Archive for ‘Friedrich Hayek’

August 6, 2009

Libertarian Skinny-Dipping in Daytona: Hayekian Facts vs. ‘Journalism Ethics’

To the commenter who accused me of committing a “travesty of journalistic ethics”:

  • Your comment was rejected. If you want to run me down, do it on your own blog. Flame wars are good for traffic, but you do not have permission to use my bandwidth to malign me.
  • Ethics, shmethics. Truth may not be a journalist’s only duty, but it’s massively more important than whatever’s second most important. If I accurately report the facts, I’ve done my job — and just getting the facts right is hard enough.
I learned this as a sports writer. Simple question: If I’m covering a high-school baseball game, does accepting free food from the booster moms at the concession stand constitute a breach of “journalistic ethics”?

If so, then I kissed ethics good-bye in 1986. But I always got the final score right and you could probably count on one hand the times I committed the true “travesty” in small-town journalism: Misspelling a kid’s name. (Hey, when a kid’s mom calls you up to cuss you out, you remember a thing like that.)

Get the facts right, and how many free hot dogs you eat is your own business. Nobody cares about your opinion of the Calhoun High starting backfield — if this year is like most years, they’re a tad on the slow side — but you’ve got to accurately report the total rushing yardage. (Which, if this year is like most years, won’t be much.)

Because most journalists are Democrats, the political journalist who is not a Democrat tends to be viewed with disdain by the rest of the profession. I’m fine with that. But my political opinions — “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Bob Barr!” — are not a license for other people to give me lectures on “ethics.”

You Can Quote Me On That
“Ethics, schmethics,” as I told Bob Barr while we walked to the Fish On Fire seafood restaurant from the crappy fleabag hotel (“International Conference Center,” my foot) where the Libertarian Party held its March 2007 national conference of state party chairs.

Certainly, I was no less ethical than Dave Weigel, my co-panelist in the “How to Deal With Media” discussion, which was the purpose (or pretext, if you prefer) of our expense-paid junket to Orlando.

Our publications (Dave was then at Reason magazine) got exclusive coverage without having to pay for our travel, which is a pretty cool deal. Of course, under such an arrangement, you’re not going to do a rip-the-lid-off exposé — “Fear and Loathing in Orlando: A Savage and Decadent Saga of Libertarian Depravity” — but neither are you required to do a total puff piece.

In a universe of facts, not every fact can be reported, and what happens in Orlando stays in Orlando. That’s what I tried to explain to Bob Barr, afterI excused myself from dinner with the LP brain trust, went back to my hotel and returned with a stack of towels.

“You were serious?” said the former member of the House Judiciary Committee.

“Serious as a heart attack, Bob,” I answered, reiterating the plan I’d been discussing with the LP brain trust. “Look, it’s almost 10 o’clock now and it’s about an hour drive to Daytona Beach. We could stop by a fireworks store along the way, head to the beach, go skinny-dipping in the ocean, shoot off about $200 worth of fireworks — have some real fun!”

Did I mention that it was March? Spring break in Daytona, skinny-dipping in the Atlantic with the first member of Congress to bring charges of “high crimes and misdemeanors” against Bill Clinton — and that was before Lewinsky — man, what a story!

However, as I promised Bob, the Daytona expedition would remain strictly off-the-record. If the first three rules of journalism are “Accuracy, accuracy and accuracy,” then the fourth rule is: A good reporter never burns his sources.

So I can’t tell you whether or not the Libertarian Party brain trust took me up on that Daytona road-trip suggestion. (Don’t worry, Mrs. Barr. Bob was accompanied by a professional journalist the entire time. And I’ve got family values.)

However, I remind you of an important corollary to the Fourth Rule of Journalism: A good source never burns a reporter. When I call Bob Barr on his personal cell phone, he takes the call. IYKWIMAITYD.

Hayekian Journalism
This is the kind of keen journalistic insight necessary to advance from being a $4.50-an-hour staff writer for a 6,000-circulation weekly to become a top Hayekian public intellectual.

In a universe of facts, not every fact is sufficiently important to merit inclusion in a 700-word news story. Political news consumers in March 2007 were interested in the Libertarian Party’s prospects for . . . well, anything, really. When the Libertarians have nerds like George Phillies, stoners like Steve Kubby and fanatical purists like Mary Ruwart seeking the presidential nomination, and when the party’s 2008 convention requires six ballots to decide Barr is the better candidate, you can’t be blamed for wondering if they’re really serious about politics.

However remote the chance that the LP could influence the outcome of the 2008 election, serious political news consumers were interested in that stuff. Certainly, those readers had no interest in the trivial matter of whether, shortly after 11:30 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, March 17, 2007, Bob Barr and the Libertarian brain trust were cavorting nude with a half-dozen Purdue University coeds in the Atlantic surf of Daytona Beach.

That’s the kind of sleazy, sensational tabloid stuff that no serious political journalist would be interested in reporting. For less than $10,000.

Neither Confirm Nor Deny, Bob
Hey, I write for money — that’s what it means to be a professional, as opposed to an amateur clown like Dennis “Bozo” Zaki, who actually lied about being a CNN stringer. In the Hayekian universe of facts, a reporter must exercise judgment about which facts are important enough to include in a news story, but I wouldn’t knowingly publish a lie for any sum you could name.

Speculation about the sex lives of Republicans seems to be a full-time career for some people, but until there’s actual proof — a court document, an arrest report, a flight to Argentina — such gossip is no more newsworthy than baseless innuendo about whether Barr and the LP brain trust took me up on that Daytona road-trip plan.

If some “source” ever tells you over beers that, shortly before dawn on Sunday, March 18, 2007, Bob Barr was passed out nude in the back seat of a rented Chevy SUV, while the other members of the LP brain trust were so hopelessly hammered that they’d taken the desperate measure of agreeing to let me drive back to Orlando — well, in a circumstance like that, you’d be obligated to let Bob have a chance to give you an official denial before you’d even dream of reporting such potentially defamatory gossip.

(“No comment,” Bob. Neither confirm nor deny. This will be the most priceless “no comment” in the history of political journalism. And a good source never burns a reporter.)

Likewise with Todd and Sarah Palin. As far as I’m concerned, their love life is not news. But it gets mighty cold in Wasilla sometimes, and there’s a Phantom Fireworks Superstore a block south of Silver Beach Avenue in Daytona, so if the Palins ever want to get some advice from a savvy media professional . . .

Well, should anybody feel the urge to hit the tip jar, don’t fight the feeling. I’m a professional. I write for money. Photography? That’s just a hobby. IYKWIMAITYD.

July 30, 2009

Human beings are not numbers

Ten years ago, I interviewed Wendy Shalit, who had just then published A Return to Modesty. Now a married mom who blogs at Modestly Yours, Ms. Shalit was then a recent graduate of Williams University, where her protest against co-ed dorm bathrooms had led to an article in Commentary, and then to her book.

My interview with Ms. Shalit occurred in the lobby of a Washington hotel where, when the interview was concluded, she was to meet her parents for dinner. So it happened that I was introduced to her father, who is an economist.

Although I was not then recognized as a “top Hayekian public intellectual,” my devotion to the Austrian School of economics was already passionate, which fact I mentioned to Ms. Shalit’s father. This remark prompted Ms. Shalit to declare that she was herself an Austrian because — as opposed to other approaches to economics — it required less math.

This was evidently something of a running joke between Ms. Shalit and her father, a devotee of Milton Friedman (i.e., “Chicago School” economics), and her father responded by chiding Wendy about the importance of mathematics to proper understanding of the discipline.

