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Nevertheless, the success of capitalism has always bred a certain number of malcontents who, among other things, believe that they are insufficiently rewarded by the capitalist system, are envious of other's success, have a compulsion to use politics to control other people's behavior (and their wealth), deny the reality of human inequalities, believe that personal freedom is overrated, and resent the power that ordinary consumers have over the economy. Many of these anticapitalists are ignorant of basic economics, but that does not stop them from assaulting capitalism at every opportunity.
— Thomas Sowell; How Capitalism Saved America view
The biggest and most common talking point when the police fire at someone is counting how many bullets they fired. There are politicians, media people and— above all— community activists who can work themselves into a rage over how many bullets were fired.
If we stop and think— which of course the demagogues hope we will never do— it is hard to see any moral difference between killing someone with one bullet or with dozens of bullets.
People who have never fired a gun in their lives say that they cannot understand why the police fired so many bullets. If it is something that they have never experienced, there is of course no reason why they should be expected to understand.
But, even after confessing their ignorance, such people often proceed to spout off, just as if they knew what they were talking about.
It is very easy for a pistol shot to miss, even in the safety and calm of a firing range, much less in a desperate situation where a decision must be made in a split second that can cost you your life or end someone else's life.
One of the painful signs of years of dumbed-down education is how many people are unable to make a coherent argument. They can vent their emotions, question other people's motives, make bold assertions, repeat slogans-- anything except reason.
Climate statistics show that, with all the "global warming" hysteria today, our temperatures are still not as high as they were back in medieval times. Those medieval folks must have been driving a lot of cars and SUVs.
When I think of the people with serious physical or mental handicaps who nevertheless work, I find it hard to sympathize with able-bodied men who stand on the streets and beg. Nor can I sympathize with those who give them money that subsidizes a parasitic lifestyle which allows such men to be a constant nuisance, or even a danger, to others.
The beauty of doing nothing is that you can do it perfectly. Only when you do something is it almost impossible to do it without mistakes. Therefore people who are contributing nothing to society except their constant criticisms can feel both intellectually and morally superior.
"We are a nation of immigrants," we are constantly reminded. We are also a nation of people with ten fingers and ten toes. Does that mean that anyone who has ten fingers and ten toes should be welcomed and given American citizenship?
Doing 90 percent of what is required is one of the biggest wastes because you have nothing to show for all your efforts. But doing 110 percent of what is expected is one of the smartest investments because it can pay off with a big reputation for just a little more effort.
The reason so many people misunderstand so many issues is not that these issues are so complex, but that people do not want a factual or analytical explanation that leaves them emotionally unsatisfied. They want villains to hate and heroes to cheer-- and they don't want explanations that do not give them that.
Why is marriage considered to be any of the law's business in the first place? Because the state asserts an interest in the outcomes of certain unions, separate from and independent of the interests of the parties themselves.
In the absence of the institution of marriage, the individuals could arrange their relationship whatever way they wanted to, making it temporary or permanent, and sharing their worldly belongings in whatever way they chose.
Marriage means that the government steps in, limiting or even prescribing various aspects of their relations with each other -- and still more their relationship with whatever children may result from their union.
In other words, marriage imposes legal restrictions, taking away rights that individuals might otherwise have. Yet "gay marriage" advocates depict marriage as an expansion of rights to which they are entitled.
All sorts of groups in all sorts of countries have been demonstrably better than other groups at particular things, whether economic, intellectual, political or military. This fact is so blatant that only people with great cleverness can manage to deny the obvious. That cleverness is what creates the tangled web of confusion that has plagued civil right cases for decades.
Does anybody seriously doubt that blacks usually play basketball better than whites? Does anybody seriously doubt that the leading cameras and lenses in world have long been produced by Germans and Japanese? Or that Jews have been over-represented among the top performers in various intellectual fields?
The original Civil Rights Act of 1964 was very straightforward in forbidding discrimination. But, even before that Act was passed, there were already people demanding more than equality of treatment. Some wanted equality of end results, some wanted restitution for past wrongs, and some just wanted as much as they could get.
The left's jihad against gun ownership by law-abiding citizens has produced a flood of distorted information. International comparisons almost invariably compare the United States with some country with stronger gun control laws and lower murder rates.
But, if facts really mattered, you could just as easily compare the United States to countries with stronger gun control laws and higher murder rates -- Brazil and Russia, for example.
You could compare the United States with countries with more widespread gun ownership -- Switzerland and Israel, for example -- and lower murder rates. But that's only if facts are regarded as more important than the dogmas of the left.
Self-defense against criminals is anathema to the left in both Britain and the United States but in Britain the left has greater predominance. Britons who have caught burglars in their homes and held them at gunpoint until the police arrived have found themselves charged with a crime -- even when it was only a toy gun.
Given the prevailing view in the British criminal justice system that burglary is a "minor" offense and the fierce hostility to guns, even toy guns, the homeowner is far more likely to end up behind bars than the burglar is.
Not only is there no hard evidence that mixing and matching black and white kids in school produces either educational or social benefits, there have been a number of studies of all-black schools whose educational performances equal or exceed the national average, even though most black schools fall far below the average.
My own study of successful all-black schools was published 30 years ago in The Public Interest quarterly. Since then, there have been other studies of similar schools across the country, published by the Heritage Foundation in Washington and by scholars Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom, among others.
There have also been all-Chinese-American schools that exceeded national norms. How have such schools managed to succeed and excel without the "compelling" need for a racial mixing of students?
Hard evidence shows that students of all races can succeed or fail in schools that are racially mixed or racially unmixed.
[Justice] Holmes wrote that he did not "think it desirable that the judges should undertake to renovate the law." If the law needed changing, that was what the democratic process was for. Indeed, that was what the separation of powers in legislative, executive and judicial branches by the Constitution of the United States was for.
"The criterion of constitutionality," he said, "is not whether we believe the law to be for the public good." That was for other people to decide. For judges, he said: "When we know what the source of the law has said it shall be, our authority is at an end."
One of Holmes' judicial opinions ended: "I am not at liberty to consider the justice of the Act."
Some have tried to depict Justice Holmes as someone who saw no need for morality in the law. On the contrary, he said: "The law is the witness and external deposit of our moral life." But a society's need to put moral content into its laws did not mean that it was the judge's job to second-guess the moral choices made by others who were authorized to make such choices.
Justice Holmes understood the difference between the rule of law and the rule of lawyers and judges.
If you were going to have open heart surgery, would you want to be operated on by a surgeon who was chosen because he had to struggle to get where he is or by the best surgeon you could find— even if he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and had every advantage that money and social position could offer?
Teenage pregnancy had been going down for years. So had venereal disease. Rates of infection for syphilis in 1960 was half of what it had been in 1950. There were similar trends in crime. The total number of murders in the United States in 1960 was lower than in 1950, 1940, or 1930 -- even though the population was growing and two new states had been added. The murder rate, in proportion to population, in 1960 was half of what it had been in 1934.
