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Deserting Our Better Nature

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from Kevin Williamson at the National Review, Bitter Laughter

A nation needs its Twains and Menckens. (We could have got by without Molly Ivins.) The excrement and sentimentality piles up high and thick in a democratic society, and it’s sometimes easier to burn it away rather than try to shovel it. But they are only counterpoints: They cannot be the leading voice, or the dominant spirit of the age. That is because this is a republic, and in a republic, a politics based on one half of the population hating the other half is a politics that loses even if it wins. The same holds true for one that relies on half of us seeing the other half as useless, wicked, moronic, deluded, or “prehensile morons.” (I know, I know, and you can save your keystrokes: I myself am not running for office.) If you happen to be Mark Twain, that sort of thing is good for a laugh, and maybe for more than a laugh. But it isn’t enough. “We must not be enemies,” President Lincoln declared, and he saw the republic through a good deal worse than weak GDP growth and the sack of a Libyan consulate.

The better angels of our nature have not deserted us. It is closer to the truth that we have failed them, and the impossible situation of 2016 — a choice between two kinds of corrupt, self-serving megalomaniacs — is only the lesion that denotes a deeper infection. There is no national vice-principal’s office or confessional into which we can drag ourselves and shame-facedly admit that we messed up, say that we’re very sorry, and promise to do better next time. But we must nonetheless admit that we messed up, say that we’re very sorry, and promise to do better next time. And there will be a next time, irrespective of the hysterical ninnies who insist that if this election does not go their way, then this is the end of the nation.


I have quoted Kevin Williamson so often in this blog that it risks becoming a fan club.  Still, he brings an intelligence and a perspective (and wit) that is uncommon.  The National Review has a great stable of writers and commentators and is a must read regularly.


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Suppressing the Oddballs

from Mark Judge in The National Review, Is Contemporary Liberalism Creating a Soulless Monoculture?

Legutko’s thesis is that liberal democracies have something in common with communism: the sense that time is inexorably moving towards a kind of human utopia, and that progressive bureaucrats must make sure it succeeds. Legutko first observed this after the fall of communism. Thinking that communist bureaucrats would have difficulty adjusting to Western democracy, he was surprised when the former Marxists smoothly adapted — indeed, thrived — in a system of liberal democracy. It was the hard-core anti-communists who couldn’t quite fit into the new system. They were unable to untether themselves from their faith, culture, and traditions.

Both communism and liberal democracy call for people to become New Men by jettisoning their old faith, customs, arts, literature, and traditions. Thus a Polish anti-communist goes from being told by communists that he has to abandon his old concepts of faith and family to become a member of the larger State, only to come to America after the fall of the Berlin Wall and be told he has to forego those same beliefs for the sake of the sexual revolution and the bureaucratic welfare state. Both systems believe that societies are moving towards a certain ideal state, and to stand against that is to violate not just the law but human happiness itself.

Thus in America came the monochromatic washing of a country that once could boast not only crazies like Scientologists and Louis Farrakhan, but creative and unusual icons like Norman Mailer, Georgia O’Keefe, Baptists, Hindus, dry counties, John Courtney Murray, Christian bakers, orthodox Jews, accents, and punk rockers. The eccentric and the oddball, as well as the truly great, are increasingly less able to thrive. As Legutko observes, we have a monoculture filled with people whose “loutish manners and coarse language did not have their origin in communism, but, as many found astonishing, in the patterns, or rather anti-patterns that developed in Western liberal democracies.” The revolution didn’t devour its children; progressive-minded bureaucrats did.

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The New Robber Barons



Now from San Francisco to Washington and Brussels, the tech oligarchs are something less attractive: a fearsome threat whose ambitions to control our future politics, media, and commerce seem without limits. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Uber may be improving our lives in many ways, but they also are disrupting old industries—and the lives of the many thousands of people employed by them. And as the tech boom has expanded, these individuals and companies have gathered economic resources to match their ambitions.

And as their fortunes have ballooned, so has their hubris. They see themselves as somehow better than the scum of Wall Street or the trolls in Houston or Detroit. It’s their intelligence, not just their money, that makes them the proper global rulers. In their contempt for the less cognitively gifted, they are waging what The Atlantic recently called “a war on stupid people.”

