Thursday, June 30, 2011

Marriage Antidisestablishmentarianism

The temptation after New York passed its same-sex marriage law is to “get government out of the marriage business.” It's not that simple.

As I indicate in my Worldmag.com column this week, "What to do with Marriage Now," a very helpful study by the Council on Family Law, “The Future of Family Law: Law and the Marriage Crisis in North America,” points out difficulties with this initially attractive “separationist” approach. Here is the entire section of that report that pertains to the question at hand. You will need to consult the report itself for the footnotes.




The Third Direction: Disestablishment, or the Separation of Marriage and State

How might we avoid contentious public disputes about the meaning of marriage? One possible solution is to conclude that the law should no longer establish any definition of marriage. Only a few years ago, almost no one favored this idea. But today this option appears to be gaining converts across the political spectrum. Disestablishment is thus a third possible direction for the future of marriage.

On the left, “queer theorists” such as Michael Warner adopt a radical liberationist argument for disestablishment. Warner argues that the extension of marriage to gays and lesbians is no less than an attempt to herd all human sexuality into the narrow conjugal box. Others support disestablishment because they feel that marriage is essentially a religious institution, something in which a secularized liberal state should have no role. One proponent of this view, Nancy Cott, argues that Christian models of conjugal monogamy have been legally imposed on social life. Another author similarly characterizes the “permanent, monogamous, marriage, nuclear, heterosexual” concept of family as “an explicitly Christian concept of marriage.” In this view, the heterosexual definition of marriage legally imposes a particular theological or religious vision of marriage on society, one that violates the convictions of sexual dissenters and nonconformists. Cott and others feel that the separation of church and state requires ridding the law of any theological vision of marriage.

However, redefining marriage provides no easy solution to the dilemma of state endorsement of some religious view. Religious groups can be found that endorse same-sex marriage, polygamy, monogamy, and even polyamory. In choosing any substantive vision of marriage, therefore, the state will end up endorsing some religion’s marital vision.

Faced with competing and conflicting conceptions of marriage, proponents of disestablishment argue that the state should take this breakdown of social consensus as the cue for it to get out of the marriage business. They argue that the liberal state learned how to adopt a stance of measured distance towards religion and the economy. It must now adopt a stance of measured distance towards marriage. Civil matters related to interdependent relationships (taxation, inheritance, community property, and more) could be handled by a more neutral registry system.

The removal of marriage as a legal category was one option put forward by the Canadian court decisions striking down the existing law of marriage. It was also proposed as an option by the Department of Justice in its directives to Canada’s Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in hearings on the question of same-sex marriage. The disestablishment of marriage would be achieved by “removing all federal references to marriage and replacing them by a neutral registry system.”

In the Beyond Conjugality report, the Law Commission of Canada considers Nancy Cott’s argument for disestablishment:

Borrowing the term from the history of church and state, Nancy Cott has described the transformation in the relationship between marriage and the state in the United States as “disestablishment.” Just as the state does not recognize a single, officially established church, no longer is any single, official model of adult intimate relationship supported and enforced by the state.

Instead, the law would embrace virtually all interdependent relationships. Indications of a marital, conjugal relationship — such as sexual intimacy, cohabitation, the dyadic restriction (only two people can get married), and even restrictions based on consanguinity — would be removed from law. This approach is grounded in the conviction that democratic societies have a fundamental obligation to “respect and promote equality between different kinds of relationships,” to celebrate “the diversity of personal adult relationships,” and to honor “the freedom to choose whether and with whom to form close personal relationships.” The new family law would be in essence a universal buddy system that offers legal protections for all citizens, whether straight or gay, parents or not, and whether they are involved with only one person, or many.

Yet once family law becomes a universal buddy system, some have reasonably asked why the law should be concerned at all about who is having sex with whom. That the law traditionally has an interest in sexual activity largely because children often arise — intentionally or not — from heterosexual couplings seems currently to escape the attention of many scholars and, indeed, an increasing number of judges. Rather, they conclude that the legal preoccupation with sexual intimacy is arbitrary and pointless. One study on the legal “irrelevancy” of sex approvingly cites Eric Lowther, a member of the Canadian Parliament, who said the following when speaking in opposition to the extension of benefits to same-sex couples:

There are many types of gender relationships: siblings, friends, roommates, partners, et cetera. However, the only relationship the government wants to include is when two people of the same gender are involved in private sexual activity, or what is more commonly known as homosexuality. No sex and no benefits is the government’s approach to this bill. Even if everything else is the same, even if there is a long time cohabitation and dependency, if there is no sex there are no benefits. Bill C-23 is a benefits-for-sex bill. It is crazy.

