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The Re-Introduction


from The National Review editors Hillary Forgets Herself:

But if you need a reintroduction to Mrs. Clinton, we will oblige: She is an opportunist without anything resembling a conviction with the exception of her unwavering commitment to abortion, a “public servant” who along with her husband grew vastly wealthy exploiting her political connections and renting access to everybody from Goldman Sachs to Vladimir Putin, a petty, grasping, vindictive, meretricious time-server whose incompetence and dishonesty have been proved everywhere from Little Rock to Benghazi.

Barack Obama, with his pen and his telephone — and his solid Democratic majorities during the first years of his presidency — did not actually do very much to revive American economic dynamism. He poured billions of dollars into pet projects for politically connected firms such as Solyndra and daffy green-energy projects that have not paid off while the ever-more-aggressive regulators under his control have applied something between a foot on the brake and a foot on the neck of the economy.

She was, of course, mostly maddeningly vague. To the extent that she ventured down from the lofty heights of moral preening and celebrating herself as a semi-divine agent of History, she mostly cleaved to her familiar list of free stuff and a proposal for punitive tax hikes on unpopular individuals, companies, and industries. Maybe there are some rubes out there who think that this will result in tuition-free college for “the middle class,” as though shifting around costs made things less expensive. (How’s that working out for your health care?)

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Progressivism is Regressive

from Cafe Hayek Quote of the Day Don Boudreaux comments on his excerpt from the excellent book Illiberal Reformers by Thomas Leonard

(Don’s comments)

Isn’t it, therefore, strange that those politicians, pundits, professors, and preachers who today wish to turn more power over to state administrators (and, hence, to reduce the range of market activities) call themselves – and are called by others – “Progressives”?  These champions of administration – these ‘men of system’ – are not progressive; they are regressive.  They are atavistic.  They peddle millennia-old superstitions; they work with outdated concepts; they possess an antediluvian faith in strong ‘leaders’; they have never learned the modern lesson of spontaneous order; they are haunted by archaic fears of people who are free to pursue their own ends, in their own manner, without supervision by overlords.

The modern world in which dignity for the first time began to be spread to ordinary people arose only a couple or three centuries ago.  The modern economy in which material and cultural riches for the first time began not only to increase steadily but also to be shared by ordinary people arose only a couple or three centuries ago.  True progress occurred not through a doubling-down on diktats from lords and ‘leaders’ and weapons-wielding commandants but from freeing ordinary individuals to choose and act as each chooses to act within an institutional framework of private property and contract law, and in a cultural setting in which shopkeepers, bankers, and factory owners are accorded at least as much respect as are generals, mandarins, and priests.  In other words, true progress occurred only when and only where the policies and procedures demanded by “Progressives” were rejected in favor of free minds and free markets.

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Reactionary Voters


One of the mistakes made in hiring is to over emphasize the failings or weakness of the person who previously filled the position.  You may be successful in obtaining characteristics that were weak before, but you may also lose strengths from before. We tend to take strengths for granted.

It is important to have clear written job descriptions with key measurables to avoid such errors.

I sense that in our political debates we have lost sight of the strengths we take for granted and have focused on the weaknesses of current office holders. We have become reactionary.

True, voting is different from hiring, and committees generally function poorly compared to competent experienced executives and managers.

But somewhere in that job description for our highest office is a knowledge and understanding of the constitution. An understanding means not just knowing what it says, but why it is in there and how it came to be. Somewhere in that description is a knowledge and understanding of our current policies, whether it is trade or foreign engagements.  Somewhere in that description is an understanding of economics, commerce and the political economy, and the management of a monetary system.  And somewhere in that description is a reference check of previous work that would verify the critical characteristic of trust.

Trust has two critical components: competence and character. Competence is the ability and knowledge to do the job, and character is the willingness to do the right thing.  We often confuse ability and knowledge with credentialsim, but they are not always related. Character includes honesty, humility, and transparency.  Character does not try to skate past accountability on legal and moral technicalities.

In an executive position trust is essential and I would guess that more executives are dismissed for breeches of character that incompetence.

They may have different positions on issues and offer different solutions, but those positions must be consistent with the knowledge, experience and trust required for the job.

In my opinion neither Trump nor Hillary would make it past a precursory first cut. I trust neither one, albeit for slightly different reasons.  Gary Johnson and Bill Weld would merit serious consideration.

