Archives for category: Public Policy

I try to read the MoveOn emails I receive several times a week. Yes, I try. But they are very trying.

Just this morning I got an email from “Bernie Sanders” . . . which began “Hi Timothy — I just wanted to make sure you saw my message from the other day.”

Must be important.

So what does “Bernie Sanders” say?

Well, he pushes what he (or his copywriter) call “the progressive agenda,” which is dead set against the “corporate giveaway” in the new tax reform bill. Here is how he begins:

Throughout my political career, I have asked us all to imagine what our nation’s future could be: a country with a minimum wage that is a living wage; with students graduating college without crushing debt that stifles their ability to pursue their dreams; where health care is recognized as a right for every man, woman, and child; and where we lead other nations in the fight against climate change.

I have asked us to believe that we could level the playing field and create a vibrant democracy where the billionaire class would no longer be able to buy and sell our candidates and elections.

I will always believe in that vision of America — even as I watch Republicans try to pass a tax scam that is literally the opposite agenda of what you and I have championed over the years.

A tax scam. I wonder: does it increase taxes on the poor and the proverbial “middle class”? I doubt it, but I honestly do not know. The only “fact” about the tax bill given is that it decreases taxes on the wealthy.

I assume by that he means decreases tax rates on the wealthy. There is a difference between rate and revenue. The difference should affect the way we talk about taxes. Somehow, it almost never does.

Bernie, if you could help me on this, please explain. Comments are open below.

Lacking many specifics from this pitch letter (and, after all, that is what most MoveOn emails are, pleas for funds — the only other regular pitch being calls for action, usually to complain to my congressperson), I wander back up to the top. Bernie Sanders imagines an America with “a minimum wage that is a living wage”; with college students not starting their remunerative careers buried in debt; “health care” treated “as a right” for all; and the country leading the world “in the fight against climate change.” Each point is worth thinking about. But I am going to avoid the “climate change” issue entirely, focusing, instead, on the climate-of-opinion change regarding matters nearer at hand.*

The Ass Ceiling

Minimum wage laws were one of the two big issues regarding economic policy that turned me away, forever, from Bernie’s brand of politics. The first time I heard someone assert that minimum wage laws hurt some low-skilled workers while helping competing workers with higher perceived skills, I got really interested in economics. As a science. I wanted to see how this could be the case, if it could at all.

I learned two things right away: one must move beyond slogans and look at what laws are at base, and then what their effects are beyond the policy’s immediate targets.

At base, minimum wage laws proscribe hiring people at a rate lower than set by the “minimum.” A minimum wage regulation does not require businesses to hire anybody at that rate. Such regulations prohibit businesses from hiring anybody below that rate. So, by their very nature, minimum wage laws are employment-limiting laws.

That puts the burden of proof on the proponent of the “minimum wage” to explain how it could increase the ranks of the employed, or, at the very least, not decrease those ranks. If employment decreases — either immediately or in the future — then minimum wage laws are not boons to the poor, lifting poor workers out of poverty. Instead, they would constitute mere redistribution-of-wealth schemes: in effect taking from some poor and giving to others, making them less poor.

The import of this idea has yet to hit at least half of the population.

The working out of the wider and long-term effects of wage-rate floors (as economists tend to characterize the regulation) gets complicated. It comes down to productivity — the marginal product, actually — and interesting scientific study can work out the complexities. There are debates to be had.† But what is interesting about political discussion, particularly from Bernie Sanders and his cadres, is that such discussion is never forthcoming. The usual defenses of minimum wage regulations that I hear point to the bizarre Card and Krueger studies, and not as economic explanations, but as excuses, as authority to dismiss economic reasoning entirely — with no more intellectual integrity than nyah-nyah taunting. “My study is better than your study”!

The popular use of these contrarian studies (and yes, most studies of minimum wage law effects disconfirm the stated utility of the regulations) is not to advance knowledge, much less explore how any particular study is constructed, but because it gives an excuse to hold to a policy endorsed for non-scientific reasons.

imageI know this because I felt their pull. The love of “minimum wage” regulations is part of a belief in the efficacy not merely of government but of activists who propound simple nostrums. It is a very religious commitment, and when I looked into the issue, nearly four decades ago, and studied my own psychology as well as economic theory, I concluded that my motives in promoting the wage floor were not pristine.

As always in such issues, it comes back to the Seen and Not Seen. What we “see” is a minimum wage law, and people employed above the prohibited low rates. We do not — and cannot — see the people that would have been employed had such regulations not existed. The counter-factual world is closed to us. And yet the reality of our experience is entirely encompassed precisely by such counter-factuals, since, when we choose either a job or a policy (or a career or a spouse or a philosophy) we are forecasting two or more possible worlds of effects that would result from a choice one way or the other, and those forecasts are not illusions, but guesses as to possible realities that, after the choice is made and the action (or policy) instantiated, only one of which becomes factual, actual.

By sticking to the Seen effects of minimum wage regulations, the enforced floor’s proponents allow themselves a smug sense of “sticking to the facts” while denying a basic part of reality. Meanwhile, they become acolytes to a particular religious view of life, wherein the State is savior and activism is ritual and prayer.

And, all the while they go about promoting one of their favored nostrums, they ignore the reality: wage floors are worse than the proverbial “glass ceilings” of feminist lore. The floor is raised, hiking the productivity requirements of workers, placing those unable to perform at the set level below the floor, looking up at the . . . feet and asses of those who remain employed. The People Under the Floor have been condemned by the regulation, with no more hope for them other than subsidy.

