cravings;  folks marshal their resources to fend off homelessness, then lack of good clothing, etc. etc. Saving for tomorrow (or tomorrow’s morrow) is what you do after you have covered the basics. This is why Reich thinks that new money in the hands of the poor or the middle-class swath will lead to immediate spending. Because their needs are more immediate. The more wealth you have, the more likely you are to save. And invest.

But Reich’s little scenario has a flaw in it. What is it?  Because the poor are more likely to spend (we both agree, Reich and me) than the rich are, by taking wealth from the rich you are decreasing the stock of wealth that would likely be devoted to risky endeavors. Like being induced by possible profit to ramp up a business enterprise, hiring on more people.

By fixating on the wealthy as targets, he has also targeted job creation itself.

His assertion to the contrary is merely that: assertion.

“Inducing” production by having wealth to trade (money to spend) is not production itself. Consumption is not production. It is not creation. Consumption is the final stage of commerce, wherein all that added value in the production process (including trade by middle-men) is, as J.-B. Say put it, “the destruction of value.” Production, when done right, produces value. And that value is finally consumed.

Consumers qua consumers do not create. Producers qua producers create. Reich inverts this and calls it profundity.

Reich, by aiming to rob from the rich takes from them their most vital function: providing the capital for creating goods that, in a free society, are mass produced for the masses.

What Reich misses in all this is the problem of relative prices. Businesses try to set prices that people will pay. That includes labor, too. That is, wages must be high enough to induce a consumer off his ass and go to work.

We live in troubled times, now, economically. There is, like in the 1930s, mass unemployment, endemic unemployment. Permanent unemployment. Much of this is the result of the boom-and-bust cycle in business activity, caused mostly, I believe, by bad monetary and banking policy, and cheap credit. This easy money induced (heh, there’s that word again!) businesses to invest in processes that couldn’t be sustained. So they went bust. And the financial system took a huge hit. And government got involved at every level, in even more intrusive and destructive ways than usual.

One way government messed things up is by trying to prop up labor prices (wages) and other prices. So Reich’s panacea, increased minimum wages, is the last thing we want.

Now, I know: It sounds good, “the minimum wage,” because it sounds like you have given everybody a wage increase. And if that were true, fine.

But what has happened is a labor price floor has been mandated, prohibiting lower rates. So, those who keep their jobs have more money. But those who lose their jobs, or who don’t find jobs because they are increasingly scarce at the new, higher rate, are penalized.

The poverty of Reich’s myth-busting argument can perhaps best be seen in his proposals.

2. The critical choice is between the “free market” or “government.” Baloney. The free market doesn’t exist in nature. It’s created and enforced by government. And all the ongoing decisions about how it’s organized — what gets patent protection and for how long (the human genome?), who can declare bankruptcy (corporations? homeowners? student debtors?), what contracts are fraudulent (insider trading?) or coercive (predatory loans? mandatory arbitration?), and how much market power is excessive (Comcast and Time Warner?) — depend on government.

This is a point that has a modicum of merit. Free markets are unregulated markets in the sense that they have no prohibitions on trade, or mandated (coerced) trades, or price floors and ceilings set. That is what is meant by a “free market.” But markets do require a legal (and political) substructure. That substructure defines rights to property, and defends those rights. Even some anarchists call this level of institution “government” — they just think the government should not have taxing power or an ability to force someone to sign up for the service in providing rights protection. So if an anarchist can agree with Reich on this, what is his point? Reich is no anarchist.

Reich is actually playing fast and loose with dichotomies. Like with his conflation of production and consumption, above, here he is trying to say “free markets require government — so shut up about the dangers of government, you laissez faire dopes!”

Well, there is a difference between laissez faire (French for “let them be”) and dirigisme (French for “control”), and that difference pertains to the scope of government. Laissez faire requires government to be limited by a rule of law. Dirigisme, as F. A. Hayek ably argued in The Road to Serfdom, necessarily erodes that law, because government bureaucracies insert themselves into all processes, always meddling. A rule of law concentrates on bringing order to the means, on establishing limits to action; central planning, whether by bureaucracies or directly by legislatures or dictators, is concerned with the ordering of ends. Under laissez faire, you take care of the means by government; under dirigisme, you take care of the ends by government. Or try to.

