Thursday, June 30, 2011

Completely Off Topic

I was writing comments on Doc's blog when the topic of "old timers" came up. I may not have been writing this blog for that long (my first post was a little over a year ago), but I have been around for a while.

Anyway, I went back and looked at the comments on some articles from 2006, and I was a bit surprised at how many names were there that I recalled but don't see any longer, some good, some bad. Left angle, tannabear, jersey devil, anti-partisan rightie, anti-socialist, lon, kimbat, TCA, YRMML, Goshawk, modernone, tom breyer, para_dimz, ianflemming, hockey goon, liberalgoodman, mencken, julia, moonbat exterminator, and on and on. (If I included anyone who is still posting, then I apologize. Hard to keep track of who is still writing sometimes.)

Anyway, I had a question I posed on Doc's blog, and I figured I should post it here, in case one of my readers has the answer.

Before John Konop became the Cut and Paste King, there was another one whose name escapes me. It was probably back in 2006, or maybe early 2007, and this person did nothing but cut and paste.

It wasn't You Really Make Me Laugh or any of this other incarnations, though he did it often enough, and it wasn't BS Detector, though he did it too. Nor was it True Captain America, though I recall some cut and paste from him as well.

If anyone recalls any other people who used control-V more than any other keys, please post a comment. It is driving me crazy that I can't remember.

Thanks for any help. I really hate it when my memory fails.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/09.


NOTE: Again, like "Quick note on the blog roll" and "What is With the Advertisements?", this is a post which is completely irrelevant in the context of my new blog, as it deals exclusively with matters relating to the old Townhall.com site. But, as I said before, I am interested in transferring the complete contents of my old blog, even those which now seem irrelevant.

The Racism of the Left

I realized that recently I have written two different essays (here and this addendum) which take to task the left for their dehumanizing way of looking at people. They tend not to see people but rather exemplars of the black race or exemplars of gay men. In my mind, this dehumanization by the left is every bit as racism and demeaning as that of more traditional racists.

One need only look at affirmative action to understand how insulting liberal racism is. The message of affirmative action is this: "Mr. Black Man, we understand that in fair competition with a white person, you would lose. Don't worry, we believe you that it is due to past discrimination. So, to help, we good white people will make the bad white people give you an advantage so you can succeed." It is pretty much a modernized version of the "white man's burden." Liberals need to stand up for blacks as they cannot stand up for themselves.

I really don't have a lot to add here that I have not said before. Many times before.

It is simply time that we stopped thinking about race. Yes, there will be inequities, and some past wrongs will go unresolved, butt hat would be the case even if we continued obsessing on race until the end of time. As we redress one wrong we commit others. Affirmative action helps blacks and hurts whites, will those whites then have a claim in the future? Will we reverse affirmative action later to redress those wrongs? When will it end?

The best, and only, solution is to stop thinking about race. To admit that we should judge each individual on his own merits and that race, sex, preference, whatever should neither count for or against him.

It is time we finally accepted that we are each a member of the smallest minority group ever, the individual, and that is how we should be judged.

ADDENDUM

When I wrote this, I forgot another example of left wing racism I often use.

The left normally holds everyone to the strict standards of PC speech codes. However, when a militant black makes horrible, invidious antisemitic or anti-white statements, the liberals just ignore it, or say it is "understandable." In short,t hey treat minorities as if they were children, unable to keep themselves from saying horrible things.

If liberals considered minorities their equals, they would hold them to the same standards. That they allow minorities to behave in ways they would deplore should someone else do it shows that the left considers minorities beneath themselves, unable to exercise the self-control the left expects of whites.

Of course, they never say this explicitly, but is there any other explanation which matches their behavior?

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/09.

One More Time: Best of the Web Imitates Me

Yet again, James Taranto appears to be hitting the same points I have several weeks later. Of course, he is hobbled by having to relate his articles to events, while I am free to opine on whatever strikes my fancy. (Then again, people actually pay him for what he writes.)

Be that as it may, some time ago, I proposed that our hypersensitivity to race is the reason racial strife continues. And, today, Best of the Web reproduced my argument almost verbatim:

When a supposedly postracial campaign is proclaiming, "We need more white people," perhaps the time has come to ask if encouraging hyperconsciousness of race is really the way to get beyond racism.
And so, once again, I find myself scooping the WSJ.

(And, for those who did not see the earlier installment, I am hardly as arrogant or delusional as this suggests. It simply amuses me to take the Best of the Web's running gag of "Life imitates the..." and apply it to them. Obviously they have expressed the thought before, it is hardly novel. But I have to amuse myself, after all, I don't get paid for this.)

UPDATE

Actually, I should have read the entire column, as there is a second item which even more closely imitates my own thoughts.

I have long argued against those who want to sit out the election. Some have suggested that we should allow a Democrat to be elected so the public can remember what a real liberal government is like. In response I have argued that an Obama presidency would be such a catastrophe that we would not recover. Specifically I have argued that he could be the next Carter.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this:
This is par for the course for Carter, who has spent decades trying to undermine American foreign policy and won a Nobel Peace Prize for it. It reminds us of one reason we're uneasy about the idea of electing Barack Obama, who has made much of his desire to meet with hostile foreign rulers and has given us no reason to think he will take a hard line with them, à la Reagan with Gorbachev.

America elected Jimmy Carter 32 years ago and is still paying the price. Suppose history repeats: Obama wins and has a failed one-term presidency. Will he be jetting around the world meeting with terrorists and despots and denouncing America in 2040? Maybe not, but the thought gives us a shudder.

Not only does it reproduce my thoughts quite well, but it even uses Carter.

So, twice in one day, I have scooped the WSJ.

(And this second part was not so much intended to amuse myself as to provide an excuse to link to a bunch of old articles so readers could enjoy some of my less recent writing. I am so manipulative.)


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/09.

Children's Programming Versus Self-Improvement

As I have a very small child I seem to watch a lot of children's programming*.  One theme which seems to constantly reappear is that a child should be "happy with who he is". In some ways this is unobjectionable, as children should not aspire to nothing but following every trend or chase after popularity, but, in another way, I find this, and the self-esteem fetish form which it derives, a very dangerous trend.

Now, I am hardly suggesting that children should be taught that they are always wrong, or that they should be forced to place fitting in above all other values. There is definitely some value in being comfortable in one's skin, and having the confidence to stand by one's convictions in the face of opposition is clearly valuable, but I disagree that they are values in and of themselves.

The value of independence and confidence comes from having earned that right. If you are going to stand by your convictions, you need to be doing so because you are sure they are right. Just standing by convictions regardless of whether they are right or wrong is not valuable, it is stupidity. And, in some ways that is what these children's shows seem to be promoting, confidence in oneself regardless of whether one merits that much confidence.

The other problem I have is that such a movement seems to promote an excess of complacency, of being satisfied with whatever exists. Thinking back, most of the best things in my life came about precisely because I was not happy with myself. Dissatisfaction is a spur to change, which makes me think this drumbeat of being happy with oneself may actually harm more than help, by removing the impetus to better oneself.

It is a commonplace of economic theory that economic action is driven by dissatisfaction. In fact, there exists a theoretical "vegetative state", wherein all actors are sufficiently satisfied with their situation that nothing they can do will bring enough benefit for them to do it. In this theoretical state, all economic rules cease to work, as there is no impetus for anyone to do anything. There is a second condition, a "steady state", wherein the current economic activity provides such satisfaction that any change would not improve it, resulting in a stagnant system where things will not change unless acted on by an outside force**.

I see the self esteem movement, and the resultant slogans in children's programming as aimed at reaching one or the other of these states. Either a situation where one will continue in the same course forever, or, even worse, a situation where one will do absolutely nothing. It is, after all, the logical conclusion of being happy with whatever life throws at you.

Of course most of those telling children to be happy with who they are do not have any such intents. They have never really thought about the logical outcome of being happy with whatever one happens to be, they simply want children to "feel good". But their intentions don't matter, the outcomes do. And the logic of being satisfied with whatever one happens to be leads logically to inertia, to a resistance to change.

Perhaps a simple illustration will help.

When those filled with good intentions say "be happy with who you are", they are not just saying it to the tortured sensitive child tormented by bullies (definitely who they imagine listening), they are also saying it to those same bullies, and to the budding sociopath designing bombs in his notebook. Doubtless, in their minds, the message is that the tortured young artist, abused by bullies, should stand firm and follow his dreams, ending up in a cafe in Soho reading poetry to his boyfriend, or some similar message of counter cultural liberation.

