“Stepford students”

Some colleges still “make free men from children by means of books and a balance.”  Others, not so much.  Here’s Andrew Stuttaford, in Teaching Conformity

Last November, Brendan O’Neill wrote an article for the London Spectator on what he called the ‘Stepford students’. It still seems timely.

To give you a flavor, it begins like this:

Have you met the Stepford students? They’re everywhere. On campuses across the land. Sitting stony-eyed in lecture halls or surreptitiously policing beer-fuelled banter in the uni bar. They look like students, dress like students, smell like students. But their student brains have been replaced by brains bereft of critical faculties and programmed to conform. To the untrained eye, they seem like your average book-devouring, ideas-discussing, H&M-adorned youth, but anyone who’s spent more than five minutes in their company will know that these students are far more interested in shutting debate down than opening it up…


If your go-to image of a student is someone who’s free-spirited and open-minded, who loves having a pop at orthodoxies, then you urgently need to update your mind’s picture bank. Students are now pretty much the opposite of that. It’s hard to think of any other section of society that has undergone as epic a transformation as students have. From freewheelin’ to ban-happy, from askers of awkward questions to suppressors of offensive speech, in the space of a generation….

At precisely the time they should be leaping brain-first into the rough and tumble of grown-up, testy discussion, students are cushioning themselves from anything that has the whiff of controversy. We’re witnessing the victory of political correctness by stealth. As the annoying ‘PC gone mad!’ brigade banged on and on about extreme instances of PC — schools banning ‘Baa Baa, Black Sheep’, etc. — nobody seems to have noticed that the key tenets of PC, from the desire to destroy offensive lingo to the urge to re-educate apparently corrupted minds, have been swallowed whole by a new generation. This is a disaster, for it means our universities are becoming breeding grounds of dogmatism. As John Stuart Mill said, if we don’t allow our opinion to be ‘fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed’, then that opinion will be ‘held as a dead dogma, not a living truth’.


 But it is O’Neill’s last paragraph that is most troubling of all:

One day, these Stepford students, with their lust to ban, their war on offensive lingo, and their terrifying talk of pre-crime, will be running the country. And then it won’t only be those of us who occasionally have cause to visit a campus who have to suffer their dead dogmas.

That’s true in Britain, and it is true here too.

Optimists like to assume, against a great deal of evidence to the contrary, that mankind is, what’s the phrase, “yearning to breathe free”. Not so much. The willingness to accept the right of others to disagree—and sometimes disagree fundamentally—is something that has to be taught. Evidently that’s something that universities—the training grounds, supposedly, of the future elite—are not doing, with consequences that will be bad, and will get worse.

 The urge to conform is never satisfied. The purge is never complete.

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Gadflies have value “more in their sting than their buzz”

h/t Brent Stephens in today’s WSJ:

We live in an era where people like the idea of rights, so long as there is no price to their practice. We want to speak truth to power—so long as “truth” is some shopworn cliché and “power” comes in the form of an institution that will never harm you. Perhaps it was always so. But from time to time we need people to remind us that free speech is not some shibboleth to be piously invoked, but a right that needs to be exercised if it is to survive as a right.

Pam Geller may not be the most erudite scholar of the Middle East, or the most couth defender of the First Amendment. Then again, she’s defending it, at considerable personal risk. Can Chris Matthews make the same claim?

…and here’s VDH in The First – and a Half – Amendment:

The First Amendment to the Constitution instead was designed to protect the obnoxious, the provocative, the uncouth, and the creepy — on the principle that if the foulmouths can say or express what they wish and the public can put up with it, then everyone else is assured of free speech.

Every time the West has forgotten that fact — from putting on trial cranky Socrates or incendiary Jesus to routinely burning books in the Third Reich — we have come to regret what followed. Censorship, of course, is never branded as extreme and dangerous, but rather as a moderate and helpful means to curb the hate speech of a bald, barefooted crank philosopher who pollutes young minds and introduces wacky and dangerous cults, or a hatemonger who whips innocent people in front of a temple in between his faked and hokey miracles, or traitorous Jews who scribble and call their first-grade art the equivalent of Rembrandt or their perverted sexual fantasies the stuff of Hegel. Banning free expression is never presented as provocative, but always the final act of an aggrieved and understandably provoked society…

