My credo

January 18, 2017

 

unknownAs our political transition unfolds, I find myself caught between the Scylla of a Democratic party increasingly romanticizing socialist economics hostile to enterprise and trade, and a Republican Charybdis fallen into a dark hole of nativism romanticizing a past that won’t return and shouldn’t. Today’s real divide is between mindsets of openness and closedness. With irresponsible foolishness of every sort running rampant, trampling sound classically liberal principles, I will not give up on them, but will continue to defend them in the years ahead. Here I recap those core principles.

 

  • Democracy and rule of law, so government is accountable to citizens, its powers over them restricted.

 

  • Freedom of speech, expression, and argument. images-1No idea immune from critical examination – even if that offends or discomfits some. This is not only integral to personal freedom, it is also crucial for society to evaluate ideas and progress thereby.

 

  • Limited government, filling only roles that individuals cannot. People able to choose for themselves how to live and act, with society dictating only when its reasons are compelling; basically, only to protect others from harm.

 

  • Free market economics is the best way to grow the pie so all can prosper. images-2Profit-seeking business is how people’s needs and desires get satisfied. That is best promoted when businesses are forced to compete openly and fairly with each other, none gaining advantage through government intervention. Instead government should function to remove barriers to competition and business enterprise.

 

  • This does not mean businesses unregulated. They too are subject to laws to protect others from harm.

 

  • Inequality is the inevitable result of people striving to better themselves, and is not unjust or an evil. Successful people are not the enemy, nor the cause of want. But a market economy generates enough wealth that we can afford to give everyone a decent living standard, out of simple humanity.

 

  • When another country can sell us something cheaper than we can produce it ourselves, we benefit as well as they. images-3Impeding such trade only impoverishes both nations. The gains from freer global trade, through lower consumer prices, vastly exceed the costs in any jobs lost.

 

  • America prospers best in a world wherein democracy, free trade, and peaceful development prevail among other countries, making them too more prosperous; so promoting those values must be the core of our foreign policy. Forces in the world threatening those values must be actively combated.

 

  • Government spending and taxation must be brought into a sustainable balance. Heedlessly piling up excessive debt will not end well.

 

  • Truth and facts should be sought objectively, and should shape our beliefs, rather than our beliefs shaping what we think are facts. unknown-1Confirmation bias is the enemy of reason. We acquire truth through science, a method of rational inquiry which progresses by self-correction as more facts become known and understood.

 

  • No religion is better or truer than any other. All are equally false; and that false consciousness can only impede people in grappling with challenges all too real.

 

  • Human beings are natural animals, resulting from Darwinian evolution. Ultimately the only thing that matters in the Universe is the well being of creatures capable of feeling. All people have equal dignity and worth (except for those who imagine their kind is superior, thereby proving they are inferior).

 

  • Over the centuries, the increasing application of all these principles has made for enormous global progress, with ever more people able to live ever better lives. unknown-2Abandoning these principles endangers that progress.

Pussy Grabber’s John Lewis tweet

January 15, 2017

“All talk, no action.”

That was Pussy Grabber’s typical tweet, about John Lewis. Then he adds a word like, “Sad.” He thinks he’s being clever, when in fact it’s him and his fetid tweeting that’s sad.

images-1John Lewis is a Georgia congressman. In the early 1960s he participated in the “Freedom Rides” aiming to integrate bus travel. He knew the danger. His bus was attacked and burned by a raging mob; Lewis and other Freedom Riders were dragged off the bus and beaten. Lucky to have survived, he often saw the inside of southern jails. In 1964, he was an organizer of the “Mississippi Freedom Summer,” to restore black voting rights. Some of those workers were murdered. In 1965, Lewis was a leader of the marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Again the danger was clear.  The marchers met with extreme violence. Once again John Lewis was beaten within an inch of his life.

“All talk, no action?”

John Lewis is a hero. We can be proud such a man is in Congress.

You may disagree with John Lewis, even criticize him. But you do not insult him. You do not belittle him.

