Poverty and Privilege

from “The Inequality Trap: Fighting Capitalism Instead of Poverty (UTP Insights)” by William Watson

“In sum, we should worry less about inequality, which is a distraction from what ought to be our true targets, poverty and privilege, and we should stop trashing our economic system as much as we do and defend it more aggressively against those who are blind to its virtues and achievements. We are living in an era that is unprecedented, astonishingly so, in terms of incomes and wealth for billions of people. Markets are not solely responsible. Government initiatives in education, agricultural research, and health, particularly public health, have certainly played a part. But it is hard to imagine that what has been a true great leap forward in the West in the last two centuries and in the Rest in the last four decades would have happened without reasonably free markets nor, certainly within the countries where Phelpsian flourishing first began but probably elsewhere too, reasonably open societies and secure property rights. No doubt many variations on democratic capitalism can produce good results. Our system can certainly survive being fiddled with and may even be improved by fiddling, though the chances of successful fiddling are seldom as high as fiddlers invariably attest. But all changes produce unintended consequences, and large changes risk big unintended consequences. This system has served the mass of people well. We should therefore think very carefully before rejecting it because of its supposed immorality, restarting history, and reaching for something dramatically different.”


I recommend this book. The author observes that problems attributed to inequality are otherwise sourced.  Poverty and privilege should be addressed; inequality can be a ruse that distracts us from greater and more pertinent problems.

Capitalism and a Welfare State are not incompatible, but the expense should be transparent. The challenge is to provide benefits where they are truly needed, avoiding lifelong dependency, without impeding the incentives and capitalist functions which are needed to fund the system.

The Danger of Scientism

from the FEE, Foundation for Economic Education, Be Wary of the Orwellian “Enlightened” Classby Robin Koerner

Science and scientism are superficially similar but epistemic opposites.

A true scientist remains doxastically open. That means that she works always on the assumption that her theory is a) false or incomplete and b) will therefore change.

The daily task of science is to identify the ways in which our current understanding is lacking. In so doing, science’s understanding of the world becomes less false.

Scientism, in contrast, is doxastically closed. That means that it identifies our best theory but then behaves as if it is a) absolute truth and b) will therefore not change.

Scientism, unlike science, has no need for data. It is deadly because it always uses the current paradigm to explain away potentially problematic observations. (E.g. the cat’s squeal isn’t telling me it’s in pain; it’s confirming that machines, including cats, have predictable responses to physical stimuli.)

Orwell’s “unthinking orthodoxy” is “political scientism.” That’s the epistemology of tyranny.

In my earlier article, I wrote about the authoritarianism of some of the “Social Justice Warrior” Left today, who would give moral privilege to groups they identity as victim groups in the name of eliminating privilege; who would eliminate the free speech of people with whom they disagree in the name of giving everyone an equal voice; who equate speech with violence to justify violence against those who speak.

Bizarre as those paradoxes clearly are, their advocates are not automatically dangerous if they are open to revising their moral or political theory in the light of falsifying data or contradictions in the theory’s application.

What makes it all dangerous is that it is allied with an a priori belief about competing views and political opponents that eliminate the possibility that any experiences or perspectives could provide data that could challenge the theory.

If potentially contradictory data can be rejected a priori on account of being explained away as the result of “fascist”, “racist”, “sexist” attitudes, for example, then the theory is inoculated against the human data against which all political theories must be tested.

Real Growth

from National Review and Kevin Williamson, Don’t Count On the Growth Fairy

The powers that be in Washington dream of stronger growth, because stronger growth would mean that they could put off some hard and unpleasant decisions. Stronger growth would raise revenue without raising tax rates, bolster Social Security and our other wobbly entitlement programs, and potentially lower deficits. And while stronger growth helps on the revenue side of the budget, it also helps on the spending side: When growth is strong, unemployment tends to be lower and wages tend to be higher, which relieves pressure on welfare programs. You can understand the economist Robert Lucas’s maxim: “Once you start thinking about economic growth, it’s hard to think about anything else.”

People associated with the Trump administration have taken up 3.5 percent economic growth as a goal. It’s a fine goal, but it probably is not going to happen.


To balance budgets governments overestimate revenues and underestimate expenses.

It seems preposterous that we treat our economy like a machine that needs precise adjustments from an expert mechanic to deliver precise outputs. This is delusional.  We should reduce friction costs where ever we can including the the removal of special privileges granted to rent seeking lobbyists. As long as the growth is real we should not worry about it being too high.  Real growth comes from ideas and work rather than targeted stimulus.

