How the left really thinks

This is from William Voegeli, a very realistic portrayal of the left in all its hideous superficiality. No one on the left, as he points out, could reproduce the beliefs of someone on the right in a way that would be seen as largely correct. They are just too busy congratulating themselves on their moral virtue.

It’s been more than 50 years since William F. Buckley first complained, “Though liberals do a great deal of talking about hearing other points of view, it sometimes shocks them to learn that there are other points of view.”

Since then, things have only gotten worse. At the dawn of the Obama era, for example, Mark Schmitt, former editor of The American Prospect, wrote that the “conservative power structure” is so “dangerous” because it operates “almost entirely on bad faith,” thriving on “protest, complaint, [and] fear.”

Just before the recent midterm elections The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky called the GOP “as intellectually dishonest and bankrupt and just plain old willfully stupid as a political party can possibly be,” one whose only agenda “is to slash regulations and taxes and let energy companies and megabanks and multinational corporations do whatever it is they wish to do.”

In other words, it is impossible not only for any reasonable person to be conservative, but even to take such idiotic, malignant ideas seriously. And neither Schmitt nor Tomasky is a particularly shrill partisan, compared to the polemicists at Salon.com, MSNBC or the New York Times editorial page. With such allies, it’s no wonder that Barack Obama’s wish for a new political unity that would transcend and heal the divisions between red states and blue states has come to nothing.

Liberal rhetoric emphasizes compassion, empathy and kindness—“Kindness covers all of my political beliefs,” President Obama has said—because these emotions need not and really cannot be theorized.

It’s tempting, but mistaken, for conservatives to think that the problem is as simple as liberals’ failure to observe the Golden Rule of democratic politics: take your adversaries as seriously as you want them to take you. That’s a good standard, of course, but it’s sound advice for everyone. American discourse would benefit if all disputants observed what economist Bryan Caplan calls the “ideological Turing test,” which requires characterizing a viewpoint you disagree with so discerningly and scrupulously that an adherent of that position finds your summary of it as clear and persuasive as any provided by a true believer.

Caplan’s test turns out to be not only a good general rule, but a good way to grasp one of liberalism’s defining features. It’s hard to understand liberals as they understand themselves because they insist there’s really nothing to understand. Liberal rhetoric emphasizes compassion, empathy and kindness—“Kindness covers all of my political beliefs,” President Obama has said—because these emotions need not and really cannot be theorized.

Even its philosophers reject the need for a theoretical framework. “The idea that liberal societies are bound together by philosophical beliefs seems to me to be ludicrous,” the left-of-center philosopher Richard Rorty contended. Philosophy “is not that important for politics.”

Liberalism, as liberals understand it, is not a philosophy, ideology, body of doctrines or a mode of interpreting political reality. It is, instead, nothing more than common sense and common decency applied to the work of governance.

It follows directly from this premise that opposition to the liberal project is necessarily senseless and indecent. Viewing themselves as simply nice people who want the world to be a nicer and nicer place, liberals regard conservatives as either mean people who want the world to be a mean place, or stupid people who can’t grasp that impeding liberalism means impeding the advance of niceness.

Convinced that no intelligent, decent person could take conservatism seriously, liberals believe it is not necessary or even possible, when engaging conservative ideas, to go beyond diagnosing the psychological, moral or mental defects that cause people to espouse them. Liberals claim to understand conservatives better than they understand themselves on the basis of seeing through the cynical self-interest of conservative leaders (and funders), and the fanaticism or stupid docility of conservative followers.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, scourge of the Koch brothers, went on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show in 2010 to deny that the Tea Party movement was “a spontaneous uprising that came from nowhere.” In fact, Maddow explained, many of those attending its demonstrations “were essentially instructed to rally against things like climate change by billionaire oil tycoons.”

Viewing themselves as simply nice people who want the world to be a nicer and nicer place, liberals regard conservatives as either mean people who want the world to be a mean place, or stupid people who can’t grasp that impeding liberalism means impeding the advance of niceness.

This condescension has always been part of the liberal outlook. In 1972, eight weeks after George McGovern suffered a historically massive defeat against Richard Nixon, film critic Pauline Kael told the professors at a Modern Language Association conference, “I know only one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”

Conservatives will wait decades in the hope of a fair hearing from such adversaries. That time would be better spent urging Americans who haven’t made up their minds that the same traits that make liberals contemptuous of conservatism make them dangerous for America. Liberalism exists to solve problems, and liberals regard every source of dissatisfaction or discord as a problem, not an aspect of the human condition that we must always contend with but can never sanely hope to eradicate. In denouncing “Dirty Harry” as a “deeply immoral movie,” Pauline Kael explained in 1972 that crime is caused, not by evil, but by “deprivation, misery, psychopathology and social injustice.”