“All talk, no action?” That’s exactly what Pussy Grabber claimed about his own pussy-grabbing comments caught on tape. (Even after a dozen grabbees came forward to say otherwise.)

unknownJohn Lewis is a hero. Donald Trump is a stinking piece of crap.

 

The Russian virus

January 12, 2017

images-1During the Cold War it was perfectly clear the Russians were the bad guys. Only twisted-brain lefties like Noam Chomsky thought we were. When the USSR fell in 1991, there was a window when it looked like Russia would come in from the cold. But then ex-KGB agent Putin took over.

He has mounted a gigantic propaganda offensive. Unlike Soviet Communists, Putin has no pretensions of leading a worldwide ideological movement. Instead, it’s all about strengthening and expanding his raw power. Thus the cynical effort to delegitimize democracy and liberal Western culture as decadent and corrupt in contrast to a Russia that’s strong and moral. Putin knows the USSR fell partly because its inhabitants realized its system stank compared to ours. That’s what he’s trying to combat.

unknownAnd not only are Russians falling for it – many in the West also buy the notion that there’s something more admirable in Putinism than in our own societies. Trump compares the Russian tyrant favorably against Obama. Reportedly, 37% of Republicans now admire Putin. They see him as a “strong leader.” America’s alt-right in particular embraces Putin as a kind of cult hero, the antithesis of our own culture going squishy soft.

This is deeply sick. Putin is a thug who rules by theft, lies, repression, silencing and jailing critics, and, in a lot of cases, murdering them. Russia is not admirable or moral. Putin runs it like Al Capone ran Chicago.

unknown-1His invasion of Ukraine and Crimea – propelled by a huge propaganda blitz of disinformation and lies – was aimed mainly at stoking Russian nationalism, to distract his people from his regime’s criminality and the economic dysfunction resulting therefrom. (Aggravated by Western sanctions.) Putin gambled that guns would trump butter in Russians’ eyes, and seems to be right. But he’d like impunity for his military aggressions, and to that end has been meddling in European and U.S. politics.

Trump has made noises about removing sanctions, and getting along better with Russia, which really means going along with Russia. And more broadly, the Kremlin would prefer a blundering ignoramus leading its chief adversary nation. Plenty of reasons why Putin sought a Trump victory.

Now we see yet another one. While the Kremlin tried to smear Hillary Clinton, it was never credible to imagine they had no dirt on Trump who is, after all, orders of magnitude filthier. That they were holding it back makes perfect sense – not only because they wanted him to win, but also to blackmail him afterwards. Trump’s denials are about as credible as his denial that he was ever a pussy grabber. His bashing intelligence agencies for leaking this new information is also phony, because in fact it was leaked by private organizations, not any intelligence services. Meanwhile, some authoritative analysts are saying the details are totally consistent with the way the Russians operate.

images-2Putin’s meddling to help Trump may actually have been the most successful such covert scheme in history. For all his ludicrous talk of an “historic landslide,” Trump won only thanks to razor-thin margins in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It’s hardly far-fetched to think the Russians harmed Clinton’s campaign at least enough to flip those three. The most serious attack upon our democracy ever.

The Russians have used disinformation for a long time. Our healthy body politic had an immune system that resisted the virus. images-4This time that immune system didn’t kick in – our immune system against not only Kremlin foul play but against every other bad thing Pussy Grabber embodies. That we elected such a vile creep, exactly as Russia wanted – and most Americans just shrug their shoulders – shows that America today is one sick puppy.

Jobs of the future and Idiocracy

January 9, 2017

The Economist magazine recently tried to identify where America’s job growth will come from. Of course, pessimists are always seeing the opposite, afraid that advancing technology will put people out of work – starting with the 19th century Luddites, who campaigned against factory automation – and could not have foreseen the explosion of new jobs that technologies like railways, telegraphy, and electrification would soon bring.scan-2

So using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Economist presented the job categories that should see the highest growth rates in the years ahead, to 2024. Now, America, judging from current politics, is fixated upon old-time factory jobs (like Carrier’s). But here’s what struck me from that Economist article. It’s not just that such factory jobs aren’t in it. Of course not. However, I asked myself whether the kinds of people who did such factory jobs can switch into these other professions. I don’t think so.