Lowther favors the existing definition of marriage as a heterosexual bond. His critics are advocates of same-sex marriage. Yet both agree that there is a fundamental flaw in the current legal construction of conjugality. According to them,

…the question of whether a relationship has a sexual component bears no connection to legitimate state objectives. Once this is recognized, and sex is removed from the scope of relational inquiries, the distinction between conjugal and non-conjugal relationships collapses. And we then need to develop better ways to determine when and how the existence of an adult personal relationship is relevant and should be recognized in law.

The fundamental argument of the Law Commission of Canada in Beyond Conjugality is the same. The report argues for a broad legislative approach to all adult close relationships that involve significant mutual dependence. The presence or absence of sexual conduct in the relationship is considered incidental. The fact that some kinds of sex acts produce children and some do not merits no consideration.

As mentioned earlier, Beyond Conjugality does end somewhat confusingly with a call for the redefinition of marriage, even after making a strong case for disestablishment. However, the original thrust of the report, found in its title, was to lay out a new legal framework which would eliminate the category of conjugality from law and replace it with a more inclusive civil registry system. In such a system, marriage as we have known it — marriage as a social institution — would likely still play a role for some time to come. But in the eyes of the law, that role will be a bit part, written in very small print and destined eventually to wither away.

In Canada this classical liberal argument for disestablishment has been drowned out by a newer and more aggressive social liberalism arguing for a redefinition of marriage. But it was one of Canada’s historical Liberal leaders, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who laid down the principle that the state must get out of the bedrooms of the nation. Some liberals argue that disestablishment is the only viable alternative in the face of apparently irresolvable legal and political disagreements about the authoritative meaning of conjugality.

On the right-leaning end of the spectrum, certain religious constituencies are also questioning whether disestablishment might be preferable to a full-fledged legal redefinition of marriage. They point out that the political regulation of marriage was a relatively late development in the history of Western marriage. For some, the state has done more harm than good in its attempts to influence the direction of the marriage culture. Perhaps it’s time to get the state out of the marriage business. They hope that, just as the separation of religion and state is responsible for the relatively flourishing religious sector in the United States, getting the government out of marriage would be a prelude to a marriage revival. They argue that marriage, like religion, can only really flourish when it is freed from political control and manipulation.

But it is clear that there is nothing “neutral” about the state refusing to recognize and accommodate the fact of marriage in law. In places like the United States, where marriage remains a significant legal category, its disestablishment would take an enormous amount of political and cultural energy of the kind that is unlikely to feed a flourishing marriage culture. More likely the disestablishment of marriage would support a troubling and already all too common perception that marriage may be a nice ceremony but is no longer a key social institution.

Ironically, the consequence of disestablishment is not likely to be greater individual freedom, but rather more intense and far-reaching state regulation of formerly private relations. Married people generally regulate their family affairs without direct government interference, except in cases of criminality or violence. By comparison, the state routinely tells divorced and unmarried parents when they can see their kids and how much child support to pay, and often intervenes in thorny disagreements such as what school the child will attend, or what religion he or she will be raised in, or if a parent is allowed to relocate. Outside of marriage, the state is necessarily drawn into greater and more intrusive regulation of family life. Because sex between men and women continues to produce children, and because women raising children alone are economically and socially disadvantaged, governments will continually wrestle with expensive and intrusive efforts to protect children born outside of marital unions.

Finally, the right’s disestablishment argument presumes that the state has no key interest in the existence of marriage. While marriage is partly a religious institution for religious people, it has never been only a religious act. In the Western tradition marriage has represented the best efforts of state and society to integrate disparate goods — love, money, mutual support, sex, children — in the service of helping men and women raise the next generation in circumstances most likely to sustain them, their children, and the society.

The huge and complex slice of human experience constituted by heterosexual bonding, procreativity, and parent-child connectedness sweeps across non-religious as well as religious spheres of social activity and meaning. In a real sense, marriage is bigger and more elemental to human life than religion. Marriage in every known society has been deeply influenced and colored by religious traditions in the societies in which it has taken root. But marriage is even older than some of our oldest religious traditions. It existed before Judaism and well before Christianity and Islam. Marriage is influenced by religion, but it is not solely a religious institution, and it is certainly not solely a Christian institution. Religious traditions and civil society have critical roles to play in shaping a marriage culture; but in a large, complex society, government and the law will ignore marriage at their peril.

Some disestablishment proponents also seem to assume that children can be treated as a category separate from adult relationships. Martha Fineman, for instance, argues that the law should get out of adult relationships and leave them to private contracts. She believes that this move would allow the law and public policy to focus its attention on adult-child caregiving relationships. However, this seemingly logical deconstruction is but a symptom of the family fragmentation that has a deeply negative impact on children. Disestablishment might work well in a world of freestanding adult relationships. But the bedrooms of the nation still produce children. The offspring of our sexual bonds are profoundly vulnerable and demand the state’s interest.

