Can Dems Keep a Straight Face Through Thursday?


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A political party that wants voters to give them control of Congress also wants you to believe that a man is guilty until proven innocent; that presumed guilt is contingent on gender and race; and that sitting on accusations until the midnight hour is not a manipulative, politically-motivated stunt. With all due respect to victims of sexual predation from both genders (oops, perhaps I should have said all genders), the allegations and smears against Brett Kavanaugh smack of political motivation, and you can bet Kavanaugh’s detractors are proud of it.

First there was Professor Christine Ford’s allegation about an assault 36 years ago at a party that no one else remembers, including her. Then there are the cloudy and shifting recollections of Deborah Ramirez about a dorm party at Yale 35 years ago at which she thinks Kavanaugh exposed himself as part of a drinking game, but no one else seems to recall that event either. In fact, it’s reported that Ramirez was not going forward with the claim until she was sought out by congressional Democrats. And then there is Michael Avenatti, the cartoonish attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels, who says that Kavanaugh and a buddy, Mark Judge, regularly drugged women and arranged for “trains” of men to rape them. Avenatti now says one such woman will come forward within 48 hours. Perhaps she’s still negotiating with Avenatti. Why, you could almost get the idea that Democrats are actively recruiting accusers.

Here’s what Charlie Martin said:

Okay, so we’re up to Kavanaugh and Mark Judge supposedly pimping out drug-addled high school girls to pull a train with classmates without anyone mentioning it for 36 years. Do the accusations of Satanic abuse and child sacrifice hold off until Wednesday, do you think?”

Ford claims that Judge Brett Kavanaugh, 36 years ago as a teenager, sexually abused her at a high-school party while his friend, Mark Judge, watched. She claims Kavanaugh pushed her down on a bed, groped her, attempted to remove all or part of her one-piece swimsuit, and placed his hand over her mouth to silence her protests before Master Judge piled on top, causing the three to fall off the bed and allowing her to escape from the room.

Democrats say this allegation should keep Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court or delay any vote on his appointment until after a full investigation by the FBI. Let’s review some facts in the case:

  • Ford can’t recall a specific location, how she got there or how she got home, how she wound up in the upstairs bedroom with the two boys, the name of the party’s host, or more specifics about the date of the alleged assault.
  • Ford says she never told anyone about the incident until years later when she revealed it to a therapist, whose notes say there were four people in the room and do not mention Kavanaugh.
  • The allegation was made by Ford in a letter to Senator Diane Feinstein on July 30, five weeks before the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Court. Feinstein did not mention the letter during the hearings. She revealed it’s existence just a few days before a scheduled Committee vote on the Kavanaugh nomination, six weeks after her receipt of the letter. Feinstein has refused to reveal the unredacted contents of Ford’s letter to the Judiciary Committee.
  • Kavanaugh has denied the allegation and says that it could be a case of mistaken identity. Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge denies that the incident took place.
  • Ford named two other individuals as potential witnesses who could place both Ford and Kavanaugh at the party in question. Both have stated that they are unable to do so. The first, another male friend of Kavanaugh’s, released a statement praising Kavanaugh’s integrity. The second, a woman, stated that she does not know Kavanaugh and is unable to place the two at a party together. That’s a total of three witnesses who say they didn’t witness anything.
  • Some 200 alumni of Ford’s private all-female high school wrote a letter in support of Ford, but many of them are not even contemporaries of Ford and Kavanaugh.
  • Some 65 women who knew Kavanaugh during his high school years have signed a letter vouching for his character; a number of college and law school classmates as well as high-profile female attorneys who have worked with (and for) Kavanaugh have publicly stated their support and vouched for his integrity.
  • Originally, Ford and Kavanaugh both agreed to appear before the Judiciary Committee on Monday, Sept. 24; the vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination was delayed a week. Subsequently, Ford stated that she would not appear before the Committee until the FBI had completed an investigation of the incident.
  • The charge would not be a federal crime, so the FBI declined to investigate.
  • Later, she expressed a willingness to appear under the right conditions, but not as soon as Sept. 24; only questions from Senators; Kavanaugh cannot be in the same room; and Kavanaugh must go first.
  • After a week of repeated requests through Ford’s attorneys and several “deadlines” set by the Committee Chairman, it now appears that the hearing will take place on Thursday, Sept. 27, but the terms have not been fully settled.

I think the Committee Chairman, Chuck Grassley, got played in accepting the delays. It allowed the Democrats to raise these unprovable accusations in a campaign against Kavanaugh in the media. It also invited the very bandwagon effect of unfounded accusations we are now witnessing, as the underhanded effort to block Kavanaugh’s appointment began to bear additional fruit.

The alleged crime occurred when both Ford and Kavanaugh were minors (Ford was 15, Kavanaugh 17). The statute of limitations applicable to minors in the state of Maryland, where the alleged incident occurred, is three years or until the “injured party” reaches the age of majority. It is therefore too late for Ford to file criminal charges against Kavanaugh. The statute of limitations is reasonable to the extent that teenagers do a great many stupid and harmful things for which they should not necessarily be held responsible as adults. Sexual aggression, if proven, may well cross a line depending on its character and severity, but from a legal perspective that line is determined, in part, by the victim’s determination to bring charges at a time when the charges can reasonably be investigated. Ford did not bring them, and she did not so much as mention them to anyone for about 30 years.

Ford has been involved in some left-wing activism, but her social media profile was  scrubbed before the allegations went public. Her attorney, Debra Katz, has been a prominent member of the MeToo movement. This has, quite naturally, contributed to suspicions that the entire matter is a political stunt. That’s reinforced by Feinstein’s delays in making the matter public, Feinstein’s refusal to release Ford’s letter without redactions, and by the repeated delays in Ford’s commitment to testify before the Committee. In fact, Ford claimed that she cannot appear before the Committee until late next week because she must drive from the west coast to Washington, DC. That’s because Ford says she has a fear of flying and “closed spaces”. Not only that, these fears originated with Kavanaugh’s alleged attack. Just wow! The author at the last link wonders whether Ford took a boat to her internship in Hawaii a few years ago, avoided elevators for 36 years, or perhaps managed her issues with medication.

