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Putting Americans in the Business of Manipulating Government

Over the past year, I’ve been describing the concept of a “company state” in which Rhode Island’s economy becomes increasingly premised on the expansion of government services (in part by creating or importing new clients for existing services) as leverage to take money from other industries and other states.  That’s not the full extent of the model, though.  After all, private companies in those other industries have to react to changes in the economic landscape.

Boston University School of Law economist James Bessen has done some research finding that, throughout the country, corporations’ profits are increasingly premised on their ability to manipulate government.  Investment in “regulation and lobbying,” he calculates, accounts for around 1.2% of corporations’ increase in profitability, compared with around 1.4% deriving from investment in new capital assets and around 0.25% attributable to research and development.

This development has potential to be disastrous.  For one thing, it changes the nature of businesses.  Beyond having to devote resources to artificial activities that have nothing to do with their core products or services, they must also become adept at intertwining themselves with the government, making that a core activity common across the economy.  The nation’s major industry, in other words, becomes political manipulation.  As this progresses, less and less other stuff that actually grows the economy and improves lives will get done.

For another thing, this sort of institutional cronyism locks out competition.  Smaller companies that must remain nimble can’t afford to be greasing government palms and dodging fabricated obstacles.  Without that competition both for customers and employees, the average American has less leverage as a consumer and as a worker.  Progressives who think they can use government as the people’s voice in these transaction are delusional.

People don’t need elected and appointed nannies to make sure we don’t treat each other unfairly, and it’s simply too obvious to ignore that pretending we do concentrates a great deal of money and power in the hands of a select class.

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The Party of Trump, Which I Cannot Support

Maggie Gallagher succinctly describes the Trump policy platform, inasmuch as it is possible to discern and predict:

Here is the new Party of Trump that we saw in this convention: liberal in expanding entitlements, pro-business in terms of tax and regulations, non-interventionist in foreign policy, socially center-left (with the possible, but only possible, exception of abortion).

Americans who pay attention to politics and policy tend to err, I think, in allowing themselves to be drawn toward the exchange of discrete, independent policies as a form of compromise.  I give you this social policy; you give me that regulatory reform.  That’s how we end up with a worst-of-all-possibilities mix of policies that, for example, encourages dependency while socializing the losses of major corporations, all to the benefit of the inside players who are well positioned to manipulate the system to serve their interests.

Broadly speaking, policies are components of a machine that have to work together, with a basic operating principle.  As the most-charitable interpretation, the machine that Gallagher describes is designed to drive corporations forward in order to generate enough wealth for government to redistribute as a means of providing comfort and accommodating the consequences of an anything-goes society, with the world blocked out at the borders and not engaged in socio-political terms so as to avoid bleeding of the wealth.  (The only difference between that vision and a fully progressive one is that progressives don’t want the machine to be independent, but to be plugged in as a component of a bigger, international machine.)

Put that way (again, most charitably), Trumpian nationalism doesn’t sound too bad.  Unfortunately, the lesson of the past few decades (at least) is that the machine doesn’t work.  The corporations recalculate to the reality that the politicians’ plan makes them (not the people) the engine of the whole machine, while the value of promising entitlements leads politicians to over-promise and the people to over-demand, particularly in response to the consequences of loose culture, while the world outside the borders erodes the supports of our society and allows implacable enemies to rally.

Now add in the stated intention of Donald Trump to actively agitate against members of his own political party because they show insufficient fealty, and the policy mix points toward disaster.  The aphorism that “success is the best revenge” is apparently not good enough for Trump.  More than that, though, from his late-night tweets about the pope to this planned attack on Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and some unnamed foe, Trump shows no realization that these leaders have supporters.  Trump is free not to respect Pope Francis, but his behavior shows that he has little concern for the vast world of Roman Catholics.  His own supporters Trump loves, and he’s happy to condescend to them; those who aren’t his supporters are either enemies or inconsequential.

Nobody should have any trust that they’ll continue to have Trump’s support starting the moment their interests conflict with his, and that has implications for the instructions he’ll attempt to give the machine.

Yes, one of the very few arguments in favor of a Trump presidency is that he may remind certain sectors of American civic society about the importance of the checks and balances designed into our system.  However, Trump’s behavior has also proven that we should not assume he’ll moderate or react well to the reinstated rules of the game.

