Increasing independence for the most vulnerable

familyIn the not too distant future, the percentage of children growing up with the advantage of married birth parents will be a minority.  (And it is, on average, an advantage – with no offense meant to those living outside that arrangement for one reason or another.  No one wants to see women and children trapped in awful marriage/family situations, and in some cases “non-traditional” households work out fine for everyone involved.  But we’re talking on average.  Mountains of social science attest that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.)

Giving your kids a married home until they head off to college will become more of an advantage for your kids than sending them to college.

Here’s Nicholas Eberstadt in today’s WSJ, The Global Flight from Family:

Our world-wide flight from family constitutes a significant international victory for self-actualization over self-sacrifice, and might even be said to mark a new chapter in humanity’s conscious pursuit of happiness. But these voluntary changes also have unintended consequences. The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young.

That same flight also has unforgiving implications for the vulnerable old. With America’s baby boomers reaching retirement, and a world-wide “gray wave” around the corner, we are about to learn the meaning of those implications firsthand.

In the decades ahead, ever more care and support for seniors will be required, especially for the growing contingent among the elderly who will be victims of dementia, or are childless and socially isolated. Remember, a longevity revolution is also under way. Yet by some cruel cosmic irony, family structures and family members will be less capable, and perhaps also less willing, to provide that care and support than ever before.

That contradiction promises to frame an overarching social problem, not just in so-called developed countries but throughout the world. It is far from clear that humanity is prepared to cope with the consequences of its impending family deficit, with increasing independence for those traditionally most dependent on others—i.e., the young and old. Public policies are the obvious candidate for the task. But as the past century of social policy has demonstrated, government is a highly imperfect substitute for family—and a very expensive one.

Posted in Culture and Religion | Leave a comment

Peculiar sense of patriotism (and dissent)

Jonah Goldberg on Progressives’ Peculiar Sense of Patriotism:

Patriotism for progressives has always been deeply bound up in the role of government and the cause of reform. That’s fine, to a certain extent. But underlying it is the assumption that America as it exists is a problem that needs to be fixed, if not “fundamentally transformed.” And, let’s be honest about it, there were times when progressives had the better part of the argument. But, culturally and psychologically, what endures is the pious progressive conviction that the government is better than the people it serves, at least when the right people are running it — and that the job of progressives is to bring the bitter clingers up to the government’s ideals, as best they can. The Left and the cultural elite of a hundred years ago were fairly honest about this point of view…

The attitude has evolved since then. Today’s progressives aren’t adherents to the Social Gospel for the most part, and they certainly aren’t eugenicists — but they’re also a lot less honest than their predecessors. Occasionally, someone will let it slip that they don’t believe in, say, the “private ownership of children” or will claim that the only reason liberal politicians don’t do better is because the voters are racists and sexists. Sometimes, they feel free to barf up their condescending bigotry for the South and paint it on the wall. Even the president of the United States has hinted that he favors increased immigration for its deleterious effects on his political opponents. And, once in a blue moon, you get the Democratic Senate majority leader explaining how displeasing he finds the musk of the little people. But for the most part, liberals have to lie about how much they believe they’re better than the country they serve.

Simply put, there’s a tension between the desire to change something and loving something for what it is. As I’ve said many times, if you desire something solely for your ability to have your way with it, that is not love; it’s lust.

And for generations, American reformers have argued that there’s nothing wrong with America that being more like Europe wouldn’t fix. Countless leading liberals hate — and I mean hate — the suggestion that America is the best country in the world. Just two weeks ago, I think, I linked to this progressive mind-porn from the opening scene of HBO’s The Newsroom. Stephen Colbert’s whole shtick for the last nine years has been to mock people who love this country too much. Indeed, for eight years under Bush we heard that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” — a profoundly stupid and self-serving bumper sticker of a notion. It’s a very strange understanding of love — and that’s all patriotism is; love of country — that its greatest expression is biting criticism, regardless of said criticism’s merit. For eight years, every calumny and slander imaginable was hurled at Bush and the United States, and whenever anyone pushed back on it, we were told that it was patriotic. We just love our country! Dissent is the highest form of patriotism!

How would that work in a marriage?

Wife: How do you like my new blouse?

Husband: It makes you look like a fat filthy whore.

