Enough Philosophy!!!

Michael R. Strain, an AEI guy writing on The Corner at NRO has a great post on philosophical debates.  Michael is talking about conservatism debates but we have seen it in numerous academic situations.  We had a colleague who was sincerely convinced that if we came to an agreement on principles that every other issue could be resolved from those principles.  Our accounting/economics background lets us play the principles game but we realize that the practical needs more than principles.  Michael seems cut from the same cloth.  Perhaps we can make him an honorary accountant. Oh, and we think of that as a great honor for an economist.

Do read all of Michael’s post.  We have a long quote below because we need it for our discussion of conservatism.  Michael starts out:

Rich’s post this morning, which builds off Matthew Continetti’s excellent column, addresses a feature of the intra-conservative debate that has been on my mind for quite some time: The emphasis on doctrinal discussion above specifics.

Rich’s post is forward looking. He accurately observes: “The questions, What and How? almost never appear, i.e., what policies are we talking about and how are we going to achieve them?”

There is a backward-looking component to this as well. I commonly come across some variant of the following: “I’m a free trader. I just think trade should be put in its proper place. It isn’t more important than family and community.” But what, specifically, does that mean? [f we are honest it means the speaker is not a free trader.]  Was the president right not to enter TPP? Should the United States not have formed NAFTA? Should we have actively tried to keep China out of the global trading system?

In his first paragraph we think Michael is being kind about the contributions of Rich and Matthew but kindness is a good thing.  The conclusion is exactly right because doctrinal discussions don’t lead to specifics.  They can be useful but we need both doctrine and specifics.

The second paragraph is exactly right except he (or Rich) leaves out priorities.  We would end the last sentence in the second paragraph with “rather than others.”

The third paragraph shows how folks defeat proposals that they do not agree with or are not their priorities.  The bold phrases can be rearranged so that the first two are something specific like free speech, lower taxes, or entitlement reform.  You could change the third one to any meaningless generality or keep it the same.

Rather than dissing David French let’s find some specific proposal that we can support.  The Donald and the Democrats may make passage problematical but we need to get specific on a good proposal.  It could be health care but we can’t find Avik Roy’s proposal.  If we don’t like it then Michael tells us how to answer.


Conan Versus Mick And Keith

In the movie Conan The Barbarian, the title character is asked: What is best in life?  Arnold replies:

To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women!

It is true it is great to win big but it almost never happens in sports, politics, or bridge. And it is also true that there will be another Super Bowl or election in short order.  Thus, we hope for Conan but realize that Mick and Keith are more likely:

You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometime,
You’ll find you get what you need!

And both quotes end with an exclamation point.  We all want what Conan wants but don’t realize the wisdom of Mick and Keith.  As examples we have The Donald, Josh, Sohrab Ahmari, the greens, and both sides on abortion .  The Donald on tariffs and the abortion parts are so obvious that we are only going to look at the other three.

Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO tries to defend Josh on attacking the prospective judge, Michael Bogren. We are not convinced but read it all. He identifies three arguments against Josh.   We are on the first one:

[Michael] was merely representing a client and, if we reject his nomination because he faithfully advocated their position, we are traducing the core American right to fair legal representation. That’s the view of the editors of the Wall Street Journal, [and MWG] for example.

Part of Ramesh’s counter-argument to the first argument is:

Perhaps more important, Sullivan was punished for the mere fact of representation, whereas Hawley has criticized Bogren for the way he represented East Lansing. For these controversies to be analogous, Sullivan would have to have been criticized for smearing and bullying [Harvey] Weinstein’s accusers.

It is a forgone conclusion that Sullivan will be criticized.  Of course Harvey’s defender(s) are going to be criticized for smearing and bullying his accusers.  They are going to advocate for Harvey in the same way that Michael made the best case for his client.  In Harvey’s case it would mean casting doubt on the accusers in some manner.

Sohrab does his best Conan in attacking, of all people, that noted never-Trump stalwart David French from NRO.  Sohrab, at First Things says:

I added, “The only way is through”—that is to say, to fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.

Conan would be impressed although it might help to mention salting the earth too.  Sohrab makes this guy look reasonable and nuanced.  We understand that in politics we need coalition with folks with different priorities.  Conservatives will never be a majority.  Any group of conservatives with an adjective will be a tiny minority.  To have a majority coalition we need David and Sohrab.

Sidebar: We have never found a modifier for our conservatism.  The closest we came is when Rod Dreher coined Crunchy Cons.  We are really close to the opposite of that but there don’t seem to be enough of us to warrant an adjective.  End Sidebar.