Another helpful report by the same group is Marriage and the Law: A Statement of Principles.
 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Libertarianism is Political Unitarianism

In last weeks column, I took objection to another columnist presenting our political alternatives as Collectivism or Liberty (which he understands to be libertarianism). In addition, the institutions of Evangelical political leftism have raised the alarm over all those right-wingers for Jesus who also embrace Ayn Rand.

So I take a stab at out-lining a more genuine Christian view (within the confines 800 words or so).

When God redeems and restores human beings, what does their life together look like? It is obviously not bare individualism. Life in the glorious body of Christ, which is God's desire for all human beings, is not a system of alliances based on the convergence of self-interest.

True, you cannot expect natural society to behave like redeemed society. But that form of society into which Christ redeems us is a full restoration of the creation order, life for which we were created. So it indicates what social relationships really are. Marriage is not merely a mutually beneficial contractual alliance with legal advantages. It can be treated that way, but then it is no longer marriage. Family cannot be reduced to a useful alliance (a la John Locke). When you treat it this way, you destroy it.

Community is natural, not artificial. It is more than just the sum of its parts. It's part of our creational purpose, not simply the means we choose with a view to fulfilling the ends we set for ourselves. That is the Christian view of man, though not the view all Christians hold.  In his column, "Collectivism vs Liberty," Alex Tokarev shares view of the modern Enlightenment. In that view, there are only individuals, the state, and any organizations that people choose to form and disband or depart. The original exponents of that view hoped to substitute it for the Christian view, and were largely successful. Because of resemblances (e.g., individual autonomy vs individual liberty) and what the views share in common (like limited government), many well-meaning Christians, like Prof. Tokarev, have fallen into this confusion to one extent or another.

The Christian view of politics is like the Christian view of anything: Trinitarian.

But Trinitarian politics mirrors the Triune God of the Bible, who is one God in three Persons (see Anthony Bradley’s column from yesterday on the Trinitarian worldview). He is a true unity that preserves the genuine individuality of each person within that divine community. As we are made in God’s image, we too are created to be true individuals living together in real community. We are individually redeemed but into the body of Christ, the covenant community, the church. A soteriology without a corresponding ecclesiology is not a fully biblical gospel. And a Christian political theory that values individual liberty without giving due respect to community, something as natural and good as the people who compose it, is a merely gospel-influenced, secular ideology.

If you wish t explore a more fully Christian political theory or political theology, start with two papal encyclicals: Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum (1891) and Pius XI's reflection on it, Quadrogessimo Anno (1931). Leo distinguishes the Christian view of society from both modern liberalism and socialism. From there, you can explore Jacques Maritain's Man and the State and John Courtney Murray's We Hold These Truths. More recently, Robert Kraynak has written Christian Faith and Modern Democracy.

The great nineteenth century Dutch theologian, Abraham Kuyper, has dominated Reformed political thought for the last century or more. A good place to start is the relevant sections of Lectures on Calvinism, especially "Calvinism as a Life System," "Calvinism and Politics," and "Calvinism and the Future." You can progress from there with James Bratt's Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader. Kuyper understands the crisis of modernity and addresses it appropriately.

After that, you might explore David VanDrunen's books of the two kingdoms tradition of natural law thinking in Reformed political thought and Nicholas Wolterstorff's Justice: Rights and Wrongs (2008) and Justice in Love (2011).

Addenda:

For those interested in the libertarianism of Robert Nozick, look at this article in Slate and the response at the Cato Institute site.

In my column, I mention that Martin Luther calls Satan "God's ape." This comes from his Table Talk (Of God's Works, No. 67): "The Greeks and heathens in after times imitated this, and build temples for their idols in certain places, as at Ephesus for Diana, at Delphos for Apollo, etc. For, where God build a church there the devil would also build a chapel. They imitated the Jews also in this, namely, that as the Most Holiest was dark, and had no light, even so and after the same manner, did they make their shrines dark where the devil made answer. Thus is the devil ever God's ape."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Abortion and the Demographic Disappearance of Women

They say that demographics are destiny. Think of the birth spike after WWII and how, in conjunction with our short-sighted welfare policies and the self-centeredness of that generation, it will bankrupt the country over the course of the next 20 years.

So I occasionally post on demographic issues.

Mara Hvistendahl's startling data in Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men demands the attention of feminists, abortion advocates, economists, and students of international affairs. Jonathan Last reviews it for the Wall Street Journal in "The War Against Girls."

