Maybe it’s time they give Tocqueville a try

In Europe’s Feckless Secularism, William McGurn asks, “Must even the most moderate Muslims renounce their faith to be good Europeans?

Nearly a quarter century ago, Yale’s Harold Bloom famously described America as a “dangerously religion-soaked, even religion-mad, society.”

When Europeans gaze upon our shores, this is pretty much what they see. From our strip-mall churches to the raucous intrusions of faith into our public life to our presidents routinely invoking the Almighty, they see an America hostage to primitive beliefs.

At a moment when Europol is reporting that Islamic State is planning more Paris-style terror attacks, that’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because America’s overt religiosity blinds Europe’s elites to the one part of the American experiment most relevant to their needs today: our secularism.

They have their own secularism, of course. In France, where it is most formalized, it is called laïcité—the idea that the state isn’t simply neutral toward religion but must banish all things religious, including religious arguments, from the public square…

The idea is that when you boot religion off the public square, you remove from public life the religious friction that in centuries past fueled devastating conflicts. This same idea now animates the European Union, and in principle leads to a more liberal, more cohesive and more inclusive society.

That’s the theory.

The reality is that in many European cities today, a Jew cannot walk the streets in safety…  Women are also losing the freedom to walk Europe’s streets in safety… The reality is not much better for sexual minorities…

To put it another way, not only is Euro-secularism failing to persuade Europe’s growing Muslim minority of its merits; increasingly it cannot protect its own citizens.

But there’s the rub. Because Europe is not the only model of secularism. America is also a secular state.

The contrasts are illuminating. Where European secularism is built on unspoken agnosticism about the ultimate source of human dignity, American secularism is rooted in a declaration of self-evident truths about man and the divine source of his unalienable rights. The result is a nation that is a living, secular contradiction of contemporary European orthodoxy: For not only is the U.S. among the earth’s most religious nations, it is also the most modern.

In “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville took on the European orthodoxy of his own day when he noted that, in America, free religion was the friend of liberty. The beauty of the American approach is that it avoided the aggressiveness of both extremes: the throne-and-altar alliance of the ancien régime on the one hand, and the militant secular state that emerged from the French Revolution on the other.

Europeans have spent the past decade obsessing about bans on head scarves and burqas. Maybe it’s time they give Tocqueville a try.

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The high cost of low prices… in some things

Interesting analogy from Jason Richwine on single-payer:

But Sanders and other single-payer boosters are reluctant to acknowledge the high cost of low prices — just so long as they are talking about health care. As I once noted in a piece for Forbes, the same people who use the cost-control argument in favor of single-payer healthcare would be horrified to see it applied to other types of government monopolies.

Take public education. There is essentially a “single payer” for education within school districts. The teachers, principals, custodians, textbooks, and school buildings are all paid for by the government. Yet Bernie Sanders would never argue that the government should use its near-monopoly to push teacher salaries below market levels. In fact, raising teacher pay to be on par with the salaries of other college graduates is a perennial goal of progressives. Americans “must do everything we can to support our educators,” Sanders says on his website. “Something is very wrong when, last year, the top 25 hedge fund managers earned more than the combined income of 425,000 public school teachers.” But by Sanders’ own cost-cutting standard for single-payer systems, the supposedly low pay of teachers should be celebrated as a major success of public education!

To see the inconsistency another way, imagine Republicans trying to portray a cut in education spending as merely “savings” generated by “limiting reimbursements to education providers.” Sanders would have an arm-waving fit, warning that education quality would suffer. Somehow he has no similar concern when doctors are the ones being squeezed. So here is a question for a reporter to ask: “Senator Sanders, given the benefits of single-payer systems you’ve described, shouldn’t you want to underpay not only doctors, but teachers as well?”