This isn’t to say that our electoral alternative is any better.  As I’ve written before, more than any I’ve ever seen, this election hinges on the timing of oscillating disgust with the two major candidates.  The wise move may very well be not to invest much wealth, energy, or emotion in the outcome, devoting personal resources instead to battening down the hatches.

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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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Trees in Warren and Government from a Distance

The man-made conflict between trees and federal disability law is a fine example of why most government should be done locally (to the extent it has to be done at all):

Town officials say they are facing a painful dilemma: They can’t make the sidewalks accessible to the handicapped and save the trees.

]Nearly 80 years after the Works Progress Administration installed the curbing and sidewalks during the Great Depression, the thick trunks and roots of the trees planted along the road are blocking and buckling the pedestrian way.

The situation came to a head recently when the town began reconstructing King Street, a quiet road one block east of Main Street and just south of the downtown. Once the town undertook substantial repairs to the road, it triggered federal requirements that the sidewalks comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Public Works Director John Massed.

For a before-and-after picture, click the link above and watch the related video.  The camera shot at the 20-second marker shows the street with one side de-treed and the other not.

As communities, we do have a responsibility to accommodate those with the misfortune of being disabled, but dictating minute policies from Washington, D.C., is lunacy bordering on tyranny.  If the responsibility were local, neighbors could figure out solutions that work best for everybody involved, answering questions like, “What are the odds that a disabled person is going to go down this street so often that both sides have to be cleared of trees?”

We’ve reached the point of the absurd.  When the Tiverton Yacht Club reopened this year (after a fire and years of legal battles), members could not use the second floor.   Hefty barriers blocked the stairs, not because the upstairs was unfinished or otherwise unsafe, but because there had been a delay in installing the elevator required for people with disabilities.  A private club, using the property mainly for a children’s camp, a swimming pool, and the occasional social gathering, could not let members upstairs because some hypothetical disabled person wouldn’t be able to get up there for a couple of months.

Now apply this observation to the thousands and thousands of pages of laws and regulations passed at the national level that affect our lives in ways we can’t so obviously see.

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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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National Popular Vote and the Company State

Yesterday, Dan Yorke had Providence College Political Science Professor Joseph Cammarano on his 630AM/99.7FM WPRO show, discussing a variety of topics.  When I first tuned in, a caller was growing angry that the professor wouldn’t say for whom he intended to vote, and over the next hour or so of sporadic listening, I came to see how Cammarano might have inspired that response.  His bias came through, most notably in his drive for equivalence with Republicans whenever a caller brought up Democrats’ malfeasance.

One question that came out of nowhere was the professor’s opinion of the electoral college, and he clearly supports the efforts of states, including Rhode Island, to work around the Constitution with the national-popular vote movement.  In not so many words, he that it makes no sense — given our increasingly national culture — to have a system in which we think of states as states, regardless of their population.  That is, he thinks it’s obvious that states don’t have an equal standing of themselves, as political entities, necessitating that the votes of people in low-population states are weighted to give them greater balance against the national votes of people in high-population states.

When this topic came up a few years ago, I mainly thought of it in terms of politics and the calculation for Rhode Island.  After all, Democrats tend to do better in urban areas, so the General Assembly’s signing on to the national popular vote compact was a partisan act, not a representative one (as in advocating for the people whom one actually represents).  The reason Rhode Island gets no attention in national politics isn’t that we’re small; it’s that we’re one-sided.  Republicans have no chance, and Democrats don’t have to work for our electoral votes.  But the reality is that the national popular vote scheme would cut Rhode Islanders’ electoral sway in half.  Why would our representatives agree to do that?

Cammarano’s short statement was the first time I’ve considered this question since stumbling upon the idea of the “company state.”  I’ve been noting that certain cities and the whole state of Rhode Island are moving toward a civic business model in which government becomes the major industry, with incentive to import or create new clients for its services as justification for taking money away from other people in order to finance them.  As Rhode Island has long been learning, the flaw in this model is that the payers can simply leave, and the state is under constant risk that, due to recession or otherwise, people in other states will push back on the federal government’s subsidization of the scheme.

The electoral college, in other words, is one protection against having this “company state” model become truly national, such that municipal and state governments that rely on the compulsory transfer of wealth will be able to reach any wealth from sea to shining sea.

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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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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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Bad Rankings, Empty Buzzwords

You just can’t spin Rhode Island’s poor performance, particularly in recent years.  The evidence is just too pervasive.

Based on the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI), the Ocean State has been 48th in the nation since 2012, during the Chafee years.  Looking at employment, the state has been completely stagnant since May 2015, when Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s had implemented her own policies.  Now, we’re back to 50th on CNBC’s ranking of states for business.

