Immigration and nationalism

Writing in Bloomberg, Ramesh Ponnuru congratulates Senator Graham for rebuking President Trump, but argues that the senator still doesn’t quite get it right.

America isn’t a race. But it’s not an idea either. It is, rather, a nation. It is a nation whose identity is more bound up with political ideals than most nations: ideals such as equality before the law, self-government and freedom of religion. But those ideals are part of a national culture that is not reducible to them.

The ideological conception of American nationhood runs into several problems. First, many people who are not Americans can and do believe in American ideals. Second, many Americans historically have rejected some of those ideals, while others have not lived up to them. Even today, our occasional fellow citizen explicitly repudiates American ideals. We treat these people, be they Marxists or monarchists, as misguided eccentrics rather than traitors.

Third, disagreement about the application of those ideals persists. To define Americanness purely by those ideals is to make routine political disagreement a threat to the integrity of the nation. Political disagreement is hard enough for a society to handle without that. Fourth, if these ideals form the country’s very identity, it becomes difficult to resist a missionary foreign policy that requires us to export them, by force of arms if necessary.

It is no coincidence that Graham made his comments about the meaning of America during a discussion of immigration policy. Different conceptions of nationhood have different implications for immigration. If the American experience is reducible to American political ideals, then the only assimilation that should concern us is to those ideals: As long as new immigrants are no threat to freedom of speech and the rest, all is well.

If a common culture is important too, though, we will want immigrants to assimilate to it, even as they also change it. We will want natives and newcomers alike to see themselves as belonging, together, to it. And we might decide that we want a smaller influx of immigrants in order to encourage that kind of assimilation.

Graham is wrong, as well, to treat America’s ideals as superior to its people. What makes the ideals valuable, after all, is that they are conducive to the flourishing of those people. American nationalism, as Yuval Levin has written, is simultaneously abstract and concrete: “It is a devotion to a people devoted to a set of ideas.”

Here is what Graham should have said to him: “Mr. President, people from all over the world, whatever their race or religion, have come here and joined our neighborhoods, our churches, our armed forces, and even our families. We can argue about how to change immigration policy so it better serves our country. But it shouldn’t matter where you came from as long as you’re willing to become an American.”

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If men were angels/if angels were to govern men

George Will, reviewing David Goldfield’s book, The Gifted Generation: When Government Was Good:

He idealizes government as an “umpire,” a disinterested arbiter ensuring fair play. Has no liberal stumbled upon public-choice theory, which demystifies politics, puncturing sentimentality about politicians and government officials being more nobly and unselfishly motivated than lesser mortals? Has no liberal noticed that no government is ever neutral in society’s allocation of wealth and opportunity? And that the bigger government becomes, the more it is manipulated by those who are sufficiently confident, articulate, and sophisticated to understand government’s complexities, and wealthy enough to hire skillful agents to navigate those complexities on their behalf? This is why big government is invariably regressive, transferring wealth upward.

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Health care as a right

Kevin D. Williamson, writing on the question of the right to health care, offers a thought experiment: you have 3 apples but 4 kids, and you would like for every kid to have an apple, and you manage to have apples declared a human right… but nothing has changed.  You still have 3 apples but 4 kids and are going to ration those apples, one way or another.

Declaring a right in a scarce good is meaningless. It is a rhetorical gesture without any application to the events and conundrums of the real world. If the Dalai Lama were to lead 10,000 bodhisattvas in meditation, and the subject of that meditation was the human right to health care, it would do less good for the cause of actually providing people with health care than the lowliest temp at Merck does before his second cup of coffee on any given Tuesday morning.

Health care is physical, not metaphysical. It consists of goods, such as penicillin and heart stents, and services, such as oncological attention and radiological expertise. Even if we entirely eliminated money from the equation, conscripting doctors into service and nationalizing the pharmaceutical factories, the basic economic question would remain.

We tend to retreat into cheap moralizing when the economic realities become uncomfortable for us. No matter the health-care model you choose — British-style public monopoly, Swiss-style subsidized insurance, pure market capitalism — you end up with rationing: Markets ration through prices, bureaucracies ration through politics. Price rationing is pretty straightforward: Think of Jesse James and his “Pay Up, Sucker!” tattoo on his palm. Political rationing is a little different: Sometimes it happens through waiting lists and the like, and sometimes it is just a question of money and clout. American progressives love the Western European medical model, but when Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi needed a pacemaker, he came to the United States to have it implanted.

