Quotulatiousness

June 18, 2015

P.J. O’Rourke – Donald Trump may be the perfectly “representative” candidate

Filed under: Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

If you’re looking for the Tsar of Tacky, the Baron of Bad Taste, the Grand Duke of Garishness, then you really will love Donald Trump for President, because he is America personified:

Has the office of the presidency diminished in stature until it attracts only the midgets of public life?

Or have our politicians shrunk until none of them can pass the carnival test “You Must Be Taller than the Clown to Ride the White House Tilt-A-Whirl”?

During this endless grim, foggy, electoral season with its constant drizzle of wannabes, I intend to make little prose pictures of each candidatural dwarf until we are down to two.

I tremble for my country when I reflect that the two may be “Clinton” and “Bush.” Members of the electorate in their right minds will go into the ballot booth, see the names, think to themselves, “I did this already.” And leave with the ballot unmarked. Voter turn-out will be 6 percent. The shuttle from the local extended care facility will send a few memory-impaired Republicans to the polls. A DNC bus will collect some derelicts from skid row. And we will have the first President of the United States elected by a franchise limited to sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease and drunken bums.

Let us therefore begin at the bottom of the campaign barrel with the lees, the dross, and the dregs, by which I mean Donald Trump.

Or is Trump just using the garbage of his personality to chum for publicity again? If he isn’t really a candidate, I see no reason to take him at his word, any more than I’d take him at his word about anything else.

Besides, I, personally, support his candidacy. “Democracy,” said H. L. Mencken, “is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

The American government is of the people, by the people, for the people. And, these days, America is peopled by 320 million Donald Trumps. Donald Trump is representative of all that we hold dear: money. Or, rather, he is representative of greed for money. We common people may not be able to match Trump’s piggy bank, but we can match his piggishness.

April 7, 2015

Senator Moynihan

Filed under: Government,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In City Journal, Fred Siegel looks at some recent books about the late Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Monihan:

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the four-term senator from New York who died in 2003, was that rare soul who was both a political and intellectual giant. Stephen Hess, who worked in the early Nixon White House as an aide to Moynihan, was the rare individual friendly with both Moynihan and Richard Nixon. The Professor and the President is a short but revealing memoir-cum-narrative of Moynihan’s service in the executive branch.

What brought Nixon and Moynihan together was a tectonic shift of the political plates. Nixon won the presidency in 1968 thanks to the backlash against the riots that had ripped through America’s cities. What made Moynihan a Democrat of extraordinary insight, willing to serve a Republican president, were his reactions to those riots — and to the excesses and wrong turns of American liberalism.

Today, 50 years after its issuance, some liberals “bravely” acknowledge that 1965’s so-called Moynihan Report, in which the future senator warned about the dire future consequences of the collapse of the black family, was a fire bell in the night. But at the time, and for decades to come, Moynihan was branded as a racist by civil rights leaders, black activists, and run-of-the-mill liberals. “One began to sense,” Moynihan wrote, that “a price was to be paid even for such a mild dissent from conventional liberalism.”

His capacity for irony notwithstanding, Moynihan came close to a nervous breakdown and “emerged changed” from the experience. He came to feel “that American liberalism had created its own version of a politique du pire (i.e., the worse the better) … in which evidence had been displaced by ideology.” His fear that the empirically oriented liberalism of his youth was under assault from racial and cultural nihilists intensified after the 1967 riots that burned through Cleveland, Newark, and Detroit, where 43 died. “The summer of 1967,” Moynihan wrote at the time, “came in the aftermath of one of the most extraordinary periods of liberal legislation, liberal electoral victories and the liberal dominance of the media … that we have ever experienced. The period was, moreover, accompanied by the greatest economic expansion in human history. And to top it all, some of the worst violence occurred in Detroit, a city with one of the most liberal and successful administrations in the nation; a city in which the social and economic position of the Negro was generally agreed to be far and away the best in the nation.”

