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Transitional Politics

by Henry Oliner

Both parties are fragmented, trying to assemble a consensus from groups that do not want to concede.

Populist movements are defined by their demons. It is why they are prone to seduction by saviors.  They would settle for benevolent dictators; but when they are no longer benevolent they remain dictators. The framers of our Constitution understood this well and built a magnificent firewall against this option.

When they are unable to slay their main opponents, they will seek smaller dragons. This is when they turn on each other. Purity tests are used to express the narcissism of minor differences.

Having lost to Donald Trump in a defeat that is as illuminating as it is humiliating, the Democrats have splintered and doubled down on their costliest errors.  Instead of correcting the liabilities of identity politics, political correctness, and contempt they have relied more on them.  They are still silent on the economic issues that drove the working-class whites to Trump. They are still confounded that Trump did better with blacks and Hispanics and women than Mitt Romney.

They have resorted to the same sort of conspiracy theories the Republicans floated about President Obama. If the Russian collusion does not pan out then they will resort to his pathologies and unfitness for office. So far it seems as if the Russian investigation may entrap as many Democrats as Republicans.

Meanwhile the Republican are in in what Jonah Goldberg calls a Trump-22;

Republicans are stuck in a Trump-22 for as far as the eye can see. They cannot afford to alienate the core Trump base by being too critical of the president, and they cannot afford to alienate the Trump-critical elements in the party by being too supportive. So, like House speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, they have no choice but to focus on the policies that unite both constituencies. The problem, of course, is that absent a president who knows how to move an agenda through Congress, Congress is left looking both ineffectual and opportunistic at the same time.

Meanwhile the Democrats, who have their own populist challenges, see GOP dysfunction as an excuse not to remedy their own shortcomings — many of which made Trump’s victory possible.

These are confusing times where logical analysis is surrounded by opposing parties with no clear path of retreat. Trump is effectually a third party in Republican clothing. He has exposed a political diversity that always lay beneath the fragile consensus of the mythical two party system. It is Trump that has built the winning consensus that Peggy Noonan describes by being Lucky in His Enemies:

That most entrenched bastion of the progressive left, America’s great universities, has been swept by . . . well, one hardly knows what to call it. “Political correctness” is too old and doesn’t do it justice. It is a hysteria—a screeching, ignorant wave of sometimes violent intolerance for free speech. It is mortifying to see those who lead great universities cower in fear of it, attempt to placate it, instead of stopping it.

When I see tapes of the protests and riots at schools like Berkeley, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna and Yale, it doesn’t have the feel of something that happens in politics. It has the special brew of malice and personal instability seen in the Salem witch trials. It sent me back to rereading Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible.” Heather Mac Donald danced with the devil! Charles Murray put the needle in the poppet! As in 17th-century Salem, the accusers have no proof of anything because they don’t know, read or comprehend anything.

The cursing pols, the anathematizing abortion advocates, the screeching students—they are now the face of the progressive left.

Trump does not have to outrun the tiger, just the other hiker.

The left seems intent to preserve what cost them the election, hoping that Trump will eventually self-implode. They may want to develop a backup plan.

On the other side of this conflict is not a victor but a transition to a new consensus that will share aspects of our constitutional heritage, free markets and progressive commitments.  I remain optimistic that the outcome will be the better features of our political heritage and not the worst.

The Critical Difference Between Good and Bad Regulation

Mark Levin is a rabid right wing radio talk show host.  Because I at least scan about any title with the word progressivism in it, I viewed his latest book Rediscovering Americanism: and the Tyranny of Progressivism and was pleasantly surprised at the depth of his topic. His study of the origin of natural rights, his survey of the philosophers like Montesquieu who influenced the founders and framers, and his review of the changes in our fundamental governing ideas that came with progressivism make this a very worthy read.  Its depth is surprising and at least for me required a slow reading.

Kevin Williamson at National Review wrote an excellent review in Rediscovering Austrianism and focused further on Levin’s distinction between our constitutional heritage and progressivism:

Levin applies the Hayekian standard to the case of regulation. Hayek, a classical liberal who gave a great deal of thought to the mode and character of economic regulation, argued that there were sure to be cases in which the conditions for market competition could not be created or maintained. What economic liberals (funny word, “liberals”) could not accept, in Hayek’s view, was the replacement of functioning market competition with “inferior methods of coordinating individual efforts.” What this means, Levin argues, is that the alternative to progressivism is not doctrinaire libertarianism but political action within the context of government power, particularly federal power, operating within its properly understood role. “Regulations informed by America’s founding principles and instituted for the limited but significant purpose of nurturing, improving, or promoting private property and economic vibrancy are both prudential and essential to safeguarding individual liberty and the civil society,” Levin writes. But regulations organized along other lines — “schemes to fundamentally transform society” as he describes them — are something else, inevitably put forward in the service of “progressive ideology, special interests, crony capitalism, etc.” and constituting “a perversion and abuse of legitimate governing authority.”

Free societies are delicate things, and they are based on complex economic and social systems that are not the design of any single intelligence and not subject to reform or management by any single intelligence. Hence, it is necessary, as EPA administrator Scott Pruitt likes to put it, for regulation to be regular. That means developing rules that are broad, stable, generally applicable, predictable, and oriented toward general social ends rather than toward highly specific political goals. (E.g., “We’ll generate x percent of our energy from solar and wind by year y.”)

HKO

This is an admission that markets are imperfect and necessary conditions may be hard to maintain. But it does not mean than any centrally planned government intrusion is preferable.  If market forces are not delivering what is wanted in an acceptable time frame (patience is rarely a good campaign slogan), then the best alternative is to fund the outcome as directly and as transparently as possible. Even then policy makers should be keenly aware of the consequences of usurping normal market functions and incentives.