Rich people always get better stuff. That’s what it means to be rich. And money is only one resource: Political connections matter enormously in some places, as might a good family name or employment in a powerful firm. If you live in one of the poorer corners of the world, you may have “free” health care, meaning that if you should become infected with HIV, you will get a free aspirin. On the other hand, the Coca-Cola Company distributes antiretroviral drugs, free of charge, to employees around the world being treated for HIV.

That may seem unfair to us. That may be unfair. It may be unfair that you have four kids and three apples. After we are done lamenting the unfairness of it all, what do we do?

Ideally, we’d plant some apple trees. We would find ways to invest in medical care with an eye toward making it more effective and less expensive. There is no substitute for abundance. And the great enemy of abundance is the bias against profit. There is something deeply rooted in us that instinctively thinks we are being abused if someone else makes a profit on a deal. That is a dumb and primitive way of thinking — our world is full of wonders because it is profitable to invent them, build them, and sell them — but the angel is forever handcuffed to the ape.

A different piece, by Michael Tanner, offers 6 “hard truths” about health care.  Here are three:

1. Health care is neither a right nor a privilege; it’s a commodity. Worse, it’s a finite commodity. There are only so many doctors, so many hospitals, and so much money, and there are limits to how much these things can be expanded. That’s why no health-care system, outside Bernie Sanders’s fantasies, provides unlimited care to everyone.

Every health-care system in the world rations care in some way, either through bureaucratic fiat (Scandinavia, the U.K.), waiting lists (Canada), or price (that’s us). One can argue about which of these rationing mechanisms is fairest or most efficient, but let’s not pretend that it won’t occur.

3. The uninsurable are uninsurable. Let us remember that the definition of “pre-existing condition” is: someone who is already sick. It’s a little like driving your car into a tree and then trying to retroactively buy auto insurance. It won’t work. Insurance is the business of spreading risk. But for someone who, say, has cancer, there’s no risk to spread, just cost. That’s not insurance, it’s paying for health care.

Obamacare tried to square this circle by mandating that young and healthy people buy insurance to offset the cost of providing care to those already sick. It turns out that didn’t work. Not enough healthy people signed up to pay for the influx of sick people. Insurance companies either dropped out of the market, cut back on high-quality providers, or raised premiums. All of this forced more healthy people out of the insurance pool and threatened an adverse-selection death spiral.

Republican proposals to keep the popular pre-existing-condition protections while jettisoning the mandate for coverage is only going to make the adverse-selection problem worse. It may have sounded like a moderate compromise, but it is like trying to be a little bit pregnant. It’s not going to work. The only realistic approach to dealing with pre-existing conditions is to take those people out of the insurance pool altogether and somehow pay for their care directly. There are several options for doing so, from state insurance pools to a revamped Medicaid program.

4. Medicare is not a success. Faced with the wreckage of Obamacare, Democrats are increasingly embracing the once controversial idea of “Medicare for all.” Most of them would start slowly, with a Trojan-horse “public option,” a taxpayer-subsidized plan that would undercut private insurance, but the result would still be a government-run national health-care plan based on Medicare.

Medicare is undoubtedly popular, especially with its beneficiaries. It should be. The average two-earner couple pays about $150,000 over their lifetime in Medicare taxes and premiums, while collecting almost $450,000 in benefits. Jackpot! But that disparity is one of the reasons why Medicare is running some $58 trillion in the red, after totaling all projected future liabilities. A program facing more long-term debt than most countries probably isn’t begging to be expanded.

Moreover, almost everything that people complain about with our health-care system is even more evident in Medicare. Medicare is inefficient, spending lots of money without evidence of better results

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Sometimes, institutions have earned the distrust

Nice piece from Jonah Goldberg about restoring trust in the media.

Although I do believe in some cases ‘advocacy journalism’ devolves into intentional bias, I think it’s mostly groupthink.  Every institution makes mistakes.  In this institution (the press, although we could come up with a few more), they tend to err in only one direction.   Longish excerpt:

What many of them have trouble processing is that they earned that distrust. Over at Vox, a publication that has always fancied itself a purely data- and fact-driven haven of “explanatory journalism,” David Roberts writes of an “epistemic breach.”

