Daily Archives: 24 May 2015

Liberalism and Conservatism in America on TPP

Timothy B. LeeOver at Vox on Friday, Timothy B Lee wrote a surprisingly thin article based on a single source, These House Republicans Are Bucking Their Party Leaders — and Obama — on Trade. Mostly, it is just, “This is what my Cato friend, Bill Watson, thinks is going on in the House.” Watson is just your typical Cato ideologue who thinks that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is going to be like fairy dust on partner countries. That’s because he, like most proponents, claims, without proof, that the TPP is about “free trade.” Well, at least in Lee’s article, we don’t have to listen to such nonsense. But I do wonder if the Republican vote totals that he presents are any more grounded in reality than his arguments for the TPP.

He claims that there are between 15 and 50 Republicans in the House who will vote against fast track authority. If it is 50, bye-bye TPP! If it is only 15, then the president gets his “legacy” bill and we get another “trade” agreement that will cost American jobs and put more money into the pockets of the already rich. Given that this is is the raison d’être for the American government, the people will probably not even notice. The modern American is used to slipping further and further behind. She might have a heart attack if our long slide down were interrupted.

But what I found really interesting in the article was Lee’s comparison of the Democrats’ reasons for being against the deal and the Republicans’ reasons. The Democrats oppose the treaty on the basis of practical concerns. For example, one of my biggest complaints is that greater enforcement of intellectual property rights in other countries will crowd out actual goods that Americans make. For example: Hollywood is just going to take this money and run; it isn’t going to produce more and better films. So money that was once available to Vietnamese consumers to buy our stuff will instead go straight to the power elite in Hollywood. This is one of the mechanisms in the TPP that will redistribute income upward.

The Republicans, not surprisingly, don’t need no stinking practical concerns. Instead, they are concerned about the “Constitution” and “executive power.” But most of all, they are focused on the fact that they hate the current President of the United States. In addition, of course, Republicans are concerned about things that aren’t real. Lee mentioned, “And when Republican do complain about the contents of the TPP, they sometimes focus on topics that almost certainly won’t be part of the trade deal.” That includes the fear that the TPP will allow more brown people in the country.

This is, sadly, the great divide in American politics. And it is amusing that a libertarian like Lee would highlight it, even if he doesn’t frame it as systemic. “Liberalism” in America is just the practical business of governing. It is largely devoid of ideology. “Conservatism” in America is just the business of attaining ideological purity. But the ideology of the conservative movement is vague at best — having something to do with American exceptionalism: small government when it comes to the least dangerous aspects of public policy and large government when it comes to the most dangerous aspects of public policy. This is why most liberals can at least have a decent political discussion with libertarians. They may be lost in the ideological vapor, but at least their ideology is relatively coherent.

See also: TPP Could Create 4,000+ Minimum Wage Jobs.

Empty Educational Crazes

HL MenckenEvery year sees a craze for some new solution to the teaching enigma, an endless series of flamboyant arcana. The worst extravagances of privatdozent experimental psychology are gravely seized upon; the uplift pours in its ineffable principles and discoveries; mathematical formulae are marked out for every emergency; there is no sure-cure so idiotic that some superintendent of schools will not swallow it. The aim seems to be to reduce the whole teaching process to a sort of automatic reaction, to discover some master formula that will not only take the place of competence and resourcefulness in the teacher but that will also create an artificial receptivity in the child.

—HL Mencken
“The Educational Process” in A Mencken Chrestomathy — Originally in The New York Evening Mail, 23 January 1918

Centrist Pundits Pushing Hopeless Candidates

Josh MarshallJosh Marshall at Talking Points Memo wrote an insightful article last week, Chris Christie and the Distorting Lens of New York Media Dominance. It answers the question, “Why is so much made of these northeastern Republicans when they never have any hope in a national primary?” There is a lot to his answer. Basically: so much of the media establishment — including conservative flagships — is located in the northeast. He also noted that this is where most of the moneyed Republican base is. But, “It’s just not where the voters come from.”

As everyone should know, this is the standard problem for the Republican Party. It is committed to the interests of Wall Street. But that doesn’t win elections. The Republican base voter is mostly interested in social issues. The truth is that Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani are extremely conservative. “But they are usually not terribly focused on the evangelicalism-tinged social issues that drive Republican party identification in its heartlands.” So these guys might be loved by Wall Street, but they are like the Southern Strategy without the south: they aren’t going to win elections, even if northern Republican voters rather like them.

I agree with all of this. But I think there is another aspect to it. It has to do with the Professional Centrists. These are the people, who represent the foundation of the commentariat, who are always and forever looking for a “third way.” By definition, the Republicans are too conservative and the Democrats are too liberal. And we know it is definitional, because these people so often call on the two parties to compromise on what turns out to already be Democratic policy. But even if it weren’t for this, how can someone look at both the Democratic and Republican Parties and how much more conservative they’ve become over the last 50 years and think, “Sure, the Republicans are too conservative, but the Democrats are too liberal!”?

For these kinds of pundits, the Republicans from blue states will always have a special glow. It’s simply because those Republicans can’t afford to look like rattle snake handlers. But since the pundits don’t care about actual policy, they can focus on the way that people like Christie and Giuliani seem like regular people (in the sense of “like people who upper class pundits know”). What’s more, they seem less conservative than the likes of Ted Cruz — even though they aren’t. So it allows these Professional Centrists to claim that these Republicans are centrists. It’s axiomatic: given that Democrats are too liberal and Republicans are too conservative, any Republican who they decide is less conservative than the Republican Party generally must be a centrist or moderate. QED.

