8-20-16 Hodgepodge

Saturday, August 20, 2016

That Economics Joke, Again

Robert Tracinski has written a couple of times recently about how the Libertarians are blowing a historic opportunity to become relevant in this election. The first of these pieces drew an angry response from a Libertarian, prompting a second piece, titled, "If Libertarians Want to Be Relevant, Maybe They Should Focus on Promoting Liberty," in which Tracinski says, among other things:

[Nick] Gillespie's version of libertarianism is fundamentally defined by its hostility to the ideas and concerns of everybody else on the right. So how dare anyone suggest that the Libertarian Party candidates try to reach out to those people and appeal to them on their core issues? They don't need to change to appeal to us, we need to change to accommodate them.

I find this grimly amusing because I come from the Ayn Rand wing of the right, and the big libertarian argument that I remember from long, long ago is that we Objectivists were too rigid and ideologically demanding. Libertarians were supposed to be better because they would have an ideological big tent. ... Now here comes a perfect opportunity ... for libertarians to reach out to disgruntled conservatives and persuade them -- and they're the ones who are being ... rigid and exclusionary.
(I have omitted some of the above on the grounds of disagreement with the author: Liberty would fail miserably to realize the goals of any variety of totalitarian, for example. I would also add that, even in the kind of coalition necessitated by politics, there is a point at which you do have to say, "Take it or leave it," to potential voters.)

This reminds me of two things. First, the following economics joke:
Two economists walked past a Porsche showroom. One of them pointed at a shiny car in the window and said, "I want that." "Obviously not," the other replied.
Say what you will of the merits of the implicit argument, the Libertarians certainly aren't acting like they value liberty. And this brings me to the second thing this reminds me of: Peter Schwartz's essential condemnation of libertarianism, from Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty: "Libertarianism deserves only one fundamental criticism: it does not value liberty."

For further irony, the primary value their ticket brings to this election is that there is a sliver of hope it might win under highly unusual circumstances, and yet that party seems determined to snuff out even this sliver of hope, as imperfect as such an outcome would be.

Weekend Reading

"Whether it's as simple an issue as where to eat dinner or what movie to see, or as difficult a decision as whether to buy a house or have a child, mutuality is the only way any personal relationship can stand the test of time." -- Michael Hurd, in "Unblocking a Stalled Relationship" at The Delaware Wave

"Children must know that their minds and thinking skills, not cool backpacks and the latest iPhone, are the most crucial components of self-esteem and happiness. " -- Michael Hurd, in "A Healthy Outlook: Part of Good Parenting" at The Delaware Coast Press

"This is an exciting development, as the issuance of a gold bond would be a major step towards a working gold standard." -- Keith Weiner, in "Arizona Considers Issuing a Gold Bond" at SNB & CHF

When "Email Bankruptcy" Isn't Good Enough ...

I recently implemented "email bankruptcy," and thought it all but impossible to improve upon it as a means of handling email correspondence. And then I  stumbled across a way to do so yesterday (See Item 2.):
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has devised a way to help busy employees avoid what he calls the "never-ending treadmill" of daily messages, reports the Wall Street Journal. Hsieh calls his technique "yesterbox." The idea is that each day, you answer yesterday's email messages -- but not today's, unless they're truly urgent. That way, you know exactly how many messages you have to get through, rather than constantly fielding new incoming emails throughout the day, and you can actually reach a point where you're "done" with your email duties for the day. Hsieh says that says this technique often lets him complete his email processing by noon, and that he actually responds faster (even though he's rarely answering in the same day a message was received) because it has stopped him from procrastinating on difficult responses the way he used to. The method "takes a lot of discipline," he says. "Unless it can't wait 48 hours, they are not your problem today."
And the term "yesterbox" is an elegant way to remember the technique.That's good, because I don't need to do this now, but will have no trouble remembering the idea in the future.

-- CAV


Gus Van Horn said...

Long-time reader Jim May attempted to leave the following lengthy comment yesterday, but the comment system coughed a hairball on each of his attempts to post it, so he emailed it to me with a request to post it. It follows here in several parts to circumvent Blogger's comment length limits:

[Jim May Comment, Part I]

For various reasons I've been offline from the commentary market for years, so I don't have my own venue for this - but since you're discussing it, I figure I'll drop this here.

The problem with Tracinski's first critique, is that he, along with a lot of the #NeverTrump conservatives, have succumbed to what I'll dub SPS - Sudden Perfection Syndrome.

For years, it's always been the libertarians who generally were the ones obsessed with perfection, or "purity" (such as it is in their context). Many of them still are, as you'd have seen if you watched the LP party convention. Conservatives, on the other hand, have always been the ones generally focusing on "political reality" - coalitions, compromise, and trying to win votes from independents and swing voters from constituencies outside their base. It has always been them, as drivers of the loose libertarian/conservative coalition, telling the libertarians (and us) to suck it up and go to the election with the candidate we have.

