Hayek's Modern Family

Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions

[Amazon Link]

If you're like me, your instant reaction to the title might be: best sitcom spinoff ever! Alas, probably not to be, but it's fun imagining possible characters and amusing plotlines.

The author, Steven Horwitz, is an econ prof at St. Lawrence University; as you might guess from a more sober look at the title, he's of a classical liberal bent, and his task here is to look at the past and likely evolution of family, marriage, and childrearing from that perspective.

It's a task well worth undertaking, given the proclivity of both left and right to proclaim the correctness of their views on those matters, and willingness to enlist the power of the state to enforce those views.

On the other hand, libertarians (which I tend to use interchangeably with "classical liberals", sue me) tend to either ignore such issues (especially those involving kids), or are clearly fumble-brained about the best way to approach analysis of non-state social institutions. Horwitz's effort is a welcome remedy.

The book emphasizes, for the unconvinced, that the "ideal" family of one male breadwinner, life-married to one female housekeeper, raising N well-scrubbed children in a detached single-family dwelling was only "typical" for a brief period of American postwar history. And even then 'twasn't that typical, as irrevocable trends were transforming it. Attitudes about sex, love, equality of the sexes, divorce, longevity, the nature of parenthood, etc., all push and pull on the surfaces of the institutions. Add in economic incentives, the availability of government-backed programs, tax policy, … Well, probably too many to list here.

As appropriate for an introductory inquiry, Horwitz probably raises more questions than he answers, but he knows the right people to quote: Hayek, of course, but also Deirdre McCloskey, Randy Barnett, and others who'll be familiar to libertarian dilettantes. (There's also a detailed advocacy of raising "Free Range Kids", based on Lenore Skenazy's book of the same name.)

Horwitz's basic recommendation: dynamic social forces have always changed social institutions like the family, and those changes will continue for the foreseeable future. Predicting the exact nature of the transformations is impossible; attempts to prevent those changes via government coercion, regulation or subsidy will be at best counter-productive. It's best to wherever possible trust in individuals to make their own choices, and the "emerging order" will certainly be better than whatever the social engineers of left and right attempt to force into reality.

Now: all is not perfect. Horwitz quotes McCloskey, but unfortunately doesn't write like McCloskey. His prose is academic-clunky; sentences and paragraphs go on forever, in small type and narrow margins. So it was kind of a slog. Still recommended though, because it might make you smarter.

The Phony Campaign

2016-05-22 Update

PredictWise provides us with the same lineup as last week and Trump widens his phony lead somewhat:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 635,000 +57,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 507,000 -53,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 369,000 +22,000

  • Eric Boehlert opines at Salon: "Donald Trump is a phony and a liar: The press doesn’t get to call him “authentic” ever again"

    For a candidate who’s often touted in the press as an authentic straight shooter, Donald Trump did a lot last week to puncture that reputation. From insisting that his promise of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” was really “only a suggestion,” to flip-flopping on whether voters had a right to see his tax returns, Trump seemed to cast aside promises on a daily basis.

    Now, Donald Trump is a phony and a liar. No argument here.

    But even if you didn't know anything else, wouldn't you detect a tad of totalitarianism in asserting what the press "doesn't get" to do?

    However, it gets worse: Eric Boehlert is employed by "Media Matters for America", an organization effectively a subsidiary of the Clinton campaign. What you won't see: Boehlert demanding that the press apply the same standard to judging authenticity and honesty to both Trump and Clinton. Such a demand would get him fired from Media Matters for America before it hit the Interwebs.

  • At the somewhat less partisan Fortune, Michael D'Antonio details "Donald Trump's Long, Strange History of Using Fake Names"

    All political candidates use some spin to advance their cause. It is now so common that voters come to expect it. As a businessman, Donald Trump long practiced an extreme version of self-promotion he called “truthful hyperbole” to get what he wanted. Now, as he is the presumptive GOP nominee for president, this past is coming back to haunt him.

    Summary: Trump's sock-puppetry has been going on a long time. It was also practiced by Daddy Trump, Fred, who inquired about real estate properties as "Mr. Green", to avoid possible aggressive bargaining.

  • If you follow the news, you probably "know" that unruly Bernie Sanders supporters threw chairs at the Democratic National Committee convention in Nevada this week. Implication: Sanders supporters are a bunch of violent hotheads, prone to misbehave unacceptably when they don't get their way.

    Problem is, as this Snopes article shows rather convincingly: there's no direct evidence the chair-throwing actually happened. The NYT, NPR, AP, … based their stories on the account of a single reporter who didn't witness it himself.