Wife: Now I know you love me!

Husband: Shut up, tramp. You tipped off the Jews about 9/11. You were in on it.

Since president Obama became president, dissent is no longer the highest form of patriotism at all. It’s often simply racist now. Indeed, dissent from Obama and his agenda has arguably become the thing that liberals hate most about America these days. I should also note that since Obama was elected president he’s shown a fondness for apologizing for America and citing himself as proof that America is on the mend. This, too, doesn’t strike me as an obvious display of uncomplicated love. “I’m sorry for my wife, she was raised by carnies. But, you have to admit, it speaks well of her that I saw fit to marry her.”

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Guarding against sanctimony

The environmentalist scandal that just toppled Oregon’s governor occurred because the people of that state “felt no need” for checks and balances or cost/benefit analysis “because everyone involved is a credential environmentalist!”

So argues Holman Jenkins in Oregon Is Greener Than Thou.

Self-righteousness is often a masquerade of self-interest (and) claims of holiness are no less suspect when derived from the modern religion of environmentalism than from any of the more traditional faiths…

Maybe religions have to be around for a while before they discover the wisdom of inoculating themselves against the imbecility of self-righteousness. If so, environmentalism is still traveling the downward leg. America’s first clean-water and clean-air laws placed the issue firmly under the heading of public health, tying environmental protection closely to observable public benefits. The Cuyahoga River was burning. The air in Los Angeles was unbreathable.

Only in the decades after the 1970s and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency has the cause become progressively unlinked from demonstrable human benefits here and now, in favor of a more eschatological outlook. Mr. Obama advances his environmental claims in the cadences of a preacher invoking the miracles of Moses, describing his own advent in biblical terms as the “moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”

And look at the swelling corps of handout-seeking billionaires and corporations who have perfected “green” self-interest. Not just wind and solar and ethanol impresarios, but even one of the world’s biggest oil companies, BP , pronounced itself “beyond petroleum” in the 1990s while expanding its petroleum footprint by acquiring Amoco and Atlantic Richfield.

But something about our Western longitudes seems to be conducive to a hypocrisy so unaware of itself as to be entertaining. Take Tim Cook of Apple, who sanctimoniously advised investors at Apple’s annual meeting to “get out of the stock” if opposed to shareholder money subsidizing green energy. Too bad taxpayers can’t opt out. Mr. Cook’s latest $848 million solar project will be profitable, he insists, thanks to taxpayer subsidies that include 30% of the project’s upfront costs.

Don’t get us started on Google and its callow “don’t be evil” sloganeering. When it comes to proving Mr. Obama’s prayer breakfast point, however, give the prize to Vladimir Putin’s alleged funding of Western green groups to lobby against fracking. Environmentalism, alas, is a church with its reformation nowhere in sight. Jesus provided his followers the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector to guard against sanctimony. The greenies will have to admit corruption is possible before they can do anything about it.

Posted in Environmentalism, Politics | Leave a comment

The grand unifying idea? An enemies list.

Four Horsemen of ProgressivismIn The Brute-Force Left Kevin D. Williamson argues that the Left has rediscovered its “intensively coercive” roots from the Progressive Era:

That the Left has become much more intensively coercive in recent years has not gone unnoticed among conservatives. In Liberal Fascism and elsewhere, Jonah Goldberg has popularized a longstanding view of the left-wing philosophy that in the United States calls itself “liberalism” — though we cannot in good faith call it that — that connects it with the nakedly coercive, antidemocratic, and anti-constitutional tendency of Woodrow Wilson and the progressives of his era, and with the various nasty totalitarian movements that inspired them and were inspired by them in turn. It’s not that we expect Robert Reich to come marching up Fifth Avenue wearing jackboots (the Pride March ain’t what it used to be) but that managerial progressivism is fundamentally corporatist in the sense that Mussolini et al. used the term: It conceives of formal political power and economic production as a single unit to be kept working in harmony, like a well-tuned engine, by such experts as the state recognizes as suited to the task. In theory, these men are to be guided by evidence meeting scientific standards — they are to be the sort of disinterested and dispassionate pragmatists that exist mainly within the narrow confines of Ezra Klein’s cranium.

