Archives for category: Personal Strategies

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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:

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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.

twv

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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.

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The problem with piling on against Trump, as so many people now do, is that the bulk of those who oppose Trump — and surely those who scream most loudly — did not and do not extend their criticisms to Trump’s predecessors.

Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama were each quite bad in extremely important ways. Those who think that Trump is particularly bad base most of their critiques on matters of style. And thus they excuse themselves from dealing with substance.

I want no part of this numskullery, so I rarely dump on Trump.

Sure, it would be easy. But it would be worse than no good. It would make matters worse. It promotes a backlash against a symptom of a deeper problem while inoculating the population from any genuine fix.

Yes, I regard the anti-Trump pile-on as perhaps even more indecent than Trump himself.

Of course, Americans (by and large) want to be fooled. They want to think most things are hunky dory just so long as the leaders of their party (whichever it is) get in power . . . and the opposition party be ousted. I have zero sympathy for this view. I think it delusional.

Which explains why I merely marshal the occasional criticism against the new presidency. Never go full anti-Trump.

Making much of opposing Trump is mere virtue signaling — without the virtue.

twv

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Three decades ago, I was briefly involved in a campaign in Jefferson County, Washington State, to prevent nuclear warheads from being stored within its borders. I knew it was a hopeless endeavor — there seemed zero chance for local government, spurred by idealistic citizens, to prevent the U.S. Navy from using nearby Indian Island as a maximum security repository for missiles and warheads taken from submarines scheduled for maintenance at Bangor Trident Base — but it did introduce me to the leftist activists in the northern parts of the Olympic Peninsula.

The fit was not always comfortable. Among many interesting moments with these people, I remember most clearly my first encounter with an angry feminist. And with clueless feminists.

FD110687-98A7-4289-95AC-B972EE0200C6But the biggest difference may have regarded our different ethical approaches. I was not prone to the same sort of moralism that they were, for one thing. Or Utopianism. I also had become convinced that MAD was a successful policy, on the whole, and that the traitorous Rosenbergs may have inadvertently served as the saviors not only of America but also of humanity. So I occasionally said things more than a tad out of place amongst the activists.

One of the odder moments of mutual incomprehension concerned the reasons to oppose the bomb storage. I offered a NIMBY argument, and mention the threat of terrorism. “Indian Island is a target.” The activists looked at me blankly. They were uninterested in terrorism. Terrorism was not on their radar, except, I suppose, as a tactic that they could imagine themselves using, push come to shove.

I remember Bob the bookseller looking at me, puzzled, having caught the implication of my logic. “Where do you want the bombs stored?” he asked. “And how many do you think we need?”

“How many nuclear bombs would you like?” That last question was rather pointed.

I had no idea, of course, so I shrugged. I am generally not good at prescribing for an institution I am not in any way responsible for.

C431E517-A2BF-4990-A419-D3BF9FF48CFCHonestly, I thought terrorism was the wave of the future. A few years later, after Bush’s invasions of Panama and Iraq, I was more confident yet. Sure enough, my suspicion proved increasingly savvy over the years, constituting one of two sets of prophecies that showed me not a complete nutball. I felt satisfied, I confess: I understood some things about the way the world worked that most people did not seem to. At all.

Yup, terrorism and the price of gold. I was right, way back then.

Now, I have no idea what is going to happen next. My hunches are all over the place, between financial Armageddon and the Singularity!

twv

N.B. Pictured are three Google maps of the area in Jefferson County where I lived at the time. Circled in red are where the offices of Liberty magazine were listed with the Post Office (the Polk Street apartment building I lived in) and (at bottom) they were actually located, on top of the hill. One of my first jobs for Bill Bradford, Liberty’s publisher, in my first year or two working for him, was Community Plenipotentiary. That is, I would get involved in community activism so he would not have to! Yes, he paid me to do this sort of thing. Thankfully, it did not take up much of my time, and arguably I did it on my own time. I was not being paid by the hour.