Ms. Shalit’s remark about mathematics and Austrian economics recurred to my mind this morning, when I encountered an article by the Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg:

[T]here appears to be little inclination on the part of some contemporary economists to ask some searching questions about their heavy reliance on mathematical logic and argumentation. This may well be because doing so would raise some rather profound questions about the very nature of post-Keynesian economic science.
One who posed precisely these questions was the German economist Wilhelm Röpke (1899-1966). Röpke is well-known as an intellectual architect of post-war West Germany’s path from collectivist economic oblivion to market-driven economic miracle in the ten years following its economic liberalization in 1948.
Less attention, however, has been given to Röpke’s fierce critiques of the post-war Keynesian consensus. . . .
In Röpke’s view, [John Maynard] Keynes was “a representative of the geometric spirit of the 20th century” and “an exponent of positivistic scientism,” for whom “economics was part of a mathematical-mechanical universe.” . . .
According to Röpke, the neo-Keynesian new economics was inclined to reduce economics to mathematical and statistical formulas and analyses. Röpke may have been thinking of Paul Samuelson’s 1947 effort to reconfigure economics on the basis of mathematical language. For Röpke, such efforts conflated the object of economics with one tool of economic analysis. Opening a post-Keynes economic textbook, Röpke suggested, made readers wonder if they had stumbled upon a chemistry curriculum. . . .

Read the rest at the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse site. (Hat-tip: The New Ledger.)

As I noted earlier this month at The American Spectator, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has ignored Friedman’s Chicago School monetarist teachings, but it is the Austrian critique — and Ropke was a disciple of Ludwig von Mises — that most clearly exposes the misconceptions which now warp public opinion about economics.

Let’s start with Wendy Shalit’s jest about mathematics. Too many people think that understanding economics requires a genius IQ and mastery of elaborate algebraic formulae. This is false.

Mathematics is certainly necessary to the specialized business of trying to predict the results of various economic inputs: What will be the impact on the price of X if variable Y increases by factor Z? This is the what the economist is trained and paid to do. But the fundamental concepts of economics, the general principles of market operations, are really very simple.

Furthermore, what most people think of when they say “economics” is what is properly called political economy — that is to say, the study of what impact government policy has on economic life. The specialized training of the economist is useful to this endeavor, in order to measure and analyze the connection between policy and result. Yet no math at all is necessary to study the history of economics and draw conclusions about the wisdom or folly of various policies.

Therefore, I am qualified as a “top Hayekian intellectual” even though (a) I did not major in economics and (b) I suck at math.

This is especially true when it comes down to the most important question now facing us: Should our nation pursue an economic policy that seeks to expand liberty or should we side with Obama, Pelosi, Krugman, et al., in pursuing greater government control of economic matters?

Are we too free? That’s really the question, and algebra cannot answer it. A neo-Keynesian like Paul Krugman claims to know how much deficit-funded “stimulus” the American economy needs (in a word, more) and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner claims to know exactly how that “stimulus” should be spent (in two words, Goldman Sachs), and anyone who disputes the claims of Krugman and Geithner is met with a highly nuanced argument: “Shut up.”

What the neo-Keynesians wish to do is to centralize and increase economic control, on the basis of their implicit argument that the ordinary American is unfit to exercise economic liberty.

Yet it is a fairly simple matter to demonestrate that this elitist, control-oriented approach to economics — Expertocracy, as it were — is the source of the very problems that the experts now propose to solve by further expansion of their own power.

The fundamental question is not whether the experts who run the economy should pursue policy X or Y or Z. Rather, the question is whether experts should be running the economy at all. To be an Austrian is to say that the government experts already exercise too much economic power, and that this power should be reduced, not expanded.

The individual’s desire for economic liberty is a moral choice. But the minions of the Expertocracy, who wish to deprive us of our liberty, are also making a moral choice, and they ought to be required to admit it.

Why is our desire for liberty morally inferior to the expert’s desire to control us? To summarize the experts’ answer: Because they’re better than us.

If you believe that, if you think that Timothy Geithner is so much your superior that he is better qualified to run your life than you are, then I will politely agree.

Yes, indeed! If you do not love freedom, if you would rather have some bureaucrat in Washington making every important economic decision in your life, then you are certainly a very inferior human being. The lover of liberty is infinitely your superior.

Yesterday, my 16-year-old son walked in to show me the chainsaw he’d just bought second-hand for $175. Why the chainsaw, I asked? He and his buddy Nick had contracted with a lady to do some yard work (trees felled by a storm), my son explained. The job would take them about two days, and would pay them $500 each.

If my 16-year-old son can find such lucrative employment in this economy, let Paul Krugman find the formula which disproves my contention that the amount of “stimulus” we need is exactly zero.

“Experts,”my Hayekian ass.


July 29, 2009

Hayek vs. Obama

Ralph Reiland at The American Spectator:

On his overall handling of the economy, President Obama’s disapproval rating of 49 percent to 47 percent represents a swift turnaround from his 55 percent to 42 percent positive rating just two months ago.
Rather than re-thinking any of his key proposals in the face of this growing public disapproval, Obama’s answer was to try to ram a health care bill through Congress, as well as a global warming bill, before the August recess — even if no one had the time to even speed-read what’s in the legislation.
In his book The Fatal Conceit, Nobel laureate Friedrich A. Hayek provided some insight into this lethal combination of arrogance and stupidity.
“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design,” advised Hayek. . . .

Read the whole thing, because there is no such thing as “too much Hayek” or “too much American Spectator.”

May 26, 2009

Hayekian, Reaganite or Texan?Essay on the Arrogance of the Elite

“It is just mind-boggling how some people think that an M.A. or a Ph.D. is somehow a bestowal of omniscience. . . . So why is it that so many academics believe that their word is final when it comes to anything and everything under the sun? As an academic myself, I can answer that question with one word: arrogance.”
Mike LaRoche, May 23, 2009

“The typical intellectual . . . need not possess special knowledge of anything in particular, nor need he even be particularly intelligent, to perform his role as intermediary in the spreading of ideas. What qualifies him for his job is the wide range of subjects on which he can readily talk and write, and a position or habits through which he becomes acquainted with new ideas sooner than those to whom he addresses himself.”
Friedrich Hayek, 1949

When I use “intellectual” and “elite” as putdowns, it is a Hayek’s conception of modern intellectuals as “secondhand dealers in ideas” that informs my disdain. The arrogance of their presumed omniscience, as Mike LaRoche says, is what renders them obnoxious.

Thomas Sowell (who far outranks me as a “top Hayekian public intellectual”) describes the liberal worldview as The Vision of the Anointed, a book that every conservative ought to read, re-read, and continue re-reading until it is thoroughly understood, if not indeed memorized.

When speaking about liberal bias in the media, I sometimes explain to conservative audiences what should need no explaining: The media elite hate you.

They hate you with a thoroughgoing contempt you cannot begin to comprehend. They hate everything you believe in and everything you stand for, and until you understand why they hate you, no defense against their hatred is possible.

The reason the elite hate you is because of your failure to acknowledge their superiority. What the elite cherish, above all else, is prestige. By questioning the truth of the elite’s belief, you deny their superiority and deprive them of prestige.

Have you ever wondered why evolutionists are so vehement in denouncing creationists? Among the elite, one cannot gain prestige by advocating biblical truth, creation ex nihilo as an expression of the transcendent soveignty of the Almighty.

If the Bible is true, then the elite are fools. To admit the possibility that “in the beginning was the Word,” is to suggest that Richard Dawkins is the intellectual inferior of the holy roller shouting hallelujahs at the Pentacostal revival in the hollows of eastern Kentucky.

