An Economic Issue

In a fascinating London Review of Books essay earlier this Spring, the distinguished historian Peter Clarke engages in a singular attempt to resuscitate the reputation of Enoch Powell, the late British parliamentarian and classicist who became infamous for a xenophobic address in Parliament in 1968 that was later dubbed the “Rivers of Blood” speech.

Acts of political rehabilitation are to me suspect, particularly in the case of a man whose legacy has been hijacked by the lunatic fringe. This one is difficult to dismiss out of hand because it is taken from the perspective of history. Clarke does not attempt to justify or defend Powell’s most odious ideas: if Clarke is an apologist for Powell, he appears motivated not by ideology or ulterior drives, but by a sense that history is ill-served in settling for a one-dimensional caricature of an influential figure.

Let us be clear: Enoch Powell rode into the scrap heap of history at full gallop and of his own free will. But a cursory review of his life reveals at least  two salient truths: first, that artful couching, superb logic, and fine language do not improve a repugnant idea; and second, that the espousal by an individual of one or more bad ideas does not prima facie brand all of the other ideas espoused by that individual as bad.

I will return to that second theme in another post.

One idea that is worth consideration is one that drove Powell through most of his political career: that some government programs, policies, and actions have value that cannot be measured by economic or purely utilitarian means, and indeed that some policies and actions that may appear economically foolhardy are nonetheless good ideas. As Clarke notes:

It wasn’t part of [Powell’s] doctrine to scrimp on the legitimate functions of the state as he saw them; and if a function were deemed legitimate, he made very high claims indeed. Intuition rather than economic logic guided him. For example, he began a speech in 1981 – in favour of public subsidy of the ferry service to Northern Ireland – by stating his premise as the sort of mere common sense everyone would accept: ‘Communication is the essence of all government: it is not for nothing that the mail is the Royal Mail.’ The idea that such conclusions can be reached by treating the royal status of the mail as axiomatic would surprise many latter-day Thatcherites, who argue that the market could sort this problem out more efficiently.

This was a tough one for me to get down initially: it flies in the face of good business sense and an approach to policy-making that has been ascendant for at least 160 years. It implies that the Congressional Budget Office brand of economics-based cost-benefits analysis does not always produce the best policy.

My instinct is to argue the opposite: I do not think we give enough consideration to non-partisan cost-benefits analysis when making policy decisions; that programs are born and outlive their usefulness because of ideology, pork-barrel politics, or bureaucratic self-interest.

But Clarke’s article on Powell compels me to rethink my orthodox adherence to that principle.

Here are the questions I am pondering:

  1. If we cannot measure the return-on-investment of a policy, is it worthwhile?
  2. What makes that policy more or less worthy than a policy whose impact can be measured in a material form?
  3. Have we placed too much reliance on economics as a measure? Or do we place insufficient reliance on economics and cost-benefits analysis?
  4. Is it time we recognize that decisions taken by non-commercial actors (individuals, organizations, governments) may and sometimes should be made for reasons that defy economic logic or even pure utility?
  5. Should we identify and recognize other determinants of policy quality?
  6. On what basis do we decide which means of analysis is best for a given policy?

I have been long away from the study of these matters, so I recognize I may have meandered onto well-trod ground. If so, please tell me.

A government run by roving bands of ideologues, self-interested legislators, and nest-feathering bureaucrats is a recipe for revolution.  At the same time, government by abacus taken to its logical end is a tyranny. On a river of hard questions we must navigate our way back to a passage between those two extremes. The alternative is The End of America As We Know It (TEOAAWKI).

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A Nation of Creeds

To those who would make of America a Christian nation, I respond thus: if you succeed in your ultimate goal of having America decreed a “Christian Nation,” you might hold your head a little higher on your way to church. You might eliminate some of the opposition to your practices that have been an irritation for you. Maybe.

What you will have done, and done irrevocably, is to revoke the citizenship not only every Muslim in America, but every Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, Animist, and Zoroastrian, not to mention every agnostic, atheist, and traditional practitioner of Native American faiths. In so doing, you will have made a joke of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. You will have placed us on the road to becoming the kind of theocracy our forefathers rejected. You will, in so doing, have made yourself an enemy of Liberty, of the Constitution, of Freedom, and of these United States.

America is a country of religions, not a religious country; it is a nation made up mostly of Christians, but not a Christian nation. Accepting that fact does not make you less Christian – on the contrary, in your charity and mercy, in seeing to it that America ever remains a country where the granting of liberty and justice for all is what makes up a nation under G-d, have you not lived the very tenets of your faith?

Lay to rest, I implore you, this idea of declaring America a Christian nation. Raise high the banner of religious freedom, and show the world that America will live under the law of men under G-d, not the Law of God under Men.

Opening Up the Identity Conversation

Men should have the same right to opine on gender issues as women. Having an identity doesn’t give you total authority over certain issues.

