Quotulatiousness

July 18, 2017

QotD: Where progressives and libertarians agree

Actually, there are four other big areas where the two ideologies converge.

1. Immigration. Immigration restrictions deprive billions of basic liberties, impoverish the world, and do so on the backs of the global poor, most of whom are non-white.

2. Occupational licensing. Licensing laws bar tens of millions of people from switching to more lucrative and socially valuable occupations, all to benefit richer insiders at the expense of poorer outsiders.

3. War, especially the War on Terror. Since 2002, the U.S. has literally spent trillions fighting the quantitatively tiny problem of terrorism by waging non-stop wars in the Middle East. We don’t know what the Middle East would have looked like if the U.S. had stayed out, but it’s hard to believe it would be worse. And there’s no end in sight.

4. The criminal justice system, especially the War on Drugs. Hundreds of thousands of non-violent people, disproportionately poor and non-white, are in prison. Why? To stop willing consumers from doing what they want with their own bodies.

These four issues are so massive, you’d expect a staunch progressive/libertarian alliance would have been forged long ago. But of course it hasn’t. Why not? Some progressives flatly disagree with one or more of these policies; see Bernie contra open borders. But the bigger stumbling block is that progressives place far lower priority on these issues than libertarians. That includes war, unless the Republicans hold the White House.

Why not? I regretfully invoke my Simplistic Theory of Left and Right. The heart of the left isn’t helping the poor, or reducing inequality, or even minority rights. The heart of the left is being anti-market. With some honorable exceptions, very few leftists are capable of being excited about deregulation of any kind. And even the leftists who do get excited about well-targeted deregulation get far more excited about stamping out the hydra-headed evils of market.

Bryan Caplan, “Progressive/Libertarian: The Alliance That Isn’t”, Library of Economics and Liberty, 2017-06-22.

June 29, 2017

Hidden fears about Germany’s national character

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Some interesting thoughts about Germany and the current German chancellor, Angela Merkel. First from Theodore Dalrymple a few weeks back in City Journal:

When the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, decided to take in 1 million migrants and refugees (the precise numbers have yet to be established and probably never will be), it is difficult to believe that thoughts of Hitler and Nazism were far from her mind. Hitler believed that the German national interest was the touchstone of morality; anything that served it, in his opinion, was justified. So catastrophic was this monstrous ethic that for a long time, it seemed virtually impossible for anyone other than a neo-Nazi to speak of the German national interest. When Germany won the soccer World Cup in 2014, the nation exploded in joy and celebration. Newspapers suggested that Germany had finally overcome its postwar feelings of guilt, so that it was possible for Germans to express an unapologetic pride in their country. This, however, seems false: everyone understands that, in this context, sport is unimportant, a distraction. A rally to celebrate the German trade surplus as a vindication of the German people compared with its neighbors would be another thing entirely — and it is inconceivable that it would take place.

One can imagine no policy more distant from Hitler’s than Merkel’s acceptance of the million migrants. Her gesture says: we Germans are as far from Hitler as it is possible to be. We need not think whether the policy is wise or just; it is sufficient that it should distinguish us from what we were before.

It is not only in Germany, however, that the national interest may not be mentioned for fear of appealing to Nazi-like sentiments; indeed, any such appeal routinely winds up labeled as “far right,” a metonym for Hitler or Nazism. The identification is a means of cutting off whole areas of inquiry, nowhere more so than in the question of immigration.

One of the justifications for the European Union that I have often heard is that it brings peace to the continent. This, usually unbeknown to its proponents, is an argument ad Hitlerum, for the likeliest source of war on the continent is Germany: Portugal would never attack Denmark, for example, or Sweden Malta. No: what is being said here is that the Germans, being Germans, are inherently militaristic and racist nationalists, and the logical consequence or final analysis of these traits is Nazism; and that unless Germany is bound tightly into a supranational organism, it will return to violent conquest. I personally do not believe this.

And this, from Nikolaas de Jong in American Thinker earlier this week:

… it is important to point out that the popular image both of Angela Merkel and of modern Germany is deeply flawed. Because far from representing a negation — or a misguided attempt at negation — of past German policies and attitudes, the modern German mentality is in many ways a mutation or an update of the same mentality that has guided Germany since the eighteenth century, and especially since the unification of the country in 1870.

Let us begin with the more obvious parallel: German support for further European integration. Despite all the German talk about subordinating narrow national interests to the European project, careful observers must have noticed the coincidence that the Germans always see themselves as the leaders of this disinterested project, and that the measures deemed to be necessary for further European cooperation always seem to be German-made.