Every one of these beneficial trends sharply reversed after liberal notions gained ascendancy during in the 1960s. By 1974, the murder rate had doubled. Even liberal icon Sargent Shriver, head of the agency directing the "war on poverty," admitted that "venereal disease has skyrocketed" even though "we have had more clinics, more pills, and more sex education than ever in history."
Liberals looking back on the 1960s take special pride in their role on racial issues, for civil rights laws and the advancement of blacks out of poverty. Those riots that threatened to tear the country apart were race riots -- and supposedly the liberals saved us all.
But what do the facts show?
Both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had a higher percentage of Congressional Republicans voting for their enactment than the percentage of Congressional Democrats.
Marriage and family are also barriers to the left's desire to create a society built to their own specifications. Friedrich Engels' first draft of the Communist Manifesto proclaimed the end of families but Karl Marx thought better of it and took that out.
The latest in a long line of New York Times editorials disguised as "news" stories was a recent article suggesting that most American women today do not have husbands. Partly this was based on census data — but much more so on creative definitions.
The Times defined "women" to include females as young as 16 and counted widows, who of course could not be widows unless they had once had a husband. Wives whose husbands were away in the military, or in prison, were also counted among women not living with a husband.
With such creative definitions, it turned out that 51 percent of "women" were not living with a husband. That made it "most" women and created a "news" story suggesting that these women were not married. In reality, only one fourth of women have never married, even when you count girls as young as 16.
While the data quoted in the New York Times story were about women who were not living with a husband, there were quotes in the story about women who rejected marriage.
What was the point? To show that marriage is a thing of the past. As a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle put it: "Women See Less Need for Ol' Ball and Chain."
In other words, marriage is like a prison sentence, complete with the old-fashioned leg irons with a chain connected to a heavy metal ball, so that the prisoner cannot escape.
This picture of marriage and a family as a burden is not peculiar to the New York Times or the San Francisco Chronicle. It is common among the intelligentsia of the left.
If a child is not autistic to begin with, almost anything will "cure" him with the passage of time.
Parents need to be spared the emotional trauma of false diagnoses and children need to be spared stressful treatments that follow false diagnoses. Yet the "autism spectrum" concept provides lots of wiggle room for those who are making false diagnoses.
Real autism may not get as much money as it needs if much of that money is dissipated on children who are not in fact autistic. But money is money to those who are running research projects— and a gullible media helps them get that money.
During the 1930s, some of the leading intellectuals in America condemned our economic system and pointed to the centrally planned Soviet economy as a model-- all this at a time when literally millions of people were starving to death in the Soviet Union, from a famine in a country with some of the richest farmland in Europe and historically a large exporter of food.
More than half a century later, when the archives of the Soviet Union were finally opened up under Mikhail Gorbachev, it turned out that about six million people had died in that famine-- about the same number as the people killed in Hitler's Holocaust.
"Global warming" hysteria is only the latest in this long line of notions, whose main argument is that there is no argument, because it is "science." The recently revealed destruction of raw data at the bottom of the global warming hysteria, as well as revelations of attempts to prevent critics of this hysteria from being published in leading journals, suggests that the disinterested search for truth— the hallmark of real science— has taken a back seat to a political crusade.
Working in a homeless shelter is widely regarded as "community service"— as if aiding and abetting vagrancy is necessarily a service, rather than a disservice, to the community.
Is a community better off with more people not working, hanging out on the streets, aggressively panhandling people on the sidewalks, urinating in the street, leaving narcotics needles in the parks where children play?
This is just one of the ways in which handing out various kinds of benefits to people who have not worked for them breaks the connection between productivity and reward, as far as they are concerned.
Slavery is too serious for an apology and somebody else being a slaveowner is not something for you to apologize for. When somebody who has never owned a slave apologizes for slavery to somebody who has never been a slave, then what began as mushy thinking has degenerated into theatrical absurdity— or, worse yet, politics.
Slavery has existed all over the planet for thousands of years, with black, white, yellow and other races being both slaves and enslavers. Does that mean that everybody ought to apologize to everybody else for what their ancestors did? Or are the only people who are supposed to feel guilty the ones who have money that others want to talk them out of?
Many of today's "educators" not only supply students with conclusions, they promote the idea that students should spring into action because of these prepackaged conclusions— in other words, vent their feelings and go galloping off on crusades, without either a knowledge of what is said by those on the other side or the intellectual discipline to know how to analyze opposing arguments.
When we see children in elementary schools out carrying signs in demonstrations, we are seeing the kind of mindless groupthink that causes adults to sign petitions they don't understand or— worse yet— follow leaders they don't understand, whether to the White House, the Kremlin or Jonestown.
A philosopher once said that the most important knowledge is knowledge of one's own ignorance. That is the knowledge that too many of our schools and colleges are failing to teach our young people.
It was once the proud declaration of many educators that "We are here to teach you how to think, not what to think." But far too many of our teachers and professors today are teaching their students what to think, about everything from global warming to the new trinity of "race, class and gender."
A woman with a petition went among the crowds attending a state fair, asking people to sign her petition demanding the banning of dihydroxymonoxide. She said it was in our lakes and streams, and now it was in our sweat and urine and tears.
She collected hundreds of signatures to ban dihydroxymonoxide — a fancy chemical name for water. A couple of comedians were behind this ploy. But there is nothing funny about its implications. It is one of the grim and dangerous signs of our times.
This little episode revealed how conditioned we have become, responding like Pavlov's dog when we hear a certain sound— in this case, the sound of some politically correct crusade.
Many people would consider it a handicap to be a black orphan, born in the Jim Crow South during the Great Depression of the 1930s. But the home into which I was adopted had four adults and I was the only child. Many years later, when I was a parent and asked one of the surviving members of that family how old I was when I started walking, she said: "Oh, Tommy, nobody knows when you could walk. Somebody was always carrying you."
You can't buy that. A leading historian of education has said that the New York City public schools were the best in the country during the 1940s. That was when I went to school there. That was enough piece of sheer good luck that came my way. Today the classes are smaller, the buildings more modern— but the education itself is a disaster. I got the kind of education that people have to go to expensive private schools to get today.
Perhaps more important, nobody told me that I couldn't make it because I was poor and black, or that I ought to hate white people today because of what some other white people did to my ancestors in some other time.
Nobody sugar-coated the facts of racial discrimination. But Professor Sterling Brown of Howard University, who wrote with eloquent bitterness about racism, nevertheless said to me when I prepared to transfer to Harvard: "Don't come back here and tell me you didn't make it 'cause white folks were mean."
He burned my bridges behind me, the way they used to do with armies going into battle, so that they had no place to retreat to, and so had to fight to win.
Those who want more power have known for centuries that giving the people somebody to hate and fear is the key.
In 18th century France, promoting hatred of the aristocracy was the key to Robespierre's acquiring more dictatorial power than the aristocracy had ever had, and using that power to create a bigger bloodbath than anything under the old regime.
In the 20th century, it was both the czars and the capitalists in Russia who were made the targets of public hatred by the Communists on their road to power. That power created more havoc in the lives of more people than czars and capitalists ever had combined.