The modicum of a point that Reich has, here, is used to deceive. He is trying to fool people into thinking that very different things are not different because they share an element in common. But the differences remain. And since I have taken to using the old French terms, let me just say, Vive la différence!

3. We should worry most about the size of government. Wrong. We should worry about who government is for. When big money from giant corporations and Wall Street inundate our politics, all decisions relating to #1 and #2 above become biased toward those at the top.

Once again, I begin by agreeing with Reich. The problem of government isn’t size as such. It is proportion. Scale.

And let us go further with Reich: we should worry about who government is for. Yes. Undoubtedly.

It should be for everybody — everybody willing to forgo gains from plunder for gains  through co-operation. The basic “moral deal”  is a reciprocal agreement not to exploit, but to deal straight. Government should apply the same set of rules to all.

And that is what laissez faire does. It defends the rights of all. And by limiting coercion to the defense of just those rights, everything else is let be, decided by the people who are valuing, acting in society.

By forbidding governmental institutions as well as businesses and individuals from stealing, the laissez faire rule of law prevents a parasite class from developing. A parasite/predatory class.

By forbidding coercion and duress in the making of contracts, proscribing price floors or ceilings, and making no room  for the allotment of privileges, government grants no advantages to some at the expense of others.

Reich, of course, immediately wanders off, talking about lobbying and donations in politics. In this, he evades the real issue: the reason those groups do all that lobbying, all that influencing. The reason is clear. When government is allowed to decide anything, any trade, any rate, any level of plunder (taxation), any granting of favor, everybody has cause to defend himself, and then, further, opportunity to obtain specific advantages that others don’t.

When everything is permitted in theory, everybody scrambles to get special permissions in practice.

For some reason, modern progressives play the part of witless Caliban, unable to look in the mirror and see the monster for what it is. It is they who have eroded any constitutional limits on government taking and giving, and have thus unleashed the whirlwind. It is they who allow some rich folk, and some businesses, to gain the upper hand in the marketplace. Why? They have replaced free markets with managed markets. This political swap has real-world consequences. Managed markets entail a political bidding war for who gets to control management, and thus determine winners and losers.

Robert Reich thus proves himself a useful idiot of the class of people he says he fights against, “the rich.” (Or perhaps not so “idiot”: he is well-paid for his assistance.)

Please, please, do not buy the brummagem he is selling. Do not allow yourself to become the useful idiot of a useful idiot.

If you want to restrain the forces of class warfare and plutocracy and what Thomas Jefferson called “the parasite economy,” opt for a rule of law.

That is, opt for laissez faire.

Philosophy and Christianity have been mostly at loggerheads from the beginning . . . of Christianity.

My side is with philosophy. No doubt about that. But having watched God’s Not Dead for the first time tonight, I have to say that I am not exactly on that proselytizing film’s critics’ side. The movie is not as bad as most critics make out. It is well acted, tightly plotted and edited, artfully framed with incidental music, and contains several juicy, fun scenes.

At base, God’s Not Dead is about a philosophical argument. Kevin Sorbo plays an atheist philosophy professor who professes atheism but engages in almost no philosophical argumentation.

I would like to say this makes the film horribly unrealistic, but I have heard stories about such abominations in colleges. Sorbo’s Prof. Radisson is a terrible teacher, and there is little evidence demonstrating his expertise in his subject. Surely most philosophers would leap at a student’s interest in a subject dealt with in many different ways during the course of philosophy. Instead, Radisson tries to skip the theology section of his philosophy course by demanding that each student sign a piece of paper saying “God is dead.”

An absurd approach to teaching, and no way to cover philosophy, which began, after all, as the critique of both religion and common sense.

But it does not really seem too far out of the stream of bad teaching in America.

His foil is our hero, a young Christian student who stands up for God in class.

Philosophers who like movies might want to contrast it with Agora, a film set in late antiquity Egypt starring Rachel Weisz as the neo-Platonist philosopher Hypatia.

Whereas God’s Not Dead is fiction, with a shaggy god ending, Agora retells a historical tale. Fictionalized, of course.