Are the Germans really such idealistic supporters of the European project? It is more probable that in reality they see the European Union as an ideal instrument to control the rest of Europe. Indeed, in 1997 the British author John Laughland wrote a book about this subject, The Tainted Source: the Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea, which is still worth reading for anyone who wants understand what kind of organization the EU actually is. According to Laughland, the Germans are such big supporters of the European ideal because they know that all important decisions in a confederation of states can ultimately only be taken by or with the approval of the most important state — in this case, Germany.

Thus, on closer scrutiny, there is a strong continuity between the foreign policy of Wilhelm II, Hitler, and Merkel. And this continuity can easily be explained by looking at Germany’s position within Europe. On the one hand, Germany is the strongest and largest country in Europe, but on the other hand it is not strong or large enough to dominate the rest of Europe automatically. In consequence, ever since German unification in 1870, the country has been presented with the choice either to subordinate its wishes to those of the rest of Europe — which has always appeared rather humiliating — or to attempt the conquest of Europe, in order to ensure that Germany’s wishes would always prevail. Unsurprisingly, the Germans have consistently chosen the second course, and both World Wars were attempts to permanently bring the rest of Europe under German control.

Realpolitik or reductio ad Hitlerum?

May 4, 2017

Marine Le Pen may win or lose on May 7th, but the voters she represents will not go away

Filed under: Europe, France, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Bill Wirtz on the long-term trends that may or may not be represented in the voting for the second round of voting in the French presidential elections:

After the first round of voting last Sunday, the French electorate decided to send independent candidate Emmanuel Macron (23.8 percent) and far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen (21.6 percent) to the next round of voting on May 7th.

Opponents of Le Pen’s radical policies are now calling for a gathering of the so-called “Front Républicain,” the Republican Front.

Inspired by the name of Le Pen’s National Front, the Republican Front gathers those who reject the rampant nationalist positions of the French far-right, which they consider contrary to the “Republican spirit.”

While not an established party in itself, the Republican Front represents a coalition of different parties in the République against a particularly unpopular candidate like Marine Le Pen. […]

For many French voters, the second round is an ideological dilemma. If for instance, the candidate they were supporting fails to progress to the next round, they may be more or less forced to throw their support behind a candidate with whom they have severe disagreements.

Now, the country’s political role models and media personalities expect the electorate to cast a “vote utile,” the “useful vote,” preventing Le Pen from coming to power. And ultimately that is exactly what will happen.

Both candidates will get involved in heated debates but in the end, the gathering of the Republic Front, with all mainstream parties rallying behind Macron in order to avoid Le Pen, will prevent the French nationalist from taking the Elysée Palace.

And yet, the consequences of this policy might be dangerously ill-advised.

March 26, 2017

The Mark Steyn Show with Maxime Bernier

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Mar 23, 2017

In this brand new edition of The Mark Steyn Show, Mark talks to Canadian Conservative Party leadership candidate Maxime Bernier. M Bernier was the country’s Foreign Minister under Stephen Harper until his rising star somewhat spectacularly self-detonated. But, after biding his time, he returned as a hero of the libertarian right – “the Albertan from Quebec”, as he became known. Steyn and Bernier talk about what it means to be a conservative francophone in rural Quebec, the role of a medium-rank power in a turbulent world, and Canadian-US relations.

January 27, 2017

Il Donalduce as a political Sir Jackie Fisher

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Richard Fernandez suggests that the election of Donald Trump has changed the political scene in the same way that Fisher’s Dreadnought changed the naval world in 1906:

With America’s closure to mass uncontrolled immigration the pressure inevitably be on Europe to accept the Middle Eastern millions. Can Europe stand by and watch as Trump strikes separate deals? Which country wants to be the last to maintain open borders AND welfare in a world where America is in frank pursuit of energy dominance, security and trade? Cecilia Malmstrom appears to be volunteering Europe. Can it do it?

By moving first and quickly Trump may have initiated the political equivalent of a 21st century Dreadnought race. The HMS Dreadnought, readers will recall, was a warship whose building forced a paradigm shift in Naval Affairs by rendering all previous naval vessels obsolete. It changed the game for everyone.

    Her entry into service in 1906 represented such a paradigm shift in naval technology that her name came to be associated with an entire generation of battleships, the “dreadnoughts”, as well as the class of ships named after her. The generation of ships she made obsolete became known as “pre-dreadnoughts”.