Johnson and Weld face the strong headwinds any third party faces in a two party system. They are also tied to a party too few take seriously, most commonly because it is associated by the most extreme positions of its adherents.

They also face the problem of a reactionary voting populace who are only focused on the weaknesses of the current office holders. They are hiring without a job description.

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Capitalism Updated

George Gilder after signing my copy of Wealth and Poverty

George Gilder after signing my copy of Wealth and Poverty

Progressivism can be viewed as socialism lite, paying homage to the great progress of capitalism while acknowledging some of the limitations of a free market. Social and economic theories develop, mature and evolve as they face the hard tests of history and events.  In the competitive continuum between capitalism and socialism or progressivism we tend to compare our preferred idea and the other ideas from different points on the evolutionary scale.

Modern progressives certainly do not advocate the eugenics, prohibition and imperialism characteristic of the early days of the first era of Progressivism under Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, but they do still frame modern capitalism in in the social Darwinism of the Gilded Age.

The philosophy of capitalism has been advanced considerably beyond mere laissez faire and the invisible hand of Adam Smith.  George Gilder wrote in the noted Wealth and Poverty from the 1980’s, updated 20 years later with an additional 40,000 words, that capitalism is the competition of ideas. He expanded on the concept in Knowledge and Power, that capitalism works best when knowledge and power converge.  Government regulatory agencies have considerable power but lack sufficient knowledge to effectively regulate most of the time, and certainly lacks the knowledge to allocate capital as well as a ruthless but accountable market place.

Human foibles and failures which tarnish market choices do not disappear in the government sector and difficult decisions do not disappear when they are abdicated or delegated to the elected serving a limited term or to the bureaucracies which have escaped both control and accountability.

Gilder’s most recent book, The Scandal of Money, focuses on how our management of money is at the root of many of our social ills from inequality to economic stagnation.  He explains how our centralization and instability has led to the financialization and the hypertrophy of finance, pushing far too high a percent of our economic transactions into the financial sphere which is both unproductive and exacerbates inequality.

Deidre McCloskey in Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World caps off a trilogy (Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern WorldThe Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce) bringing a rich and thorough look from history and economics, examining the various developments that explain the rapid growth in human development in the last few hundred years.  Reading McCloskey takes a commitment, this work consumed ten years of her professional life.  It is a worthy, but not a light read.

Both of these gifted authors bring tremendous insight and development into modern economic thinking that goes far beyond the dated concepts of capitalism so commonly used by the left, but both of these authors challenge much of the thinking from the right as well.  Gilder is quite critical of some Milton Friedman’s monetarist thoughts, particularly on monetary velocity, and finds it similar in a few critical ways to Keynesianism.

Matt Ridley adds to this collection with his excellent The Evolution of Everything,  a lively view that spontaneous order applies to many facets of our lives other than evolution.

Perhaps these high minded views of our political economy are mere escapes from a political season mired in deceit and ignorance, but they still provide a much needed view of what actually works and what doesn’t before we continue to double down on failed policies. The challenge to our political class is to translate these ideas into policies that have meaning to modern voters. Toward that end I remain very skeptical but optimistic. History seems to be a march of human improvement, but not without some serious setbacks.

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Make Americans Great Again


from Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal, The Better Angels of Our Nature

When did the decline of American character begin? Maybe it was between July 1969, when two Americans walked on the moon, and a Saturday that August, when 400,000 Americans rolled in the mud at Woodstock. Maybe it was when that year’s commencement speaker at Wellesley said it was the mission of her generation to search “for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living.” Maybe it happened the night of January 14, 1970, when Leonard and Felicia Bernstein held a soiree for the Black Panthers, inaugurating the era of radical chic.

Or maybe the date came later, when American culture sanctioned the idea that self-actualization should count for more than your children’s emotional health. Or when bragging ceased to be considered uncouth, and ignorance ceased to be embarrassing, and lying ceased to be shameful, and the habits of understatement gave way to ever more conspicuous displays of wealth, desire, feelings, skin.

Whenever. Whatever. Pick your date and trend. Not everything that happened to the American character in the past 50 years is bad—we are more tolerant, more empathetic and more relaxed—but much of it undoubtedly is. If Republicans are going to spend the next few days talking about making America great again, shouldn’t part of that discussion also be about making Americans great again—or, at very least, making us better?