Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thank My Lucky Stars

The approach of New Year’s has made me reflect upon how lucky I have been.  I would thank our Creator but that might offend the politically sensitive.  I will just thank … the stars.  That can offend no one. And why am I so full of thanks?  Because I was lucky enough to live most of my life during a period in which the temperature of the world was perfect.  Ideal.  Not just here in (dare I say it) sunny Florida but everywhere.  Everyplace.  At all times.  Day.  Night.  Morning.  Evening.  In all places. In Hawaii.  In Siberia.  The temperature has been ideal—or at least I have thought that.
But beneath the surface —clandestinely — this ideal temperature has been rising .  Perhaps one degree during the last one hundred years. The reason is clear.  A few hundred years ago, and especially during the last hundred or so years, coal and oil have energized most of the world leading to obscene levels of wealth and prosperity for millions and millions of people.   Freeing us from poverty and removing us from hovels into high rises might seem a wonderful thing.  That is a naively superficial view.  Coal and oil energy —the ability to do work on an unprecedented scale—is, through the production of greenhouse gases, destroying this Eden we inhabit.  The temperature of the Earth will rise as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit over the next thirty years.  For knowledge of this fact we can thank today’s Jeremiahs of climate change.  These prophets do not rely on stone tablets or an Ark of the Covenant.  Their divining rod is the computer model. These mysterious strings of code cannot be understood by mere mortals.  In fact almost no one even knows who creates these models. Numbers are feed in and startling predictions come out.  To the uninitiated that is all that matters.  No matter that these divine strings of code cannot “predict” the past.  No matter that predictions of the future made twenty years ago were not fulfilled.  No matter that the temperature has been basically constant for the last fifteen years while greenhouse gas levels have risen. To doubt these models is heresy.  
And we are doomed.  Unless… Our only salvation is to go back in time.  Can you see an America populated with two hundred and fifty million teepees?  Each with its own cozy little wood fire.  No cars. No planes. Not even horses, not just because they would remind us of our embarrassing European roots, but because 250 million horses would produce greenhouse gases.  Like the Native Americans we rudely displaced we can walk wherever we want to go.  Fishing in pristine streams. Hunting the buffalo. And enjoying the ideal temperature we have restored to the planet.
Happy New Year!  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jihadists and the American Left

They say politics makes strange bedfellows.  The same must be true of ideologies.  The love affair of the American left with Islam, particularly aggressive, Jihadist Islam, on the surface seems strange and certainly strained.  First evidenced with Jimmy Carter’s return of Khomeini  to Iran —now there’s a bit of lefty lunacy we are still paying for! — it continues with the ground zero mosque and the attendant “America is intolerant” screech that fits into the left’s view of America.  That both the left and the Jihadists are the most intolerant beings on Earth bothers neither of them in the least when it comes to hypocrisy.  To both a lie for the cause is no lie at all.  Merely a device.

The basis for this kinship between the Jihadist and the left is their common disregard for liberty along with their messianic view of the state.  To the Jihadists the state and religion are one and are essentially tyrannical in their disregard for individual liberty.  To the left the state owns everything  and everybody.  Both see the world as a one way street with them directing traffic.  That is what explains the comfort zone in which the two operate.

Of course the left, since its inception at the French Revolution, has been anti-clerical and anti-religious, which seems to conflict with the Jihadists obsession with religion.    But note that contemporary liberalism (as communism was before it) is a religion.  And it is also a religion that merges religious belief with the idea of the state.  All of liberals’ talk about “separation of church and state” is really only about their hatred of Christianity which they see as the basis of the western civilization they despise (what Arnold Toynbee called Western Christendom).  In this regard both the left and the Jihadist share a common enemy but their cooperation is not merely tactical.  Ideologically they both view the state as messianic.  They are both one-wayers —there is a one and right way for everyone to behave and think. And they know what it is.

Note that in this discussion ideology is the subject.  Politically the American left is an agglomeration of aggrieved groups, many of which (such as homosexuals) are high on the list of those the Jihadists will merrily behead when the moment of reckoning arrives.  But the politics of the left are distinct from its core ideology which is essentially Marxists.  In the end including gays, lesbians, transgender persons, environmentalist tree lovers and the rest are only politics and at any moment in time the left will happily throw them under the bus in exchange for political power that converts their messianic view of the state into a hard cold reality.