Your Christian faith therefore is an insult to the elite, an attack upon their precious prestige, an invitation to whatever evil word or deed the elite employ against you. Creationism is a threat to the elite in the same way that the Ukrainian kulak was a threat to the Soviet revolution, or as Albert Einstein’s genius was a threat to Hitler’s vision of Aryan supremacy.

As the Marxist would say, those analogies are no accident, comrade.

“[E]very scholar can probably name several instances from his field of men who have undeservedly achieved a popular reputation as great scientists solely because they hold what the intellectuals regard as ‘progressive’ political views; but I have yet to come across a single instance where such a scientific pseudo-reputation has been bestowed for political reason on a scholar of more conservative leanings.”
Friedrich Hayek, 1949

For all that we are told about the need for conservatives to come up with “new ideas,” it is amazing how little the situation has changed in the six decades since Hayek wrote “Socialism and the Intellectuals.” Even the Nobel Prize (which Hayek won in 1974) has been tainted by being recently awarded to Al Gore and Paul Krugman.

The prestige enjoyed by Dawkins, Gore and Krugman is denied to Michael Behe, to Steven Hayward, to Thomas Sowell. To protect their status, the elite must deny prestige to their critics and it is this monopolization of prestige — not the pursuit or dissemination of sturdy truth — that eventually becomes the chief occupation as they seek to defend their supremacy against rivals.

You need not be an intellectual to understand this. Anyone who has ever worked in a dysfunctional office under an incompetent manager knows how this game is played. The manager has attained his position by deceiving his superiors into believing he is competent, and the object of the manager’s manipulations is to prevent the discovery that he doesn’t know how to do his job.

In this situation, the incompetent manager will:

  • Routinely take credit for the achievements of others;
  • Identify as enemies the most intelligent and competent of his underlings, since they are most aware of his ineptitude and most likely to benefit from his downfall;
  • Attempt by favoritism toward sycophants to create a Praetorian Guard to defend himself against criticism; and
  • Attribute all failures to scapegoats or circumstances beyond his control.

If you’ve ever been in the kind of toxic work environment where office politics is a bloodsport, then you understand how ambitious frauds can ascend to dominance, especially in environments where quantitative and qualitative measures of individual output are difficult to obtain.

This is one reason every bright, industrious student abhors the “group project” method that became vogue among progressive educators in the 1970s. Five students are assigned to the project, one or two do all the real work, sharing their grade with the slugs and dullards.

Students of Nicco Machiavelli, Antonio Gramsci or James Burnham equally understand how the organizational structure of institutions favor or disfavor various types of personalities and various means of advancement within those institutions.

Again, to borrow the Marxist’s maxim, it is no accident that incompetent backstabbers flock toward careers in academia. Who is to say whether one professor of women’s studies is superior to another? What are the criteria by which a dean chooses a new chairman for the sociology department? Now that Ph.D.’s in history, psychology and similar disciplines so vastly exceed the number of available tenure-track positions, the business of hiring and promoting in those fields has become notoriously arbitrary and politicized.

Academia is remote from the direct input of markets, and such is the prestige of elite institutions (e.g., the Ivy League schools) that the hiring process at Columbia or Yale can never affect the success and prosperity of those institutions unless — as in the notable case of Lawrence Summers at Harvard — they accidentally hire someone with the effrontery to criticize the elite’s belief system.

Yet it is a mistake to suppose that this sort of elitism exists only in academia or that elitism is only a problem among liberals.

“This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
Ronald Reagan, 1964

As with Hayek, so with Reagan, one of Hayek’s most successful admirers. Isn’t it amazing how little things have changed? Truth is a sturdy thing and human nature is a constant factor in the equation, so that the elite always strive to impose their will, and the free man always struggles to resist.

If Reagan sneered at the elite, was he a “populist”? If he used “intellectual” as an epithet, did this make him “anti-intellectual”? No, he was merely expressing the Hayekian insight: Knowledge is so scattered among the population that, in the universe of facts, no one — no professor, no pundit, no politician — can ever have all the facts or claim such a superiority of knowledge that he qualifies to be an “expert” dictating the ordinary affairs of others.

That such arrogant presumptions of expertise are common among intellectuals is as obvious to me and Mike LaRoche as it was to Reagan and Hayek. And that those we might broadly descibe as the ruling class in Washington constitute an elite is self-evident. Reagan was therefore speaking of a real problem in American political life.

Having dealt with this intellectual elite in Washington for more than a decade, I know their habits and attitudes quite well. They habitually presume to know things they do not know, and react with hostility to anyone who questions their presumptions.

Ross Douthat, whose father is a successful attorney, grew up in New Haven, Conn., attended Hamden Hall Country Day School (tuition: $26K/yr.), graduated from Harvard University (tuition $32K/yr.), and married one of his Harvard classmates.

And the title of Douthat’s most recent book? Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.

Douthat might be competent to suggest how Republicans can win the alumni of Hamden Hall and save the Harvard dream, but his only qualification to speak for the working class is the ubiquitous arrogance of the intellectual elite.

“You look back in the earlier times, there were no opportunities, so there were no opportunists. . . . Later on, you have all these people who figure it’s probably a pretty good political thing to do. And so they start talking about being conservative when they’re running [for office], but they really aren’t. So when they get to Congress or wherever they go, they’re pretty easily dissuaded.”
Al Regnery, The American Spectator

Douthat is the answer to a question that has long puzzled conservatives. When I abandoned the Democratic Party in the mid-1990s (hint: “From My Cold Dead Hands!”), one of the first things I discovered was that grassroots conservatives were perpetually peeved by the ineffectiveness of Republicans in Washington.

Living in northwest Georgia (Bob Barr’s district 1995-2003) this grassroots discontent was palpable. After I moved to Washington, I’d sometimes see people roll their eyes at any mention of Barr, whom even most conservatives in D.C. considered a reckless firebrand. I’d always tell them, “Man, if you think Bob’s an extremist, you ought to meet his constituents!”

The guy in charge of IT at the newspaper I worked for in Georgia was a federal licensed firearms dealer who used to tell me, “Hey, if you ever want to shoot a machine gun, just let me know.” Another grassroots leader among Republicans, the wife of a county judge, was also the head of the local Eagle Forum and an activist for the John Birch Society.

Bob Barr never could have been elected without the support of people like that, and if you believe in representative government, then it was Bob’s job to represent those people.

And that was my job, too. In 1997, I left Georgia to join the staff of the Washington Times, but not before all my conservative friends down home had thoroughly warned me not to forget where I came from. So it was that I came to Washington with a two-fold mission.

First, I would attempt to represent accurately the essential decency of the good folks I’d left behind — hard-working, God-fearing, patriotic and self-sufficient. If there is one belief that the elite never doubt for a minute, it is that the average citizen of Floyd County, Georgia, is demonstrably inferior to the average citizen of Chicago, Boston or San Francisco.

Bullshit. Want to argue, Harvard boy?

My second mission in Washington was to discover why the Republican Party failed so miserably to advance the kind of agenda that grassroots conservatives believed they were voting for. It took me many years to understand this, and the answer is complex, but it is also as simple as two words: Ross Douthat.

Well, the liberals had their intellectual elite, you see, and so conservatives decided they needed to get them one, too. Given the natural assumption that the finest minds in America had all been scooped up by the elite schools, there soon developed an intellectual superstructure in Washington of think-tank wonks, policy analysts, political advisers and journalists who came from the same elite background, and had attended the same elite institutions, as the liberal elite.

OK, fine. Let us match Ph.D. to Ph.D., expert to expert, in a sort of intellectual equivalent of the Harvard-Yale game. But while the liberal elite were directly and constantly associating with the liberals whose beliefs it was their job to translate into policy, the conservative elite were generally isolated from the kind of people whose beliefs they were representing.

