Let’s defend the 1st and the 2nd

Charles C. Cook wonders, “Who can claim without laughing that a reversal of Heller wouldn’t render the right a dead letter?”

Before he made his reprehensible “Second Amendment people” joke yesterday, Donald Trump said once again that Hillary Clinton wants “to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment.”

Whenever Trump says this the press works itself up into a tizzy, the typical response being that Trump is “wrong” to make this claim because a) Clinton has not explicitly called for a constitutional amendment to neutralize the Second Amendment, and/or b) she has said “no more” than that the Heller decision was wrongly decided.

But both of these positions are too clever by half. As anybody with an elementary understanding of American law comprehends, one does not need to call an Article V convention in order to effectively remove a provision from the Constitution. If, for example, Donald Trump were to claim tomorrow that the First Amendment did not protect an individual right to speech, how do we imagine that the press corps would react? Do we think that the New York Times’s editorial board would nonchalantly say “well, that’s fine because he hasn’t called for Article V repeal”? Or do we imagine that it would cry — correctly — that this was pretty damn worrying given that Trump might be in a position to appoint judges? Clearly, it would be the latter — and rightly so. Who in their right mind would respond to a Court decision rewriting the First Amendment by shrugging, “well, at least it’s still written down on the parchment”?

“Ah,” Hillary’s defenders tend to respond.  But Heller was more controversial than the meaning of the First Amendment.” Insofar as there are more people who are willing to lie about the Second Amendment than the First Amendment, this is certainly true. But it’s also entirely besides the point. As Trump implies, there would be precisely no point in having a Second Amendment if it did not, like the rest of the provisions written for “the people” within the Bill of Rights, protect an individual liberty. As was observed in Heller’s majority opinion, the revisionists’ interpretation of the Second Amendment is that it protects the right of the people to join a state organization over which the federal government enjoys plenary power. In and of itself, this position is logically absurd and historically illiterate. But it is also ridiculous on a practical basis. As is clear to anybody who has read the writings of both the colonists and the Founders, who has studied the jurists of the revolutionary era and beyond, who is familiar with the Dred Scott decision and the subsequent fallout, who has looked across the state constitutions, and who has followed the trajectory of the academic debate over the past 60-or-so years, Americans have enjoyed the right to keep and bear arms for all of their history.

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The unluckiest political idea in the history of political ideas

Kevin D. Williamson  writes that the countries most often praised as examples of socialism actually score higher than the US on the Heritage Foundation’s economic-liberty index.

The Nordic countries have relatively high taxes and big welfare states, but they also have free trade, relatively liberal regulatory regimes, transparent and effective public institutions, etc. The United States gets dinged for crony capitalism and overly complex regulation. As Nima Sanandaji points out in these pages, four of the five Nordic countries have center-right governments, with the social democrats holding power only in Sweden. But even Sweden has undergone decades of reform in what would be understood in the United States as a generally conservative direction, as indeed did Canada a few decades ago.

Welfare states are welfare states and socialism is socialism, and, in spite of the Bernie Sanders gang and the Right’s talk-radio ranters, they are not the same thing. Welfare states use taxes and transfer payments to enable higher levels of consumption among certain groups, usually vulnerable ones: the poor, the sick, the elderly, children. Welfare states are not synonymous with big government: Singapore, for example, offers surprisingly generous housing and health-care benefits despite having a public sector that is (as measured by spending) about half the size of our own and a little more than a third the size of France’s. Switzerland has a fairly typical portfolio of welfare benefits (including a health-care system that is approximately what Obamacare was intended to look like, if Obamacare hadn’t been written and enacted by fools) with a public sector that is smaller than our own. You can view the data and make your own comparisons here.

Socialism, as I have written at some length, is a different beast entirely. Like the welfare state, it involves the public provision of non-public goods, but it achieves this in a different way. Rather than levying taxes and distributing checks or vouchers, the socialist government owns and operates the means of production, or, in the corporatist variant, puts the means of production under political discipline effectively indistinguishable from government ownership of them.