Oh, sure, they could get more skills, and that is indeed one thing progressives have always insisted upon: that people who want to work go to progressive-run schools where productivity is allegedly taught (it isn’t, for the most part) and the bills are paid from taxpayers. Indeed, unable to work because prohibited from doing so, the likelihood of skill acquisition is diminished for the low-skilled, since actual work is the single most important source for acquiring skills. And, indeed, most of those trapped under the floor are there in no small part because our society’s prescribed basic training ground, the public school, has proved to be ineffective (for a variety of reasons). No wonder, then, that The People Under the Floor turn to black markets and government handouts. That is pretty much all that is left them.

That is what Bernie Sanders and his kind have left them.

I shudder when I think about the People Under the Floor. And I try (often not successfully) not to be angered at the progressives most intent on policies that keep them there.

The takeaway that is so rarely taken, is this: the wage floor is an ass ceiling for the forcibly unemployed.

But Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

The interesting thing about progressivism is its relentless moralism. The subject line of Bernie’s email is “Stop this immoral disaster.” Calling something “immoral” often excuses one from thinking about it in any practical way. Bernie was talking about the tax issue, but his lack of any specifics is just indicative of this sort of mindset.

When I call something “immoral” or “evil,” that means that I have stopped careful consideration of it, too. Them’s fighting words, words of action.

One just hopes that there is some thought upon which that judgment of immorality can be based.

In his earnest (if under-thought) wishes for a debt-free beginning to careers (Bernie himself was a slacker, and then entered Congress in a great binge of living off the system) and for automatic, care-free medical assistance for all, Bernie seems driven by a utopian vision, an Edenic myth, backed only by

  1. activism and
  2. subsidy from the rich

IMG_4679Indeed, this email sums up his whole approach. It is an appeal to activists to support more activism that would (the scheme runs) lead to government action that would take from the rich and give to the not-rich. So no wonder, in all this, it is important to mention the awful spectacle of billionaires “buying and selling” — no talk of renting, interestingly enough — “our candidates and elections.” The big money game in politics is there, of course, because big money is what it is all about. Bernie S. and his fellow B.S.ers demand that “the rich” subsidize them more. Which is about money. Lots of it. The mere presence of the B.S. agenda ensures that those whom B.S.ers wish to plunder will lobby government to keep a bit more of what they have.

This is simply the nature of politics. When it is not about offense, it is about defense. And the more hits in offense a group takes, the more the group will spend in defense.

And by complaining about the rich defending themselves, the B.S.ers are trying to stack the game in their favor. Not only do they think it would be “nice” if other people paid for their college educations and their health care, they think it would be especially nice if those people who pay do not have a say in the “deal.”

How convenient.

Yet they are the ones always talking about “greed”!

This whole approach that they push seems a huge grab from a few to give to the many.

Quite a scheme they got, there.

None of This Is New

Nothing I have written here should strike anyone as in any way novel — except perhaps for a few quips and phrasings. After all, this is a very old debate. As soon as “socialism” became a word on the lips of reformers and revolutionaries, these debates became ubiquitous.

When I was young, the people who pushed the B.S. line were often called “liberals,” but with the rise of Reaganite conservatism, the l-word because a term of opprobrium. The word “progressive” became more popular. When I was younger, I read The Progressive magazine. I have been following this sort of thing all my adult life. But not close enough, apparently, for that magazine still exists. I have not seen it in years.

IMG_4680Indeed, I dropped the rag about the time I helped found Liberty magazine, which was published from Port Townsend until the death of its publisher in 2005. The third issue of Liberty appeared about 30 years ago exactly; the first had hit the mails in July (I think it was) of 1987. Liberty was a libertarian zine, and I had considered myself some sort of a libertarian for less than a decade at the time of its founding. But I had read a great deal of literature in both the individualist and collectivist movements. I had made an informed choice.

Perhaps I was destined to become a libertarian, for my individualism was built into the warp and woof of my psyche. Thinking in terms of groups seemed nuts to me. Indeed, I had interpreted my anti-racism and anti-sexism so big in the decades of my youth as anti-groupthink ethical philosophies. The error of sexism was to judge a person primarily in sex role terms, “by his or her sex” not his or her personhood. What an affront to civility, it seemed to me. And racism? Even less justifiable, for while the differences between men and women, boys and girls, were quite obvious and pronounced on the biological level, and even in psychological terms, the differences among the races were not that large, and from one person to another in any racial category could easily stretch the whole of human diversity.

And yet now the B.S. folks talk relentlessly of groups, of group identity, of one’s personal identity in terms of groups, and of victim groups and groups to be victimized (I mean, “oppressor” groups to be brought down and made “to pay”). Collectivism is alive and well. I have no sympathy for it any more. The whole “thinking in group terms” groupthink strikes me as pure madness.

And why “madness”? Why not use a nicer term? Well, madness is a word we usually use to describe the passionate people who are in some important way unhinged from reality.

The reality I see is that, right now, there are two federal governments: the constitutional government funded by income taxes, corporate taxes, other taxes, tariffs and “fees”; and the extra-constitutional government (consisting of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, mainly) funded by FICA and SECA and similar taxes. Interestingly, the unconstitutional government (which I designate as unconstitutional simply because, uh, none of its functions are listed in the Constitution) is basically run on a rough parity, mimic-insurance-contracts “public utility” basis, and what one gets out of the system does indeed depend on what one puts into it. The constitutional part is paid for mostly by the wealthy.

The nature of this tax situation is indeed quite amazing. The B.S.ers often yammer about “making the rich pay their fair share,” but the constitutional government is paid for almost entirely by the rich. This video explains this pretty well:

So when Bernie writes me to warn that current moves by the Republicans are designed to benefit the rich at the expense of “working families,” I am a bit skeptical:

And I’m going on the road again because we have to defeat this bill, too — a tax bill that will slash taxes for the rich, raise taxes on working families, and lay the groundwork for a massive attack on the most vulnerable people in our country.