In Agora, as in history, a  mob of Christians kills the philosopher.

In God’s Not Dead, the filmmaker kills off the atheist professor . . . fictionally, giving him a deathbed conversion to boot.

This is how Christianity has progressed: from lying about and killing a philosopher to discrediting a philosophical position by “killing off” the vexatious representative character.

In a film that also depicts (fairly realistically) a Muslim father who disowns and throws out of his house a daughter who converts to Christianity, I would say that this is a kind of progress.

Still, the attack upon reason goes on. In real life, a number of years ago, Christians got their hands on senescent atheist philosopher Antony Flew, cajoling him into a half-assed repudiation of some of his previous positions. The devil takes the hindmost; Christians pick off the weakest.

Most critics of GND hated it, saying it was too simplistic and tendentious. Objectively, that is true. But we are talking movies here. Simple-minded and tendentious is the new style, no? That’s what all political movies are, basically. Michael Moore, anyone?

It is not as if today’s highly politicized ideological culture is better when it comes to politics. It is not.

For my part, the biggest disappointment in the film is not the convenient death of the professor. It is the ending at a Christian Rock concert. If I wanted to disprove the existence of God, I might point to Christian Rock as all the proof I need. God cannot even make a miracle of converting young people to like great music. Instead, they adopt CR as a smoker switches to vaping. The drug is there. It is just a new delivery system.

Sometimes I wonder: why do I despise public pieties so much?

It is not that I seek to tear down every nice thing, every decency, every earnest expression of attachment to The Good, The True, and The Beautiful. But it is hard not to notice a pattern: I find most expressions of popular moralizing to be foolish at best, downright stupid and repellent as often as not.

Perhaps it is the willingness of the earnest rah-rah boys for Uplift to disparage freedom that bothers me. I do have a strong commitment to freedom. I don’t like it when it is denigrated or in any way maligned.

A friend shares some of my commitments, so he shared, with me, a Huffington Post column by one Rabbi Michael Lerner, entitled, “Mourning the Parisian Journalists Yet Noticing the Hypocrisy.” My friend called my attention to a key passage:

[I]ndividaul [sic] human liberties is not our highest value. Our highest value is treating human beings with love, kindness, generosity, respect and see them as embodiments of the holy, and treating the earth as sacred. Individual liberty is a strategy to promote this highest value, but when that liberty gets abused (as for example in demeaning women, African Americans, gays in public discourse) we often insist that the articulators of racism, sexism and homophobia be publicly humiliated (not shut down, but using our free speech to vigorously challenge theirs).

This is all in aid of a discussion of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The good rabbi does not like all those nasty things that the French satirical magazine artists wrote and depicted. More to my taste, he makes some excellent points about Western hypocrisy when it comes to upholding rights.

But the good rabbi — all rabbis are “good” until proven otherwise, just as conservatives are presumed to be “staunch” and liberals “caring” — is not really very reliable when it comes to freedom. He obviously has “other values” that he is promoting.

Why do I say such a thing? Well, take his contention that liberty is “a strategy to promote” the summum bonum as he sees it, namely the treatment of “human beings with love, kindness, generosity, respect” while seeing “them as embodiments of the holy,” etc. etc. Though I will say nothing against generosity and kindness and respect, I neither advocate individual liberty to promote love nor do I think that the best way to increase the sweep of freedom in society is to tout love and high-mindedness, etc. As near as I can make out, we who love liberty love it for its own sake, as well as fix on it for social reasons, as a convenient middle ground to avoid the greatest crimes and allow for the most beneficial co-operation.

Face it: co-operation doesn’t depend on love and its inculcation. It does depend on some strategic forbearance, some basic respect. But we shouldn’t make too much of its high-mindedness. The reason liberty should be valued so highly is, as Bernard Gert said of the moral rules, because it is the best way to avoid disaster.

More cloying is the religiosity throughout Lerner’s essay. So earnest. So “well meaning,” one expects a road to hell to emerge at any moment, “good intentions” having been laid on so thick.

And, oddly, he seems never to confront the violent nature of that most problematic of religions, Islam. He seems to bend over backward to assert that it is because of Western callousness to the Muslim world that Muslims become violent towards us. And that is it.