The Trumpian revolution could have the same effect. The choice before Europeans is whether to make the shift and build policy “dreadnoughts” of their own or to plod along building PC-era pre-dreadnoughts. The suddenness of developments has caught the media by surprise though it shouldn’t have. As Dennis Prager pointed out the sustainability of the old paradigm has been been in question for a long time. “It is time for our society to acknowledge a sad truth,” Prager said, “America is currently fighting its second Civil War.” The Left had long been saying this as had conservatives, but the party of Washington plodded serenely on.

January 21, 2017

Trump and libertarian concerns

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

At Reason, Peter Suderman can only come up with nine reasons for libertarians to be worried about Il Donalduce‘s new regime:

Here are nine reasons why libertarians should be very concerned about a Trump presidency:

1) He has repeatedly promised to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants upon taking office, relying on a “special deportation force” to carry out the task. And even in the occasional moments in which he has seemed to recognize that this task would be logistically impossible, he has continued to insist that he will deport several million people right away, and that other undocumented immigrants who are in the country will not have a path to citizenship unless they leave the country first.

2) More generally, Trump’s attitude toward immigrants and outsiders ranges from disdain to outright hostility. He has called for a ban on Muslim immigration and the closure of mosques, and he opened his primary campaign by declaring that Mexican immigrants to the U.S. were rapists and criminals.

3) Trump has also promised to build a massive, expensive wall along the southern border, and has insisted that Mexico will pay for its construction, an absurd notion that is already crumbling, as the incoming administration has asked Congress, not Mexico, to pay for the wall.

4) Trump has made clear that his administration will take a much more aggressive stance on trade as well. During the campaign, he floated the idea of a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods, which would be deeply harmful to consumers and the U.S. economy. Since winning the election, his administration has raised the possibility of a 10 percent tariff on all imports, a policy that could spark a global recession. After winning in November, he said he would pull the nation out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement on day one of his presidency.

On the other hand, Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy are a bit more upbeat about libertarian causes in Trump’s America:

Donald Trump is nobody’s idea of a libertarian but his presidency provides a tremendous opportunity to advance libertarian policies, outcomes, and aspirations in our politics and broader culture. Those of us who believe in reducing the size, scope, and spending of the federal government and expanding the autonomy, opportunities, and ability of people to live however they choose should welcome the Trump era. That’s not because of the new president’s agenda but because he enters office as the man who will inevitably close out a failing 20th-century model of governance.

Liberal, conservative, libertarian: We all understand that whatever the merits of the great political, economic, and cultural institutions of the last 70 years — the welfare state built on unsustainable entitlement spending; a military that spends more and more and succeeds less and less; the giant corporations (ATT, IBM, General Motors) that were “beyond” market forces until they weren’t; rigid social conventions that sorted people into stultifying binaries (black and white, male and female, straight and mentally ill) — these are everywhere in ruins or retreat.

The taxi cab — a paradigmatic blending of private enterprise and state power in a system that increasingly serves no one well — is replaced by ride-sharing services that are endlessly innovative, safer, and self-regulating. Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s campaign slogan — Uber everything — was the one self-evident truth uttered throughout the 2016 campaign. All aspects of our lives are being remade according to a new, inherently libertarian operating system that empowers individuals and groups to pursue whatever experiments in living they want. As one of us (Nick Gillespie) wrote with Matt Welch in The Declaration of Independents, the loosening of controls in our commercial, cultural, and personal lives has consistently enriched our world. The sharing economy, 3D printing and instantaneous global communication means businesses grow, flourish, adapt, and die in ways that perfectly fulfill Schumpeterian creative destruction. We live in a world where consuming art, music, video, text, and other forms of creative expression is its own form or production and allows us to connect in lateral rather than hierarchical ways. Pernicious racial and ethnic categories persist but they have been mostly supplanted by a tolerance and a level of lived pluralism that was unimaginable even 20 years ago, when less than [50%] of Americans approved of interracial marriages. Politics, Welch and Gillespie wrote, is a lagging indicator of where America is already heading and in many cases has already arrived.

January 15, 2017

QotD: Like the Bourbons, the Guardian learns nothing and forgets nothing

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The Bourbons, said Talleyrand, learned nothing and forgot nothing. Sometimes it seems as if our modern liberals are just like the Bourbons. Here, for example, is a headline from the U.K.’s hard-line liberal newspaper, the Guardian:

FAR-RIGHT PARTY STILL LEADING IN DUTCH POLLS, DESPITE LEADER’S CRIMINAL GUILT.

