Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Left Loves Hobbes

In "Political Jeremiads" (, July 28, 2010), I review the fire and brimstone predictions of doom and call to political and cultural repentance that American political left has employed (and no doubt sincerely believed) over the last 40 years. In the 70s it was the population explosion and limits to growth. The 80s gave us the fear of thermonuclear exchange and (at best) the nuclear winter that would result. In the 90's, they schooled us in environmentalism to "save the planet." Our children were dished up "Captain Planet" on Saturday mornings. Seriously. But saving the planet was taken to a much higher level of alarm in this past decade with the global warming scare.

It's always, "Flee from the terrible wrath to come!" Where else, but into the arms of almighty state, whether American or global…preferably global. Even unilateral surrender was, in the eyes of some, the only safe option. Better red than dead, they used to say.

But what we hear continually is an interesting combination of secularized Christian hellfire preaching and Thomas Hobbes.

Having led us in abandoning God to make our way in the world by our own wits, the secular left has come to see terrors on every side. But instead of returning to God, the rock of ages and shelter from the storm, they call us to seek refuge under the shadow of Leviathan, the almighty state, which 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes called “that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence.” They reject as absurd the notion that God governs all the affairs of men with perfect goodness, yet they seek to establish a human government that will administer all the affairs of men with perfect efficiency, foresight, benevolence, and justice.
Thomas Hobbes argued in the 17th century that when faced with an intolerable threat, conditions that will make life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” the only rational course is to surrender up your liberties to an all powerful government that will preserve what is most important: your life.

The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another…is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will. …This is the generation of that great Leviathan, or rather, to speak more reverently, of that mortal god to which we owe, under the immortal God, our peace and defence.

In the course of preparing this column, I was charmed to notice that while during the limits to growth 70s, Frances Moore LappĂ© gave us Diet for a Small Planet (1971), now into the climate scare decade her daughter Anna LappĂ© has given us Diet for Hot Planet.

I was prompted to write on this topic by Ross Douthat's New York Times column, "The Right and the Climate," (July 25, 2010).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Defense of Intangible Property

I recieved this comment from someone named "RSD" on my column at, "Liberty, Justice, and Shopping." The political preconditions and consequences of specifically intangible property is an interesting topic for reflection.

Like you, I’m thankful for Amazon, and join you in viewing it as something of a model for how a market can function effectively. Part of its effectiveness is based on the fact that the traded entity is tangible. Tangibility lends to transparency, as reasonable people can generally assess whether or not a seller’s description is accurate. Further, it is difficult to exercise monopoly power over tangible property because the costs of maintaining the monopoly will eventually outstrip any monopoly-derived profits. (Consider, for example, Judge Hand’s analysis in the Alcoa case.)

Our financial markets, in contrast, revolve around intangible property, i.e., forms of property that have no intrinsic value outside of a legal/institutional framework that vests rights in them. Thus, transparency is not as straightforward. Further, monopoly is more readily achieved, as there is generally no added cost to maintain the monopoly.

It’s worth noting, therefore, that there is no such thing as intangible property, in general, without the willingness of the government to intervene for the benefit of those who possess rights in intangible property under the law. Thus, it’s not unreasonable also to expect government to ask, in exchange for such protections, that submit themselves to regulations that attempt to force intangible-property markets to mimic, as closely as possible, the features of tangible-property markets. ...
RSD goes on to distinguish between "the lazy rich" who reap rewards disproportionate to any "superior skill, foresight, and industry" they once may have exercised, if at all, and those who do exercise these. Laws that favor these "lazy rich" introduce economic injustice and distortions in the economy, and discourage innovation by those with "superior skill, foresight, and industry."

While wealth may be a better indicator of such than poverty, the ideal market, like the one on Amazon, should be no respecter of one’s current economic status. If the market is working effectively, the wealthy should lose much of their wealth as soon as they stop exercising superior skill, foresight, and industry.

The entire comment, #5 on the thread, is worth a read.

I responded, "I like your oft repeated phrase, “skill, foresight, and industry.” Francis Bacon, my chief research interest, exalts people with these qualities, and deprecates “the lazy rich” in the aristocracy. Bacon was one of the great architects of modernity, and prepared significant foundations for modern economic thinking in his Essays."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Political Economy of Shopping

Excerpted from my column, "Liberty, Justice, and Shopping."

...This summer, I have been researching a project. As I have not been at the college much, the library has not been at hand. So I went to to see what the market was charging for the titles I needed. Then the fun began! For the last month I have been delighting myself buying a steady trickle of books for prices that thrill a Scotsman's heart. For just $4, I bought George Gilder's 1980 classic, Wealth and hardcover...with a dust jacket...not a mark in it...delivered to my door. ...

