URLs du Jour

2019-07-24

[Amazon Link]

  • At Reason, Eric Boehm wonders: Can the Freedom Caucus Convince Trump to Derail This Awful Budget Deal?. Which inspires me to invoke once again Betteridge's law of headlines: "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no."

    (Actually, that's not the entire headline: it continues: "If Not, Fiscal Conservatism Is Truly Dead.")

    Eric has a longer memory than most pundits, going back a whole 488 days:

    In 2018, now-President Trump was presented with a bipartisan budget deal that smashed spending caps and hiked federal outlays by $400 billion. He fumed about the cost and threatened to veto the package. He eventually signed it, but said publicly that he was "disappointed" with the final bill and vowed to "never sign another bill like this again."

    Why, he even tweeted this promise, so we know he was serious!

    A few days ago, the WaPo reported: Trump tells aides to look for big spending cuts in second term, sowing confusion about budget priorities.

    It is difficult to react to that with anything other than bitter sarcasm. Assume I did that.

    Still, I believe they should have said "displaying" instead of "sowing".


  • The WaPo's Megan McArdle notes that Conservatives want to revive a one-time trick from more than 100 years ago. And that trick is "industrial policy".

    The first thing opponents of industrial policy should note is that it can work. But there are some other things we should note, too: that while it can work, it usually doesn’t; that it didn’t cause most of the growth it gets credit for in Asian countries; and that the limited benefits it offers probably can’t be realized by modern-day America.

    But first, the concession. Done smartly, strategic trade policy and targeted subsidies can boost a country’s competitive position in growth-promoting industries. And because those industries often cluster, successful national champions can be quite hard to dislodge — just think of Detroit’s decades-long dominance of the global auto market. Once a cluster is established, spillover effects can foster further growth in related sectors.

    Unfortunately, industrial policy is rarely particularly smart. Even brilliant planners can’t actually predict the future, and if they guess wrong, they can squander a great deal of taxpayer money while actually making the economy less competitive. France’s Minitel network, a sort of proto-Internet once heralded as a triumph of industrial policy, arguably hindered French adoption of the actual Internet.

    The recent conference on "national conservatism" was teeming with bad ideas, this was just one of them.


  • Many folks are overusing the f-word these days. And by that I mean "fascism". Let's take a look at what George Orwell had to say on that back in 1944, when WWII was still going, and there were self-described fascists doing their thing: What is Fascism?.

    It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

    Yet underneath all this mess there does lie a kind of buried meaning. To begin with, it is clear that there are very great differences, some of them easy to point out and not easy to explain away, between the régimes called Fascist and those called democratic. Secondly, if ‘Fascist’ means ‘in sympathy with Hitler’, some of the accusations I have listed above are obviously very much more justified than others. Thirdly, even the people who recklessly fling the word ‘Fascist’ in every direction attach at any rate an emotional significance to it. By ‘Fascism’ they mean, roughly speaking, something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working-class. Except for the relatively small number of Fascist sympathizers, almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’. That is about as near to a definition as this much-abused word has come.

    But Fascism is also a political and economic system. Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition of it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make. All one can do for the moment is to use the word with a certain amount of circumspection and not, as is usually done, degrade it to the level of a swearword.

    Back in 1944, FDR bemoaned the idea that postwar America might "return to normalcy", as seen after World War I. That would mean "we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism." Eek!


  • [Amazon Link]
    At Law & Liberty, Ronald Dworkin reviews a new book by James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky: Science and the Good. And wonders: Why Do We Look to Science As a Guide for Living?.

    The quest to base morality on science is like the old alchemist’s quest to turn lead into gold. The project appears eminently doable. The necessary steps seem so small (in alchemy’s case, lead and gold are practically neighbors on the Table of Elements), and the goal so beneficial, that it is frustrating when the quest fails. But fail it does, as explained by two University of Virginia faculty, James Davison Hunter and Paul Nedelisky, in their excellent new book. What is perverse is that the quest never ends—at least in the case of science and morality. Alchemists retired their beakers and brick furnaces in the 18th century.

    I am a sucker for this subject. On the to-read list.


  • And Granite Staters might be interested in Tyler Cowen's list of: My favorite things New Hampshire.

    2. Author: I find John Irving unreadable, so does it come down to Russell Banks?  Who else is there?  Salinger lived in New Hampshire for a long time, so I’ll pick him, though it is also pretty far from my favorite. 

    78 comments as I type, a couple by me. (Hint: P. J. O'Rourke.)