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A Warning Sign for Politically Righteous

Yesterday, the Providence Journal published my warning to Rhode Island if the local political bubble becomes too thick:

With a little more experience of the world and some internet searches, one can reason out the steps that lead a society to such a place. A 1937 poster titled “The Subversive Jew” caricatures a Jewish man insinuating himself behind a good German, to “subjugate” him “for the goals of Jewry.” A 1943 pamphlet, “The Jew as World Parasite,” warns that Jews’ “internal force of faith favors racial relatives and generates bitter hardness and passionate hatred against everything foreign.” Amazingly, the 20th century’s archetypes of racial animus, the Nazis, went after Jews for racial intolerance!

How could anybody have believed that stuff? Well, some people will believe just about anything, and even less gullible people will find it easy to believe self-serving things. More importantly, if enough people in a community think that everybody else believes something, they’ll find themselves behaving as if it’s true. Most people just wanted to get along in life, and it isn’t worth becoming a target by associating with people everybody’s supposed to hate.

It’s easy to hate the last generation’s villains, because we’ve been socialized to do so.  The problem is that evil doesn’t have a race or a demographic group and is happy to change its costume to bring out our worst tendencies and divide us.


Pharma Fumes and Socialism

This, from Clifton Leaf in Fortune, is one reason I find socialized medicine schemes (including, broadly, ObamaCare) so disturbing:

What the chart above shows is simply the percentage of 2017 revenue that derived from products launched in the previous five years. In other words, how much of each company’s sales are coming from drugs fresh out of the pipeline versus how much are coming from older meds?

In that regard, the picture above is worth a thousand words: Nearly all of Big Pharma is riding on fumes, it seems.

Now, a number of open questions make this analysis insufficient.  Historically, for example, what has been the revenue mix?

But those questions aside, the reality is that profit motives spur risk and innovation.  A balance must still be struck, but the class envy and central planning of socialism inevitably force a society to coast on fumes.


A Familiar View of Religious Liberty

Andrea Gagliarducci recently analyzed, for the Catholic News Agency, the Chinese government’s policy pushing to “sinicize religions”:

The new regulations on religious activities in China came into effect Feb. 1. Worship can be practiced only in designated churches, and according to a schedule approved by government administrators, while every other place, including private houses, is designated “illegal for worship.”

Group prayer is forbidden in private houses: if one is caught while doing that, he can be arrested. The regulations also require that every church must display at its entrance a notice that the building is “prohibited to minors under age 18,” and that children and teenagers are not allowed to take part in religious rites.

While this is obviously a more-extreme manifestation, I can’t help but find something familiar in the perspective on religious liberty taken by Western progressives.  The Obama administration sought to impose a mandate to cover contraceptives on the Little Sisters of the Poor because they were not technically a church organization.  Massachusetts pushed the Catholic Church out of adoption services because it wouldn’t conform to the government-approved definition of marriage.  Progressives insist that every professional who provides services to the public has no right not to take jobs because they would conflict with their traditionalist beliefs.  Rhode Island legislators recently proposed to give government authority to police public and private schools to ensure that they aren’t violating progressives’ understanding of discrimination.

So, yes, China’s oppression is far advanced, but would anybody think that American progressives would object to speech codes restricting traditional views to approved expression within the four walls of a church, or blocking minors from entering places in which they might hear such subversive things?


Rhode Island Wants in on All Immoral Profits

Given the national attention, Rhode Islanders can probably expect their legislators to shy away from implementing Providence/North Providence Democrat Senator Frank Ciccone’s proposal to impose a government fee for viewing online pornography.  Let’s take the lesson, though.

Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown puts her finger a growing attitude that I’ve been pointing out in Rhode Island government, lately (emphasis added):

What makes all of this especially ridiculous is that under Ciccone and Gallo’s proposal, anyone over 18-years-old could have the filter removed by making a request in writing and paying a $20 fee. The money would go to the state’s general treasury “to help fund the operations of the council on human trafficking.” (But… if people are paying the state $20 to access prostitution sites, doesn’t that make the state a trafficker?)