But if the logic of self esteem works there, it works for the bully too. If the bullied are to stand firm, so are the bullies. If the abused are to be satisfied with what they are, so are the abusers. And, at this point, the message of "love yourself" ends up saying "go ahead and beat up that kid, you can't help yourself."

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with the self esteem movement. Not just the pressure toward inertia, and an unmerited confidence in one's own correctness, the biggest problem is that it takes the status quo and elevates it to a moral right. The older systems may seem harsh, but by saying "you have value to the degree you abide by these standards" prior systems forced order on society, and allowed some children to say "I am doing right, you are doing wrong". By making the self esteem of all children the sole good we end up removing all ethical guideposts. Maybe the bully's self esteem rests on beating up others, so who are we to stop him? Is that not the logical outcome of saying that nothing matters but the feelings of each child? That the child with the most excessive demands will win?

As with so many of the movements which attempt to substitute psychology for morality, this one ends up destroying the very concept of right and wrong, and, as with any system which eliminates morality, the strong and brutal end up getting the most from it. It may be based on good intentions, but the end result is anarchy.

And, as I have said so often, if the nation ever falls, it will be because of an excess of good deeds.

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* At some point I will probably write about the fears I have heard voiced over the bilingual children's programs such as "Dora the Explorer" and "Diego". As one who grew up hearing English, Russian and Ukranian, as well as regularly hearing Spanish on both "the Electric Company" and "Villa Alegre", I tend to think such fears are a bit overblown, but they are interesting as a symptom of the general anti-Spanish backlash caused by our chaotic immigration system. But that is a future post.

** The specific nomenclature may be wrong. And various economists may have named it differently. I am working form a rather hazy memory of the terms used in Human Action, and it has been a while since I read it last. However, the terms themselves do not matter so much as the two concepts they illustrate. An excess of satisfaction can easily turn into total inertia. If I misused the terminology, it really does not change that point.

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POSTSCRIPT

Though I feel I have said that final quote many times, I actually can find it in only two other blog posts, "More Unintended Consequences" and "Consequences". I could swear I said it more than that, but perhaps it was only in comments on articles.

POSTSCRIPT PART 2


I am not crazy. Well at least this topic doesn't prove I am crazy. I did say the same thing twice in earlier posts, with slightly different wording. It appears in both "Private Versus Public Racism" and "The State Versus Universities". (apparently whenever the word "versus" is used, so is this quote.)

I know this doesn't matter to anyone but me, however it is nice to discover my memory is not yet failing.

ADDENDUM

I realized after I wrote this that one of my comments may appear homophobic to those prone to seeing homophobia in everything. Then again, those prone to find homophobia in everything really don't need a good reason, do they?*

In reality, my intent was to mock the liberals' habit of adopting a condescending, patronizing attitude towards gay men. They tend to say things such as "He was the nicest, most interesting gay man." It always struck me that most of what the left says about homosexuals sounds as if they were talking about pets or children.

Most of the time I think that liberals really have a rather negative stereotype of homosexuals (and most minorities), but adopt a patronizing attitude so they can feel they are enlightened. The success of "Will and Grace", which for the most part consisted of laughing at the "safe" gay man Will and the "flamboyantly" gay man Jack, was pretty much the gay version of "Amos and Andy" (though less funny). That the left, for the most part, thought it was liberating rather than patronizing shows a lot about the left's attitude toward homosexuals.

(Then again, the fact that flamboyant gay men in the media adopt such a camp attitude does not really help their cause. When the most prominent men from Paul Lynde all the way through the Quear Eye** cast have adopted a catty queen persona, it is hard for the homosexual activists to claim to the public at large that gays are just like everyone else.)

------------------------------------------

* A friend and I used to amuse ourselves by playing on PC sensibilities. We would go to bars and tell off-color jokes about homosexuals. Sooner or later a patron, most often a girl in her twenties, or a woman in her late forties, would begin to lecture us about telling "insensitive" gay jokes. We would wait a while, then let the PC accuser realize that my friend was gay. Watching their efforts to atone for such non-PC behavior was more entertaining than you can imagine.

** I had to spell the word Quear, as TH's filters would not let me use a perfectly good word. I hate to quibble, but quear had a perfectly good meaning before being co-opted by the gay movement. In addition, how can TH really ban a word that appears daily in TV guide?

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/09.

Is Bad Judgment Enough?

I have been told by some on the left that I cannot fault Obama for Reverend Wright as that would constitute a "religious test" for president. I have already explained why that is a bunch of twaddle, but even if we accept that argument, can I fault Obama for incredibly bad judgment? Is that enough to keep him out of the Oval Office?

I already explained why I think Obama was foolish in his handling of this whole Wright thing came to light. I explained what he should have said, were he a real "racial healer". I explained why he should have simply left Trinity, rather than waiting for the new pastor to come to Wright's defense and dig Obama an even deeper hole. I have, in short, painted a pretty clear picture of the many ways Obama completely mishandled this Wright  issue.

But now we find that yet another Obama adviser is of less than sterling character. It appears Father Michael Pfleger is not only an extremist, given to rather violent rhetoric, but also another admirer of "Minister" Farrakhan. Worst of all for Obama, it appears that Father Pfleger is, though white, a race hustler of the Jackon/Sharpton mold.

So, why does this matter?

First, it gives voters more reason to wonder if Obama is not the "postracial" politician he pretends to be. If he surrounds himself with those who espouse the same old line of grievances and activism, and he himself reverts to blaming racist America when trying to excuse Wright, is it not possible Obama himself is just another left-wing politician who will fall back on racial rhetoric and grievance mongering when it suits him? To the independents and the blue-collar Democrats, this makes all the difference. They were open to voting for a black president who espoused racial healing, they will be much less inclined to support yet another race baiting liberal.

Second, even for those who are not turned off by this sudden change in the Obama campaign's focus, this revelation raises other questions. Obama is running for the highest office in the land. he has known he was going to run for some time. He has had years to prepare. Yet, in all that time, not only has not wisely separated himself form his mentor (even though he knew there would be problems), but he has also surrounded himself with men like Pfleger, men he should recognize as potentially problematic.

Even those who want to support Obama, even those who do not mind his racial rhetoric or his extreme left politics, must be somewhat disturbed at the thought of electing a man who either cannot see that his associates may cause him problems or, much more likely, sees the problems, but, for whatever reason, cannot deal with those problems effectively.

Do we really need such an ineffectual man leading our nation? Even Democrats must see that, underneath the flowery rhetoric and "charisma", despite the fanatical support he receives, Obama is proving to be a completely passive and incompetent individual.

POSTSCRIPT

Best of the Web does note a story (also reported here) about someone Obama will not tolerate. One of his delegates called her neighbor's children "monkeys", and was asked to step down. She claims it was because they were climbing trees, not because they were black, but apparently, Obama accepts racist rhetoric only in one direction.

As Mr. Taranto wrote:

Let this be a lesson for other Obama delegates: If someone is bothering you, shout at the top of your lungs, "God damn America!" You know Obama will stand by you then.
It is interesting that Obama will stand behind Crazy Uncle Jerry, but not Crazy Aunt Linda.

Correction: Some of the links in my original posting were incorrect. I think I have corrected all of them, but if an article seems wrong, please let me know.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/09.
 

What Happened to Consequences?

I was writing a reply to some comments last night when it struck me that we no longer seem to believe in consequences.

Or, to be more accurate, we believe in consequences, but we just don't want them to be meaningful. Rather than suffering a long penance of any sort, we want a token gesture that shows we are sorry, and then want to move on. And, as we want that for ourselves, we also want it for others. It seems society is no longer willing to impose real punishment on anyone.

Think of Stephen Glass, whose misdeeds have now made him a much desired "expert" on journalistic misdeeds. Oh, he lost his original job, but he landed on his feet. Or Dan Rather. His "fake but accurate" report may have cost him his anchor position, but his face is starting to pop up on my TV again, and with greater frequency. It appears that being a partisan for obvious forgeries doesn't carry as much of a consequence as I thought.

Or, on a much more serious note, those caught fighting against the US in Afghanistan and now detained in Guantanamo. In a past war they would be deemed fortunate if they were not summarily executed as combatants fighting out of uniform. Detention at Guantanamo is the best they could expect. Instead, we now have people fighting to make sure they have all the legal protection of US citizens.

But that is the pattern of our society. Crime, destructive behaviors, misbehaving children, we want none of them to face any real consequences.  Oh, we say we want them to be "punished", but by that we mean some almost meaningless token punishment.  We do not want them to really suffer, just to make some gesture then get on with their lives.