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Common sense Bernie Sanders

During the last Democratic debate Mrs. Clinton argued (contra Bernie) that manufacturers ought to be sued even when their products work exactly as designed:


here’s David French:

..the absurdity of, say, suing Ford if a maniac drives his perfectly-functioning truck through a crowd, but given the constitutional implications, Hillary’s law would be like suing the maker of a printing press because the National Enquirer lied about Kim Kardashian. Or, to make things more current, it would be like suing Apple because Salon slandered a pastor. Incidentally, this is another reason why Second Amendment activists aren’t fooled by Democrats’ assertion that they’re simply interested in “common-sense” gun control and aren’t “after your guns.” If it’s now received conventional wisdom in the Democratic primary that gun manufacturers can and should be sued into oblivion for making a perfectly-functioning product, then they’re going far beyond closing the mythical “gun show loophole” and instead advocating closing the market for new firearms. Remington could no more survive lawsuits for misuse of a well-manufactured Model 870 than could Ford for the misuse of a well-made F250.

and here’s Charles C.W. Cooke

By phrasing her criticism this way, Clinton hopes to trick her audience into believing that gun manufacturers are immune from prosecution when their products do not work properly — and, worse still, that they have been accorded a “pass” that “no other industry in America” enjoys. But that’s not true. Not at all. In fact, as the Washington Post’s debate reviewers note today, “gun manufacturers can be sued if injuries result from a defective product that is used properly.” As with Clinton’s hypothetical toys, an American who injures himself with a gun that doesn’t work has every opportunity to take the maker to court. What he cannot do, thanks to the 2005 reform, is sue the manufacturer when a working gun was used for ill. This, in my view, is sensible. As with knives, screwdrivers, poisons, and acids, it makes no sense to hold gun-makers liable for the misuse of their functioning products.

As a rule, look past the poorly-labelled “common sense” gun control idea and you can expect to find something that (a) doesn’t address a real-world concern and (b) appears to be designed specifically to demonize and polarize.

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The philosophy of big government is always the philosophy of small citizens

Political Poison, Kevin D. Williamson covers how in Flint, MI, they’re piping poisoned water to residents.

As Max Weber put it, government is a regional monopoly on violence. It has the power to command and to coerce; it can seize your assets, lock you in a cage, and dispatch men with guns to your home or your place of business if you (e.g.) decline to bake a wedding cake for reasons that do not pass muster with the people in charge of the regional monopoly on violence. Government already sets the rules under which incumbents can be challenged; increasingly, it seeks to set the rules under which incumbents can be criticized, which is what Harry Reid’s jihad against the First Amendment is all about. Because of the nature of government — violent and monopolistic — the philosophy of big government is always the philosophy of small citizens, and small citizenship. A healthy society has many competing centers of power: governments (federal, state, and local in the U.S. model), businesses, civil society, churches, political parties, interest groups, professional associations, unions, etc. In an unhealthy society, government becomes a kind of cancer, metastasizing into every nook and cranny of society.

The first line of defense is camouflage: In Flint, they are having a heck of a time deciding who decided to pump water out of the polluted river, and how and when that decision was made. We see that at the federal level, too: From the weaponization of the IRS to the neglect of the VA hospitals, nobody ever loses his job, because nobody ever is responsible. The second line of defense is lying and deceiving: In Chicago, that means illegally withholding evidence from a police-shooting trial; in Sweden, that means misleading the public about how frequently rape is committed, and by whom. In Greece, it means lying about the state of public finances.

He also notices that Flint (and MI) is essential a one-party state and “a word that is curiously scarce in coverage of this disaster: Democrat.”

We have a special problem in the United States, which is that the Democratic party is more of a crime syndicate than a political party, and it is deeply embedded in institutions ranging from the universities (where manufactured hate crimes and phony rape cases are used as political weapons) to the prosecutors’ offices (which bully law-enforcement personnel and file specious felony charges against politicians for such ordinary actions as vetoing legislation) to the unions (see California) and the schools. It doesn’t matter how many laws Hillary Rodham Clinton breaks, or how often she lies about it — the attorney general is a Democrat, and that’s that.

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on the trade deficit

Kevin D. Williamson on the trade deficit (with China):

American manufacturing wasn’t hollowed out by unfair competition from wily Orientals — it wasn’t hollowed out at all, in fact, U.S. manufacturing output today being far higher than it was during the so-called golden age of the postwar era. Manufacturing wages have remained strong, too. What’s changed is the share of the work force employed in manufacturing, which has declined for several reasons: One of those is growth elsewhere in the economy, especially in the service sector (you know, all those crappy jobs in software companies and investment banks) and another is the fact that our manufacturers have grown much more efficient, requiring fewer (but better) workers than they did a generation ago. Which is to say, manufacturing employment has declined for the same reason agricultural employment did in another era…