Ford’s high-school yearbooks were available on-line until just a few days ago, when they were suddenly taken down by the affluent private girls school she attended. The yearbooks do not reflect directly on Ford. They are, however, a bit surprising because they were presumably overseen by faculty, and yet they celebrated heavy drinking and the joys of blacking out, promiscuity, and they even contained hints of racism. The fact that the yearbooks were suddenly removed from the internet reflects on Ford’s defenders, who must have felt that the books would damage her credibility.

Again, the terms of the hearing involving Ford and Kavanaugh are still up in the air. Ford’s insistence that Kavanaugh should testify to the Committee prior to her is contrary to the normal procedure in any case involving criminal charges. The Senate follows the same rules. Putting Kavanaugh in a different room would deny him his right of habeas corpus. The Committee chairman has also suggested that questioning would be handled by a female attorney. Given these differences, it is far from certain that Ford will ever appear before the Committee.

The letter to Feinstein, as it turns out, was drafted by Ford at the senator’s request after Ford had first consulted her congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, earlier in July. The redacted portions of that letter are of interest. After all, they may either bolster or weaken the credibility of the charges. However, if there are allegations in the letter that are false, and if they were revealed to the Committee, it would expose Ford to criminal charges and imprisonment. Could this be why the full letter has been withheld by Feinstein?

However much we might desire justice for victims of sexual abuse, and however much we might sympathize with a victim’s emotional difficulties attendant to such an attack,  those matters cannot be used to deny the due process rights of an accused. Society cannot simply take an accuser’s “word for it”, especially when the accuser declines to take action within a reasonable period of time, one within which evidence and testimony might be gathered effectively. While the evidentiary standards in a criminal proceeding might be more stringent than in assessing an accused individual’s fitness for high office, mere late-hour assertions are not adequate when the record, as in Judge Kavanaugh’s case, is so exemplary, and when there is absolutely no corroboration. Indeed, it is dubious to raise serious allegations of this nature when they are unprovable, and only when the alleged attacker is due to receive a prominent appointment of some kind. Ford’s allegation, and the others, have all the earmarks of a politically-motivated smear campaign.

Socialism and Authoritarianism: Perfectly Complementary


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The socialist left and the Marxist hard left both deny their authoritarian progenitors. Leftists are collectivists, many of whom subscribe to an explicit form of corporatism with the state having supreme power, whether as a permanent or transitional arrangement on the path to full state ownership of the means of production. Collectivism necessarily requires force and the abrogation of individual rights. At this link, corporatism, with its powerful and interventionist state, is aptly described as “de facto nationalization without being de jure nationalization” of industry. To the extent that private ownership is maintained (for the right people), it is separated from private control and is thus a taking. But the word corporatism itself is confusing to some: it is not capitalism by any means. It essentially means “to group”, and it is a form of social control by the state. (And by the way, it has nothing to do with the legal business definition of a corporation.)

Of course, leftists distance themselves from the brutality of many statist regimes by asserting that authoritarianism is exclusively a right-wing phenomenon, conveniently ignoring Stalin, Castro, Mao, Pol Pot, and other hard lefties too numerous to mention. In fact, leftists assert that fascism must be right-wing because it is corporatist and relies on the force of authority. But again, both corporatism and fascism are collectivist philosophies and historically have been promoted as such by their practitioners. Furthermore, these leftist denials fly in the face of the systemic tendency of large governments to stanch dissent. I made several of these points four years ago in “Labels For the Authoritarian Left“.

I find this link from The Federalist fascinating because the author, Paul Jossey, provides quotes of Hitler and others offering pretty conclusive proof that the Nazi high command was collectivist in the same vein as the leftists of today. Here are a few of Jossey’s observations:

“Hitler’s first ‘National Workers’ Party’ meeting while he was still an Army corporal featured the speech ‘How and by What Means is Capitalism to be Eliminated?’

The Nazi charter published a year later and coauthored by Hitler is socialist in almost every aspect. It calls for ‘equality of rights for the German people’; the subjugation of the individual to the state; breaking of ‘rent slavery’; ‘confiscation of war profits’; the nationalization of industry; profit-sharing in heavy industry; large-scale social security; the ‘communalization of the great warehouses and their being leased at low costs to small firms’; the ‘free expropriation of land for the purpose of public utility’; the abolition of ‘materialistic’ Roman Law; nationalizing education; nationalizing the army; state regulation of the press; and strong central power in the Reich.”

Are you feeling the Bern? Does any of this remind you of the “Nasty Woman”, Liz Warren? Here is more from Jossey:

“Hitler repeatedly praised Marx privately, stating he had ‘learned a great deal from Marxism.’ The trouble with the Weimar Republic, he said, was that its politicians ‘had never even read Marx.’ He also stated his differences with communists were that they were intellectual types passing out pamphlets, whereas ‘I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun.’

It wasn’t just privately that Hitler’s fealty for Marx surfaced. In ‘Mein Kampf,’ he states that without his racial insights National Socialism ‘would really do nothing more than compete with Marxism on its own ground.’ Nor did Hitler eschew this sentiment once reaching power. As late as 1941, with the war in bloom, he stated ‘basically National Socialism and Marxism are the same’ in a speech published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

Nazi propaganda minister and resident intellectual Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary that the Nazis would install ‘real socialism’ after Russia’s defeat in the East. And Hitler favorite Albert Speer, the Nazi armaments minister whose memoir became an international bestseller, wrote that Hitler viewed Joseph Stalin as a kindred spirit, ensuring his prisoner of war son received good treatment, and even talked of keeping Stalin in power in a puppet government after Germany’s eventual triumph.”

Some contend that the Nazis used the term “socialist” in a purely cynical way, and that they hoped to undermine support for “real socialists” by promising a particular (and perverse) vision of social justice to those loyal to the Reich and the German nation. After all, the Bolsheviks were political rivals who lacked Hitler’s nationalistic fervor. Hitler must have thought that his brand of “socialism” was better suited to his political aspirations, not to mention his expansionist visions. Those not loyal to the Reich, including Jews and other scapegoats, would become free slave labor to the regime and its loyal corporate cronies. (It’s striking that much of today’s Left, obviously excepting Bernie Sanders, seems to share the Nazis’ antipathy for Jews.)

