Growth vs Equality

As Obamacare continues to muddle through its extended slow motion reenactment of the Hindenburg disaster, perhaps the time is upon us when we look past the website and the policy cancellations and focus on the redistributive architecture intentionally built into the law. It’s clear now to anyone paying attention that the Affordable Care Act was designed explicitly as a mechanism for disrupting millions of middle class Americans by forcing them into health exchanges where they would be forced to pay more for insurance in order to help subsidize the poor who were getting insurance from the government (mostly through Medicaid). That this was clear three years ago to pundits on both left and right is beside the point. It is now indisputably clear to most Americans that Obamacare is meant to be more of a wealth redistributor than it is an insurance “marketplace.” Virtually everyone coerced into this marketplace will be participating in said “market” with worse parameters than before. Most will pay more for less accessibility to preferred doctors and hospitals while receiving more in benefits that they do not want or need. The purported benefit comes from these increased costs on middle class consumers being transferred to lower class consumers in the form of government subsidy. Leaving aside the fact that the Affordable Care Act was categorically not sold in this fashion, one has to ask: do Americans as a whole support such a compulsory redistribution of the nation’s wealth?

The answer is obviously no. Progressives wish it were different, but deep down, they know it is simply not the case that the (still) vast American middle (and upper-middle) class will be OK with the federal government coercing them out of satisfactory insurance while demanding they retain insurance, though at a higher price and with less favorable access. A six year old could tell you that a system such as this would be met with revolutionary resistance. The resistance is as yet only nascent, but it is passionate and personal, and will only mount as more shoes begin to drop in the ceaseless conveyor belt of bad news that is Obamacare. So why did progressives purposefully design such a thing if they knew it was going to ignite the passions of perhaps 100+ million people? Because, like the socialists before them from whom they still derive much if not most of their economic ideas and inspiration, it is more important to have equality than growth.

Economic growth is a fundamental product of capitalism, and is also only achievable with capitalism. Progressives have come to espouse the virtues of nominal “growth,” but they don’t have any idea how to create or sustain it. That growth is a simple product of entrepreneurial risk applied to the basics of voluntary exchange is a mystery to the left. They think it lies at the end of a series of complicated mathematical equations involving a bunch of static data points and aggregates and all kinds of other gobbledygook only existent in the fever dreams of an academician. But growth really does occur when people are free to cooperate with each other and participate in voluntary exchange where both parties derive perceived benefit.  The entrepreneur enhances the market by studying prices along with any number of shifting variables and signals, acquiring knowledge, and then deploying this knowledge in the market to provide services that might heretofore have been inefficiently produced or not at all. When that process takes place and when profits are not demonized and confiscated by the State, you get economic growth.

If progressives were really concerned about growing the economy, they would leave it to the one engine that knows how to do it: the market. But progressives loathe markets because they empower individuals which means by nature power itself is diffuse rather than centralized. Well what good is decentralized power in an economy when the progressive’s raison d’etre is to consolidate power in a central bureaucracy so that the wisdom of the enlightened may be bestowed from on high? The best way to remove power from individuals and localities is to level society to as homogeneous an experience as possible. If everyone in a country as large as the United States lives with similar means and inhabits a common culture, then the task of conscripting the public as whole into obedience and allegiance to the State becomes much easier.

But it goes beyond that. The whole notion of equality of outcome appeals to the simple-minded and the progressive alike because it hits at a basic, emotional, gut level. It is so easy (and lazy) to point to the destitute and decry his circumstance, wishing for all the world that someone (i.e. government) would just “do something.” But that’s the thing, government cannot do anything, in the literal sense. It can only use force. Sometimes force can be used for good, as in the cause of defending national sovereignty or enforcing law, but it is still force. Regarding economic outcomes, any initiative by government to eradicate blight for one group must, by necessity, use force (taxation) to take from another. When couched in these terms, progressives suddenly do not sound like the altruists they fancy themselves to be. And that is only one half of the equation. The real focus of progressive economic policy is not on alleviating the conditions for the poor, but on punishing the “rich,” which in reality also includes the middle class. The real goal of progressives is a leveling of society down; by reducing the fortunes of the fat cats and ending the rapacious reign of the greedy free marketeers, they see a just society, albeit one where everyone is equally poor. It truly is a revolution of the proletariat ideal. They would rather have equality over growth, no questions asked, every time. It is a weird, ignorant, evil dogma that fools otherwise intelligent people into thinking they stand for tolerance and equality when really they are just predators perennially lusting after capital justly earned by capitalists so it can be unjustly redistributed to the proles.

