Thursday, December 27, 2012

Our Dark Ages

"The densest of the medieval centuries - the six hundred years between, roughly, A.D. 400 and A.D. 1000 - are still widely known as the Dark Ages. Modern historians have abandoned that phrase, one of them writes, "because of the unacceptable value judgment it implies." Yet there are no survivors to be offended. Nor is the term necessarily pejorative. Very little is clear about that dim era." - William Manchester, A World Lit Only by Fire, p. 3

Thus the historian begins his study of the late medieval period culminating--and closing--with Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe.  There is seemingly little evidence that the Dark Ages will be returning anytime soon, if not in the pejorative sense--the resurgence of barbarism--certainly in an absence of information about our own era.  Indeed, with the continuous communication provided by the Internet in the Age of Twitter, it seems a jest to suspect that they could ever return, at least in this sense.

I offer a few points by way of consideration.  But first, we should be aware that the mere accumulation of data doesn't exclude a lack of clarity about the world in which we live.  Actually, the immense quantity of data makes it necessary to search among the chaff for the useful wheat.  This is a difficult task, the demands of which should not be understated.  

For now I'll give but two indicators for my tentative proposal.   We start with a paradox: politics becomes more important, even as its utility becomes increasingly dubious.  It's totally unclear what either political party is capable of achieving at a federal level, yet this has only increased the fervor with which we seek to elect the right people.  This is partially because the State touches every aspect of society, but it's also because very few of our institutions have maintained a healthy existence apart from it.  Marriage is doing very badly, we've abandoned traditional religion for worrisome heresies, we even bowl alone

Politics works no better than our other institutions--in fact, it has probably fared worse--but it has become, to borrow a colloquialism, too big too fail.  But because it does not work, we relate to it in ways that are hard to rationalize.  The most common technique is to ghettoize ourselves among those who agree with us.  Both the left and the right are guilty of this--as are libertarians, and probably socialists, too.  This last presidential election provided an interesting example. 

Nate Silver, a stat geek, calculated the chances that either candidate would win the presidential election.  As the probably of an Obama reelection increased, the right turned on Silver, insisting that he was a partisan hack, and that polls that showed that Romney was dead even were far more accurate.  We all know what happened: Silver was vindicated and the right graciously admitted as much.  I kid; our politics are too poisonous for charity.  The right insisted--what else?--that massive voter fraud had prevented Romney from winning. 

I'm actually sympathetic to this assessment, in some respects, only: 1) I'd like to see some proof of the accusation; and 2) if the Democrats are capable of stealing elections so easily, and without negative ramifications, why on earth should anyone devote any time or money to the political process? 

It will be interesting to see what historian make of this particular period.  This disengagement from reality is, I argue, an indication that the Dark Ages may not be so far away as we think.

The second indicator again involves politics, specifically the issue of gun control.  No one has offered an explanation that I have seen as to what laws would have prevented the CT tragedy.  And, in fact, focusing on this sort of tragedy makes little sense.  Only a small portion of gun deaths occur when someone decides to gun down children at a school; such crimes are the apotheosis of outliers. 

Now, the mere presence of guns is clearly not the cause of crime, as our most thinly populated states are rife with firearms.  A far better explanation for gun deaths can be had by examining the demographic data.  The link explains what everyone knows, but what no one can say: certain groups of people commit violent crimes at a higher rate.

For now, these explanations are still available to us, but when one considers the sheer number of imbeciles who believe, with apparent seriousness, that guns are the real problem, one begins to realize that our own grasp of reality may be far more tenuous than it appears.  Which is not to say that the Dark Ages are upon us, only that dimness seems to be encroaching on our ostensibly enlightened time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The decline of debate

Steve Sailer has an excellent post up over at his blog.  He writes:

Much of the intellectual progress the world has made over the millennia is due to men managing to turn argument into sport rather than either a test of popularity or of physical strength.

Two points here: 1) this attitude is rare, both historically, in that few periods of time have treated disagreements as other than a personal affront; and 2) men here should be read in the exclusive sense, i.e. excluding women.  Anyone who has attempted to discuss things with women is familiar with their tendency to personalize every issue. 

This second point is made more clear when Steve continues, quoting Alastair Roberts:

Granted immunity from this process [of debate as sport], sensitivity-driven and conflict-averse contexts seldom produce strong thought, but rather tend to become echo chambers. Even the good ideas that they produce tend to be blunt and very weak in places. Even with highly intelligent people within them, conflict-averse groups are poor at thinking. Bad arguments go unchecked and good insights go unhoned and underdeveloped. This would not be such a problem were it not for the fact that these groups frequently expect us to fly in a society formed according to their ideas, ideas that never received any rigorous stress testing.

For confirmation, I suggest reading the sycophantic drivel bouncing around the echo chamber of your favorite feminist blog.   It would be unfair to blame women entirely for this; many men are similarly ill-equipped to handle the rigors of debate.  Still, I think we could fairly categorize the sensitivity-driven approach as feminine, while debate as sport is essentially masculine. 

Roberts does a good job of highlighting the shortcomings of the feminine approach.  I think it would be instructive to examine some of the benefits to the masculine alternative.  The fact that ancient Greece and ascendant Britain perfected this model of discourse is probably not an accident.  One may still find it this type of discourse in strange corners of the Internet, and in small circles of people, if one is fortunate enough to know enough holdouts to the dictates of the Zeitgeist, it has become exceedingly rare. 

This is all very befuddling to me because I have a hard time imagining that debate could be anything other than sport.  Taking offense over a difference of opinion is, in my estimation, petty and absurd.  This would not be the first time I have discovered that what I perceived as transparently true is almost universally doubted, but it is unfortunate all the same.  Sailer, who no doubt came to this realization many decades before me, is to be commended for expressing so clearly what I had only half grasped:

In general, the contemporary mode of emotionalism and herding is the human default. The great ages of intellectual progress via debate were rare social constructs, and it's not surprising that they easily break down.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Feminist lunacy

Feminism is one of the shibboleths of our time; criticism of it cannot be brokered.  Mere skepticism is often enough to reveal oneself to be afraid of women who do more than make sandwiches and have babies.  Yet it must be denounced as the grave threat to civilization that it is. 

At heart, feminism is at war with biology, for nature is a cruel mistress who imposes desires within us based on our sex, desires that cannot be eradicated even after years of indoctrination in the schools.  Concomitantly, the other great enemy of the feminist is the nuclear family, for the family provides a constant reminder of the complementarity of the sexes, thereby compelling our embittered sisters to recall that biology has not yet been overthrown.

Here we find a good example of the feminist--hat tips to GL Piggy and Heartise--bereft of logic or common sense, arrogantly adamant that reality must be as she wishes it to be:

The show [MTV's Teen Mom] does not attempt radical advocacy, but it does understand that the most fundamental patterns in American life can’t be covered up. Teen motherhood, single motherhood, unmarried cohabitation—these are not plagues or social ills that pose a threat to the otherwise normal structures of everyday life. They are our new social reality.

The argument, so far as one exists, is that because marriage is increasingly unpopular, it is no longer normal, so we must normalize these poor imitations of that vital social institution.  A cursory examination of the findings of the social scientists would reveal that single parenthood is disastrous for children.  See: anywhere.  But we already knew this.  The reason children of single mothers were mocked as bastards was to emphasize that having a child out of wedlock was an anti-social and harmful act.  Once the child had been born, mother and relations would do their best to raise the child, but no one would consider pretending that this was some newfangled ideal. 

In the future, it would appear that we will all be bastards.  Which is reasonable shorthand for the ways things worked in our pagan and barbarian past.  The writer may console herself with the pleasant thought that if she plays her cards well, she may find a spot in the harem of a powerful male.

There is nothing wrong with teenage or single motherhood. The things children need: economic livelihood, emotional support and an education, are not dependent on a nuclear family structure. Poverty is poverty whether it’s endured by two people or four. A couple cannot raise a child better than one can. Once we get rid of the idea that marriage is the privileged form of cohabitation and that women cannot raise children without the help of a man—ideas that the Left has been working to eradicate for decades—there is no reason that a teen should not be financially and emotionally assisted for her choice to have a family.

This is what Nietzsche called the transvaluation of values: the virtues become vices, and the vices become virtues.  There is so much idiocy here that it's hard to cut through, it helps to change out single motherhood for other anti-social behaviors, as, for instance: There is nothing wrong with sharing needles.  Thus does a feminist "argue".  Note that in cases where it is obvious, no lies are necessary: There is nothing wrong with assisting at a homeless shelter--where, I hesitate to add, unwed mothers form a sizable portion of the... home disabled, I think we're supposed to call them. 

