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Support for Families More Effective than Government Co-parenting

Grover Whitehurst of Brookings has made an attempt to compare research findings concerning the effects of different programs on the test scores of young students, and the findings conflict with the progressive preference for increasingly moving responsibility away from people and toward government:

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Whitehurst suggests:

The results illustrated in the graph suggest that family support in the form of putting more money in the pockets of low-income parents produces substantially larger gains in children’s school achievement per dollar of expenditure than a year of preschool, participation in Head Start, or class size reduction in the early grades. The finding that family financial support enhances academic achievement in the form of test scores is consistent with other research on the impact of the EITC showing impacts on later outcomes such as college enrollment.

The most important takeaway from this is that it reinforces conservatives’ contention that government should not seek to displace parents, relieving them of responsibility for raising their children.  Government policy should seek to strengthen families.

Of course, the fact that this would tend to reduce the influence of government and (therefore) progressives leads me to expect Whitehurst’s research not to have a significant effect on progressive policies.  Indeed, in his subsequent discussion, Whitehurst endeavors to speculate that imposing restrictions on families’ use of the funding would be even more effective than simply improving their financial standing. However, if giving parents money is so much more effective than public funding of pre-school programs, one might question Whitehurst’s belief that letting the public funding stop in the parents’ accounts for a moment would be better than both approaches.

Note, too, the limits of Whitehurst’s consideration.  The first and irreducible assumption is that government must do something to bring about specific social outcomes.  If supporting families through broad welfare that is largely free of strings is so much more effective than building government programs, one might expect even greater rewards from getting government out of the way of families.  Let people act in the economy without the weight of high taxes and oppressive regulations; allow communities and states to determine their own economic and social policies; allow the society, broadly, to follow cultural traditions that have proven, over time, to be the healthiest for human society (such as the traditional institution of marriage).

Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult to test for and make charts of the effects of progressive redistribution on the whole society.  Researchers can’t know (to simplify) that taking EITC money out of the economy wound up hurting other families, resulting in worse test scores.  Still, taking in all of the evidence, the weight of it suggests that leaving people free is not only the most moral approach, respecting civil rights, but is also likely to prove to be the most effective system by any standard apart from the wealth and power of government.

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Cruz Shows the Contrast, in More Ways Than One

You’ve heard the hype.  Now, if you haven’t already done so, take 25 minutes and watch Ted Cruz’s Republican convention speech.

Actually watching the video, I’d say by far the most disturbing aspect is the booing — the inability of the assembled Republicans to muster some grace.  The new GOP apparently cannot accept somebody who articulates a beautiful vision of the party’s perhaps-erstwhile values if he doesn’t at the same time utter a magic phrase of endorsement.  In that regard, it truly is now Trump’s GOP.  Me, I agree with Jonah Goldberg:

This is part of the corruption of Trump. He called Ted Cruz a liar every day and in every way for months (it used to be considered a breach in decorum to straight up call an opponent a liar, never mind use it as a nickname). The insults against his wife, the cavalier birtherism, the disgusting JFK assassination theories about his Dad: These things are known. And yet the big conversation of the day is Ted Cruz’s un-sportsmanlike behavior? For real? But forget Cruz for a moment. For over a year, Trump has degraded politics in some of the most vile ways. His respect for the Republican Party as the home of conservatism is on par with Napoleon’s respect for churches when he converted them into stables.

Read the whole thing.  Goldberg, like Cruz, is intent on exiting the Trump era (whenever that may be) with his courage, integrity, and well-formed political philosophy intact.  People who claim to share at least some significant share of that philosophy and yet who can boo its articulation if it does not mix in Trump’s cult of personality bring home just how much this election may hinge on a seesaw of alternating disgust.

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Getting Credit for Identity Requires a Creditor

Ed Driscoll rounds up a few links to construct the argument that progressivism and, specifically, identity politics are no substitute for finding real meaning in life:

In this era of nihilism, in which traits substitute for accomplishments, a former POW running for the White House in 2008 is mocked for being too old and infirm, and an ultra-successful businessman four years later is mocked for giving his employees cancer. Meanwhile, a failed community organizer is compared to God by magazine editors who should know better (and actually do, somewhere deep down in their hearts). And we wonder why ISIS appeals to far too many disaffected youth, as a macho religious alternative to becoming Nietzsche’s dread “Last Man,” as personified by a sniveling figure such as Footie Pajamas Obamacare Boy.

One piece of this puzzle that hasn’t been adequately explored, that I’ve seen, is why Leftists would foster this fatal dynamic in the first place.  Yesterday, I came across somebody (I think Jonah Goldberg, talking to Bill Kristol in the middle of a lengthy interview) suggesting that progressivism is essentially a suicide cult.  That may explain the motivation of some key figures, but for most of those who constitute progressivism’s ranks, I’d argue that the explanation is more a mix of blindness and fashionable views, reliant on the subconscious belief that the safety and comfort of the world exists naturally.

But what of the leaders of the movement who aren’t suicide cultists?  Drisoll’s points on identity politics direct us toward an answer.  After all, in order for people to get credit simply for their identities — with a relative advantage over others who actually do something worthy of recognition — there has to be a creditor.  That is, somebody has to hold the legal and social power to recognize the identity claims and suppress those who reject their asserted value.  That is: progressive elites.