All things being equal, the biological ratio of boy to girl births is always between 104-106:100. Only unnatural intervention can change this. Widespread abortion of baby girls in the womb would shift the birth ratio further in favor of boys.*

What we now know is that if you provide free access to abortion and if people can know the sex of the child ahead of time, the ratio of boys to girls will climb dramatically in favor of boys. People are more inclined to kill their baby girls. Hvistendahl reports that this is most true when women make the decision.

So how do things stand in the world?

> "today in India there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls"

> "In China, the number is 121—though plenty of Chinese towns are over the 150 mark"

> "Azerbaijan stands at 115, Georgia at 118 and Armenia at 120"

> "In 1989, the sex ratio for first births [in South Korea] was 104 boys for every 100 girls—perfectly normal. But couples who had a girl became increasingly desperate to acquire a boy. For second births, the male number climbed to 113; for third, to 185. Among fourth-born children, it was a mind-boggling 209."

So what's the difference between a world remarkably more full of men than women? Men and women are the same, right? It's sexist to make distinctions, right? Or is that an 80s nostrum?

Predictably, it makes for a more violent world. Lots more young men without families to restrain them and turn their energies toward industrious pursuits means crime and social instability. In politically less stable countries, it means pools of manpower from which rising tyrants can draw armies to overthrow existing governments, whether popular governments or other tyrants.

The high concentration of unmarried men in the post-Civil War wild west surely had a lot to do with why it was as wild as it was. "In 1870, for instance, the sex ratio west of the Mississippi was 125 to 100. In California it was 166 to 100. In Nevada it was 320. In western Kansas, it was 768." The author "visits the Nanjing headquarters of the "Patriot Club," an organization of Chinese surplus men who plot war games and play at mock combat."

The economics of this unnatural situation is a fascinating study on its own: sharply increased savings rates, demand for U.S. Treasury bills (and for gold, I would add), increased attraction of prostitution as a way for poor families to turn daughters into income.

The obvious conclusion is that abortion is unnatural and wrong and leads to unhappy consequences as all unnatural behavior does.

Western feminists no doubt will cling to their abortion rights, and advocate banning sex screening or any advance notice of the a child's sex. Or they will push for a worldwide education campaign for the value of little girls. Sadly, Hvistendahl is herself an anti-Christian feminist, and worries that the "Christian right" will use these findings to threaten our precious abortion rights. She chooses rigorous government enforcement of a ban on sex screening. The reviewer notes, "It is telling that Ms. Hvistendahl identifies a ban on abortion—and not the killing of tens of millions of unborn girls—as the 'worst nightmare' of feminism."

Last, who is a senior writer for The Weekly Standard, concludes wisely:

Despite the author's intentions, "Unnatural Selection" might be one of the most consequential books ever written in the campaign against abortion. It is aimed, like a heat-seeking missile, against the entire intellectual framework of "choice." For if "choice" is the moral imperative guiding abortion, then there is no way to take a stand against "gendercide." Aborting a baby because she is a girl is no different from aborting a baby because she has Down syndrome or because the mother's "mental health" requires it. Choice is choice. One Indian abortionist tells Ms. Hvistendahl: "I have patients who come and say 'I want to abort because if this baby is born it will be a Gemini, but I want a Libra.'"


This is where choice leads. This is where choice has already led. Ms. Hvistendahl may wish the matter otherwise, but there are only two alternatives: Restrict abortion or accept the slaughter of millions of baby girls and the calamities that are likely to come with it.

Unnatural Selection is published by PublicAffairs (314 pages, $26.99).

*I have changed this paragraph in response to a reader comment.

**********
This article has stirred up a lot of discussion. Here is Ross Douthat in the New York Times: "160 Million and Counting."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Ohio and Scottish Blues

Last week a friend introduced me to a band called The Black Keys. Very powerful blues/rock with sustained energy. I had never heard of these guys. I pictured a couple big-bellied guys in black suits with long black beards. A Belushi-Ackroyd carry-over in my imagination perhaps.

But the band has been recording for a decade now, and in this clip David Letterman seems to know them well. Keep in mind, they're from Ohio.



Well, blow me down.

Listening to them took me back about 35 years to listening to Robin Trower from time to time on FM radio.



This next one is just a series of pictures set to music, but Long Misty Days is a stirring lament that showcases Jim Dewar's soulful voice, rare for a Scot.



Trower played with Procol Harum before going solo in 1973. (Well, solo with Reg Isidore on drums and the with the indispensable Jim Dewar on bass and vocals.) Trower still plays, but Dewar suffered a stroke as a result of a tragic medical error in 1987 and died in 2002.

Even more tragic is that such deep emotions of lament and longing should not be offered to the Lord who comforts us in our afflictions and satisfies our longings.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Perry is Coming to Light

This is not a Perry stump speech, but a Heritage Foundation address, so it is toned down and intellectual. But the fact that he can pull this off is promising. I got it from Stanley Kurtz at NRO.