March 28, 2015

Senator Harry Reid is retiring

Filed under: Politics,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Here’s some high praise for the outgoing democratic senator Harry Reid, who announced yesterday he won’t be seeking re-election in 2016:

Today we will hear a lot about Reid’s “service” to the Senate and to the American people. Ha! “Service” indeed. The truth of the matter is that Harry Reid is a stone-cold killer who has damaged Washington considerably, who has elevated his own political preferences above the institution he was elected to protect, and who has made worse the partisan rancor that our self-described enlightened class claims to abhor. The greatest service he can do America is to go away.

From a purely Machiavellian perspective, there is a strong case to be made that Reid has been the most effective federal politician in the United States over the last decade or so. In order to protect the president and to advance his movements’ goals, Reid has been willing to diminish the influence, power, and effectiveness of his own institution; in order to thwart his opponents, he has demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to play dirty — a capacity that sets him apart even from other harsh players such as Chuck Schumer, Ted Cruz, and Dick Durbin; and, in order to satisfy his own need to feel powerful, he has perfected the scorched earth approach that has kept Obama’s presidency on life support since November of 2010 (in my estimation, the Democratic party’s success during the 2013 shutdown was the product of Reid’s obstinacy and resolve, not Obama’s).

National Review also reposted Kevin Williamson’s appreciation for Reid from 2014:

There are 53 Democrats in the Senate, plus two nominal independents who associate with them, and this clown caucus has chosen, since 2007, to place itself under the malignant leadership of Harry Reid, Washington’s answer to Frankenstein’s monster — stitched together out of the worst bits of Roger Chillingworth, Joe McCarthy, and Droopy — a teacup tyrant who has filled his own pockets to the tune of $10 million while decrying the allegedly baleful influence of the wealthy on politics, a man who has done violence to ethical standards left and right, using campaign funds for personal expenditures and trying to hide payments channeled to his granddaughter, who takes to the Senate floor to make patently false, malicious, and increasingly loopy claims about his political rivals, and who is leading a partisan assault on the Bill of Rights. If America needs a(nother) good reason to hand Democrats their heads come November, then they would do well to study the career of Harry Reid (D., Ritz-Carlton), the Sheriff of Nottingham to Barack Obama’s Prince John.

Harry Reid is in some ways a laughable figure, and one of his few charms is that he is known to make self-deprecating observations about his own unprepossessing nature. His obsession with Koch Industries and the intimations of venality that surround him might be grounds for annoyed eye-rolling if they were not of a piece with his audacious war on the most important of our fundamental constitutional liberties. The cheap histrionics, the gross hypocrisy, the outright lies, misusing campaign funds to tip his staff at the Ritz $3,300 — all of that would be just about bearable, but the shocking fact is that Harry Reid and his Senate Democrats are quietly attempting to repeal the First Amendment. And that elevates Senator Reid’s shenanigans from buffoonery to villainy.

January 16, 2015

It’s always a good time to cut taxes

Filed under: Economics,Government,Humour,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In a column explaining why he’s terrified that the “Modern Monetary Theory” folks might get anywhere near the levers of power, Tim Worstall fits in the best reason to cut taxes:

Given that we are discussing monetary policy it seems appropriate to bring Milton Friedman in here. And he pointed out that if you ever have a chance to cut taxes just do so. On the basis that politicians, any group of politicians, will spend the bottom out of the Treasury and more however much there is. So, the only way to stop ever increasing amounts of the the entire economy flowing through government is simply to constrain the resources they can get their sticky little mits on. We could, for example, possibly imagine a Republican from the Neanderthal wing of the party arguing that what the US really needs is another 7 carrier battle groups. And one from the even more confused than usual Progressive end of the Democratic Party arguing that each college student needs her own personal carrier battle group to protect her from the microaggressions of being asked out for a coffee. You know. Sometime. Maybe. If you want to?

December 1, 2014

Seeing your political opponents as cartoon villains

Filed under: Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:42

Nicholas Frankovich on how at least some liberals view their conservative foes:

In the liberal imagination, the conservative plays many parts, all of them villainous, the most flamboyant being that of the crank who combines political activism with mental instability: a dangerous combination. Earlier this week Ian Tuttle documented a few random but typical reports from those who have recently sighted this menacing character. I especially liked Ian’s excerpt from a column by Charles Blow, who sees “the fear that makes the face flush when people stare into a future in which traditional power — their power — is eroded.”