As one investigates the various angles of modern socio-politics, that theme arises again and again.  Progressivism is a thuggish route to power built on the model not of empowering the powerless, but of draining the intrinsic individual worth of each human being as a means to social dominance.  They claim to bestow advantages, but the real benefit goes to them.

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Missing the Point of Conservatism and Western Culture

Pamela Constable’s Washington Post reflection on her conservative Connecticut WASP parents has been making the rounds on the right-wing Internet.  Her personal connection with her parents is just that (personal), but the Baby Boomer journalist appears mainly to have become more comfortable with her parents’ somewhat moderate political conservatism mainly because she can now see it in contrast with movements that she finds more distasteful, like the Tea Party and Trumpism.

What’s most clear, though, is how much she’s missing the essential point.  Feeling stifled and separated by the cool, hip movements during her youth, she set out to become a “crusading journalist” (telling phrase, that).  As a foreign correspondent, she traveled the world and witnessed some of the worst hardships that human beings face, even today.  Then:

Visiting home between assignments, I found myself noticing and appreciating things I had always taken for granted — the tamed greenery and smooth streets, the absence of fear and abundance of choice, the code of good manners and civilized discussion. I also began to learn things about my parents I had never known and to realize that I had judged them unfairly. I had confused their social discomfort with condescension and their conservatism with callousness.

Notably, Constable learned that her parents had actually developed their habits in reaction to the hardships and terrors of the early 20th Century:  “Eventually, I saw how loss and sacrifice had shaped both my parents, creating lifelong habits of thrift, loyalty, perseverance and empathy for those who suffered.”

I recall a lesson in elementary school concerning the layers of need that an individual has in order to achieve higher planes of action.  One must have bodily necessities.  One must feel relatively safe; intellectual pursuits don’t quite fit into the schedule while fleeing for one’s life.  Civilization needs a safe place to cultivate those willing to change the world for the better, in part because they’ve seen a better world.

The problem is that Constable took that place for granted, and she didn’t bother observing as the world changed around her, in large part because of the actions of her ideological peers and their consequences.  Too late is she discovering that the traditions and culture handed down to her have been learned over millennia of a magnificent civilization’s development mainly in order to address the changes that we can’t see happening and lack the capacity to predict.

Progressives like Constable don’t see that the voices they don’t like — the Tea Party and the Trumpists — are becoming more forceful because progressives are marching along, intent on trampling them and their continued sense of the wisdom in our culture.  Like a religious cult, progressives are blind to much that is essential, not only why the culture they loathe is so well evolved, but also how much damage their heroes, like Barack Obama, are doing, and how much they are ensuring conflict and a descent into increasing hostilities.

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Reason for RI CNBC Slip Critical

Gary Sasse tweeted an important point the other day:

Lot of chatter on CNBC ranking RI business worst in USA. Reason not @GinaRaimondo spin, but precipitous drops in quality of life& education

Before agreeing more determinedly, I’d point out that Rhode Island did pretty poorly on the economy score, too, dropping from 136 points (39th in the country) last year to 114 points (45th) this year.  But Gary’s right: we did tank by those other measures, too.

In education, Rhode Island fell from 124 points (13th), which was a too-sunny fluke of the methodology, I’d say, to 111 points (20th).  This may be what happens when reforms hit (as I’ve been saying) a political ceiling.

As for quality of life, Rhode Island’s drop from 216 points (12th) to 186 points (24th) does seem to correspond with some of the Family Prosperity Index (FPI) results that I’ve mentioned before.  If my intuition is correct — that Rhode Islanders who haven’t fled the state have responded in two distinct ways to the decline of their state: either unhealthy behavior or a return to basics like family and faith — CNBC’s methodology appears almost entirely to catch changes in the former, not the latter.

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The Vision of Completion, Left and Right

So, apparently the body type of a character in a new Disney film is raising some ire.  The “Polynesian demi-god Maui” in Moana is of the, let’s say, thick and powerful type, and that’s upsetting some activists.  As Tom Knighton writes, “You can never make SJWs happy.”  (That is, “social justice warriors.”)

Perhaps Knighton should have added “for long,” because each act of capitulation surely pleases them in itself.  But SJWs do seem to have a need to march quickly on to the next complaint that can give them a righteous high.

Even the most-basic story arc of The Lord of the Rings is, in that sense, conservative:  The hobbits are comfortable in the Shire until danger arises; they resolve the danger and then return to their comfort.  They’re changed, of course — stronger and wiser — but their mission is complete.  To Leftists, the battle is always the thing.  Comfort (at least other people’s comfort) is always a lie, because it’s built on the suffering of somebody, somewhere, and rather than find that somebody and ease their suffering, they’d rather attack the comfort.  No justice, no peace.

To be sure, not every progressive or liberal lives on the constant hunt for outrages to battle, but their leading edge (particularly those whose personal financial comfort depends on stoking outrage) certainly is and churns out the latest hashtags, Facebook picture overlays, and fashionable causes that define the virtuous worldview of the moment.

Some on the right have a similar temperament (and incentive system), of course, and no doubt that some on the local Left would say I’m describing myself with the above.  Honestly, though, I can’t imagine being satisfied with an occupation that entailed digging for excuses for activism.  The danger of Sauron did arise, in The Lord of the Rings, even if others might have been inclined to deny it at first, and our world does face, I’d contend, existential dangers that manifest at all levels of government.