You can even hear this in Obama's abortion comments. He doesn't want his daughters "punished with a baby". In short, if they make a mistake, they, like all of society, should have to say "sorry" and then move on.

Even murderers are no exception, as we regularly argue that someone should be let off death row, or released early because they have "reformed" or found Jesus.  Which may be a valid argument if prison existed solely to rehabilitate the individual offender. But prison also exists to serve as a deterrent, and if we teach the lesson that you don't have to stay in prison if you say you are different now, the deterrent effect of prison is lost, as we can see in the rampant crime of today.

And that, in a nutshell is the problem with eliminating consequences. Even if we accept that a compassionate society should give people a second chance, doing so will likely do more harm than good.

People refrain form doing wrong for two reasons. Either they are not inclined to commit that particular offense or they fear the consequences. Sometimes the explicit consequences (jail, financial loss, whatever) need not be very heavy, as the social stigma attached is great enough to provide its own discouragement. But we live in an age where there is no stigma attached to anything*, so punishment is the only thing which can keep people form doing wrong.

Once we make the consequences of anything mere gestures, we essentially give that action our approval, with the results we see around us every day.

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* There is still stigma, but it rarely attaches to things we wish to discourage. More often than not the stigma attached to non-PC speech or choosing to be a stay at home mother is stronger than the stigma attached to actual crimes such as murder. Is it any wonder society is in such bad shape when many feel more distaste for those espousing creationism than for those robbing banks? (For the record, I am not a creationist, but I find it absurd to view the beliefs of any group with more disdain than one feels for actual criminals.)

ADDENDUM (to footnote)

Let me clarify, when I say "I am not a creationist" I mean I am not a young earth, ex nihilo creationist. I believe in a G-d who worked through the natural laws he created. As far as the account in the Torah is concerned,  He was speaking to former slaves and shepherds who probably would find astrophysics a bit daunting, so He told them a story about creation in 6 days, as G-d, like any good speaker, tailors His story to His audience. (For those who think this means G-d lied, I ask this: If a child asks "Where do babies come from?" Do you go into a full description of genetics, cellular reproduction, and the stages of gestation, as well as the mechanics of intercourse? And if you do not, do you consider that a "lie"?)


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/09.

What is With the Advertisements?

I just noticed one of the advertisements running alongside my blog, and I have to take exception. Here is the blurb:

"'Manda Bala' isn't a film about Brazil, it's about the United States in five years… This is one of the best and most powerful films I have seen in years."
- Errol Morris
As this film is apparently about the rampant kidnapping and political corruption in Brazil, I find it a bit of a dubious assertion that it depicts "the US in five years".

I don't care how much of a loony you are, whether on the far left, "Guantanamo is Dachau" fringe, or on the far right "McCain is forming the NAU in January" fringe, there is just no way the US will resemble Brazil in five years. Five years ago Brazil was still a basket case. It has been a political basket case for decades. True it is getting much worse, but it was never exactly a stable state. Since the end of the Empire of Brazil, the nation has been a rather typical South American post-colonial state, bouncing back and forth between militarist / nationalist corruption and socialist corruption. Brazil may have been a bit better than some, but it was never precisely what one would call a model nation.

The idea that the US will come to resemble a nation which has suffered a century or more of political corruption is just absurd.

POSTSCRIPT


Having said all that, I also must add that, from the reviews I have read, I really have no intention of seeing the film (Manda Bala). Not only does it sound like something in which I have no interest, but a number of reviewers seem to describe it as a bit pretentious and over-done. Then again, even the best filmed documentary on corruption and crime in Latin America is a hard sell to me, but the descriptions I have read, even from those who liked it, have sealed the deal. I really have little patience for "powerful artistic visions", as that usually means ham-handed over-directed garbage.

And before some film fanatic tries to paint me as some sort of philistine, I would say that I am quite conversant with film, I have enjoyed a number of very peculiar directors (Jodorowski, Tarkovsky, and others), but I find that a lot of directors being praised today are perfect exemplars of style over substance.  I just have little patience for what passes for "daring" these days. What passes for innovative are rehashes of 1960's and 1970's mondo and shock cinema, movies styled after bad music videos, or films filled with annoyingly shaky hand-held camera work. We seem to have very little originality lately, and the critics seem to respond only to brutality, or to confusion for the sake of confusion. I really have no fondness for either.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/08.

NOTE: As with the post "Quick note on the blog roll", this really is only applicable to the blog as it appeared on Townhall. In fact, it is only applicable to the blog as it appeared on Townhall when specific advertisements were being displayed. But, again, in the interest of completeness, I have reproduced this post.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Limits of Technocracy

I often hear the complaint that the economy "isn't working right" or that it is "not working the way it should". we hear this sometimes in terms of the housing crisis, or in terms of unemployment, or interest rates. And the proposed solution is often that we need more government interference.

Of course, the reality is that the market is working exactly the way it is supposed to, it simply is not behaving in a way pleasing to the speaker. Oh, sometimes the market is adjusting itself following government meddling, as when it responds to interest rate changes from the Federal Reserve, but, unless laws are in place to distort it, the market always behaves "as it should", even if it causes some people harm.

And that, truly, is what these neo-technocrats1 mean when they say that the "economy isn't working". They mean that the results the free market generates are displeasing to them, or to a select group, or that they are unhappy that sometimes the market results in outcomes which cause suffering to some. Their real goal is not to produce efficient outcomes, but to produce outcomes which avoid any harm, or which favor them or some select group.

But let us ignore that for the moment and assume that they are completely sincere. Let us imagine that, by some standard, the market is not performing the way it "should". The question remains, can government interference resolve these imagined problems? Or is the cure worse than the disease?

An illustrative example is to be found in the Federal Reserve. I will spare my readers a lengthy essay on the history of banking2 and stick to a short summary.

Prior to the institution of the Federal Reserve, the banking industry in the US was publicly viewed as "free", though the hideously misnamed "free banking system" actually consisted of a government imposed scheme designed, ostensibly, to control monetary inflation, but, in reality, designed to increase demand for government bonds3 while doing little to reduce inflation. The pre-Federal Reserve systems varied greatly, some were more free, some less, but there was not a truly free period for banking following the Jackson/Polk era, and, even then there was a patchwork of state regulations in place.

Regardless, the banking systems before the Fed were definitely less regulated than after, and, more importantly, the public perceived the system as unregulated. So, when the government promised to step in with the Federal Reserve, their argument was that the free market had failed4, resulting in bank runs and market crashes, and that a government managed currency would both prevent the bank crises that had characterized free markets and would so structure the money supply that we would be guaranteed continuous growth.

The problem is that it just failed to live up to the promise. Again, I will skip the technical arguments against a centrally managed banking system and simply point to the world wide collapse of 1929-1932, and the subsequent depression. Some will argue that it is unfair to lay at the feet of the Fed, as it was started by foreign banks, but, in reality, it is far from unfair. As the world had pinned most of its currency to the pound at the time, and the pound was tied to the dollar, the crash of 1929 may have started in Austria, but it was a result of Fed mismanagement. (I have horribly oversimplified things here in the interest of saving space. For a good analysis by someone who was there working in banking at the time, read Benjamin Anderson's Economics and the Public Welfare.)

Even if it weren't, the fact that we were plunged into such a bad depression following the creation of the Federal Reserve gives lie to the claim that managing money centrally would avoid bank panics. Whether 1929 can be blamed on the Fed or should be blamed on foreign banks does not matter. The original claims were that the Fed would prevent such crises, yet only 15 years after it was founded we had a catastrophic market crash followed by the longest depression in US history. Hardly a ringing endorsement for managed money.

However, despite the failure of the Fed to live up to its initial promises, the system was not scrapped.5 The argument developed that ti was not the Federal Reserve that failed. Instead, the argument went, the Federal Reserve was unable to sufficiently manage currency, as it was tied to the "anachronism" of a gold standard6. And so began our slow movement off of the gold standard. First, FDR outlawed the holding of monetary gold, then gold redemption was limited to foreign governments, and, at last, Nixon took us off the gold standard entirely, and we were left with a currency without any backing. The Federal Reserve had no restrictions on its ability to manage the currency.

So, once the Federal Reserve had total freedom in managing our currency, did it finally live up to those initial promises?

Well, we didn't have a crash in 1974, so I will give them that. Beyond that... Well, it is hard to find anything else to say. At least nothing positive comes to mind.