The primary source of this breach, to make a long story short, is the US conservative movement’s rejection of the mainstream institutions devoted to gathering and disseminating knowledge (journalism, science, the academy) — the ones society has appointed as referees in matters of factual dispute.

In their place, the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem.

But the right’s institutions are not of the same kind as the ones they seek to displace. Mainstream scientists and journalists see themselves as beholden to values and standards that transcend party or faction. They try to separate truth from tribal interests and have developed various guild rules and procedures to help do that. They see themselves as neutral arbiters, even if they do not always uphold that ideal in practice.

I actually agree with quite a few of his points (as they somewhat track an argument I make at length in my forthcoming book), but I think it’s worth dwelling on his biggest mistake. It’s true that conservatives set up parallel institutions. I work at three of them. That story has more layers than your typical Steve Bannon ensemble, but I’ll cut to the chase. There is a reason conservatives set up these institutions: because progressives made the existing institutions increasingly inhospitable to people who didnt subscribe to their groupthink. In other words, he gets much of the causation backward.

Science, for obvious reasons, has been the most immune to these trends (when I visit college campuses, most of the conservative professors I meet come from the science departments). As I discussed at length with Steve Hayward last week, conservatives fled the universities — in at least one case, literally at gunpoint — and went to think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute because their heterodoxy was unacceptable to the new orthodoxy.

The corruption of what Ezra Klein calls transpartisan institutionsisn’t downstream of what’s happened to conservatism and the country; it’s way, way upstream. Try being a sincere evangelical Christian at the New York Times or NPR. Heck, try being a military historian at a major university. Roberts writes about “tribal epistemology” — a subject I’ve written and read a great deal about — but he defines it almost solely as a pejorative label of the right. Tribal epistemology is not a right-wing phenomenon, it’s a human phenomenon, and self-declared pragmatists and empiricists are just as susceptible to it as anyone else.

The academy’s emphasis on diversity — good and defensible in modest terms — has metastasized into a tribal form of identity politics. Universities push to admit a broad spectrum of genders, races, and ethnicities but enforce only a narrow slice of the spectrum for diversity of thought. The University of California instructs its staff that terms such as “melting pot” and “assimilation” are now bigoted trigger words, and yet we’re supposed to believe that the guilds of academia aren’t hostile to the perfectly defensible views of millions of Americans? And we’re not supposed to laugh when they simultaneously hold fast to the claim that they are neutral arbiters of the facts?

This is not some crackpot view from an epistemically castrated right-wing pundit. It’s Jonathan Haidt’s mission these days. Even the president of Wesleyan University thinks this is obvious.  John McWhorter offered some moving testimony of the subtle racism among white campus intellectuals who simply assume that all black people must share Ta-Nehisi Coates’s angry and nihilistic view of race in America.

Progressives have become so drunk on their own Kool-Aid that they think they’re sober. Paul Krugman literally thinks “facts have a liberal bias.” I don’t think we would have Donald Trump if Barack Obama hadn’t lied Obamacare into passage — “You can keep you doctor,” etc. But where were all of the self-anointed champions of transpartisan objectivity? They spent their days not just disagreeing with the fact-based arguments of conservatives and libertarians; they were openly mocking them for denying reality.

Again, I agree we’ve got deep problems with tribalism on the right. But that’s just one facet of the deeper problems that America, right and left, has with the corruption of tribalism.

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The cause is the cause

Kevin D. Williamson on President Trump’s decision to keep his promise about Jerusalem:

The Palestinian statelet is in no way viable, and the Palestinian cause is less and less useful to the Islamic powers with each passing year. The Arab–Israeli conflict was for a time another Cold War proxy, with the Palestinian cause serving as a cat’s-paw for the Soviet Union, which meant that it was a source of real money and real power. Those days are long gone, and the Palestinian cause has in no small part devolved from instrument of civilizational conflict to instrument of ordinary grift, a phony jihad used to fortify the alliance between fanatics and financial interests that is the default model of government throughout much of the Muslim Middle East.

