Thursday, April 30, 2009

New Biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt

The New York Times reviewer snarks his way through the column (you'd expect something else?), but this new biography by T.J. Stiles of the great Cornelius Vanderbilt sounds like a helluva good read.
“His admirers saw him as the ultimate meritocrat, the finest example of the common man rising through hard work and ability. ... His critics called him grasping and ruthless, an unelected king who never pretended to rule for his people.” But Mr. Stiles plainly gets a charge out of Vanderbilt’s raw nerve.

Cornelius Vanderbilt grew up on Staten Island, the son of a modest farming family. He attended school for only a few months, developing what Mr. Stiles calls “a lasting contempt for the conventions of written English.” He was born in the right place at the right time.

“Unlike most country folk,” Mr. Stiles writes, “the Vanderbilts lived within sight of the place of the most densely concentrated possibilities in North America: the city of New York.”

As a young man, Vanderbilt began working on ferries and schooners and then, with their increasing popularity in the 1820s and ’30s, steamboats. He made a name for himself in business for his “elbows-out aggressiveness.”

He made a name for himself, too, with his imposing appearance. A contemporary described him as “a man of striking individuality, as straight as an Indian, standing six feet in his stockings and weighing about 200 pounds.” Frugal and abstemious, Vanderbilt had one vice: the constant presence of a lighted or unlighted cigar.

The most flat-out enjoyable sections of “The First Tycoon” are those that deal with New York’s great steamship wars of the first half of the 19th century. Vanderbilt began to build and operate his own fleet, picking up the nickname the Commodore in the process. He engaged in price wars, cutting fares until competitors went out of business or paid him to go away. He slowly developed a chokehold on commerce.

By the late 1840s, Mr. Stiles writes, “almost everyone who traveled between New York and Boston took a Vanderbilt boat or a Vanderbilt train.”
Naturally, there is the requisite 'robber baron' bashing:
Mr. Stiles is clear-eyed about his subject’s nearly amoral rapacity. He writes that Vanderbilt “exacerbated problems that would never be fully solved: a huge disparity in wealth between rich and poor; the concentration of great power in private hands; the fraud and self-serving deception that thrives in an unregulated environment.”
But it's generally not too hard to separate the wheat from the feces in these types of biographies.

More after I've read it...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Scary Stats and Good Advice

From an Arthur Brooks editorial in the WSJ (who have obviously been stealing my material):

The scary stats --
Voices in the media, academia, and the government will dismiss this ethical populism as a fringe movement -- maybe even dangerous extremism. In truth, free markets, limited government, and entrepreneurship are still a majoritarian taste. In March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked people if we are better off "in a free market economy even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time." Fully 70% agreed, versus 20% who disagreed.

Free enterprise is culturally mainstream, for the moment. Asked in a Rasmussen poll conducted this month to choose the better system between capitalism and socialism, 13% of respondents over 40 chose socialism. For those under 30, this percentage rose to 33%. (Republicans were 11 times more likely to prefer capitalism than socialism; Democrats were almost evenly split between the two systems.)
So, clearly, the only solution is to kill everyone between 10 and 30, wait ten years for the females to mature, then get busy to help make up for the population dip. (I know a few middle-aged guys who will go for this idea.)

But, there is hope, because Mr. Brooks has been reading my blog for good advice:
Advocates of free enterprise must learn from the growing grass-roots protests, and make the moral case for freedom and entrepreneurship. They have to declare that it is a moral issue to confiscate more income from the minority simply because the government can. It's also a moral issue to lower the rewards for entrepreneurial success, and to spend what we don't have without regard for our children's future.

Enterprise defenders also have to define "fairness" as protecting merit and freedom. This is more intuitively appealing to Americans than anything involving forced redistribution. Take public attitudes toward the estate tax, which only a few (who leave estates in the millions of dollars) will ever pay, but which two-thirds of Americans believe is "not fair at all," according to a 2009 Harris poll. Millions of ordinary citizens believe it is unfair for the government to be predatory -- even if the prey are wealthy.
If true, and I'm inclined to be skeptical here, there may be hope for America yet. Otherwise, a lot more than just the 10-30 crowd are going to have to go.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The EPA and Humor, Maybe