It is not even that the average corporate CEO makes as much money as any number of professional athletes and entertainers. The average pay of a CEO of a corporation big enough to be included in the Standard & Poor's index is less than one-third of what Alex Rodriguez makes, about one-tenth of what Tiger Woods makes and less than one-thirtieth of what Oprah Winfrey makes.
But when has anyone ever accused athletes or entertainers of "greed"?
The left has never understood why property rights are a big deal, except to fat cats who own a lot of property. Through legislation and judicial rulings, property rights have been eroded with rent control laws, expansive concepts of eminent domain, and all sorts of environmental restrictions.
Some of the biggest losers have been people of very modest incomes and some of the biggest winners have been fat cats who are able to use political muscle and activist judges to violate other people's property rights.
Politicians in cities around the country violate property rights regularly by seizing homes in working-class neighborhoods and demolishing whole sectors of the city, in order to turn the land over to people who will build shopping malls, gambling casinos, and other things that will pay more taxes than the homeowners are paying.
That's why property rights were put in the Constitution in the first place, to keep politicians from doing things like that. But the adolescent intellectuals of our time have promoted the notion that property rights are just arbitrary rules to protect the rich.
To a small child, the reason he cannot do many things that he would like to do is that his parents won't let him. Many years later, maturity brings an understanding that there are underlying reasons for doing or not doing many things, and that his parents were essentially conduits for those reasons.
The truly dangerous period in life is the time when the child has learned the limits of his parents' control, and how to circumvent their control, but has not yet understood or accepted the underlying reasons for doing and not doing things. This adolescent period is one that some people — intellectuals especially — never outgrow.
But criteria exist precisely to have a disparate impact on those who do not have what these criteria exist to measure. Track meets discriminate against those who are slow afoot. Tests in school discriminate against students who did not study.
Disregarding criteria in the interest of "fairness"— in the sense of outcomes independent of inputs— adds to the handicaps of those who already have other handicaps, by lying to them about the reasons for their situation and the things they need to do to make their situation better.
Society may lavish thousands of dollars per year on schooling for a youngster who does not bother to study, and yet when he or she emerges as a semi-literate adult, it is considered to be society's fault if such youngsters cannot get the same kinds of jobs and incomes as other youngsters who studied conscientiously during their years in school.
Those with that vision do not want to even discuss evidence that students from different groups spend different amounts of time on homework and different amounts of time on social activities. To admit that inputs affect outputs, whether in education, in the economy or in other areas, would be to undermine the vision and agenda of the left, and deprive those who believe in that vision of a moral melodrama, starring themselves as defenders of the oppressed and crusaders against the forces of evil.
Redistribution of material resources has a very poor track record when it comes to actually helping those who are lagging, whether in education, in the economy or elsewhere. What they need are the attitudes, priorities and behavior which produce the outcomes desired.
But changing anyone's attitudes, priorities and behavior is a lot harder than taking a stance as defenders of the oppressed and crusaders against the forces of evil.
Some years ago, for example, there was a big outcry that various mental tests used for college admissions or for employment were biased and "unfair" to many individuals or groups. Fortunately there was one voice of sanity-- David Riesman, I believe-- who said: "The tests are not unfair. LIFE is unfair and the tests measure the results."
If by "fair" you mean everyone having the same odds for achieving success, then life has never been anywhere close to being fair, anywhere or at any time. If you stop and think about it (however old-fashioned that may seem), it is hard even to conceive of how life could possibly be fair in that sense.
Even within the same family, among children born to the same parents and raised under the same roof, the first-borns on average have higher IQs than their brothers and sisters, and usually achieve more in life.
Economic issues are approached in the same way. People with low incomes are seen as a problem for other people to solve. Studies which follow the same individuals over time show that the vast majority of working people who are in the bottom 20 percent of income earners at a given time end up rising out of that bracket.
Many are simply beginners who get beginners' wages but whose pay rises as they acquire more skills and experience. Yet there is a small minority of workers who do not rise and a large number of people who seldom work and who— surprise!— have low incomes as a result.
No small part of the current confusion between "health care" and medical care comes from failing to recognize that Americans can have the best medical care in the world without having the best health or longevity because so many people choose to live in ways that shorten their lives.
Education is usually discussed in terms of the money spent on it, the teaching methods used, class sizes or the way the whole system is organized. Students are discussed largely as passive recipients of good or bad education.
But education is not something that can be given to anybody. It is something that students either acquire or fail to acquire. Personal responsibility may be ignored or downplayed in this "non-judgmental" age, but it remains a major factor nevertheless.
After many students go through a dozen years in the public schools, at a total cost of $100,000 or more per student— and emerge semi-literate and with little understanding of the society in which they live, much less the larger world and its history— most discussions of what is wrong leave out the fact that many such students may have chosen to use school as a place to fool around, act up, organize gangs or even peddle drugs.
The fall of the Roman Empire was not just a matter of changing rulers or political systems. It was the collapse of a whole civilization— the destruction of an economy, the breakdown of law and order, the disappearance of many educational institutions.
The writings of Karl Marx— especially The Communist Manifesto— had the longest lasting effect on me as a young man and led me to become and remain a Marxist throughout my twenties. I wouldn't recommend The Communist Manifesto today either, except as an example of a masterpiece of propaganda.
There was no book that changed my mind about being on the political left. Life experience did that— especially the experience of seeing government at work from the inside.
The average American today has a standard of living that includes things that only the upper crust could have afforded in times past -- and some things that even the rich didn't have in past generations, like personal computers.
But are the people who made that possible even mentioned, much less publicized and praised?
There is not an inventor, scientist, medical researcher, or industrialist who is as well known as loudmouths like Rosie O'Donnell or Jesse Jackson.
Any bimbo who exposes her body can get more attention than someone who finds ways to reduce the cost of housing for millions of people.
In California, the bimbo can get favorable attention while the developer is condemned.
In short, the problem is not that particular people do particular things to get attention. The problem is that the society at large no longer has standards by which to deny or rebuke attention-seekers who have nothing to contribute to society.
Do not expect sound judgments in a society where being "non-judgmental" is an exalted value. As someone has said, if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.
The problem is not just with people who want to get attention by the way they dress, act, talk, or show off in innumerable other ways. The more fundamental problem is that the society around them pays its attention to such superficial and often childish stuff.
The media attention lavished on Anna Nicole Smith and Paris 24/7, while paying little attention to Iran's movement toward nuclear weapons that can change the course of history irrevocably, is one of the most painful signs of our times.
Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that students are being indoctrinated with the correct conclusions on current issues, that would still be irrelevant educationally. Hearing only one side does nothing to equip students with the experience to know how to sort out opposing sides of other issues they will have to confront in the future, after they have left school and need to reach their own conclusions on the issues arising later.
Elementary as it may seem that we should hear both sides of an issue before making up our minds, that is seldom what happens on politically correct issues today in our schools and colleges. The biggest argument of the left is that there is no argument— whether the issue is global warming, "open space" laws or whatever.