What has this to do with liberty? In this commonplace experience, I notice three examples of the justice and goodness that ordered liberty allows, in this case, through a free market.

First, the market provides broadly for people's needs. ...

Second, the market is not a respecter of persons. ...

Finally, the market provides a kind of distributive justice. ...

Liberty as exercised in an ordered but free marketplace is part of God's good design for human well-being. It's just a part. It's not sufficient on its own. But no discussion of its shortcomings can proceed in fairness without first recognizing these great goods.

Someone has recommended in place of Amazon. I'm always happy to introduce competition into the marketplace, especially when someone starts looking like a monopoly.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wallis and the Tea Party Infidels

In account of a recent writing project, I have been forced to pay attention to left wing Evangelicalism. Others also have been giving them new attention, from the Emerging church movement to save-the-planet young born again greenies to the religiously oriented in the Obama White House.

But Jim Wallis, one of the grand old men of the movement, seems anxious that Christ's little lambs not wander into what he sees as the hellish Tea Party movement, especially now that the pearly gates of access to his Progressive Kingdom are now flung wide. He gave voice to his frustration in his Huffington Post article, "How Christian is Tea Party Libertarianism?" I examine it in my column, "The Tea Party According to Jim Wallis."

To what I say at WORLDmag, I will add that he attacks the rights-oriented thinking that is the basis of our constitution. “Libertarianism is a political philosophy that holds individual rights as its supreme value and considers government the major obstacle.” But, of course, that’s what rights are: limitations on government. “Congress shall make no law…”

Especially disturbing is his charge that Tea Party supporters are racists in general, and in particular people who simply cannot abide the fact that our president is black. In lieu of actually engaging in a substantive debate over the merits of big government versus private initiative, the left is scolding their opponents with the racist charge. But the charge is baseless. A month later, a USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 23% of Tea Party supporters are Asian, Hispanic, and African-American.

But what if they weren’t? The best argument he can lob at the Tea Party itself is an ad hominem one, i.e., not an argument at all. The red elephant in the room, however, the subject he completely ignores, is the Tea Party alarm over stratospheric federal deficit spending, a concern that is reasonable, arguably Christian (eighth commandment), and fundamental to the movement.

I conclude,

Despite Jim Wallis’s self-presentation as a man who has thought through Christian principles and found himself in prophetic stance against what most Evangelicals hold to be just, his condemnation of the Tea Party movement (disguised as a conversation starter) is a muddled-headed confusion of terms and a battle entirely with straw men. I was hoping to be challenged. I was not.

Additional material:

Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy looks at the article here.

Timothy Dalrymple at Patheos gives us this.

Doug Wilson has not been silent. (That's a joke.) He weighs in here.

Prof. Craig Carter of Tyndale University in Toronto says this.

In a recent Washington Times article, "Netherlands Tragedy of State Compassion,"I argue that compassionate government (as if that were possible) makes people themselves less compassionate.

You might also consider Grover Norquist's book, Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives," (Harper Collins, 2008).


Anthony Bradley sees politically activist liberal Protestantism, with which leftist Evangelicalism seems to blend so easily, as understanding "one part of Christian engagement to be the whole of Christian identity," ("Progressive Christianity,", July 21, 2010).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Anthony Bradley on Beck

Anthony Bradley, my colleague at The King's College, was on the Glenn Beck Show yesterday explaining black liberation theology.

Beck takes most of the almost 18 minutes to talk about Marxism, BLT, and the gospel (more or less). Well, it's his show, right? Dr. Bradley comes in via satellite at the end.

Anthony Bradley's book is Liberating Black Theology (Crossway, 2010).

This is not Dr. Bradley's first time on Beck. Here he is in March 2008 just after the Jeremiah Wright eruption.

Here is Marvin Olasky interviewing Anthony Bradley when he was a visiting professor at the college.

You should also read Bradley's column today in, "Why Black Liberation Theology Fails."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tea Party is No Moral Majority

The 1980 presidential election ended the way it did because Evangelical Christians got angry and got involved. In 2010, there is another very angry and highly organized movement that seems to be turning American politics on it's head: the Tea Party movement. Frantic liberals hate both of these popular revolts with such white-knuckled intensity that they easily identify them. (As in, "Oh, here come the backward, racist, Christian hillbillies again.") Jim Wallis, of Sojourners fame, seems particularly concerned that his secular leftist friends not get the idea that the Tea Party is Christian of any sort, so he tries to deep-six the idea in a Huffington Post article entitled, "How Christian is Tea Party Libertarianism?," (May 27, 2010).