This bill is an immoral disaster. If it passes, 13 million fewer Americans will be insured, and health care premiums will surge for tens of millions more. Further, the Republican budget cuts Medicaid by $1 trillion over 10 years and Medicare by over $400 billion. In order to give huge tax breaks to billionaires and large corporations, the Republican budget also makes enormous cuts to education, nutrition, affordable housing, and transportation — and will crush college students and college graduates struggling with debt.

In short: This budget will do incalculable harm to tens of millions of working families, women, kids, the sick, the elderly, and the poor. We have to fight this budget and stop it. That’s why I’m hitting the road with MoveOn, and why I’m asking you to support the work that we’re doing.

Then he asks for $3.

Thanks, but no thanks. I will spend $3 on a Coke. Or two. Or three.

Bernie makes no mention of how “rickety” is the current unconstitutional government sector, the Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid division. That is where most of his complaints about cuts are. But if it be unstable, financially unsound, we (if there is a “we” at all here . . . I know I have no power of choice in the matter) have basically two things to do: cut services and/or raise revenues. A normal person would probably suggest doing both, though one could see problems associated with doing either. The consequences of doing nothing? Almost unthinkable, for most people.

The fact that Bernie makes no mention of the problem, just focuses, instead, on the problem he sees with one solution, strikes me as irresponsible. If you want to know why there is such a strong divide, these day, look not merely the rhetoric on both sides, but on what they do not say. Bernie is mum about the secular disorder of the federal government, in which he serves as a prominent leader.

And his solution — make the rich pay more, not less — is even less responsible. He wishes to bail out the unconstitutional system that he himself helped strain (by voting for more benefits in the past) from the constitutional half of government, which already is paid for mainly by the very people he wants to soak further in his bailout.

I just shake my head.

I realize, this rambling blog entry is of little value. I am not really writing to convince anyone of any particular thing. Do I have any hope of convincing the progressives? No. They live in their reality, and its irreality they hope to impose on the rest of us. Meanwhile, we watch the Republicans speak only in half truths, and attempt only half-responsible reforms. I am just venting between jobs. (I have a video project to get to.)

I have never been less hopeful about the political future of the United States than I am right now. And I ascribe most of this to the unwillingness of partisans to deal with reality. Two sides and the middle are caught in a game where not seeing the whole is the most obvious feature.

It looks like the worst sort of game: not win-win; not win-lose; but lose-lose.

twv

 



* The willingness of people to become convinced of governments’ ability to manage the planetary climate while our federal government cannot even balance a budget is so astounding to me that I am, right now, at a loss for words. On that goofy subject.

† One of my readers made an astounding caveat to an earlier expression of mine about the marginal productivity theory of wages, which depended upon what seemed to me like a bizarre misreading of equilibrium theory, and a complete elision of knowledge problems —  but I confess, many of these are beyond my ken.)

IMG_3895

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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.

IMG_2391

This post first appeared on Wirkman Netizen, September 16, 2008:

The cure for statism is not more statism. And yet that seems to be the general approach of mainstream government policy.

What drives current government economic policy? Fear. Fear that letting a big institution fail would spiral everything out of control, leading, ineluctably, to chaos.

The problem with this fear-based policy is that it seems to so insulate the market-directed institutions from their normal feedback loops that such policy actually exacerbates the situation, only in a longer cycle. To prevent a near-term disaster, government bolsters up a particular company. Then, perceiving that responsibility has been undermined in the feedback system, market actors behave less responsibly, leading, down the road, to a bigger crisis than would otherwise have occurred.

I am thinking about the automobile industry and the mortgage industry, right now. Other industries provide evidence for this general perspective.

But always you have politicians intervening in the feedback systems, weakening those systems and making matters, in the long run, worse. The Rx in each case seems like only a slightly bigger dose than has gone on before, but its repercussions spread wider with each administration of the “cure.” The system becomes parasitic itself, dependent upon such cures being given at increasing doses and with increasing frequency.

It is not wise medicine. It is fear-based medicine. If people could just get over the fact that companies die just as individuals do, we would not have such nonsense. Indeed, the ruling fear of the day is fear of business death. The funny thing about this fear is that it is so amazingly inegalitarian. Some companies (big companies) are more important than others. Tens of thousands of small businesses die per year. But have one large company go, and politicians of both parties vie to save it, prop it up.

The belief that some companies are more important than others is a classic “pro-business” economic policy model. It is similar to the belief that some taxpayers are more important than others. (Democrats appear to appear to believe the broad wash of consumers are most important for “the economy”; Republicans believe that richer consumers, who invest, are more important.) What is interesting about the theory of company size importance is how bipartisan this theory is.

You can see the reasons for believing the theory. A big company goes down, and a whole bunch of people become unemployed. But you raise the minimum wage, and unemployment goes “unexpectedly” up. You raise taxes on businesses, and unemployment goes up. You increase regulation, and unemployment can go up, too. In all these other cases, though, the employers and employments are more widespread than when one single large business goes down. So, it is a matter of parallax. If you only notice the one kind of bad effect, but not the more common and widespread others, you consistently skew the system.

This sort of policy also increases the advantages that big companies have over small ones. In a freer market, smaller companies often outcompete big companies. But when you start subsidizing big companies when they fail, you basically foster a plutocratic system, since it is often the case that it is the big, wealthier companies who can afford to rent politicians at a rate that crowds out the input of smaller companies. You end up (not surprisingly) with higher concentrations of wealth.

This is rather like what Karl Marx predicted, only not free-market insolvencies in the business cycle spurring the wealth gap, but government doing so.

It is, of course, great for those people who ensconce themselves within the ranks of the big companies. Thus it is and was that Ivy Leaguers and the like keep their positions in society. The Old Boys keep their network, and keep their nodes operating, while, in the freer part of the market, the unsubsidized part, nodes pop in and out of prominence daily.