Our national motto, "E Pluribus Unum" — from many, one — has been turned upside down as educators, activists and politicians strive to fragment the American population into separate racial, social, linguistic and ideological blocs.
Cultures do change, however, and - like other changes - these may be for better or for worse. Many of the cultural changes in contemporary America, and in Western civilization in general, have been for the worse.
War is not the only arena where culture is decisive. A culture pervaded by corruption will keep a country poor, even if it has an abundance of rich natural resources. Youngsters from a culture that puts a high value on education outperform youngsters from a culture that does not, even when they live at the same economic level, in the same neighborhoods and sit side-by-side in the same schools.
Race may be visible on the surface but culture goes deep. Americans are not a race but the American culture is what has made Americans different from the various races of Europe, Asia and Africa from which Americans are derived. People of the same race will slaughter each other when they come from different cultures.
For example, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which guarantees bank accounts, has only a fraction of the money that it is supposed to have on hand to see that people's life savings don't get wiped out when a bank fails.
A survey has shown that 85 percent of the economists in Canada and 90 percent of the economists in the United States say that minimum wage laws reduce employment. But you don't need a Ph.D. in economics to know that jacking up prices leads fewer people to buy. Those people include employers, who hire less labor when labor is made artificially more expensive.
Minimum wage laws appear to give low-income workers something for nothing— and appearances are what count in politics. Realities can be left to others, so long as appearances get votes.
People with low skills or little experience usually get paid low wages. Passing a minimum wage law does not make them any more valuable. At a higher wage, it can just make them expendable. Raising the minimum wage in the midst of a recession was guaranteed to increase unemployment among the young— and it has.
But making workers more expensive means that fewer are likely to be hired.
During an economic recovery, employers can respond to an increased demand for their companies' products by hiring more workers— creating more jobs— or they can work their existing employees overtime. Since workers have to be paid time-and-a-half for overtime, it might seem as if it would always be cheaper to hire more workers. But that was before politicians began mandating more benefits per worker.
When you get more hours of work from the existing employees, you don't need to pay for additional mandates, as you would have to when you get more hours of work by hiring new people. For many employers, that makes it cheaper to pay for overtime. The data show that overtime hours have been increasing in the economy while more people have been laid off.
Let's go back to square one. What does it take to create a job? It takes wealth to pay someone who is hired, not to mention additional wealth to buy the material that person will use.
But government creates no wealth. Ignoring that plain and simple fact enables politicians to claim to be able to do all sorts of miraculous things that they cannot do in fact. Without creating wealth, how can they create jobs? By taking wealth from others, whether by taxation, selling bonds or imposing mandates.
However it is done, transferring wealth is not creating wealth. When government uses transferred wealth to hire people, it is essentially transferring jobs from the private sector, not adding to the net number of jobs in the economy.
Ironically, it is politicians who have already made medical insurance so expensive that many people refuse to buy it. Insurance is designed to cover risk. But politicians have mandated that insurance cover things that are not risks and that neither the buyers nor the sellers of insurance want covered.
In various states, medical insurance must cover the costs of fertility treatments, annual checkups and other things that have nothing to do with risks. What many people most want is to be insured against the risk of having their life's savings wiped out by a catastrophic illness.
But you cannot get insurance just for catastrophic illnesses when politicians keep piling on mandates that drive up the cost of the insurance. These are usually state mandates but the federal government is already promising more mandates on insurance companies— which means still higher costs and higher premiums.
All this makes a farce of the notion of a "public option" that will simply provide competition to keep private insurance companies honest. What politicians can and will do is continue to drive up the cost of private insurance until it is no longer viable. A "public option" is simply a path toward a "single payer" system, a euphemism for a government monopoly.
The "uninsured" are another big talking point for government medical insurance. But the incomes of many of the uninsured indicate that many— if not most— of them choose to be uninsured. Poor people can get insurance through Medicaid.
Price controls create lower prices for open and legal transactions— but also black markets where the prices are higher than they were before, because the risks of punishment for illegal activity has to be compensated. Price controls also lead to shortages and quality deterioration.
But politicians who take credit for lower prices blame all these bad consequences on others. Diocletian did this in the days of the Roman Empire, leaders of the French Revolution did this when their price controls on food led to hungry and angry people, and American politicians denounced the oil companies when price controls on gasoline led to long lines at filling stations in the 1970s. It is the same story, whatever the country, the times or the product or service.
One of the strongest talking points of those who want a government-run medical care system is that we simply cannot afford the high and rising costs of medical care under the current system.
First of all, what we can afford has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of producing anything. We will either pay those costs or not get the benefits. Moreover, if we cannot afford the quantity and quality of medical care that we want now, the government has no miraculous way of enabling us to afford it in the future.
If you think the government can lower medical costs by eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse," as some Washington politicians claim, the logical question is: Why haven't they done that already?
Over the years, scandal after scandal has shown waste, fraud and abuse to be rampant in Medicare and Medicaid. Why would anyone imagine that a new government medical program will do what existing government medical programs have clearly failed to do?
For those who live by talking points, one of their biggest talking points is that Americans do not get any longer life span than people in other Western nations by all the additional money we spend on medical care.
Like so many clever things that are said, this argument depends on confusing very different things— namely, "health care" and "medical care." Medical care is a limited part of health care. What we do and don't do in the way we live our lives affects our health and our longevity, in many cases more so than what doctors can do to provide medical care.
Americans have higher rates of obesity, homicide and narcotics addiction than people in many other Western nations. There are severe limits on what doctors and medical care can do about that.
If we are serious about medical care— and we should be serious, since it is a matter of life and death— then we should have no time for clever statements that confuse instead of clarifying.
If we want to compare the effects of medical care, as such, in the United States with that in other countries with government-run medical systems, then we need to compare things where medical care is what matters most, such as survival rates of people with cancer.
The United States has one of the highest rates of cancer survival in the world— and for some cancers, the number one rate of survival. We also lead the world in creating new life-saving pharmaceutical drugs. But all of this can change— for the worse— if we listen to clever people who think they should be running our lives.
You can even save money by cutting down on medications to relieve pain, as is already being done in Britain's government-run medical system. You can save money by not having as many high-tech medical devices like CAT scans or MRIs, and not using the latest medications. Countries with government-run medical systems have less of all these things than the United States has.
But reducing these things is not "bringing down the cost of medical care." It is simply refusing to pay those costs— and taking the consequences.
In the United States, the government has already reduced payments for patients on Medicare and Medicaid, with the result that some doctors no longer accept new patients with Medicare or Medicaid. That has not reduced the cost of medical care. It has reduced the availability of medical care, just as buying a pint of milk reduces the payment below what a quart of milk would cost.
Although it is cheaper to buy a pint of milk than to buy a quart of milk, nobody considers that to be lowering the price of milk. Although it is cheaper to buy a lower quality of all sorts of goods than to buy a higher quality, nobody thinks of that as lowering the price of either lower or higher quality goods. Yet, when it comes to medical care, there seems to be remarkably little attention paid to questions of both quantity and quality, in the rush to "bring down the cost of medical care."