My Shire would find me contemplating the universe, reading and writing fiction, and having more time for leisurely activities.  But then, again, I believe in diversity and would be content to let others persist in their errors, provided they leave me space to escape them and leave me free to explain to people who’ll listen what they’ve got wrong.

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Imagine a World in Which Everybody Agrees with Me

This parody video of a TED talk has pushed its way to the front of my mind several times since I first saw it a few weeks ago:

The crescendo is the most profound part, when the faux “thought leader” closes thus:

How ’bout we end with a question, a very big question:  What if everybody in this room decided to come together and agree with what I’m saying? Look at a picture of the planet again.  That is a world I want to live in.

You might recognize the “very big question” as precisely the tone that has infected our ruling classes and aggravated so many of the rest of us.  It’s the tone of the Rhode Island Foundation and its Nail Communications video.  And it’s the tone of these comments from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo responding to recent shootings, particularly of policemen in Dallas.  These three paragraphs came to me (for some reason) as the first item on Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner’s “Memo to Friends of Education” newsletter today:

It is time to say enough. Enough violence. Enough hate. Enough tragedies. It is a time for healing, time for peacefulness, time for unity.

Let’s commit to being a community that rejects violence and poverty, and embraces diversity and civility. I believe we can be bolder. I believe that our families, neighborhoods, state and country can do better, and I believe we can move forward together.

Today our emotions are raw. We are all filled with a mix of shock, anger, frustration. If anything good can come of these horrific killings, let’s replace these emotions with respect, unity and action to bring about a more just, equal and peaceful Rhode Island.

We absolutely should embrace diversity and civility, but the myopia that leads progressives to adopt the “come together and agree with me” tone may arise from their core belief that we can’t really be diverse.  “Diversity and civility” is just rhetoric as empty as the presentation in the parody video.  They don’t believe, for example, that some private business in some far away state should be permitted to conduct its business in a way with which they disagree — whether the wages that it pays, the materials that it uses, or the projects that it’ll accept.

They’re religious zealots who believe they have uncovered the truth of the universe (although it might change with their fashions) and think we all ought to be cordial while they force us to live as they prefer.  Their civility is that of the persecutor who calls you ma’am or sir while closing the door of the dungeon behind you.

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Purpose, Happiness, and Genes

I do wonder if the obvious hostility toward Christianity limits the conclusions of pieces such as Will Storr’s New Yorker essay on the benefits of a purposeful happiness (“eudaemonia”) for health, at the level of one’s genes, but the insights are good regardless:

When they parsed the data, they saw that Fredrickson’s prediction appeared to be wrong. “This whole hedonic well-being stuff—just how happy are you, how satisfied with life?—didn’t really correlate with gene expression at all,” Cole said. Then he checked the correlation with eudaemonic happiness. “When we looked at that, things actually looked quite impressive,” he said. The results, while small, were clearly significant. “I was rather startled.” The study indicated that people high in eudaemonic happiness were more likely to show the opposite gene profile of those suffering from social isolation: inflammation was down, while antiviral response was up. Since that first test, in 2013, there have been three successful replications of the study, including one of a hundred and eight people, and another of a hundred and twenty-two. According to Cole, the kind of effect sizes that are being found indicate that lacking eudaemonia can be as damaging as smoking or obesity. They also suggest that, although people high in eudaemonic happiness often experience plenty of the hedonic stuff, too, the associated health benefits tend to surface only in those who lead what Aristotle might have called a good life.

“Hedonic,” by the way, isn’t exactly the same thing as hedonism, which implies an excess.

It should surprise nobody who hasn’t written off a spiritual reality that our bodies seem to respond well when we do the things we find ourselves called to do, including building toward larger goals, which implies purpose.  Take that a step farther: Storr and his stable of researchers seem surprised that striving for goals and maintaining multiple ongoing projects have benefits even when they aren’t associated with either socializing or a sense of humanity’s greater good — the former being one good that materialists can imagine us to be evolved to desire and the latter being their sense of the highest purpose.  People who believe in an individual relationship with God, however, can see that living up to one’s own potential and finding one’s own unique purpose can be sufficient of itself.

It would be interesting, next, to test whether there are characteristics of goals that do people particularly well.  There may be no lesson in the exercise, inasmuch as the biology that encourages rightly ordered goals could respond to goals that have been corrupted, but it would be interesting to discover whether correlation is stronger when particular worldviews inform the goals, whether one believes a project serves God’s purpose, will save Mother Nature, or conquer the world with wealth.

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“Tolerance” Means You Have to Do What They Want

This is not the sort of thing the government does in a free society:

A California court ruled last week that ChristianMingle and it’s affiliate faith-based dating websites must allow LGBT singles to search and be matched with people of the same gender.

The ruling comes at the end of a 2.5 year legal battle after two gay men noticed in 2013 that new members to the popular dating site, which boasts over 15 million users, could only search for dates of the opposite sex.

In brief, this means that it is illegal for a company in California to set up a business that seeks explicitly to provide services to people with Christian values.  I almost made that a more-generic “particular values,” but it would be counterproductive to pretend that the progressive government in California has any intention of applying this principle equally.