The easiest example to illustrate the difference is in American education:

The Right advocates a welfare-state approach, with government funding education costs through taxes which are passed on to families with school-age children in the form of vouchers, which can be used at a variety of different kinds of institutions serving a variety of different kinds of needs; the Left, in contrast, advocates the truly socialist model, with government owning and operating the relevant economic assets (public schools) which function as a monopoly. The fact that you can send your children elsewhere does not make them less of a monopoly: Stop paying your school taxes and they’ll still send men with guns to your house to force the money out of you, to seize your home, or to cage you until you comply.  Violence is always at the end of the socialist enterprise, as the poor people of Venezuela are discovering.

As for the claim socialism has never been truly tried, or “has never been done right,” the author has this to say:

Weird thing: That feckless and authoritarian kind of socialism is the only kind of socialism anybody has ever seen or heard of outside of a college dorm room. Either socialism is the unluckiest political idea in the history of political ideas and it just happens to have coincided with government by monsters, caudillos, and incompetents every place it has been tried, or there is in fact something wrong with socialism qua socialism.

Why is it that the big-government Danish welfare state, the small-government Swiss welfare state, the frequently illiberal Singaporean welfare state, and the nice-guy Canadian welfare state all seem to work, each in its own way, while socialist experiments — including the so-called democratic-socialist experiments of places such as Venezuela — go speeding down F. A. Hayek’s road to serfdom?

The critical difference is that entrepreneurship and markets are allowed to work in a welfare state — and to work especially well in welfare states characterized by public sectors that, while they may be larger or smaller, are transparent, honest, and effective. The U.S. food-stamp program has its defects, to be sure, but it’s a great deal more effective than was Soviet collective farming and state-run groceries. A dynamic capitalist economy such as Switzerland’s or Singapore’s or Canada’s can carry a lot of welfare state.  But it cannot really carry all that much socialism.

In conclusion he points out that fans of those societies cherry-pick the policies they wish to replicate.  (Imho, those fans also overlook the critical role played by the social cohesion found in smaller countries with less heterogeneous cultures.)

When one of our so-called progressives looks at a Nordic welfare state, what he always says he wants to replicate here is the relatively high taxes and relatively large public sector. It’s never Sweden’s free-trade policies, Denmark’s corporate-tax rate (which is far lower than our own), or Finland’s choice- and accountability-driven education system. When the American Left expresses its envy of Western Europe, it’s never Switzerland’s minimum wage ($0.00) it wants to reproduce, only bigger and more rapacious government. But the relatively large Danish public sector does different things than does the U.S. public sector, and it does them differently. A larger U.S. public sector would be a great deal like the current U.S. public sector — ineffective, captive to politics, corrupt — but bigger.

If you want to see what so-called democratic socialism looks like, turn your eyes south to Venezuela and its new slave-labor camps. What’s happening in Canada and Denmark is something else — something that is much more in tune with the approach and priorities of the free-market/free-trade Right, or at least what’s left of it.

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Some humility about the historical moment

h/t Holman Jenkins in today’s WSJ:

Our system of institutions is not designed to find us the “right” person to be our national hero/role model. Its job is to harness and constrain the forces and personalities that democratic populism throws up.

Voters are perfectly entitled to ask themselves if one of our major parties has thrown up a candidate unsuitable purely on grounds of personality and temperament, but we also should have some humility about the historical moment we’re living through. A narrow Hillary victory or Trump victory might not be outcomes all that distinguishable from each other in the end—whereas a Clinton landslide that produces, like the first twoObama years, one-party government fundamentally out of sync with the American electorate and out of sync with the national moment could be the larger misfortune.

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What do they do …and how do we stop them?

In What Do They Do? Kevin D. Williamson writes that “The vaguer the job description, the higher the pay.”

…What really seems to drive people bats about finance — and what’s behind a great deal of our resentment-driven “inequality” politics — is that same question: “What do they do?” It’s the mysteriousness that vexes people, the sense that there exists in these United States a class apart whose ways and means are alien and incomprehensible.

