Archives for category: Institutional Reality


The current Trump Resistance strikes me as politically dangerous in ways we have not seen in since at least the Sixties and early Seventies. Hatred and violence have escalated. The idea seems to be that, if Republicans contemplate withdrawing a few pennies for “the poor,” then those who oppose these cuts can feel justified in engaging in violence, because withholding benefits is, uh, itself violence.

Though anyone honest about the nature of such institutions — any thinker studiously attempting transactional clarity — can see that ceasing to give a benefit differs from inflicting a harm.

After the congressional baseball shooting event, I saw immediate blaming of the violence on . . . Republicans. No kidding. The would-be assassins was a Democrat, and he selected Republican legislators as targets, but it was the Republicans whom Democrats blamed. Even the usually not-an-airhead Juan Williams (Fox News contributor) attributed the start of all this to “the right’s” reaction to Bill Clinton. I guess it is always thus with feuds. Every provocation is taken as an occasion to escalate, and the source of the problem is always the enemy, never one’s own side.

Indeed, the logic of escalation rests on a simple idea: Force is never initiated. It is always retaliation. And thus excusable. Justified.

Examples of this abound. Multiple “parades” with threats of violence in Portland, Oregon, caught my attention because close by to me, just upriver. Both leftists’ and rightists’ weapons were confiscated by police, but public reports consistently called the confiscated makeshift weapons of the anti-left as designed to be offense, with no mention of possible (and plausible) self-defense uses. (After all, the “anarchists” have been engaging in violence within the context of anti-Trump and anti-conservative speakers for several months now. Berkeley is a horrorshow, complete with violent attacks by BAMN and Antifa insurrectionists. Reasons for self-defense abound. The threats are in the open.)

My real worry? The very meme, “not my president,” serves as a repudiation of “the deal” that is a democratic republic. Protesting before the president-elect did anything was disreputable. Giving no time for the new president to prove his true stripes? A radical beak from the past. The whole “pussy hat” parading was worse than silly, and the talk of violence by Madonna and other celebrities were examples of madness.

I could go on and on. But hey: maybe it is time for a splitting up of the federal republic. Maybe it is time for the blood to run in the streets. Every excuse made for BAMN, Antifa and Black Lives Matter is a declaration of rebellion, and perhaps I should make the most of it. Perhaps the United States is an atavism.

[Shudder.]

So, this is my challenge to the Not My President crowd. If you won’t accept a constitutional accession to office, why should I approve of or accept any of the policies that you no doubt espouse that I would find abhorrent? I cannot think of one. If the deal is off, the deal is off.

See why I worry? I may want less government, but I really do not want mob violence, social chaos, and a breakdown of civilization. I want a rule of law. The current lack of acceptance of the results of a democratic-republican election strikes me as inviting a civilizational breakdown.

Open rebellion is a dangerous path to a better state. It sets the path to anarchy, by which I mean: It is the way of Chaos.

Which is the usual excuse for tyranny.

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One problem in assessing public policy is the ease with which people switch away from their own perspective, and the perspectives of their fellow citizens, onto the role of Legislator or Philosopher King, ready to command the State.

The State’s perspective is quite enticing.

Common sense might suggest that simple short cuts to a desired goal can easily be managed merely by establishing a policy, and a governmental system of rewards and punishments. On top of this switched perspective is the philosophical conceit that states are established for the general, public interest, and not for capture by special interests. So every goal, no matter how particular to a specific person or group, we quickly transform in our minds from my end or your end or our end or their end to “the public good,” without much critical thinking at all.

The startling thing is how easy are the mental operations that allow us to do this. I hazard that they are pre-programmed into our brains as part of man’s hierarchical nature, as reinforced by ancient tribal cooperation and the history of military and ecclesiastical practice. But, regardless of my surmise, these operations go on in our head with amazing ease, and — this is the important part — without any need to apply critical thought to the metamorphosis from special to general (shared) interest.

This is aided greatly by both our internal biases and the very core nature of the State in society. What I call the Beneficiary Focus Illusion (existing as an entelechy in our heads) reinforces the perennial structural arrangements (existing as an entelechy within society) that divorce resource acquisition from resource dispersement while coupling dispersed costs to concentrated benefits.