On JFK and Mythology

“Cause what we’re after is just this
It’s a myth
Cause what we’re after is just this

And I’m sick of all these pictures books that try
To steal some old reflections for their light
But desperate measures point to desperate times
And that’s why
We need a myth

We’re cut adrift
We need a mass uplift
The world is trembling and weeping 
Just at the point of believing”

– Okkervil River, “We Need a Myth”

 

I am quite certain that Okkervil River are not singing about the fifty year JFK myth that was spontaneously established immediately following the president’s assassination on November 22, 1963. But their lyrics sure capture the impetus behind all mythology: the human desire to sustain or control narratives. What is a myth if not a compelling story which reconfigures an historical event in a way palatable to the source and the whims of the myth-maker? 

The fifty year myth about JFK can be distilled thus: the beloved Kennedy’s assassination meant he would be an indelible martyr for a lasting period, the only question was to which cause. The choice before the myth-makers wasn’t really a choice at all, and the cause they chose a fallacious, slanderous lie. Where all facts and evidence of Oswald’s murder and motive suggest that JFK should have been remembered as a martyr to the Cold War (and to its extralegal, brutal tactics of espionage), he is instead (TO THIS DAY!) remembered as a martyr to civil rights. You see, so the myth goes, a Cuban intelligence-connected, true-believer Marxist who viewed himself as an explicit enemy of America and capitalism wasn’t in fact responsible for assassinating the most ruthless Cold Warrior president in our history. No, it was right wing extremism, fostered by a “culture of hate” that festered and marinated in the heart of the real culprit, “Dallas.” 

It is thoroughly astounding that after fifty years, people still propagate this myth while denying or ignoring the reality. There were scores of books released and stories in the media in the build-up to the 50th anniversary last week, and most traffic in the same fiction that it was the right’s culture of intolerance that killed Kennedy. There are a million things offensive and wrong about the fact that an entire city can be forced to suffer humiliation and ignominy for half a century for a crime they are utterly innocent of, but let’s start with the notion that JFK was a champion a of civil rights and was therefore killed by racists who resented him for it. That’s just absurd, as Kennedy was far more interested in things like combating Communism, selling pro-growth, supply-side tax reform and our burgeoning space program. I won’t go full Ira Stoll on you and insist that Kennedy was really a conservative in liberal clothing – he wasn’t; despite some great ideas on taxes and liberty and the superiority of capitalism over socialism (a remarkable list considering how few, if any, of today’s Democrats would embrace these), Kennedy is still responsible for allowing collective bargaining within the public sector and unabashedly espousing Wilsonian dogma about expert administration and the imperative of having a robust, altruistic central government. Still, even while allowing that Kennedy was in favor of ultimately fighting on behalf of civil rights, it is by no means certain that he would have ever gotten around to doing so. It just wasn’t high on his agenda, despite the efforts his court stenographers and anguished elite liberals went to (successfully) convince the country otherwise.  

But it just wouldn’t advance the cause of liberalism to admit that a Communist killed Kennedy. Yes, there were geopolitical concerns about what the fallout between the U.S. and the Soviet Union would be, were it made public that an American defector to the USSR and attempted Cuba defector had acted in possible cahoots with Castro and Cuban intelligence. But excuse me if a bit of further saber-rattling doesn’t strike me as reason to embark on a world-historic lie so that your domestic agenda can be more easily sold and implemented. Further, there were enough people on the American left who held outright adoration for Communism, Cuba and the Soviet Union, that it doesn’t require more than a small leap to conclude that the myth was developed less as a vehicle for passing civil rights legislation, and more as a a cover-up of the ills and evils of Communist regimes. The enduring success of the JFK legend today shows how easy it is for committed ideologues to orchestrate and maintain a national deception.

The left needed a myth because, after all, as Jackie O said the morning after her husband was shot, “He can’t have been killed by some silly little Communist.” 