George Reisman has posted a comment on the EPA's recent ruling of CO2 as a pollutant, subject to control under the Clean Air Act.
New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are reportedly preparing a joint statement citing the legitimacy and inevitability of taxes on CO2 emissions in general and on human exhalations of CO2 in particular. Humans emit CO2 into the atmosphere and thus contribute to global warming every time they exhale, in other words, every time they let out their breath. Some studies have estimated that taking all human beings together their exhalations account for as much as 8 per cent of all human-caused CO2 emissions. This is more than the proportion emitted by all privately owned aircraft in the world and is thus an important and fruitful target for reduction.
That I am not 100% sure whether or not the estimable Dr. Reisman's essay is sarcastic humor or straight reporting is the worst condemnation of the EPA action (and the entire issue, not to mention today's culture overall) that I can imagine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rare Hellenistic Sculpture on Public View

A rare look at a hidden masterpiece...
[T]he 16th Palazzo Giustiniani, which houses the offices of the President of the Italian Senate, and was the site of the signing of the Italian constitution in 1947, is a government building and is normally off limits. But until May 16 the palazzo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. to showcase a Hellenistic Greek bronze statue of a boxer that is usually housed in the Palazzo Massimo near the train station. The Palazzo Massimo is one of several buildings that together constitute Italy’s national collection of Roman art.

[Archivio fotografico Ufficio Stampa / Senato della Repubblica, reprinted by the New York Times]

The boxer was discovered on the Quirinale hill in 1885, during a vast building campaign undertaken whilst Rome was in full transformation as the capital of the relatively new Italian state. Originally, the statue, which various archeologists have dated to around the end of the fourth and the second century B.C., probably decorated the Thermal Baths of Costantine.

He’s depicted naked, in repose after a fight, his face bruised and battered, his nose squashed, his right eye bloody, his ears swollen by repeated blows. Drops of blood, or sweat, have dripped onto an arm and his right leg. The wounds and drops were originally inlaid in copper. it’s an uncommonly realistic statue.

TARP and Fascism

At one time in pre-history, all of about six months ago, people were (rightly) concerned that banks would not repay TARP funds. Forget that the administration at the time forced many of them to accept the money in the first place. Consider that now some want to repay/return the money, not wishing to be controlled (even more than they are) by the Federal Government.

And the Feds are refusing to, get this, allow them to give back the money. Why, you might reasonably ask, is this something the government should be allowed to decide?

Label it an extreme view if you like, but an examination of the history of Italy during the 1930s shows this to be fascism, pure and simple.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tea Party Slogans I Wish I'd Thought Of

"Obama Economics, Chains You Can Believe In" [Seen on a sign at a protest.]


"You can't fix stupid, but you can vote it out."
[From Michelle Malkin's fine column on the Tea Party movement.]

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

'Right Wing Extremism' - Call Me Crazy

John Hindraker of Powerline has an excellent smack-down of the recent ludicrous DHS report on 'right wing extremism'. Apart from leaving that term vague, as does the DHS report, he carefully examines several of the claims and finds them to be arbitrary and groundless.

Here's an excerpt:
Another of the report's themes is that conditions today resemble those in the 1990s, when militia activity was a concern:

"The current economic and political climate has some similarities to the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence fueled largely by an economic recession, criticism about the outsourcing of jobs, and the perceived threat to U.S. power and sovereignty by other foreign powers. ...

"Growth of these groups subsided in reaction to increased government scrutiny as a result of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and disrupted plots, improvements in the economy, and the continued U.S. standing as the preeminent world power."

In 1995, the economy was booming. Nor is there any obvious similarity between the "political climate" now and in the 1990s, except that we have a Democratic administration in power. I suspect that's what the authors are really worried about, although they never quite come out and say so.

The Homeland Security report lists the possibility of restrictions on firearms as a driving force behind extremist recruitment:

"Proposed imposition of firearms restrictions and weapons bans likely would attract new members into the ranks of rightwing extremist groups, as well as potentially spur some of them to begin planning and training for violence against the government."

On its face, this is pure speculation. It's true that firearms sales have increased, but what evidence is there that those buying guns are "planning and training for violence against the government"? None that the report discloses.

The authors describe "rightwing extremist chatter" on the internet:

"Rightwing extremist chatter on the Internet continues to focus on the economy, the perceived loss of U.S. jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors, and home foreclosures. Anti-Semitic extremists attribute these losses to a deliberate conspiracy conducted by a cabal of Jewish 'financial elites.'"

