The Teapot Tempest Continues

Just in case you are not reading Kevin D. Williamson’s newsletter,The Tuesday,you should go do it right now.  You can skip the language part if you like.  Today he is covering the teapot tempest of a few conservative pundits debating the wisdom of how much of GOP should be destroyed because of The Donald.  There is also The Lincoln Project that appears to be a group of political consultants trying to create a winning record to get future gigs.

Kevin cuts right though the discussion with his usual balance of overstatement, insight, and acerbity.  Here are a great couple of sentences:

Everybody loves a good purge, but real progress means recruiting new allies and forming new alliances. And that is what the Trump movement in fact did, aligning the soft xenophobic tendency (anti-trade, anti-immigration) with the entitlement mentality (“Don’t touch my Social Security!”) and a whole Chalmun’s Cantina of social anxieties, while promising a salubrious purge (“Drain the swamp!”) of effete elitists who secretly run the world while being simultaneously entirely irrelevant.

There are three things to talk about in the quote.  First, does he really think that EVERYBODY loves a good purge?  And yet it is true that folks spend an inordinate amount of time trying to exclude other folks.  On the right, conservative is the premier designation.  Is The Donald a conservative?  No, of course not but some disagree.   Are his detractors on the right conservatives?  Sometimes.  On the left there is a whole host of preferred classifications based on race, sexual preferences, and so on that leads to the cancel culture of their purges.

Second, unlike everyone else in the kill the GOP discussion, he gives The Donald credit for creating a winning coalition.  At the same time he recognizes that excluding parts of that coalition is unlikely to be a winning strategy.

Sidebar: Kevin expects the reader to work.  Other than the articles he doesn’t use many links.  An example in the quote above is when he uses Chalmun’s Cantina rather than the more common Mos Eisley Cantina without any link.  End Sidebar.

We can infer the third part from the second.  What are these pundits going to do to build a coalition if they are busy with the purges?  Elections in the USA are much different from those in the USSR.  The Stalin approach won’t work here.

The question is: do you want The Donald or The Frontrunner as president?  We can accept either answer.  All the pundits that Kevin links to have really run out of interesting things to say.  Kevin, of course, is the exception.

We Wish

David Azerrad from Hillsdale College has an interesting article in the What Is American Conservatism series at The American Conservative.   David’s title says American Conservatism Is Fiddling While Rome Burns.  It is a very strange title.  Is there a reason why David cares about Rome? We got the link from Paul Mirengoff at PowerLine, and like Paul, we find it interesting but lots to disagree with.

Our biggest disagreement comes in David’s second paragraph where he is describing the current state of conservatism:

Conservatism is the seven cheers for capitalism and the deafening silence on demographic change, feminism, and corporate malfeasance. It’s the same tired cast of speakers blathering about limited government almost a century after the New Deal. It’s the platitudinous Reagan quotes and the worn-out Buckley anecdotes. It’s the mindless optimism and the childish exhortations—if something can’t go on forever, it won’t!  [Emphasis added]

We wish there were seven cheers for capitalism.  As the forgotten and ignored capitalistic orphans we would settle for a single cheer.  As we have said before, we want the whole loaf of capitalism but we would take a half a loaf.  We have settled for The Donald because we get a single slice: The heel.  Our most important priority capitalism and the related free markets,  free trade, and rule of law are not a priority for any politicians and few pundits.

Then there is the non-deafening silence.  As a Mark Steyn fan, we get as much demographic change as we can bear.  We are not at all sure how David came to his opinions in the first sentence above.

What we think that David and other folks need to recognize is that each person on the right has a list.  These lists have lots of overlap.  The problem is that our priorities are very different.  We support The Donald in this year’s election because we are hoping for a slice and are almost sure to get a few crumbs from him.  Looking at the candidates in 2024 like Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio we are not sure we will be willing to do that.  We think they need us for a majority.  David and others seems to disagree on that point.  We shall see.

Capital Idea Indeed!

Four cheers for The National Review and National Review Institute they have launched Capital Mattersto the joy of us capitalistic orphans.  For those of you that might have missed a MWG post, we refer to ourselves as capitalistic orphans because supporting capitalism is rarely a priority for politicians.  It is a first priority for us.  Capital Matters is:

a new initiative on business, finance, and economics from a National Review sensibility.