When it comes to the government’s demands on Christians, the call of “tolerance” is not answered simply by letting other people live their lives as they see fit.  No, we have to facilitate and serve behaviors that we find immoral — now not only through government, but through our own private businesses, too.  This isn’t even a matter of our seeking to exclude a class of people; if we wish to provide services that we want but progressives’ favored classes do not, we must provide their closest comparable service, as well.

One cannot avoid the conclusion that all Christians should leave California unless they see themselves as missionaries in a hostile land.  More and more, of course, that describes the view we have to take within the United States as a whole, now that progressives have abandoned any pretense of valuing real diversity or true civil rights, which means we are unlike missionaries in that we’ll have no home base to which to return in a land that actively supports our beliefs.

The era of comfortable Christianity is ending, and we should not expect Christian charity and tolerance from people who have explicitly rejected our values.

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A Broader View for Solving Society’s Problems

Here’s a finding with interesting implications for public policy debates:

Against a grim backdrop of rising suicide rates among American women, new research has revealed a blinding shaft of light: One group of women — practicing Catholics — appears to have bucked the national trend toward despair and self-harm.

Compared with women who never participated in religious services, women who attended any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide between 1996 and 2010, says a study published Wednesday by JAMA Psychiatry. …

The women’s church attendance was not the only factor; which church they attended mattered as well.  Protestant women who worshiped weekly at church were far less likely to take their own lives than were women who seldom or never attended services. But these same Protestant women were still seven times more likely to die by their own hand than were their devout Catholic sisters.

Taking these findings at face value for the sake of consideration, one might suggest that the government should recommend that women attend Catholic Mass once a week, but I’d go in a different direction.  The lesson should be that people have problems and face difficulties that government just should not task itself with solving.

It’s very easy to fall into the thinking that government should try to do something and that its doing so shouldn’t preclude other approaches, but in the long term, in practice, that becomes impossible.  Ultimately, society allocates a certain amount of resources to particular problems, and the government begins to crowd out those resources.  To the extent that people believe the government has and is offering a solution, people won’t turn to alternatives that take a longer-term commitment, like developing religious involvement.  (In a way, this is like people not signing up for insurance if the government mandates that they get care when they’re sick regardless.)

It’s entirely possible, even probable, that the number of lives saved by direct government action will be fewer than the number lost because government changed society’s incentives, meaning that government action cost lives.  And this doesn’t account for whatever harm the government does by taking money from other purposes to which people would put it in order to fund its programs.

As with the economy, what the government ought scrupulously to do is to reduce the barriers that it creates to individuals’ and families’ fixing their own problems through other methods.

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RI Foundation Tells Rhode Islanders to Shut Up and Take Their Medicine

The lede of a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Daniel Henninger describes its point concisely: “Barack Obama’s presidency of moral condescension has produced an electoral backlash.”  The notion of this condescension from our elite betters came immediately to mind when I opened up a Rhode Island Foundation email promoting this video, which is part of its “what’s next” initiative, and which is slap-in-your-face offensive:

The video opens with a blank screen and marching thrum before the following phrase appears: “Actual quotes, From actual Rhode Islanders.”  The text doesn’t specify which Rhode Islanders, or where these phrases were found.  It’s just us; things we’ve said as we’ve participated in public debate.  (At least its those of us who don’t fit the obvious political profile of the people included in the RI Foundation’s “community contributions” section.)

The slap comes immediately and with deliberate offense, with video of a child being beeped for reading swear words from a notepad.  Child 2 is beeped again, reading another quote from an “actual Rhode Islander.”  Child 3 looks up in disbelief after reading his quote.  A small girl offers the first commentary after hers:  “Who says this?”

Next, our local elite betters put their own words in the kids’ mouths: “Stop! … Stop complaining. Stop blaming. Stop trolling.”  We (“actual Rhode Islanders”) aren’t making things better; we’re making them worse.  Not to worry, though, because these kids “are what’s next.”  They’re going to solve the problems of the world when they’re adults, but in the meantime, they need us to “be nice or be quiet.”

That’s right.  The message of the people promoting this slick video…

  • who rope all of us broadly into the suspect category,
  • who include the very act of complaining on the list of things that we should stop,
  • who deliberately slap us with the shock of putting swears in the mouths of children,
  • who tell us that we’re merely a hopeless generation occupying space until the saintly kids grow up

… is that we’re not being nice, that we’re being dismissive.  That we should just shut our traps and not complain about the treatment to which the powerful in our state subject us or when they do things like impose new fees, take away our rights, and slush around money sucked from our economy in a corrupt whirlpool (or when they use non-profit organizations to push political agendas) or blame them when things continue to go wrong, year after year.  We’re just “trolling.”

Who are the condescending people behind this message, hiding behind children?

Well, the Rhode Island Foundation we know.  It’s interesting to note, though, the group behind this video, NAIL Communications, because it’s received almost $2.5 million from the state government through HealthSource RI, our ObamaCare health benefits exchange, over the past few years.

So, yes, shut up and pay your taxes, you nasty Rhode Islanders, so that people who think they’re better than us can get big paydays from government ventures that limit our freedoms as well as redistribute our money.

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The End Result of a Deliberate De-Education About Our Culture

Notre Dame Professor Patrick Deneen taps into an area of thinking that I’ve been spotting with more frequency.  To my observation that we have no excuse for repeating errors that have been known for millennia, Deneen might respond (emphasis in original):

Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts — whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about — have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings. The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide. The end of history for our students signals the End of History for the West.

