Category Archives: Theory and Ideas

The Problem With Today’s ‘Conservatives': They’re Not Really Conservative

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When Republicans took control of the Congress in the 2014 elections, they did so without an agenda or alternative vision for the country. In spite of this, they hold their largest majority since before World War II.

It seems they achieved this, not because they laid out a clear alternative, but simply because the American people perceived Democrats and the left, as having failed to govern the country (or having done so poorly).

However, a couple of long-term problems for the Republican Party have developed since November’s elections. The first being that President Obama’s approval ratings have begun to rebound. The second, is that Republicans are fighting amongst themselves, again, instead of laying out any credible alternative agenda for the country. The Republican Party seems to be strongly divided between it’s “establishment” wing, and a more conservative Tea Party-aligned wing.

The biggest problem however, is that the Tea Party, and many of the self identified “conservatives” aren’t really conservatives at all. They’re really populists, ideologues, and radicals, that have abandoned traditional conservatism.

Ultimately, this is bad for the entirety of what could be called the “center-right”, because these people frankly make us look insane. When you try to build a movement purely on rhetoric and rabble rousing, without a solid foundation, history has shown that bad things happen.

During the French Revolution, there was a faction of revolutionaries called the Jacobins. The Jacobins were fiery populists, who aligned with the mobs on the streets of Paris, and eventually took over the revolutionary government, installing what came to be known as “The Reign of Terror“. Under the Jacobins, the revolutionary councils known as “committees of public safety”, targeted essentially anyone who disagreed with the Jacobins in the slightest, as “enemies of the people”. This demagoguery resulted in the deaths of thousands, in mob led mass executions.

Eventually, the French Revolution collapsed into near anarchy and was devoured, when in reaction to Jacobin misrule, Napoleon seized power in the Coup of 18 Brumaire.

An English member of Parliament, Edmund Burke, warned that the French Revolution would descend into tyranny. In his famous book “Reflections on the Revolution in France”, Burke argued for gradual change; emphasizing the necessity of specific, concrete rights and liberties; and essentially that society could not be, or should not be, molded or reshaped by government, in the name of “reason.” It was an argument against central planning and utopianism before they became more developed political concepts. Burke’s work is regarded as one of the founding documents of Anglo-American conservatism. and even Freidrich Hayek was heavily influenced by Burke.

Fast forward to today’s American er…..”conservatives”. What generally poses for conservatism these days is the Tea Party movement. To be perfectly blunt, the Tea Party isn’t very conservative at all. The Tea Party are demagogues who seem to want to launch a revolution against the “establishment”. Except, the problem is, they’re not too sure what the “establishment” is. They’re populist radicals and reactionaries, who have no idea what conservatism is.

The latest case in point, the silly and failed attempt to remove John Boehner as Speaker of the House, launched by Tea Party-aligned Congressmen, and egged on by various Washington D.C. and West Coast-based “grassroots” organizations who never miss an opportunity to fundraise over manufactured outrage.

The challenge to Speaker Boehner began when Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine announced he wasn’t going to vote for Boehner. He cited his opposition to the so-called Cromnibus which was passed in order to keep the government open, late last year. Bridenstine, like many conservatives, was opposed to the bill because it funded the Department of Homeland Security and President Obama’s immigration executive amnesty until February, and because it spent too much. Tea Party opportunists and other irrelevant backbenchers, saw an opportunity for self-promotion and self aggrandizement through the entertainment wing of the Tea Party (talk radio, bloggers who specialize in the daily “outrage”), and decided to “challenge” John Boehner.

Eventually, Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and Congressman Ted Yoho (R-Florida), threw their tin foil hats into the ring and challenged Boehner for the position of speaker. In a way, both men are a perfect microcosm of everything wrong with the Tea Party movement. Congressman Daniel Webster (R-Florida) also entered the race, but he’s generally an unremarkable backbencher (as well as one of the most liberal Republicans in congress).

A quick Google search would quickly tell you that these are not serious men, let alone serious alternatives to Speaker John Boehner. No one outside of Florida knows who Daniel Webster is, and sadly that probably makes him the most qualified out of the three. Ted Yoho’s big claim to fame is that he’s a birther who wants to find Obama’s secret Kenyan birth certificate in order to nullify Obamacare or something.