When headlines are going to Climate Change and the ironically named organization Black Lives Matter it is good to start serious discussions on serious stuff from the details of the deficit and entitlements to how to encourage capitalism.  We hope that Bjorn Lomborg has put the last nail in the Climate Change activist’s coffin with

How climate change alarmists are actually endangering the planet

But we really doubt it.  We are sure that when Bill Barr (via PowerLine) pointed out the obvious:

When a community turns on and pillories its own police, officers naturally become more risk averse and crime rates soar. Unfortunately, we are seeing that now in many of our major cities. This is a critical problem that exists apart from disagreements on other issues. The threat to black lives posed by crime on the streets is massively greater than any threat posed by police misconduct. The leading cause of death for young black males is homicide. Every year approximately 7,500 black Americans are victims of homicide, and the vast majority of them –around 90 percent – are killed by other blacks, mainly by gunfire. Each of those lives matter[s].

that it won’t yet make an iota of difference.  So there will still be plenty of silly and/or trivial issues and ideas floating around but you can go to Capital Matters for important issues and we will have more to write about.  Everybody wins.

Voting Decision Models

James Lileks writes great angry.  Here is an example.  James used to have a section of his website, we think it was called screeds, for his collection of angry, nasty humor.  We loved them.  Kevin D. Williamson is also a master of the genre.  David French is not.  We are not either.  That’s why it has taken us time to respond to David’s “Dump [The Donald], But Don’t Burn Down The GOP” at The Dispatch.  David’s Dump doesn’t have the style of James or Kevin but who does?  The problem is that it doesn’t make much sense either.

Our disagreement is interesting because we suspect that if asked to pick who should be president now we would both have the same response: Mitt’s second term.  We are not saying David is not a conservative.  We just think he is wrong about voting models.

One issue we are ignoring is the conjunction of dumping The Donald AND burning down the GOP.  Near the beginning David says:

In other words, in the furious argument over the future of the Republican party and political conservatism, consider me squarely in the camp that seeks to dump [The Donald] but not to seek vengeance on the rest of the GOP.  [Emphasis added]

It must be a Twitter thing since we are not in that milieu.  We see that there are still some Never The Donald folks out there and there are some folks that want to burn the GOP because it doesn’t support The Donald enough but we didn’t know anyone was for both.  We weren’t aware of an argument of any kind never made a furious one.  We are not interested in that part of David’s Dump.  We are interested in the Dump The Donald part.  David quotes himself on how Christians should vote:

First, they must possess a personal character that is worthy of the office they seek. Second, they must broadly share my political values. If a candidate fails either prong of that test, he or she doesn’t receive my vote.

Then he goes on about The Donald’s incompetence.  He needs to reread The Weed Agency to remind himself of the difficulties of governing.  Yes, we know it is a work of fiction but it is instructive.  He goes on to say that competence is a character trait.  He is surely wrong about that.  Expertise relates to specific limited areas.  Everyone (do we need an almost before everyone?) has limited areas of competencies.

Sidebar One: The winner of a recent bridge tournament with thousands of entries including MWG is also (self reported) a crossword puzzle champ.  We are amazed by that combination of extraordinary skills.  End Sidebar One.

Our major complaint is that David’s voting model has people staying home on election day or only making a couple of votes.  How many people have you voted for enthusiastically in your life?  If your two main criteria are character and political values while competency fits in too do you want to help The Frontrunner win?  VDH isn’t always right (is he?) but you might consider this in your voting decision.

When we get down to the general election we think you need to compare the two candidates.  It is a binary choice: either The Donald or The Frontrunner will win in November.  Even if you live in Wisconsin only rarely do you get to vote for a Ron Johnson.  Pick the best candidate by your model and vote.  If your model has you staying home often reconsider it.

Sidebar Two: One rational model for staying home is that the value of your vote is not worth the cost of making it.  It is not an unreasonable conclusion.  The problem is that this model means that rational people vote less.  We don’t think that having rational people voting less is a good idea.  End Sidebar Two.