Again: You just can’t spin these numbers.  The only legitimate response is that our state is clearly, obviously doing something wrong and needs to rethink its approach.

But reality has not been something to stop Rhode Island’s progressive Democrats.  Our Senate president illustrates something I’ve noted before, that elected officials are more interested in gaming the statistics than changing what’s wrong:

“It doesn’t matter whether those surveys are real or unfair – they’re there, and we’re judged on them,” Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed said in 2013.

And CNBC writer Scott Cohn notes the familiar ring of rhetoric from our current governor:

To hear the governor tell it, Rhode Island is just a few years away from becoming a little business powerhouse.

These big changes, she contends, “will make it cheaper and more attractive to do business here.”

But Raimondo is not the first Rhode Island governor to claim that the state has turned over a new leaf.

Simply put, the first priority of Rhode Island insiders is to maintain their advantage and protect the policies and special deals that give it to them.  Sure, they wouldn’t mind if the economy improved (if only to get these annoying rankings off their backs), but it has to happen in a way that doesn’t harm their leverage.  Similarly, they wouldn’t mind if educational outcomes improved for Rhode Island students, but that has to happen without harming their friends and allies in the teacher’s unions or limiting their ability to pass feel-good policies concerning (for example) recess and transgender bathrooms from the top down.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, the things that the insiders are protecting are the fundamental reason for our state’s suffering.

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The American System the Left Is Building

Kevin Williamson offers a candid summary of the cynical frustrations of the American Right, by which I mean Americans who are either “right” or have a propensity to be correct and fair.  Comparing the way in which prosecutorial discretion is the name of the game for Democrats like Hillary Clinton with the nakedly political prosecutions of Republicans, like Tom DeLay and Rick Perry, Williamson suggests that Leftists (generally Democrats) “prefer their politicians a little crooked,” because:

… It helps them, a Chavista party constrained mainly by the temperamental (rather than ideological) conservatism of the American electorate, to make up in viciousness what they lack in policy ideas appropriate to the 21st century.

That lack of policy ideas isn’t really very important. The Left isn’t interested in policy; it is interested in power, and the things you can do with it, meaning rewarding one’s friends and punishing one’s enemies. Barack Obama has been, in his less guarded moments, fairly plain about that. For the Left, all justice is Wonderland justice: decision first, arguments afterward as necessary. There is seldom if ever any doubt about how the so-called liberals on the Supreme Court (who are not liberals at all) will vote on any question: They will vote the way the Left wants them to. Elena Kagan, you may recall, testified in her confirmation hearings that there is no constitutional right to same-sex marriage lurking in the penumbras to be discovered. Once confirmed, she reached a little deeper and pulled one out. Conservatives can never really guess which way a Kennedy or a Roberts is going to come down on a question, but you know how the judges of the Left are going to vote. Arguments do not matter; only outcomes matter.

One can observe this at every level of government, from the local to the metastasizing international totalitarianism.  For some, the payoff is simply filthy lucre — money that they could never have a hope of earning fair and square transferred from other people to them.  For many, though, it’s just the cheaper (if deeper) payoff of feeling that they are good people making a positive difference in the world.  Power serves the first group inasmuch as it can be exchanged for cash; it serves the second group by enabling them to impose diktats on others.  (These motivations overlap in actual individuals, of course.)

As a general matter, they don’t really care about outcomes in the sense that the world actually becomes a better place.  Per Williamson’s phrasing, they measure good by helping those whom they perceive as their friends and hurting those whom they perceive as their enemies.

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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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Hurdles Enabling a Pick-and-Choose Culture

Although it leaves me feeling as if there might be more to the story, a Kate Nagle article on GoLocalProv has the strong smell of Rhode Island to it.  The Peregrine Group (no strangers to our insider culture) is prepared to build a large waterfront mixed-use development in Pawtucket, but Rhode Island’s additional costs for building make government subsidies a necessity, and the Commerce Corp. appears to be dragging its feet:

“We have a profound live for the site and the city, and we’ve made a “Rebuild RI” application [with Commerce]. We’ve had preliminary conversations, but right now, the current iteration doesn’t work,” said Kane. “It’s just the economics of new construction. In Boston, I can do projects without the city and state’s help. I’m doing 80 more units in Rumford [Center] with no help. Pawtucket is hard.” …

The Commerce Corporation recently awarded RebuildRI tax credits to Ocean State Job Lot (who had threatened to leave the state if truck tolls were approved), and AT Cross (whose former CEO began serving as a consultant at the Commerce Corporation).