The 1970's, the first decade where the Fed was not hindered by the gold standard, were characterized by out of control inflation more than anything else. Not just at home, but also abroad. As so many nations had tied their fortunes to the dollar, our inflation often spurred inflation in other nations. Of course, some took advantage of this inflation to launch a more inflation of their own, resulting in the hyperinflation we saw in Argentina and other nations7. But even nations which exercised restraint were still harmed by the inflating US dollar, as IMF rules required them to ensure their currencies maintained certain trading ratios relative to the dollar. Only after some nations decided to ignore these rules did US inflation stop driving world-wide inflation.

Nor was the inflation of the 1970's the only case of the Federal Reserve still failing to live up to promises, despite being cut free of the gold standard. We have the recession of the early 1980's, the dot com crash of the late 1990's,  the minor recession Bush inherited from Clinton, and the housing "crisis" of today. All of which should not be possible under a "managed" currency, according tot he claims of the original proponents of the Federal Reserve.

Of course, just because their claims were excessive, that does not mean that the Fed did not do some good. Though I am making a lot out of the original claims, I have to admit that a much more fair test would be to compare the Federal Reserve to a free banking period. Of course, the US never really had a free banking period, so I will have to compare it simply to the less regulated era that came before.

 Even there, the Fed does not impress. Both the depression of the 1930's and the inflation of the 1970's are unprecedented, even the results of the "land bank" fiascoes during the colonial era do not compare to these two events. There are simply no crises during the more free eras which can compare to the crises created under the Fed's rule. Nor did the pace of lesser crises slow at all. As I said, the earlier system was still heavily regulated, and designed to monetize government debt, so it too was an inflationary system and subject to cyclical crashes8 , crashes which the Federal Reserve was supposed to correct. However, looking back over the historical record following the civil war, it does not appear that there was any substantial change one way or the other in the rate at which recessions occurred. Bank panics became a thing of the past, as FDIC and FSLIC made depositors less concerned about losing investments, but otherwise federal intervention did not change.

Actually, bank runs provide a good example of how regulation made things worse rather than better. In the past, individual banks issued credit, so monetary expansion was done on a per bank basis. When an individual bank extended so much credit that depositors thought it may become insolvent, they would pull out their deposits and cause a "bank run". The fear of such bank runs often served to keep banks from over inflating the money supply.

Under the Federal Reserve system, obviously, only the Federal Reserve inflates the money supply, though banks can issue credit which serves as a de facto monetary expansion. It was through the injudicious extension of credit that modern banks risked insolvency and still faced the possibility of bank runs. To stop this, the federal government imposed two new laws. First, they revived an idea popular in the supposedly free period prior to the Federal Reserve, requiring banks to hold reserves equal to a certain percentage of their outstanding credit.9 In addition to this old (and largely ineffective solution) the government also created the FDIC to insure deposits.

Initially, the FDIC  was probably sold as a populist measure, not as a pro-banking one. It was intended to make sure depositors were not left destitute by a bank collapse. However, even initially, I am sure that some noticed how much it favored the banks as well. With the FDIC (and later FSLIC), the banks were not faced with the possibility of a bank run. Except for those whose deposits exceeded the limit, depositors were unlikely to care if a bank expanded their credit wisely or foolishly.  In short, where in the past depositor fears served as a check on credit expansion, the FDIC/FSLIC allowed banks to expand credit as they wished without worrying about a bank run. The supposed safeguard actually made catastrophe not only more likely, but also ensured it would be much worse when it happened10.

But enough about the Federal Reserve, as I did not intend to write an essay on banking.

What the example above was intended to show was that federal intervention more often than not creates problems worse than it was supposed to solve. Even if one grants that the outcomes dictated by the market are not ideal (whatever that may mean), any attempt to solve them using the government almost always end up worse.

The reason is not hard to see. The economy is massive and complex. Each individual pursues their own, ever shifting desires, constantly evaluating their options, constantly reassessing the value they place on any given object. There are regularities, but most are only apparent in hindsight. If the economy were as regular and predictable as technocrats claim, then they would all have made a fortune in stocks. The truth is that economic forces do have relatively foreseeable results, but which forces are active is often only foreseeable after the fact.

Let me give one example.

The profession of farrier11 was once a relatively highly paid field. During the colonial era, horses were not uncommon, and those who could not only make shoes, but properly apply them to the hooves were not all that common, so they drew a fairly high salary. As they increased in numbers their wages would fall, and as horses grew more common, their salaries would rise. For a long time these were the only two factors influencing farrier salaries. Then came mass production, including the mass production of horseshoes, making half of a farrier's job obsolete. Salaries fell greatly. Shortly after that came an even worse blow, the invention of the automobile, which made farriers almost obsolete. Excepting for a few rural areas, farriers were probably driven from business entirely.

One would expect that to be the end of the story, a horse-related profession destroyed by the car, but it isn't. As horses have become something of a status symbol, and our wealth has allowed many more of us to own horses as a luxury, the profession of farrier has seen something of a renaissance. They are nowhere near as numerous as they once were, but, as they are rare, and provide what amounts to a luxury service, their salaries are relatively high.

My point? All of this is perfectly explained by economics. And, for the technocrats that means that it all is foreseeable. My argument is the opposite. Yes, in hindsight we can see all of it, but I doubt anyone in 1865 would have guessed that either the automobile would kill off farriers or that they would later revive as a luxury service. Yes, there is a regularity and predictability to economics, but only if we have perfect knowledge before the fact. As we do not, scientific economic management is not possible. And, as we cannot manage "scientifically" as the technocrats claim, we are left with government management working at least as imperfectly as the free market. With their claims of scientific, dispassionate management no longer viable, there are few reasons to think the state would work better than the free market.

Even if we were somehow in possession of perfect foresight, would the technocratic model work? Would the government be able to manage the economy better than the free market?

I think not. Despite the claims of the technocrats (both the ones from the 1920's and those today who espouse their theories, if not bearing their name), there is no reason to think that the state will be able to dispassionately and disinterestedly maintain the economy. Even if we allow that the state could somehow obtain perfect foreknowledge, and that it could somehow use that to find a "better" solution than the free market would, the question remains, would the state do so? I argue it would not.

To return to banking for an example, let us look at the boom/bust cycle.

Many argue that the cycle is inherent in the free market, or, at least in a free market with fractional reserve banking. But that is simply untrue, as one can see  in the few free banking systems which have existed (eg. Scotland prior to the Bank of England entering and controlling the market).  Under a free banking system, it is possible a single bank, or maybe even a small group, may expand credit excessively, but they would then face bank runs and either have to rein in their lending, or face bankruptcy. This sort of mistake would cause some small problems, but would not lead to the sort of boom/bust cycle we know.

The modern boom/bust cycle exists only when there is a centralized state control of banking, either in the form of direct control (eg. the Bank of England or the Federal Reserve), or through regulations which create a consolidated banking system (such as the pre-Federal Reserve system which allowed multi-tier inflation on top of specific regional banks, all resting on top of select New York City banks). Without that centralization, it is almost impossible to create a general over-expansion of credit, and it is certainly impossible for a free market to generate the cyclical over-expansions needed for the boom/bust cycle.

Then again, the boom/bust cycle is not inherent in centralized banking either. There is no need for banks to over-expand credit regularly, leading to the boom/bust cycle. The present boom/bust cycle is not inherent in central banking, it is the outcome of non-economic considerations12. Two pressures predominate in creating this cycle. First, there is the pressure to keep the economy growing. The second is the political tendency to favor debtors over creditors.

The first pressure is obvious from any news report mentioning the Fed. The talk is almost always about cutting interest to keep the economy growing, while avoiding "inflation"13. It is this myopic focus on growth above all that distinguishes the Fed from the bankers it replaced. Bankers would not simply expand credit without thought of other matters, while the pressure on the Fed is in that direction. A banker, making decisions for his small bit of the economy, would balance his credit expansion against the needs to retain solvency. The Fed has no such concerns, and, as it will take the blame for deflationary pressures, has an interest in nothing but monetary expansion. The political pressure is to give the appearance of supporting growth, even if that means a relatively reckless rate of monetary growth. No one worries about the inevitable crash, so long as they can take the credit for the preceding boom14.

The other pressure on the Fed works in the same direction. Politicians, of necessity, prefer policies which favor debtors over creditors15. I know that the Fed is supposedly independent and not subject to political considerations, but does anyone believe that they really take no notice of pressures from the president or congress? If the politicians favor inflation as a way to grant backdoor debt relief, I am certain that they can find a way to get the Fed to play along. And, just as with the pressure for continual monetary growth, the pressure to inflate to aid debtors will also feed into the process which produces the familiar boom/bust cycle.

