Consider the debate over the minimum wage. The controversy centered on what to do about what Sidney Webb called the “unemployable class.” It was Webb’s belief, shared by many of the progressive economists affiliated with the American Economic Association, that establishing a minimum wage above the value of the unemployables’ worth would lock them out of the market, accelerating their elimination as a class. This is essentially the modern conservative argument against the minimum wage, and even today, when conservatives make it, they are accused of — you guessed it — social Darwinism. But for the progressives at the dawn of the fascist moment, this was an argument for it. “Of all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites,” Webb observed, “the most ruinous to the community is to allow them unrestrainedly to compete as wage earners.”
Ross put it succinctly: “The Coolie cannot outdo the American, but he can underlive him.” Since the inferior races were content to live closer to a filthy state of nature than the Nordic man, the savages did not require a civilized wage. Hence if you raised minimum wages to a civilized level, employers wouldn’t hire such miscreants in preference to “fitter” specimens, making them less likely to reproduce and, if necessary, easier targets for forced sterilization. Royal Meeker, a Princeton economist and adviser to Woodrow Wilson, explained: “Better that the state should support the inefficient wholly and prevent the multiplication of the breed than subsidize incompetence and unthrift, enabling them to bring forth more of their kind.” Arguments like these turn modern liberal rationales for welfare state wage supports completely on their head.
Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, 2008.
December 7, 2013
December 6, 2013
Within moments of the announcement that the great man had passed away, left-wingers on twitter gleefully started posting quotes from Reagan-era conservatives about Mandela. At the time, most right-wingers’ opinions of Mandela — with one notable exception — ranged from skepticism to outright hostility. (This William H. Buckley column from 1990, which compares the recently-released Mandela to Lenin, was not atypical.)
Support for apartheid was never justifiable, but when that racist system was in its death throes, it was hardly unreasonable to worry about what might come next. Many political prisoners and “freedom fighters” have eventually come to power in their countries, only to become exactly what they once fought against — or worse. (One of the most infuriating examples is just over the South African border, where the once-promising Robert Mugabe has driven Zimbabwe into the abyss.)
The young Mandela was a revolutionary, and after spending his entire life as a second-class citizen, and 27 years behind bars, any bitterness on his part would have been understandable.
Instead, he chose an unprecedented path of reconciliation:
The real measure of one’s greatness comes when that person achieves power. And by that standard, Mandela was one of the greatest of them all. May he rest in peace.
Damian Penny, “Why Mandela was different”, DamianPenny.com, 2013-12-06
December 5, 2013
I didn’t get it then, but I get it now. Back then, when I was twenty and shiny with immorality and dew, I didn’t get loss. I’d experienced it, of course, but I hadn’t lived long enough to accumulate that patina of loss that I have now at 51. Enough years on this wet blue planet and you’re positively shellacked in loss, one coat over another, dulling your coat like so much floor wax. Back then, when I was twenty, I didn’t get loss and I didn’t get what a new set of extraordinary unmentionables could do for you.
Chelsea G. Summers, “unmentionables, the first”, pretty dumb things, 2013-12-04
December 4, 2013
When Napoleon called us “une nation de boutiquiers”, a nation of shopkeepers, he meant to insult us. Down the centuries, many Continentals have disparaged what they see as the soulless money-grubbing of the English-speaking peoples. Fascists and communists used remarkably similar language when they attacked “decadent Anglo-Saxon capitalism” — though, happily for the human race, it turned out not to be in decay at all.
It’s true that there was always a countervailing Anglophile tendency: Voltaire and Montesquieu, among others, admired us precisely because of our individualistic, mercantile, libertarian ways. But the idea that we “Anglo-Saxons” are too materialistic has never entirely gone away.
The phrase “Anglo-Saxons”, in this sense, is of course economic rather than racial. When the French talk of “les anglo-saxons” or the Spanish of “los anglosajones,” they don’t mean descendants of Æthelwulf or Oswine. They mean people who speak English and believe in small government, whether in Kowloon, Killarney or Kaukapakapa.
A nation of shopkeepers? Sounds good to me. What would you rather have? A nation of generals? Of civil servants? Of monks? Small employers are the greatest heroes we produce, and their heroism is all the greater for being unappreciated, unacknowledged, unthanked.