There is no question that you can reduce the payments for medical care by having either a lower quantity or a lower quality of medical care. That has already been done in countries with government-run medical systems.
There are some ways in which the real costs of medical care can be reduced but the people who are leading the charge for a government takeover of medical care are not the least bit interested in actually reducing those costs, as distinguished from shifting the costs around or just refusing to pay them.
Britain has had a government-run medical system for more than half a century and it has to import doctors, including some from Third World countries where the medical training may not be the best. In short, reducing doctors' income is not reducing the cost of medical care, it is refusing to pay those costs. Like other ways of refusing to pay costs, it has consequences.
Providing free lunches to people who go to hospital emergency rooms is one of the reasons for the current high costs of medical care for others. Politicians mandating what insurance companies must cover is another free lunch that leads to higher premiums for medical insurance-- and fewer people who can afford it.
Despite all the demonizing of insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies or doctors for what they charge, the fundamental costs of goods and services are the costs of producing them.
There is a fundamental difference between reducing costs and simply shifting costs around, like a pea in a shell game at a carnival. Costs are not reduced simply because you pay less at a doctor's office and more in taxes-- or more in insurance premiums, or more in higher prices for other goods and services that you buy, because the government has put the costs on businesses that pass those costs on to you.
As a purely factual matter, prices do tend to be higher -- and the quality of service and products lower -- in stores in low-income neighborhoods. But the knee-jerk assumption that this represents "exploitation" or "racism" ignores the economics of the situation.
Most Americans in the top fifth, the bottom fifth, or any of the fifths in between, do not stay there for a whole decade, much less for life. And most certainly do not remain permanently in the top one percent or the top one-hundredth of one percent.
Most income statistics do not follow given individuals from year to year, the way Internal Revenue statistics do. But those other statistics can create the misleading illusion that they do by comparing income brackets from year to year, even though people are moving in and out of those brackets all the time.
That especially includes the top one percent, who have become the focus of so much angst and so much rhetoric.
Among corporate CEOs, those who cash in stock options that they have accumulated over the years get a big spike in income the year that they cash them in. This lets critics quote inflated incomes of the top-paid CEOs for that year. Some of these incomes are almost as large as those of big-time entertainers — who are never accused of "greed," by the way.
Americans in the top one percent, like Americans in most income brackets, are not there permanently, despite being talked about and written about as if they are an enduring "class" — especially by those who have overdosed on the magic formula of "race, class and gender," which has replaced thought in many intellectual circles.
At the highest income levels, people are especially likely to be transient at that level. Recent data from the Internal Revenue Service show that more than half the people who were in the top one percent in 1996 were no longer there in 2005.
Among the top one-hundredth of one percent, three-quarters of them were no longer there at the end of the decade.
People who are in the top one percent in income receive far more than one percent of the attention in the media. Even aside from miscellaneous celebrity bimbos, the top one percent attract all sorts of hand-wringing and finger-pointing.
The heady notion of "rights" -- and especially the notion that your rights over-ride other people's rights, when those other people belong to some suspect class called "bosses" -- is an all too familiar feature of modern welfare state notions.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who supports the new labor law, has seen his approval rating drop to 36 percent. That is what happens when you try to talk sense to people who prefer to believe nonsense.
Abraham Lincoln once asked an audience how many legs a dog has, if you called the tail a leg? When the audience said "five," Lincoln corrected them, saying that the answer was four. "The fact that you call a tail a leg does not make it a leg."
What we have very seldom seen or heard in such parading of statistics are other statistics-- which are readily available-- showing that (1) whites are turned down for mortgage loans more often than Asian Americans, (2) whites resort to subprime loans more often than Asian Americans, (3) whites have been laid off more in a downturn than Asian Americans, and (3) the children of white mothers have higher infant mortality rates than the children of mothers of Filipino or Mexican ancestry, even though these mothers receive less prenatal care than white mothers.
In other words, numbers do not "speak for themselves." Politicians, the media and others speak for them-- very loudly, very cleverly and often very wrongly.
Many observers who say that they cannot understand how anyone can be worth $100 million a year do not realize that it is not necessary that they understand it, since it is not their money.
All of us have thousands of things happening around us that we do not understand. We use computers all the time but most of us could not build a computer if our life depended on it -- and those few individuals who could probably couldn't grow orchids or train horses.
In short, we all have grossly inadequate knowledge in other people's specialties.
The idea that everything must "justify itself before the bar of reason" goes back at least as far as the 18th century. But that just makes it a candidate for the longest-running fallacy in the world.
Given the high degree of specialization in a modern economy, demanding that everything "justify itself before the bar of reason" means demanding that people who know what they are doing must be subject to the veto of people who don't have a clue about the decisions that they are second-guessing.
It means demanding that ignorance override knowledge.
The ignorant are not just some separate group of people. As Will Rogers said, everybody is ignorant, but just about different things.
Should computer experts tell brain surgeons how to do their job? Or horse trainers tell either of them what to do?
When it comes to lifting people out of poverty, redistribution of income and wealth has a much poorer and more spotty track record than the creation of wealth. In some places, such as Zimbabwe today, attempts at a redistribution of wealth have turned out to be a redistribution of poverty.
While the creation of wealth may be more effective for enabling millions of people to rise out of poverty, it provides no special role for the political left, no puffed up importance, no moral superiority, no power for them to wield over others. Redistribution is clearly better for the left.
Leftist emphasis on "the poor" proceeds as if the poor were some separate group. But, in most Western countries, at least, millions of people who are "poor" at one period of their lives are "rich" at another period of their lives -- as these terms are conventionally defined.
How can that be? People tend to become more productive -- create more wealth -- over time, with more experience and an accumulation of skills and training.
That is reflected in incomes that are two or three times higher in later years than at the beginning of a career. But that too is of little or no interest to the political left.
Senator Humphrey was not unique in that respect. In fact, our present economic crisis has developed out of politicians providing solutions to problems that did not exist-- and, as a result, producing a problem whose existence is all too real and all too painful.
What was the problem that didn't exist? It was a national problem of unaffordable housing. The political crusade for affordable housing got into high gear in the 1990s and led to all kinds of changes in mortgage lending practices, which in turn led to a housing boom and bust that has left us in the mess we are now trying to dig out of.
The housing market collapse was set off when the Federal Reserve returned interest rates to more normal levels, but it was a financial house of cards that was due to collapse, sending shock waves through the economy. It was just a matter of when, not if.
Mortgage loans with no down payment, no income verification and other "creative" financial arrangements abounded. Although this was done under pressures begun in the name of the poor and minorities, people who were neither could also get these mortgage loans.
It should also be noted that the same statistical sources from which data on blacks and whites were obtained usually contained data on Asian Americans as well. But those data on Asian Americans were almost never mentioned.
Whites were turned down for mortgage loans more often than Asian Americans. But saying that would undermine the reasoning on which the whole moral melodrama and political crusades were based.
Differences in the number of people per household from one ethnic group to another is why Hispanics have higher household incomes than blacks, while blacks have higher individual incomes than Hispanics.