The policy of preferring big companies over small ones — of giving special treatment to the large in effect at the expense of the small — is an ancient way of conducting the state. It is not new. It is not sophisticated. It is based on systematic illusion and it is at one with how ancient empires were run, how mercantilist kingdoms were run.

It was common practice when leechcraft and bloodletting were all the rage.

It is laissez-faire that is new and sophisticated.

It is time for the advocates of laissez-faire to chuckle and rib the simpletons and their vain policies of favoritism. There is no reason for advocates of dirigisme  to get away with any sort of intellectual high ground, or any cultural pre-eminence. They should be ridiculed in a similar manner that they have ridiculed laissez-faire, for over a century. And for every jibe, offer a bit of reason to show why the high ground is where it is, in freedom’s quarter.

Statecraft is leechcraft not merely for its game of draining the blood of the market order. Statecraft is leechcraft in that it is based on out-moded notions of what makes society healthy. Freedom makes it healthy. Statism cripples it, the better to feed the insatiable demands of partisans of the state.

twv

http://wirkman.net/wordpress/?p=415

Orang malu

N.B. A few alterations of the above post have been made in this re-posting, to fix typos and remove some infelicities of style. No new thoughts have been introduced.

This is just another hastily-made rehash of my basic views of government and society, something I still do on a fairly regular basis; I repost it here mostly because I like the title. And that one of the themes, of long-cycle instability, just does not get enough play in policy discussion. (Though now that Western civilization approaches crisis, this sort of thing is increasing, no?)

 

Santa's Gifts

Gift-giving can be a kind of revenge, or of affront: an expression, in either case, of the will to power. It is definitely not a univocally benevolent act. Charitable acts are often expressions of the starkest egoisms.

I noticed this as a child, amidst the mad scramble of wintertime celebrations: of Christmas wishes and expectations dashed and fulfilled and then undermined; of the sad parade of gift misfires and recipient regrets.

But perhaps sentimentality shields us from learning the lessons under the mistletoe. There are many other occasions for such reflection. Indeed, one need look no further than the native Americans in the area where I live. They engaged in a rivalry of benefaction. The point of the Potlatch was to demonstrate tremendous wealth. The recipients were honor-bound to, in turn, honor the benefactor. Indeed, it was almost a trade: goods for praise.

The white folk who came to the area, and not a few anthropologists, saw the Potlatch culture as amazingly, brazenly egoistic. It seemed indecent, all about puffing up the efficacious leader as chief, and praising the productive chiefdom over the under-productive.

But later anthropologists noticed that this egoism led, as if by an invisible hand, to serve as a redistributionist system for the whole region. If a salmon run was insufficient one year, another group in a more blessed region would help out, bestowing bounty. For the honor of it.

But the invisible hand has not been so kind in our age.

By adding a force of law and regularity to the redistributionist* emprise, denizens of modernity have aimed to supplant emergent order with over-arching planned order. And, when this happens, the “law of unintended consequences” plays not so much an invisible ordering role, but a disordering one.

Whether or not this slapback/blowback effect is overwhelmingly negative, I will leave for other occasions. But there is something we can conclude from the start, regardless of a weighing of outcomes: support for tax-funded state “charitable” aid is never wholly charitable in origin. Indeed, we should expect to witness a whole heckuva lot of Pharasaic posturing and moral preening by those who favor extensive “aid” to this group or that.

And we do.

As I see it, there are many advocates of “cheap charity” in today’s ideological combat. Proponents of increased levels of aid can take immediate satisfaction of “at least I care.” Even if, in nearly all cases, the proposals are far from certain to be enacted (and thus quite inexpensive to make), and the financial burden of the aid likely to descend mostly on some richer others (and thus being almost of zero cost to advance), the advantages in “honor” and social status are quite certain and immediate.

It seems obvious to me, when I look at the world of policy advocacy: state aid proponents’ lack of real beneficent interest is clear as ice on a winter pond . . . or cold heart. How better to explain their alarm at the very thought of means-testing “welfare”? Or considering any negative effect of state aid? If they really cared, being careful with limited resources would be foremost in their minds.

I usually suspect advocates of dirigiste statism to be little more than sub rosa power lusters and tribal bigots. I rarely find examples that prove otherwise.

Indeed, one of the things noticed by many among the new wave of African-American (and other “people of color”) libertarians and limited-government conservatives is the condescension of the rich white “liberals” and their assumption of incompetence, stupidity, folly and general witlessness among darker-hued populations in America. This reaches an apogee of ridiculousness in the cause of voter registration, which progressives have (naturally!) racialized:

It is hard not to conjure up from the chthonian collective unconscious a terrifying charge: that the welfare state has succeeded in turning large swaths of middle-class and rich white people into slave-owners by proxy — folks quite proud of their support “of support” . . . for dependent populations . . . dependent populations who seem to be valued as less-than-human. You know, like slaves in antebellum days.

Perhaps some day soon a once-obvious truth will once again gain some credence. Too much help is too much. Yes. There can be too much of a good thing. Aid is one of those good things that the “too much of” can prove disastrous.

Alternatively, with natural checks built into redistribution — the limits of charitable imagination and empathy, the hint of indeterminacy that ego-driven generosity provides — an invisible hand process can indeed yield wide social benefits even in situations not based on explicit trade.

But the sad truth seems to be that combining those all-too-human ego-driven pseudo-benevolences with legal plunder (taxation) and sanctioned tribal warfare (political and ideological contest) means, yes, we should expect long-cycle negative social instabilities and and rising anti-sociality.

The Invisible Hand slaps back.

twv

* By “redistribution” I mean distribution after the fact of initial appropriation, and outside the scope of explicit voluntary trade. Contrary to recent libertarian theorists who object to the term redistribution on the grounds that, under laissez faire “there is no distribution, just trade,” I counter with this: all allocation of goods is distribution, which is an act, either of giving or lending, or abandoning; or giving in exchange for return gift (trade), lending in return for remuneration (rent and usury), or re-appropriating once-abandoned property. All these are forms of distribution. And by norming initial acquisition and trade, I see giving without exchange, and taking without exchange, as redistributive.