The problem, as various capital-”F” Fascists and National Socialists and Communist politburos and Vox readers all discovered in their turn, is that even if these dispassionate and disinterested managers existed — and they don’t — bureaucracies do not have the collective cognitive firepower to replace markets, or even to intelligently guide them. From the Soviet five-year plans to Obamacare, all central-planning exercises begin in hubris and end in chaos.

And when the chaos comes, the natural thing to do — the imperative thing — is: find someone to blame. The planners and schemers are intellectually incapable of dealing seriously with the fact that the project that they have set for themselves — substituting their own judgment for that of the billions of better-informed parties in the market and coming up with superior outcomes — is an impossible one. But once you’ve accepted real limits on what planning can do — on what government can do — then you have at some level essentially surrendered to conservatism.

And that means that somebody, somewhere, must be a racist.

…what’s new is that the wanton application of this juvenile mode of discourse [PC politics as rhetorical trump card] now encompasses previously immune white liberals. But the tendency itself is ancient, and prominent on his end of the political spectrum.

The Wilsonian vision of domestic governance through expertise and fiat quickly devolved into a reality of goon squads, political persecution, crushing of dissent with formal and informal political violence, politicization of law enforcement, etc. The Occupy bomb-throwers and the imbecile hooligans committing arson to prove that “black lives matter” are not quite the American Protective League, but they’re of a piece with it. In the Wilson years, we had politicized police; in the Obama years, we have a weaponized IRS . . . and Justice Department, and police unions, and jailers’ unions. The Wilson-era progressives tried to use the Sedition Act to shut down critics of the great progressive. In our time, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Harry Reid want to throw people in prison for unpopular political activism of which they disapprove. The grand plans of 2009 are coming unraveled, as grand plans do, and so the Left grows ever more naked in its coercion. On the official side of the spectrum, you have Senate Democrats voting to repeal the First Amendment so that they can suppress political criticism. On the unofficial side — as the perpetually late-to-the-party Jonathan Chait has suddenly noticed — you have people such as Brendan Eich being run out of their jobs for holding unpopular political opinions, human-rights heroes such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali run off college campuses, and Trustafarians from suburban Boston shutting down emergency ambulance services because they are displeased about . . . something.

The Left’s last big idea was Communism. When Lenin turned out to be the god who failed, the Left undertook wide exploration for another grand unifying idea: environmentalism, multiculturalism, economic inequality, atheism, feminism, etc. What it ended up with was an enemies’ list.

That and a taste for brute force.

The enthusiasm for coercion and the substitution of enemies for ideas — Christians, white men, Israel, “the 1 percent,” the Koch brothers, take your pick — together form the basis for understanding the Left’s current convulsions. The call to imprison people with unapproved ideas about global warming, the Senate Democrats’ vote to repeal the First Amendment, the Ferguson-inspired riots, the picayune political correctness and thought-policing that annoys Jonathan Chait, the IRS’s persecution of conservative political groups, Barack Obama’s White House enemies’ list, the casual violence against conservatives on college campuses and the Left’s instinctive defense of that violence — these are not separate phenomena but part of a single phenomenon.

Posted in Freedom, Politics | Leave a comment

How long will it take to turn Athens into Berlin?

Andrew Stuttaford writes that the new leftist government in Greece is flatly refusing to cooperate with its EU creditors and that there is no way the country makes it through February.  But he also believes, in the end, the Germans will blink.  It’s dangerous brinksmanship.  I have to admit I’m surprised the “vampire currency” hasn’t already split in two (at least).

There’s been a striking increase in outflows from Greek banks of late.  That’s not surprising. The real mystery is why there hasn’t been more.

At this point, it’s worth turning to The Economist for a brief reminder of why Germany might be feeling a touch under-appreciated:

Germans were told that sacrificing the deutschmark for the euro would involve safeguards, with an ECB based in Frankfurt, strict rules about which countries would join the euro and explicit bans on bailouts for struggling countries. But the rules were eased to let too many countries in, the ECB is now run by an Italian who is creating money and vast amounts has spent buying the bonds of struggling European governments and banks; the German taxpayer will probably end up paying the bill. The Greeks asked for debt forgiveness; they have already had it and their remaining official debt has a 16-year maturity and an average coupon of 2.4%. They would not get those terms anywhere else. Meanwhile, German voters, who went through a painful period of restructuring in the early 2000s to make their economies competitive, are told that such policies are inappropriate when applied elsewhere.