The Democrat in Brooklyn may resent the arrogance of the Columbia University graduate who specializes in urban policy for the Brookings Institute, but the Brookings specialist is not immersed in an environment where that Brooklyn Democrat is sneered at contemptuously, the way a policy wonk at the American Enterprise Institute sneers as the constituents of the typical Republican congressman.

Whatever their differences in terms of policy, the Brookings wonk and the AEI wonk share the elite belief that the typical Brooklyn Democrat is somehow superior to the typical Georgia Republican. And from that shared belief — which I assure you is well-nigh universal among the intellectual elite in Washington — emanates the great divide between the Republican elite in Washington and the rank-and-file of the GOP.

The Republican elite is ashamed of its constituents in a way that the Democratic elite is not. Therefore, Democrats fight ferociously for their agenda in a way that Republicans seldom do.

The Republican elite in Washington crave prestige, you see, and they cannot gain prestige by sticking up for the typical GOP voter in Tucson, Tulsa, Tampa or Tulllahoma. You cannot become one of The Republicans Who Really Matter by defending Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh. No one can impress his friends at a Georgetown cocktail party by saying nice things about Sarah Palin or Joe the Plumber. No one in the D.C. elite — whether Republican or Democrat — can ever advance his career by quoting Michelle Malkin or Mark Levin.

You see why not only do Republican elites fail to defend their own party’s constituents, but they viciously attack anyone who attempts to represent the core beliefs of the conservative grassroots. Because if Michelle Malkin is a conservative, then David Brooks is not, and it is only his status as token “conservative” that assures Brooks of membership in the elite. If Brooks were just another liberal Democrat, after all, the New York Times already has plenty of those from which to choose.

So when you see some “conservative” sneering at Rush Limbaugh or mocking the Tea Party movement — what you are witnessing is the effort of elitists to signal to their fellow elitists that they are in on the joke, that they don’t take seriously the core values of grassroots types like Joe the Plumber.

“Even where the direction of policy is in the hands of men of affairs of different views, the execution of policy will in general be in the hands of intellectuals, and it is frequently the decision on the detail which determines the net effect. We find this illustrated in almost all fields of contemporary society. Newspapers in ‘capitalist’ ownership, universities presided over by ‘reactionary’ governing bodies, broadcasting systems owned by conservative governments, have all been known to influence public opinion in the direction of socialism, because this was the conviction of the personnel.”
Friedrich Hayek, 1949

What Hayek says here can be applied equally, you see, to the Republican Party and the various institutions of the conservative movement. If the think-tank wonks, the congressional staffers and the writers for conservative journals believe in same-sex marriage, global warming or universal health care, efforts to employ those institutions on behalf of contrary opinions will not be as effective as if those efforts were conducted by personnel who actually shared the beliefs they were paid to advance.

The elite cadre of the GOP and the official conservative movement constitute a bureaucracy, and the critique of bureaucracy are equally valid. The beliefs of the Heritage Foundation bureaucrat are in many ways more important in the operations of that institution than the beliefs of Ed Feulner or Ed Meese. The enemy within the camp is always the most to be feared.

Why, after all, does John Cornyn not hesitate to urinate all over the Republican rank-and-file in Florida by endorsing Charlie Crist more than a year before the primary? Because no one at NRSC headquarters, nor any member of Cornyn’s Senate staff, has any interest in the concerns of the conservative grassroots nor any incentive to represent those concerns.

Is David Brooks going to speak up for Marco Rubio? Will Kathleen Parker defend the rights of Florida Republicans to choose their own candidates? Do you expect Rod Dreher to tear himself away from the important work of defaming Mark Levin in order to tell his readers in Dallas what Cornyn has done?

“This is the arrogance of the intellectual elite, to imagine that their particular specialty — the expression of abstract ideals via the written word — is the only ability that matters, qualifying them as experts on anything and everything they choose to write about.”
Robert Stacy McCain, May 22, 2009

Michelle Malkin went to Oberlin, Mark Levin went to Temple and Ann Coulter went to Dartmouth. These are all elite institutions, and all three of these individuals engage in endeavors that qualify them as “intellectuals” in the sense that their work involves “shaping public opinion.” Why, then, are they at odds with, and scorned by, the people you think of as the “intellectual elite”? Chiefly because they do not look down at The Ordinary American, nor do they ever entertain the notion that their readers are morons incapable of thinking for themselves.

The greatest example of this respect for the grassroots, of course, is Rush Limbaugh. If you listen to Rush regularly, you know that sometimes he’ll get a caller who’ll say, “Rush, how can you say such-and-so? Everybody in the MSM is saying the opposite. The people will believe the MSM, not you!” And Limbaugh will calmly reply, “Look, you figured it out on your own. I figured it out. Don’t you think that other people see the same thing and can figure it out for themselves? Give people some credit.”

What makes Rush angry is the evident belief of so many Republican “leaders” that the American people can’t handle the truth. Among these truths is that the economic agenda of today’s Democrats is the exact same agenda that Hayek warned was being advanced by the intellectuals of 1949.

Begins with an “s,” ends with an “m,” and I don’t mean “sarcasm.” But don’t say it out loud, or Rod Dreher will call you a “crackpot.”

May 13, 2009

Is Rush racist?

Every conservative discovers, sooner or later, that to criticize liberal ideas is to be adjudged guilty of some “-ism” or diagnosed with a “phobia.” Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of race.

Steve Benen has one of those “a-ha!” moments with a segment of a recent Rush Limbaugh monologue:

“The [economic] deterioration reflects lower tax revenues and higher costs for bank failures, unemployment benefits and food stamps. But in the Oval Office of the White House none of this is a problem. This is the objective. The objective is unemployment. The objective is more food stamp benefits. The objective is more unemployment benefits. The objective is an expanding welfare state. And the objective is to take the nation’s wealth and return to it to the nation’s quote, ‘rightful owners.’ Think reparations. Think forced reparations here if you want to understand what actually is going on.”

RAAAAACISM! (Remember, bloggers, there are five A’s in “RAAAAACISM!” Some of you have been slacking off and trying to get by with four.) Benen pronounces Limbaugh’s suggestion “nauseating,” but as always, we must ask the question, “Is Rush right?”

Would any honest “progressive” deny that the aims of their redistributionist economic program — to tax the evil “rich” for the benefit of the sainted “poor,” in Robin Hood fashion — are motivated by notions of “social justice”?

Is it not a fundamental tenet of this “social justice” ideology that the wealthy gain their riches by the exploitation and oppression of the poor? And is it not furthermore true that, vis-a-vis the racial aspect of “social justice,” progressives believe that black people have been especially victimized by capitalist greed?

From such a chain of premises, it follows that a policy that purposefully hinders the private free-market economy and expands government entitlement programs — the “Cloward-Piven Strategy,” as it has been called — is to some degree intended by the authors of the policy as “forced reparations,” just like Rush says.

In other words, is Limbaugh being denounced as a racist merely for describing this policy accurately?

In The Vision of the Anointed, Thomas Sowell describes how liberals employ “mascots” and “targets” to advance their policy aims. By positioning themselves as defenders of “mascots,” liberals set a rhetorical trap whereby any attack on their policies is denounced as an attack on the (allegedly) victimized and downtrodden people whom those policies are supposed to benefit. Ergo, anyone who criticizes the cost of Medicare is accused of wishing to deprive the elderly of health care, and anyone who criticizes affirmative action is accused of hating women and minorities.

The problem, of course, is that this prevents rational discussion of policy. Limbaugh would surely argue that black people would benefit more from a flourishing private-sector economy — which offers them jobs — than they would benefit from an expanding program of entitlements, which offers them only government handouts.