I had friends of mine who attended MIT back in the 1970s  tell me they used to call themselves “tools,” which told us us something about how they regarded themselves and were regarded. Technologists were clearly bright people whom others used to solve problems or make money. Divorced from any mystical value, their technical innovations, in the words of the French sociologist Marcel Mauss, constituted “a traditional action made effective.” Their skills could be applied to agriculture, metallurgy, commerce, and energy.

In recent years, like Skynet in the Terminator, the tools have achieved consciousness, imbuing themselves with something of a society-altering mission.


Joel confuses two issues but both are worth highlighting.

The first point is the political power that these new Robber Barons have acquired and use.  Like the Robber Barons of a century ago they acquired political power through the rapid accumulation of massive wealth.  I would add that they acquired this wealth at a very early age which gives them powered untempered by either wisdom or humility.

Unlike the Barons from the previous era they have acquired control of vast networks of individuals (Google, Facebook) with the ability to influence in ways that traditional media and political power brokers could not.  As more and more people get their information from these social networks and each other this has become a unique power that we are only now coming to grips with. In one way they challenge the old media monopolies; and in another way they create new powers to influence.

The second point Kotkin makes is that their new enterprises contribute far less to the increase in overall economic productivity than prior industrial titans did. This reinforces arguments from the left that economic activity and increases in production suffers from structural changes and not the effects of regulatory and political policy that increases friction costs and stifles innovation.  But should we blame the lack in increase in growth and productivity on one sector on the success of another sector?

The problems created by monetary and policy management failures are not the fault of the success of Google and Facebook. To reach this conclusion is to accept zero sum thinking. Perhaps the gains in productivity have simply not YET to be actualized. And perhaps the renewal of growth in the traditional sectors combined with the new technologies of the new sector will stimulate a growth that will dazzle us.

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Best Rebel Yid 2016 – First Six Months


These are some of the best articles that stood out to me so far this year- and a few of mine .

America Doesn’t Have a Gun Problem; It Has a Democrat Problem from Sultan Knish

Chicago’s murder rate of 15.09 per 100,000 people looks nothing like the American 4.2 rate, but it does look like the murder rates in failed countries like Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. To achieve Chicago’s murder rate, African countries usually have to experience a bloody genocidal civil war.

But Chicago isn’t even all that unique. Or the worst case scenario. That would be St. Louis with 50 murders for 100,000 people. If St Louis were a country, it would have the 4th highest murder rate in the world, beating out Jamaica, El Salvador and Rwanda.

Obama won St. Louis 82 to 16 percent.

 People Aren’t Widgets by Kevin Williamson

 But every expensively miseducated jackass who thinks he should be president of these United States has an opinion about what a bottle of grape soda ought to cost in Des Moines or Dixville Notch. The assumptions in Washington are the same as those in Beijing: that everything is subject to political power, that it all comes down to having the right sort of enlightened rulers with the right sort of enlightened ideas, that everything else — the real world — is detail. But human beings, and their relationships, are not electrical circuits. They are not governed by circuit breakers. Not in reality.

 You Know Less Than You Think About Guns from Brian Doherty at Reason

 More guns do not necessarily mean more homicides. More gun laws do not necessarily mean less gun crime. Finding good science is hard enough; finding good social science on a topic so fraught with politics is nigh impossible. The facts then become even more muddled as the conclusions of those less-than-ironclad academic studies cycle through the press and social media in a massive game of telephone. Despite the confident assertions of the gun controllers and decades of research, we still know astonishingly little about how guns actually function in society and almost nothing at all about whether gun control policies actually work as promised.

 What Trump Doesn’t Understand — It’s a Lot — about Our Trade Deficit with China by Kevin Williamson at National Review

Our trade deficit with China isn’t a product of the Chinese getting rich — it’s a product of their being poor. We will not have more-balanced trade with China until Chinese people have a standard of living that is more like that of Americans. Putting a 45 percent tax on American shoppers and people who build computers in the United States (you know who does that? Lenovo, a Chinese company) or build robotics systems using some imported components isn’t going to change any of that. What’s worse, it will exacerbate one of the real problems that U.S-based firms do face: relatively high business taxes. Remember, much of that Chinese trade deficit comes from electronic equipment and industrial machines used by American companies rather than from cheap plastic waterguns, and Trump wants to put a 45 percent materials-and-equipment tax on top of the 40 percent they pay in corporate income taxes.