To keep this particular grift going, it is necessary that there be no settlement between Israel and the Palestinians and no meaningful progress toward it. That means that every little step toward resolution must be met with murder and terrorism — terrorism is in fact the main Palestinian mode of negotiation. The capital of Israel is in Jerusalem, and there is no serious proposal under which it is going to move to Tel Aviv or elsewhere. Even should East Jerusalem come to be generally recognized as the capital of the Palestinian state, such as it is, that is not going to change the fact that the west of the city is and long has been Israeli territory, and it hosts the Israeli capital. President Trump’s announcement did not change any of that, but it did represent a baby step in the general direction of resolution — and that is why it has been met with such hysteria, at least in circles of power in the Islamic world.

That’s the Palestinian way: Every step toward resolution, even small and largely symbolic ones, must be met with maximal opposition, up to and including political violence and terrorism. Whatever sympathy one may feel for the Palestinian people themselves, their leaders and the leaders of their allies are not good-faith negotiating partners and are not likely to become good-faith negotiating partners. It is difficult to negotiate a lasting peace when one side does not want peace at all.

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You can’t prove our guy was a serial molester of adolescent girls!

Kevin D. Williamson writes, “Whatever Republicans think having Roy Moore in the Senate will accomplish, it isn’t worth it.

He takes this funny jab at Roy Moore:

Similarly, Republicans are at the moment lining up behind or at least making their peace with Roy Moore, the disgraced and disgraceful Alabama jurist who takes his dates the way he takes his Scotch: 14 years old and on the rocks. (Picking up underage girls is one thing, but at a custody hearing? That’s some next-level degeneracy.)

…and follows with a reminder to the GOP:

“You establishment lackeys would rather lose with dignity than do what it takes to win!” the familiar criticism goes. Politics ain’t beanbag, etc. Mitt Romney didn’t win, did he? Somewhere in Henderson, Nev., Harry Reid is snickering.

Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin, too. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways,” Marx said, highlighting the inevitable rift between the intellectuals and the bomb-throwers. “The point, however, is to change it.” The Western world was at one point quite full of apologists for the purges and brutalities of Joseph Stalin, with our Communists and fellow-travelers — just “liberals in a hurry,” they said they were — justifying what ended up being 100 million deaths as the brush-clearing necessary before laying the foundations of utopia. The inevitable cliché, “You’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet,” was answered with characteristic economy by George Orwell: “Where’s the omelet?”

Republicans ought to be asking themselves the same question.

My friend (and boss) Rich Lowry recently argued that the Trump administration has proved so far surprisingly successful from the point of view of conventional Republican priorities — there’s more to the Trump record, he said, than Neil Gorsuch. And that’s true enough: Scott Pruitt at the EPA has done useful and important things, as has Betsy DeVos at Education. But that’s a side of hash browns, not an omelet. Health care remains unreformed, the tax bill is an incoherent mess, the border remains unsecured, there has been no significant reform of economic policy, and we have in fact moved in the direction opposite from fiscal sanity, etc. President Trump announced that the U.S. embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem . . . and then immediately signed a waiver, as he predecessors had, adding an Augustinian “but not yet” to the end of his declaration. That was a classic Trump move: The Trump administration is a show about nothing.

That’s not a bargain at any price. But at the price of one’s honor? The Republican party took the lead in seeing off both American slavery and worldwide Communism under the leadership of men including Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. The most today’s Republican party can say for itself is: “You can’t prove our guy was a serial molester of adolescent girls! That’s up to the people of Alabama to decide.”

Some win. Some omelet.

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3 reasons to oppose net neutrality

Josh Steimle offers 3 compelling reasons to oppose net neutrality: competition, privacy, and freedom.


If the telecoms are forced to compete in a truly free market, Comcast and Time Warner won’t exist 10 years from now. They’ll be replaced by options that give us better service at a lower price. Some of these new options may depend on being able to take advantage of the very freedom to charge more for certain types of Internet traffic that Net Neutrality seeks to eliminate. If we want to break up the large telecoms through increased competition we need to eliminate regulations that act as barriers to entry in the space, rather than create more of them.


The government will need to verify, at a technical level, whether the telecoms are treating data as they should. Don’t be surprised if that means the government says it needs to be able to install its own hardware and software at critical points to monitor Internet traffic. Once installed, can we trust this government, or any government, to use that access in a benign manner?