More than 40 years ago, President John F. Kennedy got Congress to cut tax rates, with the idea that this would provide incentives to change economic behavior in a way that would increase economic growth and individual incomes, and therefore lead to even more tax revenue coming into the Treasury than had been the case under the higher tax rates. That is exactly what happened.
Years later, Ronald Reagan made the same argument and his "tax cuts for the rich" produced the same result. Tax receipts during every year of the 1980s were higher than they had ever been in any year before. Moreover, taxes paid specifically by "the rich" were higher than before, because their incomes rose so much as the economy boomed that they paid more total taxes despite the reduced tax rate.
Most of the graduates of even our most prestigious universities leave these illustrious campuses utterly ignorant of economics. Even distinguished professors in other fields are often not only ignorant, but misinformed, about the most basic principles of economics. Harvard's eminent historian, Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., admitted that he had no real interest in economics, though that did not stop him from concluding that President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration saved the American economy during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Economics and politics deal with the same fundamental problem: What everyone wants always adds up to more than there is. Economics can give no solution to that problem, and can at best offer various ways that trade-offs may be made, in order to try to optimize the inherently limited possibilities. But politics offers solutions every day - however illusory, counterproductive or even disastrous those solutions may turn out to be. In the short run, which is when elections are held, politicians are a lot more popular than economists.
There was a time, within living memory, when most Americans did not have health insurance-- and it was not the end of the world, as so many in politics and the media seem to be depicting it today.
As someone who lived through that era, and who spent decades without medical insurance, I find it hard to be panicked and stampeded into bigger and worse problems because some people do not have medical insurance, including many who could afford it if they chose to.
What did we do, back during the years when most Americans had no medical insurance? I did what most people did. I depended on a "single payer"-- myself. When I didn't have the money, I paid off my medical bills in installments.
Both legal and illegal immigrants have come here primarily to work and make a better life for themselves and their families. But a country requires more than workers. It requires people who are citizens not only in name but in commitment.
Americanization did not happen automatically in earlier times and it will not happen automatically today. Immigrants in an earlier era had leaders and organizations actively working to transform them into Americans -- the Catholic Church with the Irish and numerous organizations among the Jews, for example.
Today's immigrant activists and the politicians who kowtow to them have just the opposite agenda, to keep foreigners foreign and to make other Americans accept and adjust to that. It will be a national tragedy if they succeed.
Plausible as this might sound, tax rates are not tax revenues. The two things have moved in opposite directions too many times, over too many years, for us to take these clever talking points at face value.
This administration is not the first one in which a reduction in tax rates has been followed by an increase in tax revenues. The same thing happened during the Reagan administration, the Kennedy administration and the Coolidge administration.
Tax rates and tax revenues have moved in opposite directions many times, not only at the federal level, but also at state and local levels, as well as in foreign countries.
How many times does it have to happen before people stop equating tax rates with tax revenues? Do the tax-and-spend politicians and their media supporters not know any better — or are they counting on the rest of us not knowing any better?
The idea of paying the kind of money that would attract the kind of people we need in government runs against many prejudices. Just plain envy is one. Some people feel that those they elect should not make so much more than they do.
But think about it: If your child had some life-threatening condition that required some very demanding surgery, would you worry about whether the surgeon who saves your child's life had an annual income that was several times what you make?
Members of Congress have not only trillions of dollars of our tax money in their hands, they also have in their hands our lives and the lives of our children and our nation. Are you going to worry about their incomes or about what caliber of people we can attract to make the momentous decisions that have to be made?
Yes, it would be nice if all public officials were self-sacrificing individuals who had no other thought than doing their best for their country. It would also be nice if voters watched elected officials 24/7. But the best is the enemy of the good. The road to Utopia has repeatedly turned out to be the road to hell, in countries around the world.
We need laws written by people who have confronted life in the real world, not in the sheltered world of trust fund recipients or the insulated cocoon of academia. Nor do we need people who have nothing to offer in the private sector that would earn them more than what they currently receive in Congress.
There is another aspect to supply and demand. As countries like China and India have in recent years begun allowing more market transactions to replace government controls, their economies have begun growing much more rapidly.
Growing economies mean rising demand for food, for shelter, for more of the amenities of life. That in turn means a rising demand for oil, leading to rising oil prices around the world.
The Supreme Court's recent  unanimous decision shot down a claim that oil companies were colluding in setting prices. That claim was upheld by the far-left 9th Circuit Court of Appeals but neither liberals nor conservatives on the Supreme Court were buying it.
The unanimous vote should also tell us something about those politicians who are forever blaming rising gasoline prices on oil company collusion and "greed." There is no point exposing a lie unless we learn to be skeptical the next time the liars come out with the same story.
Edmund Burke understood that, no matter what form of government you had, in the end the character of those who wielded the powers of government was crucial. He said: "Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part of it must depend upon the exercise of the powers which are left at large to the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state."
A Gallup poll last week showed that far more Americans describe themselves as "conservatives" than as "liberals." Yet Republicans have been clobbered by the Democrats in both the 2008 elections and the 2006 elections.
In a country with more conservatives than liberals, it is puzzling-- in fact, amazing-- that we have the furthest left President of the United States in history, as well as the furthest left Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Republicans, especially, need to think about what this means. If you lose when the other guy has all the high cards, there is not much you can do about it. But, when you have the high cards and still keep taking a beating, then you need to re-think how you are playing the game.
It has long been recognized that those on the political left are more articulate than their opponents. The words they choose for the things they are for or against make it easy to decide whether to be for or against those things.
Are you for or against "social justice"? A no-brainer. Who is going to be for injustice?
What about "a living wage"? Who wants people not to have enough money to live on?
Then there is "affordable housing" and "affordable health care." Who would want people to be unable to afford to put a roof over their heads or unable to go to a doctor when they are sick?
In real life, the devil is in the details. But the whole point of political rhetoric is to make it unnecessary for you to have to go into the specifics before taking sides.
You don't need to know any economics to be in favor of "a living wage" or "affordable housing." In fact, the less economics you know, the more you can believe in such things.
Back in 1954, when there were no restrictions on owning shotguns in England and there were far more owners of pistols then than there were decades later, there were only 12 cases of armed robbery in London.
By the 1990s, after stringent gun controls laws were imposed, there were well over a thousand armed robberies a year in London. In the late 1990s, after an almost total ban on handguns in England, gun crimes went up another ten percent.
The reason-- too obvious to be accepted by the intelligentsia -- is that law-abiding people became more defenseless against criminals who ignored the law and kept their guns.
The big cities with the tightest rent control laws in the nation are New York and San Francisco. The nation's highest rents are in New York and the second-highest are in San Francisco.
There is a very straightforward explanation for that. Strong rent control laws can bring residential building to a screeching halt. Once politicians have milked the political advantages of passing rent control laws, they have to avoid a backlash if all building of apartments stops.
That leads to an escape hatch in the rent control law. Luxury apartments with rents above a certain level are exempted. That leads to the shifting of resources away from building affordable housing to building housing that is unaffordable.