What was the crime of which the far-right leader — Geert Wilders — was guilty? It was incitement to discrimination; in other words, not even discrimination itself. He had discriminated against no one, but made a speech in which he called for “fewer Moroccans.” Significantly, the Guardian gave no further details of what Wilders meant by this — whether, for example, he proposed that fewer Moroccan immigrants should be allowed into the Netherlands, that the illegal Moroccan immigrants should be deported, or that Dutch citizens of Moroccan descent should be deprived of their citizenship and forcibly repatriated. For the Guardian, it hardly seemed to matter.

More significant still was the Guardian’s inability, even after the victory of Donald Trump in the United States—which must, in part, have been attributable to a revolt against political correctness — to see that the conviction of Wilders on a charge so patently designed to silence the fears of a considerable part of the population couldn’t possibly reduce his popularity. By illustrating the moral arrogance of the political class against which Wilders’s movement is a reaction, the charge might actually make him more popular.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Incitement to Hypocrisy: The Netherlands unevenly applies a law forbidding provocation”, City Journal, 2016-12-28.

November 12, 2016

Information for would-be refugees from Trumpistan

Filed under: Cancon, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mark Hill does a respectable job of explaining why running away to Canada isn’t necessarily the best option for Americans disgruntled with the outcome of the 2016 election:

… for everyone else — and I really apologize for how harsh this is going to be — Canada is not your fucking safety school. If you drive across the border, there will not be a career magically waiting for you in the middle of an economic downturn. If you’re a middle-class white guy and your first instinct is to abandon your country when you experience a setback, I’m not sure how you expect to ace a job interview here. “I was sad about my country so I decided to fall back on yours” is not a good answer to “What attracted you to this position?”

I spent a lot of time on social media during election night, because it was a great excuse to not work, and two things stuck out to me. I saw lots of Americans asking themselves how they could have gotten so out of touch with the world, and then several of my American friends with a history of making exhaustingly cliched maple syrup and igloo jokes asked me how my government worked. Because up until then, they had no clue and no interest. That’s not an approach to life that helps you settle down in a new country — it’s the approach that got you into trouble in the country you’re in now.

I also saw lots of comments about how dreamy the prime minister whom I and 60.5 percent of my fellow electorate didn’t vote for is. Because clearly, if there’s one salient thing you need to know about a country’s leader, it’s whether or not they’re fuckable. A nationality is not a sports team; you can’t just buy a hat and hop on the bandwagon. Canada recently welcomed over 33,000 people fleeing a brutal civil war. If you’re not also fleeing hatred, you’re going to have to do better than “I lost a fair and democratic election, even though I Tweeted a few zingers about it, so I’m crashing at your place. You guys have a king or whatever, right? Can I have a job? Or do I have to learn the rules of hockey first, eh?

[…]

We hated George W. Bush, and I have no doubt we’ll be making fun of Trump far more, and with all the undeserved arrogance of people whom the universe randomly placed in a different geographical location. So before that begins, let’s be clear that we still think you’re fantastic. But there’s something you need to understand.

No American I’ve ever talked to has realized just how much Canadian culture relies on the fact that we are not American. When you share the world’s longest border with the only world superpower, a country with 10 times your population, a constant reminder that “We aren’t them” is a requirement to avoid being culturally overwhelmed. Our old joke is that living next to America is like sleeping next to an elephant — even if it means you no harm, an errant twitch in the night can crush you. Hell, it’s even in our commercials. […] Those are just random trolls, but when Canada-U.S. relations are at their lowest, that’s how we think all Americans view us. Because you don’t have to care about us. And that’s fine. We’re not the superpower. It’s not like we’re experts on Italy or Mongolia or any other country that’s as irrelevant to us as we are to you. But we’re experts on you because it’s impossible not to be. And when you struggle, our arrogant side can’t help but laugh and think that maybe you should have paid a little more attention to us after all. We don’t want to be like you right now. But you can’t keep an elephant from rolling over onto you.

September 21, 2016

Pathological altruism

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Amy Alkon on the mainspring of some (possibly many) altruistic actions:

I write about this sort of thing in Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck. It’s called “pathological altruism,” and describes deeds intended to help that actually hurt — sometimes both the helper and the person they’re trying to help:

    [Dr. Barbara] Oakley notes that we are especially blind to the ill effects of over- giving when whatever we’re doing allows us to feel particularly good, virtuous, and benevolent. To keep from harming ourselves or others when we’re supposed to be helping, Oakley emphasizes the importance of checking our motives when we believe we’re doing good. “People don’t realize how narcissistic a lot of ‘helping’ can be,” she told me. “It’s all too easy for empathy and good deeds to really be about our self-image or making ourselves happy or comfortable.”