Source: Christian Alejandro Gonzalez, Rejecting the Left’s Conversation-Ending Identitarianism | The American Conservative

Agreed. And first principle.

But let’s open this up:

  1. Atheists and agnostics should have the same right to opine on religious issues as the faithful.
  2. All Americans should have the same right to opine on Veteran’s affairs as those who have served.
  3. All people should have the same right to opine on accessibility issues as do those with disabilities.
  4. People of all ethnic backgrounds – including those of us who find ourselves insensitively lumped into the derogatory catch-all category of “white” – should have the same right to opine on racial issues as do people of color.
  5. People of all sexual preferences – including monogamous heterosexuals – should have the same right to opine on sexuality as those identifying themselves as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, queer, asexual, or polyamorous.
  6. People of any one culture should have the same right to experience and adopt aspects of any other culture as those who are born into or who have hereditary ties to that culture.

The minute you start quashing debate about any of these issues, you have killed democracy and ended the American experiment. That’s a line we cannot afford to cross, even at the cost of causing offense and even hurt feelings.

Same as the Old High

If Marx posited that religion is the opiate of the people, then we have reached a new, more clarifying moment in the history of the West: Opiates are now the religion of the people.

Andrew Sullivan

This is a plague ripping America apart from within, far greater public health crisis than AIDS ever was.

And the Presidential solution is to give it to his wife to manage.

Once again, the band plays on.

Anderson Cooper says Infidelity is not the Point

CNN’s Anderson Cooper says the fallout around allegations leveled against President Donald Trump by porn actress Stormy Daniels is not about the infidelity, but paying to hush it up just before the 2016 US election.

Source: Anderson Cooper: It’s not about the infidelity

Anderson Cooper is not entirely correct. The issue of whether Mr. Trump committed adultery – and did so for the worst of reasons – may be irrelevant to Mr. Cooper under his code of values and beliefs. This does not mean that the issue is irrelevant to all Americans, for at least two important reasons.

First, many voters care whether or not the President of the United States has sufficient personal integrity to adhere to his wedding vows. To some of us, a man who would casually flaunt a vow he took before G-d and the law cannot be trusted with the future of the nation.

Second, and more important, Mr. Trump has been elected into office by a party and by voters who espouse socially conservative values. As the nominal head of that party – a party which took Bill Clinton to task for his infidelity two decades ago – it should not be unreasonable to expect himself to behave in accordance with those beliefs in his personal life. If he cannot, he can hardly call himself a social conservative.

A genuine conservative should be troubled by the President’s behavior.

Ease the Hammer

For the record, I think the consumption of pork is an affront to G-d. I think abortion in most cases is morally indefensible. The smell of marijuana in a public place disgusts me. But you will never in these pages read or hear of me calling for bacon to be outlawed, for the re-criminalization of cannibis, or for the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

For all of you who would use the heavy hand of legislation to stop your neighbor from doing something that has been a part of their lives or culture, know this: there are many things that you like doing that your neighbors find objectionable, if not downright sick-making, depraved, and socially dangerous. But we do not try to legislate them out of existence. We understand that tolerance is the handmaiden of liberty.

So the next time you are tempted to show support to a law that will criminalize someone else’s lifestyle, remember: that knife can cut both ways, and it is the nature of history that the further the knife cuts one way, the further it will swing back and slice the other. Deep inside you know this, and this is why books like The Handmaid’s Tale do, and should, scare the living daylights out of any thinking liberal. Payback is an unholy bitch, and all of us would be wise to remember that fact when we are tempted to overmilk the political climate on behalf of our own ideologies.

 

Airbnb’s Pandora’s Box

For the record, I believe Airbnb has the right to decide who gets to use their service. I would never open my home or property as an Airbnb place precisely because there are all kinds of people I would not want staying in my home (like, for example, neo-Nazis, but also no doubt some people who would pass muster with Airbnb corporate). That said, the idea that a company would search out the political opinions of those wanting to buy its services and blacklist people over them is scary as hell. Where does it stop?

Source: The Airbnb Blacklist | The American Conservative

In a well-intentioned effort to do good (or, perhaps, just to pander to what it sees as its core users), Airbnb has opened a brand new Pandora’s box.

I oppose and reject without qualification the entire white-supremacist political complex that I am now dubbing the “alt-Reich,” because they have no business being legitimized as “conservatives.” They have proven themselves, as a group, to be aught more than neo-fascist thugs.

That said, Rod Dreher raises a good question: if Airbnb is allowed to refuse service to someone because of their political opinions, where does this end?

Here is another question: if a progressive believes that Airbnb is allowed to refuse service to people on the basis of their political affiliations, is the progressive’s opposition to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or, more specifically, the right of a shopkeeper to refuse to offer a service that violates his political beliefs, pure hypocrisy?