Daniel Hannan, “Shopkeepers have done more for human happiness than generals, statesmen or kings “, Telegraph, 2013-12-03
December 1, 2013
One of the joys of living in New York City is that a psychoanalyst is never too far away. Indeed, my neighbor Barry Stern is a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University College. After I had explained my predicament, he quipped, “I think New York Mets fans would have a lot to say about this,” before launching into a psychoanalytical explanation in which “masochists” (his word) “turn passive into active” when faced by a traumatic experience over which they have no control.
“It sounds like you take control of the experience of disappointment by preemptively becoming disappointed,” he told me. “You savor the anticipated loss when the team is down, a stance from which you can comfortably root for a win, without risking too much.” Viewed like that, the 1-0 lead is inherently less pleasurable.”Rather than enjoying your team being ahead, you manage the anxiety associated with them inevitably mucking up, negating the positive mood created through their lead … by spoiling it yourself. No more anxiety, just depression, and the familiar feeling of managing the weak sense of hope they might just pull this one out.”
Roger Bennett, “Is there such a thing as a happy football fan?”, ESPN Relegation Zone, 2013-09-17
November 28, 2013
I begin rather skeptical of most gun-control proposals. The ones that are pitched in the aftermath of mass shootings are particularly cynical, as they often attempt to regulate circumstances unrelated to the shooting. I still grind my teeth at Mayors Against Illegal Guns running ads in my state citing the Virginia Tech shooting, and talking about the need to shut the “gun show loophole” — even though the shooter didn’t obtain his weapons at a gun show. These sorts of arguments strike me as one part craven opportunism, one part feel-good placebo. (I wanted to say “panacea,” but panacea actually means a genuine cure-all.)
If someone wants to propose a new restriction on gun ownership after a tragedy, and cites that tragedy as a reason to pass it, it’s necessary to show how that new restriction would have prevented, mitigated, or impacted that tragedy. For example, almost none of the gun laws proposed after Newtown would have changed much of anything in that awful shooting, as that disturbed young man stole his mother’s legally purchased guns.
I suppose there are two potential changes to the law that would have significantly altered events in Newtown. First, a total ban on private ownership of firearms, which our friends in the gun-control movement keep insisting isn’t their goal.
Second, a restriction on gun ownership by people who live under the same roof as a person who’s deemed mentally incompetent or a threat to himself or others. Of course, then you get into the questions of what constitutes, “mentally incompetent or a threat to himself or others,” what constitutes “under the same roof”, etc.
Then there are the proposals to limit how many rounds each gun can fire before reloading. Almost every spree shooter — we need a better term for this — has had more than one firearm when they’ve launched their attacks. Instituting 10-round limits would mean that future shooters would get off 20 shots before pausing to reload, presuming they only brought two guns. It’s reasonable to conclude future mass killers will just bring three or four guns when they begin their rampage. This strikes me as a quite modest mitigation in the danger of these shooters, too modest to seriously consider.
Jim Geraghty, “Why Post-Shooting Gun-Control Debates Are So Insufferable”, National Review Online, 2013-09-18
November 24, 2013
The idea that “failure is not an option” is a fantasy version of how non-engineers should motivate engineers. That sentiment was invented by a screenwriter, riffing on an after-the-fact observation about Apollo 13; no one said it at the time. (If you ever say it, wash your mouth out with soap. If anyone ever says it to you, run.) Even NASA’s vaunted moonshot, so often referred to as the best of government innovation, tested with dozens of unmanned missions first, several of which failed outright.
Failure is always an option. Engineers work as hard as they do because they understand the risk of failure. And for anything it might have meant in its screenplay version, here that sentiment means the opposite; the unnamed executives were saying “Addressing the possibility of failure is not an option.”
Clay Shirky, “Healthcare.gov and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality”, Shirky.com, 2013-11-19
November 23, 2013
I’ve read that it’s smells that humans remember the longest, or are the most likely to jog memories. After positing that, the pseudoscientists often talk about Grandma’s cookies. Let me tell you about smells.
It smells like exotic bread is baking near the dust collector when you put pine through the drum sander. You know the fine dust is giving you nose cancer and lung trouble so you’re almost immune to its charms. Almost. There was this smell once, when I had to renovate an apartment a guy died in. He was in there a good long time, too. It’s the smell of the mass grave. That was fun. But nothing can compare to the smell of the abrasive cutoff saw going through steel. It makes brimstone smell like French pastry.
You see, to cut metal like that you don’t often use a saw with teeth. It’s just an abrasive disc, and you send a shower of sparks and an acrid, burning blast of stink up your nose. It’s like snorting sand from the outdoor ashtray next to the door at the place they hold Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. I’ll never forget it.