China exports two classes of goods to the United States: Consumer goods (all the stuff you see in Walmart labeled “Made in China”) and capital goods, meaning electronic equipment, machinery, and the like used by U.S. companies to produce the goods they sell. So Trump proposes to put a 45 percent tax on people of modest means who buy toys and shoes at Target, and on U.S. businesses looking to invest in real productive capacity here in the United States — i.e., to drop a European-level tax on companies working to employ Americans building stuff here in the United States. That’s a special kind of genius, if by “genius” you mean mud-eating stupidity…

Trade imbalances are not necessarily a bad thing, or even a thing at all. The nice people of Greenwich, Conn., probably buy a lot more steaks from American cattle ranchers than cattle ranchers buy hedge-fund-management services from guys in Greenwich, and the pinstripes in Greenwich don’t feel any poorer for that. (Neither do the cowboys.)  …

If it isn’t tariffs — and it isn’t — why is our trade deficit with China so large? For one thing, China is poor. Its economy has been growing, and it’s far better off than it was a generation ago, but it’s poor in a way that Americans don’t know from poor: The average family income in rich Shanghai is less than $5,000 a year, and in relatively hardscrabble Gansu, it is less than $2,000 a year. A pair of made-in-the-U.S.A. Frye boots costs a month’s pay in China, and very poor people don’t buy a lot of what the United States exports: airliners, software, pharmaceuticals and medical devices, etc. Beijing interferes with trade, of course, but the fundamental economic fact behind our trade imbalance is that the Chinese still aren’t rich enough to buy a lot of the stuff that we Americans make. They buy tons and tons of our soybeans, but they can’t afford very many of our awesome bicycles

Our trade deficit with China isn’t a product of the Chinese getting rich — it’s a product of their being poor. We will not have more-balanced trade with China until Chinese people have a standard of living that is more like that of Americans. Putting a 45 percent tax on American shoppers and people who build computers in the United States (you know who does that? Lenovo, a Chinese company) or build robotics systems using some imported components isn’t going to change any of that. What’s worse, it will exacerbate one of the real problems that U.S-based firms do face: relatively high business taxes. Remember, much of that Chinese trade deficit comes from electronic equipment and industrial machines used by American companies rather than from cheap plastic waterguns, and Trump wants to put a 45 percent materials-and-equipment tax on top of the 40 percent they pay in corporate income taxes.

Posted in Economics, Foreign Affairs | 1 Comment

When the govt itself becomes a special interest

With oral arguments about to being in the Friedrichs case, George Will writes:

Never in its 225 years has the First Amendment been under so varied and sustained attacks. In academia, it is increasingly considered a dispensable impediment to superior claims of social justice. In the U.S. Senate, 54 Democrats voted to amend it in order to empower the political class to regulate campaign speech about the political class. So, on Monday it would be exhilarating to hear evidence that the court is prepared to correct its contribution to the practice of subordinating First Amendment protections to supposedly superior considerations.

Here’s a good left-of-center article on the case in The Atlantic.

I’m on record agreeing with FDR about the problems created when public sector employees unionize.  They negotiate with the politicians whose campaigns they support, who agree to generous pension benefits without properly funding them.  Pulling that stunt would send me, a private sector businessman, to jail.  It gets them re-elected and leaves enormous unfunded liabilities to my kids.

Paying those promised-but-not-funded pensions is already crowding out other necessary spending (education, infrastructure) in states like IL and CA.  It becomes impossible to fix because of the influence of all those mandatory union dues sluicing through campaigns’ fundraising.  The government itself becomes a special interest group and poisons our ability to have a useful debate about other government functions.

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The paradox of gun control

The paradox:  calls for more gun control = more gun sales = fewer gun homicides.   Weird way to get to the same place.  I believe elsewhere President Obama has been called the “best salesman for firearms manufacturers.”

newgunchartFrom “The Week” in the 12.31.15 issue of National Review

The White House confirms that, before the year is out, President Obama will take executive action to implement stricter gun control. More specifically, Obama will go some way toward closing what he calls the “gun-show loophole” by changing the definition of “gun seller” in two portions of the federal code. Under the new definition, any private seller who sought to transfer a large number of guns would be eligible for prosecution. Because the underlying statutes are extremely tightly written, however, a serious challenge would be all but inevitable. Moreover, the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 requires that any such rule be presented for notice and public comment before it becomes law. Obama will almost certainly fail to get his changes through by the time he leaves office, and, once they are binding, he is likely to watch them be gutted by the courts. In the meantime, irritated Americans will rush out to buy more guns, as per usual.

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