    Or did it happen? Check this story:

    Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: It isn’t just the title of the classic Hunter S. Thompson book. It quite accurately describes the atmosphere of the Nevada State Democratic Party (NSDP) Convention this past weekend. A sitting US Senator & long-time progressive icon [Barbara Boxer] was booed off the stage. Mere credentials updates were being filibustered to death. And the whole shebang ended with punches & chairs taking flight.

    Given the partisan tempers involved, the truth may be known… never.

  • Hillary made note of the fact that Donald Trump is refusing to release his tax returns.

    For those of us who aren't Trumpkins, the reason is pretty obvious: he would be deeply embarrassed if they were made public. No doubt.

    But for Hillary to make this complaint is beyond ludicrous. Here's our tweet of the week:

The Phony Campaign

2016-05-15 Update

Bernie's still hanging in there at PredictWise, with the underlying bettors wagering that he still has a 2% shot at becoming your next President.

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 578,000 +22,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 560,000 +11,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 347,000 -20,000

Meanwhile, I'm wondering: where's Gary Johnson?

Maybe I'm optimistic, but over the next 176 days or so, we're going to hear a lot of stories about how both Trump and Clinton are lying, power-hungry, unprincipled dangers to liberty, prosperity, and peace. These stories will be persuasive, because true.

So I think Gary Johnson has a shot, if he's on the ballot in enough states. Heck, I think Mister Mxyzptlk would have a shot against these two.

Back to the real phony news:

  • In New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore looks at the advice Hillary is receiving to shift her positions to appeal more to either Sanders/Warren leftists or to more moderate folk. He says nay: "Hillary Clinton Shouldn’t Be ‘Pivoting’ to the Left — or to the Center"

    If all this hypothetical "pivoting" and "moving" makes you a little dizzy, how must it seem to voters whose main concern about Hillary Clinton is that she seems a tad too calculating and inauthentic — in a word, phony? Not so good. And since it's these personal characteristics, and not her positioning on an ideological spectrum, that are arguably the biggest source of her relative unpopularity among general-election participants, perhaps she should keep that pivot foot un-planted.

    Here's the problem with Ed's argument: let's posit there's a bloc of voters that somehow aren't currently convinced of Hillary's phoniness. Isn't it obvious that these voters are either willfully blind or ignorant enough so that they wouldn't care if she "pivoted" left, center, or right, or toward new dimensions beyond that which is known to man?

  • In this week's "well, of course he did" department: "Donald Trump masqueraded as publicist to brag about himself".

    The voice is instantly familiar; the tone, confident, even cocky; the cadence, distinctly Trumpian. The man on the phone vigorously defending Donald Trump says he’s a media spokesman named John Miller, but then he says, “I’m sort of new here,” and “I’m somebody that he knows and I think somebody that he trusts and likes” and even “I’m going to do this a little, part time, and then, yeah, go on with my life.”

    Do Trump supporters care about stuff like this? Recent history says: not so much.

  • Even though (or maybe because) they tap into the same rich vein of voter attitude, there's no love lost between Bernie and Trump:

    In an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday, Mr. Sanders didn’t leap to defend Mrs. Clinton, who has come under heated attacks from Mr. Trump. But when asked about whether many votes for him were essentially votes against Mrs. Clinton and for Mr. Trump, he showed how little affection he has for the billionaire businessman: “I think the people of America, the more they see Mr. Trump, understand that he’s a total phony, that what he said yesterday is not what he’s going to say tomorrow. That he is a pathological liar and that he gets a lot of media attention for attacking people but that is going to wear thin.”

    In response:

    For his part, Mr. Trump, in a Fox News interview earlier in the day, said he now plans to call Mr. Sanders “Crazy Bernie” — not typically a term of endearment.

    Reminds me of grade-school playground feuds, albeit at a lower intellectual level.

  • And…

Slow Burn

[Amazon Link]

I've said it before: Ace Atkins does a miraculous job of maintaining Robert B. Parker's Spenser character. Right up front, Spenser quotes the first line of a Yeats poem to Henry Cimoli, off the top of his head.

Yes, I had to look it up to nail down the source. I'm not as literate as Spenser.

The first chapter introduces the bad guys: a trio of losers decides to start fires around Boston, their loose justification being that it will bring increased funding for the Boston Fire Department. But that's a thin disguise for their pyromania. Spenser is hired (pro bono) by a firefighter who lost three comrades in a church fire he suspects was set.

Spenser has, over the years, negotiated an uneasy truce with the city's old guard gangsters. But his investigation runs him headlong into a relatively new kingpin, Jackie DeMarco. DeMarco just wants Spenser dead, thanks very much. I'm not too worried about Spenser; are they going to kill off the series moneymaker? But I'm not too sure that some of his associates won't wind up as collateral damage. (No spoilers.)