We get to the heart of the matter in that last sentence: "there is no reason that a teen should not be financially and emotionally assisted for her choice to have a family."  Feminism advocates irresponsibility in that it insists that women have the right to do as they please--full stop.  Yet with rights, come duties.  My right to private property carries with it a duty to use that property virtuously.  Single mothers possess a duty to their bastard spawn; before becoming pregnant, they have a duty to refrain from sexual intercourse if they will be unable to provide for that child in a responsible way, which is to say, if they are unmarried. 

As an aside, these duties apply to men as well.  But women have always been the sexual gatekeepers since the consequences of poor choices fall disproportionally on them.  Such facts were readily understood before the Great War on Biology.

Single parenthood depends on a generous welfare State, which takes from the productive members of society, and redistributes these wages to single mothers.  Since feminists have no inclination to actually live autonomously, they have replaced the horrid husband with the State.  Instead of supporting a wife and children, a productive man must hand over a portion of his paycheck to women he does not know, to care for children he did not sire. 

Sometimes, one gets the impression that our present societal arrangement must be a Swiftian satire. 

The consequences of the subsidization of irresponsibility are twofold.  First, marriage will continue to be looked upon as a luxury good: the underclass will have children without bothering to marry; the upper classes will continue to tie the knot at expensive ceremonies; they may even have a child or two.  For more on this, see Charles Murray's excellent book: Coming Apart.  This bifurcation is very bad for the underclass, a point which should become clear once the EBT allowance is cut by a bankrupt Government.

Second, productivity will decline.  The economic progress that we take for granted depends on a small portion of men--and yes, they are mostly men.  Beneath these men of genius, are a large number of, again, mostly men, who, while not responsible for giant leaps of progress, help in their own small way.  They do their job diligently and honestly, partially because of their bourgeois virtues, but also because they either wish to attract a mate for whom they can provide, or, because they have a mate for whom they are providing.  If men become disinterested in this--as the asinine essayist thinks they should, and as some men are thinking, though for completely different reasons--productivity will necessarily decrease.  Men will work only to provide them with what they need. 

This should cause our feminist to tremble with fear, for we are much closer to our civilization's end than her blissful ruminations on the destruction of the family would suggest.  Then again, if she realized the relationship between the family--those little platoons of which Burke wrote--and civilization at large, she wouldn't be a feminist. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Election redux

It's been almost two weeks since the Most Important Election Ever(TM).  After years of campaigning and some $6 billion spent on the presidential race alone, nothing has changed.  President Obama gets another term; he and his Democratic Senate will have to contend with a Republican House.  Three cheers for gridlock!

Armchair quarterbacks like to look at the data set an election provides and extrapolate forward to come up with trends.  For instance, because the Republicans lost this presidential election, they are destined to wander for decades in the political wilderness.  This argument is based on the demographic reality: to wit, minority groups vote heavily for Democrats, and as these minority groups are growing as a share of the electorate, Republicans will never win another election again.

This argument assumes that Mitt Romney could have been an effective nominee, if only the electorate were different.  In a sense this is true, as one could hypothetically restrict the suffrage to ensure Republican victory.  But this lets Romney off the hook far too easily.  Given our electorate, the Republicans could have run a better nominee.  The demographic angle is important, but it's also worth discussing the larger problem facing the GOP.  The party no longer seems to know what it stands for.

I base this on the evidence that of the nominees for the Republican party, Romney was arguably the best standard bearer--and he was a very bad one.  I'll refrain from my usual insistence that Ron Paul ought to have been the nominee; plainly, the party faithful aren't interested in sound money and non-interventionism.  Paul articulates a coherent vision, but it's not one the party is interested in embracing at this moment in history.  There's a lesson here to be sure: it's possible that a GOP that wasn't wedded to the warfare state would do better in the polls, but the neo-con establishment isn't even willing to consider such heresy.

The reason Romney was such a mediocre nominee is that, like his party, he lacked principles.  He had taken both sides on virtually every important issue; his flip-flops made John Kerry seem like a paragon of consistency.  During the race for the Republican nomination, he ran to the right when confronted with his liberal stances on everything from abortion, to guns, to healthcare.  In the debates with the President, he ran back to the middle, in the process, revealing himself to be a duplicitous panderer.  Only an abysmal performance by the President in the first debate--and an amusing overreaction from the panicked leftist media--prevented the election from being a landslide.  In hindsight, it was never really much of a race.

As an aside, less discussed was the inconsistency of Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan.  Ostensibly a fiscal hawk, Ryan had voted for every spending increase during the Bush presidency.  The debt crisis would have eventually sapped the surplus, but Medicare Part D and an expensive war in Iraq accelerated the trend.  The Republican refusal to see the Bush years as the disaster they were still hurts the party.  Clinton's appearance at the Democratic convention reminded Americans of better times, thereby helping Obama.  Bush, meanwhile, was far away from his party's convention.  Like Jimmy Carter, the electorate sees Bush II as a hapless loser. 

Back to the story: Romney's defeat is somewhat surprising in that, by all accounts, Obama has been a lousy president.  His policies have managed to obscure the nature of our recession, but a meaningful recovery has failed to materialize.  But one does not switch horses midstream without a compelling reason.  Romney failed in this respect.  His vague bromides to leadership and job creation simply weren't persuasive.

This is partially because the GOP has but one answer to the issue of jobs.  For Republicans, it's always 1980, and there's nothing that can't be fixed with a good tax cut. I'm not enthusiastic about paying taxes, but it's simply not the case that cutting taxes always leads to job growth.  Cutting income tax, moreover, has limited appeal for those who do not pay income tax.  At present, our overwhelming debt is the largest obstacle to economic growth.  Neither party possesses a credible plan to reduce it, let alone pay it off.

The best Romney could offer by way of fiscal responsibility was the possibility of a balanced budget during the last year of his second term.  Colloquially, the Republicans were peeing on our legs, insisting that it was raining. If this is the best the GOP can do, I can't see the point of having a conservative party.  It may be that anything more radical would be unpalatable to the American people, but when faced with two profligate parties, the citizens were behaving rationally in voting for the man who promised them more things.  For if the debt matters, we are doomed--with either party.  But if the debt doesn't matter, why would we not allow the government to spend as much money as possible?

Until the Republicans can make a coherent case against debt, and offer a practical program to reduce it, they offer nothing to fiscal conservatives.  Naturally, the take away has not been to reexamine the ideological underpinnings of the movement, but to flout neo-con Marco Rubio as the Great Hispanic Hope to turn the party's electoral fortunes around.  Not for nothing is the Republican Party called the Stupid Party.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

On birthrates

A deeply troubling report was released by the CDC.  CNS News summarizes:

More than 40 percent of all babies born in the country last year, the report said, were born to unmarried women.

This is very bad news.  Although this rate didn't change substantially from the previous year, we'll need to see a significant drop before optimism is warranted.  Anecdotally, there are no doubt plenty of good single parents, but they face almost insurmountable obstacles in trying to raise children without help.  The evidence is clear: single parenthood is disastrous for children.

So naturally we're going to spend much of our time arguing over whether or not the 1-2% of the population that is homosexual should be allowed to get married.  It's almost as America is a ridiculous nation.

The report continues:

However, among women 35-39 years old, [the birthrate] increased from 45.9 per 100,000 to 47.2. Among women 40-44, it increased from 10.2 to 10.3. And among women from 45-54, it held steady at 0.7 per 100,000.

These gains aren't substantial.  I could run the numbers to prove it, but that would require me to remember something from statistics, a class which I attended infrequently.  But if there is a story here, it's that Americans continue to have children later in life.  There are some very obvious reasons why this is a bad idea: younger people have more energy and are more durable, etc., but there's also a demographic angle that merits investigation.

Birthrate is useful metric, but it conflates dissimilar goods through the crudeness of its model.  A child born to a teenager is not the same as a child born to a forty year-old.  We can make this clear if we take two extreme sample populations: A, in which the women have, on average, 2 children, at an average age of 20; and B, in which the women also have, on average, 2 children, but at an average age of 40.

For the sake of simplicity, we'll assume that the children arrive precisely at the average date--so there is no variation in our sample, and everyone is, evidently, having twins.  This assumption is absurd, but it helps the model, and it doesn't detract from the point I wish to convey.  We'll also assume that people die precisely at the age of 80, and for the same reasons.

