URLs du Jour

2022-05-04

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  • Well, yeah. Our first item is a total steal from Don Boudreaux's Cafe Hayek Quotation of the Day.... It's from Bryan Caplan's new book, available via the Amazon book cover link at your right.

    Under democracy, politicians are less candid about their motives; they need us to like them, and power-hunger is not likeable. But given its ubiquity throughout most of political history, can we really believe that the motive of power-hunger is no longer paramount? One of my favorite political insiders privately calls politicians of both parties “psychopaths” – and he’s on to something. Rising high on the pyramid of power is hard unless the love of power fuels your ascent.

    The paperback is cheap, and the Kindle version is cheaper. I've bought it.


  • I guess I should say something about the leaked Alito opinion. But I'm not that eloquent, so let's check out what George F. Will has to say: Alito’s argument is less a refutation of Roe than a starting over.

    Conservatives have backed enough lost causes to know one when they see one. Nevertheless, they should encourage Roe’s supporters to engage with Alito’s arguments, which include:

    • That Roe, which effectively overturned all 50 states’ abortion laws, curtailed debates and negotiations about abortion and embittered politics by halting the accommodations that had liberalized abortion laws in about one third of the states before 1973.
    • That an abortion right is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions.
    • That the court has long recognized that stare decisis — respect for precedent — is “not an inexorable command.”
    • That some of the court’s finest actions have involved reversing precedents, and that absent these reversals this would be a less admirable country.

    Progressives take understandable pride in their long march through many institutions; their efforts have won them substantial power in the media, academia, corporations and popular culture. But the conservative legal movement, too, has made a slow, patient march. It has passed through law schools, courts, journalism and elections featuring promises about the future composition of state and federal judiciaries.

    GFW goes on to observe that even many (most?) pro-abortion legal scholars think that Roe was lousy legal reasoning.


  • A Pun Salad repeat. Abortion is one of those issues where I dissent from my libertarian siblings. I hardly ever do this, but an December 2021 essay from Kevin D. Williamson cemented my thinking pretty firmly: he urged that we Reject Magical Thinking on Abortion.

    To believe the story the abortion-rights advocates tell you, you have to believe in magic.

    There’s no magic required on the pro-life side.

    That’s the real source of our long disagreement.

    In its most basic version, the pro-life position is easy to understand, requiring no special intellectual training, no religious commitment, no mysticism, and nothing you’d really even call a philosophy. What we believe is that you don’t kill children who haven’t been born for the same reason you don’t kill children who have been born. That’s it. There isn’t some magical event that happens at some point during the pregnancy that transforms the unborn child from a meaningless lump of cells to a meaningful lump of cells. Modern, literate people don’t need the medieval doctrines of “quickening” or “ensoulment” (or some half-assed, modern, secular repackaging of those ancient superstitions) to know that the unborn child is an unborn child — we have biology, genetics, and, for those who need to see with their own eyes, imaging technology for that. The human organism that you hold in your arms six months after birth is the same organism it was six months before birth. It isn’t a different organism — it is only a little older. It is true that the child six months after conception isn’t fully developed — and neither is a 19-year-old. We have a natural, predictable, reasonably well-understood process of individual development. There is no magic moment, no mystical transformation, and the people who tell you that there is are peddling superstition and pseudoscience.

    Emphasis added.

    I will go so far as to admit that there are a lot of people that do indeed adhere to "magical thinking". Or prefer not to think at all, disguising their avoidance by dropping into euphemisms like "choice" and "controlling one's body."

    And this is a democracy. Those people vote. So what to do?


  • DGB, KGB, what's one letter between friends? Gerard Baker writes on our new Ministry of Truth: Shut Up, the Disinformation Governance Board Explained.

    It’s always exciting for progressives when they create a new government office of something or other. They live for this: another excuse to spend piles of taxpayer dollars; another polysyllabic title and flashy logo; another opportunity to extend the long, comforting arm of the bureaucracy into the business of ordinary citizens who never knew how impoverished their lives were without it.

    So there was a tangible buzz of excitement around Washington last week when the Department of Homeland Security proudly inaugurated the Disinformation Governance Board.

    Other than its title and the identity of its executive director, there’s not much we know about this exciting-sounding new body. Its job, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a congressional committee last week, is to tackle falsehoods that threaten the national security of the U.S. He made it sound over the weekend as though it is all about preventing human traffickers and smugglers from misrepresenting themselves—all harmless enough.

    But we also learned last week that it will be headed by Nina Jankowicz. Her Twitter feed makes her look like a cross between Madame Mao and Bette Midler—a mix of impeccably conformist left-wing views about politics and media misinformation—the Hunter Biden story was Russian disinformation, the Steele Dossier was all true, etc.—with excruciating political parodies of musical-theater numbers. Watching her videos is a little like being an audience member at a Christmas concert in a prisoner-of-war camp.

    That's a free link, allegedly, so check out Mr. Baker.

    Monday's Reason Roundtable podcast made the comparison to the doomed Total Information Awareness program from the Dubya era.


  • That wacky college on the other side of the state. There are plenty of obstacles to hearing conservative speakers at Dartmouth, but the Dartmouth Review reports that other views sail through just fine. On White Identity Politics and Covid: Catherine Clune-Taylor at Dartmouth.