With respect to the Jihadists:  in the long run there will be a reckoning.  If the Jihadist prevail,  they will cut the heads off the fringe left but happily accept the core believers in the state.  In the meanwhile the left and the Jihadists will cooperate in their warfare against freedom and liberty.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Socialism 1: The Many Ugly Faces of Socialism — Would Socialism by any Other Name be Just as Evil?

The 20th Century was the great laboratory of socialism in its many manifestations and expressions.  Totalitarian socialism as seen in Soviet Communism, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, China, Indo-China including Cambodia, and Cuba. Socialism with a velvet glove, the more benevolent despotism of Fascist Spain and Peronist Argentina, democratic (electoral) socialism (majoritarian socialism), trade-union socialism, crony capitalism based on the marriage between mega-businesses and politicians,  along with a myriad of other  despotisms in Africa and elsewhere.  Many are in the trash bin of history, either discarded via internal revolution or wiped out by foreign armies as in Germany and Italy —or even “voted out” by some degree or for some time as in Thatcher Britain.  One could write a huge detailed history of this phenomenon.  Count the dead bodies.  The starvations and deprivations.  Imprisonments.  Tortures. Poverty.  Detail the periodic demands that the next five year plan produce its intended results. Catalogue the bitter disappointments along with the immense losses of individual liberty.

Oddly, many seem to have slept through the entire century.  We are not in the hope filled age of John Reed or the naïve age of Woody Guthrie.  We have seen the results.  We might excuse some of the young —especially in America —who have for the most part been subjected to historical lobotomies by the media and educational institutions that seek to produce citizens whose whole historical view of the world begins with the arrival of personal consciousness decorated with tiny vignettes about past racism, sexism, homophobia and the rapaciousness of entrepreneurial capitalists.

Among the various expressions of socialism there is a dreary sameness.  From the vantage point of  the early 21st Century one has to wonder: why would anyone want to try this again?  Why would one want to repeat these horrendous mistakes.

In all of its forms socialism is driven by a few central principles.  In a sense it embodies one aspect of the eternal battle between personal liberty and tyranny —between good and evil.  What are these principles?  (1) Individuals are statistics.  In as far as they exists at all they are inputs into the calculus of collective good. Hence, if a few million have to die for the common good, then so be it. The old phrase, “You can’t have an omelet without cracking a few eggs,” comes to mind. There is one exception to this denial of the individual. The maximum leader: Stalin, Mao, Fidel, the personality of the moment that embodies the socialist ideal. This apparent contradiction that there is no individual and the worship of a few individuals will be explored in another piece.  (2) The state is the only legitimate source of power and is the ultimate owner of everything.  The right to violence. Property. Wealth.  Human labor.  Language. Thought.  (3) There are special people, what Sowell refers to as the elites, who know all the answers —and even the questions.  They know what is best for you. Your family.  Your country. In the US they are graduates of the best universities.  Typically the practical levers of power are manipulated by nameless, faceless embodiments of what is best, the apparatchiks who produce all the minutiae that comprise the net that paralyzes the vast “masses” in rules designed to make their lives better in some collective sense.  (4) The abandonment of most or all of the rule of law which is replaced by whim and the lust for power.  Ironically these aspects of the human character are much more likely to be blatantly expressed in a statist society than in a capitalist one —contrary to sloganized claims of leftists statists, bureaucrats wield power in much more capricious ways than businessmen and those at the top in socialist regimes have more grandiose aspirations to power than the most imaginative capitalists.