The IRS under career bureaucrats like Lois Lerner targeted non-profit groups on the basis of their perceived political expression. The best strategy now for stifling free speech is to arbitrarily substitute the word “hate” for “free” — and then suddenly we all must unite to curb “hate speech.” The effort is insidious and growing, from silly “trigger warnings” in university classes about time-honored classics that trendy and mostly poorly educated race/class/gender activists now think contain hurtful language and ideas, to the common tactic of shouting down campus speakers or declaring them to be dangerous “extremists” who traffic in “hate speech” if their politics are deemed insufficiently progressive…

Apparently there is no longer a First Amendment as our Founders wrote it, but instead something like an Orwellian Amendment 1.5, which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press — except if someone finds some speech hurtful, controversial, or not helpful.” …

How odd that we of the 21st century lack the vision and courage of our 18th-century Founders, who warned us of exactly what we are now becoming.

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Defining “corruption” corruptly

Kevin D. Williamson in Defining ‘Corruption’ Corruptly:

This is not nit-picking—without quid pro quo as a bright line dividing criminal corruption from the inevitable moral ickiness of democratic processes, there is no obvious principle to prevent the unlimited criminalization of politics.

For Professor Lessig and others who worry about the purportedly corrupting influence of private political spending, the challenge is to define “corruption” broadly enough to cover the things they dislike—things that were regulated or banned prior to Citizens United—but not so broadly as to complicate things of which they approve, such as the (fairly obviously corrupt) symbiosis between the Democratic party and public-sector labor unions.

The broadest conception of public corruption is this: A public official behaves in a corrupt manner when he is motivated mainly by self-interest rather than by a sincere concern for the public interest. As students of public-choice economics—and people with eyes—cannot help but understand, a definition of “corruption” that in fact captures the majority of corruption properly understood would be paralyzing for any liberal and democratic form of government, because public officials, being human beings of the ordinary variety rather than godlings, act out of self-interest almost all of the time.

If, for example, a Democratic bag-man had offered American insurance companies a few dozen pallets of hundred-dollar bills in exchange for their supporting the so-called Affordable Care Act, that would seem to us obvious corruption, and it would indeed meet the quid pro quo criterion. But if the Democrats write the law in such a way as to ensure not millions but billions of dollars worth of benefits for those same insurance companies to buy their support—which is, in fact, what happened—can we call that a crime? The difference between corruption and political compromise is not always obvious, and it need not be obvious if we take a mature view of the limitations of public institutions and understand that we are not governed by philosopher-kings. Human beings do not cease to be self-interested after winning an election, being appointed to public office, or securing a job in a government bureaucracy.

The Clinton-Koch comparison, though useful as Professor Lessig presents it, is defective in that the standards we apply to the secretary of the state probably should not be the standards we apply to private citizens who are attempting to influence public policy and making no secret of the fact.

With that in mind, the question presented by independent expenditures and the like is not: “What is corruption?” or even “What is legally actionable corruption?” It is: “What ought to be understood as legally actionable corruption in the context of private citizens spending money for the purpose of adding their voices and views to the political discourse?” (Let us keep in mind that the specific question in Citizens United was whether it should be a federal offense to show a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton without government permission.) The Supreme Court keeps repeating the same answer: So long as we have a First Amendment, the line of demarcation is quid pro quo bribery, not ickiness. The question of whether Mrs. Clinton has behaved in a corrupt fashion (short version: yes) is separate from the question of whether Mrs. Clinton has behaved in a criminal fashion (short answer: You’d need an honest DOJ to find out; good luck with that).

A. Hayek, whose 116thbirthday would have been yesterday, insisted: “If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.” I do not believe that our political system would be at all improved by the absence from our discourse of private citizens and institutions, and the money they spend; but even if I did believe that, I would have a very difficult time believing that the desirability of that particular object was sufficient justification for the use of coercion. Nor is it clear that there would be any natural principle of limitation if we accepted Professor Lessig’s position, which would open the door to the wholesale criminalization of ordinary politics.

What Professor Lessig et al. present as an argument for limitations on political advocacy is much more persuasive as an argument for limited government: Moral corruption is an inevitable feature of the political process, which is one of the reasons why we should exercise political force only in those areas in which it is actually necessary, i.e. for the provision of strictly defined public goods such as national defense and law enforcement.

