Politics Reason Behind a Lot of Anger

Why is there so much anger in the world?

People fight over statues; over differing opinions on gender, race, and policing. Over masks and whether to end the shutdown or keep society imprisoned until everyone is perfectly safe — which can never be.

Activists are even protesting to abolish the Fourth of July … without mentioning Independence Day. I guess if they are successful, future calendars will skip from the third to the fifth … unless the activists are confused.

What causes anger over such issues? Politics — where every win comes at someone’s expense.

Politics forces everyone along the same path. Legislation dictates things only our ethics and morals should determine. To understand the anger, notice how politics makes a difference of opinion into a life and death struggle. An unnecessary one.

It’s odd that something imagined to be a hallmark of civilized society is instead the root of most antisocial behavior. Trying to form a society around politics is like trying to form a pearl around a pellet of nuclear waste.

If you want to play politics, go ahead, but any results should only apply to you. You shouldn’t expect others to be bound by your results. They shouldn’t be expected to fund your political institutions or agencies. If you want it, you fund it. I have better uses for my money.

Just as there is no “one-size-fits-all” church, you shouldn’t be able to force everyone to participate in the same political system based on location. Or any political system at all. If you force everyone to play your game by your rules, or else, your game is toxic. Society would be better off without it.

Just imagine if no one were forced to fund a park or a statue. If your group builds a park, good for you. If you want to put a statue in the park to honor Willie Nelson, people can choose to visit your park or not. As long as they aren’t forced to subsidize it, they aren’t harmed.

If, however, you force people to chip in for the park and pay for statues and monuments to things they dislike, it’s no wonder people get angry. I do, too.

The way these things are currently done causes strife. It’s long past time to give it up and try something better. Something voluntary, based on unanimous consent. If you want to chip in, go ahead. If you’d rather not, go your own way. It’s the only civilized way to organize a society.

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Stop Blaming Russia, China for US Disarmament Failures

On June 22 and 23, Russian and American diplomats met in Vienna to discuss New START, a nuclear arms reduction treaty which expires next year. The treaty provides for an optional five-year extension. Alternatively, the parties could negotiate a new agreement as has happened several times in the past.

A third possibility involves one or both parties playing silly games like insisting that China be brought into the negotiations despite Beijing’s complete lack of interest in participating. Which is exactly what happened.  US negotiator Marshall Billingslea tweeted a photo of empty seats with People’s Republic flag placeholders in Vienna, calling China a “no-show” and accusing it of a “crash nuclear build-up.”

It would take quite a build-up indeed for the Chinese nuclear arsenal to get competitive with that of the US or Russia. The latter two regimes boast thousands of bombs and warheads. Most estimates of China’s collection are in the hundreds.

And, given the US government’s record of treaty violations, why would Beijing’s diplomats be inclined to trust their Washington counterparts anyway?

Negotiations with other nuclear powers — not to mention its attempt to both withdraw from, AND remain recognized as party to, the  “Iran Nuclear Deal” —  aside, the US government continues to flout its obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to “pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of” its arsenal.

Instead of decommissioning and destroying nuclear weapons as should be happening, the Obama and Trump regimes have committed to spending a whopping $1.7 trillion over 30 years (a number anyone familiar with government spending knows will mysteriously multiply) on “modernizing” them.

The purpose of arms control talks is to reduce the likelihood that nuclear weapons will be used. The purpose of “modernizing” those weapons is to make those weapons easier to use. The US government needs to commit to the former goal and renounce the latter possibility.

Even accepting the exceedingly weak case for continuing to possess nuclear weapons as a deterrent to first strikes, the numbers needed for that use would be a fraction of, not a multiple of, China’s or Russia’s arsenals.

A serious approach to arms control would consist of the US government announcing a unilateral and verifiable reduction to an arsenal of, say, no more than 100 nuclear weapons, challenging the Russian and Chinese governments to match that reduction, and committing to complete elimination if, and as, other nuclear powers agree. Anything less is just potentially deadly politicking.

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Trump’s “Free Speech” Doctrine: Never, Ever, Ever Mention He’s a Liar

On May 28, US president Donald Trump signed an executive order on “Preventing Online Censorship.” From the title and the document respectively we can draw to two lessons.