Now, I don’t know whether this particular development is a net positive or negative, but state government’s handing out taxpayer-funded subsidies shouldn’t be the mechanism for making such decisions.  Even if we were to assume that government functionaries are qualified to pick and choose the best projects for Rhode Island, the incentives of politics and government are inefficient, in part because of one unavoidable question:  “the best projects” for whose interests?

If one believes in the importance of government involvement, maintaining the governor’s programs becomes a critical objective.  So, when an iconic company ramps up opposition to a new toll program that government agents think they need, the value of handing that company subsidies far exceeds whatever direct economic development is involved, to the government agents.

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Are the Heroes on Their Way?

Peggy Noonan gives a good image to the sense of our times.  Noting that the world appears to have moments of good fortune that bring together geniuses of one kind or another — a genius cluster — to resolve a particularly complex problem or set the world on a different path, she asks where they are in our time.  Instead, we appear to be living through the script of a Western:

Everything feels upended, the old order that has governed things for 70 years since World War II being swept away. Borders have disappeared before our eyes. Terrorism, waves of immigration transforming whole nations, Islam at war with itself and parts of it at war with the world. In the West, the epochal end of public faith in institutions, and a dreadful new tension between the leaders and the led. In both background and foreground is a technological revolution that has actually changed how people experience life.

It is a world crying out for bigness, wisdom, steady hands and steady eyes.

We could use a genius cluster.

I’m not quite seeing its members coming, are you? Maybe they’re off somewhere gaining strength. But the point we’re in feels more like what a Hollywood director said was the central tension at the heart of all great westerns: “The villain has arrived while the hero is evolving.”

That seems about right, although I worry about Noonan’s desire for human saviors.  The evolution of the hero isn’t all that’s necessary; the people make the heroes and the genius clusters and give them their platform.

Perhaps the reason the hero always seems delayed is that it takes a bad time to test who will stand firm and for others respond to the “wisdom, steady hands and steady eyes.”  That is, Noonan errs in saying that the “world [is] crying out for” such leadership.  The world needs it, but it will take people actually standing up and proving that one can stand up before the world responds.

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The Conservative Approach in Two Paragraphs

Drawing from astrophysics, economics, and philosophy, Kevin Williamson gives a pretty good consolidation of the conservative’s starting point, with this:

The epistemic horizon [the limits beyond which we cannot see] is not very broad. We do not, in fact, know what the results of various kinds of economic policies or social policies will be, and there isn’t any evidence that can tell us with any degree of certainty. The housing projects that mar our cities weren’t supposed to turn out like that; neither was the federal push to encourage home-ownership or to encourage the substitution of carbohydrates for fats and proteins in our diets. A truly rational policy of the sort that [rationalist Neil deGrasse] Tyson imagines must take into account not only how little we know about the future but how little we can know about the future, even if we consult the smartest, saintliest, and most disinterested experts among us.

That is part of the case for limited government and free markets. Government can do some things, such as guard borders (though ours chooses not to) and fight off foreign invaders. There are things that it cannot do, even in principle, such as impose a “rational” order on the nation’s energy markets, deciding that x share of our electricity supply shall come from solar, y share from wind, z share from natural gas, all calculated to economic and environmental ideals. That is simply beyond its ken, even if all the best people — including Tyson, from time to time — pretend that it is otherwise. Free markets go about solving social problems in the opposite way: Dozens, or thousands, or millions, or even billions of people, firms, organizations, investors, and business managers trying dozens or thousands of approaches to solving social problems.

The message to progressives is: You can’t do that.  Not because we won’t let you, but because it can’t be done.  At this point in time, that’s the truth of the science.  Deal with it.

The best we can do is draw some areas on the map with the warning that “here there be dragons.”  Sailing along, we hear a rumbling off in the distance, and although we can’t state with certainty from our examinations and calculations that the noise is a cliff-face waterfall, we conclude that it would best to accept some delay to paradise and try to go around.  Perhaps we’ll avoid the danger, perhaps we’ll only get a better view of it, or perhaps we’ll never know if we made the right or wrong decision.

