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Monday
Mar012010

Ladies and Gentlemen, Leftism

Al Gore penned an editorial about (surprise!) climate change in the NYT this weekend. It is pretty typical Al Gore boilerplate global warming material. However, one sentence, out of an entire editorial of rank leftism, stuck out as a crystal clear picture of the true identity and inherent problem with leftism. 

Gore wrote, "From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption."

Ok. Deep breath. Read again.

"From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption."

Ok. To be fair, let's see it in context.

"Over the years, as the science has become clearer and clearer, some industries and companies whose business plans are dependent on unrestrained pollution of the atmospheric commons have become ever more entrenched. They are ferociously fighting against the mildest regulation — just as tobacco companies blocked constraints on the marketing of cigarettes for four decades after science confirmed the link of cigarettes to diseases of the lung and the heart.

Simultaneously, changes in America’s political system — including the replacement of newspapers and magazines by television as the dominant medium of communication — conferred powerful advantages on wealthy advocates of unrestrained markets and weakened advocates of legal and regulatory reforms. Some news media organizations now present showmen masquerading as political thinkers who package hatred and divisiveness as entertainment. And as in times past, that has proved to be a potent drug in the veins of the body politic. Their most consistent theme is to label as “socialist” any proposal to reform exploitive behavior in the marketplace.

From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption. After all has been said and so little done, the truth about the climate crisis — inconvenient as ever — must still be faced.

The pathway to success is still open, though it tracks the outer boundary of what we are capable of doing. It begins with a choice by the United States to pass a law establishing a cost for global warming pollution."

Ok. Not much better.

There is so much wrong with this it is hard to know where to begin. So rather than drag out the hundreds of quotes and political philosophers and other source material to combat the notion that the government is an instrument of human redemption, I'm simply going to let the absurdity of Gore's prose stand alone. 

So much of leftism is often cloaked in legitimate good intentions and moralistic language, that it is difficult to make the case that the very philosophies and policies that leftists espouse would lead to the opposite of their desired goals. But occasionally there are moments of clarity. When John Kerry said there should be a "global test" to determine when the U.S. should go into armed conflict, this was a rare moment of clarity. When Barack Obama said we need to "spread the wealth around," another rare moment of clarity. As was Walter Mondale's promise to raise everyone's taxes when running against Reagan in 1984. Al Gore gave us another one this weekend.

Thank you Mr. Gore, in your effort to rally folks to your cause, you have given us a rare, unadulterated glimpse into the leftist soul. A soul that, apparently, can only be redeemed by good government and the correct leftist laws and policies.

 

 

Saturday
Feb202010

Health Care and the Role of Government

Despite earlier reports to the contrary, new rumors suggest Democrats are still planning to pass Obama’s healthcare overhaul with budget reconciliation, a move that would essentially allow Democrats to ram through healthcare legislation with only 51 votes in the Senate.  The public outcry notwithstanding, it appears Democrats in the House and Senate have signed the suicide pact with Obama after all. 

What is missing in the healthcare debate (and in most debates about the Obama administration) is an argument about the proper role of government.  Obama seems to believe it is his job to determine what is best for the masses and set about convincing them his will in perfect.  If the masses cannot be convinced, it is because the masses are unable to see through the cynicism and petty arguments of the right.  Good thing we have Obama, standing outside the cave with Truth in hand, dictating his will on the people.

But is it the government’s job to give the people what they “need” or first determine what people want then set about providing it?  In economist Jude Wanniski’s political model, the electorate itself is “wiser than any of its component parts.”  “Great political ideas,” according to Wanniski, “are not those which can be sold to the people, but are those ideas which the electorate craves even prior to their conception by philosophers or politicians.”i   Applied to the healthcare debate, this model suggests Obama—in forcing his will against the opposition of the people—is no great political leader.  It is not leadership to ignore the advice of the crew while bearing full steam toward the glacier.

Still, there is something to be said for a politician at times doing what he or she believes is right, despite public outcry.  In some cases, leaders have more information and are better suited to determine a course of action.  In these times, it falls on the government to be open and forthright about its decisions, explain them clearly, and hope the American people come on board.  Backroom deals and secret negotiations rarely have the best interest of the people in mind.

Even though there is a time for government to buck the public, in most cases—especially in policy as personal as healthcare—the government should seek to establish open systems through which people can make their own choices about their own lives.  In this way, public policymakers can avoid interfering with the desires of the electorate.  In the case of healthcare, Americans may want a reformed system and most believe universal coverage is a noble goal.  But Americans don't agree with the anti-liberty agenda that is the foundation of Democrat healthcare plans.  If Obama truly wants to lead the American people, he would do well to listen to his critics, scrap his healthcare agenda, and give Americans what they want--a sensible, incremental, and open approach that reforms the system without sacrificing freedom.

 (i) Jude Wanniski, The Way the World Works, (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1998) 13.

Sunday
Jan242010

Obama is Not a Socialist

A Pew Research poll conducted in 2007 showed a growing number (54 percent) of Americans agreed with the statement: “Government should help the needy even if it means growing debt.”  According to the same poll, that trend corresponded to a widening gap of Americans who identified themselves with Democrats vice Republicans.  One year later, we elected Barack Obama. 

But that was before unemployment hit 10 percent and the economy failed to turn around.  As the bad news mounted, Americans returned to their senses and Obama’s opposition grew bolder, even declaring what many suspected all along—that Barack Obama was a socialist.

I don’t believe Barack Obama is a socialist. A socialist is one who fully supports public ownership of the means of production.  Obama is more likely an interventionist—a person who reluctantly admits the advantages of private ownership but believes government should intervene to rectify its evils. 