 Political Trade Schools

 There is no reason that intellectual values cannot be appreciated by a larger segment of our population.  There is no reason that intellectual values should be limited to a small segment of the academic elite. But to have a true development of academic virtues, higher education should be independent of both commercial and political interests.  The only thing worse than the expense of higher education in its pursuit of intellectual independence would be to make it free.

  The Traditionalist Rebel

 Leftist movements begin with rebellion and end with conformity. No Utopian movement can tolerate rebels for long because there is no room for dissent in paradise. An ideal society, the goal of leftist political movements, not only has no room for war, racism, greed and all the other evils the conformist paradises of the left hope to eliminate, it also has no room for disagreement.

The Progressive Itch to Regulate Free Speech

 Sanders and Clinton detest the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which they say their court nominees will promise to reverse. It held that unions and corporations — especially incorporated advocacy groups, from the National Rifle Association to the Sierra Club — can engage in unregulated spending on political advocacy that is not coordinated with candidates or campaigns. The decision simply recognized that Americans do not forfeit their First Amendment rights when they come together in incorporated entities to magnify their voices by speaking collectively.

If corporations had no rights of personhood, they would have no constitutional protections against, for example, the arbitrary search and seizure by government of their property without just compensation. And there would be no principled reason for denying the right of free speech (the First Amendment does not use the word “person” in guaranteeing it) to for-profit (e.g., the New York Times) or nonprofit (e.g., the NAACP) corporations.

 Please Lie to Us by Mona Charen

 Truth serum: Our problems arise from demanding too much of government. We, the middle class, have asked government to make sure everyone (no matter how credit unworthy) can buy a house. We’ve demanded that government bring down the prices of health care and education — with the result that those two sectors have seen the steepest price increases of any in the American economy. We’ve demanded that corporations pay the highest tax rates in the developed world in the mistaken belief that someone else pays those taxes (when in fact we all pay through higher prices or in the loss of jobs as companies relocate to business-friendlier countries). We’ve demanded that disability payments become the new welfare, and that political connections substitute for merit among businesses. Every time we vote for a candidate who promises to go to Washington to “fight for you” rather than to shrink government, we’re voting for the kind of corruption that we claim to despise. We’re empowering those who excel at manipulating political power for private gain.

 Engineering Better Voters by Kevin Williamson at National Review

 Progressives are a funny bunch in that they do sincerely believe that government should be empowered, almost without limitation, to do the will of the People, who are sovereign, but they imagine that the People speak with one voice, or at least that they should speak with one voice. When the People get froggy and refuse to fall in line behind, say, the Affordable Care Act, which the best experts drew up on behalf of the People, who (so the story goes) gave Barack Obama a mandate to reform health care, then something must be wrong. And we all know what that is: Too much debate and too much political discourse including too many voices, some of which — those of Charles and David Koch, for instance — must be silenced in order for the People to be heard as one voice, the way it was intended. (No, we are not allowed to ask: Intended by Whom?) So we arrive at the strange situation in which the Left desires maximal formal participation in democratic processes but heavy restriction of everything ancillary to those processes, most especially political speech.

  Don Boudreaux comments on Matt Ridley’s The Evolution of Everything In his Quotation of the Day on 7/1/16

 And then in the 18th century a few pioneering scholars (featuring prominently Adam Smith) – and of course building on insights from earlier scholars – stumbled upon (!) what is surely the single most important insight in all of the social sciences, and what is surely among the most important in all of the sciences – namely, that complex, productive, beautiful, and sustainable orders emerge undesigned and unplanned and undirected.  A corollary of this insight is that these orders are practically impossible to improve with conscious intervention.

Our minds do not naturally grasp this reality.  In fact, our minds rebel against this reality.  But that this reality is our world I am completely convinced.  (Do you doubt it about the economy?  Then tell me who designed and directs the order that will feed today the millions of people who live in, work in, and visit New York City.  Tell me who designed and directs the order that produced the shirt you now wear.  We can debate the necessity or not of state-funded research, state-built infrastructure, and state-created and enforced law.  Yet even on the most generous estimation of the importance of such collectively arranged inputs, the complexity of the order that feeds New York City and that clothes you daily is inconceivably greater than anything that the most magnificent and munificent state can have planned or even foreseen.)