During my lifetime, lamentation over student ignorance has been sounded by the likes of E.D. Hirsch, Allan Bloom, Mark Bauerlein and Jay Leno, among many others. But these lamentations have been leavened with the hope that appeal to our and their better angels might reverse the trend (that’s an allusion to Lincoln’s first inaugural address, by the way). E.D. Hirsch even worked up a self-help curriculum, a do-it yourself guide on how to become culturally literate, imbued with the can-do American spirit that cultural defenestration could be reversed by a good reading list in the appendix. Broadly missing is sufficient appreciation that this ignorance is the intended consequence of our educational system, a sign of its robust health and success.

To my suggestion that progressive government is setting up a sort of “company state” in which everything is ordered toward the business model of providing government services and making others pay for them, Deneen would add (emphasis added):

Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments. Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.

Maybe his most important addition, however, is Deneen’s glimmer of hope:

On our best days, I discern their longing and anguish and I know that their innate human desire to know who they are, where they have come from, where they ought to go, and how they ought to live will always reassert itself.

That’s a difficult longing to fulfill.  As Plato noted all those centuries ago, people once deluded in such a way “deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth,” and powerful forces in our society will give them every opportunity and excuse not to evaluate their sense that something’s missing.

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Two Paths When Things Go Bad

As the scarcity of posts in this space illustrates, I’ve been extremely busy, this week.  Things have slowed, but I’m still getting back on track.

One thing I’ve been doing has been to sift through the data available from the Family Prosperity Initiative (FPI).  In summary, the conclusion seems to be inevitable that Rhode Islanders are good people who are just relatively unhappy, with something having happened around 2012 to reinforce that feeling, as suggested by adverse changes in things like new business establishments after that year.  Notably, that was the year that Rhode Island first sank to 48th in the country by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), where it has remained since.

But the broad data from the FPI has some interesting contrast.  Rhode Island does poorly on almost all markers, whether economic or having to do with healthy behavior, with an up-tick around that year in, for example, obesity.  Yet other positive markers also jumped that year, or soon thereafter, including an increase in marriages, a decrease in divorces, an increase in weekly church attendance, and an increase in the percentage of children living in married households.

I wonder if some of these results are an indicator of two distinct paths’ that Rhode Islanders follow.  I’ve long been saying that Rhode Island has been driving out its “productive class“; that is, people at a point in life during which they want to make progress and be productive tend to account for a disproportionate share of the Rhode Islanders parting for elsewhere.  I’ve also been describing the “company state” mentality, whereby the state government pursues policies that increase the number of clients who give it justification for taking money from other people (the producers), in the state and elsewhere.

Maybe what the data shows is that, when a community gets in a funk, some people turn toward things that have traditionally led to stability, meaning, and success (religiosity and family), and other people turn to unhealthy behaviors, like drug use.  This is speculation, at this point, but I’d wager that there’s a strong correlation between these two paths and the other options of leaving the state, on the one hand, or falling into government dependence, on the other.

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The Rhode Island ACLU Works Against Civil Liberties

My thought on allowing women to be full members of yacht clubs:  of course.  The reasonable reaction upon hearing that some private yacht club somewhere else does not do so:  that doesn’t make sense; I wonder what mix of personalities and traditions keeps that going.  The Rhode Island ACLU’s reaction: let’s use our access to activists’ donations and free lawyers (and the lack of consequences for legal bullying) to force the private club to conform to our worldview.

The organization’s reasoning makes it even worse:

In his statement, [RI ACLU lead bully Steven] Brown said, “The ACLU fully appreciates that private clubs have a general First Amendment right to associate without government interference – a right that we support. However, that right is not absolute. In this case, it is our understanding that the Club opens some of its facilities to non-members, serves as an important networking opportunity for business people in the community, and has benefited from state and federal funds over the years.

“It also seems clear that the ban on women members is not because the Club seeks to express some sort of political view about the role of women, but is instead simply an archaic vestige from another era when women were treated as second-class citizens in a wide variety of settings…”

To progressives, Americans lose their rights the moment they leave carefully protected enclaves.  That’s why they can pretend to support rights that they really only support for people who agree with them.  Ever let anybody who’s not in your club use its facilities?  You lose your right “to associate without government interference.”  Derive some social benefit from your club?  You lose your rights.  Ever received any public funds for anything, even if those funds went to other groups that might have practices with which not every American agrees?  You got it: rights are gone.

And then as the perfect cherry on this ideological cow pie, the ACLU insinuates that it would be fine if the policy were an overt expression of an objectionable political view.  If it’s limited to being a less-objectionable expression of deference to tradition, to be changed gradually over time at a pace suiting its members and befitting a social club?  Ain’t got no rights.

By all means, speak against the policy, if you’re so inclined, but the ACLU repeatedly crosses the line into seeking to disenfranchise Americans and undermine our ability to accommodate each other as much as possible.  In other words, the organization proves time and again that its claim to support civil liberties is cover for imposing a narrow view on the country through lawfare.