And there is something to that. The real story of inequality in the early 21st century isn’t one of the lower classes’ sinking into penury and misery. In purely material terms, they’ve never had it so good. By any quantitative measure — calories eaten, square footage occupied, energy consumed, disposable income after basic food and shelter, real purchasing power — lower-earning households are far, far better off than they were during the so-called golden age of the 1950s or 1960s, that magical postwar period for which we still feel a paralyzing nostalgia. What’s remarkable isn’t that the poor are falling behind, but that the top tenth or so are pulling away in ways that weren’t common, or even possible, before very recently in our history.

We’re not talking about Wall Street tycoons and Silicon Valley billionaires here, but people who make six-figure incomes in which the first figure is not a 1 or a 2. If you make an income like that, you can, if you are so inclined, insulate yourself from a great deal of ordinary American life. If you are a Californian, you can join a private-jet club for less than $2,000 a month that will shuttle you from a private terminal in Burbank to a meeting in the Bay Area to a golf club in Palm Springs. You’ll never see a TSA line or take a parking shuttle, and the price is about the same as a lease payment on a high-end European sedan.

This is part of a long-term trend in which indulgences once reserved to the very wealthiest make their way down through the market to the merely high-income, and then on to people of more modest means. As late as the 1960s, airline travel was rare enough and expensive enough that the term “jet set” meant something, whereas today it is hopelessly retro-sounding. The fact that people who are merely rich rather than super-rich can now travel relatively easily by private jet may not sound like progress to people whose household finances would be upset by an unexpected $200 car-repair bill, but that progress is in fact one of the most common avenues of economic advancement. If in 20 years there are no more traffic jams in Los Angeles and Washington because autonomous electric cars shuttle most people to and from most destinations and there’s an Uber-like service making private-jet travel accessible to people of middling incomes, it will be because the development of those products was subsidized by wealthy early adopters. The fact that private-school mothers in E-Class station wagons shop at Whole Foods is the reason you can buy better fish and vegetables at Walmart now than you could ten years ago. That’s just how it works.

Progressives, who have a mania for standardization and uniformity, are driven mad by the variety of economic experience in a complex, dynamic, affluent country such as ours. Partly this is because they are captives to a modern-day version of Taylorism, believing that they can artificially impose rational, efficient planning on spontaneous orders. But it is partly aesthetic, too, thus their passion for such failed institutions as factory-style public schools and the U.S. Postal Service. They believe that a democratic society requires that we all stand in line together, sharing the same experience. Never mind that standing in line is the characteristic activity of anti-democratic societies from the old Soviet Union to modern-day Venezuela, textbook examples of the fact that socialism always looks like socialism, even if you pin “democratic” onto the front of it.

Progressives offer, as an article of faith, that “diversity” is a good in and of itself. But they abhor any kind of diversity that is more meaningful than barbacoa vs. moo goo gai pan. Diversity of thought and, particularly, diversity of experience are in their mind offensive and undemocratic, at least to the extent that they include and encourage thoughts and experiences that progressives do not wish people to have.

There is real value in shared experience. There is also value in real diversity. Balancing those two is beyond the abilities of any of our would-be rulers and any of the blue-ribbon committees they imagine. In this case, if not in the case of the produce aisle, “organic” really is a synonym for “healthy.” Economic disparities are part of the real, organic diversity of human experience. Some of us see displays of wealth that seem to us incomprehensible or even absurd and ask: “What do they do?” The subtext there is: “And how do I do that, or something like it?”

For the Left, the subtext is: “And how do I stop them?”

One of those approaches produces California, Texas, New York, Montana, Florida. The other produces Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela, where the shared common experiences are, respectively, being driven to the high seas in order to escape desperation and oppression, being driven to opportunistic cannibalism, and wondering what in hell happened to all the toilet paper. What do they do? Wish they were somewhere else, mainly.