Inflation also means that all the talk about how higher taxes will be confined to "the rich" is nonsense. Inflation is a hidden tax that takes away the value of money held by everyone at every income level.
If insurance covered only those things that most people are most concerned about-- the high cost of a major medical expense-- the price would be much lower than it is today, with politicians piling on mandate after mandate.
Since insurance covers risks, there is no reason for it to cover annual checkups, because it is known in advance that annual checkups occur once a year. Automobile insurance does not cover oil changes, much less the purchase of gasoline, since these are regular recurrences, not risks.
What is also the price of freedom is the toleration of imperfections. If everything that is wrong with the world becomes a reason to turn more power over to some political savior, then freedom is going to erode away, while we are mindlessly repeating the catchwords of the hour, whether "change," "universal health care" or "social justice."
Various empirical studies have indicated that blacks succeed best at institutions where there is little or no difference between their qualifications and the qualifications of the other students around them.
This is not rocket science but it is amazing how much effort and cleverness have gone into denying the obvious.
FDR himself said that "Dr. New Deal" had been replaced by "Dr. Win-the-War." But those today who are for big spending like to credit wartime big spending for bringing the Great Depression to an end. They never ask the question as to why previous depressions had always ended on their own, much faster than the one under FDR, and without government intervention or massive government spending.
It was, after all, Franklin D. Roosevelt's brilliant "brains trust" advisers whose policies are now increasingly recognized as having prolonged the Great Depression of the 1930s, while claiming credit for ending it. The Great Depression ended only when the Second World War put an end to many New Deal policies.
Among the differences between the parties is that Democrats are more articulate.
Admittedly, the Democrats have an easier case to make. It takes no great amount of thought, nor much in the way of persuasive powers, to sell the idea of government handing out benefits hither and yon. It is only when you stop and think about the consequences, for this generation and generations to come, that some grim questions arise.
But if Republicans don't raise those awkward questions, and don't take the trouble to explain what is wrong with government playing Santa Claus, then the Democrats can soar on a cloud of euphoria.
Sometimes it doesn't matter that you have a better product, if your competitors have better salesmen.
The most politically painless way to hand out goodies, without taking responsibility for their costs, is to pass a law saying that somebody else must provide those goodies at their expense, while the politicians take credit for generosity and compassion.
Employers are ideal targets for such mandates, since there are always more employees than employers, and that is what counts on Election Day. Whether it is health insurance, time off with pay or whatever, these mandates on employers can be washed down with a little rhetoric about business’ “social responsibilities.”
Where those “social responsibilities” come from is not a problem. It sounds good, and that is good enough for politics.
A recent news story told of three young men who chipped in a total of $33,000 to buy a home in San Francisco that cost nearly a million dollars. Why would a bank lend that kind of money to them on such a small down payment? Because the loan was insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
The bank wasn't taking any risk. If the three guys defaulted, the bank could always collect the money from the Federal Housing Administration. The only risk was to the taxpayers.
Does the Federal Housing Administration have unlimited money to bail out bad loans? Actually there have been so many defaults that the FHA's own reserves have dropped below where they are supposed to be. But not to worry. There will always be taxpayers, not to mention future generations to pay off the national debt.
Many of the things the government does that may seem stupid are not stupid at all, from the standpoint of the elected officials or bureaucrats who do these things.
The current economic downturn that has cost millions of people their jobs began with successive administrations of both parties pushing banks and other lenders to make mortgage loans to people whose incomes, credit history and inability or unwillingness to make a substantial down payment on a house made them bad risks.
Was that stupid? Not at all. The money that was being put at risk was not the politicians' money, and in most cases was not even the government's money. Moreover, the jobs that are being lost by the millions are not the politicians' jobs-- and jobs in the government's bureaucracies are increasing.
No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems - of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.
Too often voting is conceived as some sort of expressive outlet for the voters, rather than as a solemn responsibility to pick the best people to lead the country. The emphasis is on getting as high a voter turnout as possible, even if that means pulling into the process people who have only the most meager knowledge or interest in the issues at hand.
Such people cannot preserve freedom, or perhaps even survival, in the face of politicians looking out solely for their advantages of the moment.
One of the trends that can become part of a perfect storm of disasters for American society has been a decades-long dumbing down of education, producing a citizenry poorly equipped to see through political rhetoric, and even more poorly supplied with facts and the ability to analyze opposing arguments.
Thousands of students graduate each year, from even the most prestigious schools and colleges in the country, with no real knowledge of history and no real analytical skills at dissecting opposing views. It was once the proud boast of educators that "We are here to teach you how to think, not what to think." But today, all too many educators see the classroom as a golden opportunity for them to indoctrinate a captive audience.
The specifics of their indoctrination are not the biggest problem. Quite aside from the merits or demerits of the specific indoctrination - whether "global warming" or the new trinity of "race, class and gender" - what the indoctrination process does is get students used to hearing one side of issues and being urged to reach conclusions and act on that grossly inadequate basis. Such an "education" sets them up to become victims of the next skilled demagogue who comes along and who knows what kinds of rhetoric will get them to respond as automatically as Pavlov's dog.
The baby boomers, who are beginning to turn sixty, are unlikely to get back all the money they paid into Social Security, with or without strings. The illusion that Social Security can provide pensions more cheaply than a private annuity or other retirement plan is the grand something-for-nothing political triumph.
People who think that they are getting something for nothing, by having government provide what they would otherwise have to buy in the private market, are not only kidding themselves by ignoring the taxes that government has to take from them in order to give them the appearance of something for nothing. They are also ignoring the strings that are going to be attached to their own money when it comes back to them in government benefits.
That is not even counting the fact that government programs are usually less efficient than similar services provided by private enterprises.
Compare the service you get at the Department of Motor Vehicles with the service you get at Triple-A. No one who belongs to the American Automobile Association is likely to go to the DMV for a service that is also available through Triple-A.
Yet the illusion of something for nothing has kept the welfare state going -- and expanding. If there is something for sale in the marketplace for ten dollars and you would not pay more than five dollars for it, some politician can always offer to get it for you free -- as a newly discovered "basic right," or at least at a "reasonable" or "affordable" price.
Suppose that the "reasonable" or "affordable" price is three dollars. How do you suppose the government can produce something for three dollars that private industry cannot produce for less than ten dollars? Greater efficiency in government? Give me a break!
The fact that you pay only three dollars at the cash register means nothing. If it costs the government twelve dollars to produce and distribute what you are getting for three dollars, then the government is going to have to get another nine dollars in taxes to cover the difference.
One way or another, you are going to end up paying twelve dollars for something you were unwilling to buy for ten dollars or even six dollars. But so long as you think you are getting something for nothing, the politicians' shell game has worked and the welfare state can continue to expand.
Americans tend to be more obese, consume more drugs and have more homicides. None of that is going to change with "universal health care" because it isn't health care. It is medical care.
When it comes to things where medical care itself makes the biggest difference - cancer survival rates, for example - Americans do much better than people in most other countries.
No one who compares medical care in this country with medical care in other countries is likely to want to switch. But those who cannot be bothered with the facts may help destroy the best medical care in the world by pursuing a political mirage.
