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Archive for January, 2012

Book Review

with 8 comments

I’m a little worried about the state of the blog posts today–the office is cold, and the Internet connection is doing what it does sometimes, where it’s not sure it really wants to be functioning, or something.

At any rate, it is functioning, for the next nanosecond, and so I’ll try to go from there. 

And first, I’ll give you an irony alert–you’ll see why at the end of the post.

But before that, let me say a couple of things.

First, jd seems to have misunderstood me.  I did NOT mean that the legislature would pass laws that said things like “the workplace should be safe.”

That would be, indeed, ambiguous and subjective.

Rather, I want the legislature to pass, as laws, what are now issued by unelected agencies as “regulations”–“raw meat and cooked  meat may not be stored in the same container,” for instance.

Unlike Mique, I do not think our legislative process is so “sclerotic’ that it could not cope with passing such laws in a timely manner.  I think claims of the sclerosis of legislatures is one of the many excuses we’ve had over the last 70 years or so for abandoning the democratic process for rule by regulator and ‘expert.” 

So let’s strip the agencies and departments of their ability to issue regulations and insist that any edict which is to have the force of law in a democratic country must be passed by a democratically elected legislature. 

And if it takes a little longer, that’s good.  That gives the citizens time to inspect what’s being passed in their name and decide whether it’s actually what they want.

What’s more, I would institute a legal principle that says if laws contradict each other–if you are breaking the law by doing A instead of B in one statue (or “regulation”), and breaking the law by doing B instead of A in another statute (or regulation), then you cannot be punished for doing either or neither.

Clear, objective, noncontradictory and democratically passed–no regulation without representation.

Second, ab should understand that capitalism does not need “saving.”  Capitalism is not just the default position, it’s damn near a force of nature.  It has never been fully and entirely suppressed anywhere, not even in the most totalitarian countries. 

We don’t need to save capitalism, it can take care of itself.

We need to save the democracy.

And that brings us to the irony part of this program.

A couple of days ago, a book landed on my porch, called Pity the Poor Billionaire: The Hard Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right. 

The book is by Thomas Frank, who also wrote What’s the Matter with Kansas?, and in a way it’s a shorter, more strident reprise.

The reprise is only in a way, however, because, in the time between the last book and this one, Frank seems to have stumbled across two things:  a complete inability to keep control of his exasperation; and the fact that some of the things he keeps declaring as bogus and without basis in reality might, just…have a basis in reality.

I want to remind everybody here for a minute of an article I talked about a month or two back, that appeared in that bastion of modern American conservatism, The National Review.  It was an article about “the 47%,” which is how it designated white working class voters, did and did not fit into the Republican Party.

It noted that the 47% had some very strong areas of agreement with Republican political ideas, especially on things like immigration and lowering taxes. 

But in other areas, there was direct opposition–the 47% was strongly pro-union, for instance, and also strongly in favor of such social spending as social security and generous unemployment benefits.  It also tended to think that some form of national health insurance would be a good idea, even when it was not 100% happy with the Obama health care reforms.

I bring this up because it’s an illustration of the fact that it is possible to analyze somebody else’s disagreement with your ideas without doing things like refusing to believe they mean what they say or declaring them too stupid to know their own interests. 

Frank, unfortunately, hasn’t quite mastered this. 

And that fact is made the more bizarre because this book seesaws back and forth between declaring “these idiots think THIS” and “okay, well, there may be some basis for this–BUT that doesn’t mean that’s what they really think!”

It’s one of the most disorienting performances I’ve ever seen. 

He lays a lot of  the blame for  “the comeback of the Right” on “small business,” which he defines as largely useless, not really job creators, small minded, provincial and mean.  Then he defines their concerns as largely baseless and exaggerated.

And then he’ll go–well, okay, in this case and this case and this case, there was “regulatory overreach” and that shouldn’t have happened.