Don’t stay home or leave the presidential choice blank on David’s orders.

The Conservative Brand

Jonah Goldberg at The Dispatch is on about The Donald as is his wont. The headline is:

Does The Word “Conservative” Mean Anything Anymore?

Below it is:

Positions Aren’t Conservative Just Because The Republican President Holds Them.

You should read the rest of this before you read all of Jonah’s so you can evaluate what we have to say.  The second one isn’t a questions but we would say yes to both.  Conservatism has great meaning because so many people what to be one.  We don’t, however, think The Donald is a conservative and so his positions don’t determine conservatism.  We voted for him once and we will vote for him again but he is not, as we see it, a conservative.  The Donald holds some conservative positions but, as we see it, conservatism is largely about process and that is why The Donald is not a conservative.  We would prefer a more conservative option but one is not on offer.

What Jonah needs to recognize is that, unlike liberal, progressive, or libertarian, conservative is a great political brand.  People (lots of them but obviously not everyone) want to support and vote for conservatives.  Thus, there is a great battle to be anointed as a “true” conservative.  The Donald and his supporters want him to have the advantage of the conservative brand.  We agree with Jonah that he should not have the conservative brand but the nature and details of conservatism, and every other political designation change over time.  Some folks might find our “heresy” of supporting a modest carbon tax sufficient to be excommunicated as a conservative. We think economic freedom, political freedom, and due process should be high on the list for somebody to be considered a conservative.  The Donald supports economic and political freedom some of the time but he is a results guy rather than a process guy.

Sidebar: Of course the details get tricky.  When is the carbon tax no longer modest? What should we do about Venezuela?  How can we support economic an political freedom there and elsewhere?  End Sidebar.

Exactly what conservatism means beyond the great brand is a political and philosophical debate.  We need to continue the debate.  We need to recognize that few political candidates will be full conservatives.  If you are going to wait for a true conservative to support you won’t vote very often.


Poirot, Bolton, And Johnson

We watched the David Suchet version of Murder On The Orient Express recently.  It reminded us that Hercule Poirot is perhaps the most conservative character in fiction. He is a rule of law guy.  Even when the Islamist mob stones the adulteress, he says it is their law.  He is a traditionalist in everything he does.  If he knew baseball he wouldn’t like the DH.  The show is about a challenging situation for Hercule’s support of the rule of law.  Can a conservative make exceptions?  Suchet creates an excellent version of an interesting story.  It is as good as the movie versions, 1974, 2017.

Having just seen Hercule, we saw how it applied to Scott Johnson’s PowerLine takedown of John Bolton.  Scott had supported John in the past but John has come into conflict with The Donald and he, John, might not vote for him this year.  Scott says:

I was wrong. I find Bolton’s publication of his new memoir deeply dishonorable. In my opinion, it reflects poorly on his character.

Two things.  First, using the character argument to support The Donald seems ineffective.  Second, and more important, nobody is perfect and nobody is perfectly consistent or perfectly conservative.  Not John, Scott, The Donald or even the fictional Hercule.  We are all imperfect creatures.

What does our imperfect nature mean?  Three things that we see but they are all negatives.  First, don’t spend your time trying to denounce folks.  It is so leftist.  We can’t help but notice the byline but we still need to consider the argument.  Josh Hawley could be right about something.  He has much to say so the probability is that he has been right already.

Second, it doesn’t mean we should all get along.  We need to debate to try to get to good solutions.  One of the reasons for the failure of our cities is the lack of debate about city policies.

Third, don’t take November off.  The Donald is an imperfect choice but your choice in November is binary.  Make the right choice.

Tempests, Tea Cups, And Conservatives

Recently David French had some interesting ideas on creating “Bill of Rights Republicans.”  They would replace law and order Republicans. We like Bill of Rights conservatives so we don’t need to associate with either party.   It is an interesting idea and you should read the whole thing.  There are four planks to David’s platform:

  1. End or substantially reform qualified immunity.
  2. Reform civil asset forfeiture and end “policing for profit.”
  3. Roll back “no-knock” raids.
  4. Rethink cash bail. 