Socialism, corporatism and fascism are close cousins and are overlapping forms of statism, and they are all authoritarian by their practical nature. It’s incredible to behold leftists as they deny that the National Socialists Workers Party practiced a brand of socialism. Perhaps the identification of the Nazis as a fascist regime has led to confusion regarding their true place along the ideological spectrum, but that too is puzzling. In their case, a supreme corporatist state enabled its most privileged advocates to exploit government power for private gain, and that’s the essence of fascism and the archetypical outcome of socialism.

BS Bernie Blames Bezos


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Bernie Sanders keeps probing for ways to create a backdoor minimum income, and he’s eager to loot successful job creators and their customers in the process. Last month I wrote about the folly of his proposed legislation that would offer federal job guarantees to all. A new Sanders bill, introduced jointly with Rep. Ro Khanna (D – CA), is an equally bad idea called the Stop BEZOS Act, or the “Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies Act”. It’s pretty obvious that the selection of the acronym preceded the naming of the bill. Imagine the fun his Senate staffers had with that! The logical flaws embedded in the title of the act are bad enough. The effort to garner attention by using the title to smear the name of a famous technology entrepreneur is sickening.

Jeff Bezos, of course, is the founder and CEO of Amazon, the online retailer, as well as the owner of the Washington Post. Amazon has been rewarded by consumers for its excellent service and aggressive pricing, and it is now valued at about $1 trillion. That makes Bezos a very wealthy man, and it is no coincidence that Sanders has chosen to make an example of him in an effort to inflame envy and classist passions.

While some details of the bill remain sketchy, firms with more than 500 workers would face a 100% tax on every dollar of federal benefits received by those employees. But the tax would apply only to “low-wage” employees, however that is defined, and not simply any employee receiving federal benefits. If the bill became law (and it won’t any time soon), it would require a costly federal administrative apparatus to coordinate between several agencies, including the IRS. Beyond the tax itself, the compliance costs for firms won’t be cheap, and it will create terrible incentives: if you own a business, you would have a strong incentive to avoid hiring workers with little experience or weak skills, or anyone you might deem likely to be a recipient of federal aid. If you have 499 employees, you’ll probably think hard about how to execute future growth plans. Nothing could do more to improve the return to investment in automation.

Is Amazon really a “bad” employer? That’s what the title of the Sanders bill says. In fact, the company has been accused of harsh labor practices in its fulfillment centers. Life for corporate managers is said to be no picnic, and labor turnover at Amazon is high. Nonetheless, the wages it pays attract plenty of applicants. Unskilled labor does not command a high wage, and that is no fault of an employer willing to provide them with work and experience. Yet the bill would punish those employers, as well as employers having part-time workers drawing federal aid.

An absence of punishment can hardly be described as a “subsidy”, as the bill’s title suggests. But that is exactly how leftists think, at least when they do the punishing. In this respect, the bill’s title is an assault on logic and a misuse of language. It would also represent a violation of constitutional principles like property rights and freedom of contract.

The idea of taxing employers to recoup any public aid received by their workers is intended to affect a de facto “living wage”. However, one benefit of an independent social safety net, as opposed to a living wage tied to that net, is that the former largely preserves the operation of labor markets, despite creating some nasty labor-supply incentives. Wage rates that approximate the value of worker productivity allow efficient matching of jobs with workers having the requisite skills, even if the skills are relatively low-grade. Those wages also minimize distortions in the economics of production within firms and across different industries. Furthermore, prices faced by buyers should reflect the real resource costs associated with demands for various goods. They should not be inflated by political decisions about the level of federal welfare benefits. Quite simply, preserving labor market efficiency enhances the ability of the economy to allocate resources to the uses for which they are most highly-valued.

There are independent questions about whether the structure and level of benefits provided by the welfare state are appropriate. Those are matters of legitimate policy debate, and those benefits must be funded by taxpayers, but they should be funded in the least distortionary way possible. Bernie Sanders imagines that the burden of those taxes can simply be imposed on large employers with no further consequences, but he is badly mistaken. Consumers will shoulder a significant part of that burden under his latest scheme. And, of course, Sanders’ beef with Bezos is a cynical political ploy. It amounts to cheap scapegoating intended to promote another one of Sanders’ bad policy ideas.

Government Output: Illusions and Handicaps


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Building a big government is thought to be a luxury that prosperous nations can afford, but such efforts have a systematically negative effect on their ability to generate income, much as eating the seed corn delivers a farmer to poverty. Daniel J. Mitchell puts it bluntly in a piece entitled “Rich Nations That Enact Big Government Don’t Remain Rich“. This is nowhere more obvious than in Argentina and Venezuela, two nations that were prosperous 50 years ago and are now economically feeble, or in Venezuela’s case, imploding. Government, in the final analysis, extracts resources from the private economy, often contributing negatively to productivity. Yet the idea that government is a tonic for economic growth persists, and it persists even in the face of weakness induced by excessive government.

Government statistics on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) exaggerate the contribution of government to income in at least a couple of ways. To understand why, it’s necessary to distinguish between spending aggregates and income aggregates, which add up to the same total GDP. The former  include consumption, investment, and government spending. Income aggregates are the other side of the GDP “coin”: payments made to factors of production, which represent GDP as a measure of output value.

A dissociation between these alternative views of GDP with respect to government’s contribution is that government payments count as spending and income regardless of the recipient’s contribution to output. Even if nothing is accomplished, nothing is produced, it is measured as income and spending and it is an increment to GDP. Payments to dig holes and refill them contribute to GDP as long as the government does the “job”. By contrast, if a worker in the private sector is paid but produces nothing of value, the firm’s owners suffer a loss of income corresponding to the worker’s pay, and GDP is unchanged! So increased factor payments by government cause an implicit bias in the measurement of output.

