Saturday, December 22, 2012

Odds and ends 12/22/2012

Leading off this week, Peter Ferrara tells the truth about the maligned Bush tax cuts in Forbes:

According to official IRS data, the top 1% of income earners paid $84 billion more in federal income taxes in 2007 than in 2000 before the Bush tax cuts were passed, 23% more. The share of total federal income taxes paid by the top 1% rose from 37% in 2000, before the Bush tax cuts, to 40% in 2007, after the tax cuts.

In contrast, the bottom half of income earners paid $6 billion less in federal income taxes in 2007 than in 2000, a decline of 16%.

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These Bush tax cuts did not explode the deficit, as Obama and his echo chamber have alleged. By 2007, the deficit was down to $160 billion, less than 15% of Obama’s deficits today. Total federal revenues soared from $793.7 billion in 2003, when the last of the Bush tax cuts were enacted, to $1.16 trillion in 2007, a 47% increase. Capital gains revenues had doubled by 2005, despite the 25% capital gains rate cut adopted in 2003. Federal revenues rose to 18.5% of GDP by 2007, above the long term, postwar, historical average over the prior 60 years. CBO was projecting surpluses to return indefinitely in 2012 through the end of its projection period in 2018.

Bush did increase federal spending as a percent of GDP by one-seventh, erasing the federal spending cuts enacted by the Republican Congressional majorities in the 1990s. But even with that, deficits during the Bush years averaged just 2% of GDP, one-third less than the average over the prior 50 years. President Obama’s deficits have averaged 5 times as much, at 9.1% of GDP.


In “The working class epidemic of demoralization” over at The Week, Matt Lewis writes:

Economies change, and it would be wrong to suggest that we should use the forces of government to prevent this evolution. A free market demands that some businesses fail while others succeed. Towns also fail. Unfortunately, this means people fail. It would also be wrong of us not to acknowledge that there are real-life consequences to this “creative destruction.”


Josh Barro lays out the case for “progressive” economics at Bloomberg. His prescription, further expansion of the already bloated nanny state, is wrong, but there’s his diagnosis is commendable.

Since the 1970s, wage gains have decoupled from productivity gains and the median family has therefore reaped a disproportionately small share of the benefits of growth. Conservatives are left without anything to say about this problem.

What can they say about it? I have a few ideas, though I don’t think conservatives are likely to like any of them too much.

One, as I discuss at greater length here, is that they can take up the cause of cost control in health care and higher education, the effect of which would be to raise real incomes for the middle class. The rising cost of health benefits has been a key driver of middle-class wage stagnation. Unfortunately, many of the policies actually likely to control costs in these sectors are interventionist in a way that makes conservatives recoil.

Another possibility is greater high-skill immigration. Globalization has been disproportionately beneficial to high-skill workers in developed nations: they have seen the prices of products fall as manufacturing shifts to low-wage countries, but their own jobs are insulated from foreign competition. Letting in more foreign doctors and engineers should drive down wages in skilled professions and the cost of the services those professionals provide, raising real incomes for lower-income workers who already face wage competition from other countries. Reducing occupational licensing requirements would similarly raise real incomes.

But the big problem for conservatives is that these policies cannot fully substitute for progressive fiscal policy. The dirty secret about the last 30 years’ rise in pre-tax income inequality is that we probably can’t reverse it. Instead, we will have to rely on policies that ameliorate it on an after-tax basis – that is, the dreaded redistribution of income, or “spreading the wealth around.”


In a sweeping National Journal article, Jonathan Rauch explains the bad economy’s disproportionate impact on men:

Most measures of earnings look only at the incomes of men who work; as the top line of the chart shows, their earnings have gone nowhere for the past 40 years. That measure, however, overlooks the large and growing population of men who don’t work. If you add them to the mix and thereby look at the earnings of all American men, including nonworkers with zero income, you get the middle line. Think of it as a misery index for the male population. The median man in America, by this measure, is almost 20 percent worse off than he was four decades ago. The misery line sinks still lower, of course, for all men (working or not) with a high school degree but no college; their median earnings have fallen 40 percent.

Harder to quantify, but probably at least as important, are the social consequences of the broken link between less-educated men and work. Work, for men, means more than money: It connects them to their communities, makes them more attractive as mates and more successful as spouses, and is a linchpin of their self-esteem. When they don’t work, their role in the community tends to wither, harming the places where they live as well as themselves. Their family lives suffer, too. More and more often, less-educated men are strangers to marriage.

Both men and women have suffered from the disappearance of well-paying mid-skilled jobs in factories and offices. But they have responded very differently. “Women have been up-skilling very rapidly,” said MIT’s Autor, “whereas men have been much, much less successful in adapting.” Women have responded to the labor market’s increased preference for brains over brawn by streaming through college and into the workforce—one of the great successes of the U.S. economy. Men’s rate of completing college has barely budged since the late 1970s.

To women, men who either can’t or don’t earn a decent living are less necessary and desirable as mates; they’re just another mouth to feed. This helps to explain why rates of out-of-wedlock childbirth have risen to hitherto unimaginable heights among the less educated. Causality also flows in the opposite direction. The very fact of being married brings men a premium in their earnings, research shows, and makes them steadier workers, presumably because they have more stability at home. “Marriage is an institution that makes men more responsible in their pursuit of work and in their work-related duties,” said Brad Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociologist who directs the National Marriage Project.

You can see where this leads. Nonwork makes men less marriageable; non-marriage makes men less employable; the cycle repeats. This is slippage No. 4: Low-earning men are decreasingly able to form stable families. That, in turn, harms their children and communities. “Social capital disintegrates as you have a combination of drop in participation in the labor force and the disintegration of marriage,” said Charles Murray, a scholar with the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the author of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.

I finished reading Coming Apart a month ago. Excerpts found here.


Greg Forster at Hang Together responds to Rauch’s observation that productivity gains have separated from production/non-supervisory workers’ wage gains (or lack thereof):

Wages are still tracking productivity just fine; the gap in wages across social classes is caused by a gap in productivity.

There you have it.


Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy reminds us of the hubris humanists stand for (via Rod Dreher):

These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

Kennedy unwittingly reveals multiculturalism’s fatal flaw. A society cannot survive without broad consensus on moral ends.


The all-powerful state convinces itself that it can take care of everyone by neutralizing each person’s power to obtain whatever he wants. We replace it with whatever the state will give. The “cost” is that we cannot hold ideas and beliefs. They are the real causes of our struggles with one another. The price of peace is state control of ideas and religion. – James V. Schall


“Freydis” describes nihilism:

While an acceptance of nihilism immediately returns a perspective of utter futility for life and universal existence, this perspective is not the final resolution. As Nietzsche once wrote in The Will to Power, “Nihilism represents a pathological transition phase...” Existence is not futile simply because the edifice of modern morality is inherently dysfunctional. Actually existence has even more purpose now because a proper perspective has been attained and a reason is finally clear – the complete destruction of the debasing, theologically derived moral order. Thus the nihilist is at base a creator of the highest magnitude and a survivor of the most intense metaphysical struggle of all time. The nihilist undergoes a personal evolution and has proven themselves the mental superiors to the herd and mob, they have proven their will and ‘license’ for continued existence and have successfully escaped from the circus of values. Once the transvaluation of values is complete an entirely new and sane perspective can be achieved

From here, I can see how nihilism degrades to naturalism, then hedonism, and finally a brutal will to power.


At The Art of Manliness, Brett and Kate McKay look at the decline of traditional honor in the West:

Traditional honor can only exist among a group of equal peers who enjoy intimate, face-to-face relationships. It is entirely external, and completely predicated on one’s reputation as judged by fellow members of the honor group. Without close ties, there is no one to evaluate your claims to honor, and thus the possibility of a traditional honor culture vanishes.

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In cities and smaller towns alike, civic participation and community-mindedness has fallen significantly since WWII. And while honor formerly centered on one’s clan, extended families no longer live close together and familial relations have constricted to the nuclear family alone, which itself is often split up.

As a result of these shifts, immoral, unethical, and cowardly behaviors are rarely known outside one’s immediate circle of family and friends. And even then, for reasons we’ll discuss below, they are more likely to shrug and say, “It’s none of my business,” or, “To each his own,” than to condemn and challenge the errant behavior.

