Our Conservative Sensibility

July has been a good month for reading.  We have just finished George Will’s The Conservative Sensibility.  We hope to have a formal review for you later but we recognize we are in debt to the reader already.  Instead we want to discuss the rise of our own conservative sensibility.  We are less philosophically inclined than George and perhaps because of that our sensibility arrived later.

We went to Saint Anselm College (SAC) as an undergraduate but when we went there it had an apostrophe in the name.  We weren’t as aware of such things as we are now but we suspect it was more conservative than the average college then.  Grade inflation certainly hadn’t arrived.  We ended up with averages of 89.7 and 89.9 for two semesters in Chemistry and were told that you needed a 90.  That is why we tell faculty to use xx.0 if that is what they mean.  When we took introductory economics there were two sections and  two semesters in which no student got an A.

SAC was into assessment before we knew what assessment was.  To escape German we had a one-on-one conversation in the language with the good Father whose name escapes us.  To graduate in economics there was a multiple choice test, we think it was the Undergraduate Record Exam,   We don’t know if our memory is faulty, the Internet is, or if it doesn’t exist any more as we could only find the GRE.   In addition, there was an oral exam where each student was individually questioned by a group of economics faculty members.  We did not have a stellar, to be kind, undergraduate academic record. So when we went to discuss the results we were surprised to hear something like, if we didn’t pass you we couldn’t pass anyone.

George’s book reminded us of that and instructed us in why.  The economics department included some pretty progressive members.  One of the questions in the oral was why didn’t Nixon add profits to his wage and price controls.  Our answer was simple arithmetic.  If you controlled the prices of the inputs then you controlled the sums and differences.  We remember the interviewers stirring around on that answer.  George’s book points out why this is, in part, a conservative answer, and why it troubling to the progressives.  Of course, George is not the only one to point this out but he takes 600 pages to hammer it home.

It is a conservative answer because it avoids the passion and envy of we must control profits.  It troubles the progressives because they believe that they can do all the math to make government work to bend the economy to their will.  So telling them that it should be easy is a troubling answer for them.  Either it is easy or it is hard.  If it is hard then the whole progressive project falls to ruin.

 

 

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Stuck In (The Middle?) With You?

Well, Stealers Wheel’s lyrics often come to mind when surveying the political scene.  The first two lines of the chorus are often apropos but the we have never before felt like the last two lines apply to us.  In case you forgot:

Clowns to the left of me
Jokers to the right

Here I am
Stuck in the middle with you

What has got us in a tizzy is Kevin Drum at Mother Jones is reminding us that National Health Care Is Free.  It is silly but we have read it so you don’t have to.  What is worrisome is the jokers on the right.  Paul Mirengoff at PowerLine reports that:

At the recent National Conservatism Conference in Washington, the crowd voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution calling for the United States to adopt an “industrial policy.” In so doing, the conservative crowd agreed with Sen. Elizabeth Warren who, as John [Hinderaker at PowerLine] has noted, also wants the U.S. to adopt such a policy.

The idea is for the government, through a set of policies — taxes, spending subsidies, regulation, and tariffs — to protect factory jobs against the forces of globalization and technological change.

Paul links to James Pethokoukis at AEI for an evaluation.  The headline is “GOP’s Stupid Swoon For Big Government.”  We are entirely on board on “Stupid” but this was the National Conservatism Conference rather than just Marco Rubio.  As the link shows, serious people were there.

As we are trying to deal with the level of disagreement on the right, we come across this from Rosie Gray in Buzz Feed News:

It’s an odd feature of American politics today that while the Republican party as an institution has never been more unified, the right has never been more ideologically fluid. Intellectual subgroups have had their moments in the sun: neoconservatives, libertarians. But they, and the Reaganites who have decided conservative dogma since the 1980s, have all diminished as Donald Trump has occupied all of the available breathing room on the right.

We can help Rosie with her confusion.  The GOP is as fractious as ever.  Just like the Democrat party.  The right has always had intellectual subgroups.  Each candidate brings a number of those subgroups together.  The Donald created a new one: NeverTrump.