A second government bias implicit in GDP statistics is that public spending and government labor payments are often not subjected to a “market test” of value. The activity is “mandated”, so there is no correspondence to a willingness to pay or real value. Public employee unions exaggerate these distortions. There are generally no competitors for government provision of services, few incentives for efficiency, and often little discipline in government procurement processes. So the pricing of government transactions tends to be inflated. And yet when the government gets ripped off by overcharges or cronyist kickbacks, the excess payments contribute positively to GDP. In contrast, when a private firm gets ripped off, its income is correspondingly reduced and the transaction generally will not contribute to GDP.

It takes taxes to fund government, either immediate or deferred, and the taxes are either explicit or implicit in the form of eroded purchasing power. This creates negative incentives that retard private investment incentives, work incentives, and thereby private economic growth. Redistributional efforts retard work incentives as well because welfarestate beneficiaries often face high marginal tax rates on earned income.

Does big government represent a good investment for the wealth of a prosperous nation? In view of the above, one can hardly trust official statistics in rendering a judgement on that question. But despite these distortions, big government and measured economic growth are still negatively correlated. Mitchell provides more detailed analysis of government and economic growth at Heritage, including a set of references to academic papers on the topic.

One important way that government may contribute to economic growth is through the provision of physical infrastructure, which theoretically improves efficiency in private production. However, public infrastructure spending is subject to the same upward cost pressures discussed above, it is often tied to bumbling industrial policy efforts, its utilization by the public is usually mis-priced, and governments are congenitally inept at operating facilities efficiently. It is not clear that private developers could be counted upon to fill the void without some form of partnership with government, however, which has its own pitfalls. There are certainly reforms that could make private and public infrastructure investment and operation more viable, such as eliminating regulatory roadblocks to the installation of new facilities.

Another area in which government may generate a positive economic return is public investment in education, but that return is far from guaranteed. The success of public education investment depends on a wide range of cultural, political, and economic factors. For example, Cuba has the third largest proportion of government education spending to GDP, but the country’s ability to profit from that investment is severely crimped by its totalitarian economic and political system. I have been a frequent critic of public education in general, and I am not persuaded that education is truly a public good, despite some degree of spillover benefit. And while education may be a worthwhile national priority in many circumstances, it is not clear that government should necessarily fund education, let alone “run” education. Public education spending certainly doesn’t automatically translate to effective education outcomes, and it does not guarantee economic growth.

There is great exaggeration regarding the success of certain nations that have allowed government to absorb a large share of resources. That includes many of the European states, for which average incomes are roughly comparable to the Mississippi Delta. Only Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland have income levels that are respectable relative to the U.S., and Norway relies heavily on oil extraction. Attributing economic power to government in the Nordic countries is especially misleading because the strength of those economies has always stemmed from their fundamentally capitalist underpinnings. Sweden built its wealth on capitalism, but it has cannibalized that strength over several decades with a burgeoning welfare state and high taxes. It only recently has begun attempting to reverse course.

Economic progress is unlikely to be achieved by “investing” in a larger public sector. Instead, encouraging private activity via positive incentives and minimal regulatory interference is a better route to success. The measured economic benefits of government spending are illusory to a significant degree. Even those activities thought to be the most productive avenues for government involvement, like investment in infrastructure and education, are plagued by cost inflation and incompetent execution. Finally, cross-country empirical evidence confirms that a more dominant public sector is associated with lower income growth. And yet there will always be a faction subscribing to the infantile, “free-lunch” belief that big government can deliver growth, and deliver it in excess of the predictable damage it inflicts on the private economy.

New Socialists Fail Socialism 101


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Not many self-styled socialists can actually provide a proper definition of socialism these days. That includes the celebrated Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congressional candidate who has proven herself to be an incredible stumble-bum in numerous media appearances since her primary victory over incumbent democrat Joe Crowley. Maine Wire‘s Matthew Gagnon calls her “belligerently ignorant” as she tweets what she believes to be examples of democratic socialism. Gagnon dissects some of her flakey assertions. The sad truth is that Ocasio-Cortez is fairly typical of her generation, despite her dual college majors in economics and political science.

Gagnon notes that socialism is public ownership of the means of production. But socialism is somehow regarded as a “soft” version of communism: less authoritarian, perhaps. That premise deserves closer examination. There is only one way that the public sector can take possession of private property: by force. A new, authoritarian regime might simply commandeer property, nationalize it, and revoke prior ownership claims at the point of a gun or a club. The government would ultimately impose new rules under which management of formerly private enterprises must operate, and it would engage in centralized decision-making and planning to a large extent. This is essentially communism. Some personal freedoms might be preserved, but they are likely to be severely curtailed; dissidence is not likely to be tolerated.

There is another mechanism by which society can declare public ownership of productive resources that is nominally less authoritarian: democracy. Citizens or their elected representatives simply vote for the state to acquire particular resources and enterprises, in whole or in part. Enabling legislation might authorize administrative agencies to determine how the former private owners of these enterprises are to be compensated. To one extent or another, this involves takings of private property and rights, and it boils down to a very real tyranny of the majority: we will vote to take possession of your business; we will vote to create a bureau that will determine its worth and your compensation; we will vote that henceforth you may not operate this business on your own behalf, but only in the service of the people; and we will vote on what rights you possess. This is the ugly tyranny of democratic socialism, and it still requires force.

Self-proclaimed socialists are fond of proclaiming that we already have socialism in many sectors of the economy. They cite public parks, roads, bridges, K-12 education, and other goods and services sometimes provided by the public sector. There is a key distinction, however, that separates many of these examples from actual socialism: whether a good is actually a “public good”, meaning that its benefits are non-exclusive, as opposed to a private good that yields exclusive benefits. A more precise definition of socialism, in my view, is public ownership of the means of producing private goods.