Blow means status anxiety. The idea is that conservatives are either downwardly mobile or fearful of becoming so. Conservatism is reduced to the image of people blustering and raging as they tumble down the social ladder, either in fact or in their fevered delusions. The term “status anxiety” has fallen out of fashion, but obviously the concept has not. As an explanation for conservatism and for anti-Communism particularly, it came into vogue in the mid 20th century, popularized by the sociologists Daniel Bell and Seymour Martin Lipset but especially by the Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter, who in the run-up to the 1964 presidential election published “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” (Harper’s, November 1964), the classic essay on conservatism as mental illness.

Hofstadter began with a reference to the “angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority.” This was less a news hook for a groundbreaking psychoanalysis of American history than the psychoanalysis of American history was a context in which Hofstadter could situate Barry Goldwater and his supporters.

Meanwhile, “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater” appeared as the October–November issue of the newly founded (and short-lived, as it would turn out) Fact magazine. “1,189 psychiatrists say Goldwater is psychologically unfit to be president!” the cover read. (The American Psychiatric Association later established the “Goldwater rule”: “It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer [to media] a professional opinion [of a public figure’s mental health] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”)

November 6, 2014

The US midterm elections show one thing clearly

Filed under: Government,Politics,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

The one thing that is apparent from the results of the US federal mid-term elections is that — despite what voters tell pollsters and reporters — they’re absolutely in love with their current federal representatives:

I see that Americans are well satisfied with their politicians: over 95 percent of incumbents re-elected. Perhaps I should be more gentle in my criticism of a system that can bring such torpor and contentment, and is not so unlike monarchy after all.

For note, that in this fast-changing world, some things do not change; that some jobs stay safe, from year to year and decade to decade.

One wonders why politicians go to the trouble of awarding themselves such extravagant pensions, when they could just leave their names on the ballot, indefinitely. Retirements cost the taxpayer money: for now, instead of the one politician, we must in effect pay for two. With term limits, who knows how many we must keep, in the style to which they have become accustomed?

October 10, 2014

QotD: When bashing America is just code for bashing the Red Tribe

Filed under: Politics,Quotations,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

[A]lthough liberals and conservatives live in the same area, they might as well be two totally different countries or universe as far as level of interaction were concerned.

Contra the usual idea of them being marked only by voting behavior, we described them as very different tribes with totally different cultures. You can speak of “American culture” only in the same way you can speak of “Asian culture” – that is, with a lot of interior boundaries being pushed under the rug.

The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.

The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.

[…]

Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so. We know they are not exaggerating, because one might exaggerate the flaws of an enemy, but that anyone would exaggerate their own flaws fails the criterion of embarrassment.

The Blue Tribe always has an excuse at hand to persecute and crush any Red Tribers unfortunate enough to fall into its light-matter-universe by defining them as all-powerful domineering oppressors. They appeal to the fact that this is definitely the way it works in the Red Tribe’s dark-matter-universe, and that’s in the same country so it has to be the same community for all intents and purposes. As a result, every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem.

And so how virtuous, how noble the Blue Tribe! Perfectly tolerant of all of the different groups that just so happen to be allied with them, never intolerant unless it happen to be against intolerance itself. Never stooping to engage in petty tribal conflict like that awful Red Tribe, but always nobly criticizing their own culture and striving to make it better!

Sorry. But I hope this is at least a little convincing. The weird dynamic of outgroup-philia and ingroup-phobia isn’t anything of the sort. It’s just good old-fashioned in-group-favoritism and outgroup bashing, a little more sophisticated and a little more sneaky.

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 9, 2014

QotD: “I can tolerate anything except intolerance”

Filed under: Politics,Quotations,Religion,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The result is exactly what we predicted would happen in the case of Islam. Bombard people with images of a far-off land they already hate and tell them to hate it more, and the result is ramping up the intolerance on the couple of dazed and marginalized representatives of that culture who have ended up stuck on your half of the divide. Sure enough, if industry or culture or community gets Blue enough, Red Tribe members start getting harassed, fired from their jobs (Brendan Eich being the obvious example) or otherwise shown the door.

Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.

If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time and have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town.

And if you mix together the open-source tech industry and the parallel universe where you can’t wear a FreeBSD t-shirt without risking someone trying to exorcise you, you can prove that Christians are scary and very powerful people who are persecuting everyone else all the time, and you have a great excuse for kicking one of the few people willing to affiliate with the Red Tribe, a guy who never hurt anyone, out of town.

When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.

“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.

“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 8, 2014

QotD: Blue Tribe and Red Tribe media encoding

Filed under: Media,Politics,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.

If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.

But the story I’m actually referring to is liberal talk show host / comedian Russell Brand making that same rant against Fox News for supporting war against the Islamic State, adding at the end that “Fox is worse than ISIS”.

That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.

I would go further. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.

[…]

In a way, Russell Brand would have been braver taking a stand against ISIS than against Fox. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE outgroup WHO’S BOSS!”

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 7, 2014

QotD: The Blue Tribe’s reaction to two famous deaths

Filed under: Britain,Politics,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The worst reaction I’ve ever gotten to a blog post was when I wrote about the death of Osama bin Laden. I’ve written all sorts of stuff about race and gender and politics and whatever, but that was the worst.

I didn’t come out and say I was happy he was dead. But some people interpreted it that way, and there followed a bunch of comments and emails and Facebook messages about how could I possibly be happy about the death of another human being, even if he was a bad person? Everyone, even Osama, is a human being, and we should never rejoice in the death of a fellow man. One commenter came out and said:

    I’m surprised at your reaction. As far as people I casually stalk on the internet (ie, LJ and Facebook), you are the first out of the “intelligent, reasoned and thoughtful” group to be uncomplicatedly happy about this development and not to be, say, disgusted at the reactions of the other 90% or so.

This commenter was right. Of the “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people I knew, the overwhelming emotion was conspicuous disgust that other people could be happy about his death. I hastily backtracked and said I wasn’t happy per se, just surprised and relieved that all of this was finally behind us.

And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.

Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”. Another popular response was to link the videos of British people spontaneously throwing parties in the street, with comments like “I wish I was there so I could join in”. From this exact same group of people, not a single expression of disgust or a “c’mon, guys, we’re all human beings here.”

I gently pointed this out at the time, and mostly got a bunch of “yeah, so what?”, combined with links to an article claiming that “the demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure’s death is not just misguided but dangerous”.

And that was when something clicked for me.

You can talk all you want about Islamophobia, but my friend’s “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful people” – her name for the Blue Tribe – can’t get together enough energy to really hate Osama, let alone Muslims in general. We understand that what he did was bad, but it didn’t anger us personally. When he died, we were able to very rationally apply our better nature and our Far Mode beliefs about how it’s never right to be happy about anyone else’s death.

On the other hand, that same group absolutely loathed Thatcher. Most of us (though not all) can agree, if the question is posed explicitly, that Osama was a worse person than Thatcher. But in terms of actual gut feeling? Osama provokes a snap judgment of “flawed human being”, Thatcher a snap judgment of “scum”.

[…]

And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

October 6, 2014

QotD: The political tribes of America

Filed under: Politics,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

(There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

I think these “tribes” will turn out to be even stronger categories than politics. Harvard might skew 80-20 in terms of Democrats vs. Republicans, 90-10 in terms of liberals vs. conservatives, but maybe 99-1 in terms of Blues vs. Reds.

Scott Alexander, “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-30.

September 30, 2014

Implementing libertarian principles in practical politics

Filed under: History,Liberty,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:33

P.J. O’Rourke talks to Senator Rand Paul:

The Senator smiled and shrugged. “I never really felt like it was a problem explaining libertarian principles in practical politics. Republicans are champions of economic liberty. Democrats are champions of personal liberty. Bring the two back together.”

The Senator said, “The problem is mostly how people characterize libertarianism. But that’s changing. Libertarian has gone from being something scary to something people like as a label for themselves.”