Now we have an extremely unusual situation: the Libertarians nominated the sane candidate, and the "mainstream" parties have gone off the deep end. Way off.

Would you agree that if Johnson/Weld were exactly as they are now, but the Republican ticket vs. Hillary, they'd be vote worthy? That's the first point that needs arguing: what weight should we assign to the actual party involved?

Given that the Ackbar Spectrum trap has closed, and that both party platforms are similarly abhorrent, my position now is that we're voting, at first step, for people - not parties. If Johnson/Weld would be an overall decent Republican, he's a decent candidate - period.

I therefore consider it very interesting that conservatives are suddenly picking on Johnson/Weld because they aren't *perfect*. All of a sudden, they're the ones demanding that they get the "perfect" candidate. Out of seemingly nowhere, conservatives are all about those imperfections! He likes immigration, and won't overturn Roe v. Wade! THE HORRORS!

Isn't that strange? Haven't you noticed that many of their criticisms of Johnson/Weld are rather ordinary - the sort of "normal" complaints we'd see during a primary? I'm sorry, but that kind of criticism is way out of place in an election with Hillarump in it. You don't complain that a candidate for janitor has some dirt on his mop when the other two options have dried blood on theirs.

Gillespie pretty much nails it as "concern trolling", though that doesn't get at what I think is actually going on.

Tracinski's second piece is just bizarre. Calling out Johnson/Weld for failing to be "big tent" because they aren't trying to win conservative votes -- as if those were the only votes that matter?

The most frequent complaints I'm seeing from many rank-and-file conservatives is that GJ is doing too much to **appeal to voters on the left** -- because he's pro-choice and pro-immigration! As for "religious liberty", that doesn't count much for me **in this context**, for two reasons: Conservatives calling it "religious liberty" means they don't think the actual principle (freedom of thought) should apply to atheists -- and the large majority of voters associate "religious liberty" with freedom to be racist/anti-gay etc. and while it actually does, that's not going to sell these days. I therefore regard it as ordinary political triangulation. We're nowhere near the point of being able to defend that hill politically.

Gus Van Horn said...

[Jim May Comment, Part II]

This isn't the primaries anymore. Votes matter. You don't win by appealing only to a narrow base; you win by attracting votes from the middle - the independents and swing voters.

Now which bloc of voters do you think is more numerous: anti-immigration, anti-choice conservatives, or pro-choice, pro-immigration independents and moderate Democrats who realize how terrible Hillary is?

Obviously GJ hopes the latter - and so should we.

How strange is it that suddenly "political reality" doesn't matter for conservatives anymore!

If Tracinski thinks that his disaffected conservatives are a bigger bloc than independents, and therefore a better target for GJ, that's fine - but he doesn't argue for it it. He just wants to know why GJ isn't wooing conservatives, as if those other voters don't exist -- even though we know they do:



This isn't the position of someone who wants to beat Hillarump; it's someone concerned with the fortunes of his particular faction.

SPS is not an accident. Anytime I see a pattern reversal like that, especially when it's so sharp and clear, it means that there's something deeper at stake for the ones doing the flipping. Time to take out the philosophical detection tools.

I think that the real motive behind this is that core conservatives are afraid that conservatism may be on the precipice of getting displaced as the "mainstream right" - squeezed out by a horrifically embarassing candidate out of their own "mainstream" on one side, and a surprisingly sane candidate from their competition on their own "side".

This is the reason why conservatives are acting as if Gary Johnson were a bigger threat than Hillarump. It's why Nevertrump is full of voices who will go straight to Hillary; they prefer her to the "danger" of the Libertarians going mainstream. They don't want to get displaced as "the Right".

This is why Ed McMullin exists: to siphon off votes from Gary Johnson from the *right* side. To save conservatism.

This is more important to them, apparently, than the highly visible evidence that "the right" is suddenly taking on a much more European, tribal quality - like the Left they putatively oppose. Cf. the rise of the "alt-right" (whom I call "The Other Left").


I've always thought that a first step to restoring Americanism is to get conservatism out of the way, to displace them as the "right". Evidently they think so too. Bastards.

I say that will full recall of the problems with libertarianism in general. I am not dropping that context. Rather, I am shifting my emphasis, because we're much, much closer to the cliff than I thought.

As I've said on Twitter, Donald Trump is not the story here. He is not Hitler. Rather, the story is that he has exposed something that I knew was coming, but thought was one generation further off: the American electorate is now Europeanized, or close to it, and her politics is rapidly accomodating this change. We now have a significant bloc of voters on the right who openly seek a Fuehrer, and the old truism that "Americans never took to socialism" is now dead in name as well as fact. Take my word for it, lots of real potential Fuehrers out there have taken notice that this bloc exists.