Rich Lowry notes, "There are three things a presidential candidate generally needs: 1) presence (does he fill the room?); 2) a narrative (does his biography and/or record add up to something?); 3) a theme (does he have a point in running?)." He sees all three.

With the big guys declining to run this time around (Mike Pence, Mitch Daniels, John Thune, Chris Christie), with possible exception of Rudy Giuliani who has northeastern baggage, the way is clear for a more than credible Perry run.

I would say that if he wants a Pennsylvania Ave address, it is his for the taking.

*********
June 21, 2011 - Juan Williams sees a Jeb Bush-Rob Portman ticket as a one-two knock-out punch for the GOP. He seems to think that Jeb might do it.

Boston Is Back!



Boston Bruins, 1972 Stanley Cup Champions,
when I was 10 and hockey mattered
 The Boston Bruins have won the Stanley Cup, the first time since 1972. This is their sixth Cup victory, the other five being 1929, 1939, 1941, and 1970.

I was sympathetic toward the Canucks, on account of my Canadian background. But I have never been able to adjust to those expansion teams, so I always view them as somewhat illegitimate. Call me conservative. For you youngsters, the original six teams were Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York (Rangers). It's been too long, but now Boston is back. So where's Toronto? (Just kidding.)

The Boston Herald tells us, "The home team had won the first six games of this series, making Boston's victory on the road in Game 7 at Rogers Arena even more impressive. It marked the first time in NHL history that a road team clinched a title in a terminal game by shutout."

A final note: it is sad that Boston Garden has been superseded by TD Garden, i.e., "Toronto Dominion" Garden. Does that seem right to you?

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Runway is Clearing for Rick Perry

The census reported that there has been a population shift toward the southwest, and toward Texas in particular. It seems there is a reason for this. That's where the jobs are. "Some 37% of all net new American jobs since the recovery began were created in Texas" ("The Lone Star Jobs Surge," WSJ, 6/10/11).

Since June 2009 when the recession ended (that's right, we're not in a recession any more), Texas added 265,000 jobs, followed at a distant second by New York at 98,000 and Pennsylvania at 95,000.

What accounts for this?

Texas stands out for its free market and business-friendly climate. Capital—both human and investment—is highly mobile, and it migrates all the time to the places where the opportunities are larger and the burdens are lower. Texas has no state income tax. Its regulatory conditions are contained and flexible. It is fiscally responsible and government is small. Its right-to-work law doesn't impose unions on businesses or employees. It is open to global trade and competition: Houston, San Antonio and El Paso are entrepĂ´ts for commerce, especially in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The Journal editorial adds: "the core impulse of Obamanomics is to make America less like Texas and more like California, with more government, more unions, more central planning, higher taxes." That sounds like a winning presidential campaign to me.

So now three, maybe four, factors are drawing Gov. Rick Perry to the race.

(1) The strikingly impressive job numbers.

(2) The massive exodus from the Gingrich campaign organization, including two men who have engineered victories for Perry in the past. Yesterday, amidst the whispers of a campaign bid, we read, "Members of Mr. Perry's still-extant group of campaign consultants say there is little chance he would embark on a 2012 campaign without Messrs. Carney and Johnson at his side." Today things are radically different.

(3) A persistently weak field. (Mitt "RomneyCare" Romney is the front runner.)

(4) His country needs him. (What politician doesn't see his or her indispensability as a factor.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Kingdom Perspective on Politics

I was speaking with a neighbor who I was meeting for the first time but whom I knew was a Christian. At one point in the conversation he confided that he thought the Lord's return was near because of how godless and immoral the world was becoming. Seeing someone in need of  correction and encouragement, I first warned him against judging the state of the world by how things look in America. There are other parts of the world, like China and Africa, where people are pressing and crowding into the Kingdom of God. Then I asked him if he had ever considered that maybe we are still in the early church.

He was visibly startled by this suggestion. It was as though I had stolen his hope. But I was calling him to a broader Christian perspective on current events--globally and historically. This is the theme of my Worldmag column this week, "American Decline is Not the End."

In his new book, On China, Henry Kissinger suggest that in our dealings with China it is well to remember that they see the world and history differently. They are an ancient civilization, and so they take a broader perspective on history, and are more patient in seeking their their policy goals. (Their one child policy didn't seem to be particularly far sighted, and Mao's Cultural Revolution seemed to pursue utopia in an awful hurry, but we'll set that aside.) America, by contrast, is a young civilization used to a fast paced world. (Alexis de Tocqueville has a lot to add about the short-sightedness and impatience of democratic peoples.) Mao's premier, Zhou Enlai, was once asked what he thought was the significance of the French Revolution (1789). He responded, "It's too soon to tell." That tells you a lot about the Chinese perspective.