The Nuclear Option and the Mark of Desperation

When Harry Reid blew up the Senate filibuster for all intents and purposes yesterday, he did so on behalf of his party’s and his president’s desperation. Desperate to change the subject from Obamacare, desperate to show their progressive base that they can still achieve big things, desperate to do something, anything, to change the evolving narrative of Democratic demise.

Make no mistake, this will come back to haunt Democrats, probably by January 2015, when, if Republicans are able to capitalize on their likely window to regain control of the Senate, Mitch McConnell will undoubtedly cast fiery retribution on the Democratic Senate caucus by approaching the cracked seal of Pandora’s Box and breaking off the lid entirely.  This means that the nuclear option, detonated for all to witness by Democrats, cannot be walked back or tempered in hope of seeing decorum or tradition restored. Hell hath no fury like a minority stripped of its constitutional minority protections, thus when said minority inevitably becomes majority, Katie bar the door. Democrats better look the Hell out, because when Republicans control the chamber again (and yes, it will happen with the 2014 midterms), there are going to be exactly zero qualms for applying Harry Reid’s procedural heresy regarding judicial nominations to legislation. So get ready for not one, but two bodies of Congress, each with majority rule, passing wave after wave of pro-growth, anti-progressive measure imaginable, along with drastic cuts to spending and the federal administrative state.  Obama will spend the last two years of his presidency feverishly vetoing Republican bills, many of which will likely just be drawings of giant middle fingers.

Are conservatives and libertarians to be happy about this? Of course not. As George Will put it, yesterday was “a melancholy day for American life,” because it strips the one institution in our government most accustomed to hearing and respecting the rights of the minority of their power to be something more than a simple majoritarian body. The House of Representatives serves a noble purpose, as majoritarian rule does have its place in a constitutional republic. But it’s not the only place. A republic is not a democracy for the very reason that majority rule by itself is not enough. Republics constrain the majority and prevent them from behaving tyrannically because they place constraints on majorities by allowing minorities to have useful mechanisms for slowing or stalling the agenda of an unbridled majority. The genius of the Senate is that it was always supposed to be “the cooling saucer” of Congress; the place where fly-by-night legislation from the people’s House would go to simmer and cool, whereupon reflection and ample deliberation, the emerging bill sparkled with the veneer of both consensus and careful calibration. No longer. What Senate Democrats (urged by a flailing and desperate President Obama) did yesterday was essentially end the Senate as we know it. Now it is just like the House, where pretty soon it will be legislation and Supreme Court nominees, not just executive judicial nominees, that are passed with simple majorities rather than 60 vote thresholds. In the short term, the cause of liberty will benefit while the cause of progressivism will suffer.* The looming and inevitable Republican majority will use the precedent unleashed by the nuclear option to further all kinds of conservative legislative and administrative goals (namely doing away with much legislation and administration), while progressives whine and screech as much of their beloved bureaucracy is voted away on simple majority votes, knowing in their lamentable sould that they have only themselves to blame.

So fine, from a Machiavellian/utilitarian perspective, hooray! The progressives just shot themselves in the face and will rue the day they opened the door for much of their agenda to be done away with by simple up-or-down majorities. But then, they too will ascend to power again one day, and then will proceed to institute all manner of further government expansion without the obstacle of needing a supermajority in the Senate. Maybe that’s the long view they’re taking. What is most discouraging though, is that the need for cloture will probably never be restored. It would be both incredibly noble and insanely foolish for a Republican Senate to reinstitute the proper function of the Senate on the day they regain power, for one reason: the progressives do not give a fuck about rules, decorum, tradition, or the Constitution. They just don’t. They want to use whatever mechanism they can, no matter its legal or constitutional merit, to advance the cause of social justice and continue in their everlasting quest of elevating the State over the individual. In this environment, one must make no illusions about the opposition’s intent. “Know thy enemy” means understanding that Democrats today are playing by different rules. If they can pack the courts, awesome. If they can cram legislation through, great. If they can increase Executive power to further implement their agenda, pay no mind to their previous squawking about an “imperial presidency.” They just don’t give a fuck about constitutional limits or authorities because they themselves do not adhere to any limiting principle within their ideology. To achieve utopia, it is always and forever more, more, more. These people will not yield to a document they view as a quaint novelty or forfeit their conception of “positive rights” because some old racist slave-owners happened to transcribe in lucid detail what were to be the limits of State power and activity.