Many of us see the U.S. government as a benevolent and all-knowing parent with the best interests of you and me, its children, at heart. I see the U.S. government as a dangerous tyrant, influenced by large corporate interests, seeking to control everyone and everything. Perhaps these diverging perspectives on the nature of the U.S. government are what account for a majority of the debate between proponents and opponents of Net Neutrality. If I believed the U.S. government was omniscient, had only good intentions, and that those intentions would never change, I would be in favor of Net Neutrality and more. But it wasn’t all that long ago that FDR was locking up U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps and Woodrow Wilson was outlawing political dissent. More recently we’ve seen the U.S. government fight unjust wars, topple elected democracies, and otherwise interfere in world affairs. We’ve seen the same government execute its own citizens in violation of Fifth Amendment rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Simply put–I don’t trust the U.S. government. Nor do I trust any other government, even if “my team” wins the election. I see any increase in regulation, however well-intentioned, however beneficial to me today, as leading to less freedom for me and society in the long term. For this reason those who rose up against SOPA and PIPA a few years ago should be equally opposed to Net Neutrality.

The author then provides an answer to “What Instead?”

Internet bandwidth is, at least currently, a finite resource and has to be allocated somehow. We can let politicians decide, or we can let you and me decide by leaving it up to the free market. If we choose politicians, we will see the Internet become another mismanaged public monopoly, subject to political whims and increased scrutiny from our friends at the NSA. If we leave it up to the free market we will, in time, receive more of what we want at a lower price. It may not be a perfect process, but it will be better than the alternative.

Free markets deal exceptionally well in the process of “creative destruction” economist Joseph Shumpeter championed as the mode by which society raises its standard of living. Although any progress is not without its impediments and free markets aren’t an instant panacea, even U2’s Bono embraced the fact entrepreneurial capitalism does more to eradicate poverty than foreign aid. Especially in the area of technology, government regulation has little, if any place. Governments cannot move fast enough to effectively regulate technology companies because by the time they move, the technology has changed and the debate is irrelevant. Does anyone remember the antitrust cases against Microsoft because of the Internet Explorer browser? The worse services provided by the large telecoms are, the more incentive there will be for entrepreneurs to create new technologies. Five years from now a new satellite technology may emerge that makes fiber obsolete, and we’ll all be getting wireless terabit downloads from space directly to our smartphones, anywhere in the world, for $5/month. Unrealistic? Just think what someone would have said in 1994 if you had tried to explain to them everything you can do today on an iPhone, and at what price.

The author also makes a great case, mid-stream, for small government in general:

Everyone seems to agree that monopolies are bad and competition is good, and just like you, I would like to see more competition. But if monopolies are bad, why should we trust the U.S. government, the largest, most powerful monopoly in the world? We’re talking about the same organization that spent an amount equal to Facebook’s first six years of operating costs to build a health care website that doesn’t work, the same organization that can’t keep the country’s bridges from falling down, and the same organization that spends 320 times what private industry spends to send a rocket into space. … Do you think we’d all be walking around with smartphones today if the government still ran the phone system?

The U.S. government has shown time after time that it is ineffective at managing much of anything. This is by design. The Founders intentionally created a government that was slow, inefficient, and plagued by gridlock, because they knew the greatest danger to individual freedom came from a government that could move quickly–too quickly for the people to react in time to protect themselves. If we value our freedom, we need government to be slow. But if government is slow, we shouldn’t rely on it to provide us with products and services we want in a timely manner at a high level of quality. The telecoms may be bad, but everything that makes them bad is what the government is by definition. Can we put “bad” and “worse” together and end up with “better”?

I don’t like how much power the telecoms have. But the reason they’re big and powerful isn’t because there is a lack of government regulation, but because of it. Government regulations are written by large corporate interests which collude with officials in government. The image of government being full of people on a mission to protect the little guy from predatory corporate behemoths is an illusion fostered by politicians and corporate interests alike. Many, if not most, government regulations are the product of crony capitalism designed to prevent small entrepreneurs from becoming real threats to large corporations. If Net Neutrality comes to pass how can we trust it will not be written in a way that will make it harder for new companies to offer Internet services? If anything, we’re likely to end up even more beholden to the large telecoms than before.

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