I am not saying there is nothing to this. I have argued that American brutality and imperialism helped give birth to much of the terrorism now arrayed against the West. But it is also and quite plainly the case that Islam has been a religion of violence since its first years upon the blistering sands of Arabia. And further, and more relevant, France’s latest batch of terroristic killers — of vigilante enforcers of a touchy, dangerous religion — gave almost no reason for us to blame America for this one. No hair shirts this time. The terrorists directed their rage directly at the satirists of a magazine. To go on talking of our dehumanization of them seems a tad off-point.

It seems almost witless.

At the conclusion of his excursion Lerner plays what he seems to regard as his trump card, where he tries to explain why he can mourn the dead without celebrating the victims’ work.

He doesn’t say it is because Charlie Hebdo made fun of rabbis and such as well as imams and terrorists. And politicians. And fanatics of all stripes.

No, Rabbi Lerner is worried about the dignity of human beings, and thinks ridicule decreases that dignity. “So lets call demeaning speech, including demeaning humor, what it really is — an assault on the dignity of human beings.”

But those ridiculed by Charlie Hebdo weren’t being subject to comic focus for no reason. Lerner may be right, “the general cheapening and demeaning of others is destructive to everyone.” But, as I understand it, the satirists did not generalize their corrosive contempt and ridicule. Their satire was based on standards. The humor wouldn’t have worked had they chosen random targets.

The victims of Charlie Hebdo‘s satire? They were ridiculed because their dignity was brummagem. The scammers, tyrants, poseurs, and terrorists  may have pretended to dignity, but their own vices and crimes undermined any such pretense. Hence the ridicule.

And hence the mission of satire.

It is a high calling.

Even higher, perhaps, than that of platitudinizing rabbis such as Lerner.


Actress Kaley Cuoco, a beautiful woman with great comic timing, and now a multimillionaire star because of the hit show Big Bang Theory, was recently asked, in a Redbook interview, if she considered herself a feminist. She answered honestly.

Uh, oh.

“Is it bad if I say no?”

The answer, according to most young feminists, and too many old ones, is “Yes.”

They harp on the subject endlessly. (I would call them harpies, for that, but that might be too much. But see below.) Ms. Cuoco’s elaboration did not exactly help: “It’s not really something I think about. Things are different now, and I know a lot of the work that paved the way for women happened before I was around. . . . I was never that feminist girl demanding equality, but maybe that’s because I’ve never really faced inequality.”

Now, that is interesting. Because, literally, of course she has faced inequality. She is prettier than most women, smarter than most, too. Her comedic sense was amazing. Her performance as the eldest daughter in the last John Ritter sitcom was stand-out. The show itself was pretty bad; I couldn’t bear to watch it. But I would occasionally tune in for a few moments of Ms. Cuoco.

The fallout, of course, was inevitable. The Blaze puts it like this (shocking to say, but I do not read Redbook — does any man?):

Commenters who describe themselves as feminists have been quick to attack the actress, calling her “talentless” and an “idiot” who doesn’t know what feminism is. As many of them see it, Cuoco owes her success and her salary to the hard work of decades of feminists.

Well, duh. And American feminists owe their successes in politics and out of it to the work of a band of rich slave-owners in colonial America. Without the success of the American revolution, the liberal cultural and political evolution of the 19th century would have not led to the 20th century’s [perhaps dubious] feminist triumphs. Today’s feminists heap scorn and nothing but on the American Founders’ crucial work. And yet they expect Ms. Cuoco, who is not being oppressed in any real-world way, to pay lip service to them? They are, after all, the inheritors, I would say betrayers, of the cause of the equal rights of women that allowed women in our civilization to own property, go to court on their own behalfs, live alone as well as with husbands, vote, and participate in most of the social organizations now extant.

For, while the early feminists did indeed fight for equal rights of women, and secured them, for the most part, modern feminists have other things on their mind. They have equality on their brains, specifically. And they don’t mean equality of basic rights. They mean equality of inclusion, they mean equality of wealth, they mean equality of participation wherever they demand (but not where they don’t, like in prisons) despite unequal distributions of talent, fortitude, and even inclinations.