So for those of us who appreciate the concept of liberty and understand the perils of statism, the near-future is going to present some interesting quandaries. Faced with a cynical and noxious power grab by our opposition, once back in power what are we to make of this new Senate reality where 51 votes is all you need? I guess my early hope is that we don’t act like progressives and froth at the prospect of achieving radical ends with radical, immediate steps. Yes, I’m not so naive as to suggest that we don’t throw the nuclear option right back in their face, where appropriate, but I do hope that we at least consider exploring a way to restore the fundamental rights of the minority to the Senate. But principally I am concerned about going too far, too fast. If the Bush and Obama eras have taught us nothing, it’s that aggressive overreach, whether in policies foreign or domestic, only lead to aggressive backlash. Our republic was conceived in incrementalism, and was meant to mature incrementally. It would be wise to remember that once Republicans are in charge of the Senate. But then again, one of the biggest institutional guarantees of incrementalism was gutted yesterday. History will not be kind to Harry Reid and progressive Democrats for hitting the red button.

Health Care is Not a Right

Nancy Pelosi appeared on Meet the Press this weekend and offered her usual parade of inane and evasive talking points.  But the one that had me flinging the remote against the wall was the banal assertion that “health care is a right.”  No Nancy, it most certainly is not a right as our rights are (supposed to be) understood.

The genius of Magna Carta was its codification of a revolutionary concept: that our rights are natural and inherent in the law of the land. This means that “the law” as understood by those British rebels at Runnymede predated any arbitrary laws designed by men. It was a radical and unique notion for humans to declare that their rights were natural and that man’s laws were always subordinate to the natural law that existed (but prior to 1215, was never really acknowledged) before. Rights such as habeus corpus, representative democracy and property rights were enshrined in Magna Carta. The spirit of these British pioneers achieved its highest embodiment with the US Constitution in 1787 and the Bill of Rights in 1789. Many today do not realize that the addition of an enumerated list of “rights” to the Constitution was a controversial and bitterly contested idea. Which brings us back to the very meaning of “rights.”

The reason the Bill of Rights was so controversial owes much to Magna Carta. Seeding the idea that rights were natural and precluded any efforts by the State to take them from individuals, the fundamental premise of liberty thus germinated for centuries, culminating in the purest elevation of individual over State in Philadelphia. Rights were perceived as negative, in the sense that they outlined what the State could not negate from the individual: life, property, jury trial, etc. But for many of the Founders, rights were innumerable, and thus need not be transcribed as amendments to the Constitution. These men feared that a list of rights would lead to the State ultimately assuming that any rights not explicitly written down were not rights at all, or rather that anything not contained in the Bill of Rights would fall to the dominion of the State. A compromise was reached eventually, wherein the 9th amendment (ratified 1791) allowed that all other rights not transcribed in prior amendments were still in fact individual rights that the State could do nothing to negate. The prevailing argument that won out in the end was that certain rights just needed to be codified, but that the rest were still important and still the province of the individual, not the State.

But there are many “rights” that have evolved over the years, thanks almost exclusively to progressives and socialists, that are best defined as “positive rights.” Health care, shelter, food and wage are the best examples of positive rights. A positive right infers that the State must provide something to you, since it is your “right” to have, say, health insurance. But the State possesses only a single, solitary commodity – force – and therefore is ill-equipped to provide anything to its citizens without forcible redistribution. So in order to provide for positive rights, the State must forcibly take from one to give to another. This is most often done via taxation and, as we all know, much of the impetus for the American Revolution was unjust taxation, so it’s fair to assume that the Founders would have been no fans of positive rights.

And yet this terrible idea persists, and has in fact become so enmeshed in modern conventional wisdom that it is near blasphemy to suggest that things such as health care, food and shelter are anything but “basic human rights.” The provision of positive rights utilizes what Frederic Bastiat dubbed “legal plunder” in his seminal 1850 essay “The Law.” Bastiat maintained that the law was being perverted by factions of society to be used against other factions. Once this practice became normalized, Bastiat feared there would be no end, as the aggrieved faction one day would conspire to pervert the law to its whims and against another faction the next. How prescient he was, as this pitiful reality continues unabated into the 21st century. In order to convince our fellow citizens that legal plunder is wrong, we must disavow them of the idea that positive rights are merited, or even that they exist.