Furthermore, we have seen that the “Cloward-Pivens Strategy” brings disastrous results for the poor people its architects claim to care so much about. Go read Fred Siegel’s The Future Once Happened Here if you want to see how this kind of liberal policy has devastated America’s great cities and brought misery to the urban poor.

If liberal policy is demonstrably bad for black people — as Limbaugh, Sowell and Siegel would argue — then in what sense is it “racist” to oppose liberalism? In fact, given the clearly evident socio-economic disaster inflicted on the black community by decades of liberal policy, is it not liberals themselves who ought to be attempting to defend themselves against such accusations?

The real problem with modern liberalism is the concept of “social justice.” As Friedrich Hayek explained, “social justice” is a mirage, a will-o’-th’-wisp that, however enthusiastically pursued, can never be achieved. And “social justice” harms those it aims to help, in part because it destroys the only legal and economic system — free-market capitalism — wherein the downtrodden have ever been able to improve their fortunes to any great degree.

The great irony of all this is that, even if you favor government aid to the poor — or perhaps, especially if you favor such aid — the health of the free-market economy should be paramount in your considerations.

After all, government can’t conjure money out of thin air. Ultimately, government can only spend on aid to the poor what it takes from the private economy in taxes. So if liberals pursue policies that harm the private economy, they’re killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. (Anybody tried applying for food stamps, health care or student loans in Zimbabwe lately?)

So the accusation of “racism” against Rush Limbaugh is transparently false, its entire rhetorical basis being the liberal conceit that only mala fides (bad faith) can motivate opposition to liberalism.

April 25, 2009

Blind Men and the Elephant: Hayek, Christianity and Catholic ‘Social Teaching’

Sometimes I describe myself as a conservative in politics, an Austrian in economics, a Christian by faith, a Calvinist by doctrine and a Southerner by the grace of God. All of these commitments are involved in my colloquy with Andrew Cusack, who took umbrage at my proudly Protestant skepticism toward Catholic “social teaching,” inspiring me to respond at length:

Every faithful Christian seeks to understand what is required of him, as an individual, in dealings with his fellow man. We strive, or at least should strive, for honesty and fairness in matters of business. Yet when we attempt to reason upward, as it were, from the level of individual morality to the question of “social justice,” the One True Way becomes increasingly less obvious. Thoughtful minds see that this is a utopian mission, an effort toward universalistic one-size-fits-all prescription, with some central authority dictating down to the minutest level what is prohibited and what is required. During the 1970s, after radicals had captured majority power in the municipal government of Berkeley, Calif., a shopkeeper put up a sign in his window sarcastically describing the new order: “That which is not forbidden is mandatory.”
This is the meddlesome tendency unleashed when we make “social justice” our goal in politics and economic. What is “social justice” to the SEIU labor organizer, to the ACORN activist, to the HHS bureaucrat, to the La Raza militant, to the GM executive, to Tim Geithner?

Please read the whole thing. Man, this “top Hayekian public intellectual” stuff keeps a fellow busy. You ought to hit the tip jar. That’s my idea of “social justice.”

April 10, 2009

Rush Limbaugh on Friedrich Hayek

Weird concidences keep happening. Via Greg Ransom, here’s Rush Limbaugh from Thursday:

RUSH: We have a junior from the University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Vols. This is Jordan on the phone. Hi, Jordan. It’s great to have you here. Hello.
CALLER: Hello, Rush. It’s an honor to speak with you.
RUSH: Thank you very much, sir.
CALLER: I just have a quick question. I am in a macroeconomics class. My minor is economics, and my professor drones on and on and on about the supply-side economics and how it does not work. And constantly in my test and even an essay, we had to talk about why supply-side economics does not work and why it’s not fair to the poor and why it increases income inequality. I just want to know the truth, I guess. I’m just tired of this. . . .

OK, “supply side” is one particular understanding of economic policy — the Laffer Curve and all that — a catch-phrase that became popular in the 1980s, and we can discuss that elsewhere. But after some back and forth on the history of the Reagan adminstration, look what Rush says:

RUSH: They never had to work a day in their lives. They just get up. But that’s wonderful because they talk about the things your professor talks about, but you don’t see Ted Kennedy or any other liberal walking neighborhoods giving money away — unless he’s taken it from somebody else first. I implore you, Jordan, my man, to investigate independently the economist Friedrich Von Hayek (H-a-y-e-k) from the University of Chicago. He’s long dead. I urge you to. Does your professor ever talk about Milton Friedman?
CALLER: Uhhh, no, sir.
RUSH: He does?
CALLER: No, he hasn’t.
RUSH: Oh, he doesn’t. I’m not surprised. Milton Friedman. There’s a videotape, DVD series that Milton Friedman did that explains everything you want to know here in a classical economics sense. He’s written many books. He was brilliant, Milton Friedman. So is Thomas Sowell, who is at the Hoover Institution on campus at Stanford. But read Friedrich Von Hayek, read The Constitution of Liberty, and read The Road to Serfdom. They’re tough reads. These are intellectual treatises, but you will not be disappointed.

As Greg Ransom notes, a link by Instapundit (coincidentally run by University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds) had already sent The Road to Serfdom to #283 on Amazon, and the mention by Rush was enough to boost it to #179.

Coincidence or conspiracy? Vainglorious ego makes me wonder if Rush is reading this blog, because he mentioned Hayek on the same day that I — in discussing “kooks” — wrote several paragraphs about Hayek and how The Road to Serfdom had influenced Reagan. This certainly isn’t the first time Rush has mentioned Hayek or Friedman or Sowell on his program but . . . well, I question the timing!

“You can accomplish much if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
Ronald Reagan

It was Hayek himself who described intellectuals as “secondhand dealers in ideas” and — even though I’ve been named a leading Hayekian public intellectual (bwahahaha) — I’m just driving a forklift in the regional distribution center. And there’s a big “Help Wanted” sign out front. The more the merrier.

Let Jane Hamsher whine that she’s not getting paid enough to push the Democratic Party agenda. The No. 1 radio show in America is pushing Hayek, Friedman and Sowell — and making Obscene Profits along the way — so I don’t care whether it’s a coincidence or a conspiracy. Megadittos, Rush.

BTW, Hayek’s book, The Constitution of Liberty, is now #665 at Amazon. I question the timing!

April 9, 2009

‘Kooks,’ Blue-State Republicans, Rick Moran, and the Messaging Problem

Hot Air headlined Rick Moran’s lengthy examination of the “kook” charges against Glenn Beck, which involves a discussion of the general problem that conservatives face in terms of messaging. This passage catches my attention:

I am losing contact with those conservatives who find Beck anything more than a clown – and an irrational one at that. Same goes for those who worship at the altar of Rush, Hannity, Coulter, and the whole cotton candy conservative crowd. I can’t take those people seriously. The fact that they are popular mystifies me. Our heroes 20 years ago were Reagan, Buckley, Fitzpatrick, Kirk, Goldwater, Anderson, and others who didn’t see conservatism as a meal ticket but as something to think about, to write about and contemplate man’s place in the world and his relationship to government and God.

“Fitzpatrick” and “Anderson” obtrude in this list. I’ve got no clue whom Moran means by “Fitzpatrick,” but fear that by “Anderson,” he means third-party presidential candidate John Anderson. If Anderson is your idea of a conservative icon, Rick, we need to talk about your definition of “kook.” The man was a “Jacob Javitz Republican,” which put him to the left of Rockefeller.

One of our basic problems now is that, in defeat, we always want to play the game described by Michael Brendan Dougherty, and thus dubbed “Dougherty’s Law,” which dictates that every conservative pundit must claim that the Republican Party would win “if it were more like me, and instead it loses because it is more like you.”