Ms. Cuoco doesn’t need that kind of feminism. She is above us, feminists — above you and above me, at least in terms of wealth, desirability, social acceptance, and perhaps much more. What modern feminists want, and shrilly demand, has nothing to do with equal rights, which allowed the playing field to be set up in which Ms. Cuoco achieved success. What they want, now, is in many ways the opposite of that, and Ms. Cuoco is not a role model for the young feminists today.

I bet Ms. Cuoco fumes inside, knowing, belatedly, that feminists today have descended into the harpies that chauvinists feared a century ago. Today’s modern feminists are (with some exceptions, I suppose) narrow-minded bigots, moral scolds, petty totalitarians.

Ms.Cuoco may even now be figuring out the error at the heart of feminism. You cannot, without cost to clarity and integrity, call a movement putatively for equal rights between the sexes by the name of only one of those sexes. The excess of partisanship is built into the group identity. The temptation to shrill, hysterical groupthink has been built into the mindset by the very unifying moniker . . . by its inevitable temptation to distract its adherents from common sense justice, with nuanced understanding of the complexities of life, and towards a rigid, nonsensical, radicalism.

Some day a powerful, accomplished woman will answer the question, “Are you a feminist?” like this: “Of course I’m a feminist! I believe everything every feminist says! If I don’t, the bitches will kill me.”

And then, maybe, feminism can die its deserved death.

It happened earlier this week: Jeb Bush, former governor of the State of Florida, tentatively threw his hat into the ring. He says he is now “exploring” whether to run for the 2016 Republican nomination for the presidency.

And so now America’s descent into junior-high-school level politics can begin in full tedium.

I know, I know — Jeb has long been considered the “smart Bush.” But for the American people to vote in a third Bush says something very saddening about the intelligence of . . . the American people.

Or at least the level at which Americans think about national politics.

There are few more purely political (as opposed to governmental) things more vexing than dynastic politics within a democracy. Or a republic. Of, for that matter, a plutocratic oligarchy.

To select even the smartest candidate out of fairly lackluster line simply because the family name is widely recognized shows how far Americans have allowed themselves to drift away from ideas. Ideas that matter.

There have been previous dynastic families in American politics, of course. We can name three presidential families straight off: the Adamses, the Harrisons, and the Roosevelts.  Let’s just say that the Bushes don’t quite measure up to the Adamses. (We can argue about the other comparisons.) And opting for a third Bush to prevent a second Clinton strikes me as something better left to satire than to real life.

I’m with the first instincts of the smartest Bush, Barbara. She opined in 2013 that “we’ve had enough Bushes in the White House.” Her later retraction seems more family-politic than wise.

Go with your anti-dynastic instincts, America, no matter how nice or competent or even “smart” Jeb Bush may be.

Same for Hillary.

Popular writer and philosopher Alain de Botton tweeted (@alaindebotton):

All the attention goes on unemployment figures; we should spare a thought for a new concept: Misemployment:

Now, I confess. I stopped watching the video halfway through. Why? Moralistic prigs are tiresome bores. Even when they are sexy-voiced women with great accents.

You disapprove of cigarettes, so someone who works making cigarettes is “misemployed.” The fact that many people like smoking cigarettes and willingly part with portions of their incomes to purchase cigarettes means, apparently, nothing to those who employ the moralistically defined “misemployment.”

Similarly, I know other people who do the same sort of thing. You are misemployed if you make or sell condoms. It is wrong to facilitate cheap, promiscuous sex, and thereby attempt to avoid the natural consequences of wanton fornication. Married couples should produce babies. There is the source of true civilization, say these folks.

The two groups may interpenetrate. The video (up till when I stopped watching) also targeted gambling. Obviously, people helping people gamble are misemployed! Social conservatives can ally themselves with hip cosmopolitans to find a multitude of ways to denigrate those in the business of gambling.

The fact that many people like to gamble, and engage in contracts — voluntary agreements where title to goods and services are exchanged — to enable gambling to take place? Means nothing. Gambling is bad, you see, so those in the gambling industry are “misemployed.”

