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Conclusions and Decisions


We have observed how one can use irrefutable facts to reach the precisely wrong conclusion.  It happens when we assume away real personal biases, emotionally attach to models and narratives, or are blinded by a delusional sense of moral superiority.

But can the opposite be true? Can one use fuzzy ideas, even if filled with rational and emotional bias, to reach correct conclusions or solutions that work remarkably well?

I suppose the answer is yes. The difference is the distinction between rational and rationalization.  Often the first case is an action of rationalization where the irrefutable facts are selected to reach the obvious conclusion which is sometimes wrong.  This is most obvious when we encounter an overwhelming consensus in a problem with a large number of complex variables. Rational can be the opposite of rationalization.

In our obsession with numerical data to support policy decisions, we ignore or obscure fuzzy ideas which are yielding superior results. It may pay to follow a successful solution we do not understand than to insist on a data driven prescription that we delude ourselves to accept as an irrefutable outcome.

Philosophies sometimes form to explain how and why the successful ideas worked after the fact.

In my experience bad decisions have common starting points.  The first is an arbitrary deadline.  In the modern age, business moves at an incredible speed and delays can be deadly.  But not every decision is a life or death decision and this drive to make every decision existential derives from a delusional sense of urgency, often to serve a leader’s fragile ego. In politics ruling parties fear the ever shifting winds of election cycles that will close the window of opportunity to pass important regulations and laws.  It is worth noting how many small problems seem to solve themselves if given the time.

Easily reversible decisions should be made relatively quickly, but irreversible decisions should be well thought out, and can be served from diverse input, or from the single perspective of a true visionary leader.  But such rare perspective usually comes from a period of experience and study that does not necessarily correlate with age.  There is a distinct difference between 10 years of experience and one year of experience repeated ten times.

Fear and greed can incite speed and recklessness.

Another enabler of bad decisions is moral supremacy.  When we think we are on a moral mission we find it easy to dismiss dissenting voices.  Worse, when we demonize an opposition, especially in the light of a recent failure, we often fail to learn the lessons of their failure and stand to repeat them. It is much easier to discredit and criticize as incompetent or evil than to recognize and understand the thought process and views that led to the moment.

Moral supremacy may lead to immoral outcomes. To quote C.S. Lewis,

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

There is evil in the world, and it usually persists until a greater force overwhelms it.  But we excessively demonize others among us that share many of the same values.  Russel Jacoby in Bloodlust, noted this as the narcissism of minor differences.  Examples are the Protestant /Catholic conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Sunni/ Shiite conflicts in the Middle East and the partisan conflicts in this country.

We may be unable to lose the human frailties that affect our conclusions and decisions.  We can only try to overcome them with the virtues we also possess, starting with humility.


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The Liberal Vice Squad

Kevin_Williamson (1)

from the prolific Kevin Williamson at National Review, A Nation of Vice Principals:

Where the Left has power, it will use that power to try to crush dissent, debate, and criticism. It isn’t conservative student groups chasing nonconformist speakers off of college campuses or demanding indoctrination sessions. But it isn’t just the campus P.C. police, either. No, it’s the real police, too.

When the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not ban the showing of a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton, practically every Democrat in the country lined up behind efforts to censor that movie, and Harry Reid introduced a bill into the Senate repealing the First Amendment in order to facilitate such censorship. Mrs. Clinton of course supports banning films critical of her, but so does Bernie Sanders. Senator Elizabeth Warren idly dreams of prosecuting corporate executives who think — imagine! — that they can go around “saying whatever they want about Washington policy debates.”

The people who have the audacity to call themselves “liberals” are busily building an emerging police state. Don’t look for the heroic entrepreneurs behind Facebook or Twitter to spread the word about that.

The question is no longer whether conservatives will be marginalized and stigmatized on university campuses but whether Mrs. Clinton and Harry Reid will succeed in having them imprisoned for their views. The question is no longer one of manners and intellectual honesty on college campuses but whether Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will succeed in instituting federal censorship of political speech under the guise of “campaign-finance” regulation. The Left has been very clear in its aims: Defending the government’s position during the Citizens United arguments, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm L. Stewart told Justice David Souter that the law should allow for banning books if the government decides those books constitute illegal political advocacy. The fact that money changes hands when a book is commissioned, printed, and distributed makes that a “campaign-finance” issue.


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Not So Plain and SImple

I rarely comment on Facebook posts but this one deserves a comment IMO:

“When a faithfully married black president who was the son of a single-mother, the first black editor of Harvard Law review and a professor of constitutional law is considered unintelligent, immoral, and anti-American by the right while a xenophobic, misogynistic, “serial philandering”, trust fund kid who quotes from the National Enquirer, peddles conspiracy theories, routinely calls women ugly and fat, calls McCain a loser for having been a prisoner of war, and who has advocated torture and the bombing of women and children has captured the hearts of a majority of Republican. This is white supremacy folks. Plain and simple.”

Not surprisingly this comes from a page called Being Liberal and generally celebrates modern liberalism. But similar stuff comes from the right. My response:

I am no supporter of Trump, but I do not think he is racist or misogynistic in spite of very clumsy comments that one could easily use to draw that conclusion.  The problem with this approach is unfortunately too common to the left. By painting the opposition is such immoral tones they avoid the task of understanding what is driving this phenomenon.

It is much easier to find insults than to understand that a portion of the populations feels omitted from the political process, have not seen a raise in several years, are worried about the debt and are concerned about the degeneration in values.