We have resorted to economic growth as a last effort to reduce the deficit rather than face the hard spending cuts that will remain when the growth projection falls short.

Hoisted by Their Own Petard

The Problem with Investigating Trump from Kevin Williamson at National Review:

The Obama administration left us with a poison bouquet, a federal government whose investigatory agencies are thoroughly corrupted, politicized, and untrustworthy. We know for a fact that the Internal Revenue Service, acting after demands from Democratic elected officials, targeted conservative-leaning activist groups for investigation and harassment, and that this harassment was outrageous, including demands that religiously oriented organizations disclose the very contents of their prayers. We know that that Internal Revenue Service illegally and maliciously leaked information about the donors of the National Organization for Marriage, in order to facilitate political and financial retaliation against them. We know that evidence, including e-mails, was destroyed to subvert investigation into this criminal conspiracy, and that congressional Democrats went to extraordinary lengths to protect IRS officials from being punished for their wrongdoing. We know that one of the key figures in that case, Lois Lerner, is enjoying a large federal pension rather than a small federal prison cell.

We know that the Department of Justice was wildly politicized during the Obama years, doing Democrats’ bidding on everything from voter-intimidation cases to the Clinton e-mail case. We know that the National Labor Relations Board was used as a political weapon to try to punish Boeing for setting up new production in Republican-leaning South Carolina rather than Democratic-leaning Washington State. We know that the ATF was used to audit a business whose owners were not involved in A, T, or F, but who were involved in election-reform projects, and that the same firm was targeted by OSHA and the IRS. We know that a politicized EPA was involved in such extraordinary shenanigans that its director felt the need to set up a pseudonymous e-mail account in order to hide her activities from ordinary oversight. Even our Democratic friends have concluded that the FBI under the Obama administration was politicized, though they cannot quite seem to make up their minds about the direction or intent of it.


I have commented on this blog before about the great damage done to our institutions by their politicization under the last administration. This is far more critical than the issues of fake news. It is real news that was ignored as long as it served the purposes of those in power.  The Democrats weaponized the government institutions and are now apoplectic that this power is now in the hands of the opposition, They violated the cardinal rule of political power: never put power in a position unless you can picture your worst nightmare in that position.

I will predict that just as the recount and the effort to sway the electors backfired on them, this investigation into Trump’s Russian connection will backfire on them as well.

The Unluckiest Political Movement

from Kevin Williams at National Review, Camino de Servidumbre

But men do not like being told that they cannot do that which they wish to do, and this is particularly true of men who have a keen interest in political power. Hayek believed that efforts to impose central planning on economies were doomed to fail, and that this failure would not be met with humility but with outrage. When socialist policies produced their inevitable economic consequences, the first reaction would be to try to pass laws against the realization of those economic consequences. We saw a good deal of that in Venezuela, for instance with the imposition of currency controls when excessive social-welfare spending produced hyperinflation.

But those efforts are of course doomed to failure as well, which leads to outright political repression, scapegoating, and violence. In Venezuela, strongman Hugo Chávez, who was adored by American Democrats ranging from the Reverend Jesse Jackson to former representative Chakka Fattah and any number of Hollywood progressives, undertook to silence opposition media by insisting that they were simply fronts for moneyed elites working to undermine the work of democracy. (It will not escape your notice that our own progressives are making precisely the same argument in the matter of Citizens United, a First Amendment case considering the question of whether the government could prohibit the showing of a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton.) His protégé, Nicolás Maduro, has continued in the same vein.

Socialism is either the unluckiest political movement in the history of political movements, one that just happens to keep intersecting with the careers of monsters, or there is something about socialism itself that throws up monsters. There is nothing wrong with Venezuelans, and nothing unusual about them: Here at home, our own progressives dream of imprisoning people for holding unpopular political views, nationalizing key industries, and shutting down opposition media. They have black-shirted terrorists attacking people with explosives on college campuses for the crime of holding non-conforming political views. And they aren’t averse to a little old-fashioned Stalinism, either, provided there’s a degree or two of separation: Bernie Sanders, once an elector for the Socialist Workers party, remains the grumpy Muppet pin-up of the American Left.

“Socialism can be put into practice only by methods of which most socialists disapprove,” Hayek told us.