Oh, back to Kevin and our concerns on the left.  Kevin is trying to convince us that national health care is free and he says:

You see, the vast bulk of health care spending goes to providers. This means that the only way to reduce spending is to pay doctors less, pay nurses less, pay drug companies less, and pay device manufacturers less. This will not happen, and anyone who’s serious about national health care would be insane to try. Why put up an enormous barrier to success, after all? [Emphasis added]

We agree with Kevin on the part we have put in bold.  The only problem is that the part above it is a description of national health care.  It is certain

Sidebar: We often envy writers for their certainty about a variety of things.  The outcome of very few events is certain.  End Sidebar.

that national healthcare will pay doctors less, nurses less, drug companies less, and manufacturers less.  As a small example from the left, there is the Obamacare tax (#10) on medical devices.  The Donald, like many politicians, is upset with drug prices.

Then Kevin explains how it is free:

The one thing we probably could do is get rid of insurance companies, which would save a bit of money—probably about enough to make up for the cost of adding the remaining uninsured to the system. So in the end it comes out even after all.

We did not make that up.  Kevin is saying that moving administration largely from the insurance companies to the government is going to save us money.  Not just a few dollars but enough to add all of the uninsured into insured.  What do you think the probability that the government is more efficient that private enterprise?  To be fair, given the government regulations in health care, the chance is very close to but not exactly zero.

The clowns and jokers seem to be more numerous than ever.  Did MWG really end up in the middle?  How many adjectives or prefix will there need to be to make MWG a conservative? Are you with us?  We have received but not read the other Kevin’s new book.  Perhaps reading that we relieve our funk.  We hope to get around to explaining why George Will’s new book is great but we still feel lonely.

 

 

 

The Bad Idea Machine

Our buddy, and the junior senator from Missouri, Josh Hawley is at it again. Lots of folks are upset about political comments on Internet giants like Facebook and he wants to put Washington in charge.   David French at NRO and Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason do a good job of explaining why Josh has a particularly foolish bill.  Of course you should real both of them in their entirety.  Here is David’s description:

[Josh] wants to replace common sense with a legal fiction, making Facebook responsible for user comments unless it can satisfy an extraordinary condition — it has to prove to the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] by clear and convincing evidence that it doesn’t moderate content in a manner “designed to negatively affect a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint” and that its moderation doesn’t “disproportionately restrict or promote access to, or the availability of, information from a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint.” [Emphasis added]

Josh’s proposal would put the Internet giants in an impossible position and make them  subject to FTC’s whims.  Do we think we will get limited government with Facebook appearing before the FTC every two year?  As you are already going to read David and Elizabeth, we shall limit our comments to conservatism and level of proof.

We want to make clear that changing the level of proof would not make the bill acceptable but the level of proof shows how poorly thought out or dishonest Josh’s bill is.  Josh says:

“Today I’ve introduced legislation to end Big Tech’s biggest sweetheart deal from government,” [Josh] tweeted Wednesday morning. “No more government protection for Big Tech’s political censorship.”

As the bold shows, Facebook will need to show clear and convincing evidence of lack of bias. It is an daunting task especially when you think about all the groups you could show bias against.  Nolo gives us four legal standards of proof in ascending order: Substantial Evidence, Preponderance of Evidence, Clear and Convincing Evidence, and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.  Josh’s choice is, according to Nolo, reserved for civil lawsuits where something more than money is at stake.  The bill is not going to reach Josh’s stated goal because Facebook will not meet that standard and that would mean much more government involvement.

And that brings us to conservatism and conservatives.  Part of political classifying is the Venn Diagram issue.  How much to folks need to overlap before you can give them a common categorization?  But it also a matter of priorities and thinking process.  There might be substantial evidence based on his positions that Josh is a conservative but his processes and priorities are clear and convincing evidence to us that he is not.  We are not voting for him in the ’24 presidential primaries that he is clearly positioning himself but we shall reserve judgement on the general election.  It will be another binary choice.

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.