We want to discuss the crucial wording in the first one and why conservatives want to be careful about embracing the whole platform.  We are absolutely on board with number two and three.  There is a wide variety of conservatives but one thing that most of us agree on it that we are reluctant to tear down stuff.  Yes, we know stuff is really vague but it is still true.  One reason to be reluctant to join David’s group is that the Bill of Rights isn’t being trampled by police.  The most serious problems in big cities and beyond lie elsewhere.  Here is Jason L. Riley at the WSJ using Chicago as an example of big city problems:

The reality is that the carnage we witness in Chicago is what’s typical, law enforcement has next to nothing to do with black homicides, and the number of interactions between police and low-income blacks is driven by crime rates, not bias. According to the Sun-Times, there were 492 homicides in Chicago last year, and only three of them involved police.

David’s recommendations may help a few people a great deal but they won’t help any of the big problems in cities.

We think there is a big difference between end versus substantially reform qualified immunity.  Qualified immunity prevents government workers like police officers from civil suits:

“government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.”

It seems likely that eliminating qualified immunity will lead to a plethora of law suits. We expect that teacher and school administrators to be a major target.  There might be a way to reform qualified immunity so in an egregious case like George Floyd and Derek Chauvin there might be a place for a civil case.  We should, however, be reminded that Derek has lost his job and faces substantial prison time.  We only know from TV shows but it rings true with us that former police officers in prison will have a tough time.  It appears that Derek will keep his pension. We will have a separate post on that later.  Surely, if Derek wasn’t deterred by prison and the financial losses then the possibility of a civil suit would not be an influence either.  So the only reasons for civil suits is to employ lawyers, possible financial compensation for the injured or heirs, and to harass government workers.

Neither is complete but the existing processes have worked in two very different cases in Minneapolis.  This story form over a year ago tries to argue that the response to the killing of a white woman by a black police officer in Minneapolis of all places show the existence of racism.  Some theories don’t stand up to the facts.  In both cases the existing criminal processes seem to be working.  As the woman’s family in the earlier case has received $20 million from the Minneapolis police we are unconvinced on the need to expand the legal opportunities to sue government workers.

We would generally be a bill of rights conservative.  We just don’t see that it will do much for cities or minorities.  If the GOP is to make political inroads in places like Minneapolis we would be disappointed if they did it with window dressing.  The people these often misgoverned cities deserve political competition.






Failure Of Politics

We see politics as the way to get to an accepted and sometimes legal solution.  Early in our career when the College of Business Administration needed a curriculum we got together and had intense discussions.  Eventually we passed a curriculum by the narrowest of votes that held together for decades.  A political solution rarely makes anyone happy but often is long lasting.

We first wrote about the failure of politics over forty years ago with regard to the end of slavery.  We know from Fogel and Engermanthat the market for slaves was robust.  How come there couldn’t be a market solution to end slavery over time?  That is, the expected cost of the Civil War, which both side grossly underestimated, would be enough to free the slaves over time.  Birth and death would be one reasonable alternative.  It wasn’t published so you will have to trust us on the computations.

We don’t expect another Civil War but we do see another failure of politics with regard to the George Floyd situation.  Here is what the Chancellor of our former school said in an email we received recently:

In recent weeks, we’ve seen many responses to the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Tony McDade among countless others. More broadly, we’ve been reminded of the ever-present issues of systemic racism, injustice, police violence, bias and racial profiling throughout our country.  [Emphasis added]

Seriously, we have seen countless deaths in recent weeks? There have been many deaths from COVID-19 but we work very hard at counting each one.   Later on, without a trace of irony, the email says:

As an institution, we are at our best when we support, uplift and — perhaps most of all — take the time to listen to one another.

It is clear that the Chancellor is only interested in lecturing.  Universities are not the only ones that are not listening to folks or paying attention to data.  Jim Geraghty in the Morning Jolt reports that the Saint Paul Mayor said every person arrested in the recent riots was from out of state and:

Minnesota governor Tim Walz and Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey made similar comments Saturday morning. But data from arrest reports released later that day indicated that was not the case. “In Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, 47 of the 57 people arrested in protest incidents through Saturday morning had provided a Minnesota address to authorities, according to Jeremy Zoss, a spokesman for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.”