American Statesmen

What if the Trump presidency gets so crazy that Congress bucks up and starts performing its constitutional duties?

You know, like

  • being in charge of when and where and with whom to go to war;
  • the budget and debt;
  • all major policy decisions, for that matter; and
  • riding herd over Executive branch performance?

An effective House Speaker or Senate president pro tempore could change the course of everything.

In the early 19th century, arguably the most effective leaders (the Jackson and Van Buren alliance aside) never held the presidency: Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun.

Technically, it could happen.

Unlikely, considering the decadence of modern popular politics . . . but still!

twv

img_3595-1One of the reasons I refused to vote for Trump: the fear that he would escalate the War on Drugs as well as the much-less ballyhooed (but perhaps even more pernicious) War on Property. And now it has begun in earnest.

“U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatens to make himself one of the biggest threats to your liberty,” writes Paul Jacob. “President Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General just promised to encourage police departments to seize the personal property (cars, houses, cash) of criminal suspects.”

IMG_3918And the new Attorney General has delivered. Sessions has rolled out his new policy, claiming that “President Trump has directed this Department of Justice to reduce crime in this country, and we will use every lawful tool that we have to do that,” Sessions said. “We will continue to encourage civil asset forfeiture whenever appropriate in order to hit organized crime in the wallet.”

But the vast majority of civil asset forfeitures are directed against people who have never been charged with a crime.

It is normal Americans who have been “hit in the wallet.” Besides, as Paul Jacob put it, “No one is a criminal, before the law, until proved in court. Taking away property to make it harder for suspects to defend themselves — which is what RICO laws and other Drug War reforms intended to do — is obviously contrary to the letter of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments as well as the spirit of the U.S. Constitution.”

This is a complete return to police state practices, an amazing flouting of the rule of law, an affront to both liberal civilization and conservative caution.

The fact that our police and local governments engage in any practice that confiscates property without trial is so egregious it is hard to know where to begin.

Though Trump’s AG, Jeff Sessions, is the one advancing this practice, it is worth noting that Obama’s first AG, Eric Holder, demonstrated his sole restraint in a minor pulling back from “adoption,” the not-very-common process of taking over confiscation prerogatives from state and local governments. Reason’s C. J. Ciamarella explains that politic jurisdictional finagling pretty well . . . and the “logic” of the share-out spoils system, too: “Law enforcement groups say asset forfeiture is a vital tool to combat drug trafficking and other organized crime, and they argue the equitable sharing program provides essential funding for police equipment. The body armor used by police at the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, one attendee at Wednesday’s meeting noted, was bought using equitable sharing funds.”

I have a cheaper, more Constitutional solution that may very well have prevented the extraordinarily high Pulse body count: allow nightclub (and other public business) personnel to conceal carry the weapons needed to take down mad jihadists. That is, reëstablish gun rights everywhere — definitely not rely upon militarized police phalanxes.

We have every reason to be disgusted with Sessions and Trump. But let us not forget that the Obama Administration was actually quite bad on this, too — as it was on so much else. Over the last ten years $3.2 billion in assets were confiscated from people not even charged with a crime.

Think about it, then ask yourself: what would Thomas Jefferson do?

One thing, he wouldn’t be voting Democrat or Republican.

Jefferson started a new party over a similarly insane and unconstitutional federal government practice.

What shall it be, then? A “Liberal Whig” Party? A Responsibilitarian Party? The Receivership?

twv

N.B. Image of Sessions is by James Gill and has been nabbed from Paul Jacob’s Common Sense site. Below is a screenshot of a post by one of my pro-Trump friends on Facebook:

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Screenshot 2017-07-19 18.19.24

The “Elio” seemed so promising. Named for Paul Elio, the Dreamer-in-Chief, the three-wheel concept is beguiling; the design, elegant. But the dream may be over.

Elio Motors was funded largely by advance reservations, a risky scheme in itself. And the delivery date for the three-wheeled totally-enclosed “cars” has been postponed several times, ultimate production delivery nowhere in sight.

As of January, the company was over a hundred million in the red, with no firm date for the production units, and nothing but a few test vehicles delivered, according to Jalopnik. Cedric Glover, the mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana, where the factory resides, insists that early consumer-investors are “waiting for nothing”:

If you look at Paul Elio from 2009, certainly by the time you get to 2011 and 2012, it’s clear that what he is in fact is a dreamer and a schemer. It leads one to ask, what was the actual motivation behind committing these facilities, this equipment to Paul Elio and the Elio operation.

Easy to answer: hope. Though I suppose it could have been a scheme, a fraud, from the beginning.

Trouble is, it is the nature of start-ups that the difference, on paper, between a fraud and a hopeful long shot is a mere hair’s width . . . right up until the moment of success — or failure. This is one reason why government regulation of start-ups is such a bad idea. It should be up to entrepreneurs, bankers and investors to provide the desired checks and balances.

But the story has not stood still. Government demands obeisance. According to KSLA News 12, dateline Jefferson Parish, Louisiana’s “Motor Vehicle Commission is accusing Elio Motors of operating as a manufacturer/dealer of recreational products without a license.”

First I heard of a license, and I’ve been following the story for some time. I wonder when Mr. Elio heard about that license.

The panel decided during a hearing Monday in Metairie to fine Elio Motors $545,000 for offering reservations for the future purchase of its 3-wheel vehicles.

The commission also ordered Elio Motors to obtain both licenses to manufacture and deal in Louisiana and to place all refundable Elio Motors reservations into a trust account within 60 days.

This is awfully late in the game to try to secure some exit strategy for investors. Indeed, the whole thing looks more like a simple shake-down, or perhaps a pretense to prosecute for fraud. That is, government-as-usual.