The problem, according to the late economist Ludwig Von Mises, is there really is no middle way between capitalism and socialism.  When an interventionist tries to control the market through “authoritarian decrees and prohibitions,” a spiral of unintended consequences ensues, forcing the government to either give up on its ambitions or pursue more intervention. 

As Mises points out, as difficulties mount interventionists are faced “with the alternative either of abstaining from all acts of intervention, and thereby leaving private property on its own, or of replacing private property by socialism.” [i]

Nowhere is this principle more evident than in the health care legislation.  Since Scott Brown ensured the death of government run health care, Democrats have had trouble envisioning comprehensive reform without government control. As the Wall Street Journal points out:

… the Administration and some Democrats seem to be pulling for a scaled-back plan that could command bipartisan support—the "core elements," as President Obama put it in a what-went-wrong interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. Here the problem is that they're basically all core elements. Most everything in ObamaCare as it stands is designed to "solve" a problem created by something else in the bill.

The regulations that would convert insurance companies into public utilities could easily create market death spirals in the majority of states that have been sensible enough to avoid those rules. Thus the requirement for a coercive and unpopular mandate that people buy coverage, which in turn is more expensive because of these regulations, which in turn requires hefty insurance subsidies, which in turn requires big tax increases.

"It turns out that a lot of these things are interconnected," Mr. Obama conceded…

As Obama is coming to see, interventionism isn’t as easy as advertised. The more he tries to bend the market to suit his idea of “social justice,” the more power he must grab and more mandates he must support. It’s no wonder many Americans believe he’s a socialist.

 


[i] Ludwig Von Mises, Liberalism: The Classical Tradition, (Indianapolis:  Liberty Fund, 2005), 144.

Sunday
Dec062009

The Debt of Nations

The greatest trick economists ever pulled was convincing the world that common sense doesn't exist. Armed with graphs and charts and stats and acronyms, the modern economist has spun a tale of confusion and left the public with little option but to trust economic "experts" and money men. Politicians have taken advantage of the confusion and left us with economic policy that ignores basic rules of human nature and common sense.

President Obama would like to continue that tradition. He--along with his economic advisors--are asking us to suspend reality still more. They want us to believe this brave new world requires new economic systems and theories administrated by an altruistic government. This is an unprecedented era, they say, leave it to us to uncover the secrets of monetary policy and apply our witchcraft to the economy.

Problem is there are no economic secrets. There really is nothing new under the sun. Resources are still limited, employment still created by surplus, and balanced budgets still prudent--all ideas we instinctively know. Where we get into trouble, however, is when we convince ourselves this time is different.

If Adam Smith were alive today, perhaps he would remind us this time is no different. Perhaps he would tell President Obama and his ilk that the world is best understood without economic models and statistics but rather through the lenses of experience, philosophy, and human understanding.

Below is an excerpt from Smith's economic treatise The Wealth of Nations. Published in 1776, the book presented a theory of economics that combined Smith's understanding of human nature with his knowledge of economics. The result was a defense of free market capitalism regulated but unhindered by government. Here are a few quotes from the book on public debt and taxes. Each is applicable today.

"The progress of enormous debts which at present oppress, and will in the long-run probably ruin, all the great nations of Europe, has been pretty uniform..."

"Like an improvident spendthrift, whose pressing occasions will not allow him to wait for the regular payment of his revenue, the state is in the constant practice of borrowing of its own factors and agents, and of paying interest for the use of its own money."

"To relieve the present exigency is always the object which principally interests those immediately concerned in the administration of public affairs. The future liberation of the public revenue, they leave to the care of posterity."

"When a nation is already overburdened with taxes, nothing but the necessities of a new war, nothing but either the animosity of national vengeance, or the anxiety for national security, can induce the people to submit, with tolerable patience, to a new tax. Hence the usual misapplication of the sinking fund."

"(Those who advocate borrowing and spending) do not consider that the capital which the first creditors of public advanced to the government, was, from the moment in which they advanced it, a certain portion of the annual produce turned away from serving in the function of a capital, to serve in that of a revenue; from maintaing productive labourers to maintain unproductive ones, and to be spent and wasted, generally in the course of the year, without even the hope of any future reproduction." (1)

1. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (New York: Random House, Inc., 1994), pp. 986, 988, 991, 998, 1002

Wednesday
Dec022009

Looking at Afghanistan with Sun Tzu

I am nothing close to a military expert. However, in light of President Obama’s Afghanistan troop decision, delivered in a speech last night, I thought it might be instructive to look at some passages from Sun Tzu’s classic military treatise The Art of War, published in the 6th Century BC. Let me also say that I think President Obama made the right decision regarding Afghanistan, and for that I am grateful.

The expert in battle seeks his victory from strategic advantage and does not demand it from his men.

This seems to be what Gen. McChrystal is seeking—a strategic advantage. That is why he asked for more troops. Iraq seemed to prove that soldiers can fight brilliantly but if the proper strategy is not in place then the war effort will likely be unsuccessful.

If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, the general is to blame.

This again goes along with the troop escalation decision last night. President Obama and Gen. McChrystal have now articulated a “clear and distinct” plan.

The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

Many have been concerned about President Obama’s abilities as commander-in-chief, sometimes rightly. However, it is to his credit that he has surrounded himself with knowledgeable people and appears to have, in this instance, made the right decision.

If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

I thought this was a chilling passage, as it appears to articulate al-Qaeda’s exact strategy in use against our forces.

It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

Do we know whom we’re fighting in Afghanistan, what winning means, and what our own capabilities are as it relates to Afghanistan?

Interesting fodder for thought. Feel free to draw your own conclusions and post them below.

 

(All quotes taking from The Art of War by Sun Tzu)