The internet has only accelerated the shift towards impersonal and anonymous relationships. Traditional honor is designed to act as a check on people’s claims to merit and force them to stand behind and defend their insults; exaggerations of one’s deeds or shameful actions are called out and challenged by one’s associates. On the internet, however, people can claim to be a Navy SEAL or issue the basest of insults to another person without having to prove their claim, suffer consequences for their character, or allow the insulted person to defend themselves. They can be anyone and say anything, all while safely ensconced behind a screen.


At National Review Lee Habeeb tells how he accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior:

In the fall of 2007, I became the most excited and reluctant convert in all northern Mississippi.

“What brought you to Christ?” my friends asked.

“Christians,” I replied.

“What took you so long?” was the usual follow-up.

“Christians,” I replied. The kind more focused on other people’s sins than their own.

I didn’t meet many of the latter. Much of what I thought I knew about Christians before I became one came through the lens of the media, which tend to ignore the contributions Christians make to American life. That is, when they aren’t actively denigrating Christians as mindless simpletons, or fundamentalists hell-bent on turning our country into a theocracy.


Rod Dreher reviews Nordic liberation. The second, third, and fourth paragraphs are excerpts from The Tyranny of Liberalism by James Kalb.

[Dreher:] Though the path hasn’t always been straight, one can discern over the course of the twentieth century an overarching ambition in the Nordic countries not to socialize the economy but to liberate the individual citizen from all forms of subordination and dependency within the family and in civil society: the poor from charity, the workers from their employers, wives from their husbands, children from parents – and vice versa when the parents become elderly…legislation has made the Nordic countries into the least family-dependent and most individualized societies on the face of the earth. To be sure, the family remains a central social institution in the Nordic countries, but it too is infused with the same moral logic stressing autonomy and equality. The ideal family is made up of adults who work and are not financially dependent on the other, and children who are encouraged to be as independent as early as possible.

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[Kalb:] Human life is harder to change than are proclaimed social standards. It is easier to denounce gender stereotypes than to make little boys and little girls the same. The triumph of liberalism in public discussion and the consequent disappearance of openly avowed nonliberal principles has led the outlook officially established to embody liberal views ever more completely and at the same time to diverge more and more from the permanent conditions of human life. The result has been a growing conflict between public standards and the normal human understandings that make commonsense judgments and good human relations possible.

The conflict between public standards and normal understandings has transformed and disordered such basic aspects of social life as politics, which depends on free and rational discussion; the family, which counts on a degree of harmony between public understandings and natural human tendencies; and scholarship, which relies on complex formal rules while attempting to explain reality. As a consequence, family life is chaotic and ill-tempered; young people are badly instructed and badly raised; politics are irrational, trivial, and mindlessly partisan; and scholarship is shoddy and disconnected from normal experience. Terms such as “zero tolerance” and “political correctness” reveal how an official outlook deeply at odds with normal ways of thinking has become oppressive while claiming to have reached an unprecedented level of fairness and rationality.

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What defines that regime is the effort to manage and rationalize social life in order to bring it in line with comprehensive standards aimed at implementing equal freedom. The result is a pattern of governance intended to promote equality and individual gratification and marked by entitlement programs, sexual and expressive freedoms, blurred distinctions between the public and the private, and the disappearance of self-government. To implement such a program of social transformation an extensive system of controls over social life has grown up, sometimes public and sometimes formally private, that appeals for its justification to expertise, equity, safety, security, and the need to modify social attitudes and relationships in order to eliminate discrimination and intolerance.


Via First Things, more wackiness from socialist France:

President François Hollande announced the creation of l’Observatoire national de la laïcité (roughly, “National Observatory of Secularism”) in 2013. The official statement specifically mentions only the development of propositions for a “public morality” to be taught in schools [Interior Minister Manuel Valls:] The aim is not to combat opinions by force, but to detect and understand when an opinion turns into a potentially violent and criminal excess. . . . The objective is to identify when it’s suitable to intervene to treat what has become a religious pathology.

Except for cuddly secularism.


More on France. William Sullivan writes on French socialism and natural law:

John Locke observed that natural laws exist, independent of any system of government, and among these are not only the individual’s fundamental right to life and liberty, but also a right to “property,” which can be described as the product of a person’s labor and enterprise.

Most Westerners would say that they accept this assumption in theory, but due to a curious caveat in human nature, many only limitedly accept it in practice. An individual will typically be far more concerned with the preservation of this natural right to “property” when it is his own “property” that is targeted for seizure. The Occupier of Zuccotti Park, for example, may find it a travesty that a homeless man steals his wallet to subsidize a livelihood, but when a homeless man has his livelihood subsidized by someone else’s wallet in a transaction brokered by the government, the incident somehow becomes noble and necessary.

It is the tragic flaw by which the grand ambition of socialism has always failed, and will always fail. Human nature resists any attempt to seize one’s property beyond what he would willingly give. This is the very basis of the social contract between a free man and a just government. A man chooses to take part. If that social contract is amended to be uniquely biased against his right to property, absent his consent, he may rightfully exercise his right to liberty and seek avenues to establish a new contract with a government, either by revolution or, more commonly today, expatriation.


Dean Kalahar writes on the bald immorality of socialism at the American Thinker:

If morality is defined by private property, meaning that a person has a right, based on natural law, to their person and their possessions, and if property is generated by the productive and wealth creating behavior of a person’s labor, then it follows that it is an infringement on an individual’s rights to use any force (murder, theft, rape, etc) to injure or take away one’s property. Using the productivity of another for one’s personal gain is immoral.

We can then extrapolate from this premise. If taking the productive output of a slave and using it for another’s personal gain is immoral; then taking the productive output of any worker and using it for another’s gain is also immoral, no matter what race, color, gender, or socio-economic status the producer happens to be.

Logic leads us to one conclusion. A modern form of slavery has been embedded within the welfare state. And no matter how you slice it, property theft to promote a false ideology of “fairness” or advance a twisted form of “compassion” to gain power is abhorrent. It does not matter how many ribbons and bows decorate the rhetoric of “Robin Hood” redistribution, the final analysis is the promotion of servitude.

Redistributive ideology is not about a safety net for the truly needy or the necessity of government to tax in order to perform its proper functions of protecting people, property, and enforcing the rule of law. President Obama may call redistributive efforts “economic justice,” or “economic rights,” but in the end, using the power of the state to confiscate property is as immoral as taking the wealth created by a slave to benefit the slave owner.


Rev. Robert Sirico writes about Michigan’s new right-to-work law at the Acton Institute:

Michigan’s new right-to-work law is neither “unjust” nor will it “foster extreme inequality.” The law simply gives working people the freedom to choose whether or not they want to be members of a union. What’s more, they are not forced to pay union dues or agency fees as a condition of employment. Another word for this is freedom.

Historically, the Catholic Church has looked favorably on unions — with exceptions, of course. The Church sees unions as one way to look after the well-being of workers and their families. However, this favorable bias does not mean that workers are obligated to join a union, nor that management is obligated to accept the terms of a union. The right to join a union, in Church social teaching, is rooted in the natural right of association, which of course also means that people have the right not to associate. Which is exactly what this legislation addresses; it protects workers from being coerced to association with and paying fees to a group with whom they would rather not join.


Quin Hillyer writes at the Center for Individual Freedom that President Obama is negotiating the “fiscal cliff” in bad faith:

Back in the last talks 18 months ago, Obama reportedly originally asked for $800 billion in new revenues. Then he demanded $1.2 trillion, but said it could all be accomplished without higher rates. Now he demands $1.6 trillion, and says he won’t even come to the table unless rates are raised (not just loopholes and deductions limited) on exactly those he always has targeted, those couples making over $200 annually. Plus, rather than limiting spending, he is demanding more “stimulus” largesse and an unlimited, automatic extension of the debt limit.

So, even with Boeher now offering higher rates for those actually making $1 million or more a year — a HUGE concession for Republicans — Obama has rejected that out of hand, and did so within an hour or so.

This man has no interest in keeping the government solvent. Just the opposite: He obviously wants it to spend, spend, spend, and grow, grow, grow, no matter what. He’s playing a long-term game, for total federal-government control, no matter what the short-term damage he does.


We’re facing a moral cliff, writes Peter Cove for Real Clear Policy:

If you are bothered that we might go over a fiscal cliff, think again. Our march toward a moral cliff is its taproot. The moral cliff is the ever quickening erosion of core values and our growing expectations of government. Slowly slipping away are individualism and commitment grounded in hard work, personally doing good and the proper role of citizens within the society. Alexis De Tocqueville, the French historian who penned Democracy in America based upon his own experiences, would not recognize what we have become. In his own words, “No Americans are devoid of a yearning desire to rise…not only are desires boundless, but the power of satisfying them seems almost boundless, too.” We have since changed and the results have eroded our belief in industriousness and how much government must provide. We have journeyed from the serving the deserving poor, to all are deserving. The safety net has become a version of the game Dialing for Dollars where all can play and most win.


We close with reflections on the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. Rod Dreher writes:

Absent a total and draconian ban on weapons, how do you write a gun control law that can prevent a middle-aged suburban Connecticut woman who enjoys target shooting from buying guns?


Daniel Greenfield puts in:

The issue isn’t really guns. Guns are how we misspell evil. Guns are how we avoid talking about the ugly realities of human nature while building sandcastles on the shores of utopia.

The obsession with guns, rather than machetes, stone clubs, crossbows or that impressive weapon of mass death, the longbow (just ask anyone on the French side of the Battle of Agincourt) is really the obsession with human agency. It’s not about the fear of what one motivated maniac can do in a crowded place, but about the precariousness of social control that the killing sprees imply.

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It’s about guns that shoot people and people that are irrevocably tugged into pulling the trigger because society failed them, corporations programmed them and not enough kindly souls told them that they loved them.

Mostly it’s about people who are sheltered from the realities of human nature trying to build a shelter big enough for everyone. A Gun Free Zone where everyone is a target and tries to live under the illusion that they aren’t.

Greenfield strikes again:

You wouldn’t blame a dog for overeating; you blame the owners for overfeeding him. Nor do you blame a dog for biting a neighbor. You might punish him, but the punishment is training, not a recognition of authentic responsibility on the part of the canine. And the way that you think of a dog, is the way that the left thinks of you. When you misbehave, the left looks around for your owner.


Dennis Prager writes:

The moral values and the conscience of nations as well as individuals seem to play almost no role in the left’s understanding of human behavior.

That is why the left wants all nations, including the United States, to destroy their nuclear weapons. The problem for the left is not the moral values nations hold, it is the weapons nations hold. American nuclear weapons were just as troubling to the left as Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War and just as troubling as Iran having nuclear weapons today. So, too, the problem of gun violence in America is not the moral values of gun owners, it is gun ownership.


A silly Bryce Covert writes at The Nation:

The urge to confront mass killings by telling every American to purchase his or her own personal arsenal—a call many heed, as gun sales usually shoot up after a massacre—is a step toward individualism and away from a civilized society. Individually, in the face of unpredictable violence it can make sense to want to arm oneself to respond to what may come. But that means a lack of trust in our common goal of safety for all.

Agreeing to ignore the instinct to pick up more guns means trusting that the police will show up to answer your call, that you’ll be treated fairly by our criminal justice system, that our laws will be enforced in a way that truly prevents violence. Our system fails at many of these goals. But the alternative is each citizen being a private army of one, on the defense against all others around him.

Nonsense. Covert draws a picture of primal man against primal man. The self-evident binding of people to communities eludes her. The fact is gun-carrying citizens are a boon to public safety.


Doug Hagmann writes at the Canada Free Press:

The more introspective and spiritually grounded among us will instead fall to our knees and cry out, “why have we allowed this to happen?” But those hearing our cries will fail to understand that we are not blaming our system of laws, but our own acquiescence and failure to honestly confront our unquestioning acceptance of evil. We realize that we cannot fix spiritual problems and repair moral deficits with the legislation of man. We will never be successful in fixing spiritual problems with political solutions. Yet few have the courage, insight or willingness to address this very foundation of our existence as a people and a nation.

By permitting the perversion of our core spirituality from a new age ideology that has replaced or redefined our spiritual values, the blood of innocents are on our hands as well. By our own acquiescence to moral and spiritual perversity cleverly packaged as tolerance, we have embraced the very evil that is embodied within tolerance. In that form, tolerance itself becomes evil, and we become enraged at the mere symptoms of a great spiritual problem rather that the problem itself.

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