I could point out the fallacy of selecting the best qualities of Obama, while selecting the worst qualities of Trump, or the framing of the statement to reach a preordained conclusion about racism. This is how irrefutable facts can lead to erroneous conclusions.

Such rants are great for confirming the views of those already so inclined and worthless for convincing anybody else. Facebook and Twitter thrives on political comments with no depth.

By insisting on making it about racism, you blind yourself to the greater problem and it is not just with the Republican Party.


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A Progressive Primer

hko in Israel

I was asked last night how I described a Progressive-  

The Progressives as described by Wilson believed that the Constitution was deeply flawed; that natural and individual rights were not permanent fixtures of our system of government, that they were merely contingent on the times and served the needs of the expansion west but were no longer relevant. Wilson saw the Constitution as an unnecessary restraint on the proper use of government to fix the ills of society, rather than a tool to protect  the cause of liberty and individual rights. I believe this attitude remains with today’s progressives.

Wilson also believed in greater democracy, pushing for popular election of Senators. He spoke of a unified will (a fascist sounding term to me) obscuring any difference among the electorate of what should be done and how.  Yet he also spoke of the need for a strong leader to tell the electorate what they wanted. He described it as I would describe a populist demagogue though that is my word and not his.

While pushing for greater democracy he also believed that the administrative state should be kept away from politics and run by an educated elite.  The dark side of this was the rise of eugenics; a movement facilitated by a new educated elite with eugenics programs in over 350 colleges. Wilson’s own racism is well known.

Before Wilson the Progressives stood against the power of the large trusts and corporation and the corruption that sometimes followed. They stood for regulations of food and drugs, worker’s safety and benefits for workers such as workmen’s comp and shorter hours.  Teddy Roosevelt weighed the benefits accruing from many large corporations against the power and problems emanating from them. Brandeis thought all big companies should be broken up; but he also wanted the government to adopt many of the ‘scientific management ‘techniques of the new big industrial entities.

I consider Robert DeFollette a founder of the Progressive movement. Teddy believed in the power of the federal government particularly in the area of National Parks and resources, but he stood strong on the need for individual responsibility. TR evolved into a Progressive while in office.  It was Wilson who created the intellectual framework for what it became.

FDR framed the movement in different terms- citing the need  to use the power of government to EXTEND the benefits of the constitution rather than to oppose the intellectual basis of the constitution. (TR spoke of the Progressive movement similarly.) FDR was able to exchange the term ‘liberal’ for progressive.  Thus the classical liberal that stood for individual rights and a smaller state became the new conservative and the progressive became the modern liberal.

Under FDR and though LBJ the administrative state joined with the welfare state to further the size of government.

The progressive movement was fed by the creation of Keynesian macroeconomics which relied on the government to manage the economic cycles, and by the school of Pragmatism (capital P) which dismissed political and economic principles and theories to the needs of the moment.

IMO opinion the early progressives sought needed changes and struggled to do so in the context of the constitutional structures.  But when they sought to change the structure of the government and expand the administrative state they stumbled and burdened economic growth unnecessarily. This was largely covered by the needs of the War including the cold war and the market advantage we had for decades after.  The Reagan Clinton Years was largely a rejection of the Progressive mindset but more accurately only kept it from advancing for a few decades.

W Bush and Obama are the start of the third stage.

In my biased mind the Progressive movement today is characterized by:

  1. Excessive regulatory state
  2. Welfare state with the inability to articulate any limits
  3. Pragmatism and short term focus
  4. Crony Capitalism
  5. Centralized decision making ( as opposed to federalism)
  6. Moral Supremacy- ends justify the means thinking- Gruberism- inaccurate and biased self-serving analysis
  7. Political correctness. Intellectual intolerance.

I think the movement has difficulty distinguishing the need to update the mechanics of the constitution from the respect and preservation of its moral and intellectual roots.

The regulatory state needs fewer, clearer and more strongly enforced rules.  We cannot return to the welfare state of 1935, but there must be some clearly reinforced limits. After 100 years of progressivism, I am not sure how much progress we have made in corruption, inequality and reducing poverty.

Poverty has been redefined up- there are far fewer cases of physical deprivation, but at the expense of soul crushing dependency and personal stagnation.

And finally this Keynesian idea that the economy and its players can be controlled and manipulated like the levers and valves of a machine is exhausted. The debt must come under control.

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Self Consuming Democracy

from The Federalist How John Roberts Begat Donald Trump by Ilya Shapiro

It’s such a shame, and deeply ironic. A constitutional moment had actually arrived in 2010. Remember, the people had risen up against crony capitalism, against bailouts and out-of-control government in every aspect of our lives. Real constitutionalists were sent to Congress—Massachusetts even elected a Republican senator in a bid to stop Obamacare—and state legislatures turned red based on opposition to federal overreach.

The last domino, the White House, was poised to fall, too—would have already if any A-list constitutionalist had run in 2012—with the most talented and intellectually vibrant GOP primary field since Ronald Reagan ran unopposed in 1984. But then Roberts ushered in the Trump tornado. Constitutional conservatism simply couldn’t survive judicial conservatism. The genteel Roberts and the vulgar Trump thus have one thing in common: a belief that judges should stop striking down laws and just let political majorities rule, individual liberty be damned.

Instead of teaching the people that our republican form of government works, we’re left with the false empowerment of a self-consuming democracy.* Comes now our own Peron, leading his modern-age descamisados down the road to a “Great America” that could genuinely have existed if Roberts had only done his job.