Conservatives and the GOP have similar problems getting facts right but for our discussion the biggest problem is the there hasn’t been a Republican mayor of Minneapolis since just before we were writing about the Civil War.  As the WSJ puts it the government has failed:

The violence that broke out in American cities this weekend goes far beyond justified anger at the killing of George Floyd on Monday. The rioters are looting shops and attacking police with impunity, and they threaten a larger breakdown of public order. Protecting the innocent and restoring order is the first duty of government.

The government is made of Democrats and it has failed to protect citizens from the police and citizens from other citizens.  Yet what is the chance that GOP sweep into mayoral positions in major cities like Minneapolis?  Zero?  Less?

The Democrats and the left have failed in cities all over America.  It is a failure of politics because the Democrats have no reason to improve because the GOP and conservatives can’t find a reasonable offering that would even compete with failure.




Conservatism: Big C And Little c

In the UK the the Conservative Party or Tories or legally, The Conservative and Unionist Party is comparable to the GOP. There is substantial debate over what a conservative is in the US.  We expect there is in the UK.  In the UK it is clear who is a Conservative but both countries debate who is a conservative.

Sidebar: We often remind folks of the important of expertise.  We do not suggest that we are experts on UK politics.  We do, however, know a bit about the difference between political parties and political viewpoints.  End Sidebar.

In the US, The Donald and his followers are trying to claim the conservative mantle while folks on the left decide if they want to be progressives, liberals, or socialists, or even democratic socialists.  In discussing the UK we must be more careful of capitalization because the Conservatives are a major political party.

What brought this to our attention is an article in the UnHerd by Matthew Sweetwith the begging the question title of, “Since When Did Tories Care About Workers?”  It takes a few paragraphs but Matthew gets to his bias:

Work is a four-letter word. Worker has six, but it’s still one that sounds surprising when uttered, enthusiastically, by a figure whose political home is not on the Left.

Matthew is faux amazed that Boris Johnson, the current Conservative Prime Minister has said nice things about workers.  We don’t understand.  We think every elected official in every country (wow! we went out on a limb there) has praised its workers.  Matthew then wanders off to complain about the left: Stalin, Hitler, and Franco before coming back to the UK:

These are the new Tories. This is the new normal. Thatcher’s children, talking like Clem Attlee was their real dad all along.

Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative and a conservative.  She brought the UK back to life as prime minister from 1979-90.  Clement Attlee was a Labour party leader (think Democrats in the US although the UK is not exactly a two party country) and socialist who led the UK’s disastrous foray into socialism after WWII.

Our question is: did Margaret or Clement care about work and workers?  The left has a history of caring about workers in certain industries.  Back in Clement’s time it was the unionized workers and especially those in nationalized industries.  Clement favored certain workers but not others.  The rest suffered through high prices, high taxes, and poor quality.  Currently in the US the left focuses on unionized teachers.

A basic tenet of conservatism is being pro-work.  We don’t see why Matthew brought that up.  Encouragement of work is solely a conservative virtue.

Margaret is eligible for membership as a capitalistic orphan so she is pro-work and pro-consumer.  She wants to reduce regulation and taxes to give folks an opportunity and incentive to work.  Of course, all workers are consumers so she cared about workers in general.  But she did not look to help workers in nationalized industries to continue to collecteconomic rents.

Both parties care about workers in different ways.  Margaret cared about creating opportunities for workers and consumers.  Clement cared about certain workers in certain industries.  We strongly favor Margaret’s system.


The Orphanage Strikes Back

In our administrative duties at the university we often found it useful to have a third person in the room during contentious meetings.  The reputation of faculty members for nasty rhetoric is not unwarranted.  The faculty lounge was Twitter before it was invented.  The third person in the room would deflect the rhetoric because we would not be forced to respond directly to the rhetorical charges.

We felt that way about Ryan Streeter’s “The New Forgotten Man” in the National Review.  From the title on down it is, at best, a misleading criticism of capitalism and what us capitalistic orphans stand for.