The worst solution is to imagine that any centrally planned agency or bureaucracy can engineer or maintain a complex economic system that will serve all needs.

Hayek warned, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

The Perversion of Individualism

Mark Levin is a rabid right wing radio talk show host.  Because I at least scan about any title with the word progressivism in it, I viewed his latest book Rediscovering Americanism: and the Tyranny of Progressivism and was pleasantly surprised at the depth of his topic. His study of the origin of natural rights, his survey of the philosophers like Montesquieu who influenced the founders and framers, and his review of the changes in our fundamental governing ideas that came with progressivism make this a very worthy read.  Its depth is surprising and at least for me required a slow reading.

Kevin Williamson at National Review wrote an excellent review in Rediscovering Austrianism and focused further on Levin’s distinction between our constitutional heritage and progressivism:

Levin quotes Hayek at length on this:

The unwillingness to tolerate or respect any social forces which are not recognizable as the product of intelligent design, which is so important a cause of the present desire for comprehensive economic planning is indeed only one aspect of a more general movement. We meet the same tendency in the field of morals and conventions, in the desire to substitute an artificial for the existing languages, and in the whole modern attitude toward processes which govern the growth of knowledge. The belief that only a synthetic system of morals, an artificial language, or even an artificial society can be justified in an age of science, as well as the increasing unwillingness to bow before any moral rules whose utility is not rationally demonstrated, or to conform with conventions whose rationale is not known, are all manifestations of the same basic view which wants all social activity to be recognizably part of a single coherent plan. They are the results of the same rationalistic “individualism” which wants to see in everything the product of conscious individual reason. They are certainly not, however, a result of true individualism and may even make the working of a free and truly individualistic system difficult or impossible. Indeed, the great lesson which the individualist philosophy teaches us on this score is that, while it may not be difficult to destroy the spontaneous formations which are the indispensable bases of a free civilization, it may be beyond our power to reconstruct such a civilization once these foundations are destroyed.

(Hayek’s remarks about “artificial language” may seem odd to the modern reader unfamiliar with the Progressive Era political mania for things like Esperanto or the Communist project of “rationalizing” language, hilariously and terrifyingly parodied by Vaclav Havel in his play The Memorandum. But what is the modern project of political correctness if not the creation of an artificial language within English for the purpose of writing politics into the very tool of thought itself? E.g., the biological realities that bedevil women pretending to be men are recast as the curious case of “men who menstruate.” The more things change. . . . )

 

Rules Based Individualism

Mark Levin is a rabid right wing radio talk show host.  Because I at least scan about any title with the word progressivism in it, I viewed his latest book Rediscovering Americanism: and the Tyranny of Progressivism and was pleasantly surprised at the depth of his topic. His study of the origin of natural rights, his survey of the philosophers like Montesquieu who influenced the founders and framers, and his review of the changes in our fundamental governing ideas that came with progressivism make this a very worthy read.  Its depth is surprising and at least for me required a slow reading.

Kevin Williamson at National Review wrote an excellent review in Rediscovering Austrianism and focused further on Levin’s distinction between our constitutional heritage and progressivism:

Levin considers the question of individualism and its variations, contrasting the progressives’ romantic version of individualism, rooted in Rousseau, with the richer understanding of individualism in the classical-liberal tradition, which he connects to the political ideas of John Adams. The choice before us can be difficult to understand at times: Do we have a national (or, as some progressives envision, worldwide) social plan, under which all economic and political activity is in some sense directed toward a set of unified goals in a conscientiously engineered and purportedly rational manner, or do we have a rules-based order under which individuals, firms, political parties, associations, etc., each pursue their own plans, leading to the development of a spontaneous order? This is, as Hayek points out and Levin emphasizes, distinct from what we might indicate by the modern usage of “libertarian,” distinct from what Hayek called “a dogmatic laissez faire attitude.” The rules-based order permits the emergence of vastly complex systems that are beyond the understanding of any individual or bureaucracy. That is the hard part for progressives to swallow, because they imagine themselves to be engaged in the “scientific” management of society.

HKO

Early progressives fought the notion of individualism, later progressives redefined it.  Progressives in the fist phase took an adversarial stance to constitutional principles. In the second stage under FDR, they more subtly reinterpreted the constitutional principles to justify the government power the Constitution sought to limit.

Pragmatic Liabilities

by Henry Oliner

The reason ideology is relevant in the health care debate is that at the core of the difficulty is the separation of pragmatic solutions from sound ideological support.

Our health care problem is an accumulation of short sighted policies considered in isolation from health care policy. Like adding bricks on a pickup truck we can keep adding beyond the load capacity, until we load just one brick too many, and then the suspension collapses and the truck cannot move. We will blame the last few bricks, the straw that broke the camel’s back, because they are the most visible; we have long forgot the ones on the bottom, but they are also to blame. “Every snowflake pleads innocent, but it is still an avalanche.”

When we seek government solutions were are subject to another adverse reality.  Political actors tend to promise benefits in exchange for votes, without paying for them.  In theory benefits are debated and funded from the Treasury, but with dramatically increased regulatory influence the government has exploited other options.

Our government has constructed a Rube Goldberg system of regulations, mandates, perverse incentives, cross subsidies, and wishful thinking to hide the costs from everyone, including themselves. Each component is crafted in isolation with no vision of the final product, another victim of pragmatism. Yet the failures are blamed on the market mechanism.  The problem is not that health care does not adequately respond to market conditions, as single payer supporters contend, but that it does.

These twin liabilities of political pragmatism are mere hosts to the thinking that has plagued our health care markets.