In short, we need to set some principles and be guided mainly by our assessment of incentives.  Maybe the most dramatically objectionable aspect of progressivism or rationalism is its denial that, historically speaking, we’re doing pretty well.  That being the case, the rational move is not to undermine what we’ve gained as a species by imagining that we’ve got the whole thing figured out well enough to discard our traditions in a potentially cataclysmic lunge for perfection.

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IRS Scandal and Fragile Commitment to Rights

Reading Eliana Johnson’s NRO article, “New Documents Suggest IRS’s Lerner Likely Broke the Law,” it occurs to me just how fragile our rights are.  Ten years ago, I would have thought this sort of thing would be a cause of universal outrage, across the political spectrum.  The American Left and news media haven’t proven to have as much integrity as I’d thought, back then:

It is likely the largest unauthorized disclosure of tax-return information in history: the transfer of some 1.25 million pages of confidential tax returns from the IRS to the Department of Justice in October of 2010. And it was almost certainly illegal.

The documents, which consisted chiefly of non-profit tax returns, were transferred to the DOJ’s criminal division from the IRS at the request of Lois Lerner, who wanted to get the information to the DOJ in advance of a meeting where she and several of the attorneys in the public integrity section of the department’s criminal division discussed their concerns about the increasing political activity of non-profit groups.

Speaking with people, in a social setting, who are likely to find their way to voting for Hillary Clinton, I’ve wondered if it’s all a function of long-term narrative propaganda and raw audacity.  That is to say that the Left has spent decades making themselves the heroes and their opposition the villains in every story, such that a sufficient number of people would be inclined to interpret real transgressions as well-meaning indiscretions or overzealous errors.

With that sense established, an incentive begins to form to be audacious in the lies.  Get people invested in the interpretation that Hillary Clinton and President Obama were working from faulty intelligence when they lied about the nature of the Benghazi attack and that Clinton’s private server was mainly used for sharing recipes with friends and the like.  Purposefully slip the admission of illegal activity from the IRS into an obscure Q&A session.

The initial benefit of the doubt given on the basis of decades of propaganda then gains the general sense that the culprits wouldn’t have gotten away with it for so long if it were really bad.  But the prerequisite is, again, that the American Left and its partisans in the media really don’t believe the things they claim to believe about rights.

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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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Great Britain Says No to Centralized Government

Nice – defying the latest poll results, Great Britain has voted to leave the European Union.

The UK has voted to leave the European Union in a historic referendum which threw Westminster politics into disarray and sent the pound tumbling on the world markets.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage declared that June 23 should “go down in history as our independence day”, while Vote Leave’s chair, the Labour MP Gisela Stuart, said it was “our opportunity to take back control of a whole area of democratic decisions”.

Excerpt below from the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s statement on the implications of the Brexit vote. Read their full statement here.

Symbolic of its fight against regional governance and federal intrusion into state and local affairs, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today applauds the British people for voting to re-establish their national sovereignty and to depart the European Union.

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Brexit for All of Us

Today, as Roger Kimball writes, “perhaps for the last time in a generation, the British voters have a choice” about how they will be governed.  I have not followed the matter with sufficient attention to have anything more than hope about the outcome, and I hope our fellow Anglospherians will put the brakes on progressive internationalism before it falls to hard reality to stop it.

Last week, I noted a similarity of the “government town” concept I’ve described multiple times in this space on either side of the Atlantic.  Kimball brings forward another disconcerting echo:

A couple of years ago when an earlier chapter in this saga was unfolding, I was chatting with an Italian friend, a former Italian senator, who employed the word to describe the ascension of Mario Monti to the Italian premiership in 2012. “Super Mario” was technically appointed by the Italian president; in reality, he was foisted upon Italy by the European Union. As it happens, that same day Lucas Papademos was sworn in as Greece’s prime minister.

How did that happen? Well might you ask. That day, we received a plaintive email from a journalist friend in London:

Today, two modern European democracies installed prime ministers who had been elected by nobody. This is what we have come to. It is roughly the equivalent of the federal government stepping in to appoint an unelected governor of California when the state went broke — which is beyond inconceivable. Pray for us.

I’m not sure whether Kimball’s friend was serious or sarcastic with that “beyond inconceivable,” but it clearly is an accurate description.  We’ve seen this in Rhode Island, for example, with our quick resort to municipal dictators when communities began driving themselves off the financial road.