That's pretty sinister, all right: focusing on jobs and the economy. As far as anti-Semitism is concerned, you'll find much more of that on left-wing sites (including many that are considered mainstream) than on right-wing sites. That, though, must be the subject of another report.

Whoever wrote the report seems deeply hostile to conservatives' opposition to the agenda of the Obama administration. For example:

"Many rightwing extremists are antagonistic toward the new presidential administration and its perceived stance on a range of issues, including immigration and citizenship, the expansion of social programs to minorities, and restrictions on firearms ownership and use. Rightwing extremists are increasingly galvanized by these concerns and leverage them as drivers for recruitment."

Millions of Americans--not just "rightwing extremists"--are concerned about the administration's positions on immigration and many other issues. Note that wherever possible, the authors slip race into the discussion, as with the reference to "expansion of social programs to minorities." I'm not aware of a single social program that the Obama administration has proposed to "expand to minorities." But the authors' assumption is, apparently, that anyone who opposes the expansion of social programs must be a racist. Once again we see the assertion that right wing extremists are "galvanized" and are "leveraging" these issues as "drivers for recruitment." But is recruitment up, down, or stable? The report doesn't say, and its authors evidently don't know.

What he doesn't mention, though he does assert that the report is probably (ha!) politically motivated, is that this sort of thing is exactly what one would expect when a Progressive government is in power. For such people, truth is subjective and the only thing that counts is keeping and enlarging that power. For that purpose, no smear is too outlandish, no support for it too ephemeral.

There is more evidence for my view in an editorial in the LA Times by Marc Cooper, where he calls the Tea Party protests "insane."

It's filled with the usual left-wing lies about the protests. He suggests the participants are "outraged, simply infuriated, by the marginal tax rate rising 3% for millionaires". That's a deliberate distortion and typical of the entire editorial.

He also claims the protests are primarily against the current administration, and therefore "Republican." Well, it is the current one, after all. Then he goes on to assert "[t]hese same conservatives, however, were mum when George W. Bush erased our budget surplus and put us deep in the red by drunken spending on a pointless war in Iraq and by, yes, granting massive tax rollbacks for the loaded country clubbers who fund the GOP".

Either the author is woefully ignorant of the diversity of political opinion on that subject from all points on the political compass, or it's another deliberate distortion. That George Bush's approval ratings were so low by itself signals that there were more than just Democrats who disapproved of the effort. Also, the tax rollbacks were for all income brackets and the highest still pay 40% of the total.

Again, this type of smear job is exactly what one would expect from a Progressive. So to claim, as this 'right wing extremist' does that the media is biased in support of the Progressive policies of the current Federal government would hardly fall in the realm of insanity.

Of course, to a Progressive, believing in the value of individual freedom, and believing that your money belongs to you, really are crazy notions.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson

"Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread." -- Thomas Jefferson

In this season of Tea Parties and more, it's especially important to remember the man who, more than any other apart from Madison, was responsible for us having the country we do.

So, Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson. And thank you, 300 million times over.
“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816

“A wise and frugal government… shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” — Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

Finally, because its been in the news, it might be interesting to some to explore how our third President dealt with the issue of pirates.

Thomas Jefferson and the Pirates
When Jefferson became president in 1801 he refused to accede to Tripoli's demands for an immediate payment of $225,000 and an annual payment of $25,000. The pasha of Tripoli then declared war on the United States. Although as secretary of state and vice president he had opposed developing an American navy capable of anything more than coastal defense, President Jefferson dispatched a squadron of naval vessels to the Mediterranean.

As he declared in his first annual message to Congress: "To this state of general peace with which we have been blessed, one only exception exists. Tripoli, the least considerable of the Barbary States, had come forward with demands unfounded either in right or in compact, and had permitted itself to denounce war, on our failure to comply before a given day. The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean. . . ."

The American show of force quickly awed Tunis and Algiers into breaking their alliance with Tripoli. The humiliating loss of the frigate Philadelphia and the capture of her captain and crew in Tripoli in 1803, criticism from his political opponents, and even opposition within his own cabinet did not deter Jefferson from his chosen course during four years of war.