The typical example of a public good is national defense: the benefits I receive do not reduce the benefits you receive, so those benefits are non-exclusive. I have little personal incentive to pay for national defense if anyone else is willing to pay for it, as I’ll receive the benefits anyway. But who will pay if everyone tries to free-ride on others? That’s why the provision of public goods is an appropriate function of government, and it is not generally what is meant by socialism. Gagnon is correct that government involvement in an activity is not the same as socialism, and he correctly ridicules some examples of governmental activities (and non-governmental activities like cooperatives) that Ocasio-Cortez believes to be socialism.

In contrast to public goods, private goods are exclusive in their benefits. The development of a private market can be counted upon to fulfill demands for such goods because private individuals are willing to pay. However, when government grants itself an advantaged position as a provider in such a market, such as a monopoly franchise, we can safely describe it as socialism. Many goods are not purely private, having some degree of non-exclusivity in their benefits. This is commonly asserted to be the case for K-12 education, but the matter is not as clear-cut as the public education establishment would have you believe. The bulk of the benefits to education accrue privately. Therefore, it is fair to describe public K-12 education in the U.S. as socialism. And it is largely a disaster.

Is a social safety net rightly described as socialism? Gagnon thinks not and, strictly speaking, the welfare state does not require public ownership of the means of production, only a means of redistribution. It requires funding, so private resources will be extracted via taxes, and the same is true of public goods. Taxes do not make it “socialism”. Let’s stipulate for the moment that there is a true safety net supporting only those unable to support themselves, either on a temporary or a permanent basis. This may yield non-exclusive benefits to the extent that such a “lifeline” reduces crime, begging, and our personal discomfort with the possibility that other individuals might starve. However, on an ex ante basis, some of these benefits represent a form of risk reduction that, in principle, could be arranged privately. To the extent that we vote to provide these potentially private benefits, those parts of the safety net can be construed as democratic socialism. In practice, our “safety net” covers a large number of able-bodied individuals. Unfortunately, it does a poor job of encouraging self-sufficiency. Like most public benefit programs, it is expansive, poorly designed, and has pernicious effects on the private economy that act to the long-term detriment of its intended beneficiaries.

Leftists fancy that socialism is “compassionate” and righteous, despite its predictably harsh outcomes. The misleading conceit that universal alms-giving by the state is always empowering to individual recipients, and potential voters, is an extremely corrosive element of democratic socialism. William Voegeli, Senior Editor of The Claremont Review of Books, writing in Imprimis makes “The Case Against Liberal Compassion“. (I dislike his misuse of the word “liberal” — too many conservatives are willing to cede that label to the Left.) Voegeli notes the “never enough” mentality of welfare statists, who refuse to acknowledge that the expansive growth of the welfare state over the past five decades has failed to reduce rates of poverty. The programs are rife with fraud, waste and bad incentives. If leftists are truly compassionate, Voegeli insists, they ought to take more interest in fixing problems that leave less for the truly needy and create dependencies rather than simply increasing the flow of funding.

Many well-meaning individuals are careless about affiliating with socialist causes because they do not understand what it actually means, and they often lack any historical and theoretical perspective on the implications of socialism. The flirtation is dangerous, and we can only attempt to educate and reason with them. Some will grow into greater wisdom. Some, like Bernie Sanders, will never come around. While we educate, let’s keep their hands away from the reins of power.

Handy Q+A: Policing For Whiffs of Racism/Sexism


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Too many folks today are disquieted by the possibility of uttering some erstwhile harmless expression that might conceivably offend peoples of various identity groups. As a service to my readers, I have decided to share a link to this thoughtful guide, actually a quiz, from the Manhattan Contrarian: “How To Identify Racist And Sexist Remarks And Slurs“. It is a short field guide, as it were, but one that may be applied to the “field of the mind” to fend off impurities of thought. In this day and age, one can’t be too careful!

Those who wish to score themselves on the quiz without exposure to spoilers should proceed directly to the link. I hope others, after reading just two of the questions and answers I quote below, will be so moved by the spirit of the exercise that they will go to the link to read the quiz in its entirety. Here are two of the questions and answers:

Q: “You say, ‘I believe the most qualified person should get the job.'”

A: “Obviously, this is racist, and probably sexist as well. … This statement demonstrates the ‘myth of meritocracy and ‘assert[s] that race does not play a role in life successes. It conveys themessage‘ that ‘[p]eople of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race.‘”

Q: “I don’t give a, I don’t give a, I don’t give a fuck. I’m willin’ to die for this shit.  I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit. Put the Bible down and go eye to eye for this shit … If I gotta slap a pussy-ass nigga, I’ma make it look sexy.”

A: “Racist? Are you kidding????? These are lyrics from the song “Element,” from the album DAMN, by Kendrick Lamar, that won the Pulitzer Prize for music back in March. Obviously, if you had written this first, you would have won the Pulitzer Prize instead of Lamar.”

You must be attuned to the logic and politics of identity. Do NOT stumble into any implication that a thing matters that could be associated with an identity group, no matter how coincidentally. And do NOT under any circumstances attempt to adopt an element of the culture of another identity group, be it food, dress, music, or language. At the same time, however, do NOT forget that nothing matters more than honoring and paying restitution to each and every identity group that might have a claim to victimhood. Except for Jews, especially Zionists. Hope you like your straightjacket extra-tight.

Liz Warren Pitches Another Goofball


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Elizabeth Warren wants to nationalize all private businesses with more than $1 billion in annual revenue. She plans to introduce legislation called the “Accountable Capitalism Act” that would, if enacted, authorize an outright theft of private property from the owners of these companies. Among other things, her plan would require large companies to obtain a federal charter and set aside 40% of their board seats for members to be elected by employees. In addition, henceforth these businesses would be answerable not merely to shareholders, but to employees along with a limitless array of other “stakeholders”. That’s because under their federal charters, firms would have a duty to create a “general public benefit”. The operative assumption here is that merely creating a product or service does not produce adequate value for society, regardless of the benefits to buyers, income to employees and suppliers, taxes paid, and the returns earned by millions of working people who have invested in these companies via pension and 401(k) plans.

In the very first place, Warren’s bill is unconstitutional, as Richard Epstein points out. Owning a business is protected as a property right under several amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but particularly the Fifth Amendment. Warren would place unconstitutional conditions on this right via the requirements for a federal charter and the so-called public benefit. If enacted, her bill would quite likely be ruled unconstitutional by the courts. But if it stood, capital would quickly take flight from the U.S., depressing asset values.