Finally, we have Louie Gohmert who is truly little more than a demagogue with no philosophical foundation. Gohmert once took to the floor of the U.S. House to warn about terrorist babies. Oh and Gohmert is also a birther. Gohmert has a long history of demagoguery both as a judge and a Congressman. There’s crazy and then there’s Louie Gohmert. 

Even those who dislike John Boehner (and there are many) would have to concede that, if they were honest, these three men were not qualified to be second in line for the office of President.

The problem, is that instead of presenting a coherent alternative to progressivism, the Tea Party and its allies have resorted to base demagoguery and reactionary populism. Further, they are imposing strict purity tests (the true mark of a Jacobin) to identify who they see as “the enemies of conservatism” and “Betrayers of the American People”. Only their ideas and positions are allowed, all must conform perfectly, there can be no dissent.

Take, for example, the case of Congresswoman Mia Love (R-Utah) a conservative rock star who voted for Boehner to continue as Speaker, and how she was vilified on social media:

There are many other examples like these on Twitter. Essentially, anyone who voted for the Speaker of the House, who oversaw at the very least a freeze in government spending; is being portrayed as some kind of a liberal, or worse, as having “betrayed the American people”.

The enlarged Federal state was not built in a day and it will not be dismantled in one election, especially when Democrats hold the White House. That’s not how I want things, but that how the world is. Conservatives are supposed to look at the world, understand and accept it for what it is, and understand that radical change rarely works out well.

In the meantime, we must seek to develop a credible, coherent, and comprehensive, alternative agenda for the country. We must get back to first principles and turn away from populism and demagoguery. We must rediscover traditional conservatism and combine that with some Milton FriedmanCharles Murray, and finally add some Hayek to the mix*.

Most importantly, conservatism is a philosophy, and a mindset, not an ideology. Gradual, incremental change, is always a better approach than radical change, because radicalism so often leads to failure at best; at worst, the guillotine or the Killing Fields.

While building a movement with popular appeal is important to the advancement of liberty, we must not let that become the sole focus. Winning without a solid philosophical and intellectual foundation, a principled moral focus, and a realistic view of the world, may ultimately lead to tyranny. That’s why the mindless populism and demagoguery of the Tea Party and the far right must be rejected.

*There are many great conservative/classical liberal thinkers and writers, but those three, along with Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley, and Edmund Burke are the ones you should get started with.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

The Minimum Wage Lie

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When “progressives” say “the minimum wage hasn’t kept up with inflation”, they’re lying.

Not shading, the truth, exaggerating, or interpreting things differently… they are flat out lying.

… And what’s more, the ones who made up the lie in the first place, know they’re lying (the rest mostly just parrot what they’ve been told).

What exactly would “keeping up with inflation” mean?

The minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since 2009.

In 1938, when the federal minimum wage was established, it was $0.25 an hour. In constant dollars (adjusted for inflation) that’s $4.19 as of 2014.

So, not only has the minimum wage kept up with inflation, it’s nearly doubled it.

Ok.. well what about more recently?

Minimum wage 15 years ago in 2000: $5.15, or $7.06 in constant dollars

Minimum wage 20 years ago in 1995: $4.25, or $6.59 in constant dollars.

Minimum wage 25 years ago in 1990: $3.80, or $6.87 in constant dollars.

Minimum wage 30 years ago in 1985: $3.30, or $7.25 in constant dollars.

Funny… that’s exactly what it is today… How shocking.

So, for 30 years, the minimum wage has not only kept up with inflation, for most of that time it’s been ahead of it.

So, how are they lying?

The way “progressives” claim minimum wage hasn’t been “keeping up with inflation”, is by comparing today, with the highest level it has ever been; almost 50 years ago, in 1968, when the minimum wage went to $1.60 an hour ($10.86 in constant dollars).

This was a statistical anomaly.

There’s a long and loathsome tradition of lying with statistical anomalies.