In my column this week, "The Year of the Tea Party," I distinguish the Tea Party from the Moral Majority then show briefly that the Tea Party movement's much narrower agenda is arguably Christian at its core, or at least not unchristian.

The Moral Majority was intentionally a largely, but not necessarily, religious organization. It presented itself as a moral majority, not a Christian majority. Their concerns were threefold: family, foreign policy, and fiscal responsibility, if I may put it that way. Family issues included opposition to homosexuality, abortion, divorce, pornography, and feminism. Foreign policy concerns included standing effectively against world communism and supporting the state of Israel. To this they added a call for lower taxes and a balanced budget. The group’s agenda mirrored the GOP coalition of moral conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and fiscal conservatives, though the Moral Majority was chiefly concerned with family issues. There was an evangelical ministry called Focus on the Family, but nothing called Focus on Firepower or anything like that.

The Tea Party has a narrower agenda. It’s all about money. The movement was triggered by concerns over wild government spending, initially the implementation of TARP to stabilize the financial system, but then the group began to rally against various other stimulus packages, interventions, and pork barrel spending orgies that seemed to exploit the crisis to pillage several generations of taxpayers while the getting was good.

But money is not a dirty word. While balanced budgets are not the stuff of gospel preaching, financial responsibility is not an ungodly concern. In fact, concern for it is implied in the Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal!” Jim Wallis says, “[T]he Tea Party can legitimately be examined on the basis of Christian principles—and it should be,” then proceeds to attempt it. Yet he manages to overlook this feature that is arguably Christian and definitively Tea Party.

You can read more background on the Moral Majority in the column itself.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Tragedy of State Compassion

 The Spirit of Compassion Yet to Come

The Dutch are a fascinating people in so many ways. The Belgians must be ashamed by constant comparisons. My recent article with The Washington Times, "Netherlands' Tragedy of State Compassion: socialism undermines more than government solvency,"argues against he common identification of "compassionate society" with "socialist society" or even just "extensive social services."

This is a true account from a friend of mine on Long Island, but I have changed the names to preserve people's privacy.

Even young Mick Jagger, bless his heart, could see that it's hard getting old.

But Mrs. van Breda, at 90, is managing just fine. This is not because her two daughters and their husbands live just a five-minute walk from her apartment, which they do. Neither is it because her four grandchildren - three of them in their 20s - also live nearby. They offer little help because they don't have to: The van Bredas live in the Netherlands, a caring society. For this reason, Mrs. van Breda's course of life is smoothed by a welfare state that has institutionalized compassion. Quality of life is about more than just what you get, however. Much of it has to do with the relationships involved in the giving, relationships that even a caring government cannot deliver and even can destroy.

When her husband, Gert, died 13 years ago, Mrs. van Breda sold their house and moved into a government-subsidized apartment. The government sends a woman once a week to clean her apartment, but because she has the woman for up to four hours, Mrs. van Breda also has her do the grocery shopping. She pays something toward the cost of this help, but her contribution is based on her income - a government-funded pension - and so the service is highly subsidized.

Her daughter, Johanna, could easily help her with these tasks. In fact, Mrs. van Breda asked Johanna, who also cleans houses, if she would like to help in place of the state worker. It's better that the money benefit her family, after all. But Johanna said no: Why bother helping her mother when the government will do it?

When she developed arthritis, the state sent around someone to change the handles on all her doors and the taps on her faucets. In a less "compassionate" society, measured very narrowly by how much the government does, her sons-in-law or grandsons would swing by and take care of that sort of thing. But there is no need, and so they do not - and they would not.

Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, the Netherlands' "compassionate" social policy, with its preference for state provision, has made individual Dutch people less compassionate. A 2006 international study of charitable giving found that the supposedly less compassionate Americans individually gave 1.67 percent of the country's gross domestic product to charity. The Dutch gave just 0.45 percent, and the more moderate Canadians and British gave 0.72 percent and 0.73 percent respectively. Mrs. van Breda's expatriate son, Pieter, who lives in New York, notes that people have become personally unmindful of the needy as a result of these social-welfare policies. Personal relations are colder, he says, more businesslike, even within families.

The Dutch government serves Johanna's mother because it serves everyone, securing a minimal standard of living for all to enjoy. Through an array of birth-to-death social services that are either free of charge or subsidized according one's income, the state redistributes income widely. There is no reason for anyone in the Netherlands to be without a suitable home, to cut short his or her education anytime before senility or even to give any thought to feeding and clothing one's children. The Dutch have decided that a good society is a compassionate society, and so people should provide for one another's dignity and basic quality of life ... but only through the state. People needn't actually have anything to do with one another directly.