If we start each population with 100 people, and if I did my math right, the populations look like this over a century's time:

Year A B
0 100 100
20 200 100
40 400 200
60 800 200
80 1500 200
100 2800 200

Even though the birthrates are the same, population A is growing, while population B will remain stable at 200.  Now, the average progressive would look at this model and be amazed at the responsibility of population B--and be horrified at the rabbit-like behavior of population A. If it prevents them from having children, so much the better.

But the salient point is that not all births are created equal.  This is as heretical as it is logically sound.  A society thrives when its citizens are married before they have children, but it also thrives when these married people have children at a younger age.  Or, anyway, the population increases, which means that there are more younger works to pay into the bankrupt Social Security fund, and to pay taxes to fund Medicare and so forth.  And to maybe even help the economy grow.

It's important to pay attention to the birthrate, but the crude statistic can be misleading as well.  Just as GDP reflects the economic state of the country in question, so the birthrate gives some idea as to the nation's long term sustainability.  But only some idea.

Dawson on education

One of the testaments of a good book is the ability to endure, to be read with relish, not merely by the author's contemporaries, but by those not yet born.  Christopher Dawson's The Crisis of Western Education is such a book.  Since there is only one substantial Amazon review, I may put together my own later, but for now I'd just like to offer a few very illuminating quotes from the book.

The great problem of the present age is whether the new structure of American society can continue to develop in this way, like a sociological skyscraper... For it is an abnormally expensive economy which uses up both human and natural resources more rapidly than anything hitherto known.  Yet even in the past we see how the relatively simple urban development of the Mediterranean world proved too expensive for the peasant economy of those lands to maintain it indefinitely.  p. 73

Dawson's perfectly sound observation would be political heresy today.  Jimmy Carter's infamous malaise speech expressed the same concerns, but the Americans drubbed him out of office for the immodest Reagan, who promised more growth, neglecting to mention that it would come courtesy of the national credit card. 

The Democrats have learned from Carter's mistake: they, too, now promise indefinite prosperity.  American still refuse to consider that there may be limits to economic growth--ironically enough, during a time in which the economy has not grown for roughly a decade, if not longer.  Yet Dawson's point remains a sound one.

[Universal education] is moreover a continually expanding force, for when once the State has accepted full responsibility for the education of the whole youth of the nation, it is obliged to extend its control further and further into new fields: to the physical welfare of its pupils--to their feeding and medical care--to their amusements and the use of their spare time--and finally to their moral welfare and their pschyological guidance. pp. 85-6

The seed of the welfare state, indeed, the totalitarian state, was planted with a step so seemingly benign.  Yet once the State had taken on the role of educating the citizenry, a role formerly handled, however unevenly, by the religious element of society, it was only a matter of time before it had arrogated to itself other functions of that society.  Hence the churches today, and above all the Church, are seen as, at best, inconsequential wastes of resources, and, at worst, almost, but not quite, treasonous. 

More to follow...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Books and mortality

I recently read Joe Queenan's mostly good--but not, alas, astonishing--One for the Books, which has had the unfortunate result of leaving me quite depressed.  I'd like to put together a review, but in the interim, I offer several thoughts.

First, books, like every other good and noble thing in our wretched civilization, are dying,  Infernal electronic readers, which Queenan admirably rails against, are taking over in what remains of our now mostly illiterate culture.  He's a self-confessed Luddite, but he's also only a few thousand books from his death bed, whereas I remain similarly entrenched in my opposition to technology with, fortunately, hopefully, a much larger number of books ahead of me.  I cannot be certain that I shall be able to get them, either, which provides the rationalization for the otherwise indefensible rate at which I acquire books.

Second, readers are probably not any better than everyone else.  I confess to looking down on those who read less than me, though, since this is most everyone, I immediately feel awful for giving into the sin of intellectual pride.  I know more than I would have were I not a voracious devourer of books, but I cannot say that I am a better person for it.  Moreover, in exchange, I find the world outside of books--which is to say, the real world--that much less interesting.  The unfortunate result is that I then read more books, and deal ever more precariously with the vastly overrated real world. 

Third, readers are impressed strongly with the sense of their own mortality.  Queenan measures his life by the number of books he has read.  I've not quite come to that, but I am aware that I will not be able to read everything I hope to read before I slip this mortal coil.  This results in a nature that tends toward the macabre, but I do not think that it can be helped.

So I suppose what we have learned is that while it is difficult to explain why spending all one's free time reading is a productive usage of that time, there's no way that we readers would alter our habits in the slightest.  It's entirely possible that we have been afflicted with some horrible disease, but as it is less harmful, surely, than drugs and alcohol, we shall be left alone for the time being.  Which is precisely what we desire.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The foreign policy of fools

Tonight is the third and final presidential debate, the topic of which is foreign policy.  Had the Republicans nominated Ron Paul--or the Democrats, Dennis Kucinich--we might well see an actual debate.  Actually, if Paul was running against Kucinich, we wouldn't see many fireworks, but at least the heads of Bill Kristol and Max Boot might explode.

As it stands, both Obama and Romney are interventionists, to put it mildly.  While the President has drawn down some of the armed forces from Iraq, he increased the number of soldiers in Afghanistan.  Twelve years later, we're still mired in that graveyard of empires.  One would think that this would be a position on which the president could be challenged.  Yet the Republicans, in their boundless stupidity, have nominated a hawk who thinks that Obama was wrong in deescalating the war in Iraq.  The President's Nobel Peace Prize remains an immense joke, but in this race, he is actually the peace candidate.

Consider: the President recognizes the power of the executive branch to assassinate American citizens.  Romney, no doubt looking forward to using this power for himself, has yet to raise an objection to such a grotesque violation of our basic human rights.  If the American people are fortunate, perhaps this will be discussed in tonight's debate, but even if the moderator mentions this policy, we will be wholly unable to do a thing to alter it. 

Instead of substantial debate over a very important topic, we'll be compelled to endure a tedious discussion over precisely how much leadership--and what kind--will best ensure that we may continue to meddle in the Middle East without experiencing too much blowback. 

The American people are tired of war.  We should never forget that warfare has a significant moral dimension; the bombs we drop extinguish lives, a large percentage of which belonged to civilians, innocent of the crimes perpetrated by our enemies.  Regrettably, too many Americans are inured to the death and destruction that resides thousands of miles away.  Surely our leaders would tell us if they were responsible for the death of innocents.

However, the costs of war hit home in other ways.  The government is not in the habit of increasing taxes in order to help fund its bloated military, now bogged down in wars that will cost, when all is said and done, several trillion dollars.  Instead, the dollar is debased.  As a result, food and gas prices continue to rise.  Americans must sacrifice for the good of our benevolent government.

We're not going to hear about this in tonight's debate, but what Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex is an immense drain on the nation's economy.  Precious resources go to produce weapons of destruction which we unleash on the world.  From the purvey of a defense contractor, war means more contracts.  But while these welfare queens make fistfuls of cash due to the fact that we spend more money on the military than every other country in the world combined, the Americans who do not work for the bloated warfare sector become poorer.

A country of responsible citizens wouldn't tolerate military pork in an age of austerity.  But history is replete with examples of bankrupt nations going to war, in part to distract its citizenry from trouble at home.  The depressing fact about tonight is that Obama is likelier to declare war on Iran than he is to offer real cuts to what is deceptively called defense.  Even more depressingly, the President is probably the lesser evil in this horrible race to the bottom.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Brooks and Henry on feminism

John Quincey Adams's grandson Henry is famous in his own right, most notably for two of his books, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres as well as The Education of Henry Adams.  Adams was known for being melancholic about the future of the American experiment, and while this attitude is commoner now, it was quite irregular for a man who lived and wrote towards the close of the nineteenth century. 

At present, I'm reading The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma, which is ostensibly written by Henry Adams.  Actually, his brother Brooks wrote a piece about Henry which comprises more than a third of the book.  It is with this introductory piece that I plan on dealing, as it contains a number of perceptive observations concerning the problems inherent in feminism. 

The quote is from an essay of Henry's which is printed in full later in the book; the rest is Brooks:

"The mere act of reproduction, which seems to have been the most absorbing and passionate purpose of primitive instinct, concerns history not at all." ...Certainly it does not concern the modern feminist, who repudiates such an instinct as unworthy of a civilized and educated modern woman, and by so doing announces herself as incapable of performing the only function in modern society which has the least vital importance to mankind.

