Archive for January 2010
There is something to be said for the notion that all we can do is to make the best choices possible given the information available. When it comes to macroeconomics, the problem seems to be the opposite: we are left to make the decisions offered up by a clergy of economists who, in a subject in which well nigh nothing is irrelevant, nonetheless purport to steer our macroeconomic policies, giving us the coordinates of the needle in a God-sized haystack. In this endeavor, here was Paul Krugman’s advice on how to get out of the recession back in 2002:
To fight this recession the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley of Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.
So, if I have this right, the solution to busted bubbles is to simply create more bubbles. Brilliant. When Lisa Simpson got gum stuck in her hair and the whole town chipped in with stupid ideas to get it out—e.g., mayonnaise, peanut butter, grapefruit, tartar sauce, bacon fat, freezing it with an ice cube, etc.—even then there was no one dumb enough in Springfield to suggest the way to get gum out of her hair was more gum.
Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.
Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (1960).
The Republican Party, to the extent it is the party of conservatism, is rightly called “the party of ‘no'” to the extent it opposes regulation, for the precise reason that it is the party of ‘yes’ in the cause of liberty.
My wife and I attended the Fourth Annual Federalist Society Western Conference yesterday at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.
The topic was State Judiciaries and the Popular Will: What Deference Do Judges Owe the People? I found the most interesting panel to be the one discussing whether judges should extend less deference to initiative amendments—i.e., those adopted by the direct initiative process rather than through the republican (small “r”) legislature. One speaker, Jon Weisenberg, pointed out that initiatives had created a contradictory, cobbled-together set of constitutional amendments that at once direct our representatives to spend, spend, spend on things like rail and prisons, and yet not increase taxes. This, Weisenberg argued, has rendered our state dysfunctional. Kenneth Starr, Eugene Volokh, and Vikram Amar all seemed to suggest, however, that even if this were so, there seems to be no feasible way to eliminate or diminish this important right.
Though there was not enough Q&A time, I had this question: It is likely true that voter initiatives are clumsy and counter-productive. But perhaps the lesson is not directed at the people to use greater caution and discernment in proposing and passing initiatives. Instead, perhaps the lesson is directed at our growingly unresponsive, aristocratic legislators who, concerned more and more about their own pet projects (here’s a recent and particularly noxious one), have left their constituents no choice but to take legislating into their own hands.
To this end, I wonder if there are any studies comparing Californians’ growing discontent with their legislature with the number of contemplated or attempted initiative measures?
Experiences flow as water through an open spigot, and, unless deliberately accumulated, will spill out in every direction, never again to be accounted for as part of an original contiguity.
My favorite commentary on the state of the union speech came from Mark Steyn, on Hugh Hewitt’s show Thursday:
BHO: But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. Let me know.
HH: Let me know, let me know, let me know, just trash talking, sneering, almost sinister…
MS: You know, I hate this occasion. I mean, I don’t want to become the unassimilated Muslim on your show, but I never feel less American than when I’m watching the State of the Union, because it’s monarchical theater. It’s a rip-off of the Throne speech in London or Ottawa or wherever, but without the underlying parliamentary reality. The one thing I like about the Throne speech is that the Queen, there’s a lot of back and forth between the Crown and the government over what the Queen will read out. In other words, she wouldn’t, she obviously wouldn’t say hey, if you’re so clever, come and see me if you’ve got a better idea, Mr. Smarty Pants. She wouldn’t do all that cheapo talk that Obama did. And so what you have here, I think, is the worst of all worlds, because the president gets to have a monarchical occasion, in which he indulges in sort of cheap, parliamentary sneering without the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition being able to yell across the aisle, nuts to you, which is what would happen if he was doing that at Westminster or in Ottawa or in Canberra, or any other self-respecting parliament. So it’s unbecoming to this Republic, because it’s the worst of all worlds. It’s monarchical theater without the parliamentary tightrope walking that a real parliamentarian has to do.
Brewing over the last several years has been the wrenching story of how public employee unions have been bleeding all of us try with defined benefit pensions that allow them to retire at full pay by around age 50 and average base salaries and Cadillac benefits packages that have by now bested the private sector. I’m reading Steven Greenhut’s Plunder!, which outlines the whole scheme in in sickening detail. (Incidentally, when I went to buy this book at Barnes & Noble a month after it was released, they didn’t have it available either on the shelves or online, and when I asked for assistance, I was told their system reported it being “out of print.” I told him what the book was about, and he suggested—not I!—that it may be due to some insidious union influence.)
Anyway, it occurred to me while reading through the book after having watched and/or listed to most of the state of the union speech: why does Obama so doggedly assail the voluntary private employee compensation arrangements on “Wall Street” (I’ve never been there, but from my President’s reports, I understand it is located in the hot place somewhere beneath the earth’s crust), although he never, never, ever attacks the thoroughly corrupt public union employee compensation arrangements? These are the ones that are truly bankrupting us.
UPDATE: Continuing to read through Plunder! only reinforces this fact, and makes Obama’s red-faced puffery over Wall Street all the more insulting. This is why demagoguery is immoral and not just a part of politics: it is the seizing of momentary, irrational impressions concerning the cause of certain social or economic problems and exploiting it to galvanize support for personal policy objectives. And it is an abdication of doing the real work of government, such as sniffing out the abuses of minority groups, like the public employee unions, who have seized control of the public treasury. When your truffle pig refuses to hunt for truffles, it’s time to make bacon out of him.
As science is to knowledge, libertarianism is to political theory. The former represents the most rigorous species of its respective genus. But it cannot account for the full breadth of the genus. Science relies on other forms of truth that can only be supported by different species of knowledge, and it cannot account for all useful human knowledge. In a similar way, libertarianism cannot account for the full scope of laws that can be considered legitimate; it cannot account for the breadth and nuances of political and legal life that humans demand of their governing institutions.