Well, maybe for one or two of the 16 shown, like “ambulance drivers.” Though even that may overlook the advance of self-driving technology.

images-1The top job growth category is “wind turbine service technicians,” reflecting increasing emphasis on alternative energy technologies. But most of the list reflects a different trend: ageing populations, and the panoply of services they’ll require. And, as The Economist notes, “[t]hese are all tasks that require empathy and social skills.”

Again – not the métier of America’s army of less educated assembly line jockeys. They’re yesterday’s men.

The Economist’s writer also points out that the analysis doesn’t take into account job categories that don’t exist yet. Some will be related to technologies that are just emerging, like virtual reality and drones. unknownHe notes that his 16-year-old daughter wants to be a robopsychologist (who figures out why robots are misbehaving). Such jobs don’t exist now, but probably will soon. And then there are all the future jobs we can’t even conceive of today.

A lifeline for all those yesterday men? Not a chance. Yet we’re still producing such people. Our educational system still spits out a sizeable cohort of folks without even a high school diploma. Some can do those remnants of low skill jobs that aren’t automated away. Many though have to be supported by the productive population, in one way or another; the “disability” system covers a lot of people whose “disability” is really just being useless.

unknown-1The movie Idiocracy (one of those dystopian-future flicks) began by contrasting two families. A highly educated, brainy couple agonize over having even a single child. While a bunch of doofuses pops them out right and left. Result, after multiple generations: a nation of doofuses. Apparently everyone is supported somehow because technology dispenses with a need for human work. Not very realistic.

The fact is that, to support all our yesterday’s men (and women) we’ll need a lot of tomorrow people, capable of doing the tomorrow jobs that the former cannot. And Idiocracy wasn’t entirely cuckoo in highlighting that advanced modern populations are not reproducing themselves. So where will we get the tomorrow people we need? Immigration.

Indeed, a key reason why America’s economy has been more dynamic than Europe’s is our greater ability to assimilate immigrants. They fill the gaps our own natives cannot. Our schools don’t produce enough Americans to do all the high tech and skilled service jobs; a lot of them are done by immigrants (especially from Asia).

unknown-2The idea that other countries send us losers and scroungers is stupid. People willing to uproot themselves and start fresh in a new and unfamiliar environment are, to the contrary, full of the kind of enterprise and drive we need.

America’s fixation on manufacturing jobs – and its growing hostility toward immigration – are a double whammy of, well, idiocracy.

 

Chaos, fractals, and the dripping faucet

January 4, 2017

Physicist Arthur Eddington said, “the Universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.”

Right off the bat are two possibilities: either it always existed, or had a beginning. Either one blows fuses in my brain. (Note: the God idea doesn’t help. The same problem applies to him.)

Mandelbrot

Mandelbrot

Which brings me to chaos.

Religionists imagine God organized creation from primordial chaos; in common parlance that word connotes a state of complete disorganization. But in science its meaning is more subtle, and much more interesting, as famously pioneered by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot starting in the 1960s.

Take the weather. It can’t be forecasted very far because there are so many interacting factors; a tiny change in one cascades into ever bigger changes over time. images-1Thus the proverbial “butterfly effect” – one flapping its wings in Brazil can ultimately cause a storm in Canada.

Mandelbrot posed the seemingly simple question: how long is Britain’s coastline? But it’s not so simple. Measuring it on a map of course can’t account for all the little crenellations. You could take a yardstick and walk the coast, getting a much more accurate answer. unknownBut the coast between two ends of the yardstick is not exactly a straight line, so you’re under-measuring. A foot-ruler would do better, but still won’t capture irregularities within each foot. No matter how finely you measure, the true coastline will always be longer. (Does that mean it’s infinite?)