First: Never, ever, ever believe the title of a government document. The internal texts of congressional bills and resolutions, as well as executive branch orders, “findings,” intelligence “estimates,” etc. seldom have much, if anything, to do with their titles.

“A Bill to Protect Cats, and for Other Purposes” may or may not even mention cats outside of its opening  justification paragraphs before it mutates into a swamp of of corporate welfare handouts, hidden tax increases, and Orwellian surveillance state provisions. An intelligence “estimate” or presidential “finding” that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction or that the Iranians are trying to build a nuclear weapon … well, you get how that stuff works, right?

Second: Never, ever, ever mention — at least in public — that Donald Trump is a liar. The purpose of the executive order is not to “prevent online censorship.” It’s to punish Twitter for “fact-checking” two of his tweets about voting by mail.

“Trump,” the “fact-check” title notes, “makes unsubstantiated claims that mail-in ballots will lead to voter fraud.” That’s an incredibly polite way of saying that Trump tells new stories so wildly incompatible with his previous tales that “Trump’s lying again” is the only plausible way to interpret them.

Until a few weeks ago, Trump and his party defended mail contact with voters as the only way to PREVENT voter fraud. Now Trump says “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.

Stripped of its empty self-congratulation and whiny victim-playing, Trump’s executive order is about the opposite of protecting free speech. It’s about “clarifying” — that is, neutering — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Section 230 protects online platforms from liability for material created by others: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Section 230, to put it as simply as possible, allows online platforms to operate without fear of being sued into bankruptcy for the actions of their users. If I libel you on Twitter or Facebook, you can sue me, but if you try to sue them you’ll lose. They’re not responsible for what I write.

Section 230’s protections aren’t dependent on a platform “purport[ing] to provide users a forum for free and open speech,” or on that platform being truthful if it does make such a claim, as the executive order implies. Platforms are free to set their own content policies, to ban users who violate those policies, and to notice and publicly mention that a user is a pathological liar who’s lying yet again, even if that user just happens to be the president of the United States.

If it withstood court challenges (it wouldn’t), Trump’s order would use the rule-making and spending power of the federal bureaucracy to punish, not protect, free speech.

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Whither the Precautionary Principle?

The precautionary principle, per Wikipedia, is “a strategy for approaching issues of potential harm when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. It emphasizes caution, pausing and review before leaping into new innovations that may prove disastrous.”

Over the last half century or so, regulators and activists have regularly invoked the precautionary principle versus industrial and commercial concerns: Will this new car wash ruin the nesting grounds of the Great Purple-Crested Bandersnatch? Could construction of that pipeline conceivably pollute a river? Might the noise from a proposed refinery disturb the sleep of some nearby Mrs. Nimby?

Then came COVID-19, and all of a sudden many of the same voices who’d have followed the precautionary principle to hell and back to stop construction of a nuclear power plant or delay the logging of a plot of old growth forest completely abandoned it.

For THIS situation, panicking and screaming “SCIENCE!” at the top of one’s lungs suddenly and inexplicably became satisfactory substitutes for “caution, pausing and review” before radically transforming the lives of more than 300 million surprised human lab rats.

I’m pretty sure that placing millions of Americans under de facto house arrest and shutting down significant portions of the US economy constitute “new innovations that may prove disastrous.” And every day it becomes clearer that “extensive scientific knowledge on the matter was lacking” when it came to the rationales for doing so.

Over the course of the last month, projections of US COVID-19 deaths from supposed “experts,” based on their super duper magic … er, “scientific” … models, have fallen from a high of 1.7 million, to a likelihood of between 100,000 and 240,000, to perhaps 60,000.

None of those numbers are numbers we want to hear when we’re talking about dead people, of course, but the fall from 1.7 million to 1/28th that number is a strong indicator that the overall process was based on something resembling wild, panicked guesses (and in some cases raw political opportunism) more than realistic modeling based on smart assumptions and fed with good data.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “I’ve looked at all the models. I’ve spent a lot of time on the models. They don’t tell you anything. You can’t really rely upon models.”

But those models were what federal bureaucrats, state-level politicians, and local health officials DID rely on, and point to, as the basis and justification for a cascade of crazed policy decisions that have already resulted in what will likely turn out to be the worst US economic collapse since the Great Depression.