Gus Van Horn said...

[Jim May Comment, Part III]

In his book "Der Fuehrer", Konrad Heiden observed that by 1923, German politics was dominated by their own Ackbar Spectrum trap. The left was defined by outright communists and socialists, the right by authoritarian Prussian aristocrats, and the "traditional liberal parties" -- classical liberals, the remnants of the Enlightenment -- were gone. Not merely as political options, mind you - as Leonard Peikoff documented in "Ominous Parallels" they were gone **as a cultural phenomenon.**

THAT is my main concern -- finding out whether liberalism is gone as a cultural factor **here**.

Remember your old post about how the Abolitionists won - by presenting themselves as a bloc of voters **of sufficient size and influence** to be worth courting? http://gusvanhorn.blogspot.com/2008/01/indeed-indeed.html

Seems like a thousand years ago, doesn't it? That's the signal I'm hoping to see here.

This is why all the conservative whinging - and Tracinski's rather embarassing support of them, considering he knows better -- is noise.

To HELL with conservatism. It's in the way. It is a contradictory, unstable mess in the process of reverting to its mean -- to feudal, religious tribalism on the local scale, hostile to anything from beyond the next hill. We were always living on borrowed time with them.

As for Objectivism's case against Libertarianism, those facts remain true, but are much less relevant to us now in this context. Objectivists can't supply an alternative of any cultural mass, as evidenced by the past decades of trying, and time is short. The libertarians (in general, not the LP) are the only thing we have left, culturally or politicaly, whose existence contradicts the Europeanization of our culture in a way that the general population can see -- and now that conservatism is finally abandoning Americanism, is the last political place for the latter to go.

IMO, we no longer have the luxury of complaining about libertarianism's flaws. We have to see what we can do to fix them, to shore it up. I speculated that John Allison's reason for taking the Cato position was similar reasoning; I'm really miffed that he never gave us a real post-mortem about that (that I know of).

[End of Jim May Comment]

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for sending me this thought-provoking analysis, much of which I am inclined to agree with. One immediate implication that really bothers me is that it makes the scenarios by which we escape the major party candidates look even more unlikely -- thanks to conservative sabotage, rather (or in addition to) mere spinelessness. I can see the same people who claim they can "rein in" Trump or Clinton suddenly "forgetting" they could do the same with Johnson.)

One point on which to find some solace is this: You reference my old post on abolitionism, saying that it seems long ago. This may yet be a case of "too soon" rather than "too late." Acting on an old recommendation by Ellen Kenner on HBL, I recently read Alex Esptein's The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels and followed up by taking a communications course he offers on his web site ("How to Talk to Anyone About Energy"). This I did specifically because Kenner noted that, while it draws on the book, the course is broadly applicable to becoming a better advocate than just energy/climate issues. I have found this to be true, and am quite excited because he explicitly discusses why some movements find success and how to replicate such success. I have always known through historical example that this was the case, but was not clear on many aspects of how.

I highly recommend that course, if you haven't already taken it.


Jim May said...

Hi Gus,

Regarding "conservative sabotage", that is to be expected. Modern conservatism was born in religious/aristocratic reaction/appeasement against Enlightenment radicalism, and is at root the voice of that Christian paternalism which the latter swept aside. It shares key elements of tribalist hostility to the sovereign individual, and is properly regarded as the Left's older sibling.

That's why the Tea Party failed; it had to be sabotaged, and it was. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/08/tea-party-pacs-ideas-death-214164

Free market conservatives -- the better ones we usually like, from Thomas Sowell to David Harsanyi and Charles C.W. Cooke, just to name a few -- fancy themselves to be the genuine conservatives, and insist that Trump's followers and the so-called "alt-right" are not.

They are wrong. These men are the aberrants. They are something BETTER than conservatives, when they let themselves be: LIBERALS, in the proper meaning of that term.

But so long as they insist on identifying as conservatives, they won't detect the contradiction -- and they can't risk doing so lest they realize that conservatism has much more in common with the Left than with Americanism, and is strictly speaking NOT their opposition in any proper sense beyond the tribal "team blue vs. team red".

Contradictions destabilize. Liberalism/Americanism cannot rest on a conservative base. I knew this was coming for years, but it's just like termites: the house seems fine right up until the instant it isn't. Just because I knew they were there doesn't mean I can time the collapse.

That is why Nevertrump is in the most unenviable position they are in. When the Dark Ages element of conservatism - the tribal ones shared with the Left - showed up and started trashing the place, these "better conservatives" have suddenly found themselves unheeded, their immune system down, their defenses breached.

Even if they regain control at some point, that angry bloc of voters exist, and will matter going forward.

If conservatism is indeed reverting to its mean, it's time to play taps for "free market conservatism". It was a good 40 years, it bought us time, but it's gone.