It is difficult for Americans to appreciate that way of looking at the world. It is surely asking too much of Americans to adopt if for themselves. Christians, even Christian Americans, are another matter.

The Christian’s perspective on current events should be more like that of the Chinese. Though American history is short and has a record of fairly steady advance, a Christian’s citizenship is fundamentally in the Kingdom of God which, like China, is thousands of years old, filled with rise and decline and developments that span centuries.

When we observe the immorality, social disintegration, and national decline in our day, we are tempted to think, “The end is near!” But for a Christian, until the Lord returns, every end is the beginning of a new chapter for the Kingdom that will never end. Every setback is a repositioning for Kingdom advance. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The persecution of Christians in Jerusalem and the subsequent fall of that holy city was a Diaspora of faith to the world. Barbarian invasion, whether by Gauls or Vikings, has meant barbarian conversion. “Plunder me, but carry away my faith,” is a Kingdom response to invasion, albeit through tears and bathed in blood.
For the few years, my pastor has been encouraging us to think of the consequences of our kingdom labors in terms of their effects on our great-great-great grandchildren and beyond. Many of the blessings we enjoy today, whether church buildings, Christian colleges, or classics of Christian literature have come down to us because of the faithful labors of those who preceded us by many generations. Perhaps you came to faith in part because an ancestor in Christ prayed for you in Puritan New England, in Hugenot France, or in your great grandfather's prayer closet. The Kingdom perspective, being broadly Kingdom-oriented and grace-dependent, is patient and far-seeing.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Descent of the Child-Man

America is changing. Yesterday's majority is today's minority, so get used to it.

But it came as a surprise to me to learn recently (though I should have seen it coming) that the adult is a disappearing demographic. There's said to be only about 100 left of them. It is reported:

According to alarming new figures released Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation's population of mature adults has been pushed to the brink of extinction, with only 104 grown-ups remaining in the country today.

This people group is usually distinguished by traits such as, "foresight, rationality, understanding of how to obtain and pay for a mortgage, personal responsibility, and the ability to enter a store without immediately purchasing whatever items they see and desire."

How did this environmental(?) disaster develop so unnoticed? "[P]erhaps because of this group's unusual capacity to endure hardships with quiet dignity instead of whining loudly to draw attention to themselves."

Citing many social scientists who have studied this dwindling group, "Future generations, they soberly note, will likely go their whole lives never knowing a grown-up person."


Growing up seems to be a problem particularly (though not exclusively) among men, that is, among male human beings. For example, can you legitimately call the people in this Geico commercial "men?" Remember, the joke works only because there are so many of these guys out there. There are lots of guys in the viewing audience with cars that need insurance saying, "Yeah, really! Awesome, dude."



This has become a source of great frustration to women in search of men to take as husbands. They can't find any! They won't commit. They're goofy. They're more like boys. They're...man-boys.

This has been a theme for Kay Hymowitz these last few years. She began with an article in City Journal, "Child-Man in the Promised Land: Today’s single young men hang out in a hormonal limbo between adolescence and adulthood." She has now followed up with a book-length account of the problem, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys (Basic Books). You can read the Wall Street Journal article adapted from the book, "Where Have The Good Men Gone? Kay S. Hymowitz argues that too many men in their 20s are living in a new kind of extended adolescence."

In the 2008 article, Hymowitz described the all-too-familiar subject of study this way:

You’ve finished college and work in a cubicle in a large Chicago financial-services firm. You live in an apartment with a few single guy friends. In your spare time, you play basketball with your buddies, download the latest indie songs from iTunes, have some fun with the Xbox 360, take a leisurely shower, massage some product into your hair and face—and then it’s off to bars and parties, where you meet, and often bed, girls of widely varied hues and sizes. They come from everywhere: California, Tokyo, Alaska, Australia. Wife? Kids? House? Are you kidding?...Some call this new period “emerging adulthood,” others “extended adolescence”...

You're 26, and you're all these things. And you are useless to women. Hymowitz argues (do child-men listen to arguments?) that this way of life does not bring out the best in men. What do women want? Though they may take them to bed (stop doing that!), "aging frat boys, maladroit geeks [and] grubby slackers" are not it.

So where did this happen? How do we come to have men between the ages of 18 and 34 with lots of money and no inclination to grow up, shoulder responsibility, and do hard things? Hymowitz's answer is in the subtitle to her book: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. Men will fight wars, but they won't fight women. When women step forward and become men, men sit back and become boys. The feminist egalitarian utopia of women and men working side-by-side in freely chosen, asexual pursuits (politics, business, fighting fires, combat--you know, what you see everywhere on TV, but nowhere near as often in real life) is a fantasy with no foundation in human nature.

But on we go.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Low View of Politics

Mark Steyn, one of the world's funniest and at the same time politically insightful Canadians, reports this little gem in his "Weiner's Twitter Tweak" column.

"According to Christopher Hitchens, politics is show business for ugly people."

It's not Aristotle, but there's something to it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Rick Perry Question

In my column this week, "GOP may have a contender in the wings," I lay out an initial argument for Rick Perry's plausibility as an Omaba-slayer (a knightly reference; no actually violence intended, of course).

  1. active defense of the 10th Amendment in the face of Obamacare’s encroachments
  2. record as a budget-cutter
  3. executive experience is in one of the largest states in the union
  4. won an unprecedented three terms with a strong victory in 2010
  5. Texas is a growing state with a large Hispanic population

My other two arguments are that he is informed by the right books, and he seems large and colorful enough to match Obama's icon-factor.

He also passes the Katie Couric test. He reads. And he reads the right stuff. In a Wall Street Journal interview not long ago, he highlighted Friedrich Hayek’s classic of political and economic liberty, The Road to Serfdom, and The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes, her account of how Franklin D. Roosevelt’s interventionist policies actually deepened and lengthened the Depression. “Amity’s book is very eye-opening—scary—for me,” he said. You can judge a man by what scares him.

Shelby Steele says the problem for any candidate facing Barack Obama is that he or she must run against not only Obama the man, but also Obama the icon. This means that whoever leads the Republican ticket has to be somehow larger than life. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is a good man with good principles, but he’s a man of quite human proportions. Others in the race are all-too-human. At the South Carolina debate, I saw men who were trying hard to convince us that they belong on the stage. Sarah Palin was not there, though she seems made for the stage. But one wonders what kind of stage. Like everything in Texas, Rick Perry seems be a large enough character to fill any stage, even one he would share with a sitting president, perhaps even an iconic sitting president.

One of the commenters listed these arguments again him.

1. Guilt by association with Bush given they share a home state. [Really weak.]

2. Adios, mofo. [Not clear just what this is. A bad language incident is a bar to the presidency?]

3. Why don’t you just let us get on down the road? [This is not exactly Troopergate.]

4. Required Gardasil vaccinations, which on its face should offend the personal liberty crowd, but even moreso when the recommendation was made after heavy lobbying by Merck. [A. Get your kids out of public school. B. Exemptions are easily obtained. C. Otherwise, it does seem like bad judgment. D. Do Merck-y drug company connections explain this? E. What does preventing cervical cancer have to do with public education?]

5. Trans-Texas Corridor. Here Perry was going to seize huge swaths of private land under eminent domain in order to build a super-highway to support additional truck traffic due to NAFTA. [This is a concern to the John Birch Society conspiracy theorists and no one else.]

6. Perry floats the idea of secession. [That's just a Texan being Texan. But I'll keep my eyes on it.]

7. Was a Democrat until 1989. [Lot's of good people share that dark past: Reagan, Gramm (Texan)...]

8. Chaired the campaign to elect Al Gore in Texas in 1988. [Any sign of Algorism since then?]

The fellow who posted these objections is a Texan himself who has been keeping a file. If this is the best he can do, Perry looks fit for the stage.

Will Barack Be Back in 2013?

As I have said before, anything can happen in politics. Despite the "science of politics," it's not rocket science. It's not even meteorology.

But historically the American voter has been kind to incumbant Presidents. Consider this post-war history with which I begin my column this week.

George W. Bush served two terms in spite of being bogged down in Iraq and delivering painfully embarrassing debate performances. Of course, John Kerry was a godsend for him.

Bill Clinton went two terms despite a stream of scandals. Granted, he had Bob Dole campaigning for him.

The elder Bush went down after just one term in 1992. But he didn’t really want to win, and Ross Perot’s candidacy allowed Clinton to squeak in with less than majority support.

Ronald Reagan won his’84 landslide with an economy trembling toward recovery. But Walter Mondale’s youth and inexperience helped.

Look what it took to unseat Jimmy Carter. Runaway inflation and through-the-roof interest rates, gas shortages, hostages in Iran, people burning our embassies around the world, and a challenge from within his own party by Ted Kennedy. But even given all that, he still might have won had it not been for the “Debacle in the Desert,” his failed attempt to rescue the 53 American hostages in Tehran. It also took a master campaigner (”Let’s make America great again,” “There he goes again”) to dislodge him.

It took the fallout from Watergate to defeat Gerald Ford, including his pardon of Richard Nixon.

Speaking of Nixon, he won reelection in the midst of Vietnam . . . and big time! George McGovern and his 3 a.m. convention acceptance speech is not enough to explain the win.

Lyndon Johnson declined to run for a second complete term.