Don’t let the government’s COVID-19 Catastrophe Caucus fool you into believing they saved America or humankind. Before this is all said and done, we will have gotten off very easily if their mistakes haven’t killed more people than COVID-19 would have killed if left to rage completely unchecked.

It’s time to start interpreting the precautionary principle as a strong presumption against trusting the state with any power whatsoever.

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Love the Very New and the Very Old

I love old farms and skyscrapers under construction, old cars and Elon Musk’s newest spaceships. I think my ideal way of living would consist of working on a farm (or hunting/gathering out in nature) during the day and working on a high-tech project at night (call it “Jeffersonian futurism.”)

I love the very old and the very new. I see no conflict in that – but I do see a necessity.

Futurists seem to miss the fact that old things contain worthwhile wisdom and usefulness. Traditionalism seems to miss the fact that static institutions become corrupt without change. Meanwhile, the modernists are so tied up in the recent past as to be blind to both tradition and innovation.

But in the years ahead, it’s the futurists who will deliver us interplanetary travel, life-saving medical cures, and clean and renewable nuclear energy in the years ahead. It’s the traditionalists who will help us to remember the human values of fidelity (marriage, etc), individual dignity, self-reliance, and honesty are the foundations of a society that can enjoy technological progress properly (i.e. without self-destructing).

If we’re to appreciate and encourage this outcome, we need a way of thinking that embraces the dialogue between the old and new*. We need to understand that the only conflict is between the life-enhancing and the life-destroying, and that either force can be found in our newest inventions or our oldest customs.

Author Ross Douthat recently summed up the interesting fusion he posits will lead us out of the current “age of decadence” – a combination of old-time religion and high-tech futurism:

“So down on your knees – and start working on that warp drive.”

I dig it.

*Credit to Jordan Peterson for first (in my experience) formulating this yin-yang interplay of liberalism/openness and conservatism/orderliness.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Paul Krugman, COVID-19, and Broken Windows

The jury is still out on which of two things — COVID-19 or the panic over COVID-19 — will cost more lives and do more damage to the global economy. My money’s still on the latter. In the meantime, I’ve developed a surefire, Groundhog Day type test for whether the emergency is over:

Watch for Nobel laureate economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to start trying to convince us it was, all in all, actually a GOOD thing.

Krugman on 9/11: “[T]he direct economic impact of the attacks will probably not be that bad. And there will, potentially, be two favorable effects.”

Krugman on Fukushima: “[T]he nuclear catastrophe could end up being expansionary, if not for Japan then at least for the world as a whole.”

Krugman would even have us believe that Pearl Harbor ended the Great Depression (which actually ended more than half a decade later). “If we suddenly had a threat of war and a military build up,” he once asserted on ABC News’s Roundtable,  “you’d be amazed how fast the economy would recover.”

Krugman is the 21st century’s foremost evangelist of the Broken Window Fallacy.

In Frederic Bastiat’s “parable of the broken window,” a shopkeeper’s son carelessly breaks a window pane.

A witty onlooker — Paul Krugman’s ideological ancestor — considers this a good thing because it creates business for the glazier who replaces broken windows.

As Bastiat points out, though, while the cost of replacing the  pane is seen, other things aren’t:  That was money the shopkeeper could have spent on a new pair of shoes, or on a book he wanted to read.

Instead of buying something that improves his life, the shopkeeper has to spend that money just getting back to his previous condition.

To cover costs like replacing the window, he probably raises prices, meaning his customers have to spend more on his products, leaving them less to spend on other things they might like.

Even the glazier’s customers get screwed. Broken windows increase demand, which means higher prices. The man building a new house has to pay more, and wait longer, for new windows.

The matter is a loss, not a gain, for everyone except the glazier.

Can we expect to see some long-term beneficial consequences from COVID-19 and its associated hysteria? Yes.

Two likely outcomes are large, permanent increases in “telecommuting” (working from home instead of traveling to an office) and “distance learning” (taking classes from home instead of traveling to a university campus).

Those two trends were already noticeable, but fear of contagion is boosting them tremendously. When the fear subsides, the benefits will be remembered. Not as many people will be returning to offices and campuses as left them. That means lighter traffic, lower energy consumption, and more spare time for many workers and students.

Those are good things, but we could have had them any time we wanted them, with or without COVID-19 and the associated mass hysteria. Contra Krugman, any “bright side” to catastrophe costs more than it’s worth.

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