November 21, 2013
I don’t know what holiday dinners are like at Michael Bloomberg’s house, but I suspect there’s an awful lot of picking at food while the windbag at the head of the table lectures the assembled guests about why he’s right and they’re all idiots. That’s the message I get from his pet Mayors Against Illegal Guns organization, which wants its loyal minions, if there are any, to sit down to their Thanksgiving feasts and immediately start fights with relatives they haven’t seen in a year about gun control. All you need is a handy list of tendentious talking points — and a shitload of patience from Cousin Bob, who rebuilds old pistols for fun and just wrapped himself around half a bottle of Jack Daniels.
J.D. Tuccille, “Bloomberg Group Wants You To Start Fights About Gun Control at Thanksgiving”, Hit and Run, 2013-11-21
November 19, 2013
Every time a liberal sees someone behaving badly they sigh and say, “They just need education,” but the solution to America’s problems is less education, not more. If we got over this myth that everyone needs infinite academia, we would have less unemployment, more manufacturing, a stronger economy, less student debt, and less school tax. The economy would be stronger and we would all be happier. Ironically, in an effort not to hurt anyone’s feelings, we developed a system where everyone has to go to college, even the stupid people, until we all feel like shit.
When everybody’s special, nobody is. Getting everyone into college means you have to dumb down the curriculum until it is nothing but meaningless drivel that has no application in the real world. Colleges aren’t going to complain when you stick them with more customers. They just take the check, lower the bar, and say, “Come on in.” But getting a gold star on your math test does not a computer programmer make.
When my dad was a kid in Scotland, Britain was practicing a very successful exam system called 11-plus. Dad came from a huge working-class family and as is often the case, one of them had an IQ much higher than the others. They all took their 11-plus test at age 11. His brothers did fairly poorly and he did incredibly well. The brothers were then diverted from academia and put into trade schools, whereas my father got scholarships for private school and eventually got a degree in physics from Glasgow University. The brothers did very well working at a printing press and now lead fulfilled lives as proud tradesmen. My father went on to develop sonar equipment that called the Russians’ nuclear-submarine bluff and helped lead to the fall of communism. This was all thanks to the 11-plus system and it worked beautifully for over 30 years until 1976 when the egalitarians decided it was cruel to admit that some kids are simply not as smart as others.
Not only is this kind of thinking the stupidest. It’s stupidist. What’s the matter with not being smart? As Hemingway put it, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” Have you ever seen a genius at a water park? He’s miserable. The only time people with an IQ over 120 are really happy is when they’re at work. They’re basically our slaves. Dumb people ride ATVs with their sons, go bungee jumping, and laugh their heads off when somebody farts. Many of them are also rich.
Gavin McInnes, “A Nation of Working-Class Dropouts”, Taki’s Magazine, 2013-08-23.
November 17, 2013
If, as Philip Larkin observed not so long ago, the age of Jazz (not the same thing as the Jazz Age) ran roughly from 1925 to 1945, the age of the cocktail covered the same sort of period, perhaps starting a little earlier and taking longer to die away finally. The two were certainly associated at their inception. Under Prohibition in the United States, the customer at the speakeasy drank concoctions of terrible liquor and other substances added in order to render the result just about endurable, while the New Orleans Rhythm Kings or the Original Memphis Five tried to take his mind further off what he was swallowing. The demise of jazz cannot have had much to do with that of the cocktail, which probably faded away along with the disappearance of servants from all but the richest private houses. Nearly every cocktail needs to be freshly made for each round, so that you either have to employ a barman or find yourself consistently having to quit the scene so as to load the jug. Straight drinks are quicker and guests can — indeed often do — help themselves to them.
Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.
November 16, 2013
Sometime in the mid-first century a.d., an otherwise little known consular official, Gaius Petronius, wrote a brilliant satirical novel about the gross and pretentious new Roman-imperial elite. The Satyricon is an often-cruel parody about how the Roman agrarian republic of old had degenerated into a wealth-obsessed, empty society of wannabe new elites, flush with money, and both obsessed with and bored with sex. Most of the Satyricon is lost. But in its longest surviving chapter — “Dinner with Trimalchio” — Petronius might as well have been describing our own 21st-century nomenklatura.