He said, “There are different ways to get where we want to go.” And gave an example of going nowhere. “Nothing good has come out of the war on drugs.”

“What’s a different way?” I asked.

“I like the unenumerated powers.”

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. The Tenth Right in the Bill of Rights keeps us from having just nine rights.

“In The Federalist Papers,” I said, “Hamilton argued against the Bill of Rights on the grounds that government even mentioning rights like free speech implied government had some power over those rights.”

“But it’s a good thing we did write them down,” the Senator said, “otherwise we’d have nothing left.”

Senator Paul asked, not quite rhetorically, “Is this the ‘Libertarian Moment’? If so, it probably won’t come from a third party. Probably it will come from within a party.”

“From within the Democratic Party?” He didn’t seem to think it was inconceivable. “In New Hampshire,” he said, “even Democrats are against state income and sales taxes.”

But he didn’t seem to think it was likely either. “Republicans are an ideological coalition,” he said. “Democrats are a coalition of ideologies. The only thing Democrats agree on is income redistribution.”

Sen. Paul said, “Republicans have tradition on their side. It’s the American revolution versus the French Revolution.”

This was a switch – a flip-flop if you will – from Thomas Paine’s radical liberty de facto to Edmund Burke’s traditional liberty de jure. But I don’t fault the Senator. No friend of liberty can avoid the tumble back and forth between Burke and Paine.

“Tradition is a good thing,” the Senator said. “Ninety percent of Americans don’t break the law, not because there’s a law against it, but because they have a tradition of conscience. Republicans are traditional. But tradition can be boring. Libertarianism spices things up. Republicans have to either adapt, evolve, or die. They either have to water [down] their message — or extend liberty.”

August 22, 2014

Broad, bipartisan support for … conspiracy theories?

Filed under: Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:04

In the Washington Post, Alfred Moore, Joseph Parent and Joseph Uscinski show that it’s not just fringe activists on either side of the divide that indulge in conspiracy theorizing: it really is just as common on the left as it is on the right.

Krugman makes a fair point: in moderation conspiracy theories may show healthy skepticism, but in excess they can erode the trust needed for states to fulfill their basic functions and warp the respect for evidence necessary for sound decision making.

Yet Krugman is mostly wrong that nuttiness is found mainly among conservatives, and his misperception actually reveals a great deal about U.S. politics. People of all political persuasions believe their views are objectively right and others hold positions that are arbitrary and asinine. Daniel Kahan finds that partisan commitments make people look for evidence to justify their conclusions. Even when, say, liberals come up with a correct answer, it may not have been because of their high esteem for evidence. They just got lucky. The implication is that people use data like drunks use lampposts: more for support than illumination. Columnist Ezra Klein concurs with Kahan, although he points out the large numbers of Republicans who refuse to accept climate science and wonders whether there is a liberal equivalent to climate change denial.

[…]

In our survey, we also measured respondents’ underlying propensity to believe in conspiracy theories — that is, the general mindset that leads people to accept or reject conspiracy theories. We asked respondents whether they agreed with four statements:

  • “Much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places,”
  • “Even though we live in a democracy, a few people will always run things anyway,”
  • “The people who really ‘run’ the country are not known to the voters.”
  • “Big events like wars, the current recession, and the outcomes of elections are controlled by small groups of people who are working in secret against the rest of us.”

We combined these questions into one summary measure. This graph shows the percentage of Democrats, Republicans, and independents that showed a strong or medium disposition towards thinking conspiratorially.
Conspiracy theories on the left and the right
The upshot: near symmetry between left and right.

If Republicans and Democrats are equally prone to believing in conspiracy theories, where then is the liberal equivalent of climate change denial? An obvious possibility is the belief that Big Oil conspires to marginalize unfavorable findings or block alternative energies. Our survey, for example, shows that 52 percent of Democrats believe corporations are conspiring against us.

August 9, 2014

QotD: What is it that keeps democracies democratic?

Filed under: Government,Law,Liberty,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

This is the only thing that keeps either party within a mile of good behavior — the understanding that if you deceive the public, or act with gross incompetence, that behavior is going to be politicized and used against you.

Consider the example of the various one-party cities in this nation.