With its fingers in alcohol, gambling, and marijuana, Rhode Island government continues on its path toward replacing organized crime.  Government officials will want a cut of anything that has the feel of a vice.  Whereas mobsters built an infrastructure to provide what the law had blocked, government has that infrastructure already in place and capitalizes on it either by making things that are currently legal slightly less so or by letting things that are currently illegal filter through its coffers.

Meanwhile, Ciccone would have the state collect a record of every Rhode Islander who requests access to pornography.  Nobody should be comfortable with gangster government’s having access to a list like that.


A Telling Juxtaposition of Priorities in Newport

Let’s stipulate that public safety is paramount and that lives and bodily injury beat road repair on the priority list every time.  That said, Newport Mayor Harry Winthrop could have picked any government activity to highlight in this exclamation, made in the context of a conversation about school shootings:

“Our number one priority is public safety,” Mayor Harry Winthrop said. “Who gives a damn about a pothole on Bellevue Avenue if we are not safe?”

He didn’t go with his government’s charitable grants, beautification projects, open space, community planning or any of the countless other things that municipal government does that ought to come after both public safety and maintenance of infrastructure.  That tells us a lot about the priorities of our government officials, and we see it in our roads.

Which, by the way, don’t take long to become public safety matters themselves.  When one drives around the state and sees bridges with regularly decreasing weight limits or propped up on wooden blocks and has to swerve onto the shoulder or into another lane to avoid potholes, the specter of harm and even death isn’t difficult to sense.


Let’s Avoid the Big Government Trap with Regulation

George Mason University Economics Professor Tyler Cowen sees occupational licensing as such a problem, he’s willing to modify his conservative leanings in order to suggest that the federal government step in on the issue:

Unfortunately, I don’t expect the federal bureaucracy to usher in the reign of Milton Friedman’s Chicago School economics. But the federal regulatory process would likely pay less heed to local special interests, and it would produce a more homogenized and less idiosyncratic body of regulatory law more geared toward the most important cases, such as medicine and child care. The federal government is less likely than many state and local governments to obsess over licensing rules for fortune tellers, florists and athletic trainers.

Cowen is falling into the progressive trap.  He recognizes that the “machinery for creating new licenses is much better organized and funded than the institutions for getting rid of them, and once in place these requirements have natural defenders, namely those who have invested in the credentials,” but he somehow imagines this advantage will simply disappear at the federal level.  Why wouldn’t these state-by-state organizations just start making alliances across state lines?

The assumption that a federal bureaucracy will be free of an inclination to the petty has little foundation in theory or experience.  Presumably, the agency will collect fees through regulation, and that will certainly be the source of its power.  Even just incentives toward job security will keep the numbers of licenses growing.

In cases of asymmetrical incentives, we’re always better off keeping decisions at the smallest scale possible.  The number of dog walkers in a particular town, for example, who want to create some kind of local license will more easily matched before the town council by people who think the license would be unnecessary protectionism.  At the federal level, the side with incentive to organize will have even more aggregated power, while the other side will be even more difficult to organize.

Frustrating as it can be, there is no end run to limited government that goes through big government.


Basically, Rich Liberals Just Think They Can Do It Better


Different Villains for Different Ideologies

Marriage advocate Maggie Gallagher recently sent around this clip from a GOP primary debate in the race for Pennsylvania governor:

Sure, it’s interesting that one candidate has chosen the co-ed bathroom issue (hot-buttoned as an objective of transgender ideology) as a nail to hammer on the conservative side, but something in the back and forth emphasizes a point that I haven’t seen made anywhere.

Scott Wagner — who, I take it, is the more-establishment, moderate candidate — tries to frame the issue as a matter of discrimination.  That is, he wants to protect an identity group from the bigotry of school administrators and other ordinary people with whom we come into contact every day.  The villains of this narrative, in other words, are just people who might disagree on a cultural matter.  Their bigotry is assumed, and the law is constructed to restrain them.

The more-conservative challenger, Paul Mango, frames the issue as one of protecting all children broadly from people who actually want to hurt them.  That is, the villains of his narrative are the disturbed creeps who drift into our lives now and then and cause lifelong harm when they enter our lives.

Implicit in the advocacy of adherents to identity politics is that people are broadly bad.  They (the politicians) are smarter and more compassionate than everybody else.  A law must be passed because nobody lower than the politicians in the hierarchy can be trusted to make decisions that adequately balance the multiple interests of their communities.