At $1.60 an hour, the minimum wage in 1968 was a huge 20% spike from what it had been just 3 years before in ’65, more than 40% above what it had been in 1960, and nearly double what it had been 12 years before in 1956 when politicians started throwing minimum wage increases faster and bigger (again, all in constant dollar terms. The minimum wage at the beginning of 1956 was about $6.30 in constant dollars)

In constant dollar terms, the minimum wage today, is about the same as it was in 1962 (and as I showed above, 1985).

It just so happens that from 1948 to 1968 we had the single largest wealth expansion over 20 years, seen in the history of the nation (about 5-8% annual growth)… Which then crashed hard starting at the end of ’68.

From 1968 to 1984, the U.S. had 16 years of the worst inflation we ever saw, and the purchasing power of ALL wages fell significantly, as wages failed to come even close to keeping up with inflation (we saw 13.5% inflation in 1980 alone, which is about what we see every 4 years today).

It took until 1988 for real wages to climb back to their 1968 constant dollar level, because we were in a 20 year long inflationary recession, complicated by two oil shocks and a stock market crash (actually a couple, but ’87 was the biggest one since ’29).

However, the minimum wage was boosted significantly in that time period, far more than other wages rose, and stayed above the 1962 water mark until the end of that high inflationary period in 1984, declining slightly until 1992, then spiking and declining again until 1997 etc… etc…

By the by… household income in 1968? appx. $7,700, which is about the same as today in constant dollar terms… About $51,0000 (about 8% more than it was in 1967, at $47k). Which is almost exactly what it was in 1988 as well. Household income peaked in 1999 and 2007 at around $55,000, and troughed in 1975 at around $45,000

Of course, income was on a massive upswing from 1948 to 1968 (and in fact had been on a massive upswing overall since 1896 with the exception of 1929 through 1936). In 1941 household income was about $1500 ($24,000 constant), in 1948 $3,800 ($37,000 constant).

Like I said, it was the single greatest expansion in real income and wealth over a 20 year period, in American history.

1968 was a ridiculous historical anomaly… Not a baseline expectation.

So, From 1964 to 1984, the minimum wage was jacked artificially high (proportionally far above median wage levels), and “progressives” chose to cherry pick the absolute peak in 1968 from that part of the dataset, in order to sell the lie.

A living wage?

As to the minimum wage not being a living wage… No, of course its not. It never was, its not supposed to be, and it never should be.

The minimum wage is intended to be for part time, seasonal workers, entry level workers, and working students.

Only about 4% of all workers earn the minimum wage, and less than 2% of full time workers earn the minimum wage.

Minimum wage is what you pay people whose labor isn’t worth more than that. Otherwise everyone would make minimum wage. But since 98% of full time workers can get more than minimum wage, they do so.

What should the minimum wage be?

Zero.

Wait, won’t everyone become poor suddenly?

No, of course not. Literally 98% of full time workers already get more than minimum wage. If we abolished the minimum wage, most of them wouldn’t suddenly be paid nothing.

Wages should be whatever someone is willing to work for. If you’re willing to work for $1, and someone else isn’t, you get the job. On the other hand, if an employer is offering $10 and no-one is willing to take the job for that, they need to offer $11, or $12, or whatever minimum wage someone is willing to take.

If you don’t want to work for $7.25 an hour, don’t take the job. If nobody offers you more than that, too bad, but that’s all your labor is worth.

If you are willing to work for someone for $7.00, and they’re willing to pay you $7.00, what right does some “progressive” have to tell either of you, that you can’t work for that much?

No-one is “exploiting the workers”, if those workers took the jobs voluntarily, and show up for work voluntarily… If all you can find is a job for less than what you want to work for, you’re not being exploited, THAT’S ALL YOUR LABOR IS WORTH TO THOSE EMPLOYERS.

You may think your labor worth more, but things aren’t worth what you want them to be worth, they’re only worth what someone else is willing to pay for them.

But let’s be generous…

All that said, I don’t think we’ll be able to eliminate the minimum wage any time soon.

So, to those “progressives” who would say “let’s make the minimum wage keep up with inflation”, I agree wholeheartedly… Let’s make it $4.19.