One example of this is The New York Times series on nail salons — intended to help the workers but actually keeping a number of them from being able to get work…work they were able to get before the crackdowns the NYT piece led to. From Reason‘s Jim Epstein:

    Salon owners have also stopped hiring unlicensed workers, whether they’re undocumented or not. By law, every manicurist working in New York State must complete 250 hours of training at a beauty school, which costs about $1,000, and then obtain a government-issued license. This is a barrier to entry, and some aspiring manicurists can’t afford the time or tuition. There are some salon owners in the industry who, up until recently, were willing to hire them anyway because they were desperate for employees and the state rarely checked. Cuomo’s task force changed that.

    Kim sponsored a state law, passed in July, that attempted to remedy the situation. The bill made it legal for nail salons to hire workers as apprentices receiving on-the-job training. After a year, they’re eligible for a state license without attending beauty school.

    Few are utilizing the apprenticeship program. “It needs tweaking,” Kim admits. Despite assurances to the contrary from state officials, Kim says he’s hearing on the ground that when signing up for the program, applicants are being asked their citizenship status, which is scaring off many would-be apprentices.

    Licensed workers legally working in the U.S. have also been hurt by the inspections. “Workers themselves prefer to be paid in cash, and it’s not just at nail salons,” says Kim. Salon owners have started recording every dollar that passes through their shops to avoid getting fined. The inspection task force has had “unintended consequences,” he says.

    The biggest victims, however, are people like Jing Ren, the main character in the Times series. Ren, 20, is undocumented, penniless, and “recently arrived from China.” Instead of paying $1,000 for salon school, she signed on as a trainee at a shop in Long Island. By the end of the article, she’s making $65 per day in base wages.

    When weaving its cartoonish tale of evil bosses and oppressed workers, the Times never considers what would happen if all of the nail salons willing to hire Jing Ren disappeared. Would future immigrants like her be better or worse off?

Oops.

August 10, 2016

Populists and open borders

Filed under: Europe, Middle East, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In City Journal, Victor Davis Hanson says the rise of Trump and other populist politicians is being powered by lower- and middle-class rejection of the elite preference for open borders:

Driving the growing populist outrage in Europe and North America is the ongoing elite push for a borderless world. Among elites, borderlessness has taken its place among the politically correct positions of our age — and, as with other such ideas, it has shaped the language we use. The descriptive term “illegal alien” has given way to the nebulous “unlawful immigrant.” This, in turn, has given way to “undocumented immigrant,” “immigrant,” or the entirely neutral “migrant” — a noun that obscures whether the individual in question is entering or leaving. Such linguistic gymnastics are unfortunately necessary. Since an enforceable southern border no longer exists, there can be no immigration law to break in the first place.

Today’s open-borders agenda has its roots not only in economic factors — the need for low-wage workers who will do the work that native-born Americans or Europeans supposedly will not — but also in several decades of intellectual ferment, in which Western academics have created a trendy field of “borders discourse.” What we might call post-borderism argues that boundaries even between distinct nations are mere artificial constructs, methods of marginalization designed by those in power, mostly to stigmatize and oppress the “other” — usually the poorer and less Western — who arbitrarily ended up on the wrong side of the divide. “Where borders are drawn, power is exercised,” as one European scholar put it. This view assumes that where borders are not drawn, power is not exercised — as if a million Middle Eastern immigrants pouring into Germany do not wield considerable power by their sheer numbers and adroit manipulation of Western notions of victimization and grievance politics. Indeed, Western leftists seek political empowerment by encouraging the arrival of millions of impoverished migrants.

July 1, 2016

In the UK (and in the USA), the peasants are revolting

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Questions and Observations, Dale Franks writes about the distrust of the traditional “elites” among the non-elites of society:

There’s a growing sense, not only in Great Britain, but in the US as well, that the elites, or the political class, or whatever you’d like to call them, are incompetent and have been leading us astray. And the response from elites is to call those criticisms illegitimate. Those doing the carping are assumed to be racists or nationalists, both of which, of course, are unpleasant, dirty types of people. Both the UK’s Leavers and the US’s Trumpers share some commonalities. Among them are skepticism over free trade and free immigration; concerns that elites dismiss as foolish and uneducated. And, of course racist.