What The Economist (so often leery of giving unruly electorates too much of a say) fails to add is that German voters were never given a chance to reject this vampire currency. Their betters knew better, and that was it.

Over at the Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Warner fills in that gap:

Germans never wanted the single currency in the first place, for like Britain, they instinctively understood where it would lead – to a fiscal, or transfer, union which Germany, as Europe’s dominant economy, would be forced to bankroll. If given a referendum, they’d have said no.

Warner goes astray when he adds this:

But European monetary union was the price Germany had to pay for reunification; it was a way, other European nations naively believed, of containing the newly enlarged country and ensuring that it was properly integrated into the rest of Europe.

On the contrary, this was not a price that Germany had to pay. By the time that theMaastricht Treaty (which paved the way for the euro) was signed (1992) Germany wasalready reunited. It would have been perfectly easy to renege on any undertakings that had been given to, primarily, the French. No diplomatic effort would be complete without a little bad faith. What’s more the ‘final final’ decision to go ahead with the single currency was not taken until even more years had passed. What really happened was that German chancellor Helmut Kohl was obsessed with accelerating the EU’s “ever closer union” and he pushed the currency through, acting, he later said, “like a dictator” to do so.

Back to Warner:

From the start of the crisis it has been obvious to all dispassionate observers that it can only really end in two ways. Either the eurozonemust move rapidly towards the sort of transfer union which Germany has spent the last 15 years resisting, or it must be reconstituted in more sustainable form – that is the monetary separation of Germany and its satellites from the less competitive south, arguably including France.

In other words, some variant of our old friend the ‘Northern’ euro.

Warner:

Now up pops little Syriza to speak truth to power. Whatever you might think about Syriza’s substantially unrealistic economic agenda, and its apparent love affair with the brutish Vladimir Putin, on monetary union at least, its leaders have told it as it is.

“The eurozone is going to be toast within a couple of years”, says Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, unless it can create “shock absorbers and what I call surplus recycling mechanisms”. No monetary union that demands its debtor nations constantly shrink their economies in order to keep up with the repayments can last for long. The current situation is indeed a form of debtors prison, and a completely counter-productive one, for if you deny the debtor the ability to work off his debts, he’ll never repay them anyway.

That’s true enough, but let’s pay attention to Varoufakis’s sleazy euphemism: “shock absorbers and what I call surplus recycling mechanisms”. What that means is the looting of German (and Dutch, and Finnish and even Estonian taxpayers) in perpetuity.  And it would be perpetuity. 150 years or so after Italian unification, the north is still paying for the south. Naples is still not Milan. How long will it take to turn Athens into Berlin?

No-one should think for a moment that there are any attractive options, but a division of the euro into northern and southern halves remains, all things considered, the least bad way to go. Sadly, there are few signs that it’s on the agenda.

What will happen then? My guess continues to be that the Germans will eventually (it’ll be camouflaged, of course) fold, but against a background of brinkmanship like this, events can take on a dangerous momentum of their own.

Watch the banks.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | 1 Comment

The inflexibility of low-level govt officials

Very interesting (and important?) case decided Tuesday by SCOTUS.  David French summarizes in Why We Should All Be Glad a Muslim Man Just Won His Religious-Liberty Case at the Supreme Court:

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a Muslim prison inmate who wished to grow a short (1/2 inch) beard for religious reasons. The good folks at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty have won again, and it’s their second unanimous religious-liberty victory in the last three years.

The opinion itself is mainly a straightforward application of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a federal statute that protects religious liberty under the same framework as the (recently) much-maligned Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Court rightly rejected the state’s “security” justification for rejecting the plaintiff’s short beard, and did the right thing — inquired whether the beard-length prohibition was truly the “least restrictive means” of accomplishing the state’s security objective. Courts must not grant “unquestioning deference” to the state’s chosen methods — an obvious point, but a necessary one.

But the importance of the case goes beyond its reasoning to the decisive nature of the victory. Once again, the Supreme Court has unanimously rejected a government restriction on religious freedom, sending a strong and vital message to lower courts. The Becket Fund’s Eric Rassbach, writing at the Volokh Conspiracy, notes that these unanimous victories are a sign of, essentially, extreme government intolerance when facing its religious citizens. Here’s Rassbach:

What’s a better reason for governments’ losing streak? Part of the answer lies in the extreme litigation positions taken by governments in religion cases.