Yet the crime wave that made urban life intolerable from the early 1960s through the early 1990s has, somehow, receded dramatically, even though liberals are as agitated about deprivation and social injustice today as they were 40 years ago. Such reactionary ideas as more cops, more prisons and longer sentences—all based on the conservative belief that constraining human wickedness through stern disincentives is plausible, but solving it therapeutically through social work is deluded—has made the difference. Liberal disdain for the wary view of human nature, which is conservatism’s foundation, turns out to be of one piece with the “idealism” and “compassion” that culminates in governmental malpractice, rendering liberalism a threat to the American experiment in self-government.

Alinsky Rule 12 and Rupert Murdoch

Conservatives really are a guileless lot. The tactics of the left have been in print for half a century, they are before our eyes at every turn and no one seems to take them as an exact representation of what the left does. There are a few memes on the left – equality, social justice etc – that are there to cover up its hatred of the market economy and in many ways for freedom in general. There is no actual program; most of what you find are slogans wrapped around an opportunistic agenda whose only genuine end in mind is political power. There is literally nothing in a left agenda that could be used to organise a self-sustaining economically-viable society. Socialism in the West presupposes the existence of a capitalist order. The left agenda without free institutions and a market economy leads only to the gulag, political oppression and mass poverty.

The rhetoric of the left is tactical at every stage. I am therefore astonished at this late stage that it still seems to escape the attention of all too many on the right that the attacks on Rupert Murdoch are merely part of the way the left goes about its business. Rupert Murdoch is simply a useful construct to build its coalition of the stupid (see Gruber). Here is the last of the rules but in many ways the most important:

RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

So let us look at Rule 12 in light of the attacks on Murdoch and the Murdoch Press.

Target: Rupert Murdoch

Freeze it: Put the spotlight continuously on the evil genius and enemy of the people, a meme that is reinforced at every opportunity. Murdoch, Murdoch, Murdoch 666 with no let up. Never fear, the three-minute hate will be taken up by all on the left who, lacking any clear ability to think coherently for themselves, are grateful for a cause in which they can at least pretend to be knowledgable.

Personalise it: No abstractions. Just make the name “Murdoch” the metaphor for the capitalist press. You don’t need to explain anything to anyone. Once you have made the “Murdoch Press” the very definition of an anti-worker, anti-progressive media, there is no need to present a single argument. Remember, the left assumes its supporters are rusted on and generally stupid. Evidence matters not at all. All the counter arguments in the world will not avail you a thing.

Polarise it: Murdoch is made an issue on which everyone must take sides. You either agree that Murdoch manipulates governments to suit his own anti-progressive agenda or you don’t. It is then easy to identify the comrades and to heap disdain on those others who cannot see the truth. The Gnostic inner circle of insight and knowledge is bestowed on those who can see what is wrong with the Murdoch Press. The rest are just, in their eyes, fools and dupes, when it is precisely they who are manipulated and unable to think any serious thoughts for themselves.

Below are all of Alinsky’s rules for radicals. They really are the means by which the left projects its agenda. It is literally the case that every single strategist on the left consciously adopts these and are no doubt amazed how their enemies fall for it every time. And truth to tell, it is amazing that we never do seem to learn.

Saul Alinsky’s 12 Rules for Radicals – The Glenn Beck Edition

* RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood. (These are two things of which there is a plentiful supply. Government and corporations always have a difficult time appealing to people, and usually do so almost exclusively with economic arguments.)

* RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone. (Organizations under attack wonder why radicals don’t address the “real” issues. This is why. They avoid things with which they have no knowledge.)

* RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)

* RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules. (This is a serious rule. The besieged entity’s very credibility and reputation is at stake, because if activists catch it lying or not living up to its commitments, they can continue to chip away at the damage.)

* RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions. (Pretty crude, rude and mean, huh? They want to create anger and fear.)

* RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones. (Radical activists, in this sense, are no different that any other human being. We all avoid “un-fun” activities, and but we revel at and enjoy the ones that work and bring results.)

* RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news. (Even radical activists get bored. So to keep them excited and involved, organizers are constantly coming up with new tactics.)

* RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new. (Attack, attack, attack from all sides, never giving the reeling organization a chance to rest, regroup, recover and re-strategize.)

* RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist. (Perception is reality. Large organizations always prepare a worst-case scenario, something that may be furthest from the activists’ minds. The upshot is that the organization will expend enormous time and energy, creating in its own collective mind the direst of conclusions. The possibilities can easily poison the mind and result in demoralization.)

* RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog. (Unions used this tactic. Peaceful [albeit loud] demonstrations during the heyday of unions in the early to mid-20th Century incurred management’s wrath, often in the form of violence that eventually brought public sympathy to their side.)

* RULE 11: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem. (Old saw: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Activist organizations have an agenda, and their strategy is to hold a place at the table, to be given a forum to wield their power. So, they have to have a compromise solution.)

* RULE 12: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)

Time management

This is exactly how I am but until now never appreciated the logic of it.

Every day I think of what needs urgently to be done and then do something else, like a mouse confronted by a cat. This is not quite as foolish or inefficient as it sounds, for eventually the urgent thing becomes so urgent that it concentrates my mind wonderfully (like hanging in a fortnight, according to Doctor Johnson), and then I work at maximal speed and brainpower.

I just used to call it by my own name of “inappropriate behaviour”. I see the difference in different people. When I give an assignment there are always at the moment the instructions are in their hands some who feel they are already a month behind. Others wait till the last minute – the emails I get trying to make sense of what needs to be done five days before the due date on an assignment worth a quarter of the semester are always astonishing. But for everyone there’s a different lead-time that is within their zone of anxiety and it is different for everyone. But without that pressure of being right against the wall, I often can’t do anything.

Having done my civic duty off to drown my sorrows

Another reason the Liberals are going to lose is the ballot paper for the Upper House. To vote above the line, and no doubt below although I didn’t look, the fold-out ballot paper has the liberals on the far right, and the way it was handed to me, you have to open it up even to see where the libs actually are. On the other hand, you get to the Liberal Democrats on the first page.

The worry is that the Liberals here, and possibly everywhere, are infected by people who could just as easily fit into the Labor Party. I only wish the reverse were true as in earlier days it was.

Anyway, we have done our civic duty and are now off to Carlton to drown our sorrows. My only wish is there had actually been a campaign, because if there was one, it never crossed my path.

What Abbott said and the media heard

Having actually listened to the same speech that is being reported in the paper today, I am not entirely sure those who are doing the reporting quite cottoned on to what the Prime Minister was getting at. The AFR, for example, starts its story on Tony’s speech thus:

Business leaders have told Tony Abbott to sell his own budget, spurning the Prime Minister’s invitation to be more vocal in backing the government’s agenda.

A business association will never back a political party, or will do so only at great risk to its own future. The ALP is little more than the union agenda in a Parliamentary setting, but business and business associations have to work with everyone and in doing so stay politically neutral. Even I, in my occasional days in the media representing business, could criticise Paul Keating and live to tell the tale because, but only because, I never strayed outside our own council-determined policy position.

If I may therefore interpolate, what the PM was saying was that if business wanted to see some of those things that business would like to see – a smaller deficit, lower taxes, a more open industrial relations environment, improved trade relations, or anything else where its own agenda happens to coincide with the Government’s – then it should start pushing these issues harder. The point is not to back the government’s agenda but to back its own, and make it known that there are certain things that business wants the Senate to pass because it will make Australia a better place.

And as just one place where business might find itself assisted by the Government’s agenda, there was another story in the AFR today, No pay rises without efficiency talks, under planned law, which in the paper was titled, “Coalition moves to keep lid on strikes”. It begins:

Ways to make workplaces more efficient would have to be discussed as part of every wage negotiation under a law proposed by the Abbott government.

I promise you this. No other conceivable government in this country will be trying to get such a change made. If business doesn’t back a government which will make such changes they may find themselves dealing with a government that under no circumstances ever will. They need only support the policy but they can do it by whispering it to each other where no one can hear or can say so in public where their support might count.