To summarize, the attempts at scientific, rational control of the economy, substituting government control for the "anarchic" free market have failed repeatedly. Such failure was inevitable, as the perfect knowledge which was needed is impossible, and, even were it available, government regulators are subject to political, non-economic considerations which can lead easily to very bad decisions.16

"So," some of you are thinking," regulation has problems, but does that mean the free market is any better? What makes the free market so special? Isn't it just as flawed?"

I could cop out easily and say that much better men than me have written thick volumes arguing that point, and I hardly have the time fr space to repeat those efforts17, but that would be a bit unfair. So, allow me to make a very brief argument in favor of economic freedom.

The basic advantage of the free market is the minute division of labor. Each individual knows best what he wants, and he alone is in charge of pursuing his own interests. Of course, he satisfies his own wants best if he controls more resources, and the way to do so is by providing something more of his fellows want than anyone else. This inspires him to help others solely to satisfy his own desires. In the end, the one who best predicts what others want ends up with the most resources, both to satisfy his own wants and to expand the services he provides to others. In  the long run this tends to allocate resources most efficiently, at least if we define efficiency as providing the greatest net satisfaction of the wants of the individuals in the economy.

Obviously there are a ton of assumptions in that statement. I assume we want the economy to satisfy the wants as understood by the participants, rather than providing what someone else deems is good. It assumes that inequalities of income are acceptable. There are endless assumptions. Nor did I even delve into the way the free market provides tools such as prices, to simplify the determination of collective valuations. There is just far too much to say in such a short space.

That is why I hesitated to even offer a defense of the free market. To defend it we need to agree on a certain basic set of assumptions. I think most of us share those assumptions, but I may be wrong.

So, perhaps it is best if I just leave it at that. I think I have done a fair job of showing how, even measured by their own standards, government management of enterprises fails. That was my main point. I also think that the free market will easily outperform the state but to prove that would take much more space than I want to use here.

Perhaps I will defend the free market in my next essay. If not, then in a day or two. It really deserves its own essay.

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1. The original technocrats were a political movement of the 1920's and 1930's who thought that the economy should be "scientifically managed" for the good of all. Some took this in a more Marxist sense, some in a more Fascist sense. They largely vanished by the time of the Second World War, though, in some ways, the "brain trust" around FDR shared some of their ideas, if not their ideology. I am aware that (as of 1988) there was a lone remnant of the movement, a single old man making up a movement called "Christian Technocracy", which combined white supremacy, technocracy and pseudo-Christianity in a rather ugly doctrine. I wrote to him when I was writing to various radical groups, and still have his manifesto somewhere in my basement.

2. This promise applies only to this essay. I make no promise that I will not eventually subject readers to a long and boring history of banking. I am just refraining from doing so for the moment.

3. It is an interesting feature of both the Federal Reserve and its predecessors that they created an artificially high demand for US treasury notes. Some of the previous systems by allowing government debt to be used in lieu of specie to cover credit expansion, the Fed by using various practices to "monetize" debt, using the government's debt to increase money supply. It is not important for this essay, but at some point, if we ever want to balance our budget, we need to create a banking system which does not demand an ever increasing federal debt.

4. This reminds me of the arguments about airline and utility "deregulation". The failures of government regulation are often laid at the feet of capitalism. This is most often the case in mixed systems, such as pre-Fed banking, where the public does not see the degree of government regulation, making it easier to blame failures on the (apparently) unregulated industry, while the blame more properly belongs to the much less obvious regulations.

5. It is very unusual for any government program to be scrapped because of simple failure. Instead, failure is usually interpreted to be due to a lack of funding, or not being granted enough authority. As in this case, that usually results in giving the failed project even more power. It is ironic, but in government, the less successful a project is the more money and power ti will be granted. (Which is one fo the reasons I am very leery of government solutions.)

6. Many writers, much more competent than I am, have written on the advantages of the gold standard. Perhaps one day I will try my hand at making a pro-gold argument. For the moment that is not relevant. All that matters here is that the Fed's failure was blamed, not on the theory being incorrect, but on the remaining gold standard, and the fed was allowed to continue to the present despite an inability to live up to the original claims.

7. Of course, some nations were inflating prior to the US launching its own inflationary plans, but even then the US inflation did them no favors, as world currency was tied to the dollar.

8. Despite conventional wisdom, cyclical crashes are not inherent in a free economy. Fractional reserve banking does not necessitate boom/bust cycles. Actually, neither does a managed currency, but the reality is that debtors outnumber creditors, so the pressure on the government is always to favor debtors, which means monetary expansion, resulting, inevitably in the familiar boom/bust cycle.

9. Differing definitions of what would qualify as reserves was one fo the distinguishing features of the various pre-Federal Reserve banking systems. Some required all reserves be in gold. Otehr accepted a tiered system, where banks in one tier could count reserves in a higher tier bank as reserves, allowing for a pyramiding of inflation, as deposits in some banks could be used to secure credit in that bank, as well as in the bank which had made the initial deposit.

10. I have written on this before when discussing the way that the free market is often blamed for regulatory measures. In that essay I failed to state it as clearly as I did here.

11. I have to confess I misspelled this word "ferrier" in a comment where I used this example. Obviously the whole iron working aspect was influencing my choice of spelling. But, as I have made such an issue of spelling, I feel the need to admit my own mistake here. Oh, and for those unfamiliar with the word, a farrier makes and applies horseshoes. Modern farriers also tend to address other problems with hooves, but traditionally their field was limited to making and attaching shoes.

12. The boom/bust cycles of the pre-Fed system were created by different pressures. Mainly by creating a system which favored inflation and also hid some essential information from those making decisions. For example, by allowing a bank to count reserves held in another bank as security for credit, it made it impossible for the bank to know how much credit that reserve actually supported. A banker knew how much credit he had based on it, but could not know if the other bank had also used it to create credit, or even had deposited it at a bank on an even higher tier which also used it to inflate. The system itself made inflation impossible to control.

13. This is yet another example of journalists' inability to understand economics. They speak of lowering interest rates while avoiding inflation. But the fact is, to lower interest rates, the Fed inevitably engages in monetary inflation. Their myopic focus on price inflation rather than recognizing the changes to money supply results in very misleading reports when it comes to the Fed.

14. It is amusing that politicians and the Fed always take credit for the "growth" they cause, yet the bust that follows is always blamed on "the market". Apparently growth is caused by politicians and crashes are just part of the free market.

15. The populist line used by most politicians involves small business owners or farmers being exploited by greedy banks, but the truth is that most huge companies are actually deeper in debt than small businesses. In fact, inflation tends to help the wealthiest companies, as their bonds are paid in heavily devalued dollars. Not that politicians care, as they can pitch inflation using populist rhetoric, while also doing favors for big corporations who will actually profit from the deflation. It is a win-win for the politicians. Oddly enough, most of those bonds, now worth much less due to inflation, are held by the very people who are taken in by the populist rhetoric. Of course, the biggest winner of all is the biggest debtor of all, the US government, which can now repay creditor in deflated dollars. Which makes inflation by the government seem a pretty selfish gesture.

16. I know I have written quite a bit, and it is possible that I either omitted something or made a misstatement, so I do apologize in advance. As I was working while writing this, I have not  had time to adequately proofread. So, please, if you find any errors, let me know.

17. For those who do want to read such a voluminous defense, I recommend von Mises Human Action. I will warn readers than most of the book is dedicated to a very detailed explanation of the science of economics, starting from the most basic foundations, but the final conclusions he draws form this groundwork are impressive, so it is worth the rather serious effort it takes to get through the whole thing.

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ADDENDUM

It is not relevant to this argument, but there is something I find interesting.

When the Federal Reserve was created there was some reluctance to create a European style central bank owned and controlled by the state. Questions were raised about whether or not such a creation would be constitutional, and, even if it were, would the public accept it. As a result, the Federal Reserve was created as a quasi-governmental entity. It was, on paper, just the logical extension of the prior system, but instead of pyramiding on top of a few private New York banks, all inflation would be pyramided on top of the Federal Reserve. (In addition, the issuing of notes was limited tot he Fed alone, unlike past systems.)

What is interesting is that I have read a number of conspiracy theorists who obsess over the fact that the Fed is PRIVATE. While on paper that may be true, it is hard to imagine a more government controlled entity. The Fed is almost entirely controlled by the state. Yes, once on the board they may be free of explicit influence form congress, but that is true of the Supreme Court as well, and no one is arguing they are a private business.

So, rest assured conspiracy theorists, the Fed is safely under the thumb of the state. No need to worry about private enterprise running your banks. It is wholly controlled by the state. You can rest easy.