Social Justice Lunatics

If ever we wondered how on earth a wide, once-learned culture could ever go whole hog for repression, tyranny, rage, murder, etc., we no longer need to. Just look at the faces of the young “activists” on college campuses. Cultism incarnate.

Smug self-righteousness in mob form.

These youngsters are worse than the traditionalists who scorned the hippies. The people who made me a “radical” when I was young. As if Hegel’s dialectic really were a thing, left has become right and right left; the cultural “radicals” (I hate to imply we take the same noösphere space) now exhibit the censorious traits of the cultural trads.

Yes, the new cultic leftism is really a form of conservatism (defending the institutionalized policies of the left, and then pushing for tyrannical advance of every last marginal gain through social controls like bullying, threats, mass boycott, shaming, and all the rest) combined with a self-image of radical chic “coolness.”

This is the age of the steely-eyed radical . . . with power.

One good thing about the Trump phenomenon is that these dangerous totalitarians have been dealt a firm kick in the pants.

They deserve many more.

twv

Nope Trump

 

 

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A. Sean Hannity is almost impossible for me to watch. His form of ideological “entertainment” is not only not my cup of tea, I often find it despicable. He seems to be iffy on principles — inconstant, anyway — and his support for Donald Trump was hard to take.

B. Media Matters lied and completely mischaracterized Hannity’s handling of the Roy Moore allegations. And pressured a coffee maker company to pull its ads from his show.

C. Media Matters — why would you want me to sympathize with Sean Hannity?

D. How is Media Matters not worse than what they say about Hannity?

E. If you approved of Media Matters’ action regarding Hannity and still do after you learn (you could listen to the interview, yourself, if you cared) that Media Matters was engaging in outrageous deception, how are you not worthy of boycott, too?

F. Do you see where this partisan bubble enforcement is a bad idea? Now? Or do you think complete culture war is a great thing, and should be embrace?

G. Just how far would you be willing to go?

H. A lot of Sean Hannity’s fans and defenders (I’m now the latter if still not the former) own guns.

I. You. It comes down to your standards. What will it be?

Stephen Willeford

On Sunday, Mr. Stephen Willeford, a late middle-aged Christian man with an AR-15 (the rifle most despised by gun control advocates, often called “an assault rifle”) stopped a mass murderer who was systematically executing those remaining alive after his initial horrific barrage of gunfire. Willeford brought a halt to the evil man’s executions just as the shooter was standing above a fearful victim on the floor. How did Willeford do this? By engaging him with gunfire. A pursuit followed, and before the chase was over, the Christian had shot the criminal twice, severely wounding him. Police picked the mass murderer off in the end, but there is no question that the AR-15-wielding citizen saved at least one life . . . and possibly many more.

img_0452He is precisely what many deny exist: a good man with a gun.

Among the many lessons?

  • It is useful to have a high-powered, easy-to-fire semi-automatic rifle at hand and know how to use it.
  • It is useful to have ammo pre-loaded in multiple magazines — our hero might have saved more lives had he possessed three or four magazines in full ready, since, after identifying the sounds he heard as gunfire, he took some time obtaining and loading one of the several magazines he used that day.
  • And yes, this turned out to be precisely one of those situations in which owning a lot of ammo and magazines that hold many rounds each was crucial for justice to be reëstablished.

Also, Willeford was not merely an NRA member, he was also an NRA-certified instructor in firearms use.

It is now well known that existing firearms regulations might have stopped the assailant from acquiring his arsenal, but government agencies failed to do their mandated jobs. “New regulation” does no good if government is (as it often is) incompetent. The killer bought his guns illegally according to current law.

Were it not for the creepy times we live in, I would be amazed to learn that a universal upswelling of praise of and honor to Mr. Willeford failed to develop.

Instead, much of the major media has engaged in really icky innuendo and defensiveness as well as denial of facts and misstatements of common knowledge about firearms.

Also, I have heard no small amount of anti-Christian snark.

Creepy America.

twv

N.B. Steven Crowder’s interview with Willeford, though cringeworthy in some respects, is must-see on this issue.

