Rewriting History

A recent Facebook post says:

On June 12, 1987, a defiant Ronald Reagan challenged Premier Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. He was applauded by both American political parties and earned the respect of most of the world for doing so.

Then the post goes on to discuss The Donald’s recent poor behavior.  When you start off with a falsehood it is hard to pay attention to your point.  To be precise, and to make the comparison relevant to The Donald, it was not a popular speech at the time.  Here is what Wikipedia says about Reagan’s speech:

The speech received “relatively little coverage from the media”, Time magazine claimed 20 years later.[12] John Kornblum, senior US diplomat in Berlin at the time of Reagan’s speech, and US Ambassador to Germany from 1997 to 2001, said “[The speech] wasn’t really elevated to its current status until 1989, after the wall came down.”[9] The muted response in the Western media contrasted with the reaction from the East: East German Politburo member Günter Schabowski considered the speech to be “absurd”,[13] and the Soviet press agency TASS accused Reagan of giving an “openly provocative, war-mongering speech.

How was it received in the US?  CBS news tells us:

“It was not well-received within the foreign policy community or the pundit class,” Brinkley [a history professor at Rice University] said, in an interview with CBS. “Many people called foul.”

Reagan’s speech got mixed responses from his party and negative responses from just about everyone else.  It was provocative.  After it turned out that he was right the speech became remembered differently.

None of this means The Donald is right in his current spats with Putin and much of Europe.  It means that history sometimes shines a different light on old controversies.  Reagan was right but he didn’t have to be.  It also means if you want to make a historical comparison you need to get it right.

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Culture Wars

Jim Geraghty starts out the Morning Jolt with this:

Brett Kavanaugh is a fine pick for the Supreme Court.

Yes, Amy Coney Barrett might have triggered a clarifying culture war Ragnarök. Yes, at 53, if confirmed, Kavanaugh will probably be on the Court until “only” the 2040s.

For the uninitiated, according to Wikipedia, Ragnarok is:

In Norse mythologyRagnarök (/ˈrɑːɡnəˌrɒk/)[2] is a series of future events, including a great battle, foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures (including the gods OdinThorTýrFreyrHeimdallr, and Loki), the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors.

Thor: Ragnarök is also a Marvel Studio’s movie where Thor stops the destruction of his world.

So, the Never Trumpers at NRO have switched from disliking The Donald for fighting about everything to disliking him for failing to cause cultural Ragnarök.  It would seem that a consistent position for them would be to praise The Donald for avoiding cultural Ragnarök.  Perhaps The Donald is maturing into this presidency thing.  Don’t color us convinced as of yet but we like his decision to avoid Ragnarök.

Suicide Of The West

Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide Of The West is a book everybody should read.  It is not a great book but it has parts that are absolutely awesome and is full of thought provoking moments.

The best part is the discussion of what Jonah calls The Miracle and Deirdre McCloskey calls the Great Enrichment.  On titles, we’re with Deirdre but we will use Jonah’s here.  Jonah does a great job of explaining the extent of The Miracle.  We love his “most important “hockey stick” chart in all of human history” on page eight.  It shows actual global GDP over the last two thousand years and we get a hockey stick.  He doesn’t limit himself to one method of teaching so everyone should get it.

Sidebar: We thought of saying that everyone should be required to read Jonah’s introduction and appendix but we can’t count on everyone’s sense of humor.  Everyone should read it but we are not into coercion.  End Sidebar

Jonah’s book’s appendix has a nice summary of his four core arguments which we have abridged even more here:

The Miracle has caused us to be unnaturally prosperous
We stumbled into The Miracle and we can stumble out
Human nature is fundamentally unchanging
Human nature can overpower the institutions that make prosperity possible

We agree.  We are fans of the growth fairy so we would add (and think that Jonah agrees based on the last argument) that we now have the knowledge to make prosperity more likely.  We think that Jonah would say that our romantic side, the feelings of human nature, cause the conflict that might end prosperity.

Part of his stumble out argument is that we got The Miracle by argument and rhetoric and we can lose it the same way.  Here Jonah cites Deirdre’s article above.  We love both of them and especially Deirdre’s Rhetoric of Economics.  It was a light from above in our understanding the intellectual differences between economics and accounting.  When Deirdre finds rhetoric for the second time it is less convincing to us.

The conflict of the book is the the rationality of the discussion of economics and human nature and Jonah’s feelings towards The Donald.  Jonah despises The Donald because he has brought tribalism to the right.  With an already tribal left then there is little to do but despair for The Miracle because corruption will set in and capitalism will become ineffective.

In summary, we were beyond delighted that somebody made such a beautiful and sincere argument for capitalism.  Jonah hasn’t convinced us to share his pessimism but we are concerned.  It is an important book that you should read but it is not a great book.

 

Reagan Was Wrong

OK, the title is overwrought.  We are talking about a specific quote.  It is from Jonah’s new book.  He starts his second chapter with quotes from Horace and Ronald Reagan.  Ron’s quote ends with:

[F]or [freedom] only comes once to a people.  Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never know it again.