Thus, pro-lifers blame the GOP’s woes on insufficient fealty to the pro-life cause, et cetera, ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

One of the most egregious examples of Dougherty’s Law — and it sticks in my craw every time I think of it, more than a decade later — was Christopher Caldwell’s “Southern Capitivity of the GOP,” published in the June 1998 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Caldwell mixed facts with half-truths with misconceptions in just such a witch’s brew as was calculated to appeal to the kind of intellectual snobs in his intended audience. As an expression of ignorance about the realities of Southern politics, and unmitigated prejudice against Southerners, Caldwell’s piece is the sort of thing that makes me share Zell Miller’s fond nostalgia for the age of “pistols at dawn, sir.”

Caldwell’s article has to be viewed, along with David Brooks’s infamous 1997 “National Greatness” essay, as an attempt at scapegoating on the part of the moderate Northeastern GOP elite who were embarrassed, first, by Bush 41’s humiliating defeat in 1992 and, again, by Bob Dole’s humiliating defeat in 1996.

This dissatisfaction of the elite was not mollified by the happy fact that these two presidential defeats were bookends to the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” which put the GOP in control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years, and you have to know a bit about how Washington works to understand why this was so.

Power vs. Prestige
In the federal government, as the Framers intended, Congress represents power. But with growth of the imperial presidency, the White House represents prestige, and there is nothing that the elite covet so much as prestige.

The difference between the GOP elite in Washington and the ordinary grassroots Republican in Tulsa or Tucson or Tacoma can be summed up in a single word: Ambition. And this one word explains the struggle between elite prestige and grassroots power in the GOP.

The Republican activist in Tucson wants to see his party win elections and enact conservative policies. Perhaps the Tucson Republican has personal ambition in politics — to be named county party chairman, to be a delegate to the national convention, maybe even to run for the state legislature — but he understands that any small ambition he has is dependent on winning elections, and thus expanding the party’s power.

For the Republican elite, however, a far different calculus is involved. Those who have attended the right schools, served the proper internships and made the right connections arrive in Washington at age 22 or 23 looking to scale the ladder of success. Whether they are think-tank analysts or campaign operatives, journalists or lawyers, these young people are almost universally dreaming of reaching the lofty heights of their especial avocations. It’s a very competitive environment which favors the shrewd and cunning.

To digress momentarily, it happens that I skipped all that myself. I learned the craft of a newspaperman at little papers in Georgia you never heard of, and was never a Young Republican who harbored the kind of ambitions that fuel the careers of the 20-something go-getters in D.C. I was a loyal but not particularly ideological Democrat until the mid-1990s, when circumstance and experience (including the first two years of the presidency of Bill Clinton, for whom I’d voted) caused me to become an ex-Democrat.

The story of my autodidactic conservative conversion need not be related here, but the point is that I arrived in D.C. in November 1997 as a 38-year-old married father of three, an award-winning professional journalist who knew a lot about newspapers, but very little about the ways of Washington. And one of the things I understood least was why the Republican elite was so intensely interested in presidential politics and foreign policy.

Assistant Deputy Undersecretary
Having won awards as a newspaper columnist in Georgia, I naturally hoped that I might repeat this trick in Washington. I’d been hired as a news editor at The Washington Times, but I occasionally managed to throw a column over the transom to the op-ed or commentary pages. These were mainly about cultural topics — women’s magazines, the decline of marriage, home-schooling, et cetera — because the business of opining about politics in Washington is a cartel jealously guarded by members of the punditry guild.

If the rise of the blogosphere has made nothing else clear, it has at least made clear that political insight is not monopolized by the likes of George Freaking Will and other elitists who get paid to opinionize on the op-ed pages and TV talking-head shows. How, then, did the commentariat maintain its hegemonic influence for so long?

Part of the answer lies in a phenomenon I call the Former Deputy Assistant Undersecretary Syndrome. During the late 1990s, I noticed that many of the thumbnail biographies under the op-ed page guest commentaries tended to read like this:

Elmo Rumburger Jr. served as deputy assistant undersecretary in the State Department during the Ford administration and was ambassador to Chile from 1981-83. He is vice president of the Coalition for American Unity and author of the new book, “Libya: Threat or Menace?”

In other words, Mr. Rumburger’s column was published more on the basis of who he was than what he had to say, let alone how well he said it. The quality of such columns might vary, and it might be that the Former Deputy Assistant Undersecretary made an important argument with clarity and eloquence.

Mr. Rumburger might be an excellent individual committed to the conservative cause, and I might applaud his column, but the point is that people like that get published on the basis of their biographies. They bring to the op-ed page a certain authority and prestige which you — the grassroots Republican — will never have, and the main reason you don’t have it is because you never wanted it. You drive a truck or you run an insurance agency or whatever, and have no interest in politics as a career.

Ambition and the Elite
This “ambition gap” is what really divides the elite from the grassroots, and it explains why foreign policy and winning the White House are inextricably linked as twin obsessions for the GOP elite. The power exercised by Congress is great, but the most prestigious congressional staff position — the Chief of Staff, of whom there are 535 on Capitol Hill — is essentially a behind-the-scenes management gig.

Compare this, then, with the prestige that a president doles out through his appointments. Cabinet secretaries and all their assistants and deputies, heads of agencies and bureaus, ambassadorships, staff positions in the White House — somewhere, I’m sure, there is a source that can tell you exactly the number of jobs to be had by political appointment.

The relevant point is, it’s a freaking crapload of jobs, and there is a huge prestige factor to even a fairly minor presidential appointment. In 2009, there are many middle-aged guys in Washington who earn handsome salaries in large measure because, when they were 24 or 25, they worked in the White House or one of the Cabinet agencies for a few months in some low-level appointment in the final year or two of the Reagan administration.

This is most especially true in the field of defense and foreign policy. If you are an ambitious, well-educated, well-connected Republican operative whose expertise is military and foreign affairs, your career goals will be thwarted unless the GOP regularly wins presidential elections.

There are only so many think-tank gigs and university professorships to be had, if you’re a Republican specializing in international policy. The relevant committees in the House and Senate only offer a relative handful of jobs, compared to the hiring bonanza when a newly-elected president starts staffing up the Defense and State departments, and being a Hill staffer carries relatively little prestige compared to all those Assistant Deputy Undersecretary gigs.

Perceptive readers are now starting to understand the tremendous frustration that so many Reaganauts felt during the eight years of the Clinton presidency. It was not merely a matter of policy, but of ambition.

Imagine the bright young Cold War hawk, with a degree in international affairs from a top school, who hired on at age 23 as a political appointee at the Pentagon in 1987 or ’88. He worked his way up a notch or two during the Bush years, the Soviet Union was vanquished, the first Iraq war was a triumph but then — purely because of domestic politics — this ambitious young fellow found himself dismissed from his job at age 28 as the Clintonistas took over.

“Oh, that damned Ross Perot!” said the gimlet-eyed Cold Warrior. “That Pat Buchanan! Those idiot domestic-policy populists who cost me my shot at becoming a Deputy Assistant Undersecretary before I was 30!”

Blue States and the GOP Elite
“Wait a minute,” cries the perceptive reader. “Why are we talking about foreign-policy elites? You’ve completely jumped the track with this digression — I thought we were talking about Rick Moran and why Glenn Beck is a kook. Moran isn’t a deputy assistant undersecretary wannabe. What kind of wacky non sequitur is this?”

Ah, but the two phenomena are indeed connected. Think about the fact that Rick Moran lives in Democrat-dominated Illinois, a state last won by a GOP presidential candidate when Bush 41 got 50.7% in 1988. Much like the foreign-policy Republican, the Blue-State Republican tends to have a greater interest in presidential politics.