The aggressive action of Commodore Edward Preble (1803-4) forced Morocco out of the fight and his five bombardments of Tripoli restored some order to the Mediterranean. However, it was not until 1805, when an American fleet under Commodore John Rogers and a land force raised by an American naval agent to the Barbary powers, Captain William Eaton, threatened to capture Tripoli and install the brother of Tripoli's pasha on the throne, that a treaty brought an end to the hostilities. Negotiated by Tobias Lear, former secretary to President Washington and now consul general in Algiers, the treaty of 1805 still required the United States to pay a ransom of $60,000 for each of the sailors held by the dey of Algiers, and so it went without Senatorial consent until April 1806.

Nevertheless, Jefferson was able to report in his sixth annual message to Congress in December 1806 that in addition to the successful completion of the Lewis and Clark expedition, "The states on the coast of Barbary seem generally disposed at present to respect our peace and friendship."

Update: Christopher Hitchens, writing in City Journal, has a fine article (with many useful references) on Jefferson versus the Muslim Pirates.
But one cannot get around what Jefferson heard when he went with John Adams to wait upon Tripoli’s ambassador to London in March 1785. When they inquired by what right the Barbary states preyed upon American shipping, enslaving both crews and passengers, America’s two foremost envoys were informed that “it was written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.” (It is worth noting that the United States played no part in the Crusades, or in the Catholic reconquista of Andalusia.)

Ambassador Abd Al-Rahman did not fail to mention the size of his own commission, if America chose to pay the protection money demanded as an alternative to piracy. So here was an early instance of the “heads I win, tails you lose” dilemma, in which the United States is faced with corrupt regimes, on the one hand, and Islamic militants, on the other—or indeed a collusion between them.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Steyn on Civilizational Decline

Another stellar piece from Mark Steyn on where we're headed. Here are the final paragraphs (though the whole piece is worth reading):
As my colleague Andrew McCarthy wrote, “Civilization is not an evolution of mankind but the imposition of human good on human evil. It is not a historical inevitability. It is a battle that has to be fought every day, because evil doesn’t recede willingly before the wheels of progress.” [emphasis added]

Very true. Somalia, Iran, and North Korea are all less “civilized” than they were a couple of generations ago. And yet in one sense they have made undeniable progress: They have globalized their pathologies. Somali pirates seize vessels the size of aircraft carriers flying the ensigns of the great powers. Iranian proxies run Gaza and much of Lebanon. North Korea’s impoverished prison state provides nuclear technology to Damascus and Tehran.

Unlovely as it is, Pyongyang nevertheless has friends on the Security Council. Powerful states protect one-man psycho states. One-man psycho states provide delivery systems to apocalyptic ideological states. Apocalyptic ideological states fund non-state actors around the world. And in Somalia and elsewhere non-state actors are constrained only by their ever increasing capabilities.

When all the world’s a “distraction,” maybe you’re not the main event after all. Most wealthy nations lack the means to defend themselves. Those few that do, lack the will. Meanwhile, basket-case jurisdictions send out ever-bolder freelance marauders to prey on the civilized world with impunity.

Don’t be surprised if “the civilized world” shrivels and retreats in the face of state-of-the-art reprimitivization. From piracy to nukes to the limp response of the hyperpower, this is not a “distraction” but a portent of the future.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pantywaist Obama's World Apology Tour

I find that the Telegraph in the UK is increasingly getting it right, and telling it like it is. Here, Gerald Warner hits it tragically right on the nose regarding Obama's recent non-reaction to North Korea's long-range ballistic missile test. (By the way, the test itself is illegitimate under a U.N. agreement, the sort that Obama gets squishy about whenever discussing foreign policy.)
President Pantywaist is hopping mad and he has a strategy to cut Kim down to size: he is going to slice $1.4bn off America’s missile defence programme, presumably on the calculation that Kim would feel it unsporting to hit a sitting duck, so that will spoil his fun.

Watch out, France and Co, there is a new surrender monkey on the block and, over the next four years, he will spectacularly sell out the interests of the West with every kind of liberal-delusionist initiative on nuclear disarmament and sitting down to negotiate with any power freak who wants to buy time to get a good ICBM fix on San Francisco, or wherever. If you thought the world was a tad unsafe with Dubya around, just wait until President Pantywaist gets into his stride.
This would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ed Hudgins on Obama's Grab Bag Socialism

Ed Hudgins of The Atlas Society has written a fine editorial outlining different types of statism and the type the current administration and Congress are pushing. [Reprinted in full by kind permission.]
Obama's Grab-Bag Socialism
By Edward Hudgins

April 4, 2009 - We can understand why President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress do not want to call their attempts to socialize America's economy "socialism." Government efforts to control economies in the past have been disasters. Still, this administration is using a grab-bag approach in its attempt to take control. But it will face the same insurmountable problems as did socialisms of the past, and the American people will suffer.