Charles Murray Finally Realizes He Isn’t Winning

Charles MurrayCharles Murray is out with another book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission. I haven’t read it because no one is paying me to. There are too many great books that I will never have time to read. I’m not going to waste my time reading yet another of his screeds. Let’s be clear what he’s all about. Most people know him from, The Bell Curve. As a result, most people think of him as a racist. Indeed, I’m pretty sure I have called him that myself. But it isn’t quite appropriate. Murray doesn’t care about race. Like all of his books, The Bell Curve was making a social argument for conservative policy. In that particular case, he was arguing for an end to affirmative action.

This new book is more practical. He argues for a kind of civil disobedience. He wants some billionaires to pony up some money for a legal defense fund that will allow companies everywhere to break the law. This act of widespread law breaking will thus paralyze the system and the long promised libertarian utopia will at least be at hand! Some people seem genuinely concerned about it. Sam Seder and Digby spoke about it at some length on The Majority Report on Tuesday. But I don’t think there is much to worry about here.

Matt Bruenig tackled the issue last week with his usual finely tuned analysis, Charles Murray’s Abracadabra State. He noted that Murray’s legal defense fund would constitute insurance. And in most areas, the courts have already made insurance against law breaking illegal. Now it is possible that the court system would allow conservatives to get away with such a scheme. But that would be because the courts wanted the same thing that the conservatives wanted. That, of course, does not seem likely. Even conservatives judges bristle when conservative activists try to mess with their power.

To me, Murray’s idea is just a systematic approach to what conservatives have long been doing. We have seen two major challenges against Obamacare. But the truth is that conservatives have filed hundreds if not thousands of similarly frivolous lawsuits. And they were all taken care of very quickly. And it goes back much further than that. Conservatives love to rail against “activist judges,” but for the last 30 years, it has been the conservatives on the bench who have been activists. There are very few people in the federal courts who would be seen as liberal outside our own skewed definition of the term.

I think that Brian Beutler is exactly right, Charles Murray and the Right’s Plan to Subvert Democracy. But even that gives the conservative movement too much credit. Despite their constant claims to the popularity of their cause, conservatives gave up on democracy over two centuries ago. This is one of the great burdens of being a conservative. If you are serious, you have to admit that the people are not on your side. And that means abandoning the idea of democracy. And that means you want something like a philosopher-king. Of course, that’s not going to happen. Instead, it would just be a king — some better than others. But most conservatives are fine with that — just as long as they are part of the aristocracy, and they are allowed to keep stealing from the poor.

Murray’s subtitle is telling, “Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.” It’s interesting how conservatives see liberty as being whatever it is that they want. It’s never thought out. I would like the liberty to live anywhere that I want and to hunt and gather. But Murray would say: no, no, no! That’s because the kind of liberty I’m talking about interferes with the kind of authority (property rights) that he believes in. Murray doesn’t believe in liberty, though; he believes in a system of government that is more attentive to the interests of his class. Of course, he’s living in a dream land. There is no government that could be more attentive to the interest of his class than the one we have in the United States — at least one that wouldn’t cause a revolution.

See also: David Frum Summarizes Charles Murray

Morning Music: Ducu Bertzi

Best of '06 - Ducu BertziI’m not quite sure what we here in the west thought the godless commies were up to in the 1950s and 1960s. But what they were up to was the same things we were up to. They were just poorer. Romania is generally considered the most oppressive of the Soviet autocracies. But just like we were here in the states, the Romanians were having a folk revival in the early 1960s. I’ll have to mine that period in the future.

For now, I’ve discovered a much later artist from the same tradition, Ducu Bertzi. He’s a singer-songwriter from Sighetu Marmației in the northernmost of Romania. I don’t know much about him, other than that he performed a lot with the much more famous Florian Pittiș. You know us Americans: we don’t get out much. Anyway, here is a song, “Suflet Fără Chei” off (at least), Best Of ’06. The literal meaning of the title is “Soul Without Pier.” But Google Translate offers “Keyless Soul.” I think the idea is a soul without a point of access. It sounds very poetic and sad. Regardless, it is beautiful song:

Anniversary Post: “Mary Had a Little Lamb”

Sarah Josepha HaleOn this day in 1830, the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was first published. I’ll provide some discussion of it in a moment, but first I want to talk about it in the context of copyright law. If the law had been then as it is now, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” would have still be under copyright at the beginning of 1949. Think about that. The first American steam train was produced in 1830. That was the cutting edge of transportation. And we would have had to wait until the dawn of the Space Age before this little rhyme was considered part of the public domain. After it was written, we lived through the Civil War and then World War I and then World War II. But according to current American law, the country had only then moved on enough for the rhyme to be considered part of our shared culture. Until then, it was simply property for some corporation to use to extract rents.

It was written — to one extent or another — by Sarah Josepha Hale. Born in 1788, she lived all the way to 1879, which is one of the reasons that the length of the copyright would have been so long. It was published as part of her book, Poems for Our Children. You can find out more about her in the birthday post I wrote about her, Sarah Josepha Hale Had a Little Lamb.

So happy 185th birthday to “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Now let’s go fix our broken copyright system!