Bobby, Kris, and Janis

We really enjoy Daniel Henniger but recently he went too far.  Dan is at the WSJ discussing Does Hong Kong Matter?   Well, of course it does but it also depends.  Are we going to cause WW III over it?  Unlikely.  Is Dan going to use a really bad analogy about it to distract us from his reasonable point?  Absolutely.  Janis Joplin’s version Kris Kristofferson’s of Me and Bobby McGee is our all-time favorite song.  Dan should listen more closely.

Sidebar: Sometimes it is Bobbi and sometimes it is Bobby.  The Genius site uses Bobby so we are too.  End Sidebar.

Dan quotes Kris correctly but too briefly.  He says:

Someone once sang that “freedom’s just another word,” and maybe today it is. One casualty of the relentless U.S. political slog is that some important ideas—such as justice, racism, equality and respect—get so beaten into the ground, become so hackneyed, that one feels almost embarrassed to use the words.

The problem is there are lots of kinds of freedom.  Economic, political, and personal to make a short list.  Kris was talking about personal freedom.  The whole verse is:

Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose
And nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free
Feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues
And buddy, that was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.

Personal freedom can be a negative as it was when Bobby set the songwriter free.  So the song ends:

Well I’d trade all my tomorrows for a single yesterday
Holdin’ Bobby’s body close to mine

Economic freedom and political freedom are positive goods while personal freedom can be positive or negative.  Dan needs to understand the difference between dating and Hong Kong.  There are different kinds of freedom and Hong Kong does matter.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Interesting Title Disappoints

We were intrigued by Paul Mason’s title at Unherd: Can [Jeremy] Corbyn Learn From The Greek Tragedy?  Jeremy is the socialist leader of the Labor opposition in the United Kingdom.  Because Unherd has a variety of voices it could have been interesting.  We thought the Greek tragedy was that they elected a socialist government and, as always, it turned out badly.  As always, the people eventually throw the socialists out if they can. Paul thinks the tragedy is the socialist lost.

We thought it was unlikely that Jeremy, a long-time socialist, would learn the lesson that socialism never works. We don’t know Paul so we were worried that Paul would suggest the obvious (but evil and often implemented) solution that the socialists need to get elected once and then take control of the media or the elections or both to maintain control.

Instead, Paul offers some coalition building suggestions.  He starts his suggestions with the problem for him and the mildly good news for us:

In general, overtly anti-capitalist Left parties have peaked below 20% as the memory of the financial crisis fades, while a shift to the Left by traditional social democrats has stemmed their own decline.

His main solution is to work with the Greens.  Does he think that they are not overtly anti-capitalistic already?  Paul then gives it away, climate change is a method to political power.  He says:

The sheer scale of the climate crisis will, as the 20th century recedes and the IPCC’s decarbonisation targets become pressing, change the priorities of the Left. The far-Left is now either in reluctant coalition with its social democrat and Green allies, or resisting even that. For me, the 21stcentury equivalent of the Popular Front would be an alliance of all forces prepared to commit to spending the hundreds of billions we’ll need to combat climate change, plus the absolute defence of democracy and the rule of law, plus the reversal of austerity. The renationalisation of energy and transport infrastructure is implicit in any radical plan to halve net carbon over the next ten years. {Emphasis added]

Sidebar: We don’t believe the sentence in bold above.  It is inconsistent with socialism and climate activism.  We do believe the work in bold (renationalisation) in the next sentence. It is clear evidence that the rule of law is already out.  End sidebar.

Folks turn Climate Change on its head to get political power.  The best solutions are inaction and mild action because of the high costs and low benefits.  We have often suggested a modest carbon tax combined with removal of “alternative” energy subsidies as a useful step to move us to a more market based economy.  Lots of people can learn from the Greek Tragedy even if Jeremy and Paul won’t.

Women’s Soccer Success

We are used to being insulted by Bill Clinton but today’s insult by Allysia Finley was disappointing because she is a member of the WSJ Editorial Board.  She is writing about soccer and Why U.S. Women Rule The World.  The sub headline says America’s democratic ideals deserve the credit for America’s soccer superiority.  The sub is wrong but Allysia is right by imprecise when she says:

Girls in the U.S. are encouraged to play multiple sports. That prevents burnout and helps them develop a range of athletic skills. [Emphasis added]

She leaves it oddly passive on who is doing the encouraging.  She does note that promising athletes are captured by federations or teams in other countries.  In the U.S. it is their families and the organizations they create.  She gets the emphasis all wrong when she says:

Hundreds of thousands of girls play for high-school teams (and some in travel leagues), and colleges recruit the top thousand or so.

We would like to see her data on the item in bold.  We are willing to bet that every woman on the US national team played on a travel team and that at least 900 of the college 1,000 played on a traveling team.  Note that anyone growing up outside the US is not included in our estimates.  Again, this is their families.

Then comes the insult.  We used to hear it from Bill Clinton but Allysia has softened it some by emphasizing college athletics and she could make sense of it.  We will help her out.  First she says:

One reason is the 1972 civil-rights law Title IX, which effectively requires colleges to provide an equal number of athletic scholarships to men and women. The law has forced schools to reduce men’s athletic programs like wrestling, but it has encouraged more girls to participate in sports.

Here is how she could make sense of it.  Families and non-govermental organizations take care of the soccer player (and several other sports) until age 18.  The government has acted to help them after age 18 by giving women more scholarships and denying them to men.  This helps the the US Soccer team because there isn’t a market mechanism for women in soccer.  There is a market mechanism for men in many, but not all, sports.

Where do US women rule besides soccer?  Swimming and gymnastics come to mind.  Here is a list of the top 15 men and women swimmers by gold medals.  Eight of the 15 women are from the U.S.  The men do even better.  Where do we see the most families and traveling teams?  You know.

Attacking Straw Men

George Will at NRO has a great article on the silliness of politics.  He mostly indicts would-be Democrat presidential nominees but he shows his displeasure for their likely opponent.  Benjamin Zycher from the American Enterprise Institute is also at NRO with the wildly misnamed The Confusions of The Conservative Carbon Tax showing how silly the right can be.  The first misnaming is in the title.  What would be “the” conservative carbon tax?  We hope it is the MWG proposal but that seems presumptuous.  To remind you, the MWG carbon tax proposal is a modest one, $20 per ton, that includes eliminating the the gas tax and federal support of alternative energy.  After skewering some straw-men

Sidebar: Would straw-men mind being skewered?  We think, like in the Wizard of Oz, they would be worried about fires rather than blades.  Still we are sticking with alliteration.  End Sidebar.

Benjamin starts his conclusion with an exactly wrong sentence:

Once conservatives have endorsed a carbon tax, they will have no principled answer to the endless pressures for more government intervention.[Emphasis added]

The answer is exactly the opposite.  Since we endorse a carbon tax then we have principled answers for reducing government intervention.  Particularly, we have the opportunity to reduce the current government support of “alternative” energy.  In fact, the joy is that we could do both as one deal.

The rest of his conclusion is sensible:

Conservatives cannot defeat climate alarmism and the fundamental threat to freedom that it represents unless we defend first principles. In the context of climate policy, watchful waiting and adaptation over time are the only sensible approaches consistent with them.

One of the first principles of conservatism is to get incentives right or at least move them in the right direction.  A modest carbon tax that eliminated the gas tax and reduced [yes, the principled answer is eliminate every bit of support but we need space to negotiate] alternative energy support would be a conservative step because it gets the incentives closer to right.  If the left is unwilling to make a deal then we do what Benjamin suggests.

 

Making Public Universities Private

Richard Vetter has an interesting article at Minding the Campus with a strange start.  You should read the whole thing as vouchers for college is an interesting idea.  Near the beginning of Let’s Privatize State Colleges he categorizes colleges:

Some of them are renowned highly selective research institutions like the University of California at Berkeley or the University of Michigan, while others are relatively obscure schools with an open admissions policy. But all receive some degree of subsidization from the state government where they are physically located.

Writers love groups of three: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear.  In Bonanza there is Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe.  In the Brady Bunch there is a dad with three boys marries a mom with three daughters.  When you add in the Brady’s housekeeper there are three groups of three.  Perfect.  Yet Richard has just two: Berkeley and open admissions.  It is particularly strange because the middle, what we will call comprehensives, is almost surely the majority of state college enrollment.  Here is a 2016 story for the University of Wisconsin System.  There are (rounding) 43,000 students at Madison (a Berkeley clone), 11,000 at the colleges (they have open admissions or close to it) out of 179,000.  The remaining 125,000 or 70 percent are enrolled elsewhere.  To call the 125,000 comprehensives is slightly expansive but that is what we are going with.  States will vary but comprehensives are likely a majority of enrollment nationwide.

Sidebar: The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee has 26,000 students and doesn’t fit as a comprehensive because it has a significant doctoral program but it is not, sorry, Berkeley.  The Carnegie classification is much more detailed. Check the numbers at the link.  There are 130 doctoral schools with very high research and 741 masters degree schools which is the traditional definition of a comprehensive.   We will use the term comprehensive to include these second tier research programs and some schools without a masters program.  We know there are more categories.  End Sidebar.

The comprehensives, as defined in the sidebar, are the biggest group of students.  Richard is not just talking about Berkeley.  Richard has a neat idea: Let’s give money to needy and/or accomplished individuals rather than schools.  He says:

Why don’t we provide vouchers for college attendance like some states do for students going to K-12 schools? The aid could be more explicitly targeted to kids who are either relatively poor or who excel academically.

We like vouchers for K-12 but are not supportive of Richard’s proposal for three (there is that number again) reasons: gamesmanship, lack of confidence in the state, and it is not a priority.  First, there is the opportunity for gamesmanship.  Do 529 accounts count? Is your parents’ income and assets considered if you go into the armed forces and then return to school?  The current system has enough of these challenges.  Making the potential returns bigger will only exacerbate the current challenges.

Second, we are expecting each state to come up with and adjust a system that prevents gamesmanship and deals with grad students, veterans, varying programs, and finances.  For example, 150 credits are required to sit for the CPA exam in most states.  Do you get five years in accounting but four years in finance?  We are not confident that the state will make things better.  Colleges have employee contracts that are set up before enrollment.  Under Richard’s system when a college does not reach enrollment targets there will be a big financial problem.  What will be the state’s plan for short-term versus long-term financial problems.  Will contracts be honored?

Third, and most importantly, state college vouchers should not be a priority for conservatives.  The reason vouchers for K-12 are a priority is to encourage competition.  Comprehensives are already intensely competitive within state and sometimes among states and they often have a program or two where they compete with the flagship school(s).  The flagship schools compete among states.  There is lots of overlap in the Wisconsin (Madison) and Minnesota application pools.  College vouchers might increase competition but there is already intense competition.

If we are going to spend our time on education we need to worry about (of course, three things) K-12 vouchers, union issues, and free speech, especially in college.  Vouchers for colleges is a fun topic to kick around among  conservatives (why not allow students to use them at private schools?) but it shouldn’t be a priority.