These astounding sentences were first published in 1919.  The brothers Adams were well ahead of their time, though perhaps not as much as we might think.  The Great Depression and the Second World War postponed the sexual revolution which had begun during the Roaring Twenties.  It was only after a return to peace and an increase in prosperity that the revolution could pick up where it had left off decades before. 

More importantly, Brooks Adams hones in on the essential flaw in the feminist dogma; its devotees abdicate responsibility when it comes to "performing the only function in modern society which has the least vital importance to mankind."  Civilization is completely capable of surviving, and even thriving, without female  doctors or lawyers.  It cannot do so, however, if its women refuse to become mothers.  It is no less true for being oft repeated: demographics is destiny.  It would be difficult to suggest a more idiotic policy than encouraging the best and brightest women to pursue careers at the expense of becoming mothers, leaving such horror to the unwed underclass.  I half suspect future historians may believe that the vastly underrated film Idiocracy is actually a documentary.

Later on, Brooks takes up his theme again:

Since the great industrial capitalistic movement began throughout the modern world toward 1830, the modern feminist has sought to put the woman upon a basis of legal at which she would be enabled, as it was thought, to become the economic competitor of man.  At length, after nearly a century as one of the effects of the recent war, she seems to have succeeded in her ambition.  So far as possible the great sexual instinct has been weakened or suppressed.  So far as possible it is now ignored systematically in our education. Woman is ashamed of her sex and imitates the man.  And the results are manifest enough to alarm the most optimistic and confiding.  The effect has been to turn enormous numbers of women into the ranks of the lower paid classes of labor, but far worse, in substance to destroy the influence of woman in modern civilization, save in so far as her enfranchisement tends to degrade the democratic level of intelligence.  The woman as the cement of society the head of the family and the centre of cohesion has for all intents and purposes ceased to exist.  She has become a wandering isolated unit rather a dispersive than a collective force.

There's a lot to unpack here, but we'll give it a shot.  First, as Brooks notes, granting women legal equality with men was not an insignificant and helpful gesture, but the base on which all else was built.  This is important, because while there are numerous critics of feminism, few seem to realize the drastic actions which would be necessary to undo the damage.  It is not enough to simply suggest that more women stay home with their children.  And, in actuality, seeing how these things tend to over-correct, women fifty years hence may well look bad fondly at the freedom afforded to their predecessors living in the times of Adams.

Women's movements tend to occur in times of economic growth, if not decadence.  I'd like to do more research to confirm this in, say, Imperial Rome or Renaissance Italy, so for now it remains a tentative hypothesis.  Yet Adams observes that what was brought forth in a time of prosperity resulted in women degrading themselves to work in "the ranks of the lower paid classes of labor."  We would need to update this rhetoric to more accurately reflect the way things are today, but as a piece of historical data, it's an arresting observation. 

The snide swipe at the degradation "of the democratic level of intelligence" is too amusing to pass over.  I earnestly await the movement which seeks to limit the suffrage.  But then again, I'm hoping we can deprecate democracy in favor of hereditary monarchy, rendering such limitations superfluous.

Lastly, contrary to feminist rhetoric, traditionalists or anti-feminists do not hate women: we contend that women's liberation has been bad for men as well as women, and certainly for society at large.  This point is made fairly clearly by Henry Adams in his book on the Middle Ages: but there is much dignity in women who pursue a vocation as a mother.  No doubt there are women who would fit awkwardly, if at all, into the institution of marriage.  But this was no excuse to treat the exception as a rule.

In summary, feminism was a bad idea one hundred years ago, and it is a bad idea now.  Adams doesn't even mention, because he could not know, that feminism would pile up a body count that would make Hitler envious.  That feminism will endure in the short run is as certain as that its infertile philosophy dooms it in the long.  It would be pleasant to think that we could restore something from just before Adams time, but I think it likelier that sexual relations in the future will proceed along pagan lines.  And no, feminists, that will not be pleasant, not in the slightest.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Of mole hills

The world's laziest blogger--copyright applied for--is back.  Like millions of other Americans, I watched the presidential debate on Wednesday night.  The near unanimous verdict, with which I concur, was that Romney won by looking and sounding presidential, while President Obama lost by appearing tired and flat.  I have nothing to add to this. 

However, I do want to take a look at Romney's insistence that he would cut funding to PBS.  For while the challenger was better prepared than the empty suit our President appeared to be, there remains a deep lack of seriousness that pervades and perverts our presidential politics.

PBS accounts for just .012% of the federal budget.  It's true that it makes little to no sense to fund something so inconsequential at a time when the nation is bankrupt.  At the same time, PBS's paltry nature makes it one of the best uses of our taxpayer money: I'd much rather subsidize Sesame Street than be compelled to pay for the bombs that rain down on Pakistanis. 

I remain convinced that our debt is, or rather, ought to be, the most important issue in this election.  Obama seems to have no idea how we are to balance our budget.  Yet, for all his talk about how it is immoral to pass debt along to our children, Romney's pollyannish plan is to simply grow our way out of debt.  Obama is in no position to ask, but I wish someone would find out what Romney plans to do if the economy remains stagnant well into his first term.  At that point, will he try to cut funding for other programs?  Will he reconsider his plans to increase military spending?

Or will we continue to bicker over Big Bird?

Monday, September 10, 2012

The new normal

Victor David Hanson has a sound and discouraging piece over at PJMedia:

I’ve witnessed two of the most radical developments in my lifetime the last four years — changes far greater than those brought on by the massive new increases in the national debt, the soaring gas costs, the radical decrease in average family income, the insolvent Medicare and Social Security trajectories, or the flat housing market.

One is the fact of less than 1% interest rates on most savings (well below the rate of inflation), and the other is an epidemic of 20-something unemployment. All that is the new normal.

These two changes, as he notes, are linked.  Since older Americans cannot expect to draw reasonable return on investment, rather than retire, they remain in the workforce.  For many, this is a sound decision: it is more difficult to re-enter the job market at a later date.  Unless one is content to place one's money in a stock market increasingly dominated by robot traders, working provides the best way of ensuring a reliable stream of income.  There is a price for this decision, aside from delayed retirement, and it is being paid by younger workers, who were expecting to take the jobs of retirees.  Instead, even recent graduates must live at home or work jobs for which they would have been qualified upon graduating high school.

Interest rates have been kept low to help the struggling economy.  The theory is that lower rates of interest will spur investment, thereby causing economic growth.  This would be a reasonable supposition if Americans weren't in debt up to their eyeballs.  Indeed, the only economic actors that are taking on debt are the Federal Government and students, who must take out loans to afford a college education, so that they may go back to living with their parents while working in the service industry.  The irony is as obvious as it is crushing: the Federal Reserve's policy has made getting a job more difficult, though there are plenty of McJobs available.

VDH continues:

I don’t know where this all leads. The aging baby boomers are not going to have the retirements that they envisioned, and their children are not going to have the good jobs their baby-boomer parents enjoyed.

Neither do I.  But as long as we're in this miserable predicament, we have time for one last observation, courtesy of Roissy: this is the grim reality of a low-trust society.  Students need cheap loans to pay for education; parents need a return on investment so that they can retire.  In a high-trust society, the solution would be obvious: the youth would take out loans from their elders and pay them back with a modicum of interest.  Instead, as VDH observes, students take out loans at oppressive rates of interest while their elders, if they are savers, get miserly interest payments.  The banks are making a pretty penny off of this carry trade, at the expense of everyone else.  Which, come to think of it, nicely defines the new normal.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Martin on celibacy

While watching HBO's Game of Thrones, something caught my attention which I had someone missed when I had previously read George R. R. Martin's book of the same name.  What follows is from the book--my thanks to someone on a forum for typing it up for me to use:

“Jon, did you ever wonder why the men of the Night’s Watch take no wives and father no children?” Maester Aemon asked...

“So they will not love,” the old man answered, “for love is the bane of honor, the death of duty.”

...The old man seemed to sense his doubts. “Tell me, Jon, if the day should ever come when your lord father must needs choose between honor on the one hand and those he loves on the other, what would he do?”

Jon hesitated. He wanted to say that Lord Eddard would never dishonor himself, not even for love, yet inside a small sly voice whispered, He fathered a bastard, where was the honor in that? And your mother, what of his duty to her, he will not even say her name. “He would do whatever was right,” he said . . . ringingly, to make up for his hesitation. “No matter what.”