Bottom line: a fine addition to the series. Mr. Atkins has settled into Robert B. Parker's shoes, doing Spenser right.

The Phony Campaign

2016-05-08 Update

After Ted Cruz's ignominious defeat in Indiana and subsequent campaign suspension, PredictWise has predictably dropped him below our 2% probability threshold. But, unexpectedly, Bernie Sanders has popped (barely) back into the running.

Leaving candidates who happen to be utterly contemptible or completely foolish (guess which are which):

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 556,000 +307,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 549,000 +447,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 367,000 ---

If those hit counts look a little huge compared to recent values, it's because Google totally turned off its long-deprecated Google Web Search API at some point in the past week, which I'd been using to automatically grab its data. Well, it was fun while it lasted. Your blogger has gone back to the old method of generating the search link, bringing it up in a browser, then copy-and-pasting from the browser window. To quote Dr. McCoy: "What is this, the Dark Ages?"

"Good" news: our remaining lineup has more than enough phoniness to last us until November. And maybe Gary Johnson will show up at some point. Frankly, I think that anyone appearing on the ballot not named "Clinton" or "Trump" would have a good shot at a plurality of the popular vote.

  • Back in those happy days before Indiana Republicans voted, Jim Treacher requested: "Watch Trump Lie About Mike Tyson’s Rape Conviction". Ted Cruz had pointed out, accurately, that the Trump-endorsing Tyson was a past rapist. It came up during an interview with Chris Wallace. Treacher summarizes:

    Trump tells an enormous, outrageous lie — that Mike Tyson isn’t a rapist — and then says it’s just more evidence that Cruz is the liar.

    Chris Wallace could have followed up, pointing out Trump's lie. He didn't.

    Other media, with more readership than Treacher, could have pointed out Trump's lie. Ho hum.

    And the GOP voters of Indiana either didn't bother to find out or didn't care that they were voting for such a slimeball. May they all go pee on a substation transformer.

  • The NY Post editorial writer observed: "Even Hillary Clinton’s pals can’t pretend to believe her lies". Verdict: true! But what was it this time?

    In West Virginia, she was confronted with her March comment: "We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."

    Clinton’s eye-rolling answer: “What I was saying is that the way things are going now, we will continue to lose jobs.”

    Riiight. Except that's not what she was saying.

    In any case, her excuse is: She Has A Plan that will seamlessly transform all those coal miners into well-paid solar panel installers.

  • At the WaPo, Glenn Kessler details "The Sanders campaign’s phony math on superdelegates". At issue is the Sanders campaign manager's assertion that Democrat superdelegates (who can vote for whoever they want at the convention) are a historically wishy-washy bunch:

    "During the course of 2008, over 120 superdelegates switched their quote-unquote allegiance in that process. In fact, there is a lot of movement of superdelegates in these contests.”

    Kessler will tell you more than you want to know about the electoral history of superdelegates. But the bottom line is: Four Pinocchios. The Sanders campaign is as unrealistic (or dishonest) about superdelegates as it is about economics, foreign policy, national defense….


[Amazon Link]

When my sister was in town a few months back, she enthusiastically recommended the "Monkeewrench" series, written by "P. J. Tracy", the nom de plume of a mother-daughter writing team. I was a little dubious, because "Monkeewrench" came off a little too tea-and-cozyish, Jane Fletcherish, maybe there would be a cat detective or two, and… Well, my tastes run elsewhere.

First clue that I was wrong: an inside-the-cover blurb from the late Robert B. Parker: "Monkeewrench is funny and convincing. P. J. Tracy's taut storytelling makes me jealous." OK, that's good enough for me. As it turns out, there's a grim and gripping tale at the core of book, and it's fleshed out well with interesting and sympathetic characters.

It's set in Minneapolis and small-town Wisconsin. Cops in both locales are mystified by recent nasty clue-free homicides. Also involved is the titular "Monkeewrench" clan, a secretive, brilliant, close-knit group of software engineers. They are wildly successful at writing educational software, but have decided to branch into games, specifically "Serial Killer Detective", challenging the player to solve murders that—oh oh—are being re-enacted in Minneapolis meatspace.

It's a page turner, all right. As the book winds along, it begins to be more than a tad contrived, with events working out just so to provide the requisite pulse-pounding conclusion. But I enjoyed it none the less for that.