Pre-empting Tu Quoque

It has already begun, but only on the margins and fringes of the more delusional progressive true believers.  It will likely emerge as a more coordinated left wing rebuttal once Obamacare defenses transcend loyalty and morph into full-on desperation.  I speak of course of the tu quoque fallacy, also known as “you too!”  As Obamacare inevitably implodes and invites more and more comparisons to things like Iraq and Katrina, the left will ramp up their tu quoque talking points. The most prominent of these will center around the “L word,” and whenever it is brought up that Obama and the progressives (knowingly! http://bit.ly/1aJMstY) lied, a storm of tu quoque will echo through the echo chamber claiming that Bush and Republicans are guilty of the same thing regarding the selling of the Iraq War.  After all, progressives so successfully hammered the meme “Bush Lied, People Died” during the aughts that today it stands as near-conventional wisdom.  Regardless of what you think the merits of the Iraq war are (and I think there are essentially none), the idea that it was sold to the public on the same sort of malicious, willful lie as Obamacare is fallacious and stupid.  First, plenty of Democrats were privy to the same faulty intelligence on WMD as the Bush administration and Republicans, and plenty of them voted to authorize war in Congress. Second, for the tu quoque to have any justification, it would have to be the case that the Republicans knew from the jump that the intelligence was bogus.  But how can that be true when Democrats were privy to the same intelligence and thought it genuine as much as the Republicans did?  It may well be that the neoconservative impulse for war was so strong that the intelligence was deemed a mere compliment to the more urgent, moral case for war.  But it was not the case that the neocons had sole ownership of it.  The entire global intelligence apparatus was quite certain that Iraq possessed WMD, provided ample evidence as well as actual, past uses of the weapons by Saddam in support, and cited the dictator’s overall intransigence and non-compliance with organizations like the IAEA as behavioral evidence that indeed Iraq, in 2003, did possess weapons of mass destruction.

The Obamacare lie is different because it is obvious to any observer of progressivism that national healthcare, unlike war for conservatives, is the be-all-end-all of their political mission. Here is Ezra Klein telling a progressive gathering in 2008 that “at some point you have to win,” (http://bit.ly/bTG9U) meaning that progressives would necessarily have to be dishonest if they were ever going to achieve a comprehensive overhaul of the healthcare industry in the way they desire (consolidated federal control), due to the problematic fact that most of the country was never going to be in a feverish mood to massively disrupt the system.  The ends justified the means, and every progressive understood this.  Besides being a noxious characteristic and brutal indictment of the whole left wing ethos, this Machiavellian approach to public policy is fundamentally different than the “desire” of Republicans to go to war.  If you scoff at that, do a little research on which American political party was more likely to take us to war, and which was more likely to get us out; particularly in the 20th century.  After all, “war socialism,” as coined by Woodrow Wilson, has never really lost its appeal on the left.  When there are no wars to be fought, progressive doctrine preaches the need to seek the “moral equivalent of war,” but if there is a war, then even better!  Anything that can galvanize the country behind a single, central authority is akin to the holy grail for these people.  But I digress.  The point is that any Republican urge to start another stupid Middle East entanglement was largely a product of events.  It was a reaction to the smoldering ruins literally still smoldering in lower Manhattan, however disconnected the cause was from the response.  But Obamacare was not a reaction to some smoldering crisis in the health care industry; rather it was the culmination of a hundred year odyssey to remake the self-reliant, free-enterprise spirit of the country into one dependent on an unimpeachable welfare state Leviathan.

That is why they lied to us incessantly about what they were introducing.  And that is why when they inevitably screech about how “Bush’s lies were worse; people died!” or some such nonsense, it needs to be thrown back in their face that the lies aren’t even in the same universe, and thus tu quoque just does not fly.

Salon is Nervous

Salon is not happy with Charles Krauthammer and others issuing predictions of liberalism’s demise. One of the resident hacks, Elias Isquith, offers his lame rebuttal here:

http://www.salon.com/2013/11/14/the_rights_wild_new_fantasy_obamacare_is_killing_liberalism/

I was compelled to offer a response in the comments:

“Now, if the right were to say the idea of universal healthcare coverage itself is the principle being tested by Obamacare’s performance, that would be a debate worth having. But “repeal and replace,” the mantra that for years now has defined the GOP’s position with regard to Obamacare, implicitly grants universal coverage as a mutual goal.”

