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No Train to Utopia

from Kevin Williamson in National Review, Plans, Trains, and Automobiles

Trains are the preferred mode of transit if your ideal is central planning. Automobiles are the preferred mode of transit if your ideal is spontaneous order. It is in the nature of trains that they tell you where to go; it is in the nature of automobiles (for the time being, at least!) that you tell them where to go. If you have ever lived in New York and relied on the trains to get around, then you understand both the virtues and defects of the planning model: If everything goes according to plan, the system works pretty well. When the plan breaks down — which it always does — it is a mess, often a mess that leaves you with no choice but to go outside the system for an alternative. (That fellow from the 19th century would probably think Uber is pretty nifty.)

Likewise, if you’ve spent much time in Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, or any American city that got most of its growth in the post–World War II era, then you appreciate the virtues and defects of the spontaneous-order life: The price of gasoline is unpredictable, traffic is terrible in some places (although here there is a bit of central planning to blame, too, in the form of Dwight Eisenhower’s ill-considered federal highway system), the cost of owning and maintaining a car is very burdensome for some people and introduces an unwelcome degree of financial uncertainty into their lives, some people insist on driving their F-350 Super Duty trucks 87 mph while swerving from lane to lane, suburban sprawl, etc.

Transit, like most everything else in life, is about trade-offs. There are many roads that lead to home and subways that will take you to the office, but there is no train to Utopia.

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True Health Care Reform

From Jeff Jacoby, Ditch Obamacare, and don’t stop there:

“Republicans want medicine to be inexpensive and effective,” commentator Mark Humphrey writes, “but they do not want to repeal the morass of regulations that make it expensive and ineffective.

Just so. But they can’t have one without the other — and without braving the political storms that have made such chaos of America’s health care and health insurance landscape.

If Republicans were serious, and willing to endure some political pain to reach a better outcome, they’d eliminate the tax deduction for employers who provide health insurance as part of employee compensation. They’d repeal laws that force insurers to cover a legislated array of medical benefits and treatments. They’d remove the barriers that restrict consumers in one state from purchasing health insurance across state lines.

And they’d break the destructive habit of treating health insurance as the logical and preferable way to pay for routine health care.

Were members of Congress to enact all that, they would be replacing a dysfunctional, expensive, and coercive environment with something vastly better: a robust, competitive market focused on the interests of consumers — not on the demands of the insurance cartel and the political class. They would be restoring the price transparency that has long been missing from health care. They would be encouraging medical providers and insurers to compete in earnest — which would inevitably lower prices and improve quality. They would be de-linking medical coverage from employment, and endowing tens of millions of Americans with the economic leverage that comes with choosing for themselves what policies they will buy and from whom. And they would be ending the crazy distortions caused by using health insurance to pay for regular, ordinary expenses — something we would never think of doing with automobile or homeowner’s insurance.


I agree with most of this, but I believe there needs to be some regulation on the pertinent pools to allow people to buy coverage with pre-existing conditions. They must however take the action and not be allowed to scam the system. It would be cheaper for the government to provide vouchers and simply buy the insurance to keep the poor in the pool. Recognize the costs and pay for it- don’t hide it behind mandates, regulations and wishful thinking.

The problem is not insuring for pre-existing conditions, it is doing so in a way that does not focus that cost on a small pool, and allows for gaming the system by only insuring during short term needs.

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The Mythical Will of the People

From Kevin Williamson at National Review, The Anglo-Americans:

Populism takes a different view: At the center of its concerns is the people — or, increasingly, the People. If populism meant only being good at the real-world application of democratic politics, that would be only an acknowledgment of the political reality that you have to win to govern. But it is not that. It is rather the latest reincarnation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “general will,” that nebulous motive that is the will of the People as interpreted by men with power, as opposed to the will of the People as revealed by what the People do when left to make their own choices and to bear the responsibility for those choices. We are always fighting the French Revolution, in one form or another.