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When the People Aren’t Represented

This Peter Hitchens essay about the reordering of politics visible in the Brexit vote is worth reading for a variety of reasons.  The crux is that Great Britain’s politics (like those of the United States) have developed such that the elites of the two major parties have more in common with each other than with sizable portions of their bases, which therefore have more in common with each other than with their own elites.  One particularly notable part comes toward the end:

Thursday’s vote shows that the House of Commons is hopelessly unrepresentative. The concerns and hopes of those who voted to leave the EU – 51.9 per cent of the highest poll since 1992 – are reliably supported by fewer than a quarter of MPs, if that. Ludicrously, neither of the big parties agrees with a proven majority of the electorate – and neither shows any sign of changing its policies as a result.

Hitchens rightly calls this a scandal.  How can a majority not be represented?  I can’t find it just now, but not long ago, I noted the strong traditionalist sentiment in a foreign country (Great Britain again, I think) when it came to marriage.  It wasn’t quite a majority, but it struck me that some sizable percentage of the electorate (around one-third or more, as I recall) was entirely without representation in the government.  That can’t go on long, particularly in societies that still have some vestige of their independent past.

It’s very easy to see how the transgender-bathroom issue is a pre-planned next step in the Left’s attack on our culture, now that the Supreme Court has amended the U.S. Constitution to impose same-sex marriage on the country, but Brexit is probably a related phenomenon, as well.  Whatever the issue, what’s stunning is that Western elites are simply refusing to adjust, as if they’re sick of having to bide their time, as if their attitude is, “We run the country, damn it, not you backwards morons.”

The American Interest makes much the same point, as quoted on Instapundit:

Failure to control immigration? Amnesty? Social benefits for non-citizens when citizens are suffering? Nation-building wars abroad instead of nation-building at home? Massive debt? Failures to confront terrorism effectively? Businesses moving jobs overseas? Recession in the countryside while the capital prospers? Rapid changes in gender politics? Bizarre contortions of politically correct speech, which shout down what many see as common sense? It has left many in the electorate angry and disenfranchised. And when those in the public who feel this way have objected or resisted, elites have doubled-down, rather than listen and adjust.

As Glenn Reynolds appends, “They see us as, at best, livestock to be managed,” which gets right back to my observation, locally, that people in government and the media seem to believe it’s their job to force us to give government more money than we want to give (see here and here for elaboration).  Brexit was a signal that the battle isn’t over.

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Curious How “Revitalization” Requires “Longevity” for Officials

One thing conspicuously missing from Kate Bramson’s article today, titled, “GrowSmartRI summit: Speakers share revitalization success stories,” is any statistical evidence that the stories are, indeed, about successes.  Oh, sure, when government agents and activists push hard enough, they manage to fund projects and (eventually) bring them to completion, but when most people hear the phrase “revitalization success stories,” they are likely to expect that the areas were revitalized.  The fact that three “relatively new” restaurants open their doors each night in Attleboro doesn’t tell us much.

This lack of substantial evidence relates to another giant omission in the article — namely, further explanation of this disturbing opening:

Patterns emerged Tuesday as government leaders from three smaller, northeastern cities shared success stories about their revitalization efforts.

Longevity — of elected leaders and employees working for them — was one of several themes that arose before an audience of about 200 business and civic leaders at a summit hosted by the nonprofit GrowSmartRI.

So, “revitalization” requires that voters elect the same officials repeatedly and that the bureaucrats keep their jobs, too?  Well, how convenient.

It’s also obvious.  The entire motivating philosophy of GrowSmartRI, the Brookings Institution, the RI Foundation, the Raimondo administration, and the broader society of progressive elites is that one of government’s central functions (probably the central function) is to plan out the future and enforce that plan so the grimy masses aren’t really free to shape their communities.

When your organizational motivation is to tell other people what to do and how to live, you can’t really abide such disruptive things as individual freedom or the inevitable change inherent in representative democracy.  The goal is to take the permanence that we used to apply very narrowly in a Constitution and Bill of Rights and apply it expansively to minute details of how all we should live.

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Something UHIP This Way Comes

Rhode Island won’t forever be able to avoid the arrival of the state’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) monster, although the latest from Lynn Arditi is that it won’t darken our state until the leaves begin to shade and the season of evil approaches in the fall (appropriate to an election season, this time around, too).  It’s a sinister beast, too, this dependency portal, which weaves itself in sly language.  Witness (emphasis added):

The new system will allow the state to verify eligibility for programs such as Medicaid, the insurance program for low-income residents, and integrate them with other state assistance programs, officials said, to improve service and weed out fraud. …

“Rhode Island has been running the same enrollment and eligibility software since the Reagan Administration,” Roberts said. “This new system is a smart investment that will result in better customer service and significant savings for state taxpayers. As we move toward the September launch, we will continue to incorporate best practices and lessons learned from other states. We are confident that setting a launch date in September will allow the state ample time to anticipate and prepare for any issues that may develop during a transition from an aging software system to a modern, digital portal that meets our 21st century needs.”

In our traditional understanding of such concepts, one does not “verify eligibility” to receive “customer service,” and the wise reader should expect that “significant savings” will be measured against what the costs would have been to expand benefits by some less-efficient route.  That’s what UHIP is going to do.  As with the expansion of Medicaid and its implementation through the ObamaCare health benefits exchange (which was the first key piece of the portal), “verifying eligibility” will not prove to mean stopping people who apply from receiving benefits inappropriately, but rather, verifying that people who didn’t know they were eligible and who were not really seeking benefits are indeed eligible and should indeed receive taxpayer dollars.