Liberal Chicagoland so dominates Illinois politics, and has for more than seven decades, that electing a Republican governor or U.S. senator is a once-in-a-blue moon fluke — think of four words, “Senator Carol Moseley Braun” — that the GOP minority’s influence can best be augmented by electing a Republican president.

A real winner like Reagan who clobbers his opposition in a landslide will offer “coattails” for GOP candidates even in a heavily Democratic state, and so the Republican in Illinois (or New Jersey, or Michigan) takes a keen interest in presidential politics. This is why the GOP foreign policy elite and the Blue State Republicans so often sing from the same hymnal: Don’t pick fights over difficult domestic issues where a determined conservative stand might hinder prospects in the next presidential campaign.

Furthermore, Blue States are always blue for a reason, usually something to do with economics and demographics. One thing that Chris Caldwell got right is that the “Sunbelt” economy has boomed because of the right-to-work laws in the South and West, which outlaw the closed shop and thus make it very difficult for labor unions to take over entire industries. Labor unions by their very nature are constituencies of the Democratic Party, which is why heavily unionized states in the Midwest and Northeast are such tough terrain for the GOP.

There was a time, at the height of the Great Cold War Consensus (roughly 1948-68), when liberal or moderate Republicans enjoyed success by avoiding fights that would put them at odds with labor-union constituencies. If you go back to the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate — where everything seemed to boil down to the tiny islands of Kemoy and Matsu in the Formosa Straits off the Chinese coast — you understand what George Wallace was talking about in his 1968 independent presidential campaign when he complained that there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference between the two major parties.”

The Great Cold War Consensus reached its apogee between JFK’s narrow 1960 victory and LBJ’s 1964 landslide, unraveled largely due to the Vietnam debacle, and the Democrats only staved off disaster after Nixon’s ’72 landslide because of the subsequent Watergate scandal. Watergate fueled a Democratic congressional landslide in 1974 and enabled the 1976 election of Jimmy “I’ll Never Lie To You” Carter, whose utter incompetence led to the Reagan triumph of 1980.

What is key to understanding all that history is the great degree to which the foreign-policy issues of the Cold War predominated in the GOP’s ascendancy. It was LBJ’s bungling of Vietnam, and Carter’s bungling . . . well, everywhere, that mostly explain why Republicans held the White House all but four years from 1969 to 1993.

The Republican Babel
You can see why, then, we now have such a Babel of ideological discord in the Republican Party. The GOP succeeded without ever having to forge a partisan consensus on domestic policy. From Nixon through Bush 41, as long as you agreed that the Democrats were hapless dupes of the Soviets — and this was obvious at the time to all but the blindest of Democratic partisans, as I then was — you were a Republican voter by default.

Furthermore, you see why the post-1994 showdown between the Gingrich-led Congress and Clinton over domestic policy was so bitter and fractious. Even with a stuffy snob like Al Gore as the Democratic candidate in 2000, Bush 43 lost the popular vote and only barely won the Florida deadlock that decided the Electoral College. Without any existential foreign policy foe to replace the Soviet menace, Republicans had a very difficult time winning the White House on domestic issues.

Then came 9/11. This was the grand opportunity, the key that would deliver the “permanent Republican majority” of Karl Rove’s dreams. The Global War On Terror enabled Bush and the GOP to gain an upset mid-term victory in 2002 and enabled Bush, in 2004, to become the first president elected by a popular-vote majority since his father won the “third Reagan term” in 1988. And then it all went to hell in a handbasket, and here we are with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and President Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, in a not entirely unrelated development, we see Rick Moran — whose native Illinois sent Obama to the Senate along with Dick Durbin — carping that Glenn Beck is a kook who “lacks the ability to think rationally,” that Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are just using conservatism as a “meal ticket,” that there is something of the Hoftstadter paranoid tendency being exploited, and that we are guilty of fomenting “fear and frustration” if we don’t denounce Beck, et al.

This is not about Glenn Beck. This is about the long failure of the Republican Party (and/or, the conservative movement) to define and enunciate a clear philosophy of domestic policy that differentiates them from Democrats.

RINOs like Arlen Specter have muddied the waters, and advocates of the oxymoronic “Big Government Conservatism” have convinced too many Republicans that there is no hope for electoral success in fighting to limit or shrink the massive entitlements of the liberal Welfare State. I will quote once more something that American Spectator publisher Al Regnery said to me in an interview last year:

“You look back in the earlier times, there were no opportunities, so there were no opportunists. . . . Later on, you have all these people who figure it’s probably a pretty good political thing to do. And so they start talking about being conservative when they’re running [for office], but they really aren’t. So when they get to Congress or wherever they go, they’re pretty easily dissuaded.”

The success of the GOP has attracted opportunists who call themselves “conservative” because, as Rick says, that’s a “meal ticket.” But Regnery wasn’t talking about Rush Limbaugh, who certainly is not “easily dissuaded.” And I’m not guilty of acting in accordance with Dougherty’s Law when I say that a lack of common ground on economic issues is a basic problem of the Republican Babel.

The Austrian Insight
Maybe my perspective on all this is different because I am an ex-Democrat who became a conservative by reading Mises and Hayek and Ayn Rand, abandoning my native partisan loyalties in the mid-1990s when foreign policy wasn’t a big deal, and with no thought at the time of becoming a “pundit.” I was just a Georgia newspaper writer, reading stuff that interested me, and trying to make sense of why Bill Clinton — whom I had supported because I wanted to believe he was a moderate “Sam Nunn Democrat” — was pursuing a policy agenda straight out of the Dukakis campaign platform.

When I reviewed Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, I noted that his book made no mention of the great Austrian economists who, as any Reagan biographer will tell you, had such a powerful influence on the Gipper. Because of its influence on Reagan, Hayek’s Road to Serfdom may rank (along with Witness by Whittaker Chambers) as the most consequential book of the 20th century, and yet Dreher doesn’t even bother to mention Hayek in Crunchy Cons.

The only economic thinkers Dreher mentions are Adam Smith, Karl Marx and the Buddhist-influenced Keynesian, E.F. Schumacher. This suggests a blinkered and stunted understanding of economics. What an easy trick to juxtapose Smith, the supposed ideologist of “capitalism,” against the arch-ideologist of socialism, Marx, and then — eureka! — the “Third Way” that delivers the reader from these two supposedly equal economic evils.

In fact, Adam Smith was not trying to create any ideology, but rather was trying to describe the basic facts of economics in order to expose the protectionist fallacies of European colonial mercantilism. It was Marx who is chiefly responsible for our thinking of Smith as advocating an “-ism,” and from this “Marx vs. Smith” duality much other mischief has ensued.

Why Socialism Fails
What Mises, Hayek and others of the Austrian school patiently demonstrated was that socialism (Marxian or otherwise) is based on a fundamental fallacy that ultimately makes socialism unworkable in practice. Socialism — the “planned economy,” as Hayek often described it — neglects the function of prices as information by which individuals make their own economic decisions.

When governments intervene in economic life, through various forms of regulation, subsidies and taxation, they inevitably influence prices in a way that substitutes the decisions of government officials for the decisions of individuals in the market. Because the underlying reality of supply and demand persists, however, and because of the diffuse nature of economic information — the preferences of individuals, their specialized abilities, the scarcity or surplus of goods and services, etc. — the actions of government planners cause harmful inefficiencies.

Socialism must therefore always fail. The more a system approaches the socialist ideal, the greater the economic inefficiencies that cause failure. And as socialist policies fail, governments determined to pursue these policies always become more coercive in their attempts to compel individuals to cooperate with the planning regime, to stamp out areas of economic freedom where prosperity remains. Thus the Soviets had to liquidate the kulaks (peasant freeholders) in order to eliminate competition with, and resistance to, the socialist regime.