Consider the three brands of socialism from the past century.

Marx's Mark

First there was the communism or "scientific socialism" of Marx and Lenin in which the government owned all property and controlled all aspects of the economy.

Without private property rights and market incentives, there was little motivation to do one's best and no place for true entrepreneurs. The Russians had a saying: "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us."

Planners-the dictators of the proletariat-attempted to allocate all the inputs of production-energy, raw materials, industrial equipment-in order to produce the right mix of food, capital goods, infrastructure, and consumer products to make an economically strong "nation" though not necessarily prosperous subjects. How many tons of coal produced by which mines must be shipped in what quantities in how many train cars to which industrial facilities to produce how many tons of steel or megawatts of electricity? Micromanaging an economy through millions of such decisions was an impossible task.

Without market prices to indicate the real supply, demand, and best uses of the factors of production, the planners literally just made up the numbers.

The system was a disaster. It kept millions impoverished and eventually collapsed.

Il Duce's Direction

Under the second type of socialism, corporatism, pioneered by Benito Mussolini in Italy, much property stayed nominally in private hands. But individuals did not have the right to use their property as they saw fit. The system was not democratic; citizens were only important as members of groups-farmers, merchants, industrial workers-not as individuals.

Appointed ministers with various portfolios in a Grand Council of Fascism would dicker about levels of production, wages, prices, and the like. Decisions of how to "harmonize" all these interests were made by the prime minister-Il Duce. The owners of productive property and enterprises were informed of the will of the state and knew they had to obey or face demonization, intimidation, or worse.

This form of central planning did not work either. Planning by political elites simply produced economic hardships and the elites had to use heavy-handed tactics to quell dissent.

The Commanding Heights

A third type of socialism was taken up in many European countries after World War II. Central planners would restrict themselves to owning and controlling the "commanding heights" of the economy-transportation, finance, raw materials, heavy industry-which they saw as fundamental to economic growth, while leaving most other economic matters to the choices of individuals and smaller enterprises. Welfare state benefits such as health care and unemployment insurance would provide a safety net for all.

Democratic socialism didn't work well either. Interest groups, especially labor unions, could get their way through massive demonstrations or crippling strikes. The parts of the economy owned and controlled by governments became costly and inefficient. Rather than providing platforms for growth, they were drags on the economy. Job creation and productivity stagnated. By the 1980s Margaret Thatcher was undoing Euro-socialism in Britain, and Continental leaders were borrowing policies from Ronald Reagan.

The Democrats' New Depths

Today, Obama and the Democrats will not call what they're doing "socialism." But they are using a grab-bag approach to taking over the economy. Consider the Obama approach.

Step One: Hook 'em with money. It started in 2008 with President George W. Bush's $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) to bail out banks holding bad home mortgage loans. There were no actual plans for how to use the money or what strings to attach. Government officials initially didn't take actually voting seats on banks board but they let it be known that Washington would be calling the shots. But the bucks were so big that few troubled banks could resist the handouts.

In December, departing from the specified purpose of TARP, Bush decided to lend $17.4 billion of those funds to General Motors and Chrysler. TARP became a kind of all-purpose slush fund. Obama's $787 billion stimulus package, signed into law in February, provided even more bait.

Step Two: Reel 'em in. The 2009 stimulus package imposed new rules on entities taking handouts, including limits on employee pay and bonuses, golden parachutes, and the size of stockholder dividends. It also set new requirements for government representation on banks' boards of directors. Now that the banks are seeing what strings are attached, a number of them actually want to give back their TARP funds to avoid these regulations.

But most revealing were the provisions in the stimulus package for huge federal expenditures for health care entitlements and education. In past decades the federal government has increased its control of local schools and everyone's medical care through its funding with regulatory strings attached. Now Obama is poised to place these as well as other sectors under tight federal control through this method: pass out huge, irresistible amounts of cash and then, like a Mafia loan shark owed a huge debt by a business owner, demand control.