As states find it increasingly difficult to continue the gambit of putting people (often imported) on government-service rolls and under generous government contracts in order to demand that others pay for the government’s activities, they’ll turn to the federal government to extract more wealth from areas of the country that are still doing well.  In some state, somewhere, the strategy will not work, whether because of reckless pension promises or a demographic balance that tips the scales.  As Rhode Island municipalities have done, the ruling classes of that state will gladly hand over their people’s sovereignty for a federal bailout.

Maybe we’ll call that person a “receiver” rather than a “governor,” but it will amount to the same thing.

Human beings have always wanted the power to tell others what to do (especially when the command is to give them money and power), and a certain faction of humanity is relentlessly consolidating into a movement meant to cover the entire planet.  The sooner we shatter the movement, the less painful it will be.

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Research and Experience Agree: Socialism Stinks

At nearby University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, one professor has belatedly made the journey across ideological divide and concluded that “socialism doesn’t work”:

“I gradually became disenchanted with Marxism by visiting many of the countries that had tried to shape their societies to conform to its doctrines. I was disillusioned by the realities I saw in … socialist countries – the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, etc,” [Jack] Stauder told The College Fix via email.

“I came to recognize that socialism doesn’t work, and that its ‘revolutionary’ imposition inevitably leads to cruelty, injustice and the loss of freedom,” the professor continued.

“I could see the same pattern in the many failed left-wing revolutions of Latin America and elsewhere. By combining actual travel with the historical study of socialism and revolution, I succeeded in disabusing myself of the utopian notions that fatally attract people to leftist ideas.”

Becoming familiar with people who work with their hands for a living in the American West also aided Stauder along, when contrasted with life immersed in left-wing academia.

Some of the first comments to the post are interesting.  Defenders of socialism appear to take two tacks:  1) the bad socialist countries aren’t socialism, but dictatorships, and 2) good countries that aren’t fully socialist are socialism.  One could take the countries listed and suggest that nations deluded into socialism can choose one of two options as socialism gets around to not working.  They can either reform away from it (as Northern European countries have been doing) or move toward dictatorship, which is the inevitable end point when a people refuses to abandon socialism’s core tenets.

Given Stauder’s illustration that it is possible, even late in life, to abandon bad ideas, it’s saddening that socialists in the United States and the internationalists are managing to spread their malignant ideology.  Let’s hope that Americans haven’t destroyed their culture too fatally to avoid the dictatorship option.

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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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Vengeance of Progressives Scorned

Faced with another budget year during which voters repeated, “Yes, we’re serious; stop raising taxes,” progressives in Tiverton are lashing out to teach us a lesson.  Unfortunately, they dominate the town’s Budget Committee, so they were able to convince themselves that the best path forward, politically, would be to virtually eliminate the town’s budget for trash pickup.

Oh, they’re claiming that the budget that I submitted (which won with 55% of the vote) forced them to eliminate that service, but as I show in a post on Tiverton Fact Check, that simply isn’t the case.  They had $2.3 million of options from which to find $783,000 without touching trash or paving, and in fact, the Budget Committee itself was 84% of the way to covering the necessary amount before deciding to reverse course and hurt the greatest number of people possible.

That’s what it’s really about.  They’re angry, and as tends to happen with angry people, their solution starts with the impulse to inflict pain.  A number of details that are probably too localized to be of interest to a statewide audience support that interpretation, but here are a few examples:

  • They (sadly including the police chief) are handing out business cards telling people to contact me if they aren’t happy about the pain; that is, the goal is to hurt people so that they’ll blame me.
  • The town administrator said ending trash pickup would save $300,000 at most, but the Budget Committee decided to pretend it would save $500,000; the point, obviously, was to eliminate the service, not actually to find areas of real savings.
  • During the budget debate, they argued against the lower budget on the grounds that 80% of town expenses are unchangeable and under contract, yet trash pickup is under contract until next year…. and they changed it.
  • Their actual hope is that the Town Council will implement a new fee — imposing the tax that voters rejected by changing its name — and actually overspend the budget that the voters and Budget Committee approved.
  • The Budget Committee didn’t even bother to balance the budget, just assuming that the Town Council will find some $150,000 in revenue.

Groups that are acting in the interest of their communities behave very differently.  For one thing, they try to position themselves so that good policy benefits them politically.  What we’re seeing in Tiverton is a group of insiders who think that bad policy will benefit them politically, and the politics are their priority, not their community.  Hopefully, their friends on the Town Council — who will actually have to make the decision for real, not pretend — will see the calculation differently.

If we can learn locally, maybe we can take the lesson to the state level, where bad policy for political benefit pretty much defines Rhode Island government.