Don Boudreaux notes that absent ownership, vaguely-defined “stakeholders” have risked nothing in the success of the company. Shareholders bear the financial risk that the company will fail to produce adequate earnings, lose value, or fail. Management has a fiduciary duty to protect the funds that shareholders invest in the firm, including a duty to protect the firm’s ability to acquire credit. Warren’s legislation would compromise these duties by elevating the objectives of non-owners to the same or greater status than those who have provided the equity capital. Again, this would happen in at least two ways: required representation of employee-elected board members, and the vague public-benefit mandate under the firm’s federal charter.

Significant employee representation on the board is likely to distort decisions about labor compensation and virtually any decision affecting employment. While 40% is short of a board majority, union pension funds already purchase shares in companies both as investments and as a way of driving labor issues before shareholders and into boardrooms. Those votes, along with the 40% board representation and oversight from federal bureaucrats, would give additional leverage to labor in influencing the firm’s decision-making. To take the simplest case, economic efficiency requires that the rate of labor compensation be the same as the marginal value of labor productivity. Warren’s proposal would surely result in wage payments exceeding this threshold, diminishing the economic value of the firm and its ability to raise capital. And by reducing the efficiency of the production process, it would raise costs to consumers and/or business customers.

There any number of other worker demands that would gain viability. For example, extended break times or extra paid-time-off would certainly raise costs, and such demands from a plurality of the board would be unrestrained by the need to negotiate other terms. Or how about a plant-closing decision? The upshot is that mandated board representation for labor would create instability and lead to a decline in the firm’s performance, competitiveness, and attractiveness to suppliers of capital. Ultimately, the very jobs on which labor depends would be threatened.

Further dilution of business objectives would arise from the requirement under the federal charter to produce a “public benefit”. Serving customers is not enough, but what will satisfy federal overseers that the firm has fulfilled its social obligations? And what are the limits of those social obligations? Again, these amorphous requirements would constitute a theft of resources from the business owners, requiring the payment of alms in order to produce something of value. There is already evidence that board activism in pursuit of non-business, social objectives destroys business value:

Labor-affiliated pensions regularly file shareholder proposals, usually involving social and political concerns. Those social and political shareholder-proposal campaigns are associated with lower shareholder value. These labor investors also tend to attack companies facing ongoing union-organizing campaigns, as well as companies with political action committees that support Republicans.”

In time, the dilution of objectives undermines a firm’s viability, its health of its suppliers, and its ability to employ workers and hire other resources. Many of the suppliers hurt by Warren’s proposal would be smaller firms. It would ripple through the ranks of consultants, repair shops, electricians, plumbers, accounting firms, janitorial services, and any number of other businesses. But even before that, Warren’s proposal would send capital scrambling overseas.

I share Don Boudreaux’s astonishment that writers such as Matt Yglesias in Vox can assert that the Warren plan would have no costs. It might or might not have an impact on the federal budget, but the cost of destroyed economic value in the business sector would be massive, not to mention the jobs that ultimately would be lost in the process. It’s also astonishing that proponents can pretend that Warren’s bill would “save capitalism” when in fact it would do great harm.

Finally, here is Kevin Williamson expressing his disdain for Warren’s true intent in putting her bill forward:

Warren’s proposal is dishonestly called the ‘Accountable Capitalism Act.’ Accountable to whom?  you might ask. That’s a reasonable question. The answer is — as it always is — accountable to politicians, who desire to put the assets and productivity of private businesses under political discipline for their own selfish ends. It is remarkable that people who are most keenly attuned to the self-interest of CEOs and shareholders and the ways in which that self-interest influences their decisions apparently believe that members of the House, senators, presidents, regulators, Cabinet secretaries, and agency chiefs somehow are liberated from self-interest when they take office through some kind of miracle of transcendence.”

The Due Process Right To Plea Bargain


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Our criminal justice system is not the exemplar of due process we’d like to think. Instead, the deck is often stacked against defendants because prosecutorial incentives, mandatory minimum sentences and plea bargaining interact in perverse ways. This is exacerbated by our tendency to demand laws against every behavior that offends us, some that are redundant, some with lower burdens of proof, and some that are just silly. Civil justice is subject to excesses as well, as claims of victimhood are bounded only by the fertile imaginations of plaintiffs’ attorneys, but that’s a subject for another day.

Prosecutors tend to be ambitious, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But the U.S. is unique in electing prosecutors, and a “tough-on-crime” message is often successful at the polls. This magnifies the incentive for aggressive prosecution to achieve a high rate of conviction and lengthy sentences. Of course, defendants are often at a disadvantage in terms of the quality of their legal representation, but beyond that are a variety of prosecutorial tactics that can be used in pursuit of these goals.

A nexus between several factors has made the criminal justice system much harsher for defendants. Multiple charges on related and even unrelated crimes, often with harsh mandatory minimum sentences, can help secure a guilty plea on the original charge. The prosecution gets a conviction and avoids the cost of a trial, but the due process rights of the defendant are compromised in the process. Former Federal District Court Judge Kevin Sharp resigned from the bench because he could no longer tolerate the abuses done by mandatory minimum sentences. He offers a couple of examples:

Antonio was driving down the street and, without being too graphic, he and his girlfriend were engaged in an activity that caused him to cross slightly over the double-yellow line. The police saw it and pulled him over. The police suspected his girlfriend was a prostitute, so they split Antonio and his girlfriend up and asked them questions. The police realized based on her answers that she in fact was Antonio’s girlfriend. Then, the police said, ‘OK, we are going to let you go. Oh, by the way, do you mind if we search your car?’ Antonio, forgetting that he had an unloaded pistol under the front seat of his car, responded, ‘No, go ahead.’ Antonio was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Because he was convicted as an adult in his prior crimes, his mandatory minimum sentence was 15 years. …

Members of Congress, in their desire to be elected and reelected, often show how tough on crime they can be, and they say, ‘Look, mandatory minimums are necessary so that we can take discretion away from the judges.’ But these legislators have not taken away discretion, they have just moved it to the prosecutor, who has a dog in the hunt.