Because even a minimalist government takes actions that influence economic activity, there has never been, nor will there ever be, such a thing as a pure free-market regime. Yet the policies of governments are either oriented toward economic freedom or against it. What Hayek saw in the policies of England and America in the 1940s were governments that seemed to have made a fateful turn against economic freedom, and were thus on The Road to Serfdom.

‘I, Pencil’ and Reaganism
Such is one layman’s summary of the Austrian insight, and academic specialists are free to tell me exactly how I’ve misstated the case. But at least I’ve read Mises and Hayek (and various of their students, such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams and Mark Skousen), and therefore can claim to have some notion of what it was that revolutionized Ronald Reagan’s worldview, turning him from a self-described bleeding-heart liberal into the almost universal hero of conservatives today. Look again at that list of conservative icons whom Rick Moran cited:

Our heroes 20 years ago were Reagan, Buckley, Fitzpatrick, Kirk, Goldwater, Anderson, and others . . .

Hayek and Mises are missing, as are Milton Friedman and other prominent advocates of economic liberty who were certainly influential circa 1989. Perhaps Moran has read these people and just doesn’t bother to mention them. Reagan and Buckley both frequently referred to the free-market intellectuals, and Goldwater was an avid defender of the free economy, so that it’s possible to have absorbed Mises second-hand, as it were.

Yet Rick Moran doesn’t discuss domestic politics like someone who’s spent much time with the Austrians and I therefore suspect his exposure to them has been minimal. And if you’ve never considered their perspective, you have to spend time with the Austrians before you can understand the insight. How many issues of The Freeman did I read before I stopped sputtering in angry protest and began nodding in agreement? I’d be willing to bet, as I said of Dreher, that Moran’s never even read Leonard Read’s brilliant little essay, “I, Pencil.”

The Missing Cornerstone
But just as this is not about Glenn Beck, it’s also not about Rick Moran. It’s about a Republican Party that ascended to power, and attracted adherents, based in substantial measure on its foreign policy disagreements with liberal Democrats. The party also attracted adherents dissatisfied with liberal positions on other issues — abortion, education, gay rights, environmentalism, etc. — and all of these GOP adherents will tell you that they are “Reagan conservatives,” but not all of them really are. Because if you haven’t read Hayek and Mises and the other economic thinkers who influenced Reagan, you are missing a fundamental cornerstone of Reagan’s worldview.

The Austrian insight can lead in many directions, as Lew Rockwell would gladly explain, but the one direction it never leads is toward the kind of Keynesian bailout/”stimulus” insanity we’ve seen from Washington over the past year — wrong-headed policies endorsed by Republicans and Democrats alike. These policies will not produce recovery, but will instead result in debt, poverty and misery. It is therefore the duty of every American who does not wish to see this “city on a hill” become a shameful tragedy to speak up in oppositon to these policies. (It Won’t Work.)

Rick Moran and some others have criticized the Tea Party movement as an incoherent populist publicity stunt, as if the nationwide rallies planned for April 15 will be about Obama’s birth certificate or FEMA camps. No — there is a specific focus on economic policy.

One also hears the grumbling that, because various Republicans have voted for bailouts or “stimulus” bills, it is hypocritical partisan demagoguery for conservatives to speak out against this economic agenda. OK, fine. Show me where Michelle Malkin, Glenn Reynolds, the Cato Institute or Americans for Limited Government — I’m kind of pulling names out of the hat here — have ever endorsed any of this stuff, even when George Bush and John McCain were enthusiastically pushing for it.

(Crickets chirping.) The Tea Party movement is not about Glenn Beck, Rick Moran, George Bush or John McCain. It’s not about re-electing any Republican in Washington, or electing any current or future Republican candidate for office. It’s about advocating a very simple idea of economic liberty as a fundamental principle of a free society.

If you don’t get that, fine. Stay home April 15 and grumble all you want about populist demagoguery, but I know where the friends of freedom will be.


UPDATE: Rick Moran says that “Anderson” was a reference to the columnist/author Martin Anderson and “Fitzpatrick” was a typo/brainfart: He meant former U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Oh, and Rick says he has read The Road to Serfdom, but not Mises. Yeah, but what about “I, Pencil”?

UPDATE II: Moran responds, and more linky-love is provided by Stephen Gordon at Liberty Papers, Dan Collins at Protein Wisdom, Physics Geek, Fisherville Mike and some blog with a long Latin name. (Dude, I can sling a bit of the Atlinlay when I want to impress people, but . . . seriously?)

Also, this is the place where I say, “Hit the tip jar, you ungrateful bastards.” The alternative is the Jane Hamsher whine-a-thon (“I’m blogging for The Cause, so pay up!“), and I’ve got too much dignity for that. I’m a greedy capitalist blogger, which is why I’m running a 2-for-1 special on nude photos of a certain prominent blogger’s wife. Of course, they’re just bad Photoshop jobs, but . . .

UPDATE III: Welcome, Instapundit readers! What an amazing coincidence . . . kinda like JournoList, huh?

UPDATE IV: Speaking of messaging and coincidences, guess what happens when an ACORN front group sends out a press release? And we’ve now got our own Memeorandum thread. (Rule 3!)

UPDATE V: Little Miss Attila links, as do Paco, Craig Henry and Mark Goluskin. Meanwhile, Dan Riehl says, “too long and prone to wander a bit.” My wife used to say the same thing, Dan.

April 2, 2009

‘Public intellectual’? Moi?

Believe it or not, I have been named one of the “Top Hayekian Public Intellectuals in America” by Greg Ransom. This was for promoting the free-market economic ideas of Nobel Prize winner Friedrich Hayek, not Hollywood hottie Salma Hayek.

Looking over Greg’s list, there’s no argument that Thomas Sowell deserves his No. 1 ranking. Ever since this blog started, Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed has been on the sidebar as the single best volume for those who want to understand modern liberalism. It’s possible to view The Vision of the Anointed as an expansion on the theme developed by Hayek in The Mirage of Social Justice. What I’ve always admired about Sowell is the admirable clarity of his writing. He has an excellent knack for boiling things down to an understandable essence.

John Stossel at No. 2, George Mason University’s Walter Williams at No. 3 — both excellent choices. It is possible to argue that Williams’s influence at GMU, where he teaches the school’s Ph.D. candidates in economics, makes him the single most influential free-market educator in America. GMU is also home to the Mercatus Center, which helps nurture free-market ideas.

If I could quibble with Greg’s list, I’d suggest he take another look and consider adding Michelle Malkin. Since 9/11, Michelle has been pigeonholed as a “neocon” hawk, but she has a strong free-market background — she was a Brookes Fellow at CEI — and has been perhaps the blogosphere’s most prominent opponent of the Keynesian stimulus/bailout approach to the economic crisis.

March 31, 2009

Where this road is leading

“The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a reaction to Enron-style accounting scandals enacted in 2002 on a Senate vote of 99-0, has been one of the most costly and counterproductive regulations imposed on our economy, hindering innovation, slamming the door shut on initial public offerings (IPOs) in the stock market and driving many companies out of U.S. markets and off U.S. tax rolls. Yet because of political appearances and vested minority interests that benefit from the regulation at the expense of the general economy, no politician even talks about removing this drag on our economy – notwithstanding our current perilous condition. Cynics might call this tendency a death wish. President Eisenhower called it ‘creeping socialism.’ Nobel Prize winner Friedrich von Hayek called it The Road to Serfdom.

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Stocks fell sharply as turmoil in the auto industry and depleted hope for financial and economic stability eroded much of the market’s March gains. . . . The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 254.16 points, or 3.3%, to 7522.02. GM shares shed 25%.”

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