The fundamentally irresponsible nature of the general will is one of the reasons we have a representative form of government rather than a strictly democratic one. But representation itself is held in some suspicion by the populists. If you ask someone, “What ought Representative Smith to do about this problem?” the answer you will usually get is: “He ought to do whatever his constituents want him to do, whatever the People want him to do.”

But that is exactly wrong: What he ought to do is not what the People want, but what is best for them: If there were no difference, then the representative would not be necessary — and neither would the Constitution. In reality, neither the emancipation of slaves in the 19th century nor freedom of speech in the 21st century would have survived a plebiscite. Neither would free trade, if we held the vote tomorrow, because the general will demands protection from a government that is, in John Kasich’s ghastly phrase, “America’s Dad.” It is strange that in the case of political representation, trusteeship is considered by so many condescending, whereas outright patronage is not considered patronizing.


Kevin treads into the critical difference between a republic and a democracy.  Progressivism is like socialism and fascism in their belief in a mythical general will.  Bending those who do not comply with the will of the people are subject to the power of government to force compliance. Democracy evolves into tyranny when we realize that the general will is not voiced from the people but TO the people by men in power. Democracy and demagogue share the same root.

Free market capitalism is a much more honest expression of the will of the people.

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The Intellectual Ghetto

Over the years, I discovered the difficulty of conversation with some people.  Interruptions can be annoying and often rude, but it often seems justified by a long-winded response or statement. We should avoid interruptions, but we should also avoid monopolizing the conversation.  A point of view should not be expanded into a lecture or a sermon; the difference being the imposition of moral supremacy. Shallow moral supremacy has earned the term ‘virtue signaling.’

Try this trick; when one does interrupt, avoid the temptation to elevate your voice and talk over them. Just stop talking. See if they return to you and ask you to complete your point.  I will bet that 90% of the time they do not.  This means they were not listening to you or uninterested in whatever you had to say.  If this happens more than a few times you will seek to avoid conversation with this person in the future.

Good conversationalists are interested in understanding before they seek to be understood.  Most just seek to be confirmed in their view.  This leads to our own conversational bubbles, a form of a self-induced intellectual ghetto.

On a larger scale this occurs in our national political conversation.  In an election that surprised so many, it is disconcerting how reluctant many are to try to understand what happened.  Many have fallen for blaming nefarious activities and conspiracy theories to avoid any consideration of an ideological shift.

Obama’s first victory was much easier to accept. The combination of the ill-fated Iraq War and the economic collapse on election eve constituted an insurmountable barrier.  But there were similar claims and conspiracies about Obama, beginning but not ending with the birther nonsense.  Some of us who considered his election a circumstantial fluke had to reconsider when he was re-elected.

Perhaps history, like economics, moves in cycles.  Adversity breeds action, action breeds success, success breeds complacency, and complacency breads collapse and adversity.

Listening with the intent to understand is the ultimate sign of respect. Without it we just increase our isolation and partisanship.  Demonizing and attributing pathologies to opposing views is just another way of not listening.


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Mock Liberalism

From Shelby Steele in the WSJ, The Exhaustion of American Liberalism

White guilt is not actual guilt. Surely most whites are not assailed in the night by feelings of responsibility for America’s historical mistreatment of minorities. Moreover, all the actual guilt in the world would never be enough to support the hegemonic power that the mere pretense of guilt has exercised in American life for the last half-century.

White guilt is not angst over injustices suffered by others; it is the terror of being stigmatized with America’s old bigotries—racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. To be stigmatized as a fellow traveler with any of these bigotries is to be utterly stripped of moral authority and made into a pariah. The terror of this, of having “no name in the street” as the Bible puts it, pressures whites to act guiltily even when they feel no actual guilt. White guilt is a mock guilt, a pretense of real guilt, a shallow etiquette of empathy, pity and regret.

It is also the heart and soul of contemporary liberalism. This liberalism is the politics given to us by white guilt, and it shares white guilt’s central corruption. It is not real liberalism, in the classic sense. It is a mock liberalism. Freedom is not its raison d’être; moral authority is.