This synopsis first appeared on my Facebook page the other day. That is indeed where most of my blogging starts these days.

In the wake of the church shooting in which a Christian man, Stephen Willeford, shot a mass murderer after a car chase there has, of course, been much discussed on social media. I have tried not to get involved . . . directly.

So, “indirectly,” there is this: what I would have said on Facebook had I said anything on Facebook. . . .

img_0452Friend:

No matter what you might think on the subject, many Christians pray after a tragedy not because they are virtue signaling, but rather because they are praying for the repose of souls.

It is an act of mercy.

I can’t fathom why this would upset people.

Stranger:

What I’m seeing in this issue is on one hand, people sick and tired of seeing news of another mass shooting, and on the other hand, politicians and other “leaders” sending prayers and thoughts instead of doing their jobs. I understand that you don’t want to get involved in a political debate, but trying to redefine the problem as apolitical only muddies the issue further. You may as well be burying your head in the sand. I really don’t think anyone is bashing the average person of faith who is horrified and wants to help and can’t think of anything better. The criticisms are aimed squarely at theocrats who send thoughts and prayers instead of doing their jobs.

Me:

Politicians “doing their jobs” on this issue have, on a state-by-state and city-by-city basis, seemingly done more harm than good. So, the issue is political, sure, but not in a good way: “the job” to be done may be much harder than anyone thinks.

In politics, it all becomes religion pretty fast. The amount of faith in government as an institution that is shown by earnest people demanding that politicians “do something” or “their jobs” is contra-indicated by facts on the ground.

Reasonable people remain skeptical, and unimpressed with people who turn from prayer to promoting pointless and problematic action.

And as for “thoughts and prayers” — it is just something people say when there is nothing they can really do. Give people a break. Getting angry and expressing it politically is hardly the wisest social reaction — especially to grieving and distraught people. That is the reaction of dangerous fools.

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The Ron Paul newsletters, in the news — again!

The following appeared on Wirkman Netizen, on October 1, 2008:

I have argued that the controversial “Ron Paul” newsletters amounted to Paleolibertarianism Beta (see links below to previous posts). But it is worth remembering that when Paleolibertarianism was first trotted out in the pages of the January 1990 issue of Liberty magazine, Ron Paul was asked for a comment. And he responded:

I hestitate to comment on Rockwell’s article because I see the debate as being more divisive than productive. I prefer to use my energy attacking those who support statism, whether they do so intentionally or out of ignorance.

Having said this, I will make one comment: it’s obvious to me that the Libertarian Party would be a lot bigger than it is now if its image were perceived as more libertarian and less libertine.

That is from the March 1990 issue of Liberty, page 50, Volume 3, Number 4.

My trouble with paleolibertarianism was on the Libertine Issue, in part. I agreed with paleos that some vices regarded as “libertine” by normal folk are indeed vices. But I saw no point in belaboring the point in the paleo manner: THE PEOPLE WE DEFEND ARE SCUM AND WE KNOW IT. I usually preferrred a gentler approach. “Scum” — and the many nasty words in the old Ron Paul newsletters — just went overboard.

My favorite form of acknowledging the vice/toleration problem was to revise Voltaire’s defense of free speech to a defense of psychoactive drug use: “I may disapprove of what you take, but I’ll defend to your death your right to take it.”

That, I thought, gets the distinction made just right.

Further, I do believe that practicing the virtues generally does reward the virtuous. And vice does punish the vice-ridden. So, in a free society with individual responsibility, people who choose to smoke die younger, and at their expense; people who screw around without protection get STDs and are more apt than chaster folks to have their pudenda itch, bleed, chafe, and rot off; people who sky dive are more apt to find themselves a pancake on a rocky plain. Few people want to die young, lose their genitalia, or lose skeletal and organ integrity, so they have plenty incentive to reform — and, in a free society, no ready-at-hand excuse to blame their vices on others. So, by insisting on individual responsibility, one encourages virtue without hectoring. And accepts vice without hysteria. (Folly will always be with us.)