(On the other hand, the rest of us, not bedeviled by nightmares of evil bankers scheming to rob us can worry that all things monetary are in the hands of the state. The people who organized the Bay of Pigs, Waco, and the Iranian hostage rescue are also running the nation's finances. I'm sorry, but even if banking were run by some evil Zionist cabal, I would prefer hading over control to them to letting all of our nation's finance be run by people whose sole skill is getting reelected.)


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/08.

Why Spelling Matters (Again)

For those who have expressed skepticism over my insistence that spelling  and grammar matter, I present you with another exhibit in my ongoing case. I will not link tot he blog form which I obtained this gem, though I will mention that the author claims to be an attorney (or else does not understand the conventional modern meaning of "Esquire", which may be the case)*. G-d help us if that claim is true.

Imagine the ordacioty of Ms. Clinton to attempt to through another useless monker wrench at Obama's camp.  She needs to come off the stump and realize that Mr. Obama is the Democratic choice of the people.  Names do not sail in this race Ms. Clinton,  solidified resolves to issues does.  This man has a definite systematic plan of operations well in l'overture and ready to move in motion.  Ms. clinton is hindering the progression of the democratic party to move forward by refusing to concede.  Who does she think she is?  Mr. Dean National Democratic Chairperson you need to step up to the plate and derive a definite resolve and get her out of the way so that
Obama and Mc Cain can duke it out in the November 2008 election.
also, Ms. Clinton there is nothing more disturbing to America than an undercover racist whose true underlying colors lies beneath the crux until he/she feels threatened.
Let us just look at that first sentence and see how poor spelling makes it almost impossible to comprehend. First, what exactly is "ordacioty"? I think it may be "audacity", but I am not sure.

The author then provides an example of my favorite reason spelling matters, a misspelling which can be understood in some contexts but not in others. When I first saw the word "monker", I thought it a typo for "moniker". Once I read the full context, I realized it was "monkey", but, were it to appear in another context, it is possible readers could confuse this misspelling of "monkey" as a misspelling of "moniker".

And yet again, the final sentence provides an example of the same problem. The use of the word "crux" instead of (I assume) the word "crust" can lead to the same sort of confusion should the context be less clear.

Do I need to continue? I know many have adopted the "spelling and grammar don't matter" position as an article of faith, but can anyone look at that paragraph and tell me that it is comprehensible? Can anyone extract any more from it than the fact that the author really likes Obama and thinks Hillary is a racist who should step aside?

Yes, the thought are jumbled and the writing is poor, but that is not the only reason that we can get only ten words of meaning from over a hundred written words. The poor spelling and grammar actually make some sentences literally meaningless.

And that is why I continue to argue that spelling and grammar are important.

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* Actually there are four possible explanations for the writer calling himself "Esquire": (1) he is an attorney, (2) he does not know what Esquire means, (3) he  belongs to a rank of gentry below knight and baronet, (4) he is a consular officer. As those last two seem a bit remote, I am sticking with the first two. (I need to make a confession here. I was unaware of number 4 prior to writing this. I was checking that there were no meanings of esquire other than the traditional attorney and what medieval romances usually termed a "squire", which I already knew. Thanks to dictionary.com, I learned that consuls are also addressed as esquire. As I have had little reason to deal with consular officers, I was unaware of that usage before today.)

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POSTSCRIPT

I am aware I have some typographical errors and perhaps a few honest misspellings in my own writing. That does not make my point any less valid. Should a man who smokes tell you smoking is unhealthy, does that make the message any less valid? So, please, do not bother pointing out my own errors, as I am aware I fall short of perfection. That in no way makes perfection an unworthy goal.

For those who care to see my earlier, more extensive arguments, the essays "Spelling Nazi Part 2" and "Why Worry About Grammar" are probably my best thoughts on the subject.

ADDENDUM

After posting that, I noticed there was a biography on the blog and discovered that "Esquire" has nothing to do with law. In fact, I don't exactly understand why the author is using the term. So my initial complaint is not quite valid, the author is not claiming to be an attorney. Apparently the blogger just heard the term esquire and liked it, or is using it in a fashion of which I am unaware.

The biography is actually pretty bizarre. I still won't link to the blog, as I don't want this to seem a personal attack on the blogger. I only picked this essay as it so perfectly fits my contention that spelling and grammar can make essays completely unintelligible. (I didn't intend to write on this topic today, but after seeing this blog post I was struck by what a perfect example it made.)

So, though I won't link to the blog, let me tell you that the biography is a bit frightening. Mostly because the author of the quote above claims to be an educator. That does worry me.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/08.

Oops, My Mistake

Immediately after publishing that last post, I recalled that this is my second "No New Tuesday", and I started out with a news story.

Well, I can forgive myself an honest mistake. Especially as the tradition is so new. (At least it was not an essay on the election.) So, absolving myself of guilt for that first one, I will now proceed as if it never happened, and get on with my "No News Tuesday".

See, conservatives can be forgiving as well.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/08.


NOTE: As, at the time this was posted, I was not yet in the habit of linking to articles when mentioning "my last post" and the like, I will provide that information here. The article preceding this one was "It Is Just A Flame".

It Is Just A Flame

I have been watching the news and I am puzzled by both the protesters and the police protection being afforded the Olympic torch.

I understand that it is traditional to start the Olympic games with a flame that was carried from Olympia to whatever nation managed to grovel the most to the IOC, but do these people really think the flame is magical? If the flame goes out, do they think we have to go all the way back to Greece and get a new torch? Do they believe the games won't start if we lack a proper torch that has been carried around the world?

I understand the protesters a bit better than I understand the protection.

The protesters are upset at China for a number of reasons, and many are simply trying to get their message out. I can appreciate that*. I still wonder what they think will happen if they manage to extinguish the torch, but at least I get their motives.

What really puzzles me is the police protection states around the world are affording this torch. Who cares if protesters manage to put it out every five feet? Will Britain or the US fall apart if the torch is put out on our soil? Are we afraid China will be upset? It just seems to me that nations around the world are wasting a lot of money to protect a giant matchstick for fear of China being embarrassed. I cannot understand why so many other nations are spending a fortune in police protection in order that a flame can be carried around the world to start a sporting event in China. It seems a rather frivolous use of money.

My proposal is, if China wants to have Olympic games, let China pay to protect the torch**.

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* I am confused by those who want Tibet liberated but not Iraq, but at least I understand their position to a degree.

** I understand this would mean the US would have to pay for protection should we host another Olympic games, but I  would prefer that we not bother trying to host such games. I have real problems with the state spending money to attract Olympic games, sporting events or other private ventures. But that is another essay.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/08.

Charisma Versus Political Skill

Obama may or may not be charismatic. (I have come down on the side of "no" in the past.) But one thing I can say with certainty is that Obama lacks political skill.

I don't know how he ran his campaigns in Chicago. Perhaps he won the seat by being the anointed candidate of the party for his seat. Whatever happened in Illinois, he definitely is not showing any degree of political skill in this race.

Why do I say that? Because Obama is still a parishioner at Trinity.

Now, I know there would have been some small fallout if he left when the Wright story broke. Some would have accused him of selling out, some would have said his departure was tantamount to admitting something was wrong, but he could have easily smoothed that over with one of his speeches. Nor would the fallout be all that bad. Where were the black militants going to go? To Clinton? Or McCain? He has their votes no matter what. And those who would take his departure as a confession are still convinced something is wrong, so he did nothing to win them over by staying.

Most important, though, whatever the consequences at the time, by leaving he would avoid any future problems.

And we now see what form those future consequences might take. The new pastor who replaced Reverend Wright, rather than adopting the Obama line, and saying that Wright was taken out of context, or claiming that the quotes were cherry picked, has chosen to paint Wright as an angry prophet, speaking truth to power, and sticking it to the man. In short, Obama finds himself at a church every bit as publicly militant as that presided over by Wright. Nor can he claim again that this is an aberration, or that the press is cherry picking quotes. The new minister seems unapologetic in his praise of Wright's most angry speeches.

A better politician would have seen this coming. It should have been obvious Trinity was not going to pick a bland moderate to succeed Wright. A better politician would have cut his losses and run as far as possible form Trinity.

But Obama is not an astute politician.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/07.

Having It Both Ways

The entire Reverend Wright affair puzzles me. Not because of any of the facts, those are pretty clear. What puzzles me is what is the position of Obama and his supporters. As they have adopted so many, I still don't know what they actually believe.

At first, Obama had never heard Wright say anything. Then he had heard it, but it was an aberration, the ranting of a "crazy uncle". Then it was understandable, as Wright had been afflicted by American racism. And finally Wright said something but there was some undefined "more" to him.