I sniff something more, though: the influence of competitor greed. As the company made in its statement informing of an appeal to the recent ruling, it makes no sense now to grab funds from the production process. It is sure to doom the whole project. Which I would not be shocked to learn is precisely what a lot of other businesses want.

Which would not be unheard of.

This is how it works, folks: licensing and registration is instituted to help current businesses keep out upstarts.

Par for the course for mercantilism, protectionism, progressivism or whatever we call the modern corporate state. The sanctimonious tone to the mayor’s cavils, calling the company founder a “dreamer and a schemer,” is a little hard to take. Where does the mayor think new products come from? Other mayors? They come from dreamers, schemers, wheeler-dealers.

I understand — there was a goofy odor to the whole emprise from the start. Though excited about the concept, I wondered at the initial promised purchase price, less than half of what the in-production Polaris Slingshot (see  below) goes for. Further, funding by consumer investment (pre-order reservation charges) is so . . . “not done” . . . except that it is: GoFundMe and Kickstarter and all those other crowd-funding operations have proven how well this sort of endeavor can go. Perhaps the fact that Elio didn’t use one of those hubs suggests the fatal glitch.

It is worth noting that automobile guru Eric Peters suggested last year another problem besetting the Elio: it is not an “electric car,” so it got very little play in the news. There is indeed a cultural conspiracy (that is, no real conspiracy at all; just groupthink) to snub innovations in internal combustion tech while promoting even goofier (and much-subsidized) “alt-fuel” auto technology.

Had the major media not fixed its collectivist head so firmly up its collective colon, perhaps Paul Elio would not be in his current predicament. And maybe, just maybe, we would be seeing the Elio on the roads by now.

twv

 

Polaris-Slingshot

a thesis sans argument*:

IMG_3872Amusingly, what makes the infamous and much-castigated “social Darwinists” conceivably Darwinistic is not so much the theory of natural selection, especially construed as a “survival of the fittest” by way of a ruthless weeding out of weak individuals, but, instead, a reliance upon sexual selection as the basis of human breeding. By defending a dispersed responsibility for begetting and rearing children, the individualists** completely relied upon individuals to choose their own mates and determine their own fates, as well as that of following generations.

This quasi-Darwinistic social vision of the individualists was challenged and replaced by a new hard-headed view of society — in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — that of the social engineers associated with Fabian Socialism and American Progressivism. Their new vision was not so much “Darwinian” as “Galtonian,” in that it carried social engineering to the extreme of coercive eugenics.

This did not mimic either of Darwin’s great contributions, Natural Selection or Sexual Selection.

The principle to which the new social engineers appealed was quite old-fashioned and understood by folks prior to Darwin: Artificial Selection. They insisted upon direct human control of the process of selecting qualities to breed into future generations. Sure, the selection criteria “were scientific” — just as breeders of cattle and dogs were careful in their arrangements of livestock mating — but in no way dispersed.

Their idea was to concentrate (centralize) choice (or at the very least the “breeding out” criteria and enforcement) into the hands of experts. It was thus sexual selection turned artificial.

An old idea, to some extent (since marriages were historically subject to arrangements by clans and courts, to encourage the inheritance of some traits, usually non-biological traits such as wealth and power), but now more expicitly statist, and in theory defocused from families and focused wider onto society as a whole. To be managed by the State.

Yes, social engineering and eugenics were indeed promoted as “scientific” during the heady, early days of Progressivism, and Darwin’s name was often . . . taken in vain.

Darwin had nothing to do with the outrageous notion of applying Artificial Selection to human populations at the macro-social (societal) level. His theory of sexual selection indicated, instead, a more dispersed process that explained adaptation and speciation.

The eugenicists of Progressivism were engaging, on the other hand, in a scientistic misappropriation of Darwin’s legacy, and it was the earlier individualists, relying instead mostly on invisible hand processes of nature and society, who were closer to the spirit of evolutionary science.

But, in fairness, the eugenics movement had its scientific backers. The term eugenics itself was coined by Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin once removed. And Galton was no slouch, revolutionizing statistics and the research of inheritance.

Tipping the hat to Galton, honesty and precision suggests an alternative to “social Darwinism,” societal Galtonism.***

Resting upon Galton’s obsessions, the statist eugenicists donned the mantle of science. Within a half century of the eugenics heyday, progressive intellectuals, under the guise of “liberalism,” rewrote the history and jiggered with the concepts to obscure the enormity that their parent generation had embraced whole-heartedly. And, twist of the proverbial knife, they castigated the earlier individualists as cruel “social Darwinists” when the real crimes — their tradition’s — were far more directly inhumane and unchristian, and more plausibly a misappropriation of evolutionary theory.

Politics and ideology are full of droll reversals of fortune.

The memes that survive must serve functions, yes, but they are selected, artificially selected by humans with interests. And “social Darwinism” has served progressives for a long time, helping them bury the sorry history of their own movement by deflecting to others the apt charge of scientism.

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* This post is admittedly mostly just assertion. But I hope the reader will forgive me for floating the notion before I find time to defend it. Maybe I should do a Kickstarter campaign to fund my elaboration of this and allied ideas!

** I am mostly referring to Herbert Spencer here, though the Americans John Fiske and William Graham Sumner might also fit into this category as relevant.

*** A Google search called up just one comments-section coinage of “social Galtonism,” but “social,” to my ear, more properly applies to micro- and meso-levels of human interaction than the macro level, so the uglier adjective “societal” makes a quantum of sense.

Americans are over-schooled and under-educated.*

Extensive research is not required to demonstrate this . . . though, happily, that extensive research has been done. (See the recent work of Charles Murray, for starters.) All one really needs is a few minutes spent with a modal student, whether it be high-schooler, collegian, or even college grad. Such folk usually disappoint. Only rarely do they impress.

