Retro Pols

Drew Cline says beware of The Politicians Stuck in the '50s.

Americans’ confidence in large institutions, and government in particular, is collapsing. We no longer trust large, complex bureaucracies with little accountability to stick to their missions and do their jobs with honor and integrity.

And yet many of our politicians continue to talk and act like business professors from 1956, arguing that we should concentrate power and authority in the hands of a few top-level managers.

“In the 1950s and 1960s, to be an able manager was to do four things well: plan, organize, direct, and control,” management professor Phil Rosenzweig wrote for Harvard Business Review back in 2010. “Leading business thinkers conceived of managers as rational actors who could solve complex problems through the power of clear analysis.”

Too many of our politicians take exactly this approach to governing. See a problem in society? Government will fix it! How? By crafting a plan, then organizing, directing and controlling citizens and/or businesses in pursuit of the plan’s objectives.

Sigh. It's only been a few days since we posted an excerpt from Timothy Sandefur's Freedom's Furies about the great enthusiasm back in the 1930s for dictatorship, as various intellectuals looked wistfully at examples set by Stalin, Mussolini, and (even) Hitler. We're still dealing with some of the governmental baggage of that era.

Also of note:

  • We're also dealing with governmental baggage from the 1910s. Like the Federal Trade Commission, which Wikipedia tells us dates from 1914. Ryan M. Yonk and Ethan Yang have been watching recent FTC antics and they describe what happens when Partisan Oversight Meets Partisan Antitrust.

    On August 21, the Republican-led House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) communications with its counterparts in the European Union (EU). Those who support FTC Chair Lina Khan say the probe is a biased attempt to score political points by scrutinizing a favorite right-wing punching bag. Those who oppose what the FTC is doing argue the agency has been politically captured by a Chair with a clear and expansive agenda. They are both right, and the end result is a realistic and workable system of checks and balances. Just as the Founders intended.

    The Committee requested documents pertaining to agency officials dispatched by the FTC to Europe to aid with the implementation and enforcement of the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), a far more aggressive antitrust law than anything found in America. Although the FTC regularly coordinates with antitrust enforcement and consumer protection regimes around the world, its work with the EU on this subject raises political, legislative, and due process issues because of the expansive nature of the DMA.

    It appears that Lina Kahn's FTC, after failing to get its way under American law, is helping Europe's regulators to go after the American companies that it wants to target: "Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft."

    (It's somewhat surprising that those companies tilt so heavily Democratic. It's been over 30 years since Paul Weaver wrote The Suicidal Corporation; maybe it's time for an update.)

  • And it's a not even good theater. J.D. Tuccille looks at yet another sequel: The Government Shutdown Debate Is Political Theater.

    Asked if we should expect a shutdown of the federal government, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) says "no" and points out "we still have a number of days" until funding runs out on October 1. The White House, though, insists debate over spending is "marching our country toward a government shutdown." The battling takes are political theater as are so-called "government shutdowns" which, unfortunately, are nothing of the sort. No matter how D.C. disputes end, the federal government will certainly continue spending entirely too much and, no matter what the headlines say, will never have really shut down.

    And please be aware that whatever the outcome of this particular drama, it's unlikely that anything will be done to deal with this:

    Large swaths of both parties will simply avert their eyes. Until it's too late. (And it might already be too late.)

  • In a double feature with Political Theater, we have… Comedy With No Sense of Humor. It's Kevin D. Williamson's take on Hasan Minhaj, and it's funnier than … well, anything that Hasan Minhaj has done.

    So, wait—you’re telling me that a rabbi, a priest, and a pastor didn’t actually walk into a bar?

    Hasan Minhaj, a comedian and social commentator, has come under criticism because many of his moving and outrageous stories turn out to be made-up. Made-up stories are not a problem for Hasan Minhaj the comedian, but they are a problem for Hasan Minhaj the social commentator. Minhaj has made trouble for himself, but the genre in which he works is hardly his creation and was always begging for trouble: He has, at worst, only amplified the errors and distortions of such figures as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, what Jim Treacher called the “clown nose off, clown nose on” routine: Offer red-meat commentary with unearned authority, and then protest, “I’m just a comedian!” when your mistakes, misunderstandings, and ignorance are pointed out. As my friend Charles C.W. Cooke points out, Donald Trump’s admirers employ a similar frame-shifting defense of their man: When he says something outrageously stupid or offensive, it’s “He’s a fighter!” but when he retreats, as he always does, into political cowardice, it’s “He knows how to win! We can’t afford your purity tests!” Minhaj’s version of that act is: “Listen to this story that proves what a racist society this is!” “Uh, that didn’t happen.” “I’m a comedian! I’m an artist, damn you!”

    That's at the Dispatch, it has one of those little padlocks at the top, but (really) if you can afford to subscribe, …

  • Also funnier than Minhaj: Marshall McLuhan. Jeff Jacoby notes his quote: 'Art is anything you can get away with'. And how that's playing out in Denmark:

    "TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN" is the name of an early Woody Allen movie and a song by the Steve Miller Band. It is also the name of a contemporary artwork by the Danish artist Jens Haaning. Or at least art is what Haaning says it is. A court in Copenhagen says it's a scam. Who's right?

    The background: In 2021, Haaning was commissioned by the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art to reproduce a pair of his earlier works, in which he attached paper money to large, framed canvases. The museum supplied the cash Haaning would need to make the new versions — it gave him 533,000 Danish kroner (equivalent to roughly $76,000) and he signed a contract agreeing to return the currency after the four-month exhibition.

    What Haaning delivered, however, was not a recreation of his earlier pieces but two empty frames, which he titled "Take the Money and Run." In an email to the museum, he said he had decided to "make a new work for the exhibition," rather than duplicate his previous pieces and that he was keeping the banknotes for himself — as part of his art.

    "The work is that I have taken their money," he told the Danish network DR. "I encourage other people who have just as miserable working conditions as me to do the same." In an interview with CNN, he denied that he was committing theft. From his "artistic point of view," he said, he had "created an art piece, which is maybe 10 or 100 times better than what we had planned. What is the problem?"

    No problem here, Jens! I assume that inflation has hit your budget for mind-altering substances, and a guy's gotta make ends meet somehow.