Now we have Wright's successor arguing that Wright is much like Martin Luther King, making people uncomfortable with his prophecy.

So, which is it? Is this a set of cherry picked comments? Or the aberration of an addled old man? Or is it his intentional prophesying?

It can't be all of those. So, is Wright speaking his mind or is his speech being distorted? Is he proudly proclaiming words with which his former (and Obama's current) church agrees or is his former (and Obama's current) church ashamed of his senile rants? It seems the pastor at Obama's church thinks Reverend Wright's speeches were not only intentional, but on the mark. As Obama is still attending services there, I have to wonder if Obama will now leave, or will continue his tradition of 20 years silent assent.

And yet somehow the Democrats claim that this issue has been settled. Makes me wonder what their definition of "settled" is.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/07.

I Hate To Say It, But "Duh!"

I was reading John Fund's Political Diary, filling in for the Best of the Web on the WSJ site (no point linking as it will be gone by the time I post), and I was struck by how dense the quote of the day is.

Here is the quote in its entirety:

Quote of the Day
"When people think of the 'rich,' they might imagine billionaire plutocrats presiding over yacht fleets. Reality shows have made these folks appear remarkably prevalent. Lost in our obsession with the extremely rich, though, is another trend: over the past two decades, the ranks of the somewhat rich have also exploded. Indeed, the 8.4 million American households -- some 7.6 percent of all U.S. households -- with a net worth between $1 million and $10 million comprise one of the fastest growing demographics in the country. 'The rich are different from you and me,' F. Scott Fitzgerald once said. But according to The Middle-Class Millionaire by Russ Alan Prince and Lewis Schiff, these working-rich households are not so different from the rest of us, at least in their stated values.... Predominantly small business owners or principals in professional partnerships, these millionaires 'have achieved the American dream the American way'" -- writer Laura Vanderkam, writing at American.com.
So, why did this quote inspire my third grade response of "duh", you may ask? Simple, it is because if anyone thought for even a few seconds, the reason we have more millionaires will be horribly obvious.

Well, part of it is because we are getting wealthier. Despite all the doom and gloom of the chattering classes, America's economy is still fundamentally strong and growing. It was not crushed by the events of 9/11, it will not be crushed by this adjustment after an over-optimistic housing and lending boom. It continues to grow.

But the real reason this demographic is growing is that we continue to use the term "millionaire" as synonymous with "rich", while continuing inflation makes the distance between the millionaire and the average citizen smaller and smaller. Just think about it. Between 1971 and 1981, we underwent something like 600% inflation in total*. If prices and incomes multiplied sixfold that means someone earning $167,000 in 1971 was a millionaire in 1981. Voila! More millionaires!

Then again, this has given me a brilliant idea. Since people, even on the right, seem unable to distinguish between "rich" and "millionaire", then I have a secret path to general prosperity. If we tell the Fed to start printing money like it was toilet paper, start up some Argentina  style inflation, maybe even some good old Wiemar inflation, we could turn every American household into billionaires before the end of the decade.

And thus we can win the war on poverty. Because, obviously, if everyone is a billionaire, we have no more poverty any more.


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* Inflation figures vary depending on how inflation is measured, relative to gold, by CPI, by some other index, as an increase in any of the many measured money supplies, and so on. I do not recall where I got the 600% figure, but it is certainly one of the higher numbers. (I think it may be relative to the price of gold, given the high value. I have to check to be certain.) But, the point is the same whether you use this figure or another, as we inflate the money supply, the number of millionaires will increase, but it does nothing to increase actual wealth.

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ADDENDUM

I checked and discovered that the 600% figure was inflation as measured by the price of gold. By picking the dates 1971 and 1981 and that specific means of measuring inflation, it gave the greatest figure possible. More conservative figures, such as CPI, place inflation throughout the 1970's at less than 100%. (See this document for the chart of gold prices.) I used the 600% figure as it was the only inflation figure I could recall while writing, and it made for easy math. It doesn't really change my argument if you use a lower figure, it just takes longer. (For thsoe who are curious, the 600% figure came from Ron Paul and Lewis Lehrman's The Case For Gold. Despite my many problems with Ron Paul during his presidential run, this remains a very good work on the gold standard and free banking. Maybe not as good as Salsman's  Breaking the Banks, Anderson's Economics and the Public Welfare, or the seminal Human Action, but still a good shorter book.)

SECOND ADDENDUM

I forgot to add one other comment. The fact that someone has a net worth of $1 million can mean nothing more than they own a house with a yard in certain cities. Given the absurdly inflated prices houses have been drawing in some cities, especially on the east and west coasts, having a paper net worth of $1 million is hardly an accomplishment. Many houses that went for $300,000 in 1990 are worth well over $1,000,000 today. Which makes a $1 million net worth a bit less impressive.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/07.

The Drug Addiction Excuse

It is a commonplace of argument on both the right and left, the idea that drugs cause crime. The ends of the political spectrum may not agree on much, by they do seem to agree on this, that those who use drugs are somehow possessed and turned from law abiding citizens into raving criminals. The left may laugh at "Reefer Madness" and its depiction of drugs, the right may decry those who abdicate responsibility, or those who blame guns for crime, but both seem to think somehow drugs can create crime.

Sadly, both are wrong. Or mostly wrong.

First, let me admit where they are right. In those who would commit crime, whether or not they were on drugs, the monetary demands of drug addiction can spur them to commit more crimes. But the same can be said of the financial pressures of gambling, or the financial demands of marriage or children. No matter the cause, when a person predisposed to crime feels financial pressure he is more likely to commit a crime, perhaps even commit more crimes than he otherwise would. So, in that way drugs do cause crime, but that is hardly unique to drugs, any financial pressure would do the same.

On the other hand, drugs do not, in themselves, turn those who would not steal into thieves. And I can prove it.

Due to my disorder I have been using opiate pain killers for quite some time, long enough to develop physical dependence. Due to that I am physically indistinguishable from someone addicted to illegal opiates. If deprived of opiates both of us will suffer the same physical discomfort. So, when a very unpleasant doctor twice cut off my supply of pain killers as he thought I was taking "too many", why did I not go on a shooting spree? Why did I not hang out around ATMs waiting to mug someone?

Because I am not a criminal. Neither are the thousands who use opiates medicinally. Even when suffering withdrawal we do not run wild in the streets robbing and stealing to satisfy our needs. Despite the fact that we are filled with drugs indistinguishable from illegal opiates, we remain law abiding citizens.

My point being that drugs do not cause drug addicts to commit crimes. Drug addicts who commit crimes were those people predisoposed to commit crime anyway. But those pushing the "drugs cause crime" are not really interested in the truth. On the right, the line is usually pushed by those who strongly oppose ending the war on drugs, and they use this argument as yet another reason drugs must remain illegal. Those on the left are using it to explain why crime is so high in the inner city, blaming crime on drugs and poverty rather than on personal choice or weak enforcement, and it also provides them with a convenient means to exonerate any specific criminal, allowing them to blame drugs rather than the individual. So, neither side wants to face the truth.

Then again, there is one area where drugs really do cause crime, but, again, it is not an area that either side wants to face.

Being illegal, drugs are sold by criminals. And, just as with alcohol in the 1920's, these criminals have no way to settle disputes other than through brute force. This violence, however, is not inherent in drugs, anymore than the gangsterism of the 1920's was inherent in beer. Schlitz brewing does not send hit men to clear up billing disputes with distributors, because alcohol is legal now. Likewise, were drugs legal, there would not be the street violence we see today. But as that would mean both ending the war on drugs, and accepting that capitalism is beneficial*, neither side wants to embrace that position either.

Now, before I get accused of being a rabid, drug loving libertarian, let me say that there are other arguments for keeping drugs illegal. I have heard many, and , while I still believe that society would benefit on the whole from making drugs legal**, I am willing to entertain any arguments to the contrary***. All I want to point out is that drugs do not turn honest men into criminals and keeping drugs illegal does cause violence among the distributors.

In short, that the conventional wisdom is backwards. Drugs do cause crime, but among the dealers, not the users.

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* Actually, this argument is doubly bad for the left. Not only does it show that capitalism is effective at solving problems, but also that capitalism brings peace. As the left often pushes the "capitalism causes wars" line, saying that a capitalist market in drugs would end crime is a position completely anathema to most leftists.

** I actually go far beyond many libertarian types, arguing that not only should drugs be legal, but the entire prescription medicine system needs to be scrapped. It is odd, but many I have heard argue that heroin should be sold freely, but penicillin should still require a prescription. I can't make any sense of that argument.