“Then Lord Eddard is a man in ten thousand. Most of us are not so strong. What is honor compared to a woman’s love? What is duty against the feel of a newborn son in your arms . . . or the memory of a brother’s smile? Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory, and our great tragedy.

I'm not certain that Martin had the Catholic priesthood in mind when he wrote this, though he may very well have.  It certainly fits.  The reason the Church insists that her priests be unmarried is not altogether different from those given by Maester Aemon; or, for that matter, those given by the Apostle Paul: "I should like you to have your minds free from all worry. The unmarried man gives his mind to the Lord's affairs and to how he can please the Lord; but the man who is married gives his mind to the affairs of this world and to how he can please his wife, and he is divided in mind."

In our first world comfort, we tend to forget that elsewhere, even now, priests are being persecuted.  They require much grace from God to resist the temptation to neglect their duty and honor in order to save their very lives.  But because they are unmarried, and without children, they will not be compelled to choose between these and the lives of their loved ones.  This is no small thing, as fans of Martin's series well know. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Indispensable Family

Thirteen years ago, William E. May wrote the book: Marriage: The Rock on Which the Family Is Built. Three years ago, Ignatius Press published a second edition, which includes a new introduction, as well as two additional chapters, one which delves into John Paul II's Catechesis on the Theology of the Body, and another, which covers Pope Benedict XVI's Teaching on Marriage and Family Life. These are much welcome additions to an already fine book.

Many of the arguments we have about divorce, or whether or not gays ought to be allowed to marry, start at the wrong end. Marriage and the family are primary, and must be discussed first, which May wisely does. Thus in his first chapter, he offers fourteen basic moral criterion for families with supporting argument. For instance: “the family must be rooted in the marriage of one man and one woman”; “children... are to be begotten in the loving embrace of husband and wife”; “spouses ought not... impede procreation”; “Church and State must both honor the primary right of parents as educators of their children and cooperate with them in this educative task”; “society must support the sanctity of the marriage bond if men are to be fathers to their children.”

The second chapter builds on this, exploring the complementarity of male and female. In our age of triumphalist feminism, it is verboten to suggest that men and women are different, and--worse--that this difference is intrinsic and natural. Yet as Chesterton remarked, “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.” May takes this difference as a given, and indeed, illustrative, for it tells us something both about mankind as well as the God who made us. Our design is such that husband and wife participate in procreation, bringing new life to the world through an act of love. May quotes the philosopher Robert E. Joyce who notes that men: “give in a receiving sort of way” while women “receive in a giving sort of way.” One mild complaint, these wonderful phrases are used too frequently throughout the text, reducing their potency.

Another chapter is devoted to examining Pope Paul VI's prophetic utterances in the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Yet somehow May's defense here is a bit underwhelming. He accurately explains that the late pope was correct about the consequences of detaching, or rather, attempting to detach, sex from reproduction. Still, the critics were so disastrously wrong that one wishes May would hammer the point home with a bit more force. The mainstreaming of contraception has been so thorough that the idea that sex has a natural end is not so much considered outdated as simply ludicrous. 

In making his arguments about marriage, May uses a variety of sources. He relies heavily on Catholic references: philosophers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, encyclicals, the Catechism, and so forth. This allows him to make the Catholic case thoroughly. Unfortunately, this reduces the appeal of his book to a secular audience. Revelation undoubtedly guides the Church's understanding of marriage; hence she has elevated it to a sacrament. Yet marriage antedates the Church. If the author plans a third edition, I would like to see him to sketch an argument in defense of marriage that relies on secular sources.

Still, until Catholics adhere to their own Church's teaching, there is more work to be done. May's book provides a well structured look at the family and the role it must play in society. For as Pope John Paul II observed, “As the family goes, so goes the world.”

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paul Ryan

The respective tickets for the 2012 presidential election are now set: Obama-Biden will attempt to defend their title against Romney-Ryan.  No word as yet as to the availability of Butter Bean for the undercard.

Nominating a vice president makes sense, insofar as one must provide a reasonable form of succession in the event of the president's demise.  Yet it strikes me that most of the talk about the vice president is overwrought.  Sometimes, the vice president wields considerable influence: many of W's policies emanated from the office of Cheney.  Other times, vice presidents seem to do very little.  Can anyone discern what Biden has done for the last three years, save for serve up gaffes to the media?  The role played by the vice president, then, would seem to suggest more about the strength of the president, or the lack thereof.

Nonetheless, I should probably offer my thoughts on Paul Ryan.  Conservatives seem rather happy with the pick.  For some reason, Ryan is a darling of the Tea Party, so this pick proves, not that Romney is a cynical and unprincipled political opportunist, but that he is really a conservative.  There are an assortment of flaws with this narrative, the most important of which is that Paul Ryan isn't a fiscal conservative by any stretch of the imagination.  Here's a look at some of his votes.

Paul Ryan on Bailouts and Government Stimuli
-Voted YES on TARP (2008)
-Voted YES on Economic Stimulus HR 5140 (2008)
-Voted YES on $15B bailout for GM and Chrysler. (Dec 2008)
-Voted YES on $192B additional anti-recession stimulus spending. (Jul 2009)
Paul Ryan on Entitlement Programs
-Voted YES on limited prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients. (Nov 2003)
-Voted YES on providing $70 million for Section 8 Housing vouchers. (Jun 2006)
-Voted YES on extending unemployment benefits from 39 weeks to 59 weeks. (Oct 2008)
-Voted YES on Head Start Act (2007)
Paul Ryan on Education

-Voted YES on No Child Left Behind Act (2001)
Paul Ryan on Civil Liberties
-Voted YES on federalizing rules for driver licenses to hinder terrorists. (Feb 2005)
-Voted YES on making the PATRIOT Act permanent. (Dec 2005)
-Voted YES on allowing electronic surveillance without a warrant. (Sep 2006)

What a sterling record.  And that's before we get to foreign policy views, where he's essentially a loyal neo-conservative. 

The hilarious part about the degraded state of political discourse is not that otherwise intelligent people will be duped into believing that Paul Ryan is a fiscal hawk, despite all evidence to the contrary.  It's that the case will be made by the political opposition.  Romney and Ryan are middle of the road types, who, if they can be prevented from bombing Iran, will do nothing to alter the size and scope of government.  But if that's the case, why would anyone vote for Obama?  So a new narrative must be constructed, one in which the Republicans are actually going to cut government programs.  Would that it were so.

The Ryan pick changes nothing.  If you like running huge deficits and bailing out banks, vote for either party.  It doesn't matter which.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

About those gays

There always seem to be a handful of issues that distract us and engage far more attention from us than prudence merits.  The political right falls into this trap when it exerts energy lambasting non-starters such as the National Endowment for the Arts.  Yes, it's idiotic that the government sends money to Mapplethorpe and similar degenerates, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter very much. 

So it is with homosexuality, and our endless arguments over whether or not those predisposed to prefer their own sex ought to be allowed to couple legally.  At most, gays represent 10% of the species; these are Kinsey's numbers, and must be considered the absolute high-end estimate.  In actuality, this figure ought be granted no more credence than early estimates of those "relaxed" at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition--at least before Henry Kamen's pioneering revision.  Gays account for a much smaller portion of the population. 

My guess is that we are squabbling over something that directly effects three to five percent of the population.  Of course, we all know a gay person, and are therefore appalled and offended that they can't get married and have little test tube children, etc.  The point remains.

Hence we defenders of tradition must occasionally enter this sorry arena, to give battle to our foes.  We do this with little enthusiasm, partially because we do not really care, and partially because whether or not we decide to alter the centuries old definition of marriage, we know that the zeitgeist will overwhelm us.  Merely entering the arena, is, indeed, a sign of caring too much about what others do, and therefore, a priori evidence of--what else?--suppressed homosexuality.  This despite the fact that many of us are content to let the sodomites bugger each other as they please, little good it may do them.

Yet, at root, the argument against gay marriage is a simple one.  Men and women are different; we are not interchangeable.  Yes, there are marriages in which the husband is out every night, cheating on his wife, or the wife sits in her room dead drunk.  And yes, in these particular circumstances, two nice gay men or two lesbians would undoubtedly provide a better home.  But this is to confuse particulars with the thing as it was designed, as it ought to be.  The degraded state of contemporary marriage is such than any number of curious arrangements are to be preferred in certain instances.  Some marriages are so wretched that one could replace one of the partners with a vacuum to salubrious effect.  There may even be, for all I know, a way to defend dropping an infant off at day-care.  But that is a case against the marriage as it is, which is to say, it a criticism that recognizes the ideal and laments the way in which the particular instance falls short of that ideal.  It is not a point against it.