I can play this game, too. All rap artists are misemployed; their “music” being ’rap. Everyone involved in making bread is misemployed, since wheat products are a scourge upon the modern diet, along with potatoes, corn, peas, sugar, fake sugars, and the whole “low-fat” food industry — and purveyors of same. All philosophers touting overly moralistic definitions are misemployed.

Perhaps even Plato and Aristotle were misemployed. They, too, talked about “true needs.”

But then, so did, in his way, Epicurus. And somehow did not come off as a moralizing prig.

Why not load up our economic terms with enough morality that will further distract people from understanding how markets actually work? It is all the rage. People who know very little about economics love to do this. They have been doing it for a very long time. Thomas Carlyle did this when he coined the term “dismal science” because he was annoyed that good old-fashioned racism and authoritarianism were being denigrated by those who studied private property and market exchanges and saw the amazing resilience of voluntary exchanges over contrivances of governments.

I would prefer to employ the term in a non-smarmy, non-moralistic way. Sure there is “‎misemployment‬”: it is employment in a business that fails, that requires subsidies to keep going, etc. Unsustainable businesses that fail to meet their goals employ workers, until they go broke, arguably misemploying them up until they cease employing anyone.

The concept, the term, would then serve as the labor analog to ‪malinvestment‬.

It would revive the old, hoary topic — common amongst the classical economists — of “unproductive labor.” Truly unproductive labor fails on the marketplace. It saps capital from desired uses to dedicate it to uses that do not pan out.

The classic example? Digging holes to fill them up again. Make-work. You know, the favorite pet projects of modern-day low-brow Keynesians.

Is there anything to the moralistic use of the term? Well, it is obvious that many people would like to labor at something they can be proud of. It’s hard for some to be proud of selling pornography, or gambling, or abortions, or what-have-you. It is an obvious fact of life that the kind of labor that is most self-fulfilling is not the most socially desired, as expressed in markets or governments. If the most fulfilling work you can do would be to imitate spiderwebs with corn husk fibers, you are unlikely to find a place in society — any society — where that peculiar talent is rewarded as much as your ability to shovel horse manure, dog poop, or human bodily waste. Everyone wants to have the shit removed from our daily presences. Actually removing the scat? That is not so wonderful a task. So we often pay someone else.

In a market society, we can expect a labor market for shit shovelers. And the like. It’s not the most rewarding work, but it may be the most remunerative for some folks. Others may find something a tad more glorious (say, managing an outfit called Excreta Removers, or building a website for But much of what we do to get by is not glorious. Are we misemployed for our lack of glory?

This is not simply a feature of market economies. All economies have this problem. If who shovels what isn’t decided by bids and asks in the marketplace for services and labor, then they are usually decided by coercion. Or tradition.

Systems of little or no choice.

I prefer choice. That is, less compulsion. And the greater options one commonly finds in vibrant markets.

But we do get, here, to the nagging feeling behind much anti-market worry. I think of it as the Prostitution Problem. Most religions and most societies do not glorify whores and whoremongering. Traditionally, a woman marries and has babies, and that was her lot in life. Those who sell discrete acts of sexual favors tend to get looked down upon. A high-minded life choice, marriage and babies, was forsaken for a more transactions-based choice, prostitution. Hence we talk about artists “prostituting” their calling by catering to mass taste.

This metaphorical prostitution is not unimportant. It is something nearly everyone struggles with. While working for someone else, many would rather work as their own boss. But that is actually harder work. Often less secure pay. So one prostitutes oneself by choosing a career in law rather than as a Chautauqua speaker; one prostitutes oneself by writing for advertising instead of the Great American Novel (that too few will read); one prostitutes oneself by going into sales rather than serving the poor.

I doubt if I have met anyone who has not struggled with this. It is indeed a moral problem. And out of this concern is borne the moralistic coinages like misemployment.

But note how it was used in the video: some people’s choices are better than others because of . . . yuck. Their jobs are icky, dirty, or somehow disturbing.

And all the while the more fundamental problem is elided: individual responsibility to make the choices regarding how to employ one’s time, attention, and labor, and then the transactional methods of such employment. Are the transactions voluntary? If no, then no matter what good effects deserve to get some discount in our moral calculus. I may have a taste for great art. But if I obtain my great art by theft, my career path probably deserves something other than a “mis” prefix.

