Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wide-Awakes for Trump?

Back in the days of Lincoln when the Republican party was the party of freedom and devoted to a better life for ordinary Americans, Republicans organized a paramilitary organization called the Wide-Awakes. The mission statement of the Chicago branch of the Wide-Awakes:
1. To act as a political police.
2. To do escort duty to all prominent Republican speakers who visit our place to address our citizens.
3. To attend all public meetings in a body and see that order is kept and that the speaker and meeting is not disturbed.
4. To attend the polls and see that justice is done to every legal voter.
5. To conduct themselves in such a manner as to induce all Republicans to join them.
6. To be a body joined together in large numbers to work for the good of the Republican Ticket.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Is the American ideal "done"?



Kira Sirote asks: Is the American ideal of progress through liberty "done"? I feel like parts of American society are indeed more just and more righteous than they were 50 years ago, can that be clarified and then extended beyond its own borders?

In my view the ideal of progress is not "done" but it is in tatters.

In medicine Americans are no longer willing to pay for progress.

In race there has been steady regress since 1965.

The war on poverty made things for poor people worse.

The Universities are markedly worse at educating or encouraging freedom of research than they were in our day.

The internet mostly brings distraction.

Television (!) is the dominant medium not just of communication but of art, and for all the strengths of The Wire it is not Dostoevsky.

The US has too many rules which persuade too many people that nothing worth doing can be done anymore. The (pre-Trump) GOP was too focused on taxes, which matter little, and not focused enough on regulation, which is crushing. The Democrats think that the response to the failure of rules (i.e., the subprime crisis), is to add rules.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Trump, #NeverTrump, and 2014 might-have-beens

If the Republican House had impeached Obama over his refusal to enforce immigration law, and a majority of the Senate had voted to convict, we would at least know that the Republican establishment is on the the side of the law and the Constitution. Now what we know is they are committed to open borders and really hate Trump.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Why I am an immigration restrictionist and a trade protectionist

In a Facebook back and forth, Ashland University History Professor John Moser pointed me to this April 2015 NYTimes piece by Greg Mankiw arguing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

My father, Levis Kochin, is a Chicago School economist and so I grew up hearing this kind of argument.  I do not believe anymore that these arguments should persuade people who care about the well-being of their country.  Here is why:

The classical free trade/open borders arguments ignore
1) Distributional consequences, who gets what
2) People's risk preferences. I offered a room full of academic economists each a dollar to give up their tenure while retaining all the other parts of their contract. No takers.
3) fiscal consequences: classical mercantilism was intended to maximize net state revenue by routing trade through ports where customs could be conveniently levies. Nowhere in The Wealth of Nations does Smith mention this.
4) One argument Smith does mention and endorse:  "defense is more important than opulence" -- presumably this applies not just to defense of territory but defense of culture or our way of life.
5) classical economics treats labor as a cost and leisure as an unalloyed benefit. And yet I know academic economists who forfeit income in order to teach when they could collect more if they retired. In other words, this is bad psychology.

The most compelling case I know for a protectionist and restrictionist political economy is made by the German philosopher J. G. Fichte, in his short book The Closed Commercial State (originally published 1800).    Read it and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Future of the American Party System

Michigan State political scientist Ben Kleinerman wrote last night on his Facebook wall: "The parties are essential to the rational functioning of American government. Van Buren recognized a failure in the founders' system that he sought to correct through the party system. It elected Jackson while also controlling him. The two are not mutually exclusive."

But I say:

1. If parties like the ones we have now are essential (though Monroe, the most successful wielder of executive power between Washington and Lincoln governed without them) how is it that Congress and the executive branch have become more partisan and more dysfunctional.
2. Even if we need parties like the ones we have now that does not mean we need the party cleavage we have now. It has been Democrats and Republicans uninterrupted since 1868. But the Republican brand (and maybe the Democratic one as well, with the rise of Sanders) no longer recruit among the young. If the Republicans win as the Trump party, perhaps a new elite-cored anti-Trump party on the Whig model will arise? And what would be so bad about that?

Monday, February 22, 2016

A few facts to increase your anxieties


Michael Gillespie writes "For all of you interested in politics, don't be taken in by the dire scenarios presented by candidates from both parties and by our sensationalist, anxiety obsessed media. The world is not going to hell in an hand basket but in fact has become a much better place. Don't believe the doom and gloom. Just a few facts to ease your anxieties."

Read his post if you want to see his claims.  Her are my rebuttals.

1. We are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are also fighting in San Bernardino.
2. Mexican immigration to the US has waned because demand for labor is weak, because the economy is still in bad shape.
3. US unemployment statistics are down because those numbers don't include those who have given up looking for work, or those in jobs well below what there experience and education would suit them for and that pay below what is needed to sustain a decent lifestyle.
4. Yes, more Americans have health insurance. But to call that "coverage" implies that they have access to the care they need without outrageous copays and deductibles. Efforts to "bend the cost curve" will help insure that medical progress is largely a thing of the past.
5. Teen pregnancy is down for the same reason birth rates and marriage rates are down, because the future is clouded for everybody below the peak of the peak in skills and income.
6. Violent crime is lower both because of demographic changes (see 5. above) and because of "racial profiling," "mass incarceration" and wider gun ownership. If the Democrats win the White House and get to pack the Supreme Court, the policies that have helped keep crime down will be reversed.
7. American universities have become "islands of suppression in an ocean of freedom."
8. The refusal of the Obama administration to enforce immigration law or prosecute powerful allies and subordinates for egregious offenses have broken the faith of politically aware Americans in the rule of law.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Wisdom and the University

My friend Lee Trepanier has just published a review of Sean Steel's The Pursuit of Wisdom and Happiness in Education: Historical Sources and Contemplative Practices
I haven't read Steel's book. But I have been thinking about the relation between universities and wisdom.
Greek philosophy, historically, comes after the first Greek "wise men" and disputes their claims.
Universities were created to check philosophy institutionally by subordinating it to theology, the faculty where divine wisdom was transmitted. It was only in the twentieth century that most universities stopped seeing as their ruling purpose the transmission of Christian knowledge.
Philosophy calls itself "love of wisdom," which means on their own admission they lack it.  Philosophers, when they are true to their vocation, devote themselves to crafting disparaging wise-cracks about those who pretend to wisdom.  Philosophy has a place in the university, but since philosophers are not wise, they cannot rule there.
Universities can only be led by the wise, those who know how to educate because they know how to live.  But Christian wisdom no longer has the social power to rule universities.  Today's academic administrators are virtually without exception not leaders but managers and fundraisers, who substitute flattery for wisdom.