Paleolibertarianism always seemed like an excuse to hector. And some (not all) used it as an excuse to berate. And most of that just seemed indecent to me.

Ron Paul was right to say that the Paleo debate was divisive. The perception of libertinism? It only occasionally bothered me, in part because I grew up a Christian, and I believed that all are sinners, that all have foibles. The attack on libertinism by the paleos struck me as self-righteous garbage, just more Pharisaic posturing by conservative types, the kind of people I just could not trust, the kind of people who couldn’t see a rafter in their own eyes, but pick at the splinters in others.

The nasty element in Paleoism was especially divisive. And yet it occurred in Ron Paul’s own newsletters, under his name. That seems puzzling to me, to this day.


Hat tip to Jesse Walker for reminding me of Ron Paul’s “No Comment” comment.


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The Ron Paul newsletters, in the news — again!

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The following appeared on Wirkman Netizen, on September 1, 2008:

Virginia Postrel defends herself against a remonstrance, against the charge that she should have warned others about Ron Paul. And she shifts the blame:

I do fault my friends at Reason, who are much cooler than I’ll ever be and who, scornful of the earnestness that takes politics seriously, apparently didn’t do their homework before embracing Paul as the latest indicator of libertarian cachet. For starters, they might have asked my old boss Bob Poole about Ron Paul; I remember a board member complaining about Paul’s newsletters back in the early ’90s

Yeah, yeah. It turns out that the Reason staff is now all too young to have read the early newsletters. Jesse Walker, who did read voraciously in Bill Bradford’s huge stack of back-issues, probably did not bother with the Ron Paul files for one simple reason: He did not expect to learn anything. Ron Paul is not a great teacher. He is not an original thinker. He is not even (when writing himself) that fun a writer. So Jesse had little reason to go spelunking into Liberty magazine’s dustiest shelves and boxes. I, who filed them there, certainly did not want to look at them a second time. On any given afternoon at Liberty, I would have preferred to keep my lunch.

Frankly, I had forgotten about most of this old “Ron Paul” bigotry. I mean, one reason for my tepid-at-first enthusiasm for the recent Paul outing was, after all, his old connection with Murray Rothbard, whose influence on the libertarian movement I regarded as poison. And Lew Rockwell, whose influence on Murray Rothbard I regarded as poison in double dose. (I did not support Ron Paul in 1987, for the Libertarian Party nomination. When Rothbard heard this, he hated me for it, and scowled in my direction the only time we could have met. What a sour old grump, I thought.)

There was an added wrinkle, though: over the years I had warmed to Lew Rockwell, following his break with Liberty and (more importantly) my break with Liberty. He had distanced himself, somewhat, from the Paleo Turn, and was talking straight libertarianism more. He had seen the old paleocon forces get sucked back into neocon war, like piglets to their porcine mother’s teats. And though he still exhibited his nasty streak, I didn’t see it as often or as vile as I had in the old days. He had mellowed, I thought.

Besides, the Mises Institute, which he runs, does some good work. Any place that puts out Menger’s Grundsätze will get a slight nod from me.

And besides, some of Bill Bradford’s reactions to Rockwell were themselves petty and stupid. So I cut Rockwell some slack. Maybe I had made too much of my distaste for paleoism.

But then, reading the PDFs supplied by TNR, the whole thing came back to me, in full whiff.

Really, one wants to just get away from all that. And so, over time, most of us old-timers tried to forget the ugly period of Paleolibertianism Beta.

Besides, no one asks me or pays me to write about this stuff.

So I have Virginia Postrel’s excuse.

But what of her other excuses? “Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t consider Paul one of the biggest mainstream representatives of libertarian thought.” Well, that’s easy. He isn’t. He never was. Except in politics.He is libertarianism’s almost sole political representative, certainly sole member of Congress.