Can there be any doubt that “politicization” of one’s errors or actual violations is, while annoying for the party who has erred, the only thing that restrains a party from wholesale violations of the public trust?

Besides the obvious salutary public policy effects, there is of course a more tangible reason why records should be retained and, when subpoenaed by Congress, disclosed to that body:

Because it’s the law.

And adherence to the Law is the only thing that keeps a society of feuding political parties from degenerating into a third-world system of coups and counter-coups.

If the party I oppose shows perfect contempt for following the law when it sees a political advantage in doing so, why should I not support the selfsame law-breaking when the party I support decides it might find some advantage in doing so?

The government’s basis for rule over the citizens is based on two things:

1. Sheer naked coercive power.

And:

2. Moral authority, and the notion that, while a citizen might not like the particular government serving at any particular time, that citizen values something more eternal than the temporary political circumstances of a four year period of time.

Namely, the idea that it is best for everyone to follow the law, because it’s more important to support a stable government without turmoil and violence than to violate the law to win on any immediate, ephemeral political point.

Note that it is far better for any society that the government’s power rests more on the second pillar than on the first. Because so long as that pillar, of moral authority, of general fairness, of a general sense that the longterm interests of America are better served by adherence to government than to rebellion against it, the government will rarely, if ever, have to resort to the ultimate pillar of authority, which is physical, violent coercion.

Ace, “Sure Why Not: HHS Emails Sought by Congress To Determine Why Healthcare.gov Was Such a Catastrophe Are, Get This, Missing”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-08-08.

July 23, 2014

The partisan reasons for institutionalized crony capitalism

Filed under: Business,Government,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:38

There’s capitalism and there’s crony capitalism: they share a name, but they’re very different creatures. Crony capitalism thrives when government controls a large share of the economy, because then the politicians and bureaucrats have more goodies to share with their “capitalist” cronies. The bigger the slice of the pie controlled by political leaders and unelected regulators, the better the situation for the favoured companies — and that usually means the biggest of the big corporations. In the US government, one of the best examples of institutionalized crony capitalism is the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im): it exists to allow big corporations like Boeing to sell their products to foreign buyers at highly favourable interest rates, with the taxpayer picking up the risks and the American corporation creaming off the excess profits.

This system works so well — for the businesses being subsidized and the politicians who control the process — that it’s difficult to see it being stopped any time soon. Ex-Im’s enabling legislation is due to be re-authorized later this summer, so this is one of those brief chances to stop it. The problem is that it isn’t just Republicans who support it (because “what’s good for General Motors Boeing is good for America”), but also Democrats … sometimes the very same Democrats who make a lot of speeches about the evils of Wall Street. Jonah Goldberg explains why:

The Left’s anti-big-business populism is very different. It doesn’t want to cut the government’s incestuous relationship with big business; it simply wants to bring business to heel. Big business should do what Washington tells it to do, and when it does, it will get treats. When it doesn’t, it will get the newspaper to the nose. But big business will never be let off its leash, if the Left has its way.

“[Senator Elizabeth] Warren doesn’t have a problem with big banks or corporations,” the Federalist’s David Harsanyi writes. “She has a problem with banks and corporations that make profits in ways that she finds morally intolerable. She is an opponent of dynamism, not cronyism.”

This has always been the central idea behind progressive economics. Bureaucrats and other planners need — or at least want — ever more power to decide how economic resources are arranged and allocated. That doesn’t mean they’re socialists, it just means that corporations need to follow their lead. Indeed, good “corporate citizenship” means acquiescing to the priorities of progressive state planners and whatever their latest idea of “public–private partnerships” might be. The one constant in such partnerships is that business is always the junior partner.

This was the vision behind Woodrow Wilson’s “war socialism,” FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s Great Society, Bill Clinton’s “Third Way,” and virtually all of Barack Obama’s economic policies. What is Obamacare but an attempt to turn the entire health-care industry into Washington’s well-fed lapdog?

What’s amazing is that people are still capable of shock when it turns out that a policy of treating businesses like dependent lapdogs yields businesses that try to have the government’s lap all to themselves.

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