Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cheap Labor Does Not Just Favor Big Business

Those who favor strong restrictions on immigration1, or who fight for high tariffs and other trade restrictions2, sometimes complain about "big business" trying to draw in cheap labor. They suggest that somehow this only favor only the "fat cats" and the like. I want to show that "cheap labor", and that includes buying cheaper goods from overseas, favors us all. That "cheap labor" is, in fact, to the benefit, not detriment, of the common man.

Well, let us first start by pointing out that "labor" is  no a uniform commodity. Communists and labor unions and protectionists want us to think so, so they use a single term and pretend that any additional unit of "labor" reduces the worth of all labor, but it just isn't so. Let us look at it this way, in the late 19th century, when the railroads were importing tons of Chinese to labor on the railroads, did it lowers the wages of surgeons in New York? Of course not. In fact, it didn't change the wages of bricklayers in New York, or even (except in the most abstract sense3) even the wages of unskilled labor in New York. For that matter, it wasn't changing the wages of surgeons of skilled masons in California either. The only people it might have touched significantly were those unskilled laborers in the west the Chinese directly replaced. And that shows our first important rule, even something as seemingly uniform4 as wheat varies in price due to quality and location, and that same is true of labor. Skills, experience and location cause the price of labor to vary.

The second thing to consider is, without Chinese labor, how much money would the railroads have cost? Would they have been completed at all5? But without the railroads, exactly how much would, say, western produce cost, if it were available at all? The use of cheap labor definitely reduced the overall cost of rail transport, and of those goods carried by rail, as the railroad for years to come needed to repay less labor cost from their founding. And that is the second important point, labor cost is embedded in everything we buy, lower labor cost reduces the cost of everything, and makes some things possible that would not exist at all without cheap labor.

Perhaps it would be easier though, if we ignored some distinctions. Let us, for sake of argument, forget our first point. Let us assume all labor is the same, and you could substitute a ditch digger for a skilled mason, or for a master electrician, or for a brain surgeon. This is essentially the world the unions depict (though maybe not the surgeon part, since they have a nebulous line between white and blue collar), and is the worst case scenario in terms of wages for bringing in cheap labor, as it means every additional unit of labor causes all wages to drop across the boards. In fact, to maximize that last effect, let us also assume zero cost to relocation, and an absolute willingness to change jobs or relocate. That would mean all labor is 100% interchangeable, as in simplistic video games or  some communist theories. This will cause the effect of population increases to be pushed to a maximum.

In such a scenario, the union types, and protectionists and others, would tell you it is suicidal to let in immigrants as they will depress wages. But this is actually a backwards view. As I wrote elsewhere it is akin to saying you buy things to justify working, instead of the truth that you work so you can buy things. It looks at production as the end and consumption as merely a byproduct, rather than the truth that we produce so we can consume. For those who doubt this, let me ask, does the farmer eat his food so he has room to plant more? Or does he plant crops to have food to eat? See? Consumption is the end, production but the means. So, rather than thinking every bit of labor reduces wages, we may want to say it reduces costs. If you do so, it suddenly becomes positive, rather than negative. Admittedly as one sided as the union position, but since consumption is more important than production, at least to individuals, it is arguable consumption should take precedence. But, fortunately, there is an even better argument that takes both into account. If we look at this in a more balanced sense, we will see that, viewing the matter in terms of consumption AND production, the end result is the same as a purely consumption driven view.

Let us imagine wages are depressed by 10%. In our hypothetical world, this would reduce all wages across the board. But, since it would reduce costs, all items would see a 10% reduction in the costs of labor as well. And labor, being the single component used universally, this would mean the cost of not just labor, but components would be reduced by 10%. So, superficially, it would appear this would be a wash. Since the rate of profit would be the same, and labor is at the root of the cost of all components6, prices would likely fall as much as wages did, and thus we would end up in the same situation as at the start.

But we are forgetting the initial cause for wages to decline, an increase in total labor. Since labor is required for any project, reducing the cost and increasing the supply makes some projects possible that would not have been possible before7. So increased labor would allow for an expansion of the economy, either new ventures producing old goods and services in greater quantities, or new products and services previously unavailable. Given that, demand would be greatly changed. Either increased supply would drop costs farther, resulting in even lower prices, or else new goods and services would absorb some demand, causing other goods to become cheaper, as demand drops for them. Either way, the greater supply of goods will increase total overall wealth, which will result in lower prices, and, as a result, though there is more labor, there is greater purchasing power, despite decreased wages. In short, lower labor costs enrich us all.

Or maybe a more simple example would make this more clear.

Let us assume you are on a desert island. During the day, you perform various tasks. You empty rain barrels into your makeshift cistern so you have water on dry days, you fish and gather coconuts and fruit, you chop firewood, you mend clothes, make tools and so on. Maybe two thirds of your efforts are providing food and water, the rest is either repair work or building new amenities of some sort.

Now, let us imagine a second person washes ashore. Is it good or bad? Well, considering how lonely you are I imagine your first reaction is excitement, but let us look at it in economic terms. Since it takes about two thirds of an individual's labor to feed himself, that means every individual can spend one third of his time repairing and building new goods. So, assuming you split these new goods evenly, it looks like it is a wash, s you still get the proceeds of one third day of labor and so does he. So, in the end, everything is the same.

But that ignores three other factors. Before, you had to take time to change form fishing to gathering to water hauling, to chopping wood and so on. Now, one person can do the task for two people, while the other performs another. This allows for less time required to stop and switch tasks, and increases efficiency. And it also, as the second effect, allows for a degree of specialization, which gives an additional increase of efficiency. Finally, there are tasks open to two or more people that one just could not do. It was unlikely you could haul the large stones from inland to build stone housing, or drag the larger tree trunks to try to build a boat for yourself. Now that you have help, new horizons are open to you.

So, in the end, adding a person enriches both of you.

And adding a third does this even more. And a fourth. At some point, you have enough people that you can completely specialize and quit switching tasks at all. This allows for total specialization and each person adds in much more labor than he consumes.

And that is ignoring other side effects, such as the increasing probability of discoveries by a greater number of individuals. We are not talking about just big inventions, either. Even tiny ones, such as a small improvement to fishing nets or better ways to move logs still help increase productivity, and statistically the more people doing a job and thinking about it, the more likely one may come up with such an innovation.

And what is true for a desert island is true for a nation. More labor, and that is what "cheaper labor" usually means, is a net benefit to society, and, in the end, enriches everyone. How could it help to do so? After all labor is not a zero sum game. If one is laboring, he produces, and thus, more labor equals more output, and more output means more wealth for all.

But, we have been ignoring one factor to which we need to return, as I am sure it will help us anticipate the objections of some protectionists. You see, when they say "cheap labor" sometimes they mean, not so much more labor, as bringing in less skilled (or less costly) labor to replace more costly and more skilled labor. There are a lot of assumptions in such argument, and in the end, sometimes their argument seem to amount to immigrants keeping unions from overcharging, but we shall deal with that after the more general discussion.

First, let us establish something, skilled labor is not easily replaced by unskilled labor. If it were, we would be doing so with domestic unskilled labor8. So, unless someone is working far below his skill level (in which case he would presumably be paid at the cost of unskilled labor making him unattractive to replace), he is not going to be replaced with unskilled labor. The only case where I can see a costly worker being replaced by less costly labor is when his wage is held at above market prices by union policy, but that is an argument against unions, not against immigration. By making workers MORE costly, unions impoverish us all for the slight benefit of a few. ("Slight" because their wage increase is partly eaten up by the decrease in total wealth and increase in prices.)

In short, the only argument against cheap labor, at least economically, is that it hurt union labor that is already being paid more than it should be9. I don't see that as much of a case, and certainly does not prove cheap labor only helps "big business". Sorry, I know it upsets a lot of nominal conservatives to hear it, but cheap labor is actually beneficial10.


1. I am not here arguing the entire immigration question, as there are many different arguments to be made on that topic. Were it purely economic, that is a matter of restricting wages, I would favor unlimited immigration. As there are other issues, the welfare state, assimilation, hostile nations and factions, health and so on (not all of which are necessarily legitimate), I will discuss immigration at a later time. For purposes of this essay, we are only considering the cost of labor.

2. For some discussion of all the issues relating to trade barriers see "Beware Populist Deception", "Protectionism Right and Left", "Fear of Trade", "The Inevitable Corruption of Protectionism", "Fear of the 'Big'", "Cheap Lighters, Overseas Dumping and Monopolies", "Free Trade, Employment, Outsourcing, and Protectionism", "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, and More Jobs", "Overly Simplified Economics and Confused Interpretations", "Production and Consumption" and "Clarifying a Reality of Capitalism". Some of these duplicate parts of this essay, but in less detail.

3. To be absolutely accurate, because the high demand for unskilled labor on the railroads would have bid up all labor of any kind nationwide by a few fractions of a cent per day, ALL labor lost out on a slight pay increase, and unskilled labor, being the closest substitute, lost out n maybe even a cent a day, at least those close enough to easily relocate. But the Chinese did nothing to lower the worth of pre-existing unskilled labor elsewhere, simply preventing a slight bidding up by the railroads.

4.  Wheat is actually not terribly uniform, it varies in a number of characteristics and is priced accordingly, just look at any commodities exchange listing to see (eg Wheat, No.1 Hard Red Winter, ordinary protein, FOB Gulf of Mexico, US$ per metric ton). But to anyone who does not routinely deal in wheat it seems pretty uniform, so made a good example of something apparently uniform being priced differently.

5. Railroads may not be the best example, as the government provided subsidies and thus they were not entirely market driven, but they are the best example of large scale importation of "cheap labor", so for the moment discount the involvement of public funds.

6. This is not to endorse the wage theory of price. Price is set by marginal utility. But costs are determined by inputs, and at its root, all costs are set by labor, since everything can be replaced by labor in one sense or another (either using brute force to replace a missing tool or machine, or using new labor to produce a substitute resource, etc.) Because our hypothetical is at first a steady-state system, with wages magically instantly dropping and consumption patterns remaining the same, reducing costs would effectively reduce prices until consumption patterns changed to reflect the new market clearing point. We shall be looking at this in the next bit. Just did not want to seem to endorse a mistaken theory of price.

7. Some might argue this would just increase unemployment, but there are several problems with that. Despite the claims of Marxists and others on the left, the unemployed do not change wages. If a worker is available but not employed, it is because he is not worth the wages he is asking (barring union meddling with labor markets, inflationary collapse and the like, but for the most part this is true, especially with unlimited relocation), and thus he could not drive down labor costs, as he is, effectively not in play. Anyone offering labor which would produce more than it costs would be picked up. (This ignores union interference, but our initial situation pretty much assumes an absence of unions, as unions would prevent free replacement of labor.)

8. I am ignoring minimum wage laws here, as they are a separate issue, and not an argument against immigration, but against minimum wage laws. If a job cannot be performed at the minimum wage, then, yes, it will be filled with one form of "illegal" labor or another, domestic or foreign, but that is because it is a bad law, not because immigration is harmful or "stealing jobs from Americans".

9. Unions can only drive wages above market if given governmental or quasi-governmental power, so this is really another version of the minimum wage issue. See "The Harm of Closed Shops and Collective Bargaining", "The Interests of Labor Versus the Interests of Laborers" and "Pro-Labor Cannibalism, A Look At The Union Food Chain".

10. If cheap labor is bad, (1) the US would have failed in the late 19th century, rather than seeing the greatest increase in prosperity we had to that point in time and (2) relatively underpopulated countries like Canada would be economic powerhouses. Or, to make a foreign comparison, in the 1930s France would have been outperforming Germany industrially, rather than the other way around. (Well, there are issues with inflation and bad regulations, so maybe not a perfect example, but it matches the pattern in broad outline.)



Some additional discussion of labor costs can be found in "How Wages Work", "Employment A to Z", "Contra 'Trickle Down'", "More Thoughts on Wage Disparities", "Capitalism and Its Consequences", "Competition", "Another Look At Exploitation", "Fairness and the Free Market", "Exploited Labor", "Capital Investment", "Exploiting Workers?" and "Two Sided Processes and Claims of 'Unfair' Outcomes".

One other note. Until we started paying welfare and offering "unemployment insurance", chronic unemployment was unknown. It is not a coincidence. If you are not getting a government check, more jobs look acceptable and you will adopt a more realistic idea of your worth. If you can hold out because of a subsidy, you will wait for a better job longer. Thus, as has been said before, we get as much employment as we buy. See "Peanut Butter and Disability". See also "Numbering the Unquantifiable".

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lawn Darts

Do any of you remember lawn darts? Oh, now they are seen as a joke, or a horror story. "You really threw heavy, sharp objects up in the air around little kids? How dreadful!" But when I was young, they were just another toy.

Anyone remember Shogun Warriors? They had really nifty hands that shot off and spring loaded missiles we could shoot at each other. At least until around the year I turned 10 or 11, when there was an outcry against toys that could "put an eye out" and all the Shoguns were recalled and the fists and missiles glued firmly into place and the springs removed. (We kids knew exactly how to reverse this process, we just never told our parents.) The same was done to the Boba Fett action figures you got for sending in 5 proofs of purchase from Star Wars action figures. The first run had a little missile in his backpack that could really fire, or so ads said. But by the time I got one, it had been neutered by the safety mob and was just a red nub firmly affixed in place.

And then there are my great grandmother's tales of "going shootin' with the boys" when she was a very little girl, and the occasional -- and excitingly gory, at least to the little boy I was when she told me -- story about a mishap, usually ending up with someone down one or two fingers or toes.

I admit, I am young enough and grew up suburban enough that shooting real guns was no longer common when I was young. But we did have BB guns and pellet guns and -- when my uncle wasn't looking and we could steal it -- a blowgun with 6 inch long steel darts. Not now, of course. Such things exist, but suburban parent seem worried that Nerf darts might have tips that are too hard.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I wrote this. We seem to think the world is getting more dangerous, and, maybe, in some respects it is. Terrorism is increased, though it was pretty bad in the 1970s and 1980s too. No 9/11, but a lot more smaller bombings and hijackings. But in a lot of other ways, the world is much safer. We live longer. We almost never die of starvation, and a lot of previously fatal diseases are gone or treatable at worst. Crime is a problem, but you don't routinely get robbed by outlaws when you leave the safety of a city or town. Our woods are not infested with poachers and thieves. Compared to the remote past, this is utopia. And even compared to the more recent past, things are pretty good.

And maybe that is the problem.

Some comedian once joked about old people being overly cautious, wondering why the longer you lived, the more careful you became about your safety. If you have an accident at 20 you could lose 60 or more years of life. At 80, an accident could shave off just a few weeks. Yet, it is true. And the same is true of us. The more safe life becomes, the more intolerant we become of even the slightest risk.

For example, why did we play with lawn darts? Not because we thought they could not cause an accident. No, we knew that. But because we accepted that sometimes people would get hurt. It is a truth, and one we need to accept. After all, we do it daily when we climb in a car. More people die in cars than from a large number of other causes, yet we routinely ignore this. Gun control advocates print numbers about gun deaths and think they justify a ban, blithely ignoring that auto deaths far exceed gun deaths every year. But, while we can somehow ignore that risk, we are impatient of so many others, so impatient that we enact absolutely absurd laws, all out of fear of even the most remote risk.

Some will blame this on the lawyers, and they play a part, but don't forget the changes to how the law was handled made the lawyers possible, and those changes came about because the public wanted them. We were intolerant of risk, and wanted the courts to save us, and so we gave the power to lawyers to do what we now complain about. As I said, being impatient with even the slightest risk can lead to dreadful, often unintended consequences.

The other problem, and the bigger one, is that, not only are we intolerant of risks, but we are missionaries about it. It is not enough I remove a risk from my life, I have to remove it from everyone else's too. Thus, rather than let another decide the risk he is willing to accept, I tell everyone they must adopt the same policy I favor as I know best. And thus, those who were fine with lawn darts and Shogun Warriors can no longer buy them, because those who found them too risky decided everyone must abide by that decision.

And that is the real crime here. I still think we are too risk averse and excessively worry about trivial threats, but if you want to do so, that is your choice. However,  the opposite is not true. If you think something is too risky, and I do not, often I cannot make the choice for myself, as the state has stepped in and banned the option I would choose. And thus, because we insist on making everyone do "the right thing", people no longer can choose, and we must all live as if we were as risk averse as the most nervous among us.

And that is more troubling that any lawn dart game could ever be. And more dangerous as well.

Both Sides Now

Sometimes, reading the comments on a very liberal site can be informative.

Tonight I was reading a Washington Post article, quite a reasonable one for the most part  -- well, except the usual nonsense of calling those of us who do not buy into the claims that global warming is man made, that it is accelerating catastrophically and must be fought with all our resources immediately, conspiracy nuts, but otherwise, pretty balanced -- arguing that Trump is playing to conspiracy theorists in the Republican party. Nothing I have not said myself.

However, in the comments I found this:
What's going on is that ever since the disaster of the Bush administration and the election of Barack Obama, the Republican Party has conspired to cause Obama's Presidency to fail, expecting the voters to turn to the GOP to make things right. When they failed achieve that, they ramped up the propaganda to make it seem like Obama's administration was a failure.

Truth is, the economic catastrophe of 2008 was followed by GOP intransigence against all progressive policies, but especially against fiscal stimulus. For instance, despite the extreme needs in a wide number of fronts, and excess capacity and low interest rates caused by the recession, infrastructure projects continue to be inadequately funded. Economists estimate that we need to spend $135B a year just to keep our public infrastructure from getting worse. But the thinking in the GOP is that such spending would help the Obama administration, so it is opposed.

These machinations are applied across a whole range of public policy. So, when Trump suggests "There's something going on," the conspiracy that he’s referring to originates within the Republican Party.
Now, this is interesting for many reasons, but mostly because it shows conspiracy theory can thrive on both sides of the aisle.

Let us look at several interesting aspects of this.

First, it is fascinating to see the left and right are not so different. The right often cannot accept the Democrats really do think they are helping or doing the right thing ("Technophobes and Conservatives -- The Risk of Assumptions", "The Futility of Blame", "Misguided, Deceptive or Evil?", "Tyranny Without Tyrants", "Three Versions of Evil and the Confusion They Cause", "Life Without Villains", "Enemies Into Villains", "Rethinking My Earlier Position", "A Small Digression", "The "Liberal Bubble" Becomes Universal" and "In Defense of Civil Debate".) and so either accuse them of actual malice, or, at best, of making a show to "feel good about themselves". Similarly, the left apparently cannot believe the Republicans are acting out of principle, it is all just a nasty plot to hurt Obama. SNDP. Same nonsense, different party.

The second interesting aspect is one that is purely left wing. The right, because the media is often left-leaning, understand the theories of the left, their economic and social beliefs, and so can understand when they act on those beliefs. Many may ascribe evil motives (as above), but we still know they are acting on principle.

Because there are many cities where it is possible to live in a liberal bubble, where everyone you meet shares your views, many on the left do not have this advantage. And we see it here. The writer cannot conceive of anyone not thinking "stimulus spending" is a good thing. To him it is completely obvious the stimulus spending is needed, and the right could only be opposing it out of malice. He seems to be unaware there even exist other schools of economic thought, some of which argue government stimulus spending is wasteful or even harmful.

Finally, to come back to my first point, it is more than amusing to find, following an article about Trump playing to right wing conspiracy nuts, an (admittedly mild) example of left wing conspiracy thinking. Does anyone really believe Republicans are sitting in congress, not trying to help their constituency, or to follow their beliefs they were elected to implement, but instead twirling their waxed mustaches and cackling over how they stopped Obama from making necessary stimulus plans? Really? If so, then they are as nutty as any birther.

As the title says, seems nuttiness is not limited to a particular political affiliation.


For the record, I want to list my "global warming" conspiracy beliefs.

1. Global warming did take place, though it has not been uniform and during some of the periods of peak attention actually saw some cooling
2. M&M's hockey stick graph is a fraud, for many reasons, but especially as it denies the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age for both of which we have historical proof
3. Current models fail to consider, or treat as insignificant, sun spots and other non-man made factors adequately
4. Current models overestimate the role of CO2 and water vapor
5. Current models are flawed as we simply do not know enough about CO2 sinks such as sea water
6. Current models overestimate positive feedback quite excessively and fail to consider possible negative feedback, such as increased plant grow
7. Current models cannot be run backwards to generate historical data, which suggests the model is incorrect
8. Insufficient account is taken of heat islands, or of differing accuracy of temperature proxies in older data
9. M&M should be ignored until they release their method and data which they have refused to do.
10. The "hottest year on record" claim is based on flawed proxy data that even some AGW supporters claim is pretty shaky

I could go on, but I think that covers the highlights. I am not denying the climate changes (it would be foolish to do so, it changes from day to night, winter to summer, and over longer spans, as we see in ice ages and warm periods). I do not believe any current warming trends are entirely man made, and I doubt the models for the reasons given. If someone could show me a model capable of running backwards and forwards with even modest accuracy, I would be much more happy with it. Right now, I will agree, temperatures may have been rising, though much was after the bulk of the industrial era (and another spike before), but the numbers are biased a bit by heat islands and better reporting in recent times, so we do not have good numbers for the degree of increase. In addition, assuming it is all or even mostly man made still needs to be proven, as models right now are inadequate and no other proof is offered. Not to mention the increases do not coincide smoothly with CO2 emissions, making it hard to argue from coincidence in time (which is, in truth, a pretty bad way to argue anyway).

There, that's my loony conspiracy theory. Make of it what you will.

Social Issues and the Role of Government

Before I begin, I should add the disclaimer I always seem to repeat in posts of this sort1. When I discuss what government should do, I am speaking of ideals, were I made emperor and allowed to shape the state to my whims (not that I would want such a job). Ideally, the state would be quite minimal, for example, dealing only with violations of rights, and leaving everything else to individuals. Realistically, I know imposing that sort of minimalism would be a disaster, as people are not willing to accept such a draconian change. Instead, realistically, I want to see government decentralized, with power mostly on the state, or even county or local level. I believe, in the long run, such a situation would tend to favor minimal government, but I also know, given human differences, there would probably still be locales where the laws did not come close to my ideals. But that is the strength, and the joy, of a federalist system. If a town's population likes paying more taxes for the government to do more, they can do that, and if you don't like it, well, if it is a local issue, your single vote and voice will matter -- matter a LOT more than in a national election -- but if you still lose, you can always move somewhere more pleasing. One size fits all at a national level leaves most of us unhappy, and so splitting power up into lots of little realms just makes sense.

Since that was kind of rambling, let me summarize. I would ideally like to see things as I am about to describe, but in realistic terms, even in my most optimistic fantasies, I would never imagine imposing it as a rule. I would leave the power in individual hands and, because I believe people are clever enough to figure things out, I have faith eventually a lot of people -- though probably not all -- will eventually, in the long run, come to the same conclusion.

Having said all that, I suppose it is time to actually begin the topic I wanted to discuss.

I have written before2 of my differences with social conservatives, especially the more authoritarian type who want to use government to make pretty serious intrusions into individual freedom in the name of moral behavior. I have also written of my own beliefs3, that social issues, that is any behavior which does not violate the rights of another, are best solved by the use of persuasion and other social pressures, not through government. And, finally, I wrote, though much less4, about my concern that Libertarians and others with similar beliefs not only ignore social issues, but actively avoid discussing them, which is somewhat detrimental to them5.

So, if I believe social issues are an apolitical issue, and think the social conservatives are wrong to push them into the realm of politics, why am I writing about them on a nominally political blog? Even more importantly, why would I say it is a mistake for Libertarians to so studiously ignore these issues?

The answer is simple, while I believe the proper solution is the use non-governmental means, the government is making that impossible, and, thus, making an apolitical issue political.

Think about it, other than the most obvious means of direct verbal and nonverbal criticism, what is the easiest way to show your distaste for someone's behavior? To refuse to have any dealings with them. However, in many cases, especially if that refusal is founded on certain social issues, this is now illegal. Nor is it just limited to cakes for gay weddings or hiring of only Christians or what have you. Ever since the courts decided that those businesses deemed "public accommodations" (and what business does that not describe?) are required to behave in certain government approved ways, the right to property has been seriously weakened, as have most of the more effective means of showing approval or distaste.

The concept originated, for the most part,  in the struggle to end discrimination. Failing to distinguish between discrimination by government, discrimination forced on private businesses by government and private choice to discriminate, the government, as usual, overreached, and essentially eliminated many types of property rights by declaring anyone running a business open to the public to have quasi-governmental obligations. Instead of being able to use your property as you saw fit, now, if you allowed in the public, you had to act as if you were bound by the same antidiscrimination laws as the state. But it was not just racial discrimination, over the years the laws expanded, covering sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation and so on. And, worse still, with the explosion of tort litigation, many began to fear what new type of discrimination a clever lawyer might manage to slip by a friendly court, and so simply gave up on ever exercising the right to refuse service. In short, because we were so set on ending "discrimination", we lost the ability to discriminate. And since we could no longer distinguish good from bad, proper from improper, or rather, could still distinguish but either were prohibited from, or feared to, act on that recognition, we lost the ability to apply effective social pressures.

That is why I argue social issues are political, even though in an ideal world I would see social issues well outside the realm of politics. Nor is that the whole picture. There are other, lesser issues where the state takes issues I would normally see as apolitical and turns them political. For example, state funding for various programs intended to support specific viewpoints. I would normally argue one's beliefs are well outside the realm of politics, and would never imagine your religion, politics or personal creeds of any kind would be the proper concern of politics. But, when government takes steps to favor or promote specific beliefs -- even the most innocuous and benign -- it becomes political. It is not the proper function of government to promote ANY belief, regardless of whether the majority considers it good, even if the support is unanimous, it is still not the purpose of the state. And thus, by doing so, the state makes an otherwise apolitical issue political.

But that could go on forever, as the state seems unable to keep its hands out of every aspect of life6. So I will cut this short, as my point is made. I do not believe these topics are the proper purpose of the state, but so long as the state does meddle in them, they are political, at least in as far as we try to get the state to leave them alone.


1. See "Reforms, Ideal and Real", "The Case for Small Government", "The Benefits of Federalism", "Minimal Reforms" and "Why I am not a Libertarian".
2. See "The Virtue of Novelty and the Value of Tradition" ,"The Trap of Tradition" ,"Culture and Government", "In Defense of Standards" , "Addenda to "In Defense of Standards"" , "O Tempora! O Mores!, or, The High Cost of Supposed Freedom" , "The Problem of Established Perspectives" , "A Bit of Clarification" , "Our Unique Age, A Tempting Falsehood" , "Inversion of Traditional Values", "Conservatism, Incremental Change and Federalism" and "In Praise of Slow Changes".

3. See "Divorce, Cross-Dressing, Crime and Drugs", "Another Look at Exploitation", "De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est", "Non-Governmental Communal Solutions", "Ordered Liberty and Our Modern Mindset", "New England Versus Virginia (And Venice, And England, And Rome...)",  "In Loco Parentis", "Harming Society", "Hard Cases Make Bad Law", "The Sexual Revolution and Prostitution", "Of Wheat and Doctors", "Government Versus Culture - A Forgotten Distinction",  "The Consequences of Bad Laws", "Humility and Freedom", "Costs and Benefits", "An Unusual Proof", "Collective Action and Government" and "Some Thoughts on "Summerhill"".

4. Sadly,while I recall mentioning this in one or maybe two posts, and can even recall most of the wording, I have been unable to find the actual articles.

5. Then again, I have recently been critical of libertarians for carrying on in such a juvenile way. To quote myself from comments on various sites:
I wish the Libertarian party would finally begin to act like adults. Even when they don't endorse candidates with peculiar (or worse) ideas, they still have all this side show nonsense, and lead with a non-starter such as legalizing drugs, which is no one's number one issue, and a tough sell to many. If they would just act like adults, stop putting on these absurd spectacles, and give some sign they took politics, or their party, seriously, people might listen to them. As it is, no hope.
I wish Libertarians would finally get past drug legalization. it is not the most critical issue of our age, and leading with it puts them constantly on the fringe. And their juvenile antics don't help either. I get it you are for freedom, but so were Jefferson and Madison and they acted like adults. If the Libertarians would grow up, maybe they would have a chance. (They have a "big tent" issue just like the Republicans, bringing in people from so many fringe freedom issues they look like loons, while Republicans had to deal with the impossibility of reconciling nationalist/protectionist/paleocons with small government/federalist/economic conservatives, not to mention sometimes authoritarian social conservatives. But at least the Republicans generally behave themselves, until they started cheering on Trump's foul mouth at least.) [typos corrected]
They would do better if they stopped acting so childish. Naked fat men and pushing drug legalization as a top priority does not say you take your cause seriously. Nor does trying to combine WTO protest anarchists with von Mises free marketeers. They are so doctrinaire in not having a doctrine other than "liberty" they come across as not taking things seriously. If they grew up, I might even consider supporting them. But as it is, they make so many tactical blunders, they have all the chance of winning of Lyndon LaRouche supporters.
Since they are given to appearing so childish, it is hard to imagine that, were they to address social issues, it would do them any good, as they come across as too juvenile to carry any moral weight.

6. I refer to this belief that the state can do everything, and do it well, as the "Swiss Army Knife view of government". It is the polar opposite of the "fear of government" beliefs that afflict some libertarians and even conservatives. The state is a tool, not a "necessary evil", nor a panacea. If we use it for the wrong things, it does them badly, or brings about unforeseen consequences. But without any state, life is a disaster. Thus, we should not fear government, or despise it, we need to recognize its proper role and limit it to that role. See "Caution, Not Fear", "There Are Other Solutions", "The Free Market Solution", "Skewed Perspective , or, How Big Government Becomes Inevitable", "Why I Reject Compassionate Conservatism", "Every Kid Likes Hotdogs" and "The State of Nature and Man's Rights".

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Best Remedy to Media Bias

Recently I was discussing a topic I have addressed in the past*, the topic of media bias, when I had an interesting experience. I have often written that, though I am confident in my positions, were I to encounter evidence to the contrary, convincing evidence, I would be more than willing to change them. Well, for once, something along those lines took place. Where I had imagined I had thoroughly thought through and examined a topic, a bit of discussion convinced me, not that I was wrong, precisely, but rather that I had not thought about the topic enough, that I had been somewhat superficial in my analysis and needed to rethink things.

The problem is, while discussing media bias, I was doing so in the rather superficial terms used by the popular debate, and not truly thinking about what that term meant. In my recent debate, realizing the individual with whom I was debating was using the term differently than I, it struck me that "bias" is a term with several potential meanings, and thus, it may be beneficial to return to our discussion of correcting media bias, and the impossibility thereof, in terms of my new understanding of bias.

As I see it, there are three possible ways in which we can discuss "bias" in the media, one of which is unacceptable -- and is probably the original meaning of media's claims to be "unbiased" -- one of which is acceptable, although often denied -- and is the source of confusion over debates about "media bias" -- and a final type of bias, which is sometimes denied, but sometimes not just accepted, but even openly announced.

The first bias, the one which simply is incompatible with any professional media, is the bias which distorts facts, or even invents false reports. This sort of "bias" is clearly unacceptable, and probably is the origins of the claims by reports to be "free of bias". As I shall argue, and have before, while the claim probably started with the elimination of this sort of bias, it was, unfortunately confused with the next sort, creating an unacceptable, superhuman standard for the media to uphold. Obviously, any discussion of media should start by denouncing this sort of bias, and I believe we can agree any media which hides or distorts facts is unacceptably deceptive. In the sense of eliminating this sort of deception, I am willing to accept that an "unbiased media" is a proper goal, but only in that sense.

The second sort of media bias is the one where I believe the confusion arises. This is the bias inherent in applying any sort of interpretation to the raw data. Every such interpretation relies upon some set of beliefs, as it is impossible to interpret anything without an underlying theory. Even if you consult "experts" for the interpretation, the selection of experts is, in itself, a bias, as there a near infinite number of possible experts, and doubtless a reporter will rarely consult more than two or three. Thus, any sort of real reporting, anything other than simple "police blotter" type factual blurbs, will inevitably bring into play the beliefs of the reporter.

Now, many may claim this sort of "bias" can be removed, and the reporter present a fair and evenhanded interpretation, I argue, as I always have, that such a claim is simply nonsense. A reporter may be able to present the opinions of a few individuals, but even then, selecting which opinions represent the range of valid opinions is, in itself, dependent on one's underlying beliefs. Why present the Democrat and Republican talking points instead of the Communists and Nazis? It may make sense as the "majority opinion", but that still argues there is some greater significance to the opinion of the majority than any specific minority. And most reporting is not simply a survey of the opinions of others, it presents some interpretation of its own. And that sort of bias is impossible to remove. Yet, because we have confused this bias with the first type, we have come to imagine removing it is a worthy goal. In fact, have come to believe it is foundation of good reporting.

As I argued earlier, I think eliminating this sort of delusion, the belief that an individual can somehow report "factually" unchanged by his beliefs, is simply absurd, and we should instead recognize the role individual beliefs play in reporting.

Finally, let us look at the third type of bias, the sort that is sometimes hidden, sometimes public. This bias is the bias inherent in what one chooses to report. In some cases, as I said, this sort of bias is proclaimed, as in photography magazines obviously centering on stories of interest to photographers, or the organs of various political or professional groups focusing on topics of interest to the membership. That sort of bias exists without apology, and rightly so. Would we want a photography magazine to pretend to be unbiased by reporting on local traffic laws or the state of the IMF? No, we accept that certain journals are aimed at certain markets.

On the other hand,many supposedly unbiased newspapers and broadcast media outlets exhibit a similar bias in what they report, but one they fail to acknowledge. For example, when an editorial board leans left, especially on gun control, we will often see extensive reporting on gun violence, innocent bystanders and accidental shootings, but few stories on crimes prevented by guns. On the other hand, when the editorial board slants the other way, this trend will be reversed. No acknowledges such bias, there is imply an understanding among reporters and editors on what is and is not "newsworthy".

This sort of bias often joins with the second sort. For example, take our pro-gun control editorial board. If a report comes out saying gun control laws correlate with higher crime, it will undoubtedly be treated as a minor story, if reported at all. But, beyond that, such a perspective will likely not be used as the foundation for interpreting facts in other stories, and experts who support such a position will either be ignored, or treated as representing minority opinions. And, obviously, an anti-gun control editor would slant things exactly the other way, treating the report as a major news event, and relying upon its findings as justification for a specific interpretation of events.

In either case, it is unlikely the editors will ever recognize this bias in the choices they make about what to report. They may not even recognize it themselves. They may simply believe that the stories they report are the truly important ones, and those they ignore are not worthy of attention. Still, it is a form of bias, and one that forms a sort of synergy with the second type, as it is very easy to support a bias in interpretation by simply ignoring stories which run contrary to that bias.

What we need to recognize is, while the first bias -- that is explicit falsehood -- can be eliminated, and should be, the other types are, as I have been arguing, not just pervasive, but impossible to eliminate. After all, one cannot simply "report all the facts" as the amount of possible facts to be reported is infinite. And thus one must select, which inherently displays some bias in deciding which are and are not important. Similarly, all but the most minimalist reporting must contain some interpretation, and interpretation inherently rests upon some underlying philosophy, one cannot avoid it. And thus, beliefs cannot be excluded from reporting, which means bias is inherent in all reporting. It is unavoidable.

Which is why I still reach the same conclusion I did before. Rather than persist in our delusion that truly unbiased reporting, reporting of facts alone without any personal bias, is desirable, or even possible, I would argue we should simply make such bias open, admit what the public already recognizes, that a given paper or channel is slanted left or right, supports this party or that, believes in this or that economic theory and so on. If we do so, not only do we stop insulting the viewers' intelligence by denying a bias that is all too evident, but we allow the viewers to understand the theories underlying a given report, and to adjust their interpretation accordingly. If we recognize the bias of an outlet, readers can then take the reports of several opposed philosophies and average them to reach something closer to the truth. Or, at the very least, find those outlets which reinforce their own biases, and find news which, if biased, at least reinforces their own preconceptions.

Either way, by admitting to the biases which everyone except the journalists themselves recognize**, reporters will regain some credibility they lose through absurd denials of an all too evident bias.


* See "Some Thoughts on the Media", "The Press Versus the Nation", "The Death of Impartial Media", "The Impossibility of Unbiased Reporting", "The Failure of Peer Review", "Intellect and Politics", "The Path of Least Resistance" and "The Rebirth of Skepticism".

** Actually, journalists are amusing. They are happy to recognize the bias in their opposite number, with "mainstream" reporters denouncing Fox's "bias" (and v.v) while failing to recognize their own.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

No More Double Standards

I am afraid I no longer know if I have a political home. And no, I do not mean because of my departure from the Republicans. Rather, I am at a loss of what political group  with which I want to associate myself. I think of myself as conservative, or more accurately federalist, but there are two problems there (as I shall describe in a moment). I might be a libertarian*, except the party is so juvenile, even silly, pulling all sorts of unworthy antics to show how "free" they are, so many that no one takes them seriously, because they don't seem to take themselves seriously. But I might overlook that, were they not inclined to let in any group, no matter how much at odds with their beliefs, provided they claim to be "for freedom". And so, you have communo-anarchists and Austrian school economists trying to fit under the same "big tent". That is not a tent, that is a tarp the size of Great Plains! And obviously I am not anything on the left, and if conservatives consider my economic and political views extreme, I don't fit in with moderates, so I am at a loss as to what I am

But, why am I not comfortable with conservative, or conservative federalist, any longer? Well, it may cost me my few remaining intermittent (and silent) readers, but there is something that troubles me about conservatives, or rather two things. Maybe it would be most accurate to say two expressions of what seems to be the same thing.

The first problem I have discussed before, and that is the inclusion of some disparate, and often troubling, factions within the Republican party, and even the broader conservative movement. As anyone who reads me knows, I am a small government, free trade, federalist conservative. To me, the primary interest is to politically limit the power of the state. I am not upset by social conservatives as such, I even agree with some goals. My problem is with those who seek to increase state power to force their ethical views upon others. As a minimalist, I believe the proper means of changing behaviors that do not violate the rights of others is through a combination of persuasion and social pressure. So, I disagree with the more authoritarian social conservatives, but they are not my primary concern.

No, my first objection is to the nationalist and paleocon movements which were embraced by the Republican big tent. Countless times, I felt I had to hold my tongue to avoid fights when someone would start tossing around racist theories or explain why only Christians could be conservatives or offer up some other theory. Why? Because it was one of those arguments that came up constantly, but could never be settled. I could object to nativist theories, but the other individual would inevitably argue he was the "true conservative" and I was a "RINO". I could allege the opposite, but thanks to the big tent, there was no arbiter, no platform to which we could appeal. The party catered to both conflicting views, and so we were equally right, or equally wrong. It was pointless. And infuriating.

And now, thanks to the Trump candidacy, it has come back to bite us, splitting the party as one faction tries to gain control over the whole.

But that has been discussed endlessly, and it was not enough for me to bemoan my situation, so, what is the second problem? Well, it is related, and sadly, much harder to work out.

You see, I thought, now with the Trump fanciers gone, for the most part, anti-Trump bastions should be relatively sane. Of course you always have a few outliers, a few odd individuals. For that matter, with my extreme views on government's role, I am sometimes an outlier myself. I accept that. But, for a time, I was happy associating with people who recognized how offensive Donald's comments about "Mexican" judges were. I thought I was finally comfortable in a political movement.

And then the shooting happened.

And I discovered there was a side to conservatives that still remained. Not every one, but a huge number, suddenly lost their minds.

It is a common line for conservatives to argue that liberals respond with their hearts and conservatives with their heads. But you can't tell when it comes to Moslems.

Suddenly, everyone was calling for deportation. Insisting every statement was a hidden sign of radicalism. Decrying the lack of moderate Moslems denouncing this event, but when they did denounce it, claiming it was just taqiyya and meant nothing. In short, they were sounding a lot like Trump's followers.

Now, I am not saying there are no Islamic radicals, even entire states supporting terrorist elements. Between fundamentalist Islam and Arab nationalism, there are plenty of hostile states. But, it is absurd to imagine Islam is "a political movement not a religion" or imagine every Moslem is predisposed to violence. It is sad to hear those who rankle at cherry picking offensive quotes from the Bible doing the same to the Koran. Hearing those who claim God opposes homosexuality saying the same statement from the shooter's father proves the father is a radical. People otherwise favoring small government wondering why the FBI did not just arbitrarily arrest the shooter, why we don't deport his family, why we don't ban Islam and so on. And the insistence that this shooting could not be due to any individual insanity, but had to be laid at the door of Islam. (If a Christian said he killed people because of his faith, we would call him mad, but let a Moslem says ISIS did it, and we lap it up.)

Of course, reading this I know many will object. They will argue Christianity and Islam are different, there are no Christian terrorists, and so on. But, no, in many ways they are quite wrong.

For example, those shooting abortion doctors, they do so from religious motives. Were they Moslems doing it, we would sure call it terrorism, so why do they say there are no Christian terrorists? Same for the Klan and Christian Identity folks, they claim to be motivated by religion when assaulting and killing others. Granted, the state has kept them largely in check in recent times, but it is absurd to say there are no Christian terrorists.

Now, I am not saying the two faiths are exactly equivalent, nor denying Islam has some radical elements. What I am saying, is it absurd and excessively emotional to instantly assume every Moslem is a secret terrorist, or that the instant a Moslem does anything bad it is because of his faith. When the left blames Christianity for every nutty act by a Christian we denounce it, but we do the same for Moslems. That is hypocritical.

And that is my problem. I thought without the Trumpers and the nationalists and paleocons I would be happy among the rump Republicans (or conservatives, if the Trump types seize the party), but I have discovered that the belief they are being "sensible and hard headed" about Islam has made many Republicans every bit as bigoted as the Trump crowd. Well, maybe not quite so bad, but their belief that there is a single, blood thirsty Moslem mindset reminds me of the nativist claims about Catholic, or just "immigrants" a century ago, and I cannot in good faith continue to belong to a party that does it. I put up with it from the paleocons and others for a time, but only because I thought they were but one element of the party, not the whole. Now that the party is reduced to a single faction, and I find the beliefs still prevalent, I don't know where I can go.

As I said, this will probably offend most of my minute number of remaining readers, and likely a good number of those who happen upon my site, but I am tired of putting up with this sort of bigotry in the name of getting along. Doing that led to Trump. Unfortunately, the only alternatives seem to be bad ones. There are the Constitutional Party groups, but they embrace a "fear of government" position that worries me, including the associated extreme isolationism, at least they did last time I checked out their policies. (If they have changed, then perhaps that is a possibility.) And, as I said, the Libertarians are too doctrinaire in avoiding doctrine, if that makes sense, seeing no difference between Bakunin and Bastiat, vonMises and Marx, and accepting anarchists, utopian socialists, near terrorist national liberation groups and others, all in the name of a big tent for freedom. Add to that their incredibly immature antics, and I cannot in good faith join them.

And so I am left trying to figure out where I belong once more. I know what I believe. I want government as small and as local as possible, with the power mostly resting in the individual. I believe government is not a "necessary evil", but a tool, a tool often abused, but still a necessary and useful tool. I believe wars can be fought when the enemy is not in our territory for the same reason you don't have to wait for a burglar to aim his gun before defending yourself. If there is a clear threat, acting is not just allowed, but an obligation, as waiting makes things worse. I believe the state should limit itself to protecting the rights of individuals, anything else is the province of society, private decisions and private activity. And I think that's it, at least as far as government is concerned.

Well, we shall see, maybe I will eventually find a home of some sort.


* See "Why I am not a Libertarian".


POSTSCRIPT (Update 2016/06/15)

It is odd, but both sides of the aisle have troubles handling reality. The left wants to insist Islam is no different than the Rotary or Kiwanis, that it has no part in any of the terrorism we see, while the right wants to see it as something akin to the Illumniati, a secret society which can never be trusted whose members never mean what they say.  Then again both make absurd comparisons to Christianity as well, with the left seeming to see both religions as pretty much equivalent (though since the left tends to be pretty hard on believing Christians, they may see Moslems as slightly better), while the right, because they are so favorably disposed toward Christianity, cannot understand many of the ways they attack Islam could just as easily be used to distort Christian teaching as well, and also fail to see Christianity is used to justify bad things at times. To the right, because Christianity is true, no bad can come from it, so of course it is nothing like Islam, while the left see all religions as slightly suspect, so don't see much difference.

As I said, both are a bit blind, just in different ways.

UPDATE (2016/06/19): I was looking through comments on Facebook and saw a number of great examples of this. First, farming the Koran for anti-unbeliever quotes. Then, a piece about the Woodsboro Baptist Church.  The response, "they're not real Christians", "probably mudslimes", and so on. So, if Christians misbehave, they're not "real Christians" but if Moslems behave, or espouse peaceful intent, they are deceiving us, or denying the "truth" of the Koran. Likewise, Bible quotes that endorse slavery, murder or killing the unfaithful are "taken out of context", but the same from the Koran show the truth of Islam. It is a double standard which inevitably convinces its believers Islam is always evil and Christians always good. And a non-productive double standard at that.

Let me be clear, there are radical Moslems, more than radical Christians, for a number of reasons both historical and political. For the historical see my old essays "What About the Crusades?" (which may interest those who dislike this post, as its point is why so many militant, radical Islamic states exist) and "Perceptions of Iraq" (which argues against claims Iraq was "not ready for Democracy") , which I still think fairly accurate, for the political, one need only recall how the Palestinian refugees were used for political ends of various states, or how Iran has used its position as a theocratic state to attempt to exert control in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, or even how the Saudis -- or at one time Saddam Hussein -- cynically use religion to bolster their regime and exert control over their populace. Thanks to those realities, there are many radical Moslems. On the other hand, there are also many non-radical Moslems, and to treat them all as enemies is to needlessly multiply foes. Why not give them a fair shake? After all, who better to distinguish between radicals and moderates than moderate Moslems themselves? But, of course, if we decide to start shouting about "mudslimes" and "sandni**ers" I doubt they will be much inclined to assist in that undertaking.

So, no, I am not denying reality, I am not ignoring the radicals in Islam. What I am doing is not making the opposite mistake and ignoring all the faults of Christianity, as well as ignoring the Moslems who are not our enemies. To do so is foolish, and, though many will dislike me for saying this, bigoted. And that is why, aside from my general distaste for the mindset which embraces racism and bigotry, I oppose a lot of the current thinking in the conservative movement, and, sadly, not just among Trump followers.

NOTE (2016/06/19): I noticed I forgot to include the entry for the note I included in the essay when I originally wrote it. I have gone back and provided the link I had intended to include.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Why We Have RINOs

I have recently been writing about the problems that were inherent in the Republican party's "big tent"1. It is hardly the only party to suffer from such problems. The Democrats have a similar issue, with their combination of unions, racial pressure groups, more radical socialists and others, and moderate mainstream liberals. Even the Libertarians, though suffering a slightly different problem, suffer from their refusal to turn away any group which ostensibly embraces some sort of freedom, leading them to embrace a number of groups which are PR nightmares, as well as offer a terribly diluted platform lest they offend any of the disparate groups that make up the party2.

But the Republicans have a particularly harmful combination, much worse than that effecting other parties -- especially since the Democrats lost their conservative southern members in the 1980s -- and, thanks to historical accident, they have perhaps the most incompatible set of groups.

So, before we look at the impact this philosophical inconsistency has had on the party platform and the politicians the party elects, let us look a little more at the various elements of the party, and the history of the party, at least in terms of how it created the current "big tent".

The Republicans of the 1850s and 1860s were a different beast. They were, for the most part, the successors to the Whig party, though even that is not entirely accurate. In the period when the Republicans came into being, the Democrats were certainly the preeminent party. At the time, they were officially the party of states' rights, small government,  free trade, hard money and immigration (though it was not a serious issue at the time). But things were changing. The Democrats were being torn apart, not just by questions of slavery, but also by the early expressions of Populism in the west. Thus, the Democrats began to split, with Southern Democrats largely maintaining the same philosophy, while northern and western Democrats began to embrace abolition, along with accepting some free minting of silver, inflationary, pro-tariff and other interventionist argument, though only to a limited degree. At the same time, the Whigs were largely the party of the same things, just more so. They had never been strongly pro-abolition, but otherwise, the Whigs were similar to the Republicans, pro-tariff, for centralized banking, easy money, pro-regulation, for more centralized power and anti-immigrant (again, not that it was a serious issue at the time).

The Republicans largely came into being as the party of abolition, but, as they were also the opposition party tot he Democrats, especially southern Democrats, they adopted much of the Whig and Progressive philosophy, embracing easy money, big government, tariffs and protectionism and the rest.

After the end of the Civil War, the Democrats went back to what they were before the war, becoming once again the party of small government, free trade, states rights and, an increasing issue, immigrants3.  The Republicans were the party that opposed immigrants and Catholics, fought for easy money and big government, and, as time went on, also came to be associated with prohibition, the temperance movement and other efforts to use government to enforce specific moral rules upon the public. It was this group that was to form the earliest of Republican factions, as it would persist throughout the party's existence, forming the group that would eventually become the nationalist, protectionist, sometimes nativist or even racist, group we call "paleocons". (As well as the "Rockefeller Republicans", who differ in a few traits.)

In the 1890s4, the Democrats saw their party taken over by the Populists. It was not sudden, it had been coming since the time of the Civil War. western state Democrat parties tended to be "farmers and workers" parties only nominally associated with the national party, and they were mostly favorably disposed to the rising tide of Populism. By 1890, the weight of population had finally given them the edge they needed and the Democrats changed. It was not a total victory, or instant. Grover Cleveland managed to hold old hard currency, small government beliefs and yet get elected twice, but between 1890 and 1912 the transformation took place and the party of Jefferson, Madison, Jackson and Cleveland was turned into the party of Wilson and FDR. The few remaining small government federalists disappeared into small third parties, or remained voiceless members of the Democrats and Republicans.

The same period saw the Republicans touched by a similar crusading spirit. The reform Republicans sought to fix the supposed problems of the free market, giving us institutions such as the FDA and laws such as the Antitrust Act. (It is no coincidence the Antitrust Act and Free Silver Purchase Act are both attributed tot he same man.) This crusading spirit formed the second group within the Republicans, as some paleocons remained immune to this spirit, and became the "country club Republicans"/"Rockefeller Republicans" often denounced in the 1970s, while others were imbued with a fear of banks and big business, as well as a weakly felt love of unions, traits which are part and parcel of many modern mainstream paleocons.

As the century wore on, the Republicans sides with the Prohibitionist movement, partly out of fellow feeling, but also partly because so many issues they both supported made common cause beneficial. For example, the German immigrants in many cities also tended to support private schools, beer halls and hard currency. Thus, the soft money, anti-immigrant Republicans who also endorsed secular schools (mostly out of anti-Catholic feeling) found it easy to make common cause with Prohibitionists5. And thus, over time, the two parties effectively merged, giving us the second large Republican faction, the social conservatives, those who favor using the state -- to varying degrees -- to enforce a specific set of moral rules.

Sometime during the 1930s and 1940s, opposition to the Roosevelt administration began to bring the old constitutionalists into the party. They were not terribly prominent at first, as can be seen by the still largely paleocon philosophies of the 1950s. (Eg Eisenhower's periodic rants against big business.) Only with the rise of Goldwater and even more Reagan, did the final large group come into being in the form of the so-called economic conservatives, who also were largely federalist and small government, as well as free market. (Yes, this is the group in which I see myself, or did until I left the party this year.)  They had varying fortunes, as we can see from the largely social conservative presidential campaign of Huckabee or the influence of the paleocon voice of Buchanan, and, more recently, the paleocon/nationalist support for Trump. But, at least for a time, say from 1980 until the failure of many of the measures in the Contract with America, they definitely held, if not the majority of membership, at least the lion's share of the power.

It would be a mistake to see these three groups as either all-inclusive, or even completely distinct. There were a few other small factions, such as single issue voters -- largely pro-life though there were also groups like the intermittently influential "defense conservatives" who, following the post-Vietnam period of Democratic abandonment of responsibility for defense,  turned to the Republicans based on the single issue of defense -- there were also the former southern Democrats who often seemed a segment unto themselves. And, even just considering the largest three factions, it is still hard to define their boundaries with precision, as many members drifted from one to the other, or even fit within two or more simultaneously (even if it sometimes meant radically inconsistent beliefs).

So, why did I offer up all this history? What is the point?

As I have argued before, this inconsistent, incompatible blend of ideas is of significance because it helps us to understand much about the Republican party, especially, in recent times, why so many are disappointed with the party and why Republicans, far more than Democrats6, are prone to questioning the loyalty of their fellow party members, explaining the prevalence of charges of being a RINO.

Just look at the platforms the Republicans have run on, or the criticism leveled at candidates and office holders. Or, better yet, imagine a few situations for yourself. A bill comes up liberalizing trade with foreign nations. If you support it, the federalists will love you, but paleocons will call you a RINO. A proposition is made to restrict pornography on the internet. If you pass it, the social conservatives will love you, and maybe the paleocons, but the federalists will call you a RINO. And the list goes on and on. Immigration, trade, the size and scope of government, the role of government, and so on. The various components of the party cannot agree on any of these issues. And so, no matter what you do, some branch of the party will claim you are not a "real conservative."

Given this, is it any wonder many politicians in the Republican party simply give up on principles? Some, I grant you, pick one philosophy, and stand by it with honor and consistency, but they suffer for it, being repeatedly attacked by not just the opposition, by considerable numbers of their own party. Which is why, for many, it is simply easier to give up, adopt whichever policy is more expedient, to worry most about one's own interests, since the party will vilify you anyway.

Nor is it just limited to politicians. For every segment of the party, they find themselves feeling they need to apologize for the others. When all three (and more) claim to be conservative, those outside the movement are often confused and imagine what one conservative says is true of the entire philosophy. And thus each segment finds itself being ascribed beliefs it would never endorse, suffering bad press from ideas alien to them.

And it is not just superficial differences. On the left, there is, in general, more agreement, especially since they lost the southern Democrats in the 1980s. For the most part, on a considerable number topics, their disputes are not about significant issues, but rather on how radical they wish to be, how quickly to proceed and what measures to take or avoid7. On the other hand, on the right, we have disagreement about fundamental questions. What is the proper role of government? What is the purpose of laws? What is our position on trade? On currency? We have disagreement on nearly every fundamental political question. And yet somehow claim to be not just a single party, but a single philosophy.

Which is why I wrote before8 that this coming split, brought about by Trump's presidential campaign, may be  a blessing in disguise. Yes, it will split the right into two, three or even more factions, leaving us numerically inferior to the Democrats. And it will certainly lose 2016. But, on the other hand, it will finally allow each faction to present itself honestly, to find candidates who are committed, and to reward them for that commitment. And, at last, allow the voters to indicate which beliefs matter to them.

Nor does the split mean we will forever be at the mercy of the left. With a more coherent message, we will be the often praise voice not an echo. We will each seem coherent while the Democrats will now sound muddled and vacillating. I don't think the new parties of the right will steal dedicated Democrats, but they might steal way some of the borderline cases. And will have a better shot with independents.

Nor is there any reason these new parties cannot cooperate when they have a common interest. Or even when they can negotiate to serve one another's interests without harming their own. And, over time, with the new parties being so much more clear in their visions, it is likely new voters will be attracted in greater numbers, allowing the new parties, with time, to become once more viable political forces.

I know, it is not a very cheery picture in the short run, but we made a mistake and need to fix it. We need parties with clear messages. But we failed to do so, we embraced the big tent and we must now pay the price. Fixing it will not be fun, will not be without cost, but we cannot put it off forever. It is time we behaved like adults, accepted that we must pay for an error and accept the costs. And then we can begin the important business of rebuilding whichever of these new parties seems our best representative.


1. See "What Does Not Kill You...", "The Problem With the Big Tent", "Most Absurd Debate Since ... " and "Nice to Get Confirmation".

2. I have written on various web sites that the Libertarians, because they accept so many outre groups, give the appearance of being childish and not taking their own beliefs seriously. They also have serious politico-philosophical issues. Since people can claim to be "for freedom" yet embrace some pretty disparate ideals, they have everything from traditional small government, limited government free market libertarians to communo-anarchists, from the most absurdist of drug legalization protesters (and say that while favoring drug decriminalization -- see "The Problem of Established Perspectives", "De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est", "Importing Drugs", "Guns and Drugs", "Nonsensical Regulation" and "The Free Market Solution") to "the libertarian left" and its hodgepodge beliefs. In short, they are desperately in need of a consistent set of beliefs (as well as a less adversarial view of government). See "The Libertarian Left", "Revelation From Bottom Feeding", "Liquid Ice? Female Father? That's Nothing!", "Culture and Government", "The Tragedy of the Creative Commons", "Some Libertarian Analogies", "Copyright as Politics", "The State of Nature and Man's Rights", "Societal Evolution", "The Benefit of Society", "A Beast's Life", "Learning From Crows", "Knights and Bandits", "The All or Nothing Mistake", "Of Ants and Men", "A Little Bit of Irony" and "Intellect and Politics". Of course, even then, I would still have objections to their overall approach ("Why I am not a Libertarian"), but if they were to behave a bit more like adults and espouse a single philosophy, others might be willing to listen to them who presently will not.

3. It is a historical oddity that the KKK was made up largely of Democrats. Their anti-immigration philosophy, as well as their ideas of enforcing morality through force, fit much better with the Republican and Prohibition parties. But, since they were predominantly southern, and the south was almost universally Democrat, it was inevitable they would be Democrats, and thus they expressed a set of beliefs very inconsistent with the beliefs of their party. (Similarly, the Democrats, for a long time the party so tolerant of immigration, also became associated with segregation, another set of fairly inconsistent beliefs brought about by geographic and historical coincidence.)

4. See  "A Passing Thought", "Four Elections" and "The Best Historical Example".

5. The Prohibition Party itself remains in existence to this day, and opposed Republicans many times, running its own candidates in every election. On the other hand, many pro-prohibition individuals drifted from the Prohibition Party to the Republicans as it became clear that the Prohibition Party lacked any real political power, especially following the repeal of Prohibition.

6. At one time this was purely the province of the radical left. They were given to Soviet-style purity checks and group questioning of one's orthodoxy. The right, at one time, made fun of such behaviors, seeing them as un-American and dangerous. Unfortunately, those days are long gone, and the Right is, if anything, even more prone than the left to criticize a fellow conservative by claiming his beliefs are insufficiently orthodox.

7. This is a bit over simplified, as the left does have some very real disputes on issues, but there are, much more often than on the right, large areas of agreement between most or all of their internal factions.

8. See "What Does Not Kill You...".



For those interested in more on paleocons (especially in terms of protectionism), see "Many Types of Conservatives", "Beware Populist Deception", "Protectionism Right and Left", "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, and More Jobs", "Fear of Trade", "Free Trade, Employment, Outsourcing, and Protectionism", "Another Look at Exploitation", "Computer Games, Immigration and Protectionism", "Cheap Lighters, Overseas Dumping and Monopolies", "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc", "Unfair Advantage and Foreign Trade", "The Problem of Established Perspectives", "Two Sided Processes and Claims of "Unfair" Outcomes","Fear of the 'Big'". and "Against the Neo-Luddites and Anti-Automation Rhetoric". On social conservatives "The Virtue of Novelty and the Value of Tradition" ,"The Trap of Tradition" ,"Culture and Government", "In Defense of Standards" , "Addenda to "In Defense of Standards"" , "O Tempora! O Mores!, or, The High Cost of Supposed Freedom" , "The Problem of Established Perspectives" , "A Bit of Clarification" , "Our Unique Age, A Tempting Falsehood" , "Inversion of Traditional Values", "Conservatism, Incremental Change and Federalism" and "In Praise of Slow Changes". For economic conservatives and federalism (which I obviously favor), see "Free Market and Federalist Confusion", "The Case for Small Government", "Myths and Realities of Strict Construction",  "Hugging You to Death", "Competition", "The Basics", "The Benefits of Federalism", "Conservatism, Incremental Change and Federalism", "Power and Disorder", "Redundancy as a Protective Measure", "Adaptability and Government", "Inflexibility and Bureaucracy", "Why Freedom is Essential", "The Free Market Solution", "How To Blame The Free Market", "In Praise of Contracts", "Contracts and Freedom", "Symmetry and Asymmetry in Government" and "Negative and Positive Rights". For a more complete history I suggest "A Timeline Part One" and "A Timeline Part Two", "A Timeline Part Three", as well as "The Political Spectrum", "Mistaken Perceptions of the Industrial Age", "Four Elections", "A Passing Thought", "The Best Historical Example", "Ordered Liberty and Our Modern Mindset", "Child Labor and the Industrial Revolution" and "Rethinking the Scopes Trial"