This passage puzzles me: “Besides, people as cosmopolitan as Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch should be able to detect something awry in Paul’s populist appeals. . . . I suspect they did but decided it was more useful to spin things their way than to take Paul’s record and ideas seriously.” Did they really spin anything? Not really. They recognized Paul’s odd populist-conservative takes. It obviously made many of the Reason folk queasy. They just didn’t think the queasiness went very deep.

And it does go deep. Right down into the vile maw of Paleolibertarianism, the strange stance of anti-statist class warfare and out-group hate.

By the way, Ron Paul’s popularity is the latest indicator of libertarian cachet. That is Ron Paul’s appeal. Reason didn’t need to spin this. That’s just good reporting. Ron talks liberty up as a principle that unites anti-war and no-special-favors government. Fiscal responsibility. Individual responsibility. Listening to Paul today, that’s what he preaches, and the fact that people grok that is a story, and it’s good for libertarianism.

It’s just too bad about that Paleolibertarian period, and Ron Paul’s enduring connections to people who still, to this day, probably don’t want to deal with their old rhetoric in public.

I could have told anyone who asked the dangers. But no one asked. And if I spent over $50 on a brown recluse spider to benefit Ron Paul, maybe that makes me part of the problem, not the solution.

So blame me. Don’t blame Virginia. Don’t blame Reason. Blame all us old guys who heard the gossip about the Rockwell-Rothbard alliance. Blame the late Bill Bradford, who heard all this first hand.

Or not. Realize that we opposed this nonsense at the time. At least I did, as much as I could in print.

And as for Virginia Postrel, well, I really liked the last book of hers I read. Her support for the Iraq war, on the other hand, strikes me as so gullible that . . . well, what are the consequences?

Maybe people need to grow up a bit.

Politicians will always betray you somehow. I mean, I grew up on Thomas Jefferson, but realized early on that, on the slavery issue, this man was as compromised as one could be. Ron Paul comes out looking like a saint compared to Tom. But then, Tom had more excuses. His whole life was based on slavery, his stance as a rich guy able to do science and philosophy and music and all the civilized rest. It rested on slaves. What excuse do modern-day paleos have, to dredge up the old bigotries about color and culture and skin and the rest?

It is an odd thing, trying to be a civilized person in the libertarian movement — or in modern society. You have to keep some independence of mind. You cannot allow yourself to become part of any cult. For all the leaders will betray you. All the prophets will prove false. All the gems will prove brummagem.

What lives on is an ideal, freedom, and our present-day paths that all seem to lead away from it. Even the ones that at first seem to lead toit.


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The Ron Paul newsletters, in the news — again!

The following appeared on Wirkman Netizen, on January 10, 2009:

On Wolf Blitzer’s program, Ron Paul responds (link to Reason’s Hit and Run).

I haven’t watched it all yet, because it’s hard for me to stomach evasion. While I suppose it’s reasonable for people to suppose Ron’s a racist because of the horrid newsletters that went out under his name, that was never my charge. My question has been more like this: Why did you let yourself be used by racist hatemongers, and why did you let them use racist and homophobic hatred to sell your point of view?

Interestingly, the word “libertarianism” is out in front here, and Ron nicely (if improbably) says that libertarians cannot be racist. Of course they can. The libertarians who wrote his newsletters were racist.

Of course, he could say “they weren’t libertarian,” but he also denies knowing who any of them are. Improbable. He mentions the word “editor” but does not mention who the real editor of his newsletter was. And that is something he could have done, easily.

Let me repeat: I have never really believed that he was a racist. I believe he was led by his friends and mentors (Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard) into this sort of race-baiting as a quasi-legitimate way to “use” rightwingers to forward “legit” libertarian ends, courtesy of a sweet business deal (with Burt Blumert).

Or I suppose something like this could have happened:

Ron, 1989: Hey Burt, what’s all this racist crap in my newsletter?

Burt: Sorry, Ron. I had to fire a ghostwriter. It seemed OK when I first read it, but I saw that it was pretty nasty on second thought. Taken care of.

Ron: OK.

Ron, 1990: Hey Burt, what’s all this nastiness about my hero MLK about?