The Phony Campaign

2016-05-01 Update

And then there were three… PredictWise has sent poor Bernie's probability of being President a-glimmering below our 2% threshold. So it's down to:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 249,000 -7,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 102,000 -96,000
"Ted Cruz" phony 90,700 -6,900

I guess the conventional wisdom is that Hillary won't be indicted for her classified-material carelessness, or that people won't care if she is.

  • When you have nothing better to say… "Trump repeats phony pig's blood story at rally."

    At an Orange County rally Thursday, Donald Trump repeated a bogus yarn about executing Muslim prisoners with bullets dipped in pigs' blood.

    How many ways does this make Trump look bad?

    1. He loves this story, even though it's a (false) tale of American atrocity;
    2. He either:
      • knows it's false, which makes him a demagogic bigoted liar; or
      • doesn't know it's false, which makes him an ignorant fool.

  • Michael Kinsley pens a Miami Herald op-ed: "Trump’s a phony — but he’s for real."

    How can that be, Mike?

    The explanation [of Trump's voter appeal] is not so difficult. In the opening paragraph of his novel Ravelstein, Saul Bellow writes, “Anyone who wants to govern the country has to entertain it.” [Hillary] Clinton has been called many things, but “entertaining” is not one of them. This is not the case with Trump, who is an authentic American character like something out of Mark Twain. All the other candidates except Sanders had the character squeezed out of them when they decided they wanted to be president. Trump’s a phony of course (not to mention a racist), but his phoniness is authentic. He’s self-made — not in the financial sense, but characterologically.

    OK. Maybe.

    Caveat Lector: you can read the whole thing if you like, but beware, it contains a later sentence which you should not read while drinking a beverage:

    When President Obama proposes something, you know it’s been analyzed and balanced and weighed against the alternatives, tested in the laboratory and found to be a reasonable solution given the limitations and under the circumstances.

    Kinsley's ideology sometimes limits his insightfulness.

  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum noted some phoniness in Hillary's endorsement of a proposed Pennsylvania soda tax

    When Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders argued about soda taxes last week, neither of them mentioned obesity. That striking omission reflects a shift in tactics by advocates of a special levy on sugar-sweetened drinks, who have started emphasizing the good that can be done with the resulting revenue instead of the evil that can be prevented by encouraging people to consume fewer calories.

    A very old saying, attributed to Kin Hubbard: "When a fellow says, 'It hain't the money, but th' principle o' the thing,' it's th' money."

  • Belated addition:

Last Modified 2016-05-01 10:05 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2016-04-24 Update

PredictWise has dropped John Kasich below our arbitrary 2% inclusion threshold.

Nevertheless, his campaign lumbers on. Maybe someone has made this observation already, but: I see him someday as having an Alec-Guinness-in-The-Bridge-on-the-River-Kwai moment. Suddenly thunderstruck by the enormity of his own actions, saying "What have I done?"

Ditto, for Trump/Clinton voters.

[Update: Almost certainly, I was semi-remembering above what Jonah Goldberg observed last month.]

Anyway, Hillary leaps into Kasich's vacated number two position this week:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
"Donald Trump" phony 256,000 -116,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 198,000 +8,000
"Ted Cruz" phony 97,600 -155,400
"Bernie Sanders" phony 78,200 -3,600

  • The story that seems to have made the biggest phony splash recently: ‘Hot sauce truther’ Trump calls Clinton ‘phony’.

    Donald Trump ripped into Hillary Clinton on Tuesday morning during an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” show, calling the Democratic presidential candidate “phony” for claiming she carries hot sauce with her at all times.

    Context: Trump claimed Hillary was pandering, since she made this claim on an NYC "urban" radio station. But it appears that this might be a rare instance in which she's actually telling the truth.

  • To be fair, Trump was almost certainly making what he thought was a safe bet. At the Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti reviews Hillary's long, tired history of dishonesty and poorly-hidden naked power hunger. Why has her primary campaign failed to sew up the nomination so far?

    A lot of the reason is Clinton: her tin ear, her aloofness, her phony eagerness to please, her suspicion of the press and of outsiders, her let us say complicated relationship with the truth, the blithe way in which she dissembles and deceives.

    Continetti repeats something we've noted in the past: when caught off-guard, Hillary's first instinct is to lie.

  • Also, to assume the rules don't apply to her. At Reason, Scott Shackford notes another example: "SuperPAC to Spend $1 Million to Target Hillary Haters on Social Media" At issue is the "Correct the Record" SuperPAC run by Hillary flack David Brock, and how it's doing something that's supposed to be illegal: coordinating with Hillary's campaign organization. It's a convoluted tale, but:

    The reason this is worth noting and worth mocking is how much it implicates Clinton's attacks on Citizens United as hypocritical and self-serving. Sanders has attacked Clinton for all the money her campaign has received from corporate donors and her corporate speeches, and she has insisted that this money has not corrupted her positions—which is actually a defense of the Citizens United decision.