An electorate with a slightly longer attention span and a modicum of moral confidence would not need a federal prosecutor to tell its constituents that the Clintons are corrupt and to behave accordingly, or to appreciate the endless examples of political favoritism, nepotism, influence-peddling, cronyism, etc., for what they are. Professor Lessig and other critics of private political spending are at best “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” And more than a few of them are simply seeking petty political advantage by financially hobbling their opponents—which is to say, they seek to use campaign-finance law to further their own interests.

There ought to be a word for that.

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4th launch for mysterious X-37B mini-shuttle

I’ve said it before (here here here here): you can never have too many robot space planes.

Space.com reports that the 4th mission of the X-37B will launch from Cape Canaveral on May 20.  Statement reveal a little more leg this time – if you believe the statement.

The X-37B’s payloads and specific activities are classified, so it’s unclear exactly what the spacecraft does while zipping around the Earth. But Air Force officials have revealed a few clues about the upcoming mission.

“The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office (AFRCO) are investigating an experimental propulsion system on the X-37B on Mission 4,” Capt. Chris Hoyler, an Air Force spokesman, told Space.com via email.

“AFRCO will also host a number of advance materials onboard the X-37B for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to study the durability of various materials in the space environment,” Hoyler added.

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That’s not a brief for denial, it’s a brief for adaptation

Kevin D. Williamson asks the progressives of California to please demonstrate their competence at risk management before exporting their methods world-wide.  From Global Warming Guacamole:

[The drought in] California presents the global-warming dispute in miniature. The Left, with the prominent advocacy of President Barack Obama, has argued that the challenge of global warming necessitates a new form of economic organization under political discipline. Never mind, for the moment, that the Left has been arguing for a new form of economic organization under political discipline for more than a century (the crisis changes every generation, but the identical solution endures); consider the actual choice presented by Sternbergh’s avocado. We could embark on a sprawling, unfocused, and unmanageable crusade to cajole and coerce the world — including the not-especially-cajolable gentlemen in Beijing — into reorganizing the entire human race’s means of sustenance in accordance with not especially well-defined atmospheric metrics. Or we could insist that California get its act together on the matter of water infrastructure.

California not only is effectively a single-party state operating under Democratic monopoly, its Democrats are impeccably progressive, almost spotlessly so. The progressives are forever insisting that they are the ones who know how to handle infrastructure projects, that they are the ones who care about them, and that their broader understanding of public goods will contribute to general prosperity. In reality, California has the worst water infrastructure situation in the country, with the EPA in 2013 calculating that the state requires nearly $45 billion in improvements. A more liberal view of California’s real possibilities would identify an even larger deficit. California’s recent lack of precipitation is nature’s doing; its inability to weather the ordinary variations of life on Earth is entirely man-made.

The actual challenges presented by the threat of global warming look a lot more like California’s current situation than Waterworld or The Day After Tomorrow. As a matter of political rhetoric, it is attractive to frame the choice as a matter of affiliation: Cast your lot with the truth-speaking scientists on one side or the oil-addicted pre-Enlightenment goobers on the other. The actual choice is between making a naïve attempt to reorganize the world’s economy — an attempt that certainly will fail — and embarking on a series of discrete, manageable adaptations, such as improving the water-management facilities of millions of people who live, let’s remember, in a desert.

The Left’s potted moral outrage notwithstanding, that isn’t a brief for denial, but a brief for adaptation. And if the Left really believed half as much in global warming as its rhetoric suggests, its leaders would be moving forward with a robust program for adaptation — especially in California, a large and prosperous jurisdiction that is under nearly complete progressive political control.

Instead of making those improvements, what California has in reality experienced under one-party progressive rule is little more than wealth transfers, largely from the private sector to the public sector — which, through its labor unions, dominates California politics — or from private-sector constituencies with low political value to Democrats to private-sector constituencies with high political value to Democrats. The Democrats have been filling up their campaign coffers, not California’s reservoirs.

The same people who saw to their own political and financial interests while shortchanging California’s water infrastructure argue that they should be empowered to act on a global scale in response to global warming. Having failed to deal with the relatively mild problems of California — which has almost everything in the world going for it — they believe themselves ready to take on the hairier challenges of Bangladesh and Sudan.