Step Three: Make 'em dance. Consider events in recent weeks. Obama apparently didn't like GM CEO Rick Wagoner. Or at least we know that auto union boss Ron Gettelfinger didn't like Wagoner and that the Democrats and unions are strong political allies. So the word went out from Washington that GM had to dump Wagoner as a condition to get more handouts, and that's what happened.

Citigroup, which has been a principal recipient of bank bailout funds, has recently nominated four new board members at the insistence of the Obama administration. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warns of more such moves to come.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand portrays a country ruled by pull-peddling politicians and government "advisors" who intimidate entrepreneurs into following their whims. Something similar appears to be happening today as the Obama administration seeks to gain control of the economy, not just through the democratic process of passing laws, as bad as those laws might be, but through political intimidation.

Step Four: Club 'em if needed. Consider the outrage faced by AIG, which received $182 billion from the Feds, for giving out $165 million in contractually obligated bonuses for its top employees. The emotionally volatile and politically pandering Rep. Barney Frank demanded the names of those who received the bonuses be made public even as AIG employees were receiving death threats.

Congress at first considered placing a 90 percent tax on those bonuses, never mind the Constitution's ban on "any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contact." And never mind that it was the Obama administration and its strong supporter Sen. Chris Dodd who specifically exempted such bonuses from federal control.

The Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are taking lessons from Mussolini. Let's remember that Democrats also have proposed censoring talk radio and eliminating the need for secret ballots in elections to determine whether workplaces unionize. Here we see the government's the iron fist on display.

The Past's Revenge

To the extent that Obama and the Democrats succeed in reaching their political goals, they will face the same problems as did socialists in the past.

Like the Soviets, they will want to micromanage the economy, and it won't work. For example, in light of the AIG bonuses, Barney Frank has introduced a "Pay for Performance Act" that would control all employee salaries at companies that have received government bailout funds. Does he think he can succeed in setting "fair" wages that don't destroy market incentives where Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev failed?

Watch for a revival in years to come of the Democrats' 1980s "comparable worth" proposals to set "fair" wages nationwide, a feminist version of Marx's labor theory of value.

Interest group political battles are unavoidable in mixed economies, with disputes usually settled by deals between politicians-some more and some less pro-freedom. Now both Congress and the White House are in the hands of the more anti-freedom Democratic Party, which represents and is the mouth piece for groups seeking special privileges and handouts. Further, people from all walks of life now shuffle to Washington for a piece of the pie. Obama, who claims to want to "transcend" our differences, is likely to face the need to "harmonize" all these interests. Il Duce must be chuckling in his grave.

The Obama administration seems to think that today's "commanding heights" of the economy are banks, education, health care, and "green" industries and products. Does it think the results of a government takeover of whole sectors will be any different than they were in Europe? Is it intentionally ignoring the fact that the more the federal government has intervened in health care the higher the costs have gone? And does it recognize that the more it has removed control of education from the hands of parents, the more difficult it has become for them to hold school administrators accountable for poor results?

Obama and the Democratic Congress have their own unique ways of seizing economic decision-making from individual Americans and putting it in government hands. But history shows us that when political power rather than individual production and free exchange determine who gets what, the results are wealth destruction and social conflict.

Knowing our enemies is the first step to stopping them. Let's hope history can give our fellow citizens a wake-up call and give us insights we can use to protect our fragile freedom.


Ed Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar at The Atlas Society, the Center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

For further reading:

*Ayn Rand, "The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus." In Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Ayn Rand, editor.

*Edward Hudgins, "France Labors at Folly." March 29, 2006.
Hat tip to Lindsay Perigo of SOLO

Sunday, April 5, 2009

AGW Inspires Parliamentary Lunacy in the UK

As if the U.S. federal government were not sufficiently unhinged, the British Parliament has decided to up the stakes in the lunacy race. They have voted to hobble their economy to the tune of a couple of trillion dollars over the next 40 years in the name of chimerical anthropogenic global warming.
Last October the House of Commons passed, by 463 votes to three, the most expensive piece of legislation ever put through Parliament. The only MP to question the cost of the Climate Change Act, requiring Britain to cut its CO2 emissions by 80 per cent within 40 years, was Peter Lilley. It was also Mr Lilley who, just before the MPs voted to stop runaway global warming, drew the House’s attention to the fact that, outside, London was experiencing its first October snow for 74 years.