Oh and if you don’t believe me on these numbers, they come from the department of labor, the department of commerce, and the census. If I’m lying to you, it’s with the governments own numbers… the same ones “progressives” are lying to you with. 

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

The Day the Guns Were Silent

Just about 100 years ago around Christmas during the so-called “war to end all wars” (WWI) something incredible happened: a momentary peace along the Western Front. The History Channel website describes what became known as the Christmas Truce of 1914 as follows:

Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British troops sang Christmas carols to each other across the lines, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.

At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.

Of course we know that this peace would not last. Had it been up to the men on the ground from both sides, I would doubt the war could have continued. But alas, the ancient notions of king and country, nationalism, the “leaders” (who were never in any danger of risking life and limb themselves), etc. would have none of it.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were quashed by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal clash of weapons, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.

100 years ago, men fighting each other showed the world that peace is possible – if only for a day or so…

Ethanol not only isn’t Green… It’s Blacker than Coal

Mother Jones Ethanol Problem Breakdown

Image credit: Mother Jones (oh… and that was 7 years ago. it’s worse now)

 

A new total environmental impact metastudy has been published, rating the environmental impact of electric cars, with results for each type of electric car and the types of power generation used to fuel them; comparing them against conventional gasoline, and ethanol fueled vehicles.

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/your-all-electric-vehicle-may-not-be-so-green-study-n268961

Their basic conclusion, is that electric cars are in fact no better, and are often worse for the environment, than conventional cars (because of their manufacturing inputs, waste outputs, and the impact of electricity generation).

Of course, anyone who has been paying attention to the actual technologies and manufacture of electric cars has known this for years… They’re essential philosophical symbols, rather than any real benefit to the environment.

… but that’s a different argument for another day…

What I find most interesting though, is the conclusions and comparisons they drew between different energy sources… particularly ethanol:

“The study finds that overall, all-electric vehicles cause 86 percent more deaths from air pollution than do cars powered by regular gasoline. But if natural gas produces the electricity? Half as many deaths as gasoline cars. Wind, water or wave energy? One-quarter. Hybrids and diesel engines are also cleaner than gas. But ethanol isn’t, with 80 percent more deaths.”

… 80 percent more damage (expressed here as deaths) than regular gasoline, just direct damage, not second order effects and the like. Nearly as much as straight coal.

When you add the damage ethanol causes from starvation, increased food costs, food insecurity, and additional transportation costs, as well as damage to vehicles and distribution infrastructure… it’s FAR worse than coal.

Resource Media - Ethanol, Food or Fuel

Image Credit: Resource Media

Then there’s the subsidies it soaks up and therefore the additional tax burden it creates… Ethanol is far FAR worse than coal.

Oh and then there’s the fact that ethanol is actively preventing better greener technologies from being developed; both by consuming resources which would otherwise be more productively used, as well as directly, because the ethanol industry lobbies against competing technologies, and for mandatory ethanol use.

… And of course, that’s ignoring the damage it does to our political process, dominating the early primary process, in effect acting as a filter for presidential candidate selection.

Ethanol is quite possibly the worst fuel in common use.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Repost: It’s not about Elites or Idiots

Reposting something I wrote back in 2011, because it’s come up again recently in social media… and because it remains true and relevant today.

Over the past few years, there has been a constant drumbeat from “progressives” (and even some non-lefties) that conservative anti-elitism is effectively “anti-science”, “anti-education”, “pro-stupidity” etc…

This is partially in response to the fact that many conservatives use the terms “elitist” or “the elite” (in the political and social context, not in the context of achievement… though that distinction is lost on leftists) as a pejorative.

Their basic comment comes down to “Well, if you don’t want intelligent, well educated people running things who would you rather run them, idiots?”

Thus, completely missing the point.

Conservatives and libertarians aren’t against smart well educated people; in fact many of us ARE smart, well educated people.

…We’re against people who want to run things.

This idea is so utterly foreign to the leftist mind, that they literally cannot conceive it, or believe it.

You see, to a conservative or libertarian, it’s inherently obvious… axiomatic even:

The world runs better, when everyone runs their own lives, and their own business, with as little interference as possible; save that which is absolutely necessary for the common good, or to prevent harm to others.