I noticed this when I was in high school. I wondered, first, whether the prime reason for such limited educational success was not far from view. Much of school life is spent spinning gears, wasting time on superfluous activities just to keep the inmates from revolting and the parents from having to pay for babysitters.

What I figured next, and came to realize with increasing clarity as time went on, is that the only education worth the title is mastery. If you haven’t mastered something, you haven’t learned it.

Now, it is true that there is “education for exposure.” Everyone should be exposed to grammar, rhetoric, great art, history, athletics, mathematics, science, the world’s religions, metaphysical speculation, engineering, map-making, and how to use a computer. To name just a few. Realistically, only a few of us will master more than a handful of these. Nevertheless, we should expect each person above the level of a mental defective to master basic arithmetic, reading and writing in at least one language, and the use of some basic tools, like the automobile and the computer.

Recognizing the limits of possible mastery, we should nevertheless promote the achievements of our civilization in such a way that everyone with aptitude can go on to master at least one domain of the culture, such as music or science.

But at no point should our promotion of exposure to the best preclude students from achieving the best. Nor should we trick them into thinking that extended exposure amounts to mastery. It does not. Mastery in any domain takes practice, persistence, and sometimes a little pain. (Occasionally a great deal of pain. It depends on the discipline, and upon the student.)

It’s easy to look at the last few generations of schooling and see where teachers and administrators went wrong. But it’s quite another thing to change it. Why? Because the errors of the age are closely tied to the means of production and distribution of the goods in question, how they are bundled in supply and in demand.

In a word, the errors of education are largely related to the fact that it is government that is in control. Indeed, if present levels of education were supplied on the market, and not by government, no one to the left of Arlen Specter would tolerate the institutions; the widespread cry would be revolution, now!

But, as it is, schooling in America and around the world is largely a government emprise, and the radical critiques of current education are not primarily from the left — though the left does have its august radical critics, such as Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich, to name the most interesting and the most over-respected, respectively.

The trouble with most critiques, however, is their narrowness. And the unifying feature of current educational failures coalesces, it seems to me, around one idea: the problem of supplying an allegedly uniform good to a vast diversity of learners.

The whole culture of learning and teachings needs to grow up. It needs to hit the market. It needs to spread out, diversify.

There are many types of learners, and many types of teachers. One cannot — and, therefore, should not — pretend that one simple educational change will change everything for the better. Only by recognizing the diversity of students will education substantially improve, and by “recognition” I don’t mean “establishing a general consensus in the teachers’ colleges.” (The teachers colleges are probably one of the main institutional impediments to the advancement of learning in general, anyway.) By recognition I mean “seeing opportunities and filling them,” in the entrepreneurial sense. Only when teachers become part entrepreneur, and aim to fill in the gaps themselves, in a distributed, vibrant culture of learning, will this happen.

And this will almost certainly not happen until the public schools become as the dinosaurs: Defunct.

This scares natural conservatives. I know. There is always a presumptive case for the status quo. But remember: Public schools are as close to socialistic institutions as we can get in America, and it should surprise no conservative (natural or otherwise) that socialism doesn’t work well. Socialism, which has been tied since its early years to a sort of moralistic militarism, only works if those who participate in it give up their individual courses and march, march, march to the uniform beat of a designated drummer. Ludwig von Mises showed long ago why socialism cannot provide a wide dispersal of goods, matching actual, individual human needs. So why should we expect our public schools to produce excellence in education to the diversity of its students? Instead, we get a few groups (the studious, usually, and the willing-to-go-along-to-get-along crowd) advance while vast hordes of students stagnate.

Many people I’ve talked with balk at my negative assessment. They point to rising test scores in some institutions, high marks for “their school,” and the like. Teachers, often, become especially incensed — except for a perceptive few, the ones who remember what high standards are.

Perhaps not coincidentally, high standards themselves have been the chief casualty of the past 50 years of American schooling. The saddest truth of the age is that what was once the goal for every elementary school graduate is now the challenge to provide a mere majority of high school grads: Basic proficiency in English and math. Colleges and universities have had to add on remedial course after course, just to make up for the painful-to-witness failures of public schools around the country.

Most Americans are utterly ignorant of high standards, though. They have been educated in the system that has abused them. They only remember a small portion of what they have been exposed to, and do not know, for example, that in writing the art of rhetoric was elaborated thousands of years ago, and that the tools discovered by ancient masters can be learned, today, by most seventh graders — with pleasure, even, if guided by an enthusiastic teacher who is also not a dullard. But most of us only learned a half dozen of the major figures of speech (hyperbole, simile, metaphor . . . that’s about all I was taught), a small percentage of the very helpful ancient list. Par for the shoddy course.

Since World War II, much of the attention of education promoters has been waylaid. Noting that college schooling greatly affects wage earning potential, promoters have pushed college schooling. As such. Instead of insisting on instruction in the skills and knowledge that potential workers might need, they have promoted “college schooling” in and of itself, as the major means to achieve that magic ability to earn extra dollars in the marketplace (which, alas, also includes growing ranks of the functionary class in government). This promotion has not been a matter of boosterism only. It’s not been confined to public pronouncements of encouragement, all to send kids to college. No. The promotion has been a major intervention into the higher education market, such as financial assistance in a wide variety of forms, including outright subsidies to both students and institutions.

In a manner similar to the recent boom and bust in the mortgage market, this massive government intervention has resulted in an artificial boom in higher education. Far more students than necessary have gone to college. And far too much respect has been paid to the sheepskin itself. It’s bad enough that UPS and the U.S. Postal Service is filled with doctorates in philosophy and liberal arts — it might be worse that our businesses are filling up with MBAs and our news outlets with journalist majors.