Of course, Ron was in part responsible for falsifying himself.  Eastern Europe lost its freedom but got it back.  We could argue about Russia or China but clearly countries like Poland lost their freedom and got it back.  We have spent some time in Poland and know how aware Poles of our age are about losing and regaining freedom.  Younger folks, like our students, who have always known freedom are not as aware of what can happen.

Two interesting questions are: whether it is harder to get freedom back or get freedom for the first time and does freedom wax and wane?

In answering the first question we are sure that both situations are difficult but we think that Venezuela has a better chance to become free again than those countries that have never known freedom.  It is a chance for research.

In answering the second question, we are sure that freedom waxes and wanes.  We left out the part of Ron’s quote about the necessity of defending freedom.  Surely, almost everyone would agree that Ron had a positive impact on freedom in the US and elsewhere.  Thanks Ron for your spirited defense of freedom.  You were right in the larger sense even if you proved yourself wrong.

2.9 Cheers For Capitalism

We have started Jonah Goldberg’s new book and it looks interesting.  It is nice to see him fully supporting capitalism.  As he is a philosopher at heart it is not surprising that his solution to the Miracle or Great Enrichment will be philosophical.

Starting Jonah’s book got us back to something that has been nagging us about capitalism: sports corruption.  Jim Geraghty has been on that beat here and elsewhere.  Capitalism is great because it creates income that allows individuals and society to fix problems.  It also give folks the time and income to engage in activities other than work including being sports fans.  Mostly, creating sports fans is great.  Sports fans, however, are tribal for both sports and specific teams which is a topic near to Jonah’s heart.  Thus, we sports fans will pay money and sometimes surrender our freedoms to get and keep our sporting events.  Sports teams blackmail cities and states to get them to build stadiums.  International events like the Olympics and the World Cup blackmail countries.  Giving into blackmail seems to be a good move politically.  Many folks are upset that the 2022 World Cup will be held in Qatar and played in November-December when leagues are in full swing rather than the usual late spring early summer when players are off.

Sidebar: The US finished second to Qatar in the voting to host the World Cup.  Our allegations of corruption sound a bit hollow given that the US might get the World Cup if the allegations are proven.  Of course, that award would benefit certain tribes and cost others.  End Sidebar.

So capitalism creates the wealth and income necessary to create billions of sports fans.  Increasing income and wealth times billions of fans makes for corruption opportunities. Teams and human nature leads to tribal behavior means there are large benefits for one tribe and the costs are diffused among all the other tribes.  Thus, sports corruption is going to get worse as the world continues to get richer.  We don’t think the Venezuela model is a solution.  We can’t throw the capitalism baby out with the bathwater.  Perhaps Jonah will recommend a corruption solution that fits sports too.

Baseball, Conservatism, Expertise

Baseball and conservatism are at least loosely tied together.  George Will is the classic, but not only, example.  We read all sorts of blogs and other communication devices to take advantage of gathering expertise.  Unfortunately, everyone that puts out these communications is going to say something that he shouldn’t.  The reason that it gets said is we can’t help ourselves.  There was an NRO article that asserted that the NFL undervalued black quarterbacks.  Perhaps only because we were busy, we just managed to refrain from commenting.  We are convinced that neither the author nor MWG is an expert on the qualities of an NFL quarterback.

We all want to go beyond our expertise.  Although we sometimes refrain, it is a problem for everyone who opines for fun or profit.  In his newsletter, Jonah Goldberg, who admits to being not much of a sports guy says:

Baseball, as Al Capone explains in The Untouchables, is a game that marries team effort with individual achievement. But the team effort is only on defense. On offense, the player stands alone.

The last bolded sentence is false.  If you are the hitter do you want Rickey Henderson (1406 stolen bases) or Harmon Killebrew (19 stolen bases in 23 years) on first?  If you are the hitter do you want Babe Ruth or Mario Mendoza coming up next?  If you are trying to score from third do you want to stand alone or do you want the on-deck hitter to tell you how to slide?  Yes, the batter does literally stand alone at the plate versus the pitcher but it is more complicated than that.  We are sure that like Jonah we will be equally guilty of opining beyond our expertise soon.  It is a danger and we should welcome the feedback.

Thanks Paul

Paul Ryan is retiring from the House.  He has made a big difference.  He has succeeded in reforming taxes.  He was unable to reform entitlements but surely he has influenced that debate and we will be thankful for him later.  Our fondest wish is unfulfilled: We wish he was in his second term as Vice-President.  We wonder if their will be a Churchillian second act for him as entitlements fester.

Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation gives us reason to be humble and proud.  We Paul in the House and Ron in the Senate we might have the best pair of any state.  Paul is leaving shortly and Ron not long after that.  We wish everyone would follow their lead by coming in and trying to make a difference, behaving well, and then moving on.  Paul and Ron have made a difference and been a credit to our state and the nation.  Thanks to both of them.