Like some magical being, efficiency of this sort can be a positive when it is pursued in the proper spirit.  When the spirit is corrupted, though, efficiency merely accelerates the spreading of its dark shadow, particularly when the bureaucratic cult that summoned the beast has so mastered the technique of shaving its two pounds of flesh.

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Matthew Henry Young: Don’t Wait for Economic Stability to Marry!

Rhode Islanders are marrying with less frequency, and waiting longer to get married. According to data compiled in the 2014 American Community Survey, Rhode Island has the 3rd highest median age of first marriage for women (29.4 years old) and the 6th highest median age for men (30.5). Why do Rhode Islanders marry so late? It may have something to do with their financial status: “Nearly three-fourths of younger survey participants said that financial security should preface marriage” writes Gillian B. White in The Atlantic.

I share the concerns of many of my millennial peers. The idea of marriage — and taking responsibility for a spouse and potentially a mortgage and children — sounds terrifying. A struggling economy and weak job market only exacerbate that hesitance. Like most of my peers, I’d like to enjoy financial security prior to marriage. However, these concerns were not as serious obstacles to previous generations. In the same Atlantic article, White observes that “only 55 percent of older Americans felt similarly.”

Perhaps surprisingly, marriage could be a precursor to our financial security, instead of the other way around. Plentiful research seems to show that where stable marriages prevail, poverty rates fall. The addition of children to the mix only accentuates the effect: In Rhode Island, single-parent households with children are four times as likely to fall below the poverty line as married-couple households.

There are many explanations for the phenomenon: Marriage can provide emotional support for both partners, a possible second income, and more-diverse job opportunities. Further, marriage provides many real world savings opportunities such as tax reductions, as well as reduced costs of rent and household items, thanks to cohabitation.

Stable family life and culture is directly tied to economic prosperity — the driving conclusion of the Family Prosperity Index, a research project of husband-and-wife team Wandy Warcholik, Ph.D., and Scott Moody, M.A. The connection between marriage and poverty, as well as many other social and economic indicators, is shown clearly in their research. Rhode Island rates poorly on both social and economic measures, while states like Utah enjoy both financial prosperity and a strong family culture.

This popular myth is busted: You don’t have to wait until you’re financially stable to get married! In fact, marriage may provide the support and security that could boost you — and your spouse — to financial stability. Plus, you get to be with the one you love. Why wait?

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14 Paragraphs to ISIS

Really, what can one say about politicians who rush out of the gate to use a terrorist atrocity to advance their partisan political agenda?  Democrat Congressman David Cicilline and Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo do just that in an article by Ian Donnis, which gets around to mentioning the ISIS connection in the 14th paragraph.

Folks, it’s becoming an existential necessity for us to identify real enemies and real reasons for these events.  Anybody who doubts that should consider this statement from Raimondo:

The governor said she always attends the gay Pride parade and considers it more important to take part this week to let the LGBT community know “we’re with them, to let them know we’re not going to tolerate this. We’re going to stand together. We’re going to fight for their freedom and security.”

Oh?  And what does it mean not “to tolerate this”?  What exactly is the governor proposing to do to “fight for their freedom and security”?  Take guns away from the potential victims and from those among their countrymen and -women who literally would fight for their freedom?

Maybe “fighting” is more like a term of art for remembrance ribbons and rainbow flags at half mast.  More likely, judging by Donnis’s article and Raimondo’s statement on the flag lowering, the actual “fight” is against those among these politicians’ fellow Rhode Islanders and fellow Americans whom they declare to be “intolerant.”  It’s not exactly news that the Islamists who consider themselves at war with our nation hate homosexuals, and yet Cicilline doesn’t skip a beat in insisting that the attack is evidence that homosexuals do not have “full equality in this country.”

In the congressman’s view, is it ISIS that’s withholding that equality in the United States?  No.  It’s people with whom he disagrees on politics and culture.  We’re the target of his fight.

Let’s put our differences aside for one moment.  This was a terrorist attack on Americans.  In its circumstances, it arguably most resembles the recent attack on a rock concert in Paris (France being a nation with about one-third the number of guns per person as the United States).  As we take stock and decide how we should move forward, let’s also consider how we should respond to politicians who are so obviously angling to use this attack as a means of dividing us.

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Terrorism and Confidence

Over the weekend, I attended a conference at the Portsmouth Institute themed “Christian Courage in a Secular Age.”  For the second session on Saturday afternoon, Knights of Columbus executive Andrew Walther talked about genocide of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.  He noted, in particular, the challenge of getting Westerners to acknowledge that it’s possible for Christians to be a minority.  After all, the narrative of the Western Left is that Christians are the oppressive majority.

After his talk, an audience member identifying himself (if I recall correctly) as a civil rights attorney made an accusation, masquerading as a question, that one might charitably characterize as tangential:  Does the Knights of Columbus intend to pressure the United States to pressure Israel to cave to the Palestinians and thereby resolve the problems of the Middle East?

In stark contrast, my co-contributor Andrew Morse followed this question, asking whether the United States should look to the cultural confidence it exhibited in bringing down the communism of the Soviet Union as a model for handling the Middle East.  In subsequent conversation, I suggested that something more would be needed, because Russia’s cultural experience had more shared assumptions with Western Europe and the United States than the predominantly Islamic Middle East has with any of us.