    On Saturday, April 9, the Department of Philosophy hosted a lecture by the Black womxn Catherine Clune-Taylor. Serving as an Assistant Professor of Feminist Science and Technology Studies at San Diego State University, Clune-Taylor holds a PhD in philosophy from Princeton University. Her lecture, titled “Covid-19 Anti-Vaxxers, White Supremacist Suicidality and Racialized Risk,” was given because the department, “as part of… [its] commitment to social justice…is developing a 5-year series of public lectures on Race, Gender and Justice.” Every other word in the talk was indecipherable jargon such as “thanatopolitics,” “hyperheteropatriarchal,” and “virus qua virus,” on top of the typical repertoire of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) puritans like “heteronormative,” “transphobia,” and “BIPOC [black, indigenous, or people of color].” Worse still, Clune-Taylor’s basic ideas were poorly organized and presented, with little effort given to minor details such as coherence or logical presentation. 

    Clune-Taylor’s basic thesis was that vaccine refusal among white Americans is driven by racial resentment against black people. By refusing the vaccine, white people can continue to make themselves sick, and thereby further spread the disease to others, including black people. The cost of sickness is worth the potential “reward” of harming black individuals. Furthermore, according to Clune-Taylor, a huge proportion of white Americans possess this profoundly twisted mindset. Her fantasies concerning the existence of this mindset, its supposed attractiveness to huge numbers of Americans, and how it has shaped American society comprised the rest of the lecture.

    If (say) Ron DeSantis becomes President, I'm sure this will be investigated thoroughly by his Disinformation Governance Board.


  • Let me count the ways. Katherine Mangu-Ward explains Why a Wealth Tax Is a Bad Idea.

    President Joe Biden has long been, in the immortal words of Editor at Large Matt Welch, a rusty weather vane, creaking reluctantly in the direction that the winds of his party blow. With his new budget proposal, the breezes have finally brought us to the shores of a serious wealth tax debate.

    Biden isn't calling his proposal a wealth tax, of course. It's the "Billionaire Minimum Income Tax," and it imposes a minimum 20 percent tax on the income of households with more than—oddly—$100 million in wealth. Biden's proposal is smaller and more pragmatic than the earlier variants from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.)—par for the course with Biden. Most notable is that even with implausibly optimistic estimates of the federal government's ability to collect, the whole mess is supposed to raise an average of a mere $36 billion per year over the next 10 years.

    KMW points out that Wheezy's efforts aren't about raising revenue; the actual amount of money his proposal would bring in would be a rounding error in comparison to the total government budget. Instead, there are two actual goals:

    1. Red meat thrown to the class warriors: " A floundering, unpopular president seeks to demonstrate a willingness to punish a small, unpopular class of people."
    2. More important, it would establish the notion that Uncle Stupid can tax wealth, creating "the huge bureaucratic, legal, and accounting support systems, public and private, necessary to support the formal tracking of wealth alongside income."

    KMW's final observation:

    […] Sweden has more billionaires per capita than the United States. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sweden is just one of dozens of countries that have tried wealth taxes and abandoned them.


  • I foresee difficulties in selling this idea. Richard Hanania is provocative, indeed. Plutocracy: The Alternative to Caesarism?. But first, his poke at the sacred cow of "democracy":

    To me, there’s nothing inherently ethically superior about a system where you get a 1 out of 200 million voice in who the president is as compared to one where you get 0 in 200 million. The former is close enough to round to zero, and I’m sort of puzzled by those who would pretend there is a great moral question here, even if we ignore the fact that in reality it’s the bureaucratic class – increasingly cross-national and unrepresentative of those they rule over – that runs things in democracies anyway.

    So democracy is bad, and the alternative is probably bad too and unrealistic. But Elon Musk buying Twitter suggests another way.`

    So how about…

    In summary, while reserving the right to elaborate further at some point in the future, I’ll just note that a short case for plutocracy, or rule by the wealthy, can look something like this. The concept of “democracy,” is at best too ill-defined to be a guiding principle for governance, as can be seen by the fact that there are wide disagreements about what the concept even means, with differences between tribes predictably reflecting political divides. We have to make a choice regarding who gets to decide important questions. Caesarism says let one man leading the government do it, but that has well-known problems and is inconsistent with the American political tradition. Plutocracy has the fewest problems, mainly because rich guys are smarter, less neurotic, and have higher testosterone levels than activists and bureaucrats, and they have achieved their success through market processes, which is more indicative of an ability to solve problems than success in academia, government, or activism. Someone who builds rocket ships, or founds PayPal, or gets oil out of the ground is likely to have better ideas on how to run society than someone who has successfully navigated a bureaucracy or whose career has been based on succeeding at “peer review,” or writing words on paper that are approved by other people who have also gotten where they are by writing words on paper that were approved of by others who wrote words on paper, etc. Moreover, unlike Caesars, economic elites can’t start destructive wars on their own. Plutocracy is not a perfect system, but if one rich guy just buying Twitter solves the problem of internet speech against the wishes of nearly the entire bureaucratic class, we will have to consider that a strong argument in its favor.

    Yeah, probably wouldn't work out. But still…