In a way, this is all the fault of heterosexuals for botching marriage up so badly that two people, whatever their sex, would be preferable to the all too common broken home.  Yet it is also--and here, perhaps, things finally becoming somewhat important--a reflection of our inability to think about things clearly.  Nothing in the modern climate of hookups, cohabitation and easy divorce altered the essential difference--and complementariness--of the sexes.  The way babies are formed in nature, if not in our brave new labs, is still the best way for children to be raised: by the mother and father who together formed and birthed them. 

Such an elementary truth, apparently, has need of defenders. But as it is written into the very fabric of our being, we will soon return to it--or perish.

Sunday, August 05, 2012


Dear oh dear, an entire month with nary a blog post.  I could blame all of my friends for getting married this summer, but in addition to being uncharitable, even if I were less busy, I'd be just as reluctant to write.

The political situation is too depressing to dwell on.  Obama hasn't the foggiest idea of how to right the economic ship, but Romney is likewise ignorant, and possibly even more loathsome.  There isn't anything about him which is genuine; at least Barry likes golf and basketball, which makes him nominally relatable.  Romney likes... power, and reading opinion polls to determine what he should say so as to obtain his favorite thing.  He also likes Israel, which is fine, but chickenhawk overcompensation tends to lead to wars, so I'd prefer he leave the Jews to themselves.

Eventually, Congress will have to figure out what to do about the pending tax increases, and squabble until the last possible moment before raising the debt ceiling again.  But until that happens, Washington is boring, boring, boring.  So one watches the market to see if the ECB or the Fed will print the money to fix everyone's problems for the eleventh time in the last four years.

Back to the books I suppose.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Obamacare stands

Several possibly even tangentially related points:

1) The importance of electing a Republican president so that conservative justices can be appointed does not work.  Even if Roberts proves reliable from here on out, Bush's appointee ensured that Obama's signature piece of legislation stands.  The Robot had better update his website:

As president, Mitt will nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

2) The reasoning strikes me as totally spurious.  While the administration did argue that the mandate included a tax--as well as arguing that it did not--the bill was sold to the American people under the auspices of tax-neutrality.  It should not be surprising that the government would lie to its citizens, especially when the upside is a free service that will, apparently, pay for itself.

3) If the government has an unlimited power to tax, the Republicans can actually use this to their advantage.  I recommend a tax of $5,000 on every abortion, to ensure that poor people aren't required to murder their progeny and to help with the deficit.  Other purchases could be taxed as well, a smug tax on Prius drivers for instance.  These measures aren't conservative, but at least they would be amusing, and much more effective than the usual GOP policy of nominating justices to stab party faithful in the back.

4) It is all but certain that this bill will cost far more than we were promised.  It will take a few years until the costs become clear, and no doubt the poor economy will be blamed for any failure to meet expectations, but government spending always costs more than promised.  For a sobering example, see here.

5) The Republic is doomed, but it has been doomed for awhile now, so there's no reason to be melancholic about this decision.  We were insolvent before Obamacare, and although we're more insolvent than before, that's not especially significant.  In some respects, this law is actually a good thing, insofar as it should hasten the collapse.  So put on a happy face and continue to prepare for the national default.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Defending Catholic Moral Teaching

To reverse the recommendation from the Sound of Music, when it comes to moral theology, the end turns out to be a very good place to start. That end, as Romanus Cessario O.P. explains in his Introduction to Moral Theology, is God. This final beatitude, in which we see God in heaven, is the fulfillment of human happiness. As Augustine famously explained: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Happiness, then, is the subject of moral theology.

God's creations, including human beings, possess a nature which determines the happiness of that creature. Just as a duck fulfills its vocation by virtue of being a duck, there are patterns for people which make us the happy humans God intended us to be. Contrarily, there are behaviors, i.e. sins, which cause us to fall short of human happiness. These dictates form what is known as the natural law.

Moderns recoil at the idea of the natural law, which seems arbitrary and restrictive. Yet if the ramifications still rankle, we ought to recognize the principle. A ball is by nature spherical; it rolls and bounces. One which is irregular in shape and fails to roll or bounce is not a “good” ball. That human beings may choose to behave contrary to the natural law is indicative of our ability to choose good and evil; it does not disprove the notion altogether.

Fr. Cessario helpfully delineates “the three distinct areas of human well-being” to which that law inclines us as human beings:

“Self-preservation, the good which man has in common with all creatures: to preserve the substantial being which is possessed;

Procreation and the rearing of children, the good of the nature man has in common with sentient, but irrational, creatures: to preserve through the coupling of male and female the human species;

Knowledge of truth about God and society, the good of the nature man has in common with all intelligent beings: to act in accord with reason and to realize the potential which reason affords.”

I note in passing that only the last of these commands is enjoined about humans alone; the much-maligned second injunction, from which the Church's “controversial” proscription on contraception stems, is enjoined upon all creatures by virtue of our sentient nature. For more on this topic, see John S. Grabowski's Sex and Virtue: An Introduction to Sexual Ethics, the second volume in this series on Catholic Moral Thought.

Philosophy, and especially ethics, has been struggling to free itself from the legacy of Hume and Kant, what Fr. Cessario refers to as their “anti-metaphysical presuppositions.” For “[David Hume] eschews what he considers the groundless view that moral oughts can be discovered on the basis of an analysis of what human nature “is”, or deduced from distinctively human properties.” By “freeing” man from the dictates of human nature, man is encouraged to self-actualize, but without an end to which he can aspire, this becomes an exercise in absurdity. It also renders discussions about ethics fruitless as any behavior can be defined as ethical if the criteria are subjectively set by the acting person.

The author provides assistance in freeing the modern from the trap set by the aforementioned philosophers. He observes: “[B]ecause human reason is able to discover what suits the in-built entelechies of human nature, the Christian moral theologian can confidently expound on the teleological dimension of the moral life without undue appeal to legal sanctions and punishments.” The prose can be challenging, but the instruction is sound.

I have chosen to focus on what I believe to be the most compelling section of the book, but there is more to moral theology than the natural law. For instance, Fr. Cessario discusses the role played by virtues in creating a “pattern of a graced life” He also emphasizes the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit. Still, this introduction is probably most valuable for the cogent explanation and defense of the natural law.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Time preference and the sexual marketplace

Although time preference is usually utilized to help qualify habits of saving and borrowing, it can also be used in regards to other human behavior.  For instance, exercising and eating a balanced diet is indicative low time preference; binge drinking and chain smoking is more in line with high time preference.  In short, if the benefits of a particular action are likely to be experienced in the long term, the action is low time preference.  In economics, we don't pass judgment on such behaviors, but sociologically and ethically considered, low time preference is preferable.

This generalization holds true in the sexual marketplace as well.  Those who imbibe in short-term thinking, either by coupling with undesirable partners, or, setting aside the Catholic position on the morality of birth control, practicing unsafe sex, are exhibiting high time preference.  The result of which is bastard spawn who will grow up without a father figure.  Such an environment is poisonous for the child.  Moreover, since, as Aristotle observed, humans accrue habits in part by observation--and practice--the child will likely exhibit the same time preference as his mother.  Hence the vicious cycle of human poverty.

Two things seem clear to me.  First, what is needed to be done is simple, if not especially easy.  Those who wish to avoid the vicious cycle of poverty must adapt low time preference behavior.  In the middle and upper class, this is easy enough to do, both because one's friends, family and neighbors are more likely to practice low time preference behaviors, but also because, for the women, there are more desirable men available, with whom to marry.  For the underclass, such men are far less available; this formed one of the themes of Charles Murray's recent book, Coming Apart.  Women's time preferences may change if the pool of desirable men becomes larger.  Just how one achieves this is an entirely different, and possibly even larger, problem.

Second, the Government can do very little about this sort of thing, and actually adds slightly to the problem by offering short-term incentives to the poor.  Welfare benefits single mothers, which is another way of saying that it incentivizes them.  This is not to say that assisting single mothers is ethically unsound, or that the Government is trying to create as many single mothers as possible as part of some diabolical plot to further undermine the underclass.  Neither is it my intention to argue that destroying the Welfare State will fix the problem; it won't.  It is nonetheless clear that if single motherhood is to be discouraged, the State would be wise to offer incentives to men and women alike to marry and remain together until the child reaches adulthood.