With the Soviet Union, we could largely rely on the confidence to compete.  With the Middle East, there really isn’t a competition, at least inasmuch as there is no agreement about the direction of the race, so to speak.

Waking up Sunday to the horrible news of an apparent terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, it came home to me how tangled and tripping our politics have become.  Much of the initial reaction I saw online associated the attack with internal Western culture wars rather than the accelerating series of terrorist attacks.  If you want an archetype, look to the disgusting cover of the New York Daily News.

In some respects, cultural confidence grows out of a sense of our own strength, as a people and as individuals.  The Left wants to weaken a core aspect of our culture that gave a set of principles about which to be confident — a constitutional republic founded on the assumed assent to the basic Judeo-Christian moral framework — not the least because it made us successful and strong.  The Left also wants to to weaken us as individuals, not the least when it comes to security, making us dependent on government under the Left’s control for our safety and self defense.

Maybe those who sympathize with the Left should start asking what it was about the United States that made us a country in which religious traditionalists could share the land with sexual radicals — that leaves many of us seeing this attack as a reason for unity of purpose and renewal of our shared heritage in opposition to its enemy.  Charging forward with the fundamental transformation of our nation is sure to be fatal.

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RI Dept of Education Transgender Guidelines Continue Disturbing Trend of Government by Political Correctness

[The RI Department of Education has announced “comprehensive guidelines” with regard to transgender students, though the ProJo reports that it is not a mandate. The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity this morning issued the following statement.]

While professing to protect students from bullying and to respect all students, the RI Department of Education (RIDE), via its June 2016 Guidance Document on Transgender Students, itself appears to have been bullied by the federal government; seeks to bully local school districts into conformity; and openly flaunts its disrespect of of other students.

In perpetuating a disturbing trend of ‘government by political correctness’, RIDE has succumbed to federal pressure and has adopted a one-size-fits-all position that may not be compatible with the morals held by many public school families. There may never be a more obvious reason to empower parents with additional choices to escape an increasingly politicized government school system that does not respect their personal values.

The repeated emphasis in the document on laws dealing with “discrimination” can only be seen as a heavy-handed threat to local school districts, who may choose not to conform, by elitist bureaucrats who believe they know what’s in our family’s best interests.

The open and blatant disrespect (page-9, paragraph-2) for the comfort level of the majority of students, in favor of the comfort of a tiny minority of students, along with the disdain for the rights of parents and the sanctity of the family (page-7, paragraph-2), is particularly alarming.

The Center maintains that no single statewide or federal dictate can possibly satisfy the varying sentiments among Rhode Island’s diverse array of local communities.

Related: Video commentary by CEO Mike Stenhouse on The Ocean State Current following release of federal “guidance” document in May of 2016.

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Good Advice: Don’t Follow Your Passion…

… bring it with you.  On a busy day, my lunchtime blogging slot is amply filled with a short video by Mike Rowe (via Instapundit):

Of course, one can always hedge, as I did.  Keep whatever long-shot activity about which you’re passionate firmly understood as a hobby and keep eyes open for an opportunity to turn it into a career.  The key is not to let that hedge dominate your decision making.

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Designing Welfare Policy as If We’re Designing the World

In Plato’s Republic, the philosopher goes through the exercise of designing a society from the ground up.  Nowadays, that very theme defines a genre of videogame, in which the gamer must make decisions about investments, exploration, and undertakings to help a society, business, or theme park grow.  Of course, such games are subject to the same boundary as real life (although much restrained, naturally): the limits imposed by the imagination of the designer.

In the world of public policy, writers sometimes fall into a strange trap, designing policies that accord with the artificial rules of their theoretical worlds, but that do not accord with the real world.  That is, they sound plausible within careful boundaries, but they fall apart once the various “if” clauses come into contact with the outside universe.

Charles Murray provides a good example, writing in support of a universal basic income (UBI) in the Wall Street Journal:

First, my big caveat: A UBI will do the good things I claim only if it replaces all other transfer payments and the bureaucracies that oversee them. If the guaranteed income is an add-on to the existing system, it will be as destructive as its critics fear.

Well, there you go.  Upon reading that paragraph, we can put aside the discussion.  We can barely… sometimes… maybe get government bureaucracies to slow down the rate at which they increase the harm they do to our lives.  Any public policy that requires the elimination of bureaucracy for the good of the people is simply not going to happen.

Of course, UBI continues to strike me as having additional layers of unreality.  Because it would be a policy set by government, it would be subject to the incentives for politicians.  If the policy is small relative to the economy, then the incentive will be for politicians to continue growing it as a campaign pledge; by the time it gets big enough to build up constituencies for restraining it, the program would ipso facto already be having an effect on the economy.  A hidden cost, then, is that a UBI requires a centralized power sufficient to squash political incentives.

What our civilization really needs is an economy that creates a natural UBI based simply on the fact that the basics are sufficiently inexpensive to produce at prices that almost anybody can be sufficiently employed to afford, or that others will supply simply by the greater weight of their sense of moral obligation.  This economy doesn’t require big government programs.  It requires advancing technology, a baseline education (not saturated with fluff and false ideology), the proliferation of prosperity, and broad freedom to determine our own sets of values and experiment.

Any other approach is, ultimately, just a way to work around the artificial rule that we can’t expect to be able to trust in people’s goodness and good sense.