*** For those who argue that making drugs legal would greatly increase usage, I offer this counter argument: If drugs were legal, would you be using them? If not, then why do you think others would? If so, then why do you want the state to substitute itself for your self control, at the same time limiting the freedom of others? On a related note, many states once outlawed sodomy, yet the supreme court overturned those laws recently. How many have gone out and practiced homosexual intercourse just because it is now legal? My point being that making something illegal may deter some from doing it, but not a really significant number. And making something legal once again will not significantly increase the number doing it. This is especially true today, when respect for the law is much lower than it was during prohibition, when illegality had more of deterrent effect than it does today.

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Postscript

As should be obvious from this essay, I do personally favor legalization of drugs, as I believe adults should be allowed to decide such questions for themselves, rather than having the state tell them what is god or bad to do to themselves. On the other hand, as I stated before, I am a federalist first, so I would gladly see individual state drug policies, freed of the pressure of the DEA and Washington in general, ranging from legalization to complete prohibition, so we could decide once and for all which is the optimal policy.

You see, I think that the increased crime I mentioned above is not offset by any advantages, but I am also willing to be proven wrong. I just think that anyone who proposes prohibition had better show some very impressive benefits to offset the negatives that come with prohibition. I am not saying that is impossible, just that it has not yet been done to my satisfaction.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/0/07.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Short Response to Boortz

I disagree with something Neal Boortz said in his column today.  In his perfectly correct attack on socialized medicine, Boortz listed the rights found in the constitution and came up with this list:

Freedom of religion
Freedom of speech
The right to peaceably assemble.
The right to petition the government
The right to keep and bear arms
The right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures
Protection from double jeopardy
Due process
A speedy and public trial by jury
The right to legal counsel when charged with a crime
It is a fine list, absolutely correct, until that final item. Or, rather, I disagree with the way the right is interpreted and the way Boortz interprets it.

The constitution does grant a "right to counsel", which means that a citizen has the right to retain an attorney to advise them during legal proceedings. But it is obvious Boortz is thinking in terms of the modern "right to counsel", which includes the state paying for this counsel in the case of the indigent, as he says all are "negative rights" except the right to counsel.

I would argue that the right to counsel is also a negative right, or was conceived as such, as the framers intended only that the state could not prevent you from hiring an attorney, or receiving the services of one acting pro bono, which is a negative right. For almost a century, that was how the right was read by courts, and legal aid was provided voluntarily by pro bono lawyers, not a state or federally  funded agency. Gradually, over time, it evolved into the modern right to a state funded attorney, but that was not the original intent.

So, in reality, Boortz is actually reading more into the constitution than was intended, which is ironic as he has opposed the expansion of the constitution in other contexts. But, historically, the right to an attorney was a negative right, and the indigent were covered by pro bono attorneys, not by state funded assistance. So, to argue that the "right to counsel" as written in the constitution is not a negative right is just incorrect.

I am not saying anything about the modern interpretation*, whether it is good or bad, all I am saying is that Boortz is confusing constitutional rights with the later rights attributed to the constitution. Unless he is willing to say the right to abortion is a constitutional right or that the constitution grants states the right to seize land to turn over to developers, then the right for state paid representation at trial is not really a constitutional right.

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* I do have some concerns with state funded counsel, but have not thought the issue through to the point where I have drawn a conclusion. On the other hand, I do think it is time to do away with the Miranda warning. At this time, does ANYONE not know they have a right to remain silent or to counsel? I think we are safe assuming they know this, even should an officer fail to inform them. It seems a meaningless technicality, simply a ritual, at this point. Most criminals can recite it as well as, or better than, the officer can, so what is the point?

Spell check update: It is clear that computer geeks wrote my spell checker.  They think that "int" is a word. As my hands work poorly sometimes, my spaces often become misplaced, so "into the" often becomes "int othe". The spell checker finds "othe" incorrect, but thinks "int" is a word. Which is a bit odd, as, outside of programming languages, does "int" have any meaning? (I know very few people are interested in my frequent complaints with my spell checker, but I just can't help myself.)


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/07.

Just Curious

I was adding comments to another blog, when it struck me that, as soon as a Democrat has the nomination locked, he feels the need to do something really stupid in public.

We had the Al Gore "alpha male" makeover by Naomi Wolf, where he said and did absolutely ludicrous things in public, all while giving the impression he had no idea what a fool he was making of himself. And, of course, it was also during the same period we had the self-aggrandizing "internet" quote (however one chooses to read it) and his claim of being the basis for "Love Story".

Then four years later, we had Kerry, starting with this "reporting for duty" absurdity, followed by the mythical Cambodian Christmas and his fabulous hat (which I am sure he has to this day, still).

So, given the tendency for Democrats to do something absolutely stupid once they have the nomination sewn up, I wonder what the next nominee will do?

If anyone has any guesses, about Obama or Hillary (or Gore, if you believe he may become the compromise candidate), post it in the comments section. I would love to see what my readers think will be the next bit of foolishness.

Of course, we also have to realize, no matter how many guesses we post, we will probably never get it right. If there is one thing that is certain, it is that the Democrats are completely unpredictable when it comes to finding ways to embarrass themselves. Who would have predicted the specifics of Monica and the cigar prior to that testimony becoming public? Or imagined that Kerry would have invented a mission to Cambodia assigned by a president who had not even been inaugurated?

The Democrats may not excel at much, but they are truly brilliant when it comes to making fools of themselves.

(Before a touchy Democrat accuses me of being one sided and unfair, this is all meant in good fun. If you want to mock McCain, feel free. I know I will be mocking him for the next four years, unless he makes some pretty drastic changes.)


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/06.

Off-Topic Gripe

I know this one has been bothering Doc Steech for some time, and I think it is time for me to mention it as well. (NOTE: The opinions below are mine, my mention of Doc Steech does not imply he has endorsed anything I am about to say. I only mention him because this article was inspired by a comment he wrote on the same topic.)

Townhall has an interesting assortment of blogs. Mostly right wing, a few left, most rather sparse, a few relatively active. They run the gamut from very erudite articles to barely intelligible, unformatted rants, from Christian theology to economics to geopolitics to physics, and from the sedate to the incoherently irate.  But one recent phenomenon has been kind of disturbing, blogs which exist solely to reprint articles written by others.

Now if they reproduced hard to find articles, or culled relatively obscure sources, or even if they reproduced articles and then wrote analysis of those article, I would have no complaints. But these blogs either simply cut and paste articles (or sometimes commentary), or else do so and then add a token comment of one or two lines. (There are a very few which cut and paste articles without making clear that they are the works of other writers, but I am not interested in that sort of plagiarism here, I am writing exclusively about the sites which do attribute the articles they reproduce.)

What makes these sites so annoying is not that they reproduce common articles anyone could find, but that they tend to post dozens at once, filling the lists on the "Your Blogs" page with worthless links to commonplace news items, and making it almost impossible to see if any interesting articles have been posted by those who are actually writing.*

I know that I can go directly to Reuters or AP or UPI, or check an official reprinter such as Yahoo news, Fox news, or my local news papers and television news, to get wire stories. Even Townhall prints wire stories on its news page. So I think these news reprinters are performing a dubious service at best**, and, in so doing, they are making the list of recent posts crowded and unreadable***.

But, perhaps I am the only one who feels that way.

So, please, let me know. If you agree, then please let the reprinters know (in a polite way) that you would rather they exercised some restraint. On the other hand, if you think I am over-reacting, or completely in the wrong, let me know.

Either way, this is the last I plan to say on the matter.

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* A similar problem happened when one left of center poster posted over twenty articles at once, each consisting of a single picture and a one line comment, all striving to show that not a single black person appeared in a photo with Sean Hannity. Not only was it pointless and annoying, it made it almost impossible to tell if anyone else was posting.

** As I said, there are some who dig up obscure stories from harder to find sources, and in that case I can see the value of their gathering articles in one place. Nor would I object were a poster to translate foreign language news sources, as that would provide a service of real value. I am speaking here of people who print AP/UPI/Reuters articles, or reproduce things from Frontpage Magazine, NRO and the other very well known online commentary publications. As their sources are so well known, it is hard to see what the point is in reproducing those articles.

*** As some seem overly fond of charging hypocrisy, I will say here that I do sometimes cite other articles, sometimes even reproducing substantial portions of their text. Yet, I always do so in order to either comment on the article or to use the article to illustrate a point. In only one case (where I cited a neologism - Obamanalities - from Best of the Web as the "word of the day") did I reproduce text without adding any substantial commentary.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/06.