John F. Kennedy? It’s too sad to mention.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: two terms. No problem.
Today the New York Times reported some widely circulated politics-prediction data that bears on the president's re-electability. "No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent." This looks very bad for BHO. The current unemployment rate is around 9 percent and not heading south, at least not with anything near the speed it would have to maintain to get him into the victory zone. What are the chances, however, that this economy will suddenly start generating on balance 400,000 jobs a month?

According to the NYT, the Federal Reserve has pumped for than $2 trillion into the economy initially to save it from collapse but then in its Keynesian wisdom to jump start and rev up the economy to re-election speed in time for 2012. No sign of life yet, but the bill for the treatment has a lot of people concerned.

We like isolated facts like this because it gives us the illusion of scientific control over what continues to be the maddeningly, sometimes frighteningly, and yet also excitingly unpredictable political future. Have you heard, for example, that no Republican candidate has ever won the White House without first winning the Ohio primary? I think that's how it goes. Until Reagan beat the bullet in 1981, everyone since Abraham Lincoln elected to the presidency in a year ending in zero died in office. The Zero factor! Science never lies!

This 7.2 Factor is not as clear as it seems. Rooted Cosmopolitan notes this:

■Since FDR only Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and the two Bush’s have been elected president and then sought reelection. It’s hard to draw big conclusions from a sample of seven.


■Since FDR, only three times has a president been up for reelection when the unemployment rate was as high as 7.2%. Two of those presidents–Carter and Bush I–lost. The other, Reagan, won. For those who weren’t counting, that a sample of three.

■When presidents have sought reelection when the unemployment rate was over 7.2 and lost, the winner prevailed with 50% (Reagan) and 43% (Clinton). Maybe, just maybe, there was a third-party factor that was at least as significant to the incumbent’s loss as the unemployment rate?
Well, I've reviewed some other reasons that Carter and Bush lost their races.

Nonetheless, high unemployment is a big drag on a campaign, especially after a $2 trillion investment and boastful promises of bringing us back to happy days in no time at all.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The What, Why, and When of a Modern Gold Standard

I hear people talking about returning to the gold standard so that money once again has real value, and so that governments are not able to manipulate the money supply as easily as they do. This sounds appealing to me. Whenever you see the price of gold going up, that generally means the value of your dollar is going down, especially as the U.S. dollar is the world's reserve currency.

Nonetheless, the proposal leaves me with unanswered questions. For example, if the world economy is growing by leaps and bounds but the stock of gold in the world remains relatively stable, how can gold supply the money required to circulate through such an economy?

A reporter from The Street asks precisely these questions (follow the link to the video) of Peter Schiff who says the coming dollar crisis will force us back onto the gold standard. Nothing else can prevent successive governments printing more and more money and moving us closer and closer to national bankruptcy. Sadly, he doesn't give me or the reporter the answers we were looking for.

This interviewer on Hard Asset Investor explains briefly how a movement to the gold standard would be catastrophically deflationary because all the gold ever mined from the earth is worth just over $4 trillion, whereas the world economy is worth about $60 trillion. (By the way, there are about $600 trillion in derivatives hanging out there. Scary thought. But one thing at a time.) But Schiff is undeterred.

Back in May, Steve Forbes told Human Events that he predicts a return to the gold standard within five years. Here is a sober account from Forbes.com of what the gold standard does and what it does not do. The same author explains the paper to gold relationship here.

The same reporter from The Street who interviewed Peter Schiff later interviewed Steve Forbes on the same subject with more satisfying answers, it seems to me.




So, it seems that a "true" gold standard is, as suspected, impossible. The amount of U.S. currency in circulation is $9 trillion. But the U.S. owns only $400 billion in gold. All the gold in the world at $1500 an ounce amounts only to $4 trillion. A "gold standard modern" would simply peg the dollar at, for example, $1500 an ounce of gold.

[W]hen the price rises above that level the Federal Reserve must raise rates and when it falls below the Fed can loosen monetary policy. Gold, in essence, would act as a check for the central bank and help regulate the U.S. dollar. "We don't need to own one ounce of gold," says Forbes in an exclusive interview with TheStreet, "you just keep it in a narrow range."


When the consequences of our debt catch up with us, and especially if there is a serious threat of the American dollar losing its global status as the reserve currency, the default currency of international transactions for things like oil, we may have no choice but to go this route.

John Nadler of Kitco.com argues that there is no path back to a gold standard. I don't know if the fact that his company sells gold has anything to do with the position he takes on the subject.

I'm learning too.

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Update:

Ralph Benko of the Lehrman Institute’s Gold Standard Now cites this post in "Memo to our Madmen in Authority. The Gold Standard is the New Monetarism, featuring the Quality, not Quantity, of Money" (Caffeinated Thoughts, July 17, 2011).