Sidebar One: We know Ryan’s article was a long time ago pundit-wise.  It was in the 3/9/20 issue.  We wanted to try and be as calm as possible.  End Sidebar One.

Ryan’s title, of course, is from Amity Shlaes’ great book.  You should read it.  Amity is welcome at the orphanage.  Here is a summary from Wikipedia:

The book begins with an anecdote of the 1937 recession, eight years after the Depression began, when Roosevelt adopted budget-balancing policies indistinguishable from the stereotype of what Hoover supposedly did. Shlaes presents her arguments in part by telling stories of self-starters who showed what the free market could have accomplished without the New Deal.

A better title for Ryan would be forgetting the forgotten man.  Ryan starts out well when he is first describing the forgotten man as:

These are the shop owners, self-employed workers, small-scale entrepreneurs, and salaried employees who save their money and improve their credentials hoping to branch out and move up. They have long been at the heart of American economic growth, collectively creating massive numbers of jobs every year and keeping the American dream alive for themselves and others.

It is nice to see Ryan agree with us that  innovation and economic growth are important.  This clip would make him welcome at the orphanage.  Unfortunately, for us orphans, he soon reverses course and smears the orphanage by saying:

The aftermath of the Great Recession, followed by Trump’s 2016 election, produced a new group of pro-worker conservatives [let’s call them reform cons] who advocate a combination of protectionism and industrial policy, expanded wage subsidies, new forms of unionizing, and new family benefits such as paid parental leave and more generous child tax credits and cash allowances. They have arisen in opposition to those—let’s call them the “traditional Reaganite conservatives” [the capitalistic orphans]—who endorse low taxes, limited government, and other policies [we are unsure what these other policies are but the previous sentence suggests free markets and free trade] that favor CEOs and managerial elites ostensibly in the name of economic growth.  [Emphasis added]

This is the paragraph that took us weeks to get over.  We haven’t read every issue of the National Review but we doubt there was ever a paragraph quite this misleading in the history of that august journal.  And, yes, that is our reaction after calming down.

Sidebar Two: Reagan, like all politicians, is not a pure free marketer.  He is, however, fairly regarded as a free marketer despite his occasional lapses.  We think Ryan fairly identifies him and his followers as free market and free trade folks we call capitalistic orphans.  End Sidebar Two.

The third person we have invited into the room is Richard M. Reinsch II from National Affairs.  He sets the story straight in his published comments from debating another reform con,  Oren Cass:

We are all consumers, but we are not all manufacturing workers [or any other favored group]. The need to serve the consumer is key to the dynamism and creativity that epitomizes a market economy. While meeting this need can be challenging — and the price can be steep for those who fail — a market economy nonetheless provides the best jobs program on offer. After all, the choices of consumers determine which products or economic actions will work to our comparative advantage and which will not. Through this process of discovery, investors ultimately learn where to invest, workers learn where to work, and producers learn what resources they will need to bring goods and services to the market. This is how millions of new jobs are created — jobs in industries that previously did not even exist. This is not a neoliberal conspiracy or a degraded form of American consumerism, but a crucial feature of how trade increases the wealth of a country.

As Richard’s comments show, Ryan mischaracterizes both his group, reform cons, and the orphans in one short paragraph.  The reform cons are not pro-worker.  They are strongly supportive of a few workers while harming most of them.  They also have little to offer the entrepreneurs that Ryan extolls in the first quote.   Protection and industrial policy hurts most workers while helping some.  Contrary to what Ryan says protectionism and other market restrictions are exactly what the CEOs and managerial elite want.  That is one of the reasons they spend so much money trying to influence governmental policy.

Free markets and free trade is what consumers want.  CEO’s and the managerial elite fight against them both because they don’t want it.  Capitalistic orphans want free markets and free trade because it helps consumers.  Yes, it also leads to economic growth that Deirdre reminds us is crucial to our current well-being and that of our children and grandchildren.  We should see the reform cons like Ryan for what they are.  They are trying to build a majority by giving big benefits to some while hoping that the damages to the majority will go unnoticed.  It is an old formula and one that, unfortunately, often works.