Burt: You like MLK? Sorry. We have evidence here in our folders that he was a commie and a pervert. I mean, I got this straight from J. Edgar Hoover and he never lied.

Ron: Burt, you should know never to trust the FBI!

Burt: Sorry, won’t happen again.

Ron, 1995: Burt, there’s more MLK bashing and nastiness and racism! What’s going on here?

Burt: Yeah, I had to fire another sub-editor. Sorry. But, on the bright side, we suckered another several thou off of the creeps on the far right!

Seems unlikely, no? Could Ron be that dumb?


Well, I just finished watching the video. Paul does what politicians do: try to change the subject. Like I said, I never really believed he was a racist. But he did go along with racists at his newsletter, and let racism go out under his name. This looks so bad, and stinks so high. In a sense, it’s worse than racism. It’s not caring about an issue enough to stick up for your own principles, and letting your friends get away with putting your name through the dreck of bigotry.

Now, we have all said terrible things. At least I have. I have even written pretty awful things. For a joke, sometimes I will say nearly anything. And that, no doubt, is how the ghosts of Paul justified at least some of what they were doing.

And, as I have insisted before, this is part of the paleolibertarian agenda: appeal to conservatives by dissing the underclass.

The paleos just didn’t understand how ugly they were being. I think they thought of themselves as being principled. I bet they argued their case for the vile speech to Ron Paul in terms of principle. And I bet Paul, blown over by the imprimatur of his favorite living economist, went along for those reasons.

It’s just a theory. But it’s the best one I can advance. It offers yet another pathetic example of someone going too far in the “school” he belongs to.

How much better would it have been for Ron Paul had he distanced himself a bit from the “Austrians.” He should have read more Coase and Posner and Friedman, and kept a more open mind. And avoided deifying Mises and treating Rothbard as Mises’ One True Prophet.

The whole cultic aspect of Mises worship comes up again, and in such a way that would surely have annoyed the great man himself.

Mises was not God. Rothbard was no Muhammad. These are fallible men with some good ideas. I admire Mises more than I admire most 20th century thinkers. But that does not mean that I would be so blown over by his brightest disciples that I would let them spew hate in my name.

And, frankly, I am not all that impressive a person. Ron Paul, running for president, should have more integrity than I. He does not. That is sad. So, just as i think a person has to be in several senses better a person than I — morally, financially, intellectually — to be worth placing in the presidency of the United States, just so I can say Ron does not really deserve it.

Of course, I don’t have much evidence that any of his competitors for the position are any better. In fact, I think most are worse. I think that some political positions simply disqualify you. Warmongering without good cause, and going along with lies to support the case for war, that disqualifies most of the major candidates, leaving only Obama (perhaps) worth putting in office.

And he has a lot of other things going against him.

But, at least he probably has kept his anti-black racism under control, and not spewed racial hatred under his name for a decade or more.

http://wirkman.net/wordpress/?p=207
Comment:

Egosumabbas

Hi, I was really upset when more of these newsletters came out, since I’ve been a RP supporter for a while now (about a year). He really really really needs to understand how bad these are and come clean. Here is my take on the subject:
http://intellectuallystimulating.blogspot.com/2008/01/ron-paul-needs-to-throw-somebody-under.html

I liked your take on Hit&Run on what he should have said (that’s how I wound up on your blog):

“Look, I had to deal with this painful experience 12 years ago. I prayed about what to do. I stopped talking to the main person responsible, Mr. X. And those who convinced me to allow this? One is dead, and I forgave him, though never quite trusted him again. I’m afraid I still have regular dealings — though not business dealings — with the one other person who convinced me that this was the right way to go, who defended the highjacking of my newsletters. This is the most awful thing I ever did, giving up my name for others to abuse to promote ideas I believed in to people who were racists, using racist language. I repudiated this a long time ago. I made what amends I could a long time ago. My constituents forgave me. It is sad that it was brought up at this time.”

And cited it in my post, if that’s cool.

One word about how I feel about all this: crushed.