The global-warming debate is, at its heart, about risk management. Maybe we should let Governor Brown et al. prove that they can make things work in California before we risk taking their methods worldwide.

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“Unlike F500 CEOs, we actually pay these guys”

Kevin D. Williamson writes about “the 1%” – or a critical difference among them:

The city manager of my hometown — the sprawling and urbane metropolis of Lubbock, Texas — makes $235,000 a year, which seems to me much more significant than what the boss makes at IBM or Goldman Sachs. For one thing, there are only 500 Fortune 500 CEOs, but there are a hell of a lot of small-fry city managers, six-figure high-school principals and million-dollar superintendents, $300,000-a-year Philadelphia police detectives, etc. Running parks and recreation in Pawnee, Ind., doesn’t seem like all that high-paying a gig for the fictional Leslie Knope and her gang — but in the real world, it’s a pretty good jump on a 1 percenter’s income.

Another important difference between Fortune 500 1 percenters and government 1 percenters is that you don’t have to pay CEOs unless you really want to. I have worked for closely held and publicly traded companies, and I have seen some pretty awful executives in action. (In a desk drawer somewhere, I still have my Journal Register Company stock-option paperwork, which I drag out from time to time when I want to make myself feel bad.) Unlike Senator Jim DeMint and that other flaming right-winger, Bernie Sanders, Senator Clinton voted for the Wall Street bailout; but the occasional Clinton-approved handout aside, you don’t have to worry much about whether any given CEO is worth his salt. That decision, for better or for worse, is made by boards of directors on behalf of the shareholders who own the company. Some boards do a pretty good job, some don’t. But if you are a shareholder who believes that Apple is misspending your money, then you can rally other shareholders against the management or you can just sell your Apple shares.

On the other hand, if you thought that Bell, Calif. — population 35,000 — was overpaying its city manager (at $800,000 a year!) you couldn’t sell your Bell shares or short the hell out of Bell. You had to keep paying, or the sheriff and burly men with guns would eventually come and seize your property. Say what you like about Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway doesn’t have the power to withhold money from your paycheck or order you to pay up at gunpoint.

If Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, and the nation’s drug-store chains want to dump wheelbarrows full of 100-dollar bills at Mrs. Clinton’s feet for the privilege of listening to Herself talk about Herself, that’s between them and the suckers who own their shares. (Government-funded institutions such as colleges, and organizations that have financial relationships with government agencies, are another question.) But if we really want to take a look at whose elephantine paychecks are weighing heavily on the finances of those “everyday” Americans that Mrs. Clinton likes to talk about, it isn’t Lloyd Blankfein’s fat stacks. It’s your local city manager’s, your high-school principal’s, your police detective’s when he’s earning more in questionable overtime than he is in salary. It’s your local union-goon lobbyist getting a lifetime pension for one day’s work as a substitute teacher.

Why? Because, unlike with Fortune 500 CEOs, you actually pay these guys.

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Atlas grabs a smoke, Part II

If it weren’t for the economy in Texas and the fracking revolution on private lands throughout the country, we’d have no growth at all.  If it weren’t for all the workers who gave up and dropped out of the labor market, unemployment would be north of 10%.  From today’s WSJ:

What’s Wrong With the Golden Goose?

The literature on economic development shows that U.S. states and nations tend to prosper when tax rates are low, regulatory burden is restrained by the rule of law, government debt is limited, labor markets are flexible and capital markets are dominated by private decision making. While many other factors are important, economists generally agree on these fundamental conditions.

As measured by virtually every economic policy known historically to promote growth, the structure of the U.S. economy is less conducive to growth today than it was when Mr. Obama became president in 2009…

Despite the largest fiscal stimulus program in history and the most expansive monetary policy in more than 150 years, the U.S. economy is underperforming today because we have bad economic policies. … Economic policies have consequences.

With better economic policies America was like the fabled farmer with the goose that laid golden eggs. He kept the pond clean and full, he erected a nice coop, threw out corn for the goose and every day the goose laid a golden egg. Mr. Obama has drained the pond, burned down the coop and let the dogs loose to chase the goose around the barnyard. Now that the goose has stopped laying golden eggs, the administration’s apologists—arguing that we are now in “secular stagnation”—add insult to injury by suggesting that something is wrong with the goose.

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