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The tallest building in Wichita

Writing at NRO, Kevin D. Williamson praises one party’s nominee with the chengyu “the greatest current female American major-party presidential nominee.”

It isn’t exactly a Muppet News Flash that women can run for high office in these United States: You can be Sarah Palin and be on a major-party ticket and be called a “c**t” by all the nice people who will be urging you to vote for Mrs. Clinton as a show of solidarity with women. You can be a woman and do a hell of a lot better job running PepsiCo than Mrs. Clinton did running the State Department. You can be a woman and be seriously considered for the Republican nomination in spite of a slightly short political curriculum vitae. You can be a woman and be a Marine.

If your daughter didn’t already know that she could grow up and make of her life whatever her dreams and abilities allow, and learned otherwise only upon seeing a dreadful politician take the next step in her dreadful career, that isn’t a failure of a patriarchal society. You’re just a bad father

If you think Mrs. Clinton “cares about women,” ask Juanita Broaddrick or Gennifer Flowers.

There will be much talk in the coming months in the form of this question: “Isn’t it time we elected a woman president?” But the question isn’t whether to elect a woman president; it is whether to elect this woman president, and the answer to that question among sane and sensible people is: “Not if we can help it.” …

If the best you can say for your candidate is that she’d be the first to lug a pair of ovaries over the finish line, that isn’t much.

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5G is coming

Writing in the WSJ, Holman Jenkins points out that “the few things that are visibly working in the U.S. economy can still be lost.”

5G is coming—the new wireless standard delivering speeds faster than most of us get at home—but not before 2020. Verizon, meanwhile, has been telling shareholders that it doesn’t need to wait for a final 5G standard to deliver a “fixed” service now based on 5G. Already being tested near its Basking Ridge, N.J., headquarters is a network 58 times faster than today’s average home broadband speed—without digging up the streets.

We’re talking about a powerful replacement for home cable, not next decade but next year, revolutionizing home broadband deployment costs. “We’ve demonstrated . . . 1.8 gigs into the house without a wire,” Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam told a J.P. Morgan conference in May. “If I can do that, then virtual reality, all the other things, 3-D videoconferencing, the whole nine yards that we all grew up watching in Star Wars, actually might happen.”

Now for the “but.” There’s no way old-style utility regulation, as layered on by the Obama administration, can be anything but a deterrent to such investment. Verizon may proceed based on hope the policy will be overturned or that future Federal Communications Commissions will “forbear” from exercising the regulatory powers now at their disposal. But every company in the broadband business now has to worry about regulators essentially annexing the assets and profits of future deployments

As Friday’s disappointing GDP report reminds us, the Achilles’ heel of the recovery has been depressed business investment.  …those who cite today’s FCC promise that future FCCs will refrain from regulatory meddling ignore the most-cited axiom in politics: Power corrupts. There’s also a lesson here for the Trumpians, in the irreducibly shallow role that public opinion played. The childlike masses for whom net neutrality became a slogan roughly synonymous with “good,” and who never received any correction from the companies that benefit most from the internet, can now expect an ugly surprise at all that utility regulation actually entails.

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I never heard of Captagon

h/t David French in “So much for the lone wolf theory for the Nice terror attack.”

The note abut Captagon is particularly interesting. It’s a little-known fact that at least some jihadist fanaticism is chemically-induced. Our soldiers have fought again and again with jihadists who are high on various stimulants. Friends in Iraq told me of stories of injured, drug-crazed jihadists who literally tried to bite American medics even as they bled from gaping wounds. These men knew they wanted to fight to the death, but they couldn’t muster up the courage without drugs.

As the investigation continues, we’ll learn whether the attack was directed or “just” inspired by ISIS or another jihadist organization, but let’s be clear — when inspiring terrorists is a core aspect of jihadist strategy, there is little comfort in finding no coordination. Indeed, the lack of coordination may be more disturbing. It means that jihadists need fewer and fewer resources to strike at the heart of the West. They just need a willing audience, a few friends, and — in this case — one big truck.

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