    She's special, once again exempt from the rules she wants to make everyone else follow.

  • Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times opines on "Ted Cruz’s Phony Concern for ‘The People’".

    How can you tell when a politician like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is lying? When he talks about the need to let “the people” decide. What he really means is “the game is rigged and the insiders get to decide.”

    Yeah, yeah. Please note Andrew Rosenthal was the guy who wrote the dishonest yarn about George H. W. Bush and the supermarket scanner back in 1992. ("Bush Encounters the Supermarket, Amazed")

    So how can you tell when a "journalist" like Andrew Rosenthal is lying? When he's writing about Republicans.

Last Modified 2016-04-26 12:50 PM EDT

So You've Been Publicly Shamed

[Amazon Link]

Reading Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test last month reminded me how much I enjoyed his writing, so I prevailed upon UNH's main library to borrow a copy of So You've Been Publicly Shamed from UNH-Manchester's stacks. It's pretty good.

Ronson examines the relatively recent phenomenon of people changing their behavior, losing their livelihood, or getting exiled from polite society due to negative attention, often ginned up via social media sites.

It begins when Ronson notices a spambot named "Jon Ronson" unleashed on Twitter, with his photo attached, babbling nonsensically about fictional gastronomic adventures. Ronson tracks this back to a couple of arrogant Internet wannabe-entrepreneurs who refuse to take down the bot when asked politely. Ronson organizes a mini-campaign of ridicule and abhorrence, which saves the day: the spambot is removed. Good news, right?

Well, in that instance perhaps. Ronson expands his investigation through various case studies: a journalist who gets caught making up quotes; the girl who made a stupid tweet about AIDS in Africa; the race-car executive whose fondness for sado-masochism was revealed; the girl (a different girl) who posted a Facebook photo mocking a "silence and respect" sign at Arlington National Cemetery; and more.

Details and results differ. To put it mildly. Ronson is somewhat bemused by his failure to find an overarching, universal, story. (Malcolm Gladwell would have.) Some shamees have their lives irretrievably altered; but some don't. Some handle it well, some don't. Sometimes the social outrage is well-earned, in some cases it's totally out of proportion to the offense.

That's OK. With Ronson, following him on his wide-eyed, open-minded journey is the reward.

Oddly enough: even though NJ's ex-Governor Jim McGreevey is profiled (he's now working in prison reform and ex-convict rehab), Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky are absent. Too obvious? What brought this to mind was Lewinsky's most recent career move: public discussion of public shaming herself, giving a Vanity Fair interview in 2014 ("Shame and Survival"); a TED talk in 2015 ("The Price of Shame") And a Guardian interview just the other day (" Monica Lewinsky: ‘The shame sticks to you like tar’")

Oh, wait. The interviewer in that last link is Jon Ronson. Never mind.

Last Modified 2016-04-25 5:47 AM EDT

Batman v Superman

Dawn of Justice

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I had a day off, so boogied on over to Newington to catch a late morning/early afternoon screening before it vanishes from theatres. I think there were five other people in the auditorium.

I read all the vitriol directed at this movie, but wound up liking it anyway.

Most of the plot is right up there in the title. Batman/Bruce Wayne has gone a little bit around the bend in his pursuit of evildoers, and he's more than a little irked at how the Superman/Zod battle from the previous movie trashed Metropolis and left thousands of collateral-damage casualties. Superman, for his part, is unfond of Batman's increasingly violent vigilantism.

Add Lex Luthor to the mix, who's eager to encourage the mutual irritation of our heroes into a deadly duel. And Lois Lane, always in peril. And—you probably already have heard—a reclusive female superhero, famous for her Lasso of Truth, Bracelets of Submission, and Bazongas of Awesomeness.

It's fun, but honestly, it's also way long, and I invited disaster by not timing my restroom visits better. And, geez, the plot is mystifying: just what is Luthor trying to accomplish here? At least the Gene Hackman version from 1978 (!) had a clear, if ludicrous, goal in mind. And our superbabe: exactly why is she doing what she's doing at the beginning? If any of this was explained, I missed it.

Also it's kind of pretentious: someone should tell the scriptwriters that's it's pointless for us mere mortals to draw coherent moral lessons from the travails of superheroes. Don't bother!

Along with the pretentiousness comes humorlessness. Although Jeremy Irons as Alfred delivers some good acerbic lines, the funny banter between B & S ("I thought she was with you.") comes as kind of a shock when it finally arrives.

Last Modified 2016-04-25 5:54 AM EDT