Jeremy Carl at NRO tells us:

Last week BP and Shell both pledged support for the Climate Leadership Council’s (CLC) proposal for a revenue-neutral “carbon fee and dividend” plan, under which extractors of carbon-based fuels would be charged a fee, and all of the money collected would be distributed to the public as a dividend. While conservatives have a wide variety of views on how, or even whether, to address climate policy, this initiative is perhaps the most genuinely bipartisan attempt so far to move forward on a famously contentious issue.

We are not at all sure we want to support this deal but much depends on the details.  Our first choice would be a lower tax without a dividend.  Holman W. Jenkins, jr at the WSJ has great article on how environmental regulations lead to conflicts. If we undo these as part of the deal we might be in.  Do read it all.  But the greens are not in.  They are not in because they love Conan:

But  instead of expressing happiness that some of the biggest oil producers were willing to accept a major concession to help lower emissions under a plan with almost unprecedented bipartisan support, many on the left have complained because the plan also limits climate-change-related litigation.

Jeremy notes that none of this litigation has ever succeeded so far.  But the greens still want to hear the lamentaions of the oil companies’ stockholders.

It is hard to compromise, especially when principles are involved.  It is a tough decision but sometimes you just got to play Mick and Keith.  As an example, we hope that David and Soharb will join us in voting for The Donald in 2020.  Strange things can happen over the next year when we find out the Democrat nominee but right now it looks close to certain that The Donald is our best option in 2020.

WSJ On Josh

Recently we evaluated two opinions on Josh Hawley, the GOP junior senator from MO.  We concluded that we were unimpressed with his behavior.  We still see him as a political opportunist.  It is nice to see the WSJ agree with us.

The editorial board of the WSJ compares Josh’s behavior in questioning a prospective judge with Harvard’s action of punishing a law professor for defending Harvey Weinstein.  They give lots of detail that Josh, as a lawyer and former attorney general, should be embarrassed by.  Do read it all.  They conclude:

For many on the right and left these days, principles are merely weapons of temporary convenience in the battle for power. But such thinking breeds contempt for the law, and that is dangerous for all Americans, especially for cultural conservatives who need the law to defend against an increasingly coercive left. Defenders of religious liberty shouldn’t imitate Harvard’s situational legal ethics. [Emphasis added]

We would expand their thought to all conservatives because the rule of law and respect for the law is a big part of conservatism.  We know that politicians often disappoint conservatives and we still support them. Josh is an improvement on Claire McCaskill, who he replaced but not as much as we had hoped.  Josh’s failure is an enormous one and conservatives need to consider looking for an alternative.  He is not the answer in ’24.

Opinions On Josh Hawley

Josh Hawley has received some interesting commentary from the right.  For background, Wikipedia tell us Josh:

is an American lawyer and Republican politician, currently serving as the junior United States Senator from Missouri. Hawley previously served as the 42ndAttorney General of Missouri from 2017 to 2019, before defeating two-term Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in the 2018 Senate election. He is currently the youngest member of the Senate at age 39.

Michael Brendan Dougherty at NRO is having a bromance with Josh in Josh Hawley versus the Aristocracy.  Michael concludes his article with

[Josh] staked out new territory for Republican politicians, based on some of the bleeding-edge conservative thinking on issues of tech and labor policy. For the first time in a long while, I’m excited for what’s coming next.

David Bernstein writing at the Volokh Conspiracy has a very different outlook.  David is the University Professor and Executive Director of the Liberty & Law Center at Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University.  Both writers have impressive conservative credentials but they couldn’t disagree more.  David’s title is, “Senator Josh Hawley is becoming a first-class demagogue.”  How can two people with such great conservative credentials disagree so completely?

First question: are Michael and David talking about the same thing? The answer is in part.  David limits his discussion to Josh’s questioning of The Donald’s federal judge nominee.  Michael’s brief is more wide ranging but he approves of Josh’s questions:

Hawley also got some conservatives’ attention by blasting Michael Bogren, a Trump judicial nominee to the U.S. District Court in western Michigan. Hawley hammered him for his legal work defending East Lansing’s ban against a Catholic farmer’s participation in a public farmers’ market because the farmer announced his intention on Facebook to continue renting his orchard for weddings, but not same-sex ceremonies. As part of his legal arguments, Bogren had said there was no distinction between the Catholic family running their orchard in accordance with their faith and the Ku Klux Klan persecuting non-whites. Hawley grilled the nominee, saying that his unflattering comparison failed the test that Justice Anthony Kennedy had outlined in the Masterpiece Cakeshopcase, in which anti-religious animus was deemed to be at work in Colorado’s application of non-discrimination law.