But perhaps the Leavers weren’t so concerned with brown people because they were brown, but because they were concerned at seeing buses being blown up in London, British soldiers being beheaded in broad daylight in the High Street, and dozens of children being raped for years in Rotherham. Perhaps, the British people have come to wonder about immigration because many immigrants seem less interested in becoming British than they are in making Britain more like the Middle East. And, maybe, just maybe, the Leavers prefer to live in Britain, in the free and modern culture that has developed over the last 1,500 years, rather than go back to live in the year 692. Maybe they wouldn’t be any more interested in living in the 13th-century culture of Richard the Lion-Hearted any more than they are in living in the Dark Age culture of Middle Eastern immigrants.

When people come into your country from elsewhere, they don’t do so simply as fungible economic units, but as real people, who bring along cultural and political ideas that may conflict those that are traditional in your country. It is almost at the point where elites cannot even conceive of an argument that implies the superiority of one culture over another, so they dismiss this argument as nationalism and nativism. But, the thing is, a free society that continually imports immigrants who have no interest in individual liberty, religious freedom, and political pluralism, will eventually have none of those things. The problem isn’t race. It’s culture.

National sovereignty means something. At the very least, it means that the people of a country have the absolute right to restrict immigration to the sort of people that will, in their judgement, benefit the country, and, once the immigrants arrive, to force them to assimilate to the country’s national culture more than the country accommodates the culture of the immigrant. No obligation exists, in any sense whatsoever, that requires the people of a country to allow entry to immigrants who desire to transform the country into something different. It is entirely legitimate to reject calls for sharia in the UK, just as it’s entirely legitimate to be upset by seeing political protestors in the US waving Mexican flags or wearing “Make America Mexico Again” hats, explicitly letting us know where their primary political allegiance lies. Nor is it illegitimate to wonder why such people are in this country, and not in the corrupt shithole of a country that they so obviously prefer, yet so oddly fled.

June 22, 2016

In case you get itchy feet after November’s election results…

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

Matt Welch has a few warnings for Americans of all political stripes who threaten to come to Canada if the wrong politico gets elected president this year:

* Revenge-minded border cops. Casually crossing our northern border with a family of four, as I attempted recently, is no longer a routine matter. Investigators I know who have worked with Canada’s Border Services Agency say that customs officials are ramping up their screening of Americans in advance of a possible November onslaught. And just maybe, after 15 years of U.S. border enforcers giving Canadians a harder time, followed by 12 months of a xenophobic presidential campaign, we might be getting some payback.

[…]

* You better like Canadian musicians. Americans can be forgiven for losing track of who among their beloved North American entertainers might say “oot and aboot” after a few Mooseheads. But sitting at one of Toronto’s roughly 1,000 sports bars is a grueling reminder that Canada’s Broadcasting Act, which requires that at least one-third of the content at commercial radio stations emanate from musicians with maple leafs in their passports, is a make-royalties program for the Rushes of the world. If you think American classic rock stations are repetitive, get used to side 1 of “Moving Pictures.”

[…]

* You can run from America, but you cannot hide. Think living in Montreal or Vancouver frees you up from the long arm of the Internal Revenue Service? Think again! There are two countries on this whole planet that require federal income tax filing from its nonresident citizens. Eritrea, not particularly known for its good governance, is one of them. Uncle Sam’s the other.

It gets considerably worse from there. Because of a putrid 2010 law called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA for short, because Washington legislators are nothing if not subtle), U.S. citizens and their spouses who hold more than $10,000 total in non-American financial institutions must file annual disclosures listing the maximum exchange-rate value of each and every such account during the previous year. If you don’t comply, you face steep fines and even jail time.

Ostensibly aimed at fat cats, this law instead has punished the majority nonrich among America’s estimated 8.7 million expatriates. Not only does FATCA impose costly paperwork on individuals, it also requires overseas financial institutions to act as Washington’s international collections muscle, mandating that they seize and transfer to the IRS 30% of deadbeat Americans’ assets. To the surprise of no one who understands basic incentives, foreign banks have been dropping American clients like sacks of flaming garbage.

May 7, 2016

QotD: The Borderers (aka the “Scots-Irish”)

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

The Borderers are usually called “the Scots-Irish”, but Fischer dislikes the term because they are neither Scots (as we usually think of Scots) nor Irish (as we usually think of Irish). Instead, they’re a bunch of people who lived on (both sides of) the Scottish-English border in the late 1600s.