To claim that power, progressives have spent decades sliming ordinary folks.  In that mainstream presentation, anybody who seems upright and friendly must be suspect.

We on the other side let progressives get away too often with this sort of insinuation.


Will RI Push the ACLU into Conservatives’ Ditch?

I’ve been finding the news cycles discouraging lately, even frightening.  We’re fallen creatures, so even a casual familiarity with history will show that the madness isn’t anything new or different.  What’s discouraging at this moment is the acceleration of the movement to undermine the principles of freedom and (at least) aspiration to consider things logically and with mutual respect.

Even things that ought to be encouraging have the feel of futility.  It feels, for example, like a sign of how far things have gone that I’m agreeing so much with the Rhode Island ACLU more often, and not because I’m changing my worldview.  The latest area of agreement comes with the organization’s statement of concern about proposed “red flag” legislation proposing to empower law enforcement personnel and a single judge to predict that a person is likely enough to do harm that he or she loses his Second Amendment rights (emphasis added):

The heart of the legislation’s ERPO process requires speculation – on the part of both the petitioner and judges – about an individual’s risk of possible violence. But, the ACLU analysis notes: “Psychiatry and the medical sciences have not succeeded in this realm, and there is no basis for believing courts will do any better. The result will likely be a significant impact on the rights of many innocent individuals in the hope of preventing a tragedy.”The ACLU’s analysis concludes:“People who are not alleged to have committed a crime should not be subject to severe deprivations of liberty interests, and deprivations for lengthy periods of time, in the absence of a clear, compelling and immediate showing of need. As well-intentioned as this legislation is, its breadth and its lenient standards for both applying for and granting an ERPO are cause for great concern.

We’ll see how this plays out.  The RI ACLU was correct, as well, to express concern with the lurching of the Rhode Island Senate to expel an elected member and leave his district without representation on the strength of allegations.  Republican Senator Nicholas Kettle’s resignation saved Senate leaders from having to follow through on their threats — and saved the ACLU from having to judge the process one way or another — but there’s no similar out in this case.

The question for legislators and for the rest of us is whether Rhode Island is now a state in which the ACLU can fall outside of the boundaries of acceptable opinion on the conservative side of the spectrum.


The Establishment of Religion in the State House

Monday’s Providence Journal Political Scene contains an interesting moment regarding vague legislation (since withdrawn) to give the state government authority to go into all public and private schools in the state and test them against an official measure of tolerance:

Diaz told Political Scene she was stunned by the criticism. She said the bill evolved out of a conversation she had with the Providence school superintendent. She said it reflects her beliefs as a Christian woman about how children should be treated, and it matches legislation she successfully sponsored a few years ago for children in the care of the state’s Department of Children, Youth & Families.

Wait, what?  I thought progressives were opposed to politicians’ legislating their religious beliefs.  What happened to that separation of church and state?

The obvious reality is that “separation” talk is just partisan baloney.  Any particular progressive may simply be a hypocrite, but as a general proposition, its adherents understand that individual people are able to pass through the proverbial wall.  As long as a church hierarchy isn’t actually running the government, there’s nothing wrong with legislating one’s morality.

Progressives actually surpass most conservatives in wanting to impose their beliefs on others through the force of government.  Oh, they’ve got a number of self-deceptive gimmicks that allow them to feel otherwise — the assertion of their beliefs as objective fact, for example — but they see the law as the sine qua non of “who we are as a community,” and that means it must reflect their beliefs. It’s only your beliefs, if you disagree, that simply aren’t allowed… because those are the objective rules.

In a meaningful coincidence (or, as I’d tend to believe, a divine hint), the same Political Scene includes a run-down of the number of times either chamber of the General Assembly has even considered removing members.  Even the Dorr Rebellion — an armed insurrection — was not sufficient for legislators actually to seek expulsion, yet as of this writing, all that recently resigned Senator Nicholas Kettle faces are unproven allegations.

But Kettle is a political minority (a Republican), and even if he’s done nothing criminal, he appears to be an infidel against the #MeToo dogma, so his sacrifice serves as a useful message to everybody else that the progressive god will strike down those who are guilty even when the laws of men do not apply.


A Question of Values