Debating Keynes – part 2

The one thing about our economies everyone can agree on is that they are in a mess. The question then is, what’s the reason for the mess they are in and what should be done to fix things up? The potential for the present dismal state of affairs to drag on for another decade or more is a genuine possibility, just it has done in Japan since it tried its own stimulus in the 1990s. Such an outcome is all the more likely given the continuous belief, fostered by standard textbook macroeconomics, that a government stimulus is essential if a recovery is to occur. It is this belief that will keep our economies in permanent disarray. There is therefore no economic issue of more importance at the present time than whether such Keynesian policies should be continued.

I am in the midst of an “exchange of letters” on Keynesian economics with Louis-Philippe Rochon, the editor of the Journal of Keynesian Economics. We had each written one letter – (my first is discussed here) – and now I have written my second, which may be found at this link under the title: “How to Promote a Global Economic Recovery? ‘Markets… have been the single most liberating institution in possibly the entire history of the human race’.” You can find all three of our letters, my two and Louis-Philippe’s reply to the first, at the link.

The letter that has just been published was, in fact, the second I had written in response to his. What follows below is the first version I wrote in reply, which is still trying to get at the same ideas but in a different way.

Dear Louis-Philippe

Thank you for your reply which I must confess was not really a reply to the issues I raised. I wrote to explain why a stimulus could not possibly have worked, emphasising the theory. Your reply has merely stated that we have not really had a stimulus since it was prematurely brought to an end and that in your view, it is the absence of a stimulus that is causing our economies to fall into deeper recession. You then go on to provide your own Keynesian program with nothing to support it other than your own set of preferences for public spending.

But if we are to examine the record, let me remind you that there has never been a single example of a Keynesian stimulus that has ever succeeded in returning an economy to full employment and strong rates of growth. Not a single one, not one, not ever.

The one example that gets trotted out from time to time was the outcome of the Kennedy tax cuts of 1962. But tax cuts are not increases in public spending, and are in perfect keeping with pre-Keynesian policy. It was the same approach that Ronald Reagan took in the 1980s and with equal success.

Increases in public spending have never succeeded in bringing an economy out of recession. The United States notoriously, in spite of the spending and deficits of the Roosevelt administration, never returned the American economy to full employment. It was only the coming of the war in 1941 that brought the Great Depression in the US to an end.

By then, the rest of the world had left the Depression behind long before. Even by the time The General Theory was published in 1936, the Great Depression had long disappeared in the UK. Unemployment was still high but the worst was well and truly over. By 1937 Keynes was worrying about inflation, not unemployment.

Moreover, the policy approach in the UK had been entirely classical. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer (ie the Secretary of the Treasury) in his 1933 budget speech specifically noted that the budget had finally been balanced, and correctly forecast that recovery would therefore soon be under way.

Where are the success stories to go with the obvious failures that were found pretty well everywhere in the 1970s and 80s, in Japan in the 1990s, or the experience of every economy that had tried a stimulus after the Global Financial Crisis in 2009. There is not a single example of a successful stimulus you can point to.

Let me also remind you of the greatest disproof of Keynesian economic policy in history. Everyone always points out that one Keynesian data point which is the so-called boom that came at the start of World War II. Not a boom at all since what most people remember about the home front was rationing and controls of every kind. And if you are thinking about the labour shortages, merely recall that around half the male workforce under thirty was drafted into the armed forces. But that’s not that point either, although it should put quite a dent into such Keynesian thought.

It is the coming of peace in 1945 that is the grand refutation of Keynesian economics. At the end of the war, in the space of a year millions who had been overseas fighting, or had been part of the war effort at home, were suddenly in the labour market looking for work. Think of these as millions of people who had suddenly lost their jobs all at once. Many women who had taken jobs while the men were overseas also remained in the workforce. The Keynesians were continually badgering Truman to maintain war-time deficits since, they said, if he did not the US would go straight back into the depression which in the United States had ended only four years before.

Truman, however, having had a business background, was adamantly opposed to deficits and as a result the US virtually balanced its budget in a single year. No deficits, no stimulus, no nothing. The US slashed its expenditures, balanced its budget and in so doing set off the greatest economic boom in world history, a boom that lasted straight through until ground into the dust by the war on poverty, and dare I say it, the unfunded, deficit-financed war in Vietnam.

Thinking about macroeconomic issues from the demand side is amongst the biggest mistakes anyone in economics can make.

Given its perfect record of failure, why does Keynesian macro persist? Why is it still taught in our textbooks? Aside from being very simple to understand, it remains in place because, disastrous though the policies Keynesian theory promotes may be, it is loved by governments, the bureaucracy and that brand of entrepreneurial activity that today goes under the name of “crony capitalism”. Keynesian policies may not do much for the poor and unemployed but it brings amazing dividends to our economic and political elites.