Further, if it turns out that I have hired myself out to a company that fails, and spent months and years devoted to a project that never sees the light of final sale, then I have helped waste capital in a quite literal sense. I would say that folks who only get hired by failing companies might best deserve the designator “misemployed.” The test of a business can be made in terms of profit and loss. We do not want to prop up businesses that cannot maintain profits. We want, instead, for businesses and laborers to try to make it on the market, serving customers each step of the way.

Markets are discovery systems. Through profit and loss, market participants learn what is desired on what terms, and figure out manageable ways to accommodate others’ desires. Demands. (Which are, after all, expressed not in packets of moral values but valued commodities, in terms of useful services, or commodities saved up, often in money.) Part of the whole system assumes that people must make their own decisions about how to employ their resources, which includes time and attention as well as savings; human capital as well as capital itself.

And as for moral choices about what to do with one’s labor. I probably prefer the attitude of St. Paul, who thought each person should work out his own salvation in “fear and trembling.” The fear and the trembling should be self-directed, when it comes to work choice, not shamed and assaulted by moralists who carry a lot of baggage from other disputes.

That is, beware of moralists misemploying “misemployment.”

OK, after writing the above I watched the whole video. The perpetrators of this oh-so-trendy concoction of censure and uplift reduce their argument to absurdity, near the end, when they credit governments with reducing unemployment by “stimulating demand,” calling it “technically effective.”Whole books have been devoted to how wrongheaded that notion is. Missing is the obvious point that demand management by the state is a cyclical countermeasure, not a long-term, secular policy. Further, governments that intervene in their economies most — especially in the labor markets, France being the grand example — have high levels of permanent unemployment. Very high levels. Which America, in this period of never-ending monetary and fiscal stimulus, is now emulating. All the major welfare states are supporting non-working classes. Who, I think it is safe to say, are wasting their own lives, and those of their spawn.

My final thoughts on this are simple, though: the moralizing element is always going on in society. We do, constantly, revise our desires and demand schedules (and therefore our supply schedules) to meet with moral concerns. And as people figure out what they would rather be doing, and find ways to switch to more otherwise-preferable occupations, personal progress on moral lines does occur.

But, as I indicated above, this process is by no means uncontroversial. Moral ideas vary. My aspiration is your animadversion. I know many vegetarians who want an end to the slaughter of animals, and all forms of animal cruelty, etc. I eat a primal diet and look upon vegetarians as deluded fools capable of gross crimes against humanity, all in the name of “caring.” For every feel-good sex-positive communitarian out there, others hold to a sexual purity ethos based on the ancient monotheisms. These are all very different. A sex-positive communitarian who hates smoking and gambling is very different from a puritanical Christian (or Muslim) who simply does not smoke, hates gambling, and loathes split families. How government could encourage “proper employment” in terms talked about in the video without siding with one religious or philosophical value set over others escapes me.

The most infamous case in my lifetime has been the amazing success of the anti-fat crusade, which got going heavily in the U.S. during the 1970s, and more than nudged a lot of people all-too-eager into buying “low fat” and “no fat” products. During this period, it just so happens, the American population got fatter, more corpulent. Obesity became the norm. All that moralizing about how awful fat and red meat was? Very successful. And somehow Americans got fatter! The truth was that the crusade was wrong from the start. It fed on moral and sub-moral premises. A new purity ethic evolved, and industry fed it, and government subsidized it. And it was perverse. Now we are learning that fat does not make you fat, that the real killer is refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, the removal of fats from many confections and lard from the production of French fries, and the pushing (often by government) of vegetable oils.

The most “successful” story of markets aligning to particular values, all with a moral tinge, is an example of utter disaster.

But governments could uphold a rule of law, instead, and get out of siding with one business and not another, one industry over others, one business plan or consumer set of goods to replace the competition. Governments could stick to discouraging actual, tangible non-value-laden transactions like theft, and fraud. That is something governments could do. And should do before we take up the moral cudgel.

But they will not, I am pretty sure, if people are worrying mostly about moralistic “misemployment.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers