Monday, October 03, 2005
There is no event that cannot be related to an episode of "The Simpsons." The freak-out among social conservatives about the Miers nomination reminds me of the "Kamp Krusty" episode, truly one of the all-time greats.
You'll recall that Bart and Lisa spend a summer at Kamp Krusty, which is gruesome, ghastly and horrible in about a million different ways.But Bart refuses to believe it, because to have done so would mean having to question his faith in his hero, Krusty the Klown.
But when the camp leaders try to pass Barney the Drunk off as Krusty, Bart cracks. He spouts:
"I've been scorched by Krusty before. I got a rapid heartbeat from his Krusty brand vitamins, my Krusty Kalculator didn't have a seven or an eight, and Krusty's autobiography was self-serving with many glaring omissions. But this time, he's gone too far!"
The first Nobel Prize of 2005, for Physiology and Medicine, was announced this morning. It was awarded to Drs. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, both of Australia, for their discovery in 1982 that peptic ulcers are caused by the previously unidentified bacterium Helicobacter pylori.
Unlike Nobel Prizes in physics or chemistry or, God forbid, the Bank of Sweden Prize for Economics, the winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine have usually done something that has directly, identifiably, and promptly improved the quality of life of many, many people. This is undeniably true of this year's prizewinners. Before the discovery of this infectious agent, people with ulcerating lesions of the duodenum were told that their malady was the result of stress and a difficult personality, and were told to calm down and eat bland food for the rest of their lives. Their untreated infections caused not only pain, but various cancers of the stomach and esophagus. The modern treatment for peptic ulcer is a round of inexpensive antibiotics, which is effective in virtually 100% of infections.
Drs. Warren and Marshall were treated with extreme skepticism by the medical establishment when their theory was first proposed. Conventional medical wisdom had held, since the dawn of the germ theory of disease, that infectious agents could not survive in the harshly acidic environment of the human stomach. Because there were no suitable animal patients on which to experiment (and even today, no animal other than humans has been shown to harbor H. pylori), Marshall infected himself with a culture-grown colony of Helicobacter, made himself gravely ill, and proved the hypothesis. In the wake of this discovery, the role of infectious agents in a number of other chronic conditions, including heart disease, has been looked at anew.
Science has ever developed thus -- a couple of guys get an idea, everyone else tells them they're insane, they keep working at it, they take some risks, they absorb some insults, and in the end they wipe the eyes of their former detractors. Assumptions are made to be challenged, not blindly accepted, even if they have been held for a hundred years or more.
I'm sure you get my (continental) drift.
Or does he? The Star story quotes Daniels as saying, "She's very good at drawing out arguments on both sides of the question," and calling her a "decent, thoughtful, caring and balanced person." He said he got to know her well during his time in the White House and that her intellect is at least as good as those of the senators who will be questioning her during her nomination. The Star quotes Daniels as saying, "She is so hard working," and, "For all of her gifts, she is a very modest person."
Those are all very nice things, and superb qualifications to run the Red Cross. What is missing here, interestingly, is any mention of her opinions and central beliefs.
Mon Oct 3rd, 2005 at 09:25:16 PDT
Several Democrats, including Reid, have already come out praising Miers, which ultimately will only fuel the right-wing meltdown on the decision.
I reserve the right to change my mind, but Miers' biggest sin, at this early juncture, is her allegiance to Bush. That her appointment is an act of cronyism is without a doubt, but if that's the price of admission to another Souter or moderate justice, I'm willing to pay it.
More immediately, this is the sort of pick that can have real-world repercussions in 2006, with a demoralized Republican Right refusing to do the heavy lifting needed to stem big losses. That Bush went this route rather than throwing his base the red meat they craved is nothing less than a sign of weakness. For whatever reason, Rove and Co. decided they weren't in position to wage a filibuster fight with Democrats on a Supreme Court justice and instead sold out their base.
We'll have several months to pick through Miers' record, as well as highlight her role in any number of Bush scandals (like Georgia10 notes).
But my early sense is that this is already a victory -- both politically and judicially -- for Democrats. In fact, it should be great fun watching conservatives go after Bush. He may actually break that 39-40 floor in the polls, given he's just pissed off the very people who have propped up his failed presidency.
Update: Yup, Democrats are fully aboard. Reid's statement on the flip. Cue in more anguished wails from our esteemed colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
Kos is right about this one. Bush has made a potentially lethal decision for the party. The GOP caucus in the Senate should mark this one rejected and ask for a new submission.
Yet, the president shows absolutely no daring, no creativity, no imagination. He selected his Supreme Court nominee the same way he picked his Vice-President, which is to say, he picked the person he charged with helping him find candidates!
Michael McConnell needs to make sure he gets a spot on the selection committee next time around. Then, he'll have a shot.
Even if she IS a strong conservative, we will not get the national debate over constitutionalist judges that we want.
If this nomination is made in fear of a fight over someone stronger or more obvious, then it has been made wrongly. The desire for constitutionalist judges is greater now than before. There is no reason to shrink or compromise or sneak through a stealth candidate. We should nominate Luttig or McConnell and build a little national interest.
Question: will the GOP run stronger after waging a tough battle to nominate a top-drawer judicial conservative or after sending up someone Dusty Harry likes? I think we all know the answer.
The Republican party cannot hurt itself by pushing judicial conservatives or by forcing Democrats to attack them. If moving the base is the key, Bush and Co. have made a bad, bad move.
Again and again, George Bush has announced bold visionary policies--and again and again he has entrusted the execution of those policies to people who do not believe in them or even understand them. This is most conspicuously true in foreign policy, but it has been true in domestic policy as well. The result: the voice is the voice of Reagan, but too often the hands are the hands of George HW Bush.
Or worse. George H. W. Bush made his bad appointments in the name of replacing Reaganite "ideology" with moderate Republican "competence." He didn't live up to his own billing, but you can understand his intentions. But the younger Bush has based his personnel decisions upon a network of personal connections in which competence does not always play the largest part.
The idea that conservatives now see Bush the Younger as even worse than Bush the Elder is quite stunning.
Could this be a less inspired choice? I mean, c'mon, Michael McConnell and Mike Luttig are still out there! Not to mention Edith Jones, Edith Brown Clement, Janice Rogers Brown, etc.
Something else that troubles me a bit is that the future Justice Harriet contributed money to Al Gore, Lloyd Bentsen, and the DNC. That's two Democratic Senators and the central headquarters of perdition!
In Ms. Miers' defense, I might add that the contributions in question were from the 1980's and that she has been more GOP oriented since that time. The donation schedule looks very Texas lawyer-ish and that's what she is.
We'll just have to wait and see. I'm a little worried we're in GOP/Rockefeller country where the country club conservatives rule over us rank and file heart and soul types while speaking comforting words.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
In light of that, it seems appropriate to take a moment to express gratitude for the tremendous strides taken in the past year by the movement pressing for recognition of the concept of Intelligent Design.
Their victories have been widely noted, but perhaps more important than those is the fact that the strategy has been successful in "winning even when they lose". By this I am referring to the fact that a great many Evolutionists, in their effort to stave off the onslaught of this new challenge to their orthodoxy, have begun to use the following defense: "Intelligent Design addresses a philosophical question on which Evolution is silent. Evolution addresses a scientific question on which Intelligent Design is silent. Therefore I.D. has no place in the Science classroom."
When they win with that argument they score only a Pyrrhic victory. They are surrendering the main bludgeon that has been used against religion for a century and a half, namely the fact that its central premise is contradicted by Evolution. Think about it.
Friday, September 30, 2005
The Republicans are not losing people because of being racist sexist homophobes as the press would have you believe, but because they are spending like Democrats.
Why should someone fight the stream of vitriol against Republicans in the media and professoriat? Just to run interference for a bunch of guys who will deliver the pork in marginally smaller containers? Nah.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
This time we'll put the burden on the relativists (or whatever they want to be called): please give your evidence that there is no absolute right or wrong.
As a constant follower/commentator on the Baylor situation, I read the latest installments of Baylor Truth with great interest. The last two posts are particularly compelling. The first links to a Baylor students blog that chronicles the success of Robert Sloan's policies. The second carries the text of an email from a reader who offers a solution to the current leadership vaccuum: Bring Robert Sloan back to the president's office and admit his resignation was a matter of transitional board instability.
It's not such a far-fetched idea. Sloan is still on campus as the chancellor of the university. He's in his fifties and has years to give.
Another alternative would be to invest the chancellor's office with the presidential powers and make the president more of a chief of operations.
Being the top officer at Baylor during the implementation of an ambitious and ground-breaking vision is not going to be easy going for anyone. Asking a new person to come in and deal with a board that is divided, but improving may not be fair. Asking Robert Sloan to come back and finish what he started may be the only thing that is fair.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Nevertheless, I am nothing if not consistent. The poll is back and I urge you to vote.
For the record, I voted Brownback on the first question and Condoleezza Rice on the second.
Now, we can chart the same transformation when it comes to supporting presidential nominees for cabinet and court jobs.
Senator Evan Bayh (the "moderate" Democrat capable of winning in a GOP state like Indiana) has well-known presidential ambitions. Viewing the Dean-ization of the Democratic party, Bayh made the "principled" decision to vote against Condoleezza Rice for Secretary of State and now is rejecting John Roberts for the Supreme Court.
One suspects Bayh may not have plans to run for Senate again in Indy-land, because this is not his usual position on the political spectrum. Looks like Bayh is making sure Kos and Company know he's already in the bag and is nobody's New Democrat.
(HT: The New American Spectator Blog)
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Therefore, when an Anthony Quinn has a dozen children, you won't hear me complaining that it's an ex-Zorba-tent sum.
So, although he is a tad smug for comfort, we will grit our teeth and congratulate Mr. Donald Trump on his wife's pregnancy, wishing them a healthy child at the appointed time. This will be his fifth child, 3 with Ivanna, one with Marla and now one with Melania. We wish her well, too, particularly in view of that little clause in the prenup that must boost her take sizeably if she expands the family.
How will the big kids react as a new heir looms? Look at the Murdoch family for pointers. Rupert's two little kiddies with his late-in-life Oriental wife received a little trust fund that sent the older children into a major snit. As Maxwell Smart's nemesis, noted by Hunter below, would say: "Family discord? What was your first crew?"
Anyway, Louis Wittig has a very interesting review of the series pilot at National Review Online. The series is yet another recapitulation of liberal wet dreams about federal power in the hands of a right- (or should I say left-) thinking person. First, we had The American President. Then, The West Wing. Now, The Commander in Chief.
Here's the most interesting part of the review:
Liberals are serious about human rights in this world too. Working out a subplot, Allen’s aides keep reminding her about the Nigeria situation: In accordance with sharia, Nigeria is about to put a woman to death for committing adultery. Allen is concerned.
Throughout, Allen is shown confidently ordering around generals and positioning aircraft carriers (see, this is why stereotypes are bad). And as Commander limps through its 38th minute, she brings the Nigerian ambassador to a Joint Chiefs’ meeting and proceeds to illustrate how the Marines will storm his country if the woman isn’t released immediately.
“I can’t believe the U.S.A. would take such a unilateral action,” the ambassador mumbles.“If you think I’m going to sit by while a woman is executed, tortured, for having sex, you’re sorely mistaken,” retorts Allen. Dare I think it? You go girl.
Dude, did she even go ask the UN?
On the contrary, says I. Very uncivil behavior, madam. No one has been accorded more attention proportional to your newsworthiness than you have. Your fifteen minutes of fame are up. To the extent that you have made your point, it is made. To the extent that it hasn't, it never will be. Quick, dear, off the stage before (though perhaps it's too late) you go from sideshow to freak show.
Monday, September 26, 2005
All I can think about is my dad imitating one of the scenes from the show:
"Not Craw, CRAW!"
Prior to PC, which really does have its uses, it was considered hilarious to have an Asian villain completely incapable of pronouncing his evil name. And, in fact, it was quite funny.
(He was The Claw, just in case you needed a little help getting up to speed.)
Sunday, September 25, 2005
It's written by the guy whose name sounds like mine, P. David Hornik. (I'm Jay David Homnick.) He's a divorced guy from upstate New York who moved to Israel, seems to be about 45 years old (I'm 47) and did not grow up with religious imstruction (while I attended Orthodox Yeshivas). His perspective about life in Israel (and I lived there for three years in my 20s and three more in my 30s) is very acutely observed.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Here's his latest and my usual pessimism is rebelling:
The presidents' opponents have been declaring him down and out since the fall of '00. Keep the clippings handy for election night '06.
I hope he's right and I'm wrong. I'm expecting an election night more like the disappointment of 1998.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Anyway, this got me to thinking a bit about females in politics and the fair Hillary in particular. Hillary announced that she would vote against Roberts; obviously her vote in favor of the Iraq military campaign has created some nervousness with respect to the leftist base of the Party. So we can expect Hillary to do whatever is needed to keep the base of the Party---the teachers unions, the trial lawyers, the government unions, the abortion crowd, the protectionists, ad nauseam---happy. So I still believe that in the end she will be the Democratic Party nominee for the Presidency in '08.
Let's assume for discussion purposes that I'm correct. Whom will she pick as her running mate? It is clear to me that she could not pick another female. But what man with political aspirations would want to be her running mate? Number twos are just that: second fiddles, and the enormous difficulty faced by VPs and former VPs in terms of getting elected to the Presidency is evidence of that. In other words, it seems to me that any man running with her is going to be---please forgive the crude verbiage---castrated politically. So she might have to opt for some elder statesman. I have no idea whom that might be. But it's going to take some fast talking to convince me that being her running mate, even under the assumption that she wins the election, would be a political winner. And then there is the geographic balance problem, her obvious problems in the south, etc. Sure, she'll find someone. But I wonder if, a la George McGovern and Sargent Shriver in 1972, it will number 23 on her list.
We have noted on this blog in the past that birth rates among native-born Europeans are extremely low, and that the United States has been heading in the same direction. In an interesting review of Tim Burton's new film, The Corpse Bride, on Tech Central Station, Pinkerton considers the biological necessity of childbearing, and some of its social consequences, using insights from sociobiology and making reference to the original story on which the film was based:
. . . the ideas that animated the original "Corpse Bride" tale-tellers might animate us, too. Death at a young age doesn't loom over us today, as it did in centuries past. What we must live with instead is in a way even more mysterious and ominous -- the lack of young life.
If Edmund Burke was right -- that society is a compact between the generations; the dead, the living, and the yet to be born -- then something has gone wrong with our society. For two generations now, the world has lived in the erroneous thrall of Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb. Only now, as argued in a spate of important books, do we see that the real problem is not an explosion of people, but rather a dearth of birth. Pat Buchanan, Ben Wattenberg, and Phil Longman -- authors who respectively represent the paleoconservative, neoconservative, and center-left camps -- have all made the case for a return to pro-natalist attitudes in the West. Each author uses the language of politics and social science to express the same primal cry: "Have children! Have them for the sake of the living, and also for the sake of the dead, especially those who could never have their own, even though they wanted to."
No wonder the Right to Life movement continues to flourish. At the most basic level -- at the level of primal needs, and primordial tales -- there's a basic baby homeostasis at work. All those Baptists, Catholics, and others have a feeling, a feeling deep inside, that there aren't enough children, that there aren't enough little feet pattering around. On this issue, at least, God and Darwin are united.
The French government seems to agree. In repsonse to falling birthrates among the native population, the national government is offering additional incentives for the formation of larger families:
The French government has pledged more money for families with three children, in an effort to encourage working women to have more babies.
France already has a generous childcare system, which has resulted in a birth rate of 1.9 children per family, well above the EU average of 1.5.
That term "has resulted" is incorrect, given that France's higher birthrate is a result of its much larger population of Muslim immigrants than is present in other European countries. Nonetheless, the government's policy is significant, as is its stated reasoning, which echoes Pinkerton's TCS article:
"The family has changed," Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, himself a father of three, told a conference on the family.
"But it remains at the very heart of French society. It is a source of joy, of comfort, and a haven for its members. That is why we are announcing measures to help families in their everyday lives."
Of course, the real reason behind the French government's concern for family size is the fact that the nation's declining birth rate (it is below the replacement rate of 2.1 live births per female) makes the country's lavish social security systen entirely unsupportable, a problem that we in the United States, despite our higher rate of population growth (due to immigration) have only recently begun to consider doing anything serious about. The French government realizes that unless upcoming generations of French are much bigger than they have been lately, the Ponzi scheme that nearly every government-run social security system constitutes will lose all public support. Hence their newfound family-friendliness.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
"Let the stranger praise you, not your own mouth," said King Solomon, so I'll shut up now. You, on the other hand, should feel free to heap accolades into the Comment box.
If the vehicles on our roads got more miles to the gallon, we have been told again and again, we could dramatically reduce the amount of oil we depend on -- and from that would flow benefits equally dramatic:
America's foreign policy would be strengthened, it is said, since we would no longer have to appease the unsavory regimes that control most of the world's crude oil. The economy would surge as money now spent on fuel was channeled to more productive uses. Mother Earth would be better off, since less fuel would mean less pollution and less drilling for oil. And at a time of $3-a-gallon gasoline, motorists would have particular reason to rejoice: Higher-mileage cars would need fewer expensive fill-ups.
The Bush administration, Jacoby notes, has proposed new regulations to require increased gas mileage in passenger cars, saying "the plan would save 10 billion gallons of gasoline by 2011." But Jacoby points out the the expected fuel savings will not come, and in fact the opposite will happen:
[The Bush proposal and other such measures] might be worth considering if using fuel more efficiently really would result in less fuel being used. But it won't. It will result in more fuel being used.
If that sounds counterintuitive, think about it this way: Would lowering the price of operating an automobile -- i.e., making driving cheaper -- lead to higher or lower consumption? Higher, of course: The cheaper something is, the more of it we generally want. Cars that run more efficiently make transportation cheaper by getting more miles out of each gallon of gas. Result: more miles driven and more gasoline consumed.
Jacoby points out that the creation of more efficient computers has brought not less use of computers but far more use of them. Just so with passenger cars, the evidence shows:
In The Bottomless Well, a myth-busting new book on energy and how we use it, Peter Huber, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute, and Mark Mills, a physicist and technology expert, acknowledge that this paradox -- ''the more efficient our technology, the more energy we consume" -- strikes many people as heretical. But the numbers bear it out. Thirty years ago, the energy cost of transportation was nine gallons per 100 vehicle miles. Today it is six gallons -- a 33 percent drop. Yet over the same period, the total amount of fuel consumed rose 56 percent -- from 115 billion gallons a year to more than 180 billion gallons.
This ''paradox of efficiency" is as true of cars and computers as of light bulbs, jet turbines, and air conditioners, Huber and Mills write. ''The more efficient they grew, the more of them we built, and the more we used them -- and the more energy they consumed overall."
Both Jacoby and I are drivers of fuel-efficient cars, as it happens, and we both support the quest for increased fuel efficiency. But it is important for all of us to know the real reasons for supporting this particular choice, and to recognize what the real social and economic consequences will be. As Jacoby notes, "fuel-efficient cars do have their advantages. Reducing American dependence on oil just doesn't happen to be one of them."
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
What do you call a liberal mugged by reality? A conservative.
But I'm already a conservative and I got mugged by reality last night.
Just after dinner there was a knock at the door. A very down on his luck looking African-American man stood there when I opened the door, expecting a package for my son. He explained he was looking for work. I offered to let him wash my car and planned on overpaying him. I told him to meet me in the backyard.
After I brought him a bucket, soap, rags, etc., he asked for a cold drink and to come in and use the bathroom. I was worried about letting him in to use the bathroom because he had a cough and I have a six month old and a three year old. I got him the drink and told him frankly about my concern with contagious illness. He said it was asthma. Didn't sound like asthma to me, so I put him off and went back in the house to consult with my wife about it.
Looking out the window, I could see the man was beginning to wash the car. A flash of blue caught my eye out the side window and I noticed two police officers, one male and one female, walking into my backyard. When I got to the backyard, the man was talking to the cops. I approached and told the officers I had hired this man to wash the car. They explained a neighbor had called. He walked back to the car and began working again, but the officers didn't leave.
The female officer talked on the radio, while the male officer told me I'd made a mistake. He said the odd jobs request was a common tactic for casing a house for later burglary. When I told him the man had asked to come inside, he said that was likely part of the plan. The female officer said something I didn't quite catch and the male officer said, "It's him."
Meanwhile, a third officer walked up. At this point, I noticed all three were wearing bulletproof vests under their clothes. I asked if the man washing my car was wanted for a crime. The radio spoke up again, but I couldn't understand it. One of the officers said the man had a felony warrant, probably for burglary. I half-wondered whether the man would attempt flight or resist arrest.
They approached the man I'd hired and put cuffs on him. He protested, but they said they couldn't take a chance. He asked if he could finish the job. They said no. I felt terrible that he had worked while the police officers waited to hear whether they should arrest him. I told them I wanted to pay him. I offered the money and the policeman put it in the man's pocket. He thanked me. They went off. The whole thing was very quiet and calm.
I stood there feeling like an idiot for possibly putting my family in danger, but my instinct was to give the man a job and try to help him. Had I done the wrong thing? I don't know and still don't.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
If you have not seen or heard the soundbite of the General delivering that line during today's press conference about evacuation plans in advance of Hurricane Rita, you need to track it down. It is a treasure of our time, not to be missed.
It is not a pretty picture.
As noted in a forthcoming article in the October issue of Budget and Tax News (of which this author is senior editor), published by The Heartland Institute, BTN managing editor Steve Stanek notes that Congress and the Bush administration have consistently ignored calls for hurricane relief expenditures to be offset by cuts in spending on other programs, particularly the numerous pork projects passed this year:
"We get strange looks [from fellow Congressmen] for even suggesting that we offset this disaster relief spending with funding from low-priority programs," said Matthew Specht, spokesman for Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has called for this to be done. "We're a voice crying in the wilderness."
Since Hurricane Katrina flooded
Floyd was one of the few members of Congress to vote against the Sept. 8 bill approving President Bush's request for another $51.8 billion. "Congress has the responsibility to cut spending elsewhere if we are going to commit this amount of money," Flake said in a statement after the vote.
Stanek notes that the House leadership killed an amendment calling for spending offsets:
An amendment to the bill to do that was offered by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), a member of the House Committee on Budget and the House Financial Services Committee and chairman of the Budget and Spending Task Force of the Republican Study Committee. The House leadership did not allow the amendment to be considered.
"We're doing our best, but our battles are many and our victories are few," said Mike Walz, Hensarling's press secretary. The Hensarling amendment would have offset the $51.8 billion of hurricane relief with spending cuts across the board over the next five years, with exemptions for entitlement spending, defense, homeland security, and veterans funding.
In announcing his amendment September 8, Hensarling pointed to billions of dollars of dubious spending approved earlier this year by Congress. He argued, "When so many lives have been shattered and relief is so critical, Congress cannot continue to fund projects like the $800,000 outhouse, $1.2 million for panda research, or the $1 million indoor rainforest in
Democrat leaders have stepped up their criticism of the increasing red ink, though their proposed solution is to raise tax rates, which would do nothing to hold back the expansion of federal power. Critics on the right suggest that cutting pork spending would more than suffice to offset the new expenditures:
[Veronique] de Rugy [a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow at the
"That bill has more than $20 billion of pork," Bartlett said. "I've been sending emails saying our response should be to reopen the highway bill and cut spending out of that."
Bartlett noted President Bush started out saying he would veto the transportation bill if it came in at more than $256 billion, and it came in at $295 billion and he signed it anyway.
"If we go back to the president's own veto number, we have most of the $62 billion [in approved disaster relief] right there," Bartlett said.
The pork-laden energy bill also has billions of dollars that could be cut, said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.
The federal government uses every situation as an excuse to spend more and control citizens' lives in additional areas and more ways. It is high time for a federal Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
Monday, September 19, 2005
My husband's employer dispatched him to New York City for a couple of days last week. He never goes anywhere without his Contax U4R digital camera; it's the sort of object Sidney Reilly might have used to great advantage before the Bolshies executed him in 1918. He spent his small ration of spare time wandering around Manhattan and Brooklyn snapping pictures.
This photo was taken at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets. It is 23 Wall Street, the J.P. Morgan Building, built in 1914.
He went to that spot as a sort of pilgrimage, in homage to Paul Strand, one of the towering pioneers of 20th C. photography. Strand stood on that spot in 1915; the resulting picture is an icon of New Realism fixed in platinum and potassium oxalate, and one of the most famous images ever printed.
If you really, really look at this picture, for a few moments you can see the world through the eyes of the people he captured walking down Wall Street. Yes, I know the critical consensus is that the picture captures the shrinking of modern man in the context of his overwhelmingly gargantuan surroundings. I still think it's a photograph overflowing with empathy.
Obviously a few things have been added since 1915. The food vendors and No Parking sign bleat out in color. There is another addition, more subtle, and much older: these pockmarks in the pink Tennessee marble facade. They have been there for 85 years, and were put there by anarchists.
On September 16, 1920, a horse-drawn wagon was pulled up to the sidewalk on the Wall Street side of the Morgan building. Seconds after noon, the wagon exploded. It had been filled with 100 lbs of TNT and 500 lbs. of amateur shrapnel. The sidewalks were crowded with lunchtime pedestrians; accounts of the damage are not exact, but approximately 400 people were injured and between 30 and 40 died. The horse didn't make it either.
Anarchists were immediately suspected, since there had been wave after wave of such violent attacks in the recent past, and the target was such a figurehead of unrepentant capitalism. This suspicion was solidified when circulars were found in a postbox at Cedar and Broadway, proclaiming
No one was ever arrested in connection with the bombing; decades later historian Paul Avritch fingered Mario Buda, an Italian anarchist and acquaintance of Sacco and Vanzetti, claiming their prosecution was the motive for the attack. This theory remains unsubstantiated.
If you ask most people who went to American public schools after World War II who the "anarchists" were, they'll be able to mumble something incoherent about Sacco and Vanzetti, and how they probably weren't guilty and were executed because of bigotry towards Italian immigrants. Not one in 50 could give you a concrete example of the violence wrought by anarchists between 1870 and 1925; that one might know that President McKinley was assassinated by a self-professed anarchist. In fact, anarchists were responsible for assassinating half a dozen world leaders in the early 1900s, including the Prime Minister of Spain, the President of France, and the King of Italy. Their code of "propoganda by the deed" justified random acts of violence and murder; they believed that only by exploding the old order, literally, could freedom be gained.
Their tactics caused a backlash of anger, not just against anarchy, but against any group or movement that formed their base or lent even tacit support: immigrants, labor agitators, small c communists. Given that, what is the motivation, in 2005, of calling one's self an anarchist? Many of us know modern anarchy only through reading Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick's book length reply to John Rawls's A Theory of Justice. Nozick later backed away from much of this book (and even in his original formulation, he believed that pure anarchy was unachievable, although the barest minimal state that could be contrived was the only one he could endorse). Nevertheless, it remains a philosophical lodestode for the more rigorous type of political libertarian. These folks lack one notable animus of the bomb-throwing anarchists: they don't hate capitalism. In fact, they often call themselves anarcho-capitalists. They celebrate anarchy as the blossoming of enterprise, and in that and most others senses seem to have little to do with the other set of people who call themselves anarchists these days, the anti-globalization Nike-haters, Frankenfood neurotics, tree sitters, and people with "Free Rob Thaxton" bumperstickers.
Why, in the absence of a clear philosophical or tactical similarity, do either of these two groups call themselves "anarchists" ?? I am interested because of the abuse I've taken at times as a supporter of states' rights, which other than pasting a Confederate battle flag in the back of your domestic pickup truck window, is the best way to get yourself called a segregationist bigot these days. It's bad enough having to put up with the baggage when there is a philosophical connection. Why would you do it when there's not?
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Whuh? What am I missing here? I thought that we ran deficits all through the Vietnam War and Grenada and Panama and Somalia and Bosnia and Gulf War I. Doesn't that mean that we were borrowing money from folks to make war on other folks?
Anyway, she was doing sound bites from Justice Stevens and taking pot shots. And I suppose that as a former Thomas clerk she's entitled. Still, for the record, I disagree with her disagreement with the main point that Stevens was making.
He was talking about the admission of gruesome evidence about the crime into murder cases, saying that these tend to stimulate jurors into using emotion instead of reason in what he called the "decisional" process. (Yes, it's a word, but you and I would just say 'the decision process'.)
Sadly, he is quite right. What's more, every prosecutor worth his saline solution knows it. Show a jury a picture of a dismembered corpse and they're that much more likely to decide that whoever is sitting in the defendant's chair is guilty. Human nature.
Friday, September 16, 2005
Why would an energy-craving nation (the U.S.) that also demands a pristine environment put the kibosh on a limitless form of power (nuclear energy) that produces no air pollution and no emissions environmentalists claim cause global warming?
Fumento's answer, and the correct one, is that the people of the United States have a superstitious fear of nuclear energy that is based on two incidents, neither of which was even a tiny fraction as damaging as the American media have potrayed them as being: Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. These two incidents, both so widely publicized that they are known worldwide simply by their place names, have put a great fear of nuclear energy into the American mind, and Fumento's article explains exactly how little damage these two accidents did to the environment and how much damage they did to the use of nuclear power in the United States, the world's largest energy user.
Ironically, these two accidents did far more damage to the environment by turning the United States away from nuclear power and toward an increased use of fossil fuels in the supply of electrical energy.
It's called "The Political Compass," and seeks to blow past left and right partisanship, to seek light instead of heat. Seems relevant to the proceedings lately hereabouts.
Take the test first, then read what it's all about. Report your score if the spirit moves you. Labels suck, and there's more to Stalin and Gandhi than Fox News vs. CNN.
Hockey last year played hookey. The players had grievances and they were not going to let the owners skate. The owners held the keys and they would not let the players skate. At first, they tried to keep the season on ice until they could ice a deal but the icy atmosphere between the two sides prevailed. So with eyes open, they closed their ice.
Now they say all is well. But I think that they crossed my red line, so I just might take a pass.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
What has to be up for discussion is the question of what is an anarchist? Tlaloc has proclaimed himself to be one, but has consistently favored government solutions over free and independent human action in case after case after case.
I guess the question I have to ask is one immortalized by the great Robert P. George:
"What's wrong with acts of capitalism between consenting adults?"
Especially as far as it concerns an anarchist. Even if the state withers away or is blown away by revolution and not replaced, one imagines people will still buy and sell and will do so very freely with no regulating leviathan around.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
P.S. Saw part of a really wretched Robert Altman film predicting a frozen future. Yes, remember we used to worry about global cooling back in the day. Paul Newman starred in this turkey titled Quintet.
It's a commercial break, so I can stop and tell you I'm watching Wall Street. Lemme tell you something. That movie stands up quite nicely today. Highly enjoyable. Superb performances by the Sheens and Michael Douglas.
The film has a line that is still one of my all time favorites. Papa and Son Sheen are arguing. Papa let's loose with, "At least I never judged a man, BY THE SIZE OF HIS WALLET!" Great line. Well spoken by the sincere populist, even though he's TADA -- ACTING!
Any Given Sunday wasn't half bad either.
What's the point? Oliver Stone doesn't always suck. That's what.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
A German brewer has concocted what he says is the world's strongest beer, a potent drink with an alcohol content of 25.4 percent that is served in a shot glass.
"Everyone who has tried it is enthusiastic. It tastes like a quirky mixture of beer and sherry," said Bavarian brewer Harald Schneider.
Schneider, who lives in southern Germany where beer is a tradition, said his beer fermented for 12 weeks for an alcohol content twice that of Germany's other strongest beers.
"People will only be able to drink two or three glasses, otherwise they'll drop like flies," he said.
Schneider expects the holders of the world's strongest beer, the Boston Beer Company, to put up a fight.
"I'm pretty sure the Americans have something up their sleeve."
I'm certain he's right. Sad to say, Reuters droppped the ball in failing to answer the most important question—"Where can Mr. S. T. Karnick purchase some of this miraculous elixir?"—but we cannot fault them for concentrating on the big picture. This is the kind of international economic competition that makes the world a much better place. To Herr Schneider and his crack team, we say, Sehr gut!
Search for Oil Stepped Up as Prices Rise
I am all astonishment. Whoever would have thought that if petroleum prices rose, oil producers would locate, pump, and refine more oil? I suppose next they'll be spinning some fairy-story about consumers buying less gasoline when prices rise, or gas prices falling when consumers reduce their demand. How gullible do they think we are?
This in contradistinction to American "chattel" slavery, where the slave and his (more importantly her) descendants were property from cradle to grave, from generation to generation in perpetuity.
There's not much on the internet to dispute this view, but this month's Smithsonian Magazine reports, chapter and verse, on chattel slavery in Africa, today, in 2005. Perhaps Africa has been watching reruns of Roots, but it stands more to reason that chattel slavery was not exactly a New World invention.
I don't think there are many in this country who are interested in the truth about America's and humanity's history of slavery---it is repugnant, and to universalize it rings of excuse-making.
Still, if you google "chattel" and "America," you'll get a sense of how deep this perception runs, that the Black Experience in America was heinously unique.
Will go just a bit further with me? Google "Willie Lynch."
It's no small secret among black Americans that in 1712, a white slaveowner gave a speech to other slaveowners on how to control their slaves, the Black Man, and Lynch's principles are used even today to (and this is a key idiomatic term here) "divide and conquer."
The tragedy is that "Willie Lynch" is a hoax, and so is his "speech." But a majority, I think, of Black America really has no way of knowing that. His "words" ring true enough today that it really makes no difference.
I write this as an FYI for white Americans who are puzzled by the recent breakdown of American society in New Orleans. In that heart of the deepest South, unknown to most of us Weekly Standard, Fox News and NR readers, and even NYT and Daily Kos contributors, American society as we understand it has never existed.
I will add briefly that although I think all's fair in love, war and politics, the Democratic Party's demagoguery of the race issue has done far more damage to our republic than a bit of partisan fun and games. It is not good that our black citizens believe that half their nation, the Republican half and in today's case their president, wants them dead or at least wouldn't mind seeing their corpses floating out into the Gulf of Mexico.
And to my Republican friends, keep foremost in your minds that when the GOP accepted the Dixiecrats, Nixon's Southern Strategy, and all the white votes that came with them, we also took on Willie Lynch's karma, even if that sonofabitch never even existed.
As Mr. Homnick notes in verse below, a society needs its history. Black History is American History, but many of us who aren't black are unaware of how egregiously it's been hijacked. This is just a sampler.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Insurance for the Torres family didn't begin to cover Mrs. Torres's hospital bill, never mind the costs of neo-natal intensive care once Susan Anne Catherine was delivered. In the face of initial estimates that $400,000 in unreimbursed costs would be incurred, a blogosphere-driven fund drive raised $600,000.
Susan Anne Catherine Torres died yesterday, when her heart failed after emergency surgery to repair a perforated intestine. She was five weeks old. May she rest in peace, in company with her mother and all the saints and angels, in the eternal light of God.
The Torres case is an extreme example of a facet of American medicine that is widely misunderstood. We are constantly criticized for spending more than other countries on health care, yet our infant mortality rate is higher. Nick Kristof's been beating this drum for months; first we were lagging behind Cuba and China, then he couldn't even write about Hurricane Katrina without dragging the dead babies back into it. But consider this: when this year's health expenditures are totalled up, they will be a couple of million dollars higher, and when this year's infant mortality statistics are calculated, there will be one more infant in the numerator, all because the Torres family, and their friends and supporters, cared so much about one unborn child that they expended every resource they could muster to give her one unlikely chance at life, a chance that ultimately failed.
Susan Anne Catherine Torres is just one case, but according to the CDC, not an isolated one: when asked to investigate the reason that infant mortality increased in 2002, for the first time in several decades, they discovered that the number of extremely-low-birth-weight infants born alive has increased dramatically. In most countries, these children would be stillborn. Here, they usually die soon after birth, despite our best efforts. It makes no sense to unfavorably compare a country that tries to save lives with those who give up without trying.
The number of federal pork projects increased from fewer than 2,000 annually in the mid-1990s to almost 14,000 in 2005, as measured by Citizens Against Government Waste. Other data indicate the number of federal “earmarks” increased from 4,155 in 1994 to 15,584 in 2005. . . .
In the past, the Kings of Pork were mainly Democrats such as Senator Robert Byrd of
Today, the leading pork spenders are Republicans such as Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young of
This year Congress will dish out $426 billion on grants to lower levels of government for a myriad of local activities in 2005, according to the Fiscal 2006 budget.
Most earmarks fund activities that are properly the responsibility of state and local governments or the private sector. . . .
The problem starts at the top: Republican leaders have shown no personal restraint on the budget. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is a champion at bringing pork home to
Hastert’s giveaways have included trying to get United Air Lines a $1.6 billion loan guarantee and adding $250,000 to a defense bill for a candy company in his hometown to study chewing gum. The lack of principled GOP leadership has a corrosive effect on members who may be willing to support restraint but who will not put their necks on the line without sacrifice at the top. Why should rank-and-file Republicans restrain themselves when their leader is the porker-in-chief? . . .
. . . [T]he pork explosion highlights the need for Congress to overhaul its budgeting structures to get a grip on the overspending that has created huge deficits.
Republican members should insist that party leaders stop undermining restraint by using their positions for parochial gain. They ought to stop supporting leaders who call themselves conservatives just because they favor tax cuts. The real litmus test for fiscal conservatism is leadership on spending cuts and a willingness to forgo pork to set a good example for the rest of Congress.
Professor DeBow will be lecturing at Oglethorpe in Atlanta today as part of the Constitution Day festivities. I'll be there to meet the profs in the flesh for the first time. If there are any Reform Club or Southern Appeal readers who will be attending, be sure to say "Hi."
Sunday, September 11, 2005
That we ought to tell tales nightly
To all who are young and spritely
With a tone that may feather lightly
Through the ears and into the heart,
So they find even in life's fresh start
Their moment plays in history a part
Whether through craft or inspired art.
That God with Nature does distribute
To each alone their unique attribute
So they may to the world contribute
All for His ultimate glory and tribute.
Oh, kings of yore mightily clashed
Great civilizations duly smashed
Pretenders like lightning flashed
Dreamers found ambition slashed.
The line of progress did relentless move
Today's rut had been yesterday's groove
Only what helped all the world improve
Did its virtue by hardy endurance prove.
Friday, September 09, 2005
I agree with those who say that the trouble these people have endured is a scandal and a terrible comment on race relations. No question about it. However, the discomfort caused means we have to wonder what is wrong with this picture.
Think about it. We are looking at a group of people who literally were unable to get out of town. Many of them may have no family ties outside of the city. Many have probably lived in a welfare culture for decades, born and raised. Such persons have been robbed of their basic human dignity. This is a group of people who have been socially engineered into passivity and helplessness. The possibilities for sociological study are astounding. How many of them have ever held a job, have ever left the city of New Orleans, have ever left their state, have ever drawn a check from any entity other than a government agency? How many have any family member in a position to help?
Once you consider it, this is an unacceptable existence for anyone and we should not settle for it. Before 9-11, we were hearing story after story of the amazing successes due to welfare reform. We heard about people who held jobs for the first time, people who had pride in accomplishing something on their own for the first time, and children who could view their parents as role models for living a broader life for the first time. We heard about former Clinton officials who resigned in protest over welfare reform and now strongly endorsed it.
We have got to get back to addressing this situation. The War on Poverty failed -- possibly made things much worse -- and we must once again get people out of this institutional lifestyle where they are so terribly encapsuled in hopelessness and passivity.It's time to bring welfare reform and school choice back out of the closet. We've seen the cost of not moving forward with a better solution.
Today I try to focus on the people who did the best job of all and started the earliest - the boys of our Coast Guard. They made us very proud with their performance in New Orleans.
And we must educate ourselves to what was, and what must never be again, by reading this horrific account by two other EMTs who happened to be at a New Orleans hotel for a conference when Katrina dropped by.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
But I fear the classical reference here is to the Myth of Sisyphus (well-appropriated by the modernist/failed sentimentalist Albert Camus) where the cosmically condemned pushes a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down the other side, ad eternum ad infinitum.
I consulted a really cool guy named Mortimer Adler on this and he had already given it some thought. (Like they say, read the whole thing.)
If we're going to get retro about it (there is an amnesia in the modern academy from Plato [c. 400 BCE] to the Enlightenment [c. 1400-1800 CE]), philosophy's first question, its First Thing, was to ask, "What is Good?"
In a Socratic dialogue, everybody hanging with Socrates was asking the same question. They had a common purpose. But this is not the case in 2000+ CE. We are all solipsists, each at the center of our own universe. To seek wisdom and the resonances of a higher moral order and purpose is no longer our joint enterprise. Everyman for himself.
Adler points out that the modern philosophical enterprise shuns First Things, metaphysics and the question of what is good, and skips to Second Things, science and empiricism, that which we can measure and prove, and epistemology, how we know that we know.
For those of us who seek those ineffable First Things (and the ancient Greeks and today's Buddhists did and do that, without the aid of "revelation"), the discussion of Second Things is kindergarten, and hardly worth the sense of occasion that vivifies those nights with that party animal Socrates and made them worth preserving for 2400 years.
I mean, the name of God is on the lips of every drunk, but a night with Sisyphus, even if you're trying to help, is a lot like work. A gathering of the Socrateans was always a party. Right now, The Reform Club's Second Things charity case is caught in No Man's Land, appealing to First Things even as he denies their existence. The question in the original post continues to beg itself---What is Good? That it can be asked at all provides its own answer. Good exists.
(This occasionally humble correspondent has been MIA of late due to illness in the family. My thanks for the gentle encouragement of those who wrote me, and to those who would have if they'd have known. Received good news tonight---recovery is coming, albeit slowly. I suppose that if my family were of the Peter Singer/Second Things mold, we'd have flushed her over dependence and quality of life issues. But she ain't heavy, she's my mother.)
Homnick is, of course, correct. PR is the Bush Administration's Achilles heel (like the attempt to use Armstrong Williams, the Uncle Tom's Uncle Tom, to promote "No Child Left Behind" to Black America). Karl Rove may be a consummate political operator, but he's no Dick Morris. Morris would have had a poll done before the first breeze stirred and a media blitz underway before the first raindrop reached the ground.
But it is essentially a failure, or let's say an imperfection, in Bush's own constitution; our quarterback has flaws and he fumbled this snap. Why?
Dubya won every "Least Likely To" poll until he experienced a spiritual conversion later in his adult life. Politics ended up seeking him out, rather than the other way around. He remains unpolished in the showbiz aspect of the game, unlike Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John F. Kerry, who knew before they reached the age of majority that their destiny was the presidency.
Bush could no sooner say "I feel your pain" with a straight face than we could likewise listen to him say it. It just ain't him. His loss in his first election for Congress, where he put on the false skin of the Harvard-educated professional pol, made him resolve to never be untrue to himself again.
I've noticed that in our interpersonal relationships, we don't want the truth, we want to be handled. We want the other person to understand our vulnerabilities, and treat us accordingly. This isn't a bad thing; kindness and mercy, Aquinas' white lie as it were, are of higher moral value than truth. But our friends on the Loud Left to the contrary, for Bush to BS us is false to him, even if it is what we demand or even require.
And require it, we all do, and I mean that without sarcasm. Unfortunately, Bush is not up to that task. We are all faint of heart, and a little ill-founded optimism has turned the tide oftentimes in world history.
But this is a democracy, and a democracy of The Information Age. We shall each learn the facts on our own, and we shall each be responsible for our own spirits. If we are to believe the polls, this nation, or at least most of it, understands that. Good on us. Perhaps we're growing up after all.
In his latest article, he examines the likely contenders to replace Justice O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Miranda looks at three categories of judges, each having political pluses and minuses. The interesting thing is that he identifes numerous strong jurists who fit Bush's criteria for judicial philosophy and temperament, which means that political and confirmability considerations may well be a very large factor in the president's decision-making process.
Most interesting was the mention of three Senators who could do the job but would not fit the perceived need for an additional woman to be named to the Court with the current choice. Bush went outside the original expected candidates in previously choosing John Roberts for O'Connor's vacating seat, and a surprise candidate remains a possibility. The list Miranda compiles, however, is plausible, as are his comments on the candidates. Read it here.
So, let's work it out. The basic allegation by Tlaloc seems to be that the tobacco companies have immorally lied for profit and have sold an addictive drug for profit. The basic rules being put forth seem to be:
1. It is wrong to lie without a compelling justification (such as to save a life -- e.g. lying to the Nazi S.S. about the Jew hiding in your closet). Lying for mere monetary profit is particularly bad.
2. It is wrong to subject others to the harm of unhealthy addiction for the sake of personal enrichment. It is further wrong to lie about the fact that one is doing that.
Now, here's the money question. Why wouldn't these rules stand up as universal moral values? When would it ever be right to lie for profit without any compelling justification? When would it ever be right to subject others to addiction for no better reason than to get rich?
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Well, my wife prevailed upon me to see The Constant Gardener this weekend. How can I say this gently: Don’t waste your money. A new tuberculosis strain is wreaking havoc across Africa, you see, and a corrupt pharmaceutical firm has developed an effective treatment that, sadly, has the unfortunate side effect of killing many of those taking the drug. We know this because UN aid workers in Kenya, using only the most rigorous of statistical analytic tools, say so. And so the poor Africans killed by this drug are secretly buried in lime pits, while the official records of their lives are expunged. Only Soviet-style airbrushing of photos failed to have been included. Meanwhile, the starlet---Ms. Rachel Weisz, aka Tessa Quayle in the film---learns that the evil pharmaceutical firm, aided by some corrupt British officials, is covering up the obvious evidence of the drug’s deadly effects because fixing the formula would cost millions and take considerable time, during which the firm’s competitors could create their own effective drugs that would not kill people, thus cutting into the corrupt firm’s profits, etc., etc. And this perfidy makes sense because the epidemic is likely to spread worldwide, creating a large demand for the drug, and suppression of the deadly side effects will guarantee a huge market in Asia and the West. It’s all about the money, you see.
Got that? Anyway, the evil pharmaceutical firm through its allies in Kenya arranges for the murder of the fair Tessa and her ally, a Kenyan doctor both humanitarian and seemingly the only man in the country both unpoor and uncorrupt, before they can expose the plot. After all, that is not the kind of direct-to-consumer advertising that sells medicine. And so Tessa’s loving husband Justin picks up the torch, exposes the evildoers for what they are, and then allows himself to be murdered by the same nefarious forces so that he can be together again with his beloved Tessa in heaven. Who says that Hollywood is not religious?
Well, if Big Pharma is motivated only by money, why would they expose themselves so crudely to the plaintiff’s bar in the West? After all, people would start dying in the West also; can we even imagine the sums that the juries would award in such cases? And would the FDA and the other regulatory agencies in Europe simply accept the results of such African “clinical trials?” And what about the brand name capital of the offending pharmaceutical firm? Does it not have a profit motive to protect it by marketing only drugs the benefits of which justify the downside risks?
This flick is so silly—-so Michael Moore-like in its excess and mendacity—-that the pharmaceutical industry has little to fear from it in terms of adverse p.r. It’s good thing, as Martha might put it, when those out to destroy capitalism prove themselves so crude.
Whenever you're upside down on a car because you owe more than it is worth, the cure-all is to literally drive your way out of it by keeping the car until the loan balance falls below the market value. Be prepared to do the same with a new-home purchase. If your feeling is that you're going to move in three years, it is time to make plans for other contingencies. Can you afford a mortgage that offers a fixed rate for a longer period, such as a 10/1 ARM or a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage? If not, continue renting. The transaction costs of buying and selling are steep, and any downturn in price over such a short holding period will clobber the unsuspecting buyer.
The home is first and foremost where you live. Get past the "my home is an investment" mentality to protect against the bursting bubble. The home is indeed an investment, but a long-term investment.
I think that the idea of paying off principle as quickly as possible is vitally important. If, when you find that you must or strongly wish to sell your house, the rise in value turns out to be less than you might have hoped, you will benefit greatly by having real equity built up. Shorter terms, such as ten or fifteen years, are much better than longer ones, as you pay the financing institution much less in interest, which means that more of your money is going into buying the house instead of renting money. In addition, stay away from adjustable rate mortgates, as the article warns (in contradiction to Fed chairman Alan Greenspan's advice), as they cause you to have to pay the most when the value of your house is rising most slowly or declining
Some people can make a nice profit by buying a scrotty house, fixing it up, and selling it at a profit, but that is not the same as riding value waves. The former is real investment, whereas the latter is speculation. One can succeed at the latter, but it is dependent more on luck than on skill. A real investment is one that a person puts work into.
Monday, September 05, 2005
from The Public Interest, Fall 1978:
“Reality in One Lesson”
The marvelous audacity of the title The Way the World Workswill attract some, repel others. Amazingly, it is appropriate. This actually is an attempt to explain political and economic events throughout the ancient and modern world in terms of a manage-able number of general principles. Even more remarkable, this heroic effort is frequently successful-illuminating many of the mysteries of history, from the decline of Rome to the stock market crash of 1929 and today's global stagflation.
The book is deceptively easy to read, which may cause those who associate economic wisdom with impenetrable prose mistakenly to interpret its clarity as a lack of depth. As his unsigned Wall Street Journal editorials attest, Wanniski is a master of illustration, and each piece of the political-economic model he propounds is carefully interwoven with folksy examples, then amply documented with rigorous historical evidence.
Wanniski's economic model is simply brilliant and brilliantly simple. The starting point is to examine the supply side of an economy -to ask what motivates people to add to the quantity and quality of marketed goods and services. The answer builds upon a broad definition of work as a complex combination of physical and intellectual effort. Most work is in the barter economy-housework, do-it-yourself projects, trading tasks with family or friends. Smith the carpenter and Jones the plumber will exchange services with each other in the marketplace only "when it is easier to trade their work for somebody else's in the public economy." Otherwise, Smith will fix his own sink and Jones his own kitchen cabinet, each thus depriving the other of a job.
There are enormous efficiencies in specialization and additional gains from using money to expand the scope of possible exchanges within, and even beyond, national boundaries. But entering the public economy to specialize makes the transaction visible and therefore subject to government taxes, tariffs, and regulations. When the government imposes too heavy a burden on transactions in the public economy, people drop back into the inefficient private barter economy (friends, "do=it-yourself," and casual labor for cash), or they substitute leisure for taxed income.
This brings us to the "wedge model," attributed to Professor Arthur Laffer of the University of Southern California, which explains how a variety of taxes and regulations form a wedge between what employers pay for workers and what employees ultimately receive in after-tax income. Reducing this wedge makes it cheaper for employers to offer jobs and more lucrative for employees to accept and retain jobs. A similar wedge between what business pays for capital and what suppliers of capital (investors) ultimately receive in after-tax income reduces savings, investment, and economic growth.
According to Wanniski, the practice of taxing additions to income at sharply increasing rates-the progressive income tax-has a particularly demoralizing effect on personal effort and specialization. "Workers now have less incentive to become skilled workers or foremen, foremen have less incentive to become salespeople, sales-men have less incentive to become managers, and managers less incentive to become entrepreneurs." This effect has been com-pounded by inflation, which pushes unreal increases in incomes into higher and higher marginal tax brackets, thus discouraging supply and producing the apparent paradox of "stagflation."
"The only way government can increase production," concludes Wanniski, "is by making work more attractive than non-work." The Soviet Union accomplishes this task with the least generous welfare, retirement, and unemployment benefits in the civilized world. They use the stick to replace the carrot. Western countries, however, have tended to forget the stick and tax the carrot with policies that discourage work and subsidize non-work, with the predictable result that we are getting less effort and more "leisure."
The most famous illustration of the model, the "Laffer Curve," rests on the crucial distinction between tax rates and tax revenues: "There are always two tax rates that yield the same revenues." A zero rate yields zero revenue, and so does a 100-percent rate (be-cause the taxed activity would cease). Between these extremes lies an optimal point "at which the electorate desires to be taxed." Raising tax rates beyond that point lowers both the public economy's output and the government's revenue. The optimal tax rate can be very high during war time, but high rates at other times will normally generate wholesale tax evasion and a reversion to inefficient, unspecialized barter.
A chapter on the Crash of 1929 meshes the theory with some truly original historical research. The stock market always reflects the best available information about the future course of the economy, Wanniski argues, and therefore could not have been grossly overpriced at the 1929 peak. The market's fall must instead have reflected a previously unexpected increase in the political cost of doing business (the "wedge").
Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon emerges as the principal political hero of the book for slashing back the income-tax rates several times from 1921 through 1929 (rates ranged from 4 percent to 73 percent in 1920, 0.4 percent to 24 percent in 1929) while simultaneously running budget surpluses. The much-maligned Coolidge era provided five years of 3.5-percent unemployment and 0.5-percent annual inflation-a combination that is impossible in Keynesian theory (especially with budget surpluses), and certainly unmatched in Keynesian practice.