It might seem odd that a libertarian would be agitating for a Government program.  In truth, I'm not particularly keen on the idea of subsidizing marriage, myself.  However, if the State is to do something along this front, it would resemble this idea.  So even if it's not worth implementing, it's worth examining.  Even if it's a difficult goal to achieve, altering the time preference of Americans is a valuable goal if we wish to reverse the decivilizing trends of recent decades.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Time preference and civilization

One of the more fruitful observations made by the Austrian school of economics is the role played by time preference in the market.  As Wikipedia puts it: " Someone with a high time preference is focused substantially on his well-being in the present and the immediate future relative to the average person, while someone with low time preference places more emphasis than average on their well-being in the further future."

Time preference intersects in economics in this fashion: a high time preference economy will have few savers, hence, interest rates will be higher than in a low time preference economy.  This is because borrowers compete to obtain loans at the lowest possible rate of interest, while lenders try to obtain the highest rate of interest for their money.  True, in our economy, the Federal Reserve tries to set the interest rate, but in a free economy, the rate of interest would be coordinated like any other good and service, through competition.  And even in the mismanaged economy in which we live, the market rate of interest emerges eventually.

Ludwig von Mises covers the topic in much more detail for those interested.  But I'd like to borrow the Austrian terminology to examine the role played by time preference in civilization, a point I first considered while reading Democracy: The God That Failed by the Austrian economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

In general civilization tends to be characterized by low time preference.  Indeed, the ability to even consider future well-being may mark the transition to civilization; whereas the prehistoric hunter-gatherer tribes were entirely preoccupied with seeking food and shelter--and trying to avoid death at the paws of wild creatures-- the advent of farming ensured that at least some members of the tribe could concern themselves with other matters.  Only then was low time preference a possibility.

Here's Carroll Quigley in Tragedy in Hope:

"It has been said that in 1700 the agricultural labor of twenty persons was required in order to produce enough food for twenty-one persons, while in some areas, by 1900, three persons could produce enough food for twenty-one persons, thus releasing seventeen persons for nonagricultural activities." (p. 16)

What was true of what Quigley calls the Agricultural Revolution was true, albeit to a much lesser extent, of earlier Agrarian societies. The meager advances of primitive peoples, and the technological innovations of later times, to say nothing of its art and science, were made possible by a surplus of food; but it was only when societies began to value future time periods that such developments took place. 

Now then, how stands are time preference today, in American society?  We have become a high time preference society, characterized by massive indebtedness and other present-oriented behavior.  Taking on any debt is probably evidence of high time preference, but much of our behavior is indicative of something beyond this, for which the Austrian school has provided no such terminology. 

There is a chasm between a young person who buys a house on credit and an older person who retires without having paid off his mortgage.  The former may be acting with his future in mind; he desires to build equity quickly so that he may devote future income to saving for his retirement.  The latter is simply foolish, and far too common among the soon to be retired boomers.  In fact, high teen unemployment has much to do with the fact that boomers are not retiring, because they are still in debt.  Hence the time preference of the boomers has led to the prospect of a generational breakdown.

That our government rewards such foolishness is another indication of the time preference of our society.  Since savings provide the liquidity for capital advancement, and, therefore, increased productivity and technological advancement, savers should be rewarded, i.e. through higher rates of interest.  Instead, because our own government is in such massive debt, it seeks to keep interest rates low so as to allow it to borrow money less expensively.  This debt is evidence that, sometime in the last century, we shifted from a society that saved money so as to care for its elderly, to one which went into debt to care for all and sundry.  Although the motives are similar, the end result is very much different.  The former is the mark of a stable and functioning society, the latter marks one which is only delaying defaulting on its profligate promises. 

In a future post, I'd like to examine the role played by time preference when it comes to dating, (not?) marrying, and (not?) having children, but for now, I'll just leave you with this and this.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Gay marriage?

Today, President Obama came out, er, decided that gay marriage is okay by him.  In the interest of full disclosure, I'll offer my take on gay marriage, before examining the political ramifications of his pronouncement.

I'm opposed to gay marriage for the same reason I'm opposed to four-sided triangles; it's a contradiction in terms.  It might be socially desirable to allow gays to couple for life--although, given the state of marriage under our no fault divorce laws, this may only amount to a handful of years--but that does not make a marriage.  This ruffles the feathers of fascist Americans, which is to say, almost all Americans, for whom the State decides all, but it shouldn't be a hard point to comprehend.  Marriage antedates the State and will continue to exist once our present form of government has crumbled.  The State cannot alter that which is outside it.  It may say whatever it wishes, but allowing gays to get "married" makes no more sense than allowing triangles to have four sides.

The common rejoinder here is that homosexuality is a part of history.  Yet, while this is undoubtedly true, one searches in vain for a record of gay marriage.  There was ample romance between two men, or two women, but nothing like gay marriage.  I will go further and note that in my research--spotty and haphazard--I can find no indications that gays defined themselves according to their homosexuality as they now do.  Almost all were bisexual.  Think of the Spartan soldiers, or Eveyln Waugh at Oxford.  Until recently, a predilection for buggery was something one grew out of. 

That said, as a libertarian, I have no problem with gays wishing that their partners be allowed to visit them in the hospital, covered under the same healthcare plans, and so forth.  These disputes are not a matter for the State.  Let hospitals liberalize visitation rules, let insurance companies write policies for gay couples; in short, let the market meet consumer demand. 

Now then, what are the political implications?  Support for gay marriage is less a right-left issue than it is an old-young one.  True, progressives are more likely to support gay marriage, and conservatives are more likely to oppose it, but gay marriage referendums have been soundly defeated each and every time the voters have had their say.  Despite the fact that the country is moving left, the populace as a whole still opposes gay marriage.  That said, few American younger than thirty seem to care enough to oppose it.  My sample is distorted; most of my companions are college graduates, but I think my supposition is largely correct. 

Years of being told of the magical powers of gays have caused our youth to refuse to man the Christian defenses.  It's tempting to blame them, but it's really the fault of the idiot boomers for sending their children to public schools.  What on earth did they expect to happen?

Barry is either misreading the tea leaves or hoping to secure the youth vote without frittering away oldsters who might otherwise deflect to Romney.  I suspect he has misjudged, though, based on the jubilant Facebook posts of my contemporaries, gay marriage is the greatest thing since sliced bread--locally grown of course.  Unless Barry is simply bored and wishes to lose, we'll know how his move polled based on whether he draws attention to his position or backs away from it like a Reverend Wright sermon.

One last point.  I see that my contemporaries cannot even fathom why gays might not be allowed to marry.  I encourage them to think on the matter for a little while before insisting that every earlier generation was bigoted and wrongheaded to fail to grant something so obvious. 

The reason functional States seek to sanction marriage is because it's an exceedingly valuable institution.  It may prove similarly valuable to allow gays to marry; we simply do not know.  But it's worth remembering that the health of our society is far more bound up with the vast majority of heterosexuals and the success--or failure--of their marriages than it is with the tiny percentage of homosexuals and their couplings.  Even if every gay in America gets married and remains in that state, it won't make up for the horrors divorce and cohabitation have wrought on the American family. 

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Strategic error

Talk radio is awash with blowhards who seen to believe that one wins arguments by shouting more loudly than one's opponents.  Dennis Prager is a noble exception to this general rule.  I don't often listen to his program anymore, but I still read his pieces from time to time.  In his latest, he explains why the 2012 election is "the most important in our lifetime."  Sadly, this is not the case.

He writes:

If Americans re-elect the Democrat, Barack Obama, they will have announced that America should be like Western European countries -- governed by left-wing values. Americans will have decided that America's value system -- "Liberty," "In God We Trust," "E Pluribus Unum" -- should be replaced...

The right, on the other hand, seeks to maintain America's values. Conservatives want to improve America, but, as its name implies, conservatism seeks to conserve, not transform.

There are two problems with this argument.  The first is that while the left's rhetoric is not consistent with the values enshrined in our Constitution, the right governs within the same progressive tradition as their ostensible opponents.  If Obamacare transformed our medical system--and I'm not certain it does, since so much of our healthcare system was Statist even before that incomprehensible bill was passed--then did not Bush's Medicare Part D Act similarly transform America?  At best, Republicans accept and defend the amount of Statism we presently endure; more frequently, they increase the power of government while preaching the value of limiting its scope.