Coastline irregularities are a kind of seemingly patternless phenomenon found throughout existence. But Mandelbrot’s startling discovery was that there is a pattern. The kind of coastal irregularities you see on a world map are exactly replicated when you focus on a smaller area. No matter how small. unknown-1And this paradigm of like patterns repeating at different scales of examination occurs again and again in nature. The word for this is fractal. It is order hidden within seeming randomness, seeming chaos.

Look at the illustration. No matter the scale, no matter how much you magnify, the pattern persists. If the picture reminds you of a snowflake, it should, because snowflake formation is a good example of the phenomenon.

Environmentalists romanticize a “balance of nature,” an ecosystem in harmonious equilibrium. It turns out no such thing exists. An ecosystem works like the weather, one small perturbation sending it on an unpredictable and quintessentially chaotic path.

Chaos can also affect a system close to your own heart. In fact, it is your heart. Its normally regular beating can sometimes become chaotic in the textbook sense. That calls for attention.

images-3I read James Gleick’s book Chaos hoping for a better understanding. Frankly much of it was way too deep for me. But it described one illuminating experiment, conducted by Robert Shaw at the University of California at Santa Cruz. It involved the most mundane thing: a dripping faucet.

Shaw found that certain flow rates produced chaotic drips, with no regular intervals between them. Then all he did was measure those intervals and plot those numbers on a graph. Actually he used pairs of intervals to produce a graphing in three dimensions. Now, you might expect a truly random distribution, with the dots falling all over, patternlessly. But that’s not what Shaw found. The pattern of dots took on a distinct shape (“resembling loopy trails of smoke left by an out-of-control sky-writing plane”).

Strange attractor

Strange attractor

A shape thusly revealed is called a “strange attractor.” I was puzzled by that term until I realized it’s as though the shape attracts the data points to itself, keeping them from falling elsewhere.

This is extremely weird. While the shape acts like a magnet for data points, of course a magnet is a physical object, but the “strange attractor” is not, it’s just a concept. So what is going on here? What makes the seemingly random, chaotic drip intervals form a certain distinct shape when graphed? unknown-2The hand of God?

Of course not. Surely God wouldn’t bother to carefully regulate the dripping to produce the pattern. Yet it’s as if he did.

But why? That’s what I really wanted to understand. The book doesn’t tell me; Gleick writes as though the question never occurred to him. He even quotes John von Neumann: “The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models . . . [which describe] observed phenomena.” In other words, science reveals what happens, but not why.

With all respect to the great von Neumann, I disagree. Why the Universe exists may be a meaningless question, but why Shaw’s faucet dripped the way it did is not. Another scientist Gleick quotes answered Einstein’s famous line by saying God does play dice with the Universe, and the dice are loaded; “the main objective of physics now is to find out by what rules were they loaded and how can we use them for our own ends.”unknown-3

Science is humanity’s great quest for understanding. Through that understanding we can control our destiny. But that’s almost a mere side effect of the real motivation: we just want to know.

The tide of history

December 30, 2016

               “There is a tide in the affairs of men . . . “  – William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)

unknownThe Enlightenment began in the early 1700s, aiming to free us from shackles both mental and political. In 1776, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, and America, the Declaration of Independence. Both were seminal Enlightenment manifestos. The latter lit a slow-burning fuse that finally set off a worldwide democratic explosion in the late Twentieth Century.

That century first passed through a Götterdämmerung as powerful totalitarian and militaristic forces rose up and were, amid vast slaughter, beaten down. unknown-1Not until the late ‘80s did Communism succumb. In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and, viewing the New Year’s Eve fireworks, I saluted aloud that “blessed, golden year.” Then the Soviet Union itself fell, and soon after I was thrilled to visit a Russia that was now a free country.