And then he’ll whipsaw right back again and talk about how stupid they are because the real issue is regulating big business and–

Then he’ll hit the “let the failures fail” thing–which was a Tea Party slogan opposing the bailout of the banks–and first admit that he feels the same way,  and then declare that they don’t really mean the big banks, they mean poor people and disabled people that they want to kick into the gutter and let die there.

It’s like living inside the head of somebody who has that old mistaken idea of schizophrenia as “split personality.” 

It’s hard to keep your own head on straight.

The spinning head commentary–largely hyperbolic and foaming at the mouth–is  unfortunately accompanied by a lot of distainful contempt for the way that those people behave–wearing costumes to rallies, for instance, and that kind of thing.

This proves not just that they’re tacky, provincial and stupid, but that they aren’t really interested in being part of a mass movement at all.  They’re trying to distinguish themselves by weird clothes and outrageous behavior and declare their status as individuals who want to live on their own without supporting society, so society shouldn’t expect to be supported by them.

Or something.

I still say that, if you want to win elections, the first thing you have to do is to find out what the people want and then address those concerns.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking they’re wrong–but you still have to address their concerns, and prove to them why the course you want to take will fix what they want fixed at the same time it does not result in the  negatives that worry them.

Declaring them stupid, greedy, provincial, ignorant and (underneath it all) evil is not likely to win their votes.

And neither is making fun of their clothes.

“Respecting” these people does not mean accepting that their ideas are right.

It does mean accepting their ideas are their ideas–that they really think what they think, that they really mean what they say, and that it’s NOT all a matter of some deep, subconscious maelstrom that makes it impossible for them to know what they’re doing.


I didn’t agree with What’s the Matter with Kansas?, but I would have recommended it.

I don’t recommend this one.

Written by janeh

January 5th, 2012 at 9:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Happy Birthday, Matt!

with 7 comments

Yes, it’s my older son’s birthday, and he is getting what he expressly requested–a day in which he does not have to leave the house, no party or singing, a chocolate cake, and control of the one television in this house so that he can watch his Burns and Allen Vol 1 and 2 collection all day.  The Burns and Allen thing was his main Christmas present.

I like Burns and Allen, too, of course, and the episodes on these two discs are fascinating.  A number of them aired before I was born, and if you think commercials intrude into your television watching these days, you really need to see some of this.  Carnation Evaporated Milk sponsored the Burns and Allen Show, and Carnation Evaporated Milk took up a good broad whack of every single plot they aired.  That’s the plot, not the commercial time.

Oh, and at one point, you get to see the CBS logo as it was before the eye.  They made a really good decision with the eye.

But that said–back to the issue at hand.  I apologize for even more typographical errors than usual, but I can only partially see the screen.  My office is in a sunroom and the sun is creating so much glare on the screen, it might as well be blank.

But, to get back to the business at hand.

Cathy says that personal liberty may be what I’m concerned with, but the libertarians she knows talk more about getting all regulation off business and (possibly) what a utopia we’d have if we could just leave everything to the market.

Every libertarian I know talks almost nonstop about personal regulation (seat belt laws, motorcycle and bicycle helmet laws), and is a libertarian largely because they DON’T think utopias are possible–or anything else but cover stories for attempts at total power.

The fact that this is not what CNN–never mind MSNBC and Fox–say libertarians care about doesn’t change the fact that it is what they care about. 

The best libertarian magazine out there–Reason–spends at least half of every issue on personal liberty issues, has an entire department devoted to highlighting the latest outrages of the regulatory state (no, NOT business regulation,  Things like being told you can’t receive disability payments for a loved one you take care of at home unless you join a government employee’s union.)

Granted, the Libertarian Party isn’t, and that’s a hash–but no, they don’t get to claim the name libertarian any more than the Natural Law Party gets to change the meaning of the term “natural law.”

Second, I’ve read Mike’s new article, and I have a couple of notes.

1) Mike may or may not remember, but I was saying many of the same things about maximizing shareholder value back on the OLD Sechum-L, and I do mean the old one, when it was still owned by the Council for Secular Humanism.

2) We’ve done it again. 