People who believe in "universal health care" show remarkably little interest - usually none - in finding out what that phrase turns out to mean in practice, in those countries where it already exists, such as Britain, Sweden or Canada.
For one thing, "universal health care" in these countries means months of waiting for surgery that Americans get in a matter of weeks or even days.
In these and other countries, it means having only a fraction as many MRIs and other high-tech medical devices available per person as in the United States.
In Sweden, it means not only having bureaucrats deciding what medicines the government will and will not pay for, but even preventing you from buying the more expensive medicine for yourself with your own money. That would violate the "equality" that is the magic mantra.
Ironically, the United States is moving in the direction of the kind of economy that China has been forced to move away from. China once had complete government control of medical care, but eventually gave it up as the disaster that it was.
Even the totalitarian governments of the 20th century eventually learned the hard way the limits of what could be accomplished by power alone. Chine still has a totalitarian government today but, after the death of Mao, the Chinese government began to loosen its controls on some parts of the economy, in order to reap the economic benefits of freer markets.
At more mundane levels, such tasks as diving operations in the Carolina swamps required a level of discretion and skill far in excess of that required to pick cotton the the South or cut sugar cane in the tropics. Slaves diving in the Carolina swamps had financial incentives and were treated far better. So were slaves working in Virgina's tobacco factories.
The point of all this is that when even slaves had to be paid to get certain kinds of work done, this shows the limits of what can be accomplished by power alone.
Securities based on risky mortgages are what toppled financial institutions but it was the government that made the mortgages risky in the first place, by making home-ownership statistics the holy grail, for which everything else was to be sacrificed, including commonsense standards for making home loans.
One important clue may be a recent statement by President Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, that "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste."
This is the kind of cynical revelation that sometimes slips out, despite all the political pieties and spin. Crises have long been seen as great opportunities to expand the federal government's power while the people are too scared to object and before any opposition can get organized.
The government is putting money into banks, even when the banks don't want it, in hopes that the banks will put it into circulation. But the latest statistics show that banks are lending even less money now than they were before the government dumped all that cash on them.
However, thanks to the United Nations, there is a place where political leaders can go to do nothing, with a flurry of highly visible activity - and the media will cover it in detail, with a straight face, so that people will think that something is actually being done.
According to an official document of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, right-wing extremists include "groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration." It also includes those "rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority."
Who hasn't been out of work at some time or other, or had an illness or accident that created unexpected expenses? The old and trite notion of "saving for a rainy day" is old and trite precisely because this has been a common experience for a very long time.
What is new is the current notion of indulging people who refused to save for a rainy day or to live within their means. In politics, it is called "compassion" - which comes in both the standard liberal version and "compassionate conservatism."
The one person toward whom there is no compassion is the taxpayer.
The word repeated endlessly in these political charades is "deregulation." The idea is that it was a lack of government supervision which allowed "greed" in the private sector to lead the nation into crises that only our Beltway saviors can solve.
What utter rubbish this all is can be found by checking the record of how government regulators were precisely the ones who imposed lower mortgage lending standards - and it was members of "Congress (of both parties) who pushed the regulators, the banks and the mortgage-buying giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into accepting risky mortgages, in the name of "affordable housing" and more home ownership. Presidents of both parties also jumped on the bandwagon.
One of the most audacious attempts to take away our freedom to live our lives as we see fit has been the so-called "health care reform" bills that were being rushed through Congress before either the public or the members of Congress themselves had a chance to discover all that was in them.
For this, we were taught to resent doctors, insurance companies and even people with "Cadillac health insurance plans," who were to be singled out for special taxes. Meanwhile, our freedom to make our own medical decisions - on which life and death can depend - was to be quietly taken from us and transferred to our betters in Washington.
If eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, incessant distractions are the way that politicians take away our freedoms, in order to enhance their own power and longevity in office. Dire alarms and heady crusades are among the many distractions of our attention from the ever increasing ways that government finds to take away more of our money and more of our freedom.
Magicians have long known that distracting an audience is the key to creating the illusion of magic. It is also the key to political magic.
Alarms ranging from "overpopulation" to "global warming" and crusades ranging from "affordable housing" to "universal health care" have been among the distractions of political magicians. But few distractions have had such a long and impressive political track record as getting people to resent and, if necessary, hate other people.
The most politically effective totalitarian systems have gotten people to give up their own freedom in order to vent their resentment or hatred at other people - under Communism, the capitalists; under Nazis, the Jews.
Among the people appointed as czars by President Obama have been people who have praised enemy dictators like Mao, or who have seen the public schools as places to promote sexual practices contrary to the values of most Americans, to a captive audience of children.
Those who say that the Obama administration should have investigated those people more thoroughly before appointing them are missing the point completely. Why should we assume that Barack Obama didn't know what such people were like, when he has been associating with precisely these kinds of people for decades before he reached the White House?
Nothing is more consistent with his lifelong patterns than putting such people in government - people who reject American values, resent Americans in general and successful Americans in particular, as well as resenting America's influence in the world.
People who say that the government has to "do something" when there is an economic downturn almost never compare what actually happened when the government did something, as in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash, compared to what happened when the government did nothing after a comparable stock market crash in 1987 - or in fact after a number of other crashes before 1929. Facts seem to have become irrelevant, for all too many people, who rely instead on visions and rhetoric.
Government policies can be judged by what they promise or by what they do. While it might seem to be obvious that the latter is what is relevant, many people nevertheless assume that rent control laws control rent, gun control laws control guns, stimulus spending stimulates the economy and jobs bills create jobs. Moreover, few people seem to find it necessary to check any of these assumptions against facts. For example, the fact that cities like New York and San Francisco, with a long history of very strong rent control laws, have some of the highest rents in the country might suggest that such assumptions need a lot closer attention than either the public or the media give them.
The really painful surprise is that so many people based their hopes on his [Barack Obama] words, rather than on the record of his deeds. What that means is that, even if we somehow manage to survive this man's reckless economic policies at home and his potentially fatal foreign policy actions and inactions, the gullibility and fecklessness of those voters who put him in the White House will still be there to be exploited by the next master of glib demagoguery and emotional images, who can lead us into another vortex of dangers, from which there is no guarantee that we will emerge as a free people or even as a viable society.
But that such an administration could be elected in the first place, headed by a man [Barack Obama] whose only qualifications to be President of the United States at a dangerous time in the history of the world were rhetoric, style and symbolism - and whose animus against the values and institutions of America had been demonstrated repeatedly over a period of decades beforehand-speaks volumes about the inadequacies of our educational system and the degeneration of our culture.
It has been estimated that a thousand years passed before the standard of living in Europe rose again to the level it had achieved in Roman times. The collapse of civilization is not just the replacement of rulers or institutions with new rulers and new institutions. It is the destruction of a whole way of life and the painful, and sometimes pathetic, attempts to begin rebuilding amid the ruins.
Is that where America is headed? I believe it is. Our only saving grace is that we are not there yet—and that nothing is inevitable until it happens.