The second problem is related to the first.  Defense is not an effective political strategy, and, at its best, conservatism is merely defensive.  The strategy does not work because our present course is unsustainable.  We cannot allow the State to continue to spend far more money than it collects in taxes--not that raising taxes would do much to solve the problem.  Balancing the budget--to say nothing of paying down our debt--is politically impossible.  The wonkish solution proposed by Paul Ryan, and endorsed by Mitt Romney, doesn't balance the budget for more than thirty years.  Tinkering with the budget is simply not enough, yet this is all the right is advocating. 

Let us suppose that Romney wins this election, and that the Republicans take back power in the Senate and retain it in the House--a best case scenario for Prager.  And let us further suppose that they use this power, not to start a war with Iran, but to trim the deficit.  Does any of this make it less likely that the next Democratic candidate will be able to transform America?  In other words, does electing a Republican help in any way, save to buy us some additional time before we are again confronted with another Most Important Election Ever(TM)?

The answer is plainly, no.  Conservatism may keep the wolves at bay, but it can not make it any less likely that they will attack at a later date.  If things are as dire as Prager believes; if we are really this close to a progressive precipice, then a bolder strategy should be adopted.  In order to make America secure against the forces of progressivism, all semblances of leftist governance must be extirpated.  So long as a large number of Americans benefit from government largesse, Republicans will be winning battles to lose the war.  The other advantage to eliminating a program in its entirety is that it is much more difficult to establish a program than to expand it.  That said, the infernal Republicans had no trouble using hysteria over 9/11 to create another bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security, whose main goal, it seems, is to allow the TSA to frisk children and grandmas so as to provide security theater.

Returning to Prager:

Instead of asking, "Are you better off than you were three years ago?" Every Republican needs to ask, every day, "Do you want to fundamentally transform America?" If they do, Barack Obama is their man. If they don't, Mitt Romney is.

The reality is that American has been transformed already.  Hence the better question to ask is: "How quickly do you wish the transformation to continue?"  If you prefer that things proceed slower, Romney is probably your man.  But do not confuse delay with prevention.  The transformation continues apace.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Meaingless metric

Here's a pretty amusing piece from the permanently bullish Keynesians over at CNBC:

Friday's gross domestic product report confirmed what a drag government can be: While consumer spending grew at a 2.9 percent clip, state and local governments cut back spending by 1.2 percent on an annualized basis and the federal government pulled back by 5.6 percent.

As a result, the GDP number showed just a 2.2 percent improvement. The report disappointed economists, some of whom had the number as high as 3 percent and beyond, and cast an uncertain future on a stock market dependent on Federal Reserve stimulus for growth.

Thus is revealed the inherent meaninglessness of GDP.  Our economy would have grown more had the government only spent more on, well, anything.  Bombs, bridges to nowhere, pyramids: all increase GDP and therefore help the economy, at least according to the metric.

The problem with GDP is twofold: it gauges production without regard to usefulness.  In the private sector, utility is factored in to some degree, because a company that manufactures goods which it cannot sell will quickly go out of business.  Sometimes, as with the housing bubble, this takes a long time to play out, and the consequences are troubling, but a GDP that reflects bubble activity will, sooner or later, come down to earth. 

Roughly the same is true of government spending, but over a much larger time frame.  The Department of Energy, to take but one example, was started by President Jimmy Carter to insure Americans would no longer be dependent on foreign energy.  Clearly, the department has failed in its mission, yet money spent on bureaucratic parasites still appears, in GDP, as growth.  That it is not so should be obvious; the only reason the department exists is because there is still a private sector that produces useful goods and services.  Hence, to describe the government as a parasite is not a cheap slight, but an accurate description.

The second problem with GDP, or rather, with the attempt by Keynesians to ensure the government spends more money so as to boost the meaningless metric, is that money spent by government displaces spending--or saving--that would have taken place in the private sector.  Now, Keynesians argue that during a recession, there is a gap in aggregate demand that, as it is not being met by the private sector, must be filled by the Government.  Yet this conclusion only holds if we believe that the people cannot be trusted to do what they will with their money, and that only an interventionist State prevents the people from falling into penury.  The central paradox here is that while the State does not trust its citizenry from making the right purchases, it believes that it does not ultimately matter on what the money is spent, so long as it contributes to GDP.

It's becoming apparent that the American economy is at risk of falling back into recession.  Since this is an election year, Obama, with the help of Bernnake, will do everything he can to goose the metrics so as to prove to people that the recovery is going along swimmingly.  Yet the more the government spends, the less remains for the private sector to do the necessary job of clearing goods and services to restore health to this economy.  This truth remains, however much the GDP is sent upward through dubious stimulus programs.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The national leveling

Ilana Mercer offers her take on the dismissal of John Derbyshire with her customary aplomb:

The volume of bad writers safely ensconced in high places, and their voluminous, vapid output strengthened this conviction:

More so than enforcing conformity – ousting John was about safeguarding the future of mediocrity.

There was more to it than that, but this angle has been insufficiently explored. Derb is a good writer in an age that conspicuously lacks his equal. We prefer our pundits, not to prod us into reexamining something in a different light, but to reinforce our own biases. So smug hipsters tune into to the Daily Show to be reminded that the Republicans are stupid. And conservatives watch hours of Fox News to be assured that the Democrats are still evil. Derb is a creature of the right, but he was more than a GOP booster, which is more than can be said for many of his former colleagues at NR.

As Mercer also observes:

I want to see a lot of well-written, wickedly witty, controversial writing in print – in pixels or paper and always at the pleasure of the print’s owner. Why must the consensus-craving mob conflate this last wish with absolute endorsement?

We'll pause for a bit to let the pundits in the audience parse this prose.

The reason Derb's ouster is so discouraging is that he's going to be so difficult to replace. Mindless cheerleaders are a dime a dozen; subtle thinkers and good writers are rare. We cannot simply find another, less racist version, of John Derbyshire. We're more likely to be forced to endure another Meghan McCain.

Punditry's slide from well-read British gentleman to barely attractive bimbos, is a fitting metaphor for the republic, in this, its waning days.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The lynch mob gets Derb

I can't recall when I first read John Derbyshire. It was almost certainly a link to one of his pieces over at National Review's the Corner--no link, for reasons that should become clear--probably courtesy of Vox Day's blog. I was immediately impressed by such a delightful and original writer. Punditry itself isn't hard, but good punditry is very difficult. Derb's columns were always insightful and frequently funny. He's certainly one of the best in the business.

He's also, admittedly, a racist. This is a very bad thing, not quite as bad as raping children--but close. If one were compelled to be rational, one might conclude that our deep concern over racism as the singular crime, a sort of secular sin against the Holy Spirit, is out of all proportion to the problem itself. This is not to say that racism has been banished from American society, but that surely we can admit that this isn't the long hot summer of 1967. If the fact that we've elected a black president doesn't count for anything, then we should simply admit that racism is an intractable problem.

But that would leave us agreeing with Derb, and we can't have that. In his latest piece, concerning the "talk that nonblack Americans have with their kids," he advised:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.

(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.

(10f) Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.

(10g) Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.

(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.

(10i) If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

Derb has written similar things before, but for some reason, perhaps the Trayvon Martin affair, this article gained traction. The perpetually offended caused a stir, and, after stewing things over for awhile, National Review, a neo-con outfit that pays barely literate imbeciles like Kathryn Jean Lopez to lead cheers for Republican warmongers, duly severed ties with its best writer.

Without getting into the specifics of what he wrote--that way madness lies--I think the lynching of Derb is instructive in demonstrating the way the authoritarian left deals with heretics. Race relations are complicated, and anyone who seeks to speak honestly about them runs the risk of saying something that offends the high priests of egalitarianism. It is best not to mention race at all: treat it as a total fiction. However, if one must speak of it, one should simply affirm that everyone is equal in every way, and although some whites are still racist, very soon now we will become a race blind society. Derb's sin was to suggest that this narrative bears no relation to reality, that good will alone will not be enough to erect utopia, and that the sensible and peaceful solution runs closer to segregation than to integration. We cannot even consider that he may have a point. His vision is to horrid to contemplate.

There is much more to be said on this topic, but I have probably ventured too far already by refusing to disavow John Derbyshire. I'm sure he will find alternative employment, although as he is undergoing chemo treatment for cancer, this is coming at a very bad time. I wish him the very best. Punditry will be so much the worse without him.