In what manner do these manifestations of the socialist idea vary? (1)They differ with respect to how those wielding the immense power of the state are selected.  Force of arms.  Revolution (often permanent revolution)  A committee.  Electoral or pseudo-electoral processes associated with various forms of majoritarian socialism/statism.  (2) The depth, pervasiveness and intensity of ideology as an instrument of state policy.  Fascism, Nazism, Communism are faux religions that completely define the ideal man.  Deviants are dealt with harshly. Is political correctness much different? Isn’t contemporary liberalism a religion as much as an agglomeration of injured factions? (3) Methods of coercion employed vary.  Under Stalin and Hitler there was no rule of law—although the illusion of law was sometimes used as in the thirties show trials.  Simply men with boots and guns. In electoral democracies the state monopoly over violence is almost always clothed in legalistic garb that refers to this laws or that law. For the fifty-one percenters (majoritarian socialists) the rule of law is the rule of the 51%.  This is in stark contrast to the rule of law in a constitutional republic  The American founders were well aware of the tendency of democracy to degenerate into majoritarian socialism. (4) Maturity of socialist expression. As there are “many paths to socialism” there appear to be many degrees  of socialism.  To those taking this position,  what you see isn’t really “socialism” until a certain (never defined) level of intensity is reached.  This is the approach used by those who say actions by the Obama regime (along with an ultra liberal Congress and Senate) such as taking over “the health care system”, two car companies, a huge insurance company and minute regulation of financial markets aren’t socialism. And are not its sister, crony capitalism.  However, even considering these “fine points”,  the direction is always the same.  Toward the consolidation of power, the placing of decision making in the hands of the elites, a dramatic reduction in the paths to success, the denial of individual liberty and its required shadow, the rule of law including the law of contracts and the protection of private property.

All these manifestations of socialism have a dreary sameness.  The great irony is that any of the aspects of socialism mentioned here can be passed off as new ideas that are a basis for hope and change.  One can excuse university professors.  They are the bubble boys of the intellectual world who still think that Cuba is a paradise (the more sanguine pronounce that in just a few years Cuba will turn around).  And there are the university young. On the campus on which I teach in 2008 there were tables manned by young smiling faces over placards proclaiming “Hope and Change”.  Perhaps these victims of  historical lobotomies conducted by the previously mentioned professoriat can be excused.

 How can anyone else be so silly?  Is history truly dead?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Socialism 3: The Immorality of Majoritarian Socialism

Love thy neighbor. Help thy neighbor. When these sentiments and actions are voluntary one might argue that they are sublime expressions of the human character. When a man gives the fruit of his labor to another by free choice that is indeed a transcendent act.

Liberal leftists transform charity into venal theft when they use the police power of the state to remove the fruit of one man’s labor and “give” it to those more “deserving”. In this involuntary “transaction” the motives can be pure or calculated. The do-gooder seeks to help the less fortunate with other people’s money and feels better about himself. The calculus of leaders in this wholesale theft is subject to baser motives. Divide and conquer is the tactic. The ammunition is greed and envy and reversal. Those who wish to keep what they have earned are greedy and they are few. Those who wish to grab the property of the few are not greedy —they are deserving —and they are many. The political justification for this is simple: 51% can do whatever they wish. Can take whatever they wish. Can divide the spoils in any manner they wish. To avoid this kind of governmental brigandage the US once had a constitution.

Basically majoritarian socialism (the rule of the 51% —or in Obama’s case the rule of the 53%) is no different than any of the other manifestations of socialism. The state owns everything. We the people are merely the temporary custodians of what we have earned. Now instead of Nazi jackboots or Stalin’s police what we have is a polite lynch mob lead by those dedicated to helping the deserving poor. In the end their cronies will be in the positions of power that dole out the goodies to those who kow-tow in the appropriate way. Note that those who cry we must level the playing field never level themselves. For the leaders of this anti-constitutional coup d'état this is all about power. The lust for power. For the mob this is all about greed and envy.

I do not understand why conservative political leaders do not explicitly talk about this. (Conservative thinkers such as Thomas Sowell do but this will never have the moral force of words spoken by political leaders during campaigns) Why can’t they say to the mob: It is immoral to steal the labor of others. If you want more, work for it. (Instead of donning green eyeshades to say we can’t afford this kind of public generosity — which in effect agrees with the concept of theft as long as the theft is moderate.) Why can’t conservative political leaders say of the majoritarian socialist leadership: these are power hungry pirates who want to steal your money to buy the votes to stay in power.