If the Coolidge tax cuts were such a successful application of Wanniski's model, what brought on the market's crash? By sifting through newspapers of the day, Wanniski demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that the stock market crash of 1929 ensued be-cause of the growing likelihood of passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. A domestic tax is "a wedge between the trading of Jones and Smith. The tariff is a wedge between the trading of Jones, a national, and Schmidt, a foreigner. The effects on commerce are precisely the same."
To make matters worse, income taxes were increased again and again during the 1930's (ranging from 4 percent to 79 percent by1936), and became particularly punitive toward people worth high incomes by virtue of their ability to add value to enterprises. The politics of the day liked employment but hated employers, a situation that wasn't really improved until another of the book's heroes, President Kennedy, cut tariffs and slashed tax rates (from a 20-percent to 91-percent range to a more moderate 14-percent to 70-percent range), while simultaneously reducing Federal spending and borrowing.
Wanniski goes too far, however, in denying that the collapse of the banking system and the related destruction of a third of the U.S. money stock had any effect in prolonging the Great Depression. "If prices could have risen by one third," he says, "there would have been no need for the banking collapse." But it was the banking collapse that produced the falling prices, and it could have been prevented.
Those of us who have labored under the accusation of employing "19th-century economics" will enjoy Wanniski's clever uses of 18th-century, classical economics to browbeat the current intellectual fashions.
Marx is accused of a fixation on economic contraction, which requires "submerging individualism into collectivism, because it is the untrammeled individual who is viewed as driving the capitalist system toward overproduction, boom and bust." Each worker is supposed to work harder in Marxist economies simply because of the ideological promise that others will do the same.
Like the Marxist model, says Wanniski, the Keynesian model is primarily a rationale for redistributing income (sharing misery) during periods of economic decline. Keynesian theory rests uneasily on "bond illusion"-people's presumed failure to recognize that an increase in government debt must require higher taxes in the future to repay or pay interest on that debt. Deficit spending just replaces present taxes with future taxes, and people will not "work for bonds, under the illusion that they can be exchanged for real goods."
If Keynesians base their theory on "bond illusion," monetarists stand indicted for peddling "money illusion"-"the notion that people will work for `money' as a form of wealth, whether or not there is anything that money can buy." Some monetarists do argue that an unanticipated inflation can briefly reduce unemployment (because prices rise faster than wages), but only until adjustments are made. Indeed, the "rational expectations" school of monetarism even goes further than Wanniski in denying illusion, since Wanniski remarks that "creditors suffer and debtors benefit by an unanticipated switch in coin by the government." If lenders never suffered even temporary money illusion, then interest rates would always be high enough to compensate for any loss of purchasing power.
The real problem, of course, is long-term contracts in a changing world. If employers agree to pay 10-percent annual wage increases for three years in the expectation of being able to raise prices by 7 percent a year, a lower than anticipated monetary inflation will toss them into a cost-price squeeze, requiring layoffs. Imperfect foresight isn't really a matter of illusion, as Wanniski suggests, any more than the stock market suffered illusion in 1929 before the news about tariffs changed so quickly.
In Wanniski's model, it would apparently make no difference if there were a 100-percent inflation one day and a 100-percent deflation the next, except insofar as it distorted the tax structure. All prices and wages not only adjust to changing money growth, but do so evenly and instantaneously. Expectations are not only rational, in the sense of incorporating each day's best information, but also perfectly correct in anticipating future policy shifts. This is a useful simplification for some purposes, notably in drawing attention to the real factors that ultimately determine long-run economic growth, but it is not sufficiently precise to erase even temporary links between money, spending, and production.
If there is a prime villain of the book, a Darth Vader, it must be Professor Nicholas Kaldor of Cambridge University. Kaldor has been a principal exponent of the notion that developing nations must impose draconian taxes in order to extract the "savings" to finance grandiose government "investments" (uneconomic steel mills and other monuments).
Wanniski traces the Kaldor theme back to mid-19th-century India, where British railroad builders plied their trade at the cost of an onerous debt burden on Indian taxpayers. Economic imperial-ism is thus nearly defined as "the exploitation of the underdeveloped world by pushing it beyond its capacity to develop, in the process burdening the masses of people in the Third World with indebtedness and taxes."
Wanniski's documentation here is devastating. We find that be-fore recent tax cuts, taxpayers in stagnant Asian countries faced 65-to 75-percent tax rates on incomes of around $7,000. In the booming Ivory Coast, marginal rates stop at 37.5 percent above $20,000, while in the similar but sluggish economy of Ghana tax rates hit 75 percent at $12,500. Anyone can pick the most troubled economies out of an extensive list by simply looking at the steepest taxes.
Economics in the real world is rarely divorced from politics, and what links the two, according to Wanniski, is the electorate's understanding of economics, which is acquired from childhood through dealings with others. "The only way an economist can know something his fellow human beings do not ... is if people them-selves do not know why they produce, distribute, and consume." It is one thing, however, to demonstrate that people understand their own economic circumstances, and quite another to claim that the electorate possesses the sorts of analytical skills and economic information needed to make political actions conform to their shared interests. Because each vote carries little weight, voters have no incentive to be as well-informed about politically determined economic issues as they are about something that affects their interests directly (such as the choice of employment or stereo components).
Some decisions nonetheless do have to be reached by political consensus: "When four people go out to dine, the wine selection requires a political decision because four tastes must be satisfied with one bottle." To solve such problems on a larger scale,the global electorate is seen pushing, at every opportunity, in the direction of systems capable of producing superior politicians. This political process has as its ultimate aim a solution to the basic economic problem that for all time has confronted the global electorate, which is the tension between income growth and income distribution.... No individual can possibly be as wise as the electorate, the consensus, in discerning the preferred tastes of all the individuals who compose the electorate.... [Every election] is the optimum reflection of the national or local interest, given the choices available to the electorate.
People know what they want, and cannot be induced to want something else, but that is not to say that politicians are not some-times mistaken or misled about the electorate's desires. When politicians lose touch with the people, the electorate is forced to find ways outside the normal political process to communicate with the politicians: revolution, religion, nationalism, and even, at times, assassination.
Unfortunately, Wanniski fails here to differentiate adequately among kinds of political action, and is left therefore with a formulation that amounts to saying that what is not upheaval is contentment.
These strained simplifications of political life are best illustrated by Wanniski's curiously charitable view of the Soviet Union's "democratic experiment." Communist systems apparently have the sup-port of their electorates, Wanniski says, "for if they did not we would expect to see more visible signs of internal dissension." But that is why such systems nationalize the means of dissent (news-papers, television, guns), so it is very difficult for outsiders-and even for other citizens-to see "visible signs" of dissension.
Wanniski's economic lessons appropriately concentrate on the political barriers to trade-tariffs and taxes-that diminish the market's efficiency in producing what is wanted. His analogy between political and economic markets would be greatly improved if it were likewise explicitly acknowledged that there are particularly formidable barriers to political "competition." These barriers make political decision making inherently less competitive and efficient than voluntary market transactions.
Still, the book offers quite a lot of anecdotal evidence that following the Laffer/Wanniski economic model is good politics-even given the great dissimilarities in traditions and expectations among people of different nations and cultures. Those who overtax the people eventually lose power, one way or another. In this sense, the political model may help to explain how the electorate pushes, albeit glacially, toward responsive government. For in the end, governments can't distribute goods and services that are not produced, or tax transactions and activities that do not take place. Production depends on the quantity and quality of work and capital, which, in turn, depend on the after-tax real rewards to productive effort and investment. When the creation and spending of money outrun production, you just get inflation. Government debt is not a source of real wealth. If The Way the World Works did nothing more than push a handful of political entrepreneurs toward such fundamental realities, as it already may have done, it would rank among the most influential books since the 1930's.
When this was published in 1978, Alan Reynolds [now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute] was Vice President of the First National Bank of Chicago, and editor of First Chicago World Report.