In 1992 Francis Fukuyama captured the zeitgeist with The End of History, proclaiming the global triumph of humanistic values centered upon peaceful democratic politics and open economies – ascendant because this gives human beings the opportunities for self-realization they most deeply crave.

unknown-2All that, in hindsight now, was a high-water mark. There is a tide in the affairs of men. And future historians will deem 2016 another seminal year – when the tide of history turned.

It was America that had shouldered the lead, in defeating the militarist totalitarians, and then through the Cold War, continuing its leadership and rallying the forces of light against darkness. Great steadfast America (most of the time) standing up for the best human values. But now America has tired of it; or perhaps has simply lost the thread, ceasing to understand what it’s about.

The Fukuyama paradigm was already wobbling, as Russia resumed being bad old Russia, China’s repression intensified, the “Arab Spring” largely backfired, horrors went largely unpunished, the European Union began to unravel, and democracy was in retreat in Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Thailand, Malaysia, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Nicaragua . . . .

And then America elected Trump.

unknown-3It’s what this represents that makes 2016 a hinge of history. It’s America throwing its moral leadership down the toilet. Trump, unique among modern U.S. presidents, shows no interest whatsoever in that mission. To the contrary, he sucks up to Putin, and seems to actually align us on the dark side. And electing a man of his flagrantly obvious vile character signals a collapse of our civic culture. This, combined with the triumph of his appeal to his voters’ worst instincts, shows that America has indeed turned its back on the high ideals that made it great in the first place. (True, those voters were a minority. But 63 million of them have given him the presidency.)

This is not something we’ll recover from in four years, or eight. Our body politic used to punish lies and gaffes. Now it rewards them. Jeb Bush was proven wrong in telling Trump, “You can’t insult your way to the presidency.” Now our politics is deeply polluted with vulgarity, lies, bogus news, and conspiracy theories; while partisan divisions harden, the two sides inhabiting separate universes and hating each other ever more passionately. We’ll be lucky if it doesn’t end in literal civil war. But we sure won’t be coming together to tackle the challenging issues that cloud America’s future.

Some are already speculating about when his followers will turn on Trump. Of course he won’t fulfill his impossible promises. But this assumes Trump support is rational (despite his promises having been absurd). images-1Nobody wants to admit they made a mistake, and that will likely apply to most Trump voters. Their refusal so far to see the truth about him is like a religious faith. And if they do find their faith betrayed, will they then return to sanity, decency and civic responsibility, to a conventional mainstream politician and platform? I don’t think so. If anger and resentments drove many voters in 2016, a perceived Trump betrayal will enflame them even more. And with the door opened to monsters, the next could well be even worse.

America’s decline might not be the end of the world – if the rest could go merrily along building the Fukuyama Jerusalem without us. But that’s not what’s happening. As explained, America has been the “indispensable nation,” the linchpin, the keystone. images-3Subtract U.S. moral leadership, and what happens to a humanistic global order, of openness and democracy, already under assault by hordes of howling demons?

This is why 2016 is such a tragedy.

 

Fear and loathing in chemistry sets

December 26, 2016

images-1Remember chemistry sets? Millennials won’t. They pretty much vanished about 25 years ago. These were kits sold for kids, with arrays of different chemicals in little jars, and maybe some equipment like tongs, glassware, and Bunsen burners.

People loved them. Were they out of their minds? The danger! The danger!

Well, they sure were dangerous. I don’t recall having had a store-bought chemistry set, but I did have a science bent, and one time when my parents were out, I conducted a little clandestine chemistry experiment on the kitchen counter. images-2Yes, it blew up. The countertop was damaged, but luckily I was unscathed . . . until Mom got home.

The idea of letting a kid today play with chemicals, using fragile glassware and a Bunsen burner no less, would be seen as flat-out madness. Such a parent would probably be locked up.

Actually, chemistry sets are still sold, but they’re a pale shadow, with only a few insipid substances that do nothing more than change color; and certainly no Bunsen burners. unknownI even read that the Consumer Product Safety Commission was considering banning one set because it included . . . wait for it . . . a paper clip. Yes, the dreaded paper clip. Could be swallowed.