I posted a very direct, completely unambiguous challenge–let’s talk about PERSONAL liberty, it’s why I’m not a registered Democrat any more (okay, I’m also not a registered Republican)–

And I might as well have been talking to air.  There’s no response of any kind. 

So I’ll repeat–articles of this kind are completely irrelevant to the main question, the main criteria by which I and lots and lots and lots of my fellow libertarians decide to vote for a candidate, or not vote at all.

So, let me ask the question one more time:

If you want me to vote for candidates who will support expanded government regulatory powers over ANYthing:

1) what are you willing to do to insure that such expanded powers will not ALSO expand the powers of the state to insist that I wear a seatbelt whether I want to or not, that OSHA can come into my home and inspect my office and then demand that it conform not to my comfort but to their notions of what’s “safe’ for me or not,  that my children be put on a course of Ritalin even though I think the fact that we don’t know what it will mean down the road to keep a kid on drugs from the time he’s 6 to the time he’s 60?  A constitutional amendment expressly forbidding these kinds of regulations–including the ones “for the children” or “for the elderly”?  The immediate dismantling of the government departments that now make and administer these regulations?  What?

2) What are you willing to do to put an end to the practice–endemic since the New Deal–of government departments and agencies being able to issue regulations which have the force of law, and return the lawmaking power entirely to elected representatives who can be held accountable for their decisions at the next election?

3) What are you willing to do to require anybody who issues any laws or regulations to do so based on clear and objective criteria and not on subjective feelings, intutions, or judgments?  In other words, requiring standards such as “putting your hand on your subordinate’s breasts without her consent is sexual harrassment” rather than “any words or actions that create a hostile enivornment are sexual harrassment.”

4) If you’re NOT willing to do any of the above–or you try to fob me off with ‘that’s not important, we’ll get to that later”–why SHOULDN’T I assume that your major purpose is to increase the regulation of my private life, since, without such precautions as above, that will be the INEVITABLE result of the regulatory state you install?

I don’t vote Republican, for a number of reasons I’ve mentioned before on this blog.

But I do know a number of people who hold their noses and vote Republican on the simple–and completely logical–assumption that if the Republicans “starve the beast,” the kinds of agencies who make the kind of regulations they don’t like will have a much harder time functioning.

Cathy wants to know how to institute a safety net for people who can’t take care of themselves while getting rid of the free riders–it can’t be done, but we CAN get rid of the learned helplessness, by not treating such people as helpless.

I’ll go back to the thing about limiting such programs to things like a negative income tax–you eliminate the social workers and a lot of the need to prevaricate at the same time.

As for what checks and balances are necessary to protect against crony capitalism–the end of subjective regulations whose meaning is whatever a bureaucrat or regulatory board says they are would go a long way to achieving that.

That way, the regulation won’t mean one thing for the friends of the government and another for the outsiders–it will mean the same for everybody.

I’d also end the “public private partnerships” thing. 

The government should not be bailing out businesses, giving start up money (re Solyndra) to its favorite projects, or any of the rest of that.  Nothing is too big to fail.  Insure the deposits, pay off the depositers up to (but not beyond–see S&L mess) the statutory amount, and let them fall into the see.

Then–make it an ironclad rule that if a law is passed, everybody has to follow it.  EVERYBODY.  No exemptions for Congress (see OSHA regulations and insider trading laws, Social Security and Obama’s new health insurance regs), no “waivers” for anybody.

If there’s a program the country is supposed to participate in, then it had better be the WHOLE country.  The waivers and exemption thing is crony government, and it’s as bad as–or worse–than crony capitalism.

This, by the way, is what “all men are created equal means.”  Not that we all have some ‘right” to a vague “standard of living” that somehow just like everybody elses, or at least close enough to–but that we are (should be) all equal before the law. 

I really do not care, at all, about “income inequality.”

I do care about this stuff.


I ought to at least consider the possibility that the kind–okay, he’s 25–may want something more for dinner than that cake.

Written by janeh

January 2nd, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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