The so-called “trial penalty” is the subject of a study on the disparate sentences offered in plea deals versus those likely to be imposed if the defendant goes to trial. This disparity is truly a threat to the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. Over 97% of federal criminal cases are now settled by plea, and again, rejecting a plea deal can carry considerable risk for a defendant. In fact, in discussing this study, Walter Pavlo puts things starkly: innocent people are pleading guilty. He quotes this finding:

There is ample evidence that federal criminal defendants are being coerced to plead guilty because the penalty for exercising their constitutional rights is simply too high to risk.”

How to make an innocent client plead guilty” is the topic of Jeffrey Stein’s confessional on the topic:

“... according to the National Registry of Exonerations, 15 percent of all exonerees — people convicted of crimes later proved to be innocent — originally pleaded guilty. That share rises to 49 percent for people exonerated of manslaughter and 66 percent for those exonerated of drug crimes.

You tell your client that they would probably win at trial, but if they lose, they will go to prison. The plea promises some meaningful benefit: getting out of jail sooner, avoiding deportation, not losing a job, seeing a daughter before her next birthday. But your client would have to accept responsibility for a crime they may not have committed.

The final stage happens in court. Your client has signed the paperwork admitting to something you believe in your gut they did not do. Maybe they acted in self-­defense. Maybe they were standing near the actual perpetrator and were presumed guilty by association because of the color of their skin. Maybe they were the victim of an honest misidentification.”

An episode in South Carolina indicating possible manipulation by prosecutors involved a grand jury, which is convened to hear preliminary evidence in a case and decide whether the defendant should be indicted on charges brought by the prosecution. This particular grand jury approved 904 indictments in a single day, averaging 39 seconds per indictment! In response, 27 defense attorneys filed a motion to have the indictments thrown out. It’s impossible to imagine that all of those cases received serious deliberation. Instead, the grand jury appears to have served as a rubber-stamp for the prosecution.

Over-criminalization is another major factor contributing to the erosion of due process rights. As Glenn Reynolds says, the next step should be fewer laws. This earlier paper by Reynolds made the point more forcefully: “Ham Sandwich Nation: Due Process When Everything Is a Crime” (free download):

Overcriminalization has thus left us in a peculiar place: Though people suspected of a crime have extensive due process rights in dealing with the police, and people more charged with a crime have even more extensive due process rights in court, the actual decision whether or not to charge a person with a crime is almost completely unconstrained. Yet, because of overcharging and plea bargains, that decision is probably the single most important event in the chain of criminal procedure.

Reynolds offers a number of remedies, including replacement of absolute immunity for prosecutors with “qualified good-faith immunity”, pro-rata allocation of defense costs based on the ratio of convictions to the number of charges, and requiring that earlier plea offers be revealed to the jury at trial.

Today, the many laws we have against victimless behavior overburden the justice system. Have you ever: purchased a large soda? Used recreational drugs? Purchased raw milk? Engaged in oral sex? Played fantasy sports? Used a plastic straw? Vaped? Paid for a sex toy? Sold lemonade from a stand without a permit? Purchased a Happy Meal? Given food to a homeless person? These are just a few activities that are, or soon-to-be, illegal in certain jurisdictions, and I mentioned only one case having to do with licensure. I have not even mentioned crimes promulgated by federal regulators.

In “Enforcing the Law Is Inherently Violent“, Conor Friedersdorf quotes Yale Law Professor Stephen L. Carter:

Every law is violent. We try not to think about this, but we should.  On the first day of law school, I tell my Contracts students never to argue for invoking the power of law except in a cause for which they are willing to kill. They are suitably astonished, and often annoyed. But I point out that even a breach of contract requires a judicial remedy; and if the breacher will not pay damages, the sheriff will sequester his house and goods; and if he resists the forced sale of his property, the sheriff might have to shoot him.

This is by no means an argument against having laws. … It is an argument for a degree of humility as we choose which of the many things we may not like to make illegal. Behind every exercise of law stands the sheriff – or the SWAT team – or if necessary the National Guard. Is this an exaggeration? Ask the family of Eric Garner, who died as a result of a decision to crack down on the sale of untaxed cigarettes. That’s the crime for which he was being arrested. Yes, yes, the police were the proximate cause of his death, but the crackdown was a political decree.”

Yes, we need “a degree of humility as we choose which of the many things we may not like to make illegal.” We have over-crowded prisons and we have failed to protect the due process rights of the accused. A conviction should require proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In statistical terms, that would mean a very low p-value. Instead, our system has devolved into one in which defendants presumed innocent are forced to reckon with myriad risks, exaggerated by “kitchen sink” prosecutors and mandatory minimum sentences. The tradeoffs facing defendants are so unfavorable that few cases ever go to trial. The plea bargaining system often reduces the burden of proof to a matter of gamesmanship. For prosecutors, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Forest Fires Ignite Climate Change Delusions


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The geographic extent of this summer’s forest fires won’t come close to the aggregate record for the U.S. Far from it. Yes, there are some terrible fires now burning in California, Oregon, and elsewhere, and the total burnt area this summer in the U.S. is likely to exceed the 2017 total. But as the chart above shows, the burnt area in 2017 was less than 20% of the record set way back in 1930. The same is true of the global burnt area, which has declined over many decades. In fact, this 2006 paper reported the following:

Analysis of charcoal records in sediments [31] and isotope-ratio records in ice cores [32] suggest that global biomass burning during the past century has been lower than at any time in the past 2000 years. Although the magnitude of the actual differences between pre-industrial and current biomass burning rates may not be as pronounced as suggested by those studies [33], modelling approaches agree with a general decrease of global fire activity at least in past centuries [34]. In spite of this, fire is often quoted as an increasing issue around the globe [11,2629].”