Worse, you ask? How can education be worse? Well, by being miseducation. The lowering of standards and the pushing of junk science and fake mastery into areas like business and administration has had wide effects in the real world. Indeed, for my money, no fact seems more pregnant with meaning than the fact that George W. Bush was our first president to graduate from college with an MBA.

Brummagem learning characterizes whole domains of today’s educated classes. Women’s studies and English departments have been corrupted by idiotic yammerings of neo-Marxist theorists and what Richard Kostelanetz calls (perhaps with a ribbit ready, under in his cheek) frogspeak (the “critical theory” of postmodernists, heirs especially to the French Academy, but also to Germany’s Frankfurt School). Economics, particularly the pseudo-sciences of macro-economics — has been over-mathemetized (or mis-mathemetized) to glass-bead game proportions, so that the best students have “learned” reality-warping nonsense about risk — to the chagrin of nearly everyone, today.

How does one unlearn folly?

Well, that’s not a widely studied subject.

Which, in itself, might tell you something about any number of academic disciplines, from philosophy to psychology to political science.

One of the great errors of public goods theory is to suppose that, if everyone needs a set of goods A, then these goods must all be supplied from one source. That’s the theory of public schooling, at its erroneous core. But we all need to eat food. Food comes to us in wide variety, and yet there is no advantage in massive government intervention to assure that everyone eat to a certain level.

If there were such a program, that level would — I hazard — fall over time, till massive starvation were the norm. And the great, illustrious professors of feeding and agriculture and allied sciences would fret over how to raise standards so that children, at the very least, all got a minimum quality of food.

The alternative method of improving the level of consumption of food would be to get government out of the setting of standards, raising of funds, and organization of production of foodstuffs altogether. And, over time, the standards of consumption would rise, just as, over these last 30 years, the standards for computing have risen. (I use the example of computing and allied technical instruments for the simple reason that this has been the most astoundingly progressive markets while, at the same time, the least regulated and subsidized of markets, too.)

So, there’s no reason to argue, now, over the identification of the very highest — or next achievable higher — standard. The relevant standards will emerge in a free marketplace.

Still, those of us who know something about a particular domain of learning, we have much to contribute to the teaching of that domain. And, were the market opened up, we could contribute.

The future of education will likely look almost nothing like what we have now; the institutional make-up will almost certainly be radically different.

Even if, right now, free-marketers argue back and forth about the relative merits and demerits of institutions like public schools, private schools, home-schooling, and charter schools, and various instruments of reform like vouchers and tax credits and the like, what people in markets will eventually supply to meet the extremely varied demand that will necessarily exist for educational services will be mostly unpredictable. We do not know which solutions will prove most successful on the market. I would guess that virtual schooling and private tutoring will be the most effective wedge to improve education, and that large schools may (if we’re lucky) soon prove themselves dinosaurs. But I could be wrong. Maybe private schools will prove successful. Maybe co-operatives will dominate the landscape.

But, no matter what the mix — and no matter what vast, broad networks of educators and students evolve — if actual supplies meet with actual, negotiated demands, then we can expect a return to learning in our culture.

In my final year of socialized schooling, the principal of the high school stopped by the Current World Problems class to give a little speech. He said that the job of the school we had wiled away the bulk of our waking lives, up to that point, was not to teach us, but to help us “learn how to learn.”

My immediate reaction was: “Boy, does this man live in an illusion.” Few of my classmates had mastered anything like that skill. Had the brighter ones done so, they might have been tempted to learn outside of the college system (which most of them did attend). And had the less academically inclined learned such a skill, they might have shown, in their later lives, a glint of excellence hinted at in the current academic cliche: “helping students become ‘life-long learners.’”

Life-long learning is, indeed, a desirable capacity. That it has become a cliché of modern education mavens may be the only salvable element of their theory. But, like earlier goals like “socialization” and “citizenship” and what-have-you, it rarely flourishes in its fullest and most admirable sense. Down-to-business concerns somehow usurp attention.

Indeed, modern schooling has fostered the illusion that exposure counts for mastery. And this, in turn, has led thousands of barely-trained college grads to think that they can enter a government bureau or join a social cause and, from their limited experience but seemingly impressive curriculum vitae, can easily fix the messes others have caused . . . and merely by writing a new law or enacting a new program.

It turns out that mastery requires the acquisition of many skills that cannot be articulated into simple textbook formulae. There is a difference between “knowing how” and “knowing that,” and the modern academy has encouraged many a lettered dilettante into thinking that, because he has studied something, he is now fit to rule that something.

The modern state and modern schools have grown together, in tandem, the one driving the other. Now that I think of it, I’m not sure which has driven the other. Call it a dialectical process, and then wonder: How can the one be fixed without the other, also, similarly and simultaneously, be subjected to such transformation?

twv

* Retrieved from my notebooks; dated September 12, 2010. A little over a week later I wrote on a related theme for The Libertarian Standard, with the first sentence of the above repeated exactly in the new piece, though not given priority.

According to rumors, some of the President’s Goldman-Sachs economy czars gave him a good talking-to.

Donald Trump had bolstered his political standing, in part, for pushing two policy positions, both of which resonate with many (though not necessarily the same) Americans:

1. Trade deficits are bad . . . and are caused by a too-strong dollar.

2. Taxes on businesses and investments should be cut to encourage growth.

The Goldman-Sachs folks informed him (the rumor mill has it) that doing the second (2) would likely subvert the first (1) by strengthening the dollar.

Economist Bob Murphy (on Contra Krugman) notes that Trump’s lack of understanding here is hardly surprising, since only by studying economics would one see the connection, follow the chain of cause and effect that far. One would not learn this “by running a business.”

Most of everybody’s economic understanding and policy is on this level, because economics is not necessary to success in most enterprises.

Arguably, lack of economic understanding has long been a prerequisite for success in politics. People like to hear simple untruths stated boldly.

twv