Most people never bother to examine critically the process by which they transform some particular goal into the public interest. Instead, they instinctively apply the given interest “commonsensically” to political governance. From the perspective of the State. Or, uncritically, from their own perspective, or that of their favored group.

See Herbert Spencer, “From Freedom to Bondage,” for a discussion of social processes apparently at odds with “common sense.”

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One does not normally insure against chosen and regularly incurred costs, like fill-ups and oil changes in cars . . . or haircuts, waxes, and contraceptive devices on people. When insurance companies’ policies do cover regular, pre-injury/-illness purchases, they are not economically engaging in an insurance contract. They are offering a payment system, a kind of premium savings plan.

Why would they do that? Sometimes to attract customer with a convenience — an expensive convenience they expect to make money off of. But also for another reason: because they are compelled by law.

The corruption of the insurance industry by government policy has been ongoing for decades.

Especially in medical markets.

How? At a fundamental level.

Economist Friedrich Freiherr von Wieser (Social Economics, 1928, p. 149) noted that there are three kinds of “binding compensatory contracts”: exchange contracts, insurance contracts, and social contracts. Wieser noted that insurance contracts sometimes look like social contracts, sometimes like exchanges. But the resemblance to explicit social contracts is that they mimic the widespread effects usually aimed at by social contractors, but through private exchanges. An ingenious invention. Insurance provides a public good by private means. The core nature of insurance contracts Wieser explains thusly:

Its purpose is to distribute the effects of loss over many private economies. It has attained great importance in developed economies. But it has to do only with the security of the economic body, not with its creation.

Wieser did not examine this form of contract in detail. He also, in developing economic theory, put aside discussion of the social contract:

One should expect that it be adopted to the integration of the social economy. Nevertheless in its effect it has been overshadowed by the exchange contract, which although as a rule is made only between two parties, has manifested itself the coördinating instrument that binds individual economies into the national economy.

This manifestation of unexpected and unintended coördination puzzles many people. Which is perhaps one reason why, as Wieser’s student F. A. Hayek suggested, we witness much social distress regarding — and political pressure to undermine and control — market order. The coördination provided by markets is “spontaneous,” as Hayek metaphorically put it (“inadvertent” is more exact), and its mechanisms and processes mysterious, in no small part because of its inadvertence. Folks balk at accepting an unplanned order.

This is especially true of insurance contracts, which often seem “unfair.” For example, I was a very good and safe driver as a young man, ages 16–28. Never an accident. Never even a complaint. But an appreciable number of my peers drove recklessly (but not “wrecklessly”!), skewing the actuarial tables that make insurance bets doable, so my insurance rates were high. Young women, on the other hand, had far lower rates — despite my personal knowledge of many dangerous young female drivers.

But I understood the unfairness, and rallied through. Meanwhile, during that same period, feminists pushed through in my state regulations that forced insurers and their customers to pay equal rates, disregarding the sexes. Young women tend to have more medical issues, especially regarding pregnancy — which, one should note, are usually the result of free choices, not wholly accidental events — and thus are greater risks for insurance companies, requiring higher rates.

But . . . unfair!

For some reason, feminists did not push for a forced equalization of auto insurance rates.

So, consider what that regulation did: it increased the pool of insured people, bracketing out of consideration reliable data upon which insurance businesses calculated profitable rates. So, it decreased the information content of insurance rates — prices, really — and made the business decisions less efficient, and less capable of adding efficiency over the course of time.

And by equalizing men’s and women’s rates, it swept into the mix a mostly non-insurable expense: pregnancy and birth. One insures for things out of one’s control. And, except in case of rape, one can choose not to engage in sexual intercourse, the activity that causes pregnancy. So, under modern regulatory requirements, more and more people are swept into the pool with more social contract problems associated with such pools: that is, “the tragedy of the commons.” When some gain at the expense of others, they tend to opt to do just that. A common resource subject to individual exploitation tends to degrade, as has been understood since the time of Aristotle, but clarified by William F. Lloyd, Garret Hardin, and Richard Stroup. In the case here made as an example, what would normally be unforeseeable and insured-for is now intermingled with eventualities placed under a woman’s or couple’s control. Thus they are able to game the system and free ride off of it. Basically, shifting their avodiable medical expenses onto other people who do not choose to produce babies.

This jiggering with the insurance industry basics changes its very nature. But not without costs.