No government official or lawmaker can know more about your life, or your business, than you do; therefore, they cannot run your life or you business as well as you can.

No matter how smart, or well educated they may be, and no matter how many of them there are, they will always be working with less information then you have. Their information will always be less current. They will always have less experience in dealing with the conditions unique to your life and your business.

Since no-one can run your life as well as you can, no-one should.


Note: Economists call the idea that if you’re just “smart enough” “well educated enough” etc… you can make everything run right, the “perfect information fallacy”. If you could have perfect information (that is all information about all conditions and factors that could possibly effect the outcome of a decision) and perfect reason (that is, the ability to analyze all factors correctly at all times), then you could make perfect decisions. However, it is impossible to have perfect information in a complex system (never mind perfect reason) thus all decisions will necessarily be imperfect. This is the primary reason why communism or socialism… or in fact any kind of “managed economy” could never possibly work on a large scale; even if every person participating in that economy were a perfect communist, acting only for the benefit of the collective.

To a leftist, that is simply ridiculous… Impossible even. Someone has to be running things. It simply cannot be any other way.

You have to understand, leftists fundamentally and fully believe, that nothing (or at least nothing good) can possibly happen, without “someone running things”. No matter how “free” or “unregulated” something may appear to be, in reality, there is always someone behind it, really in control, and making sure it goes the way they want it to; favoring some parties and punishing others, exploiting some for the benefit of others.

Note: Conversely, this also means that whenever anything happens, it’s because of the person in charge. Everything good that happens is to their credit, and everything bad that happens is their fault.

It’s called the “daddy” philosophy of government (or more formally, paternalism, or paternalistic government).

As with all leftist ideas, the basic principle of the daddy government is based on what children learn during kindergarten. All money, power, control, and guidance comes from “the people in charge”, like your daddy, or your teachers.

Daddy has authority, and money. From that money, he gives you your food, housing, education, medical care etc… With that authority, he sets rules, rewards you with things when you do well at what he says you should do well at; and punishes you for doing badly, for doing things he doesn’t want you to do, or for not doing the things he thinks you should do.

When you need something, daddy makes sure you get it. When you want something, you ask daddy, and if he thinks you should have it, he gives it to you.

Daddy enforces “fairness”. Daddy makes sure you share, and play well with others. Daddy protects you from the bad people hurting you, or taking advantage of you. When things are bad, daddy will make them all better.

I should note, some people prefer to call this the “mommy” philosophy of government… which may be closer to appropriate, given most leftists have no idea what a father is , or what they are good for anyway.

When you’re five years old, daddy controls the entire world; and there’s nothing daddy can’t do.

Leftists have never really advanced in economic, social, or moral maturity beyond that point. They believe that the world continues to work that way as you grow up; only instead of daddy, or “teacher”, the one in charge is “government”.

In fact, they not only believe it’s the way it should work, they believe it simply IS the way it works, and there can be no other possible way.

Since there is no other possible way, and someone has to be controlling things; it’s absolutely critical that we get the smartest, best educated, most “elite” people to be in charge. If you’re against that, it must be because you want someone in charge who is going to favor you.

Or rather, because they have such a low opinion of the “common man”, they believe that “the people” themselves are idiots, being deceived by the people who secretly want to control everything. The people who want to control everything have convinced the “common man” of the lie of the “free market”, and of “equal opportunity” and “the American dream”. They’re all just lies the secret controllers tell the “common man”, so that the controllers can rig things to favor themselves, and their cronies. Those people are anti-elitist, anti education, pro-stupidity, and want idiots to run things, because they can then secretly control the idiots for their own benefit.

Note the assumption there that anyone who is smart and well educated MUST know that the leftists are right; therefore anyone who disagrees with them is either stupid, or evil.

This isn’t some far out conspiracy theory by the way; this is exactly what leftists think was behind the Bush presidency. Not only do they freely and publicly admit it, they write books and make movies about it.

They completely miss the point.

They don’t understand that conservatives and libertarians have a completely different idea about what government is, and what it should do.

They don’t understand…

We don’t want idiots running things….

We don’t want ANYONE running things.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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