None of this makes sense without realizing that the Scottish-English border was terrible. Every couple of years the King of England would invade Scotland or vice versa; “from the year 1040 to 1745, every English monarch but three suffered a Scottish invasion, or became an invader in his turn”. These “invasions” generally involved burning down all the border towns and killing a bunch of people there. Eventually the two sides started getting pissed with each other and would also torture-murder all of the enemy’s citizens they could get their hands on, ie any who were close enough to the border to reach before the enemy could send in their armies. As if this weren’t bad enough, outlaws quickly learned they could plunder one side of the border, then escape to the other before anyone brought them to justice, so the whole area basically became one giant cesspool of robbery and murder.

In response to these pressures, the border people militarized and stayed feudal long past the point where the rest of the island had started modernizing. Life consisted of farming the lands of whichever brutal warlord had the top hand today, followed by being called to fight for him on short notice, followed by a grisly death. The border people dealt with it as best they could, and developed a culture marked by extreme levels of clannishness, xenophobia, drunkenness, stubbornness, and violence.

By the end of the 1600s, the Scottish and English royal bloodlines had intermingled and the two countries were drifting closer and closer to Union. The English kings finally got some breathing room and noticed – holy frick, everything about the border is terrible. They decided to make the region economically productive, which meant “squeeze every cent out of the poor Borderers, in the hopes of either getting lots of money from them or else forcing them to go elsewhere and become somebody else’s problem”. Sometimes absentee landlords would just evict everyone who lived in an entire region, en masse, replacing them with people they expected to be easier to control.

Many of the Borderers fled to Ulster in Ireland, which England was working on colonizing as a Protestant bulwark against the Irish Catholics, and where the Crown welcomed violent warlike people as a useful addition to their Irish-Catholic-fighting project. But Ulster had some of the same problems as the Border, and also the Ulsterites started worrying that the Borderer cure was worse than the Irish Catholic disease. So the Borderers started getting kicked out of Ulster too, one thing led to another, and eventually 250,000 of these people ended up in America.

250,000 people is a lot of Borderers. By contrast, the great Puritan emigration wave was only 20,000 or so people; even the mighty colony of Virginia only had about 50,000 original settlers. So these people showed up on the door of the American colonies, and the American colonies collectively took one look at them and said “nope”.

Except, of course, the Quakers. The Quakers talked among themselves and decided that these people were also Children Of God, and so they should demonstrate Brotherly Love by taking them in. They tried that for a couple of years, and then they questioned their life choices and also said “nope”, and they told the Borderers that Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley were actually kind of full right now but there was lots of unoccupied land in Western Pennsylvania, and the Appalachian Mountains were very pretty at this time of year, so why didn’t they head out that way as fast as it was physically possible to go?

At the time, the Appalachians were kind of the booby prize of American colonization: hard to farm, hard to travel through, and exposed to hostile Indians. The Borderers fell in love with them. They came from a pretty marginal and unproductive territory themselves, and the Appalachians were far away from everybody and full of fun Indians to fight. Soon the Appalachian strategy became the accepted response to Borderer immigration and was taken up from Pennsylvania in the north to the Carolinas in the South (a few New Englanders hit on a similar idea and sent their own Borderers to colonize the mountains of New Hampshire).

So the Borderers all went to Appalachia and established their own little rural clans there and nothing at all went wrong except for the entire rest of American history.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Albion’s Seed“, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-27.

May 6, 2016

QotD: The Quakers

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

Fischer warns against the temptation to think of the Quakers as normal modern people, but he has to warn us precisely because it’s so tempting. Where the Puritans seem like a dystopian caricature of virtue and the Cavaliers like a dystopian caricature of vice, the Quakers just seem ordinary. Yes, they’re kind of a religious cult, but they’re the kind of religious cult any of us might found if we were thrown back to the seventeenth century.

Instead they were founded by a weaver’s son named George Fox. He believed people were basically good and had an Inner Light that connected them directly to God without a need for priesthood, ritual, Bible study, or self-denial; mostly people just needed to listen to their consciences and be nice. Since everyone was equal before God, there was no point in holding up distinctions between lords and commoners: Quakers would just address everybody as “Friend”. And since the Quakers were among the most persecuted sects at the time, they developed an insistence on tolerance and freedom of religion which (unlike the Puritans) they stuck to even when shifting fortunes put them on top. They believed in pacificism, equality of the sexes, racial harmony, and a bunch of other things which seem pretty hippy-ish even today let alone in 1650.

England’s top Quaker in the late 1600s was William Penn. Penn is universally known to Americans as “that guy Pennsylvania is named after” but actually was a larger-than-life 17th century superman. Born to the nobility, Penn distinguished himself early on as a military officer; he was known for beating legendary duelists in single combat and then sparing their lives with sermons about how murder was wrong. He gradually started having mystical visions, quit the military, and converted to Quakerism. Like many Quakers he was arrested for blasphemy; unlike many Quakers, they couldn’t make the conviction stick; in his trial he “conducted his defense so brilliantly that the jurors refused to convict him even when threatened with prison themselves, [and] the case became a landmark in the history of trial by jury.” When the state finally found a pretext on which to throw him in prison, he spent his incarceration composing “one of the noblest defenses of religious liberty ever written”, conducting a successful mail-based courtship with England’s most eligible noblewoman, and somehow gaining the personal friendship and admiration of King Charles II. Upon his release the King liked him so much that he gave him a large chunk of the Eastern United States on a flimsy pretext of repaying a family debt. Penn didn’t want to name his new territory Pennsylvania – he recommended just “Sylvania” – but everybody else overruled him and Pennyslvania it was. The grant wasn’t quite the same as the modern state, but a chunk of land around the Delaware River Valley – what today we would call eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, southern New Jersey, and bits of Maryland – centered on the obviously-named-by-Quakers city of Philadelphia.

Penn decided his new territory would be a Quaker refuge – his exact wording was “a colony of Heaven [for] the children of the Light”. He mandated universal religious toleration, a total ban on military activity, and a government based on checks and balances that would “leave myself and successors no power of doing mischief, that the will of one man may not hinder the good of a whole country”.

His recruits – about 20,000 people in total – were Quakers from the north of England, many of them minor merchants and traders. They disproportionately included the Britons of Norse descent common in that region, who formed a separate stratum and had never really gotten along with the rest of the British population. They were joined by several German sects close enough to Quakers that they felt at home there; these became the ancestors of (among other groups) the Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish, and Mennonites.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Albion’s Seed“, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-27.

May 5, 2016

QotD: The Cavaliers

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

Virginia had been kind of a wreck ever since most of the original Jamestown settlers had mostly died of disease. Governor William Berkeley, a noble himself, decided the colony could reinvent itself as a destination for refugee nobles, and told them it would do everything possible to help them maintain the position of oppressive supremacy to which they were accustomed. The British nobility was sold. The Cavaliers – the nobles who had fought and lost the English Civil War – fled to Virginia. Historians who cross-checking Virginian immigrant lists against English records find that of Virginians whose opinions on the War were known, 98% were royalists. They were overwhelming Anglican, mostly from agrarian southern England, and all related to each other in the incestuous way of nobility everywhere: “it is difficult to think of any ruling elite that has been more closely interrelated since the Ptolemies”. There were twelve members of Virginia’s royal council; in 1724 “all without exception were related to one another by blood or marriage…as late as 1775, every member of that august body was descended from a councilor who had served in 1660”.

These aristocrats didn’t want to do their own work, so they brought with them tens of thousands of indentured servants; more than 75% of all Virginian immigrants arrived in this position. Some of these people came willingly on a system where their master paid their passage over and they would be free after a certain number of years; others were sent by the courts as punishments; still others were just plain kidnapped. The gender ratio was 4:1 in favor of men, and there were entire English gangs dedicated to kidnapping women and sending them to Virginia, where they fetched a high price. Needless to say, these people came from a very different stratum than their masters or the Puritans.

People who came to Virginia mostly died. They died of malaria, typhoid fever, amoebiasis, and dysentery. Unlike in New England, where Europeans were better adapted to the cold climate than Africans, in Virginia it was Europeans who had the higher disease-related mortality rate. The whites who survived tended to become “sluggish and indolent”, according to the universal report of travellers and chroniclers, although I might be sluggish and indolent too if I had been kidnapped to go work on some rich person’s farm and sluggishness/indolence was an option.

The Virginians tried their best to oppress white people. Really, they did. The depths to which they sank in trying to oppress white people almost boggle the imagination. There was a rule that if a female indentured servant became pregnant, a few extra years were added on to their indenture, supposedly because they would be working less hard during their pregnancy and child-rearing so it wasn’t fair to the master. Virginian aristocrats would rape their own female servants, then add a penalty term on to their indenture for becoming pregnant. That is an impressive level of chutzpah. But despite these efforts, eventually all the white people either died, or became too sluggish to be useful, or worst of all just finished up their indentures and became legally free. The aristocrats started importing black slaves as per the model that had sprung up in the Caribbean, and so the stage was set for the antebellum South we read about in history classes.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Albion’s Seed“, Slate Star Codex, 2016-04-27.

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