And it is certainly not limited to just the one example. Tax policy, regulation and now subsidy have been contriving to turn medical insurance contracts wholly into social contracts. And politicians and activists have succeeded in convincing many simpletons and distracted citizens into thinking insurance should cover events that no honest business would cover — events such as already existing disabilities, or expenses that are wholly voluntary.

Remember: One cannot “insure” against the present; one cannot “insure” against controlled outcomes. It is only future uncontrolled events with assignable probabilities that make sense to insure. Only these eventualities that can make for stable, long-term and sustainable and efficiently provided buffering of the effects of loss or injury.

But, to repeat, tax law, regulations and now subsidy — by state and federal governments — have so twisted the industry that it now is a badly run redistribution scheme, something one would normally expect from governments pretending to enforce “social contracts.”

Wieser’s “coördinating instrument” of the exchange system, and the pricing (in this case) of insurance rates, has been scuttled by people more comfortable with the seemingly “rational” — but much more ungainly and discoördinative — government policy. Also, the instrumentality of force quickens the vindictive soul, spurring folks to demand a great cause — fairness, justice. Which allows, naturally enough, for the heady mix of self-righteousness and outright oppression (for what else is forcing others?) as well as the precious social signaling that moral crusades engender.

But because information is thereby decreased, and the tragedy of the commons introduced into the industry, society is corrupted, hobbled, injured.

The very opposite result, you might think, of medical insurance policy.

And witless Americans carry on with the fiction and lies. As if they were being smart and wise. Anyone who repeats the current wisdom about medical “insurance” — such as demanding “coverage” for a wholly voluntary aid, like contraception — is a dupe or a liar.

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Friedrich von Wieser portrayed at top, in sketch; the current blogger immediately above.

You know a person isn’t serious about opposing child labor if they keep up bringing sweat shops but never mention farm work.

Traditionally, had children not worked on family farms, many families would have starved. Personally, I worked on our family farm without recompense, growing up, and also worked on other farms for money. Before I came of age. I know that this was good for me, and everyone else knows this too.

img_0056My mother grew up in the Great Depression. She was one of the family breadwinners — as a child. Only an evil person would regard this as exploitation and wrong to the point that it should have been illegal.

A close friend of mine and I both spent time picking fruit in the summers. We earned a few bucks. This was good for us, even at ages nine, ten and eleven.

Now, in the state due south of where I live, such child labor is unlawful. Or so I’m told. I do know that illegal Mexicans pick most of those crops. Progress?

Harping on sweat shops and factory work by children makes moderns feel good about themselves. It is much like imagining themselves as great opponents of slavery — despite their lack of interest in slavery rampant, today, in the Islamic world.

Harping on sweat shops and factory work by children means never having to think about context, progress, wealth creation, or even what actual conditions in most of these situations were really like. I have never met a progressive who talks about this who has read one word of the current scholarly literature on the subject. They are merely repeating stuff pushed to them by brainless high school teachers and Marxist college professors.

Every time I mention that rates of child labor were plummeting prior to child labor being regulated and then prohibited, I get blank looks or eyebrows of incredulity.

Some day these uninformed ideologues may realize that they are merely ignorant buffoons parroting dogmas of little value.

By then, though, they will have supported dozens of insane regulations and deceitful politicians.

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EvergreenProtest

Power is the ability to get things done. If, in the course of fighting power you win, or your side wins, you then achieve power. If your objection to power is pure and simple, if you see all power/non-power relationships as “oppression,” then it follows that any attack upon power becomes oppressive at success. When you win, you have achieved something. You got something done. You have exerted power.

And, in politics, one achievement tends to lead to more achievement. In government, the point of “being in power” is to exert power. So the success at fighting oppression (so conceived) immediately transforms into oppression itself.

This is so obvious that one wonders how it never seems to cross the minds of the current batch of “social justice” activists now causing havoc on campuses and in the streets.

Either they would have to accept their revolutionary status as masters, as “the powerful,” whenever they get their way, or they would have to revise their theories of power, freedom, and oppression.

I recommend to them careful transactional analysis, not crude, class analysis with concepts derived from Karl Marx by way of the Frankfurt School and the Sorbonne.

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In the early and middle 1980s, “comparable worth” became a celebrated cause of the feminist left. The idea was to equalize wages among occupations, particularly between, for example, a well-paid occupation that tended to be manned mainly by men and a more poorly remunerated occupation mainly performed by women. The examples given at that time were often truck drivers vs. secretaries.

