Reading 2017 10 22


Why your alarmism over Trump is dangerous for democracy


Democrats should be terrified by this governor’s race

What Harvey Weinstein tells us about the liberal world

Moving the Political Battle to the Courts

Mark Lilla is a committed  Democrat who admonishes his party for the its descent into Identity Politics in The Once and Future Liberal- After Identity Politics 

Distrust of the legislative process and increased reliance on the courts to achieve their goals also detached liberal Democratic elites from a wider base. To pass legislation you need to persuade very different sorts of people that it makes sense, which might require compromise but also helps ensure that the law will not provoke a mass reaction that leaves you in a worse position than when you began. Legislation can be tweaked, and negotiations about it are usually about how to balance a number of relative goods. In ordinary democratic politics, groups represent interests that can be defended but also balanced against each other when necessary to get agreement. To get standing in court, on the other hand, all you have to do is present your case as a matter of absolute legal right, and the only people you have to persuade are the judges assigned to your case.


Depending on the courts moved the conversation from the Democratic process and made the court selection the center of the political battle. It was foolish to assume that the Democrats would always be in control of that process.

Politics as Performance Art

From National Review Kevin Williamson writes McHealthcare Deluxe- The Affordable Care Act is a failed political product.

There are better and worse ways to fail, and it pays to be conservative when trying out new products, most of which fail, or investing in a new business, most of which fail. Learning to do that well is what makes a wise venture capitalist successful and an innovative executive effective. It’s also why conservatives like federalism, using the states as 50 “laboratories of democracy,” as Louis Brandeis put it. Trying it out in Utah and failing costs less than trying it out coast to coast and failing — and what works in Utah may not work in New Jersey. The more robust and immediate feedback mechanism of local democracy is also why conservatives like subsidiarity, mitigating problems at the lowest effective level of government rather than treating everything as a national question.

Feedback matters. One of the reasons the private sector often is so much more effective than government is that market competition forces firms and entrepreneurs to admit error or suffer dire financial consequences. Capitalism will slap you upside the head if you do something dumb — ask President Trump’s bankruptcy lawyers about that. In the marketplace as in nature, the instrument of evolution is death: Bad products and bad ideas don’t make it, and capital eventually flees bad firms and bad investors. A good company doesn’t punish an executive for trying something new and failing — it punishes him for refusal to admit failure when that failure is obvious and for continuing to shovel precious resources into the bonfire of his vanity.

Politics should be more like that, but it’s getting less like that. Because our political identities are shaped by tribalism rather than by reason, creating a political culture that embraces healthy experimentation and iterative, incremental reform is difficult for us to do. What we do instead is put together unwieldy bundles of legislation that promise to solve a particular problem for now and for all time — and then accuse the other side of being evil for opposing it. That isn’t government — it’s performance art.


The health care debates is so contentious because it focuses the differences in political and economic philosophies into a single issue. Does this require a central government solution or is it better served  by solving it locally in the 50 laboratories we call states?

One of the greatest advantages of market solutions is not that it always picks better solutions, but that it recognizes failures quicker and better. The opposite happens in government. Self serving bureaucracies institutionalize failures.  Instead of admitting failure and redeploying assets into better and different solutions we institutionalize failures and increase their funding.

Trying to agree on component solutions is so arduous that we think that systemic solutions is the preferred path. But these solutions are so plagued with compromise that it has become impossible to make them effective. One side wants to build a bridge, the other side does not. We compromise by building half a bridge, spending 90% of the money and failing to provide the perceived need to cross the river.

The unwillingness to admit failure and implement corrective action is a big reason to be skeptical of expensive central solutions.

A Uniquely American Problem

Once a government program is established to provide benefits to a prescribed group, there is soon to follow a movement to expand the definition of that group to include more people (voters).  Lobbyists will form to expand the new institutionalized benefits.  A portion of the benefits will be drained to the administration and their proxies.

Every expansion of the benefit happens with quiet approval; every attempt to reverse or curtail them is met with outrage.

The growth of the administrative state is further advanced by the principle of dispersed costs and focused benefits.  It pays to spend millions on lobbying because the benefit to the client is enormous, but it does not pay to spend much to stop them because the marginal cost per taxpayer is minimal.  The accumulation of these accommodations is substantial, especially when you include the administrative markup and the ultimate cost to consumers.

Our government was set up to run in a decentralized manner and the growing centralization bring us into a conflict between a desire for centralized solutions and a decentralized structure. This is the inherent problem of American progressivism.

Lobbying seems to be a uniquely American problem.  Our progressive experiment sought to neuter the influence of large commercial interests, but it seems we only institutionalized and registered them. The corrupting influence remains.

The preferred solution is a simplified government that relies less on social engineering.  Lobbyists exist due to complexities and preferences.  You can measure the problem by the spread between the statutory tax rate and the actual tax rate paid.  The difference is the benefit bestowed on special interests by the government.

The more complex the laws and regulations the greater the influence of lobbyists and proxies.  We will not likely eliminate the influence of money in politics, but we should at least try to make the opportunity for government influence less attractive than serving consumers and their marketplace.

HKO Thoughts 2017 10 17

None of us can escape our own hypocrisy, but how can Hillary blame misogyny for her loss when she was married to a serial abuser (whom she enabled), her assistant’s husband was convicted of predatory behavior, and one of her largest donors is being drawn and quartered for behavior few in the corporate world would ever tolerate.

Trump is accused of pushing too much, losing focus, and overloading Congress. I do not disagree but it probably fits his style. Some leaders (and writers) carefully plan and proceed, and some push multiple inchoate objectives, accept what sticks, and circle back to the ones that failed or move on. They feel they accomplish more by hitting 30% of ten objectives than 50% of four objectives.  It is the runs that are remembered, not the outs.

One morning I bounced between Morning Joe on MSNBC and Fox.  I realize that these have often provided opposing ends of the spectrum but the difference now is striking.  The mood on Morning Joe was depressing and somber, filled with the dread of a president with no redeeming value, motivated by nothing more than ego, ignorance, and destruction.  Fox was, not surprisingly, affirmative on many of the President’s recent initiatives, yet critical of others- particularly his attacks on the press. The difference is more acute than ever in both tone and substance.

One should be most cautious about creating a source of power unless you can imagine that power in the hands of your worst nightmare.  Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster on lower court judges and now Trump is loading the lower courts with Scalias.  Obama expressed disdain for the obstructionism of Congress and usurped legislative powers that are now being used to unravel his accomplishments.  The left’s focus on the courts made it a target for the right and one of the reasons marginal independents avoided Hillary. Their attack on gerrymandering could also come to bite them.

The right thought Obama was a fluke, fortunate in his timing in ’08 of running in the middle of a recession. His legitimacy, however, was confirmed in 2012.  The left may be making this same mistake by focusing more on Trump legitimacy and psychological fitness than their own flaws.  Joan Williams in White Working Class and Mark Lilla in The Once And Future Liberal are challenging the perception of their fellow Democrats but failing to address their policy failures.  Their party is not listening… yet.