Why can’t conservative political leaders get right to the moral core of politics of using the police power of the state to create equality of outcomes? Why are they so afraid to speak bluntly? Why are they afraid to say what is right and what is wrong?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tax Out of Wedlock Babies

In a recent column (The African-America dilemma) George Will discusses the consequences of out-of-wedlock births in the African-American community. 70% of African-American babies born today are born to unmarried women. This “statistic” was alarming four decades ago when Patrick Moynihan brought it to the nation’s attention (it was about 20% then). The social costs are staggering. White out-of-wedlock birth rates are lower but are still associated with staggering social costs and involve huge numbers of children since white births exceed those of African-Americans. Criminality, incarceration, dependency, wretched school performance, alarming high school drop-out rates and a nearly endless list of social and behavioral ills flow directly from the prevalence of out-of-wedlock births. In his column Mr. Will says, “ Public policies can have little purchase on these, and least of all the fifth.” The fifth in his list of factors affecting school performance is living in a two parent family. The astounding increase in out-of-wedlock births is largely attributable to public policies (in conjunction with changes in morays and universal acceptance of the notion that is it terrible to be judgmental) that facilitate and subsidize out of wedlock births. These public policies are even more pernicious in as far as they are designed to make eligibility to the public largesse that flows to the mothers contingent upon being single (no man in the house).

Mr. Will is wrong. Public policy is largely responsible for this problem and public policy can be used to correct it. Economics is simple: if you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it. In the present system AFDC, WIC, housing allowances and a plethora of other enticements encourage out-of-wedlock births.

If you want fewer out-of-wedlock births, tax them. Say, at $10,000, payable at birth. This sum is only a fraction of the average (discounted) monetary cost to the public for such births. The Madonna’s of the world can pay the tax and blithely go on their way promoting social dysfunction. What of the poor mother? The African-American mother ? They can cease having out-of-wedlock babies. They can pay in installments. They can pick up trash on the side of the road at the minimum wage until the bill is paid. They can put their babies up for adoption. There is a huge unsatisfied demand for infants by families who want to adopt. Let the adopting families pay the tax and raise the child. The adoption solution solves two problems at once since the financial cost of out-of-wedlock babies need no longer be borne by the public in welfare costs and the children will be unlikely to be raised in the self-perpetuating environment which spawns dysfunctional behavior.

The libertarian part of me cringes when I suggest a solution such as this. After all, shouldn’t people be allowed to behave as they wish? In a nation of busy bodies isn’t this pushing that inclination to its limits? The key fact is that when women have out-of-wedlock babies they rarely pay the costs. The tax solution permits the behavior but will reduce the number of out-of-wedlock births and make those engaging in this behavior more likely to be able to pay the costs associated with child rearing.

Mr. Will is wrong. Public policy created this mess and a different set of public policies can help clean it up.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Foreigner in the Whitehouse

No matter what his shortcomings in character and personality, no matter how wrong-headed his ideology or policies either foreign or domestic, William Jefferson Clinton is as American as apple pie. Barrack Hussein Obama is not. This difference in not one attributable to intellectualizing. Instead it is the product of experience. While Bill Clinton was going to Sunday school, playing little league baseball, pledging allegiance to the flag, attending cub scout and boy scout meetings, watching parades or eating barbeque on the 4th of July, Barrack Obama was listening to the siren like voices of the evening call to prayer in Indonesia. During his formative years (whether ages five or six to ten or twelve is difficult to discover due to the lack of interest in the media and academe in verifying such details) Barrack Obama was living in a foreign land, in a country as distant from America in miles and culture as any one can imagine. This lack of immersion in American culture through which its values are transmitted accounts for how easy it is for Obama to see himself as a citizen of the world. It informs his every word and decision so that when asked about American exceptionalism he replies that all countries are exceptional as if to say one cannot tell one country from another. They all have a past. It is not that he cannot understand such a question. Intellectually. It is that absence of gut instinct that arises from identification that defines Barrack Obama. It is this absence that is the origin of that obvious detachment which allows him to view America as just another country in a huge list of other countries, each with good points and bad, with heroes and villains in its past. It is this absence that allowed him for twenty years to nod agreeably while listening to a Black liberation preacher who was once a Black Muslim deconstruct America using imported philosophy. What at some elite universities might be viewed as the key to academic success is a debilitating — even dangerous —flaw in a president. I want someone in the Whitehouse whose heart and soul are on our side. Someone who’s instincts derived from early experience are quintessentially American. Someone who is inclined to evaluate every circumstance or decision from atop some mountain looking down on a world in which America just happens to be where he is located at the moment belongs at Harvard or Yale indoctrinating our children. He does not belong at the helm of history’s most exceptional country.