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Over Emphasis on Ideas

from Jonah Goldberg at National Review The Idiot Boys of Antifa and the Alt-Right

Intellectuals and ideologues of various stripes tend not to like these kinds of explanations, for the largely laudable reason that they make a living working with ideas (and partisans like to make hay wherever they can). This is why conservatives often place too much emphasis on bad left-wing ideas to explain the breakdown in morals, marriage, etc. As I’ve written many times before, the car and the birth-control pill have — for good and ill — done more to overturn settled institutions and customs than Nietzsche or Marx ever could. But pills and automobiles are hard to argue with, so like drunks searching for their car keys under the street lamp because that’s where the light is good, intellectuals focus on the stuff they can argue with.

Liberty and Unemployment

From Deirdre McCloskey in Reason Magazine, The Myth of Technological Unemployment

Helping the poverty-stricken is laudable. But we can’t subsidize 1.7 million people a month. Nor is job retraining a good idea when directed from above: The wise heads in Washington don’t know the future, and they’ll end up teaching people to be machinists for companies that won’t exist. Workers themselves know best how to retrain and relocate, as did the hundreds of thousands who moved to North Dakota during the brief oil boom there. We want the labor force to be as flexible as the capital force. And for that we need liberty, not government programs.

In the spirit of John Rawls, we should ask which society we’d rather enter at birth, without knowing where within that society we’d end up. One in which all jobs are protected, bureaucrats decide who gets subsidies and who doesn’t, and the economy slides, as France has, into stagnation and high levels of youth unemployment? Or one in which labor laws are flexible, individual workers decide their own futures, and the economy lifts up the poorest among us?

Choose, and then quit worrying about technological unemployment.

History Is Not Simple

From Jonah Goldberg at National Review, The Last Straw  

In the post-Charlottesville tumult, liberals have convinced themselves that the GOP is simply the face of institutional racism. Sadly, Donald Trump has made that an easy charge to levy. But as Kevin Williamson notes, this rush to tear down Confederate statues is really an example of the Democratic party cleaning up a mess it created. I’m reminded of something George Clooney said a decade ago: “Yes, I’m a liberal, and I’m sick of it being a bad word. I don’t know at what time in history liberals have stood on the wrong side of social issues.” One could be charitable and say, “It depends what you mean by liberal.” But as an institutional matter, the Democratic party’s history on race is far, far worse than the GOP’s. It breaks my heart that the GOP has allowed this to be forgotten. But as an historical matter, the idea that the party of Woodrow Wilson, Josephus Daniels, Robert Byrd, William Fulbright, Richard Ely, et al. has been the great bulwark against racism is laughable.

The simple truth is that history isn’t simple: The universe isn’t divided into the Forces of Goodness and the Forces of Evil. That divide runs through every human heart and, therefore, every human institution. Recognizing this fact is the first step toward humility and decency in politics and life. But we live in a tribal moment where people ascribe good and evil to vast swaths of humanity based upon the jerseys they wear. Sometimes, the jerseys do make the case. Wear a Klan hood or a swastika and I will judge the book by the cover. But just because you think you’re morally justified to punch a Nazi, don’t expect me to assume you’re one of the good guys.

The True Dynamic of Employment

From Deirdre McCloskey in Reason Magazine, The Myth of Technological Unemployment

In 1910, one out of 20 of the American workforce was on the railways. In the late 1940s, 350,000 manual telephone operators worked for AT&T alone. In the 1950s, elevator operators by the hundreds of thousands lost their jobs to passengers pushing buttons. Typists have vanished from offices. But if blacksmiths unemployed by cars or TV repairmen unemployed by printed circuits never got another job, unemployment would not be 5 percent, or 10 percent in a bad year. It would be 50 percent and climbing.

Each month in the United States—a place with about 160 million civilian jobs—1.7 million of them vanish. Every 30 days, in a perfectly normal manifestation of creative destruction, over 1 percent of the jobs go the way of the parlor maids of 1910. Not because people quit. The positions are no longer available. The companies go out of business, or get merged or downsized, or just decide the extra salesperson on the floor of the big-box store isn’t worth the costs of employment.

What you hear on the evening news is the monthly net increase or decrease in jobs, with some 200,000 added in a good month. But the gross figure of 1 percent of jobs lost per month is the relevant one for worries about technological unemployment. It’s well over 10 percent per year at simple interest. In just a few years at such rates—if disemployment were truly permanent—a third of the labor force would be standing on street corners, and the fraction still would be rising. In 2000, well over 100,000 people were employed by video stores, yet our street corners are not filled with former video store clerks asking for loose change.

Legitimizing Fascism of the Left

from Jonah Goldberg at National Review The Idiot Boys of Antifa and the Alt-Right

First of all, Stalinism was genocidal (so were Leninism, Maoism, Jacobinism, Pol Potism, etc.). The only legitimate retort to this is immorally legalistic. The Soviets successfully lobbied the U.N. to exclude the kinds of mass murder the Soviets were guilty of from the official definition of genocide.

Second, capitalism did not “give us chattel slavery.” I don’t know where it started, but people who peddle this line seem to think the word “chattel” only applies to American slavery. But all “chattel” means is “property,” and people kept slaves as property on every continent — save Antarctica — since the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution. The Ancient Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, Chinese, Native Americans, et al. all practiced “chattel slavery” for thousands of years. It even exists today in the Islamic State. You know who else had slaves? Stalin. If you want to call it “forced labor” that’s fine — though I doubt it would be a meaningful distinction to the millions sent into bondage by Stalin.

Third, the idea that an ideology being based on “equality” somehow exonerates it is ridiculous. It, of course, depends on what you mean by equality. Equality under the rule of law is the bedrock principle of liberal democracy. Enforced economic equality is the stuff of totalitarianism. And not just economic equality; if you’re confused on this point, you should read Harrison Bergeron.