I witnessed several public debates on the subject, way back then. And having just begun to study economics, I quickly came to regard proponents of the “comparable worth doctrine” (CWD) as utopian lunatics. Their glee in concocting regulatory schemes was over the top, and their arguments were always and in each case economically illiterate. They looked upon all wages as mere artifacts of custom and power, never productivity. Notions like “marginal product” and “imputation” and even “supply and demand” never rose to coherence, or even the level of mere mention.

I remember one absurd discussion, where a young man argued against a then-current objection commonly made to the CWD — that comparing truckers to secretaries was comparing apples to oranges. (That is, the occupations were different enough that no wage equalization effort could make sense.) He said that the beauty of CWD was that (quoting from memory) “we mix the apples and oranges and get fruit punch, and then divvy out equal amounts!”

You see what I mean by economic illiteracy.

Now, I did not go on to become an economist. It never became my job to investigate the statistic artifacts of the period to test the doctrine. Or any other. But I did notice that in the State in which I lived, the CWD became the official doctrine of one institution: government.

My guess is that many a low-wage government and contractor job were upped to a higher level, according to some “comparable” “worth” (of a labor theory of value variety) and that taxes were quickly increased to cover.

It might be good to check to see whether this did actually happen. I would be surprised if it did not.

I am getting at something here. There is a difference between government wages and business wages. They are figured and set differently. Unlike in the market sector, politicians can and do set State employee wages. And take credit for the hikes.

The taxes? They tend not to talk much about the taxes hiked to pay for the greater drain on resources. In markets, wage hikes must be merited by business success in voluntary markets, within a context of competition for scarce consumer attention. In politics, the checks and balances are much less integral with the process. There is a high degree of arbitrariness to government worker remuneration.

I suspect something similar happens in government regarding minimum wage jobs. I know of a number of positions paid by tax funds through contracts with the state. Many of them — particularly the temporary ones — are minimum wage jobs. (Elder care, some seasonal fishery services, and a few others come to mind.) When the minimum wage requirement is raised, budget requirements are raised, and politicians shrug “cost of living” and approve a budget hike, leading directly to raised contract worker wages.

We often say, with varying degree of inaccuracy, that “consumers pay” for minimum wage hikes. (Consumers do pay, but usually indirectly.) More accurately, taxpayers pay. Quite directly.

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The reason people accept the institutions of the State in their lives also explains why they often demand horrific tyrannies. Once you give a special role for the State, it is hard not to identify that “special role” as tyranny.

The very core notion of the State looks like usurpation. Statism — including support for socialism, fascism, and the imperial presidency — is there in the kernel of accommodation to any and all political governance.

This is why democratic-republicanism is so unstable, and perhaps why hard-core Republicans and Democrats in America often enthusiastically yammer for outrageously criminal policies.

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What are the core constituencies for America’s dreadful k12 government schools? Individuals vary, but hey: I can think of seven broad groups:

  1. Sports fanatics
  2. Parents who demand babysitting services
  3. Teachers and administrators whose careers depend upon tax money
  4. Progressive social engineers who wish to supplant families and markets as the prime institutions of sociality
  5. Businesses and students, who rely upon grades, credentials, and test scores to signal suitability for jobs
  6. Governments and politicians who rely upon the public system to inculcate acceptance to social engineering and government dominance in society
  7. Parents, students and community members who earnestly think something called “education” is a good idea

Everybody pretends to be in category 7. Almost no one is really in category 7, for, if they were, they would complain about poor educational achievements more, and look into alternate means of providing education. Most do not, so most are not.

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A friend, who is resolutely anti-Trump*, comments on a current Wall Street Journal article on the Trump Towers Wiretap contention. The article goes on at unnecessary length about how a congressional committee can find no back-up for the president’s tweeted charge against his predecessor. “Political rhetoric is always B.S. to some degree,” my friend writes. “And then, there is the bullshitter-in-chief, beyond truth. ”

Well, yeah. But Donald Trump’s tweets aren’t political rhetoric as usual. Trump has gone a different direction. He is trolling for effect, to get his enemies to concentrate on the small stuff, the inconsequential malters. And since this is post-Clinton Washington, Trump knows he can say anything and stonewall.