The orders that emerge unplanned in society are no more perfect than are the orders that emerge unplanned in non-sentient nature.  Change is therefore incessant and necessary.  Life and existence is a process.  And while appreciation of the creative power of bottom-up, decentralized ordering methods isn’t natural to us, we humans perhaps never display as much genius and intellectual humility as we do when we grasp the reality and logic of spontaneous orders.


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Knee Jerk Gun Control- Part II


America has a gun problem. We can argue if the guns are a symptom of a crime problem, a cultural problem or a terrorist problem; or if they are a cause.  But we can certainly agree that we would like to reduce violent gun deaths. We can likely agree that we would like to avoid the availability of weapons of any kind to get in the hands of terrorists or the psychotically deranged.

But as a matter of policy it is more productive to properly analyze a problem than to respond emotionally or haphazardly to a tragedy such as Orlando.

Gun critics compare the gun deaths in America to other countries such as in Europe where there is no second amendment and most weapons are unavailable to the public.  But we should understand that such a comparison between a large land mass with 50 states with widely diverse cultures and population to a small homogenous population is of limited use.  There is a diverse range of gun control statutes that vary not only among the states but also differ among communities within the states.  Chicago and Washington, DC have locally restrictive gun laws.

It is far more useful to compare statistics of gun violence among the states.  Police use crime stats to target assets to the location of the problem.  We find that gun violence is concentrated in relatively few areas, mostly large urban areas. When these areas are removed the rate of gun violence for the rest of the country drops considerably, even in areas where the incidence of gun ownership is very high.

Gun rights supporters like to point out that Chicago with strict gun control measures has much higher gun violence that other cities with much less regulation. This is largely irrelevant. What we should ask is if the regulations in Chicago has reduced gun crime from the period before the regulations were instituted. If these regulations have failed to reduce gun violence, then perhaps other solutions in law enforcement should be considered. Blaming the access of guns from neighboring states may explain a few instances but it also points to the futility of only relying on the access to weapons in controlling the problem.

We should also distinguish between the classification of gun crimes. The common gun crime perpetuated by a single criminal is the larger source of deaths, and this can be addressed with restricted access and better background checks, since so many in this category have criminal backgrounds.  There are many laws on the books already to enforce this that are unfortunately poorly enforced.

But the psycho shooters and terrorists pose different threats and requires different solutions.   This may entail profiling in ways that challenge civil libertarians, but such a laws could be tried for a limited period like The Patriot Act, requiring reauthorization by Congress.  This will discourage the abuse of the law by the enforcement agencies.

Stronger straw man laws severely penalizing those who buy for others with known risks can decrease access to dangerous felons, but this can be tricky.  Could you buy a gun for someone as a gift who then shoots someone 5 years later and then be held liable?

Expanded background checks, and licensing gun buyers would also help.

But there are two tactics that will not help.  Relying on the second amendment to avert any restriction is not productive. Nor is the demonization of the second amendment as a 250-year-old relic of the constitution.  Beyond the practical aspects of gun ownership there is something profound about a government that can trust its citizens to be armed.  The government has nothing to fear from its armed citizens, because they rise and fall not from armed insurgency but from the sacredness of the ballot box.

While restricting the sale or availability of certain weapons or high capacity clips may seem productive, the existence of so many of these weapons renders this approach ineffective unless you intend to engage in a massive confiscation of these weapons in all 50 states that are overwhelmingly in the hands of law abiding citizens.  I can not picture agencies that are unable to enforce the existing laws being able to carry out such a task, and I can not imagine the population complying.

Those who call for such confiscation only embolden the opposition who sense that every effort to reduce gun access to anybody is only a step on the slippery slope to confiscation.

Pistols are far more common than assault weapons in gun violence and almost equally deadly. Identifying an assault weapon as such is not as obvious as you may think.  Such weapons are used in a very small per cent of gun deaths; banning then and even confiscating them (if you could) would have minimal effect on gun deaths.

We are emotional creatures and responding emotionally to such tragedies is expected, but it is not the way to enact effective solutions.