Another farce in the Satyricon involves the nonchalant ignorance of Trimalchio and his guests. The wannabes equate influence and money with status and learning and so pontificate about current events, with made-up mythologies and half-educated references to history. When Trimalchio and his banqueters begin to sermonize on literature, almost everything that follows turns out to be wrong — as Petronius reminds us how high learning has become as inane a commodity as food or sex, and only sort of half consumed, rather like the 2008 campaign of faux Greek columns and Vero possumus, which were supposed to convey gravitas.
Likewise, in our version, what does a $200,000 Ivy League education or a graduate degree really get you any more? In the sophisticated world of our political and highly credentialed elites, there are 57 states. Atlantic Coast cities are said to lie along the Gulf of Mexico; after all, they are down there somewhere in the South. The Malvinas become the Maldives — Ma- with an s at the end seems close enough. Corps-men serve in the military (as zombies?). Medgar Evans was a civil-rights icon, but you know whom we mean. President Roosevelt addressed the nation on television after the stock-market crash in 1929 — well, he would have, had he been president then and if only Americans had had televisions in their homes. And how are we to know that what we read from celebrity authors is not just made up or plagiarized, whether a Maureen Dowd column or a Doris Kearns Goodwin book?
The famously nouveau-riche Trimalchio’s guests drop the names of the rich and powerful, mostly to remind one another that they are now among the plutocracy that is replacing the old bankrupt aristocracy. We too are seeing something like that metamorphosis. It is hard to guess on any given summer weekend which populist progressive family — the Obamas, the Clintons, the Kerrys, the Gores — will be ensconced on what particular Hamptons, Nantucket, or Martha’s Vineyard beach, rubbing shoulders with just the sort of Silicon Valley or Wall Street new zillionaires who during work hours are supposed to be the evil “1 percent” and “fat cats” who need to be forced to pay their “fair share.”
Victor Davis Hanson, “An American Satyricon”, National Review Online, 2013-08-27
November 14, 2013
Society seems to have a confused and ambivalent relationship with prostitutes. On the one hand, some argue that prostitution is the last vestige of employment for women who have been entirely subjugated beneath the will of a patriarchal society. For these people, mostly contemporary feminists, prostitutes are a ‘symptom’ of some deep patriarchal disease; they’re women who have placed themselves at the mercy of the sexual marketplace because they have no other option.
On the other hand, prostitution is celebrated as a trendy new sexuality, a symbol of feminine empowerment. At a time when being intimate is variously seen as uncool, dangerous, or emotionally ‘too much’, the fact that people sell sex like they would sell a television is seen as a funky and positive approach to modern sexual interactions. The popularity of TV dramas like Secret Diary of a Call Girl, in which Billie Piper plays a high-class prostitute getting into all sorts of scrapes in the process of prostituting herself, shows that many are happy to embrace prostitution as part of a new era of contemporary sexuality.
Prostitution is not liberating, but nor is it a symbol of absolute oppression. It is definitely not a funky new form of sexuality. For those who choose to do it, it is simply a reality. By indulging mawkish fantasies about the vulnerability of prostitutes, our laws make life harder for those it purports to protect by precluding the possibility of establishing informal networks of self-regulation and protection in the world of prostitution. We should take prostitutes seriously enough to allow them to get on with it however they choose.
November 13, 2013
If they are timid in some respects, the Trade Unions are aggressive in negotiation and cannot be otherwise. To keep in business a union has to do something. Each year there must be a fresh demand, without which the union will lose membership. Members expect to see some return for their subscriptions and union officials are not paid to be inactive. Lacking a grievance, they will have to invent one. Realizing this, the directors must make a show of reluctance, postponing the inevitable concession until it looks like a victory for the employees. If the union is quiescent it will lose membership, most probably to another union. Its officials, honorary or paid, can always gain consequence on the other hand, from their decision to do battle. Any Trade Union has, therefore, a built-in aggressiveness, without which it can hardly survive. Nothing can be more damaging to the union official than the rumour that he is friendly with the management. This can only be the result of blackest treachery, it is assumed, and the official has to stage a conflict in order to secure his own re-election. Aggressive toward management, the unions are almost as aggressive toward each other, competing for membership and staging frontier disputes over the exact territory which belongs to each. Nor is this unrest the fault of individuals. It is a characteristic of union organization and one for which there is no obvious remedy.
C. Northcote Parkinson, “The Feet of Clay”, Left Luggage, 1967.
November 10, 2013
There is a saying that you do not beat New Zealand — you just get more points than them at the final whistle.
Tim Worstall, “About next week’s rugby”, TimWorstall.com, 2013-11-10