I don’t know if progressives are being willfully dishonest (likely) or are just utterly clueless as to the differences between the two sides’ ideas for how to achieve something approaching universal coverage.  You guys believe in single-payer and universal coverage, because it is administered solely by the State and therefore the State assumes total control of healthcare.  Yes, giving the State total control of anything can allow for universality (we could have full employment if the State would just seize the means of production!), but the actual performance of that universe leaves a lot to be desired.  Non-statists believe that there is potential for universal health coverage by leaving the health care industry entirely in private hands.  If we allowed a true competitive free market in the insurance industry (portability and purchase across state lines are the principal aspects of this), and then slashed a lot of the regulations that currently affect companies differently based on their state, there would be a world of improvement in both cost and coverage.

But the progressive mind just cannot even entertain the plausibility of the latter, as it does not make immediate intuitive sense the way a one-size-fits-all approach does.  And there is also the not-so-secret reality that progressives know that their social ends are best achieved through an expansive State, so why not co-opt the healthcare industry as a means to that end?

Much as I loathe the motives, I almost respect the strategy.  You guys are nothing if not relentless in your dogged desire to operate society from a central bureaucracy.

Fortunately, the disaster that is Obamacare will have a majority of Americans casting a jaundiced eye at any large initiative brought forth by the progressives for a while, so you guys may have to wait another hundred years to get single payer.  You blew it with Obamacare.  That is what Krauthammer means.

—-

The argument that Obamacare is somehow a “conservative” policy is truly hilarious.  If that is the case, why did every progressive vote for it and every conservative vote against it?  Does not compute.  But oh yes, the individual mandate was once floated by some dude at Heritage in the 90’s, ergo it is the perfect embodiment of conservative health policy thinking!  (See how stupid that is?)

Further, enough with the idea that Obamacare champions competition or free markets.  Our health insurance industry has long been bastardized and co-opted by the State as to render the free-market extinct in that industry.  Except for the individual market, where there was a close facsimile of a free market that allowed actual individuals to cater to their own individual choices.  Obamacare was designed (and succeeded) to kill the individual market.  The idea of ten mandatory coverage options is the very antithesis of any conservative or libertarian notion of choice and individual agency.  It is a bureaucratically deemed, top-down mandate from the central government that must apply to all 300M individuals in this huge country.  If not the truest example of socialist/collectivist thinking, the mandated coverage options and federal mandate to buy their product (very different from one individual state imposing a mandate, a la Massachusetts) are clearly much closer to socialism than conservatism.  And yet you guys either don’t know what words mean or are just content to spout outrageous lies about the nature of this law.

Are Progressives Evil or Just Stupid?

It’s a familiar maxim, ” never bet on evil when stupid is an option.”  I am inclined to agree with this when it comes to evaluating 21st century progressives in America. However it is also misleading, implying as it does that this is zero-sum where stupidity has wiped evil completely from the equation.  Logically speaking, a person can be both evil and stupid, which means this applies equally to ideologies.

Modern progressives, particularly the activists and true-believers, do have malice in their hearts.  Anyone who subscribes to the paternalist construct that says those enlightened elites know best how to “plan” society, and then seeks only to use the federal government as a means to their utopian ends, has a bit of evil in them.  But it is hard to conclude anything beyond “no, stupid is the winner” when you look at the execution of the progressive project in the age of Obama.  The ACA is clearly the featured player in this much-mocked production, but supporting players like Benghazi, Cash for Clunkers, Syria, stimulus, quantitative easing and Jay Carney have earned their time in the spotlight as well.  Other players skew more malicious but are incessantly brushed undder the rug by way of the incompetence defense, which has to lead us back to stupid. The IRS targeting of Tea Party groups, the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme and the utter malevolence of the progressive campaign apparatus all are categorical examples of progressive evil.

Ultimately, it depends on the temperament of the judge.  Today I am feeling somewhat magnanimous and thus my judgment is that the maxim holds true.  Progressives are more stupid than they are evil.  But tomorrow I will likely flip the script, as they are most definitely both.