The Dutch state is said to be quite efficient in its delivery of services, and the Dutch people are happy with it. To be sure, neither Mrs. van Breda nor any of her children has any complaints. But this system comes at a human cost that its boosters must consider. My friend Pieter tells me that when it comes to serving the needy, regardless of the family relationship, the modern Dutch consider it enough that they pay taxes. In fact, they have come to bear a striking resemblance to none other than Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Approached by two men who came collecting for the poor, he rebuffed them, asking, "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" Granted, Dutch provisions for those in need are on a level of humanity far higher than those Mr. Scrooge was satisfied with funding. But the spirit of personal indifference is the same. People simply don't want to be bothered, says Pieter - not even for their parents.

Daniel Henninger wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, "One of the constant criticisms of Barack Obama's first year is that he's making us 'more like Europe.'" Those on the American political left are eagerly working to make us precisely that. They see our individualism as selfish and immoral, and they view our reliance on private charity as ineffective and degrading in comparison to government services and entitlements. The lesson of the Dutch experience, however, is not that the welfare state is the defining feature of a compassionate society, but that our choice in providing for those who are helpless and suffering is between the nanny state and a caring citizenry.
Henninger's article is "The We're-Not-Like-Europe Party," May 13, 2010.

A friend of recent Dutch descent shared this comment:

I am saddened by what has happened to the country of my father and grandfather.  We used to take pride in how industrious we were. The reason "Dutch cleanser" was called Dutch cleanser was that we Dutch people were ridiculously great housekeepers--they were clean freaks--scrubbing our stoops (yes, that is a Dutch name too) till they shined. I visited there a few years ago and hardly recognized it with all the filth. The government does not care about "clean"...and neither do the Dutch anymore.

I am sorry to hear about the filth. I have only heard about moral filth. I strongly suspect that it is closely related to the decline in personal responsibility. They have conquered the sea, but succumbed to the tide of nihilism. They are a tragedy, and in that is both a great compliment and an equally great lament. The North American Dutch have slouched in a different way toward their own Gomorrah. But there is still virtue in some of their communities here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Dominion Day Forever

To all my friends in the Great White North, happy Dominion Day. (American friends, "white," here, refers to snow. Don't get upset.)

Canadian Flag, the Red Ensign, 1957-1965

On October 27, 1982, Parliament changed what I grew up celebrating as Dominion Day to "Canada Day." Liberals peddled the idea that "dominion" suggested "under the dominion of Great Britain." But it was nothing of the sort. Canada became what was called in the British Empire a dominion on July 1, 1867. It meant a self governing nation under Her Majesty's rule.

I have always viewed the name Canada Day with disdain. It is completely unimaginative. It has no content. It doesn't instruct the citizen in any way. I suspect that was the point. Celebrate Canada, giving that word whatever meaning you choose. That actually summarizes what the country has become in the last 40 years.

If the word "dominion" was just too utterly intolerable, they might have called it Confederation Day. That, after all, is what the day was always called in French Canada. It has historical reference, reminding the country of the great drama of how the country came together. It directs people to learn about the Fathers of Confederation, like Sir John A. Macdonald, their virtues and their statesmanship.

A CBC webpage reports that the bill changing the name of the day was passed by means of questionable legality. "Aside from its controversial content, the bill drew criticism over the manner in which it was passed in the House of Commons. It was voted through in five minutes with no debate, by the scant dozen members in attendance." The constitution at the time, the British North America Act of 1867 (which, in an Orwellian move, they have retroactively renamed the Constitution Act of 1867) required a quorum of 20 for Parliament to act.

Though I am now an American citizen, Canada is still my heritage, and July 1 will always be Dominion Day to me.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Laffer Confirmed. It's a Lean Tomorrow.

Aha! (I love the sound of that.) This report confirms what Arthur Laffer says concerning misplaced incentives and the big economic come down we should expect next year.

Read "Pending Home Sales 'Fell Off a Cliff'" on

The experts expected home sales to drop once the homebuyer tax credit lapsed at the end of April, but the depth of the decrease was shocking.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), pending home sales fell a whopping 30% in May. Their index, which measures signed sales contracts but not closed sales, plunged to 77.6 from 110.9 in April. It's even off 15.9% from a year ago when the nation was barely emerging from the recession.

"The pending home sales report is a disaster," said Mike Larson, a real estate analyst for Weiss Research. "Sales fell off a cliff after the tax credit expired. It's the biggest monthly decline ever and the index is at its lowest level since NAR began tracking it in 2001."

Read my report on Arthur Laffer and others in the post below, or in "We're Doomed" at