Let Spicer and Conway take the flak and look like idiots in public. That is their job, after all. (And they have occasion to do it on a daily basis. That is for sure. They have the most demeaning job in bigly, er, Big League politics.)

But the idea that Trump was spied upon, illegally, by his predecessor is by no means incredible . . . certainly not implausible from rogue wings of the Deep State.

And the idea that there would be ready, Congress-available proof of a secret, illegal op strikes me as preposterous, making it absurd to investigate in anything like Congress’s usual perfunctory manner:

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, jointly said earlier in the day [that] there were “no indications” that Trump Tower, the Manhattan building where Mr. Trump lived and worked before assuming the presidency, was under any form of government surveillance.

Meanwhile, Trump is pushing a gimcrack, quite horrid, promise-abusing “replacement” of ObamaCare. But half the media and attentive America is distracted by . . . bullshit.

B.S. that is, alas, probably half true. True or not, it ends up making everybody look like loons.

This is precisely the wrong game for anti-Trumpers to play.

The age-old problem with warfare is that, in going to war, one becomes a mirror, a double, of one’s enemy. The anti-Trumpers are seriously reënacting the fated scenario of “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” Only they are not mimicking imperialistic Spaniards.

They are in danger of playing the Fool.

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* I, too, am anti-Trump. But no more than I was anti-Clinton, anti-Bush, and anti-Obama. Though Trump is a break with the past, in many ways, he is neither without precedent nor wholly a new kind of creature: they were all liars, fools, and knaves, in the usual politic balance; Trump is also liar, lunatic, and knave, but in a slightly different configuration, if with about the same averaged-out moral level.

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Less than a week after Trump’s wiretapping charge, the new WikiLeaks exposure hit — which detailed the vast abilities and routine practice of the CIA to intercept phone calls and audio- and video-chats, as well as hijack laptops, tablets, smart TVs, smartphones and automobile computers — but almost no who had started out ridiculing Trump let up. Astounding.

Now, Dennis Kucinich brings not irrelevant testimony that should squash the ridicule. “I can vouch for the fact that extracurricular surveillance does occur, regardless of whether it is officially approved. I was wiretapped in 2011 after taking a phone call in my congressional office from a foreign leader.”

The former representative tales the tale, now, for the first time. He is pretty sure that, in contravention of the separation of powers, U.S. “intelligence” recorded a conversation he had with a Son of Qaddafi, and then leaked it to the Washington Post. His confidence seems reasonable. He is not talking out of school. His inference that it was an “American intelligence agency” seems more than sound. Besides, he writes, “which foreign intelligence service conceivably could have been interested in my phone call, had the technology to intercept it, and then wanted to leak it to the newspaper?”

Kucinich makes clear that he is no supporter of our current president. But he is obviously somewhat shocked by the ease with which his fellow leftists have embraced a pro-CIA/NSA/alphabet soup narrative:

I have never gone public with this story, but when I saw the derision with which President Trump’s claims were greeted—and notwithstanding our political differences—I felt I should share my experience.

When the president raised the question of wiretapping on his phones in Trump Tower, he was challenged to prove that such a thing could happen.

It happened to me.

For anyone to mock Trump about his belief in illegal wiretapping? Amazing.

Sure, Trump’s an ass. But he is a smart one, playing us. And on government surveillance, he has certainly stumbled into one of the horrible truths of our Age Of Snowden: the Deep State has gone rogue.

You are not safe from the State.

Not even the President is safe from it. If you think the President is “in charge” and therefore safe, you may want to update your model of “our living constitution.”

All this is the result of a hundred years of laxity, even perversity, allowing the administrative state to grow out of bounds of the written Constitution.

Well, more than a century. The Constitution broke long before Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and World War I. But it has been made an outright mockery of its old self in our time, and both political parties are responsible. For the administrative state they created and fed — the bureaucracies — constitutes the permanent government.

And it is upon this permanent government that Constitutional government — the legislative, executive and judicial branches — appears as surface phenomenon. A particularly noticeable type of scum.

Constitutional government is well on its way to becoming the epiphenomenon of the real government.

That the President of these United States would unceremoniously blurt this truth out in public is, well, interesting for many reasons. I know that many of his supporters will take this occasion as “proof” that their Savior will clean the swamp that is The Deep State.

I remain skeptical.

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