Before Keynes, governments knew their limits. There was no pretence that beyond a narrow range of activities, there was little a government could do that would be value adding. It was universally appreciated that during recessions governments could take various steps to reduce unemployment and that there was a limited role for governments to have projects available that could soak up some of those who lost their jobs. Nothing new in that.

Today, with macro so drenched in Keynesian conceptions, government spending of all kinds on just about anything, is seen as wealth creating. Politicians, who know nothing about running a business, nevertheless believe themselves capable of making billion dollar decisions because they believe that whatever they spend on will, of necessity, raise the level of economic growth and add to communal prosperity.

The confidence with which governments devised expenditure programs following the GFC in the apparent belief that recovery would follow soon after was incredible to those few of us who understood that it is impossible to increase growth by increasing public waste of resources.

In his introduction to The General Theory, Paul Krugman summed up Keynes’s message in four points, which are almost identical to my own description of Keynesian economics:

“1. Economies can and often do suffer from an overall lack of demand, which leads to involuntary unemployment

“2. The economy’s automatic tendency to correct shortfalls in demand, if it exists at all, operates slowly and painfully

“3. Government policies to increase demand, by contrast, can reduce unemployment quickly

“4. Sometimes increasing the money supply won’t be enough to persuade the private sector to spend more, and government spending must step into the breach.”

This is the theory that is drummed into every introductory student in economics and which maintains its grip unless specifically taught that these four propositions are fundamentally wrong.

And within the worldwide community of economists, no more than around two in a hundred are ever taught to reject such beliefs, and even with this two percent only a small proportion ever come to understand what is actually wrong with the macro they have been taught. The rest more or less accept the theory as it comes, which is why when the Global Financial Crisis struck, there was virtually no opposition to the stimulus from within the economics community.

Even now, as governments struggle to deal with the debt and deficits they have created in their various expenditure programs – almost none of which will ever have a positive return – there is still no general understanding of what went wrong or how to fix what is clearly broken.

The four fundamental principles of Keynesian economics are so ingrained that most economists are not even aware that before Keynes, such beliefs were recognised as utterly fallacious and the mark of an economic illiterate.

Again, I can do no more than remind you of the second edition of my Free Market Economics which discusses both the Keynesian and the classical theories of the cycle. Here I can do not much more than raise your interest in these wrongly discarded theories of the cycle. If you would like to know more about what they said, and why modern macro is so deeply flawed, it is to my text you must go.

Barnacle Bill

Tony Abbott has asked nervous government MPs to maintain internal discipline in the face of the ABC funding controversy and bad polling, reassuring them he will knock “one or two barnacles off the ship” before Christmas.

Other than with the title, I’m not sure there is much of a lesson for us moderns other than that sensibilities do indeed change. This is from 1935. Anything similar is unimaginable today although I was shocked to see Olive Oyl playing the field as she does. But for all that, thinking of our leader of the opposition as Barnacle Bill does have an appeal specially when presented as a menace as he is here.

Should also mention how well the PM’s speech was yesterday. In fact, I was sitting next to a minister assisting the minister and was saying just that to him when he said why don’t you say it to Tony. And there he was passing by as he was leaving, so I said it again to him. The speech was reported in this morning’s AFR with the headline, “Abbott puts the onus on business”.

Tony Abbott on Wednesday night appealed to the business community to help the government sell its economic agenda foll­owing a decision to dump or water down key budget measures and new evidence the budget is far more vulnerable than previously thought.

The Prime Minister told the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Australian Business Leaders’ dinner last night that the success of his government depended partially on strong business backing.

“My hope is that you won’t just be interested but engaged in 2015. You matter and your voice is heard,” he said in a similar plea issued recently to the Business Council of Australia. “Reform or stagnation, budget repair or endless deficits. More tax or less. Your choices and your statements count.”

Prosperity travels through business; there is no other way. Crony capitalism is not the free market; it is a reversion to the mercantilism Adam Smith is supposed to have seen off the lot. Barnacle Bill is playing with fire. They created the mess that will sink our living standards while they pretend it has been those who are trying to repair the damage at fault.

UPDATE: The imagery is complete. Viva [many, many thanks] in the comments noted that Abbott is being portrayed as Popeye by Moir in his cartoons!

abbott as popeye