People have a tendency to exaggerate the significance of current events. Perhaps the youthful can be forgiven for thinking hot summers are a new phenomenon. Incredibly, more “seasoned” folks are often subject to the same fallacies. The fires in California have so impressed climate alarmists that many of them truly believe global warming is the cause of forest fires in recent years, including the confused bureaucrats at Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency. Of course, the fires have given fresh fuel to self-interested climate activists and pressure groups, an opportunity for greater exaggeration of an ongoing scare story.

This year, however, and not for the first time, a high-pressure system has been parked over the West, bringing southern winds up the coast along with warmer waters from the south, keeping things warm and dry inland. It’s just weather, though a few arsonists and careless individuals always seem to contribute to the conflagrations. Beyond all that, the impact of a warmer climate on the tendency for biomass to burn is considered ambiguous for realistic climate scenarios.

And what of the “mega-fires” burning in the West, like the huge Mendocino Complex Fire and last year’s Thomas Fire? Unfortunately, many decades of fire suppression measures — prohibitions on logging, grazing, and controlled burns — have left the forests with too much dead wood and debris, especially on public lands. From the last link:

Oregon, like much of the western U.S., was ravaged by massive wildfires in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl drought. Megafires were largely contained due to logging and policies to actively manage forests, but there’s been an increasing trend since the 1980s of larger fires.

Active management of the forests and logging kept fires at bay for decades, but that largely ended in the 1980s over concerns too many old growth trees and the northern spotted owl. Lawsuits from environmental groups hamstrung logging and government planners cut back on thinning trees and road maintenance.

[Bob] Zybach [a forester] said Native Americans used controlled burns to manage the landscape in Oregon, Washington and northern California for thousands of years. Tribes would burn up to 1 million acres a year on the west coast to prime the land for hunting and grazing, Zybach’s research has shown.

‘The Indians had lots of big fires, but they were controlled,’ Zybach said. ‘It’s the lack of Indian burning, the lack of grazing’ and other active management techniques that caused fires to become more destructive in the 19th and early 20th centuries before logging operations and forest management techniques got fires under control in the mid-20th Century.”

The annual burnt area from wildfires has declined over the past ninety years both in the U.S. and globally. Even this year’s wildfires are unlikely to come close to the average burn extent of the 1930s. The large wildfires this year are due to a combination of decades of poor forest management along with a weather pattern that has trapped warm, dry air over the West. The contention that global warming has played a causal role in the pattern is balderdash, but apparently that explanation seems plausible to the uninformed, and it is typical of the propaganda put forward by climate change interests.

Success In The Enlightened West


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The Left is engaged in a full attack on true liberalism and it is an attack on the rights of the individual: life, liberty, property, speech, due process of law, and other enumerated and unenumerated rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. These rights are themselves the very underpinnings of Western civilization and are together an unambiguous force for good in the world. Joe Lonsdale has written a declaration regarding the powerful legal, political, and economic philosophies that have served as the bases of Western civilization and its successes and which have, as a consequence, been adopted around the globe. Lonsdale, in his mid-30s, is an “American entrepreneur and technology investor” and founder of The Cicero Institute, an organization dedicated to encouraging “public-sector entrepreneurship to address America’s most pressing problems.”

I love Lonsdale’s full-throated advocacy for Western principles. Their articulation over three centuries ago by an enlightened “patriarchy” (as today’s social justice warriors might call them) managed to upset an entrenched and rapacious oligarchy, over time lifting whole populations out of subjugation and penury. Ultimately, this upheaval made possible the legal recognition of the same rights for all individuals, regardless of race and gender. Lonsdale’s insistence on the appropriate use of the word “liberal” is refreshing. It should (but won’t) serve as a corrective to the towering ignorance of those who accept “liberalism” when used as a cover for statism.

I’m going to quote “liberally” from Lonsdale’s piece because it speaks so well for itself, but if you’ve made it this far then you should read Lonsdale’s essay in its entirety.

“[John] Locke’s moral insight is ‘liberalism’, a principle of mutual restraint inspired by the inviolable rights of others to design their own lives. Freedom is life in accordance with reason; reason compels us to respect the freedoms of others. By respecting the rights of others, we guarantee our own.

This Enlightenment thinking was put into practice in the Glorious Revolution in 1688 in Britain, and especially in the founding of America, where Locke’s liberalism formed the backbone of the new republic. To be sure, in practice there were deep contradictions—the founders were simultaneously freedom fighters and slave-owners—but the institutional architecture was in place. The West’s new framework of property rights and political freedoms unleashed a surge of creative energy, enabling a three-century miracle of growth, prosperity and unimaginable wonders of innovation.

It didn’t have to happen that way. The natural order of things is for life to be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ (in the words of Thomas Hobbes, a contemporary of Locke). Western civilisation is a great artifice: a liberal framework that enshrines property rights, allowing us to restrain most forms of tribalism, participate in free markets and prosper by serving others regardless of their identities.

These political rights of treating people equally and letting them get on with their business had a hugely beneficial effect on society and the economy. Consider that historically speaking, it is actually unnatural for the best ideas to dominate and spread, thus allowing entrepreneurs to displace incumbent, vested interests. More common is for force or hierarchy, not the meritocracy of ideas, to win. However, the West established a cultural and legal environment where a competition of clever ideas and activities could flourish. 

Lonsdale offers several examples of the malignant effects of forsaking these Western ideals. The hallmark of all these failures is an abandonment of the individual as the true and natural rights-holder and productive force. Here are Lonsdale’s  closing paragraphs:

As pre-Enlightenment modes of value-signaling, tribalism and power-politics come to the fore on campus and social media, we must reaffirm our commitment to Western liberal values by actually putting them into practice. Only a rational order which enshrines individual rights to person and property, and expands opportunities for all, will create the stability and economic progress necessary to quell populist discontent.  

Unsurprisingly the anti-liberal, top-down parts of our society are experiencing cost-disease and decay. The West enabled a market order where the best ideas win, no matter whose idea it was. We need to remind ourselves of how unusual the miracle of our political economy is and enact its lessons. Only then can we save the concept of ‘Western civilisation’ and spread its benefits of freedom and prosperity—not just for people in the West, but for everyone.”