Second question: Who wins the argument from a conservative perspective?  David.  Don’t forget that Josh is a lawyer and former Missouri Attorney General.  David doesn’t address Michael Brendan directly but you can see that Michael Brendan has made an enormous error.  Michael, the prospective judge, was working for East Lansing.  His job was to advocate for his employer.  The legal system doesn’t work if one side throws in the towel.  Josh knows that.

Third question: What are the implications?  It is clear to us that Josh wants to replicate The Donald in one of the upcoming presidential elections.  He will be the progressive Republican who will support some conservative positions.

Sidebar One: What makes a person a conservative?  Who gets to decide?  MWG, of course! Seriously, labels can be a problem.  We see conservatives as being more concerned with process than outcomes.  That is why conservatives often disagree more often than the left.  The latter even has a name for it, BAMN.  Thus, conservatives support the Constitution and rule of law.  We see personal and economic freedom as part of that but, unlike libertarians, we don’t see freedom as the only good.  End Sidebar One.

Elections are always about choices and those choices depend on the opposition but it is highly unlikely that we would vote for Josh in the Republican presidential primary.

Sidebar Two: Marco versus Josh would be a tough primary call.  They are two young and pretty Republicans but not reliable conservatives.  End Sidebar Two.

We voted for The Donald in the general and it is highly likely we would vote for Josh in in the general given the folks we see running for the Democrat nomination now.

Agreeing Despite The Insults

One almost got us to the keyboard but two in two days was too much.  Accountants seem to be becoming the conservative version of “old white men” for the left.  See Jay Nordlinger for a discussion of old white men.  Since we are both, we would at least like to stop the friendly fire.

Recently at NRO John O’Sullivan took aim at the Tories and their leader, Theresa May, for their failure over Brexit.  John was worried that Theresa would hang on for a long time but fortunately she has resigned.  We agree with John but we didn’t like his comment about accountants:

That emerged yesterday when she got her new! improved! withdrawal bill accepted by her cabinet colleagues and then revealed it in a speech (and in a mistaken symbolic piece of presentation) to the headquarters of an international accounting company.

It seems he mentions accountants and a major accounting firm as a gratuitous insult.  We are not sure how it is an insult but we took it as one.  Even with the insult we agree with John.  The Tories have damaged their brand greatly by this cock-up on the Brexit front.  Even with Theresa gone we need to ask will they survive?  Should they survive?

Joshua R. Hendrickson is an eco prof who got published at NRO taking Marco Rubio to task for his recent misguided investment report.  We can’t find our earlier comment but we were disagreed with Marco Wants A National Innovation Strategy.  Perhaps we only commented mentally but Josh is right that Marco is confused.  Josh concludes that we might ask:

[A]bout the appropriate policy prescription for declining investment. Yet the report does not take a stand. Instead, it argues for “a renewed emphasis on the business firm as the primary and necessary allocator of capital in the American economy” and “an institutional arrangement order to this end.” The reader is left to imagine what any of that means in practice.  [Emphasis added]

We are worried about the institutional arrangements that we have bolded.  Along with the confusing and leftist stuff that Josh identifies our imagination leads us to believe that the report is looking for methods for the government to become involved in stopping the trend.  The fact that Marco wants a national innovation strategy, cited above, leads us to feel confident in our imagination.

What we don’t like is when Josh says:

None of these questions are asked because the entire analysis is not an exercise in economics, but merely an exercise in accounting. [Emphasis added]

Now we have read Deirdre’s book and understand the rough and tumble nature of economics prose.  We are even guilty of thinking it might be OK if Josh said, “merely an exercise in bookkeeping.”  Still it was a distraction.

We guess the solution is to own the insults.  Josh and John are on target with their analysis.  The confusion that they show about accounting and accountants should not distract us from that.



No True Conservative

When James Taranto did Best Of The Web on the WSJ one of his favorite logical fallacies was “no true Scotsman.”  We are not sure if James Freeman has continued the tradition or not.  Mario Lewis, jr. at the Competitive Enterprise Institute must not be a Taranto fan because his conclusion about enacting a carbon tax is that:

It’s irresponsible to provide bipartisan cover for one-sided assessments that hype climate change risk and deny climate policy risk. No true conservative will do it. [Emphasis added]

Since we are on the record as favoring a modest carbon tax under certain conditions and we don’t like being cast out of the conservative tent we read Mario with interest.  We also checked out Another Carbon Tax Defeat at the WSJ that reports on the provincial election in Alberta Canada where the conservatives opposed to the carbon tax instituted by their predecessors won 63 seats compared to 24 for the leftists.  The WSJ lists additional failures of the carbon tax at the ballot box:

Progressives keep touting the carbon tax as inevitable, but then why does it always lose at the ballot box? In 2014 Australia repealed a carbon tax two years after it was imposed. Last year French President Emmanuel Macron was forced to suspend increases in gas and diesel taxes after national protests. Voters in Washington state defeated a carbon tax for the second time in November, and legislators recently pulled a proposal for a statewide carbon tax in Maine.