Remember the “Bubble Boy” . . . ?

But no doubt old-time chemistry sets did cause some injuries. However, when I googled the phrase “children killed by chemistry sets” (yes, intensive research goes into these blog posts), I couldn’t find a single case. But one commentary that came up said chemistry sets in fact taught kids safety. You learn by doing. (I certainly learned from that kitchen mishap.) Whereas today’s kids are so overprotected from every conceivable danger that they don’t properly develop the concept of danger. unknown-1I wonder if this is a cause for a modern behavior that really is insanely hazardous (killing thousands annually): texting while driving.

Chemistry sets also taught kids about, well, chemistry, and science more generally. My googling, while it turned up no death stories, did turn up kids who developed a love of science from those chemistry sets and went on to scientific careers. Maybe the demise of chemistry kits is one small reason why we’re producing fewer scientists.

Yet another casualty of our twisted mentality about fears and dangers. Both fear and its lack can be irrational, and we often get it wrong both ways. How many people have ever sent a text expressing fear about GM foods (no danger at all) – while driving? And too often we vent fears about good things (like GM, and child science kits) but not truly bad things (like guns in the home which, unlike chemistry sets, kill kids in droves).

unknown-2Another good thing that has suffered from this syndrome is the childhood fun of Halloween. Do you know how many kids were ever actually poisoned by Halloween candy?

Precisely one. His father did it to collect insurance.

Lies and voters

December 21, 2016
Erdogan

Erdogan

After Turkey’s attempted coup last summer, Turks marched en masse to support their democracy – and their President Erdogan – who is a bigger threat to that democracy than the coup was. Soon they’ll be asked to vote to effectively give Erdogan total power. Seems they’ll say yes.

Why? Isn’t it national suicide?

Erdogan has pretty much crushed independent media; Turkish public information sources now spew his propaganda. Similarly in Russia, state controlled media feed the people a diet of distorted and false “information” to manipulate them into thinking what Putin wants them to. And so they do think it. If you call that “thinking.”*

If I lived in such a country, I would, on principle, believe (and vote) the opposite of what the regime wants. Yet few people follow such logic.

images-2Fortunately we don’t live in that kind of country. Yet, perversely, many Americans view our own media with exactly that sort of distrust. In the last campaign, we had the “lugenpresse” trope – an unashamed borrowing from Nazi propaganda – retaining the original German no less! “Lugenpresse” meant “lying press” – a line Hitler used until he solved the “problem” by (like Erdogan and Putin) suppressing independent media.

Regarding Trump’s campaign, the press’s alleged “lying” consisted chiefly of reporting what he said. As though he meant what he said. When honest reporters would have realized he didn’t. Or something.

images-4The other great irony here is that while the mainstream media, truthfully exposing all Trump’s moral degeneracies, was distrusted and ignored as the “lugenpresse,” what his followers did trust instead was a farrago of fly-by-night fake news venues. They reported such obvious howlers as the Pope endorsing Trump, President Obama (that Kenya-born Muslim) encouraging illegal immigrants to vote, and Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a Pizza parlor basement. (Incoming whacko National Security Advisor Michael Flynn  seems to have embraced the latter story.)

images-3And when Trump said Hillary wouldn’t be prosecuted, demonstrators outside his New York palace marched with signs saying “Hillary’s Lies Matter.” The Biggest Liar Ever had lied to them about prosecuting her, yet it was still her supposed lies that matter! Trump also says he’d won “the single greatest victory in the history of politics.” Does that mean capturing the presidency despite losing the popular vote by millions? Of course he says he didn’t truly lose it. And denies the obvious fact that his Russian pals actively worked to elect him. Sheesh!

The left is not immune from the syndrome; they too live in their own separate reality of so-called “information.” The problem actually isn’t that mainstream media have somehow failed in their mission of giving us objective, unbiased information. images-5It’s that people hate information that contradicts their beliefs. And in today’s world of totally free media, there is an incentive for providers of biased information (and outright fake news) that caters to a particular mindset. They can profit and gain power and influence by coddling their followers’ prejudices (as Steve Bannon of the racist Breitbart News has done). Why listen to mainstream media when you can go elsewhere for “information” that better flatters your prejudices?

unknownAnd so we have countries like Russia and Turkey without free media where people lap up the propaganda fed them by cynical state-controlled sources; while in America with free media people choose to lap up the propaganda fed them by cynical biased sources.

* There are limits. Venezuelan President Maduro’s effort to blame economic implosion on conspiracies is getting short shrift when his own folly is so obviously at fault.

Eat the Rich

December 17, 2016

unknownP. J. O’Rourke is the funniest serious writer I know. Or the most serious humorist. Even the “Acknowledgments” section of his book Eat the Rich is hilarious. Its subtitle is A Treatise on Economics – often called the dismal science. Some dispute that – denying economics is a science. But it’s normally no laff riot. O’Rourke makes it one while actually treating the subject in deadly earnest.

O’Rourke asks why countries are rich or poor. It’s not obvious. He starts by naming the usual suspects – brains, education, natural resources, culture, history, hard work, technology, government – and exonerating them all with counter-examples. Admittedly that’s a mite glib. While he says government doesn’t cause affluence, because places with a lot of government are often broke, the kind of government matters.

unknownSo he visits countries, seeking enlightenment. First stop, Albania. So dysfunctional is Albania in O’Rourke’s telling that it’s a mystery Albanians don’t just starve. He titles the chapter “Bad Capitalism,” but capitalism per se is not Albania’s problem. It’s a deficiency of civil society. Albanians never got the memo about living decently among other people.

Next, Sweden: “Good Socialism.” This “socialist utopia” is often romanticized – the common mistake of confusing labels with reality. O’Rourke: “When the Social Democrats did get in office, they made socialism work by the novel expedient of not introducing any.” Instead, they retained a free market capitalist economy, and heavily taxed the resulting prosperity to fund egalitarian redistribution and social welfare spending. Swedes bought into this because, on the civil society spectrum, they’re at the opposite end from Albanians – really nice people who believe in egalitarianism and social welfare.

unknown-1But unfortunately, O’Rourke explains, politicians found they could buy votes with ever increasing hand-outs. Whereas originally, benefits mainly went to working people, now non-work started to pay.

Guess what. Redistributing the fruits of prosperity might fly, but not redistributing fruits you’re not producing. Sweden got into a deep hole. But at least, being Swedish and sensible, they saw the need for retrenchment. So today’s Sweden is very much not what lefties dream.

images-1Then on to Cuba: “Bad Socialism.” Worse even than Albania which at least actually has an economy, sort of. I won’t go into details, but if you’re one of those ideologues who thinks Cuba is the cat’s meow (the healthcare! the healthcare!) – you’re an idiot.

I mean, come on, really, you are.

O’Rourke quotes a Cuba guidebook that a museum’s antique furniture was “recovered from the great mansions of the local bourgeoisie” – “Tactfully put,” he says. “Outside the tourist areas, however, there was a fair danger of experiencing some freelance socialism; you might find that you were the local bourgeoisie from which something got recovered.”

Finally, Hong Kong: a tiny place with huge population density and no natural resources, poor as dirt when the Brits came in. They made it rich. How? By doing nothing. Just letting Hong Kongers freely do their own thing. The freest market economy on Earth. Today its per capita income exceeds Britain’s own (the Brits partly socialized themselves).images-2

This sets the stage for O’Rourke’s summing-up chapter – a cogent, compelling defense of free market capitalism.

In pre-industrial times, nearly everyone was poor as dirt. Economic growth was approximately squat. Since then, growth has multiplied average incomes around tenfold. More efficient production is part of it. But you also need secure property rights, rule of law, and democratic (hence accountable) government. These are interconnected, and part of a society’s culture.

unknown-2So is a free market – enabling people to freely utilize their abilities to improve their lot, and enjoy the fruits of their efforts. No freedom is more fundamental. This is also more moral than any alternative – even though it results in inequality, which some deem unfair. O’Rourke: “The market is ‘heartless.’ So are clocks and yardsticks.” Blaming inequality on free markets is like gaining twenty pounds and blaming the bathroom scale.

The common error is thinking Joe’s wealth causes Sue’s poverty. As though there’s a fixed amount of wealth to go around, and Joe having more means Sue having less. Not so. Mainly, the world’s Joes get richer by producing something of value, enlarging the pie, enabling Sue to have more too. So wealth is not an evil, it’s a good thing. And actually, the ethic of capitalism, as opposed to mere wealth, is to reinvest riches, not just hoard them. This also grows the pie.

unknown-1Adam Smith, in 1776, called it the “invisible hand.” The truth that folks striving to enrich themselves wind up enriching society. Many still don’t get it. Why? Because it is invisible. Yet because of it, globally, the gap between rich and poor is in fact narrowing, not just in money, but in quality of life measures like literacy, infant mortality, longevity, etc. Some unfairness is a reasonable price to pay for the betterment of all (or most).

unknown-3But O’Rourke deems it actually wrong to care about fairness. He invokes the Tenth Commandment: don’t covet thy neighbor’s stuff. Get your own. A message to socialists, egalitarians, and fairness fetishists.

Here’s my own summation – also a concept that eludes many people (like Bernie, the Cuban government). All wealth comes from producing goods and services people need or want. Whatever encourages (or at least doesn’t hinder) folks getting on with it is good economic policy.

That is all ye know on earth,
And all ye need to know.

Russia’s newest satellite nation: America

December 12, 2016

images-1America’s Central Intelligence Agency, after careful analysis of the factual evidence, has reached a firm conclusion that Russia’s regime not only interfered with our presidential election, but did so specifically to help Trump. We can be sure that such an explosive charge would not have been made unless the CIA felt confident of the evidence. In fact, Russia’s game was obvious; they hacked both parties, but only material damaging to Democrats was leaked (not that anything really damaging emerged; but the consequent foofaw hurt Clinton nevertheless).

And moreover, it was also obvious why the Kremlin preferred Trump. He was dissing NATO and our treaty commitments, lauding Putin, excusing Russia’s aggressions, and suggesting sanctions against Russia should end. unknown-1And of course it would delight the Kremlin for America to be weakened and to look bad, due to a presidential bull in a china shop.

A foreign government interfering in an American election – successfully! – is a matter of the highest seriousness. It cannot be tolerated, and calls for a robust response, doing everything possible to deter this kind of thing happening again.

Trump has responded instead by attacking not Russia but America’s own intelligence services, as “the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.” What others see as obvious truth he dismisses as “ridiculous.” He also brayed that the election “ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history.” A “massive landslide,” he called it; the Democrats “suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics.”

unknown-2Fact check: we have had 58 presidential elections. In 45, the winning electoral vote margin, percentagewise, was greater than Trump’s. And he lost the popular vote by a decisive 2-1/2 million. We are suffering one of the greatest liars in the history of politics. Exactly the jackass Russia wanted to saddle us with.

Further still, in the wake of the CIA’s explosive revelation, and Trump’s moronic response, we also learn that the top choice for Secretary of State is now Rex Tillerson.*

Tillerson with the new top dog

Tillerson with America’s new top dog

He’s the head of Exxon Mobil, where he’s spent his entire career. Not a jot of governmental, diplomatic, or public policy experience. But that’s not the worst of it. If we wanted the most pro-Russian Putin-loving guy possible – short of naming Sergei Lavrov himself – it would be Rex Tillerson.

images-3Make America great again? We’d better start learning Russian.

* I always thought Trump was deliberately jerking Romney around, as payback for Romney’s words about him. Creeps will be creeps.