What made the MPs’ lack of interest in the cost of this Act even more curious was that the Government’s own “impact assessment” showed that, whereas its benefits were estimated at £110 billion, its costs were £205 billion. The MPs thus happily voted for something that would be twice as costly as any benefit.

But these figures were based on the Government’s original plan to cut CO2 emissions by only 60 per cent. A last-minute amendment had this to 80 per cent (a target which can only be achieved by closing down most of Britain’s economy), so our “climate change minister”, Ed Miliband, was obliged to produce new figures. These he has now belatedly slipped out via the Department of Energy and Climate Change website – no thought of reporting them to Parliament – and truly mind-boggling they are. The cost of the Act has nearly doubled, to £404 billion, or £18.3 billion for every year between now and 2050. However, the supposed benefits are given, astonishingly, as £1,024 billion, an increase of 1,000 per cent.
There is a point at which Statist government policy becomes indistinguishable from genuine madness. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany both demonstrated that repeatedly. The UK is well on its way to joining that club. Sadly, the U.S. is not far behind.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Two Americas

Before there were reality shows, PBS made a number of quasi-documentaries that placed ordinary contemporary families into historical settings, such as 19th century Britain or Montana.

Each family had to live day-to-day for several months with only the dwelling and items that were available during the period. No modern shampoo or microwave oven; just coal tar soap and a wood stove.

The Montana episode was particularly instructive.

It's no accident, in my opinion, that the not-quite rich CEO of a mid-sized company and his vain family performed the worst, while the young black man and his elderly grandfather adapted the best.

God knows I'm no Marxist and phylogeny is definitely not destiny. Normally, I favor business and laugh at progressive attempts to instill white guilt. But in this case there are deep reasons that the outcomes were as they were, and a valuable lesson to gain.

The CEO and his family were spoiled, self-indulgent, and complacent. It soon became apparent that neither the husband nor wife had any real skills, apart from effective political socializing. They were abysmally inept at every essential task, from gathering eggs to building a chair. The man and woman were such a poor planners their family soon began to actually starve. Everything they needed in their previous life had been supplied to them at the cost of barking or needling by people they could dominate.

As a result, they imparted no useful skills or values to their kids, who thought that the inability to bathe everyday with contemporary hair shampoo in a modern shower was the worst possible fate a human girl could be forced to endure. Within a month, every member of this family was at the other's throat and they were all whining to flee back to their cushy life of fast food restaurants and upscale malls.

By contrast, the young black man, a very intelligent and enterprising fellow, knew very well what it meant to actually work to achieve values. He had been taught by his grandfather through the older man's example and wisdom that good things may come hard but that is no reason to whine. Instead, they got on with the job of building a cabin, chopping and gathering firewood with which to cook and warm the home during a Montana winter, and so forth, without complaint.

In fact, they seemed rather to enjoy the experience, particularly the bonding that came from a clean, joint effort in worthwhile tasks. The black man was especially eager to finish before two months had elapsed in order to make a comfortable home for his soon-to-arrive fiancee, whom we later saw was honored by his effort on her behalf.

Now, the moral of the story is not that modern conveniences are a bad thing and that we only achieve virtue through suffering and hardship. Quite the contrary. Modern technology is an excellent thing and suffering has no intrinsic value. But it helps to remember where these things come from - well-developed reason supported by a courageous will and good values - and that creating life-sustaining and enhancing values requires long-term effort.

Sadly, perhaps one in five adults under 40 in America accept this prosaic truth. (The number for those over 40 may not be all that impressive, either.) Unless that number grows fast, or at minimum the trendsetters of society begin to be drawn from that 20%, the economy will soon be the least of our worries.

Welcome to Soviet Amerika

So it begins in earnest. Assuming this is genuine, the following snippet from Ed Morrisey at Hot Air, shows the servile nature of faux business-wrecks willing to fellate their new commissar masters in order to keep their jobs.
Dear Senator:

With so much happening this week related to GM and the automotive industry, I wanted to call your attention to a few important items. Going forward, I commit to sending you regular updates to ensure you have the latest information about the progress we are making toward reinventing our company.

[lots of information about current sales, etc...]

As always, please feel free to call if you have any questions or ideas about how we can better work together to reach our common goal of building a stronger, more competitive American automotive industry.
Both Congress and the fools behind this 'status report' should be run out of the country, at the point of a pitchfork if necessary.