After digesting it all we don’t favor state or provincial carbon taxes but we do still favor a modest federal carbon tax.  We don’t favor the former because it is disruptive causing business to spend their time avoiding taxes.  We still favor the latter because we see no reason to treat gasoline differently from other forms of carbon.  Carbon does pose some risk for people and a price for emissions other than zero seems reasonable. We don’t want to leave the price to the academics because we want to ensure that a carbon tax is modest.  In addition, we see a great political opportunity because, as the WSJ editorial demonstrates, the progressives are hyper-interested in a carbon tax.

Let’s check out the “true” conservative and see what is bothering him.  Mario’s first concern about a carbon tax is:

The “conservative” perspective, at least insofar as I have had any role in articulating it, is not that climate change is a hoax or poses no risks but that we have more to fear from climate policy than from climate change itself.

We agree.  We think that this is an extremely strong argument for a modest carbon tax in the US.  That would be one way to reduce the risk from carbon policy.

Most of the rest of the article is about the limited risks from climate change.  We can’t say we agree on each and every point but we agree in general.  We both agree so why doesn’t he want to put a tax on carbon other than gas?  Here is where MWG doesn’t agree with Mario:

To put the matter more simply, there is no principled or stable compromise between market-driven American energy dominance and politics-driven deep decarbonization. [Emphasis added]

We admit to being confused by the part in bold.  Well, we just don’t understand it.  We  agree that there are decarbonization zealots but we don’t want to give them a link. We think that market-driven and deep decarbonization are mutually exclusive but not anywhere near collectively exhaustive.  We think both of those groups are relative small even though we belong to the former. We disagree that a modest carbon tax would embolden the left.  It is true that the left wants to increase every tax so the carbon tax would be no different.  It takes an act of Congress to change taxes.

Sidebar: Well, not exactly.  The president already has some authority to increase tariffs and Wisconsin’s own Sean Duffy (yes a Republican) wants to give him more authority to unilaterally tax Americans.  We are not for casting out but we have to say that Sean has lost his conservative mind on this one.  End Sidebar.

Mario thinks that a modest carbon tax would increase the uncertainty for businesses.  We think it would reduce the uncertainty.  We think it is a great opportunity to negotiate.  Surely Mario would like a reduction in the subsidies to “alternative” energy as a part of the package.

We don’t think that Mario has lost his conservative mind on the carbon tax.  He has made different judgments than we have.  We still like ours and still think that a modest federal carbon tax is good policy and good politics.



Wisconsin Supreme Court Election

John McCormick, at the NRO Corner, has his analysis of why conservatives won the recent highly contested WI Supreme Court election.  He says:

And the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) provided critical air support to Hagedorn during the last week of the campaign. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported that liberal groups backing Neubauer outspent conservative groups backing Hagedorn by as much as a 14-1 margin until the last week of the race, when the RSLC swooped in with a million-dollar ad campaign. It didn’t erase the disparity between conservative and liberal spending in the state, but did narrow the gap.

With the wonks it is always about spending.  We live in Wisconsin and came to a different conclusion.  We know it is a survey of one and those are always suspect but this is how we see it.  It was Neubauer’s message that everyone heard because she had a big spending advantage.

We saw lots of ads for Neubauer.  We never saw an ad for Hagedorn but we don’t watch that much TV and much of the time we fast forward through the ads.  We did get a few late texts asking us to support Hagedorn but we were going to vote anyways.  We are old and conservative.  Voting is one of the things we do.  The reason that we were already going to vote was that ads for Neubauer convinced us to vote for the person that was not her.  We don’t have exact recall of her full message but we don’t want to elect a person to be judge when they brag about things like empathy.  And no, we can’t be sure that exact word was used but the point was very clear.  We think that her message did at least as much to energize the conservative base as it did for the leftist base.

So, the way we see it is that Neubauer’s campaign excited the conservative base to oppose her and after the election of the empty suit (our new governor) it was enough to swing the election.  Her big spending advantage didn’t help her much because it made the distinctions obvious to everyone in a 50-50 state.