In Hosanna-Tabor, the federal government took the position that the long-recognized ministerial exception simply did not exist. The Court called the federal government’s position “extreme,” “untenable,” and a “remarkable view.” (If anyone is aware of another case where the Solicitor General’s litigation position has been called “extreme,” “untenable” and “remarkable” by the unanimous Supreme Court, please feel free to say so in the comments. Hosanna-Tabor might be the only case.) In Holt, Arkansas asked for complete deference, claiming that judges in the “calm serenity of judicial chambers” had no ability to evaluate whether prisons could accommodate religious exercise.

Why the intolerance? In large part because the growth of the regulatory state is insulating the law-making process from true democratic oversight. Here’s Rassbach again:

Another part of the answer lies in the typical process of government regulation. Governmental agencies, which do not answer directly to the public, simply aren’t inclined to compromise with small religious groups or religious individuals. Since there is little if any political price to pay, and members of minority religions are often without significant political power (as our Holt co-counsel Prof. Douglas Laycock has long argued), there is little incentive to compromise.

Put another way, government agencies will try to get away with as little accommodation as possible. In most areas of the law, government agencies can regulate on a because-I-say-so basis. But when federal civil rights statutes like RLUIPA and RFRA intervene, this approach fails and the government loses in court.

Rassbach’s observations exactly mirror my own experience. I’ve been consistently amazed at the inflexibility of low-level government officials in the face of religious liberty (and free speech) claims. Their lawyers adopt and amplify their clients inflexibility, leading to lengthy, contentious litigation over often quite elementary constitutional principles. For example, no one should have to litigate three years to strike down university speech-code language that’s never been upheld in any federal court, anywhere. The result is a series of litigation wins that secure individual justice but fail to move the needle on the larger problem of government intolerance. And since most people don’t think to sue (or don’t know lawyers who can take their case pro bono), government agencies tend to get away with their abuses.

Supreme Court cases, however, can move the needle more than any other form of case and can mobilize new legal resources to take advantage of nationally controlling precedent. For the short term, I’d predict government intolerance continuing and perhaps even increasing, but a series of large attorneys’ fee awards can focus even the government mind. In any case, there’s no choice but to keep fighting, and Becket’s win yesterday gives us further hope that liberty can, ultimately, prevail.

Posted in Culture and Religion, Politics | Leave a comment

Eliminating the thing that makes community colleges work

Kevin D. Williamson writes that one hidden goal of “free” community college is to get more taxpayer money funnelled (laundered) through more public sector unions to Democrat campaign coffers.

From How to Ruin Community Colleges:

I don’t suppose it has occurred to very many of those “free” community college enthusiasts that much of what community colleges do would be beside the point if we had properly functioning high schools and a proper system of higher learning that distinguished between education as such and job training. And now the same people who brought you the Cleveland and Washington public schools are going to apply their wisdom to the community colleges.

The cynicism of this ploy is remarkable. Those working at “free” community colleges presumably will not be working for free, in buildings that spring forth out of the ground at no expense, with texts delivered by the book fairy. It’s simply a matter of putting the federal government in control of resources directed at community colleges, rather than leaving the consumers largely in control—i.e., eliminating the thing that makes community colleges work.

But that’s the Democrats. Community colleges are, among other things, host organisms for parasitic unions of the sort that dominate Democratic politics and sustain Democrats’ campaigns. (And thus the hilarious phenomenon of the community-college strike.) For Democrats, the answer to every social problem is to ensure that lovely healthy streams of government money are directed at institutions that employ lots of Democrats. As with every other aspect of the welfare state, the problem here is not really the people receiving the benefit, but the people who are employed administering it. The Democrats did not build their machine simply by offering people free stuff, but by creating vast and powerful bureaucracies to administer those free-stuff programs.

It is difficult to miss the fact that the public schools are plainly designed for the benefit of the people who work there, not for the students, and you can see the same dynamic at work in any parole office or government-run job-training center. That is not the dynamic you want to encourage in the community colleges.

Posted in Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment