Channel Us Not into Temptation

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Some people don’t understand how funny they are. Consider Harvey Weinstein, motion picture producer and marketer.

Backward as I am, before October 5 I had never dreamed of his existence. Then, like all other good Americans, I was astonished and deeply saddened to learn that this Hollywood mover and shaker had, for many years, been one of the worst sexual predators, harassers, and, to use the technical term, pigs in Tinseltown. When first assailed by these charges, Weinstein conceded that he might have a few tiny faults, including an anger problem (otherwise known as issues with anger), but indicated that he knew how to remedy it: “I am going to need a place to channel that anger so I've decided that I'm going to give the NRA my full attention."

Picture a big, fat, ugly loudmouth who spends his life pushing other people around, and who now attempts to solve his public relations problem by aiming all of his destructive emotions at one target.

I suppose it all started with Freud — this picture of human beings as bottles full of lethal liquids that are constantly seeking channels through which to vent their nasty stuff. Or maybe it was some other quack who originally suggested that civilization, which has unfortunately been built on the dismal swamp of primitive aggressions, can be kept from returning to the primordial ooze if it is equipped with little pipes and ducts and hoses — art, science, religion, model railroading, writing for the New York Times, and so forth — to draw off the ugly fluid. But no matter who thought up the idea that mental health comes from plumbing, not thinking, it remained for Harvey Weinstein to make the final, irresistibly funny, application.

Picture a big, fat, ugly loudmouth who spends his life pushing other people around, and who now attempts to solve his public relations problem by aiming all of his destructive emotions at one target, so that instead of 50 little hoses spewing filth at 50 different targets we’ll see one giant firehose channeling it all at one of them. Yes, that will fix things, won’t it — especially when you realize that this man’s victims won’t be people in the public spotlight: pretty actresses and rich celebrities. They’ll be old ladies in Detroit who are trying to defend themselves against people who want to hurt them. The fate of elderly black women won’t cause a national crisis of conscience, will it? Apparently not. It never has.

Maybe it was some other quack who originally suggested that civilization can be kept from returning to the primordial ooze if it is equipped with little pipes and ducts and hoses.

Weinstein’s brother and business associate Bob brought up an interesting question about the link between language and conscience. He charged that the politically therapeutic language appropriated by his brother from any of a million sources merely indicated a lack of emotional or moral referent:

I don't feel an ounce of remorse coming from him, and that kills me too. When I heard his written, lame excuse . . . Not an excuse. When I heard his admission of feeling remorse for the victims and then him cavalierly, almost crazily saying he was going to go out and take on the NRA, it was so disturbing to me. It was utter insanity. My daughters all felt sick hearing this because we understood he felt nothing. I don't feel he feels anything to this day. I don't. . . .

He lived for this business and he lived for the outside. There were no insides to this, as far as I can see. So unless there becomes an inner person inside there, I have no idea what he'll do.

This is close to Ayn Rand’s insight: people who live for the approval of others — even if they don’t try to bully or trick them into giving it — are empty vessels. It’s not that the plumbing doesn’t work; it’s that the plumbing doesn’t exist. Maybe it did at some time, but it can’t be located now.

You may think it’s strange to mention conscience and then bring up Hillary Clinton, but her life has taught us a lot about the subject. She has demonstrated that lack of conscience doesn’t keep you from public office. It doesn’t even keep you from being funny. On an entertaining page of his letters, Lord Chesterfield describes the kind of person who is incapable of understanding how to behave. When he goes to a party, he inevitably chooses the wrong clothes, unerringly finds the worst places to sit or stand, and makes certain to state with emphasis the very things that will make him seem most ridiculous. Mrs. Clinton is one of those people.

She it was who defended her husband from charges of immorality by saying to, among other people, millions of country music fans, “You know, I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.” She it was who said that she’d solved the mystery of why some people didn’t like her husband: it was all a “vast, rightwing conspiracy.” She it was who thought she’d made a hit when she responded to congressional questions about what caused the attack in Benghazi by shouting, “What difference does it make?” She it was who gave a campaign speech in which she asserted that 25% of the American electorate is morally “deplorable,” presenting this analysis with a thoughtfulness and solemnity that made it impossible for anyone to dismiss it as just one of those things you say by accident.

This is close to Ayn Rand’s insight: people who live for the approval of others — even if they don’t try to bully or trick them into giving it — are empty vessels.

All of these blunders were carefully staged; all of them were intended as climaxes of rhetorical art. And there was no reason to stumble into any of them. No one asked her to comment on Tammy Wynette or to theorize about conspiracies or to assess the significance of cause and effect. And although many politicians have hated the voters, none but Hillary Clinton ever made a point of saying it to them.

Of course the voters struck back; they crippled and then killed her political career. But she never learned. She has never learned. She’s like one of those animals that seems constantly, solemnly, and innocently discovering its tail; and, not being able to conceptualize such things, remains at a loss about what that object could possibly be.

I’m sorry to take so much time with Hillary Clinton. If she were just a blatherer, like President Trump, the comic interest would soon have faded. But what was said of Cleopatra can be said of her: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety.” Like the perpetually inappropriate man in Chesterfield, she is always finding new ways of making herself ridiculous. Having chronicled her antics on innumerable occasions, I still had to cling to my seat when I heard her recent remarks about Mr. Weinstein: I was laughing so hard I almost fell off.

All of these blunders were carefully staged; all of them were intended as climaxes of rhetorical art. And there was no reason to stumble into any of them.

Harvey Weinstein is an old friend and strong financial supporter of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton therefore waited several days before yielding to the mob’s demand (I’m sorry; I don’t like mobs, no matter whom they intend to lynch) that everyone who had ever laid eyes on Weinstein should immediately denounce him. I thought that for once she might commit an act of courage, even in a questionable cause. But no. She finally denounced him, like all the rest of them.

Yet she couldn’t stop with that. Finding herself in a bad position, politically, since she’d taken all those contributions from the man she was denouncing, she insisted that attention be turned to the most compromising subject for her — politics. She compared Weinstein to her bête noir, Donald Trump, who in Hillary’s mythic incantations has acquired the stature of Trotsky, as viewed by Stalin; Lucifer, as viewed by Yahweh; and Phineas Quimby, as viewed by Mary Baker Eddy. Unable to understand that comments of this kind would simply prolong the nearly universal chants of “sore loser!”, she attacked Trump for supposedly admitting that he had “assaulted” women — a reference, perhaps, to his vulgar remarks to Billy Bush. “This kind of behavior,” she decreed,

cannot be tolerated anywhere, whether it’s in entertainment [or] politics. After all, we have someone admitting to being a sexual assaulter in the Oval Office. There has to be a recognition that we must stand against the kind of action that is so sexist and misogynistic.

Clinton’s syntax was particularly unfortunate — suggesting, as it did, that Trump had illicit affairs in the Oval Office, which is exactly where people picture her husband having them. And who tolerated that?

This was funny enough. Still funnier was her shock when her interviewer from the BBC pressed the political point that she herself had introduced. He brought up women who had complained about Bill, women with whom Hillary had not precisely taken a stand:

In your book, three women brought on stage [during the 2016 campaign] by Trump attacking your husband, you kind of dismiss them. Was that the right thing to do? Are you sure about that?

She did the best she could with the question, and her best was hilarious:

Well, yes, because that had all been litigated. That had been the subjectof a huge investigation in the late ’90s and there were conclusions drawn. That was clearly in the past, but it is something that has to be taken seriously and not just in entertainment.

How’s that for a cunning use of the passive voice? Litigated by whom? What conclusions were drawn? And how’s that for a climactic use of truism, cliché, and unconscious irony? Yes, her husband’s conduct was in the past (and still is), but I’m not sure that “it,” the only referent for which is “that,” i.e., her husband’s conduct, or the charges bearing on the same, is what she really wants to be taken seriously.

I have trouble taking anything about Mrs. Clinton seriously, and to me it’s doubly amusing that she never notices how many people have that trouble about her. After all these years, she still assumes that whatever she says will be copied down in everybody’s book of instructive sayings. How childlike! How adorable. And it’s so cute that she’s surprised by even the most obvious questions.

Still funnier was Clinton's shock when her interviewer from the BBC pressed the political point that she herself had introduced.

One of them was posed by Fareed Zakaria of CNN, often called the Clinton News Network. He had the gall to ask whether she was going to follow other leading Democrats and return the money she’d gotten from the now-odious Weinstein. She gave the answer that you would give to a moralistic child who’s been pestering you to return the quarter you found on the street. “Well,” she said, “there’s no one to give it back to.”

Really? Have you lost Weinstein’s address?

Zakaria kept looking at her, so she continued:

What other people are saying, what my former colleagues are saying, is they’re going to donate it to charity, and of course I will do that. I give 10% of my income to charity every year. This will be part of that. There’s no — there’s no doubt about it.

This is as close, I believe, as Hillary Clinton has ever come to acknowledging that normal, nondeplorable people might ever doubt any of the absurd things she habitually says. Realizing that there could be doubt, she immediately decreed that there is no doubt.

One thing she did not realize is that other people know arithmetic. Supposing that she does give the biblical tenth every year, I assume that her charity of choice is the Clinton Foundation, which has indicated in no uncertain terms that it isn’t giving any of Weinstein’s money back. But let’s suppose otherwise, and picture her contributing a tenth of her money to the Salvation Army. Now she can keep that money and substitute Weinstein’s money. And, of course, take the tax deduction. Neat, isn’t it? But normal people are unlikely to be impressed by this act of moral courage.

Realizing that there could be doubt, she immediately decreed that there is no doubt.

The Daily Beast, a leftwing journal, says that “the donations will be ‘part of’ the 10 percent of her income that she donates to charity each year, but it was unclear whether she meant that the money from Weinstein would be in addition to that 10 percent.” I wonder what the Daily Beast finds unclear about “part of.”

While the Beast is scratching its head, ordinary people are howling with laughter. Clinton has no means of knowing this. She thinks that other people are just like her. She’s hollow and impercipient; they must be too.

There are a lot of “leaders” like that now. Weinstein is one. An unconsciously ironic portrait of him has been communicated by a psychologist who worked on him in some “recovery” clinic in Arizona. This healthcare professional reported to TMZ on a week of treatment:

The psychologist says he helped Weinstein focus on "dealing with his anger, his attitude toward others, boundary work and the beginnings of work on empathy." He says Weinstein was "invested in the program."

I don’t know what “boundary work” may be, but in these cases “work on empathy” is certainly indicated. The problem is that empathy is the hardest thing to work on, because people who don’t have it don’t realize that they don’t. Little things like losing their jobs as heads of billion-dollar businesses, or losing a national election, never suggest to them that something might be wrong about the language with which they communicate with the world.

Under these circumstances, I’m not sure that psychologists will be much good at fixing all the pipes and ducts that channel stuff from one person to another. Some good might be accomplished, however, if other people just laughed in the faces of our cultural and political leaders. A few days of that might make some impression, and no one would need to be paid for it.




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Not Me Too

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We probably needn’t worry about missing a gaudy bandwagon when it comes around. Another one will be by in a couple of days. Now in the news and social media, it’s #MeToo. As I write this, America is already tired of “the narrative,” and the bandwagon is lumbering on, but before it fades too far into the distance I want to put in my two cents. The Left won’t listen, but perhaps reasonable people will.

Feminism is now in reverse gear. It’s going backwards, because instead of earning women more respect and trust from men, it’s causing even many who previously held us in high esteem to distrust us and view us with contempt. But contrary to what women are so often told, it isn’t the political Right or the Republican Party that is moving us back. It is the very people who have so loudly taken up our cause.

Those of us who live in the real world, where there are not 50 “genders” but two sexes, understand that because the human race is divided about evenly between them, our fortunes are inextricably tied together. There is really no such thing as a “women’s issue” or a “men’s issue.” There are only human issues, and in one way or another each of them affects us all.

There is a world of difference between having your feelings hurt and fearing for your life.

I have experienced both sexual harassment and sexual assault. They are nowhere near the same. It is an insult to women everywhere that the #MeToo movement conflates them. To mush these two related-yet-separate issues together is to do a disservice to both. And it makes women not more safe, but less.

It also leaves men understandably confused. How on earth are they expected to make sense of such a jumble? It very much appears that they are now under suspicion no matter how innocent their intentions may be. Will even a dinner invitation lead to an accusation of rape?

There is a world of difference between having your feelings hurt and fearing for your life. Nearly as large a gulf exists between finding an eligible woman attractive and stalking her with the intention of committing a savage assault. “Oh,” friends have sobbed to me, “but when you hear their stories, you’ll understand what a horrible problem this is!”

My own Inner Child wants to run as far away from this crusade as she can get.

But precisely what is “this?” And who is telling the stories of the people (mostly men, but not always) whose shared experience is, evidently, not welcome? Men are tepidly and belatedly being invited to “share their stories,” but I see little indication that their recollections are taken as seriously as those of women. Those brave enough to come forward are even being ridiculed.

This is touchy-feely, “Womyn’s Retreat in Sedona” stuff. It calls to mind hippie-dippy singalongs and flannel shirts, and isn’t too far removed from getting in touch with our Inner Child. Most men don’t gravitate to this sort of thing, and I don’t blame them. My own Inner Child wants to run as far away from this crusade as she can get. I refuse to see half of the human race as The Enemy, and consider far more dangerous those who would poison my mind into accepting such a view.

This is how both of the big-league statist political teams operate. Each takes a stand in which there can be found a grain of truth, and that’s how it takes its minions in. But coated in gunky layers around that kernel is a syrupy glaze of emotion. Often it’s slathered on so thick that it’s nearly impossible to get down to what’s essential. Sexual harassment and rape are bad — m’kay — and every civilized person agrees on that, but extreme Harvey Weinstein types aside, harassers and rapists are usually very different individuals.

Male chauvinist abusers and man-hating witch-hunters alike flourish in an atmosphere of chaos.

The rules need to be clearly defined and reasonably easy to grasp. The game can’t be booby-trapped against anyone who’s required to play it. If the net is cast too widely, and enough innocent people are caught up in it, all that will do is discredit any further movement for women’s rights and make enemies it can’t afford to have. Alienating large swaths of the populace, and making ourselves look like loonies, is not going to make anyone safer. Such irresponsibility and incoherence are exactly what hasthrown the women’s movement into reverse.

The only people helped by a self-indulgent sobfest like #MeToo are those who are genuinely bad. Male chauvinist abusers and man-hating witch-hunters alike flourish in an atmosphere of chaos. When the lines are so blurry that any tasteless joke can be construed as tantamount to rape, then confusion can be used as an excuse to push the boundaries even farther. And every busybody, regardless of the circumstances, finds license to make accusations and ruin lives.

Oppressive government thrives on confusion. If it’s all too complicated for us to sort out, the authoritarian state will gladly do it for us. But because it cites, as its justification, the existence of the problem itself, in order to hold onto its power it can never permit the problem to be solved. If we can’t find a way to solve the problem ourselves, one way or another we will all end up being victims.




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The Trump Cards

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It’s become the most regular pattern in American politics. President Trump insults some important personality, or defies what passes for common decency, or attacks traditional allies, or just says something bizarre; the mainstream media then denounce him, “check” his “facts,” proclaim his end or the end of the republic; a week or so later, observing that their furious campaign has had no effect on the body politic except for a tiny increase in the president’s popularity, the media initiate another anti-Trump campaign. At this juncture, rightwing media proclaim Trump a “genius” who has a “unique connection” with the real America, and many bytes are spilled over his success at “calling the liberals’ bluff.”

I have a different take on the gambling analogy, and also on the allegation of genius.

To me, a genius at gambling isn’t somebody who wins a hand because he has a pair of treys and his opponent has a pair of deuces. It’s no argument for genius that Trump can, with a few badly worded remarks, puncture the pomposity of Hillary Clinton, suggest that the National Football League isn’t an army of martyr patriots, or reveal the fact that US senators tend to be horse’s asses. And if somebody with a pair of deuces — such as the typical columnist for the New York Times — is stupid enough to think that he’s got a winning hand, and bets his trust fund on it, that doesn’t mean that he’s bluffing, or that his opponent called his bluff. It’s just that he’s never played with anybody who wasn’t as stupid as he is.

A genius at gambling isn’t somebody who wins a hand because he has a pair of treys and his opponent has a pair of deuces.

Trump’s liberal — and conservative — opponents didn’t bluff; they thought they had the best cards ever dealt. And Trump didn’t play a good hand; he discarded several of his face cards (limited government, fiscal responsibility, a real investigation of the Clinton machine), and kept those treys. This is a game in which one player sees John Kerry, Colin Kaepernick, John McCain, and himself as national heroes, and the other player knows that they’re not. It’s a game in which one player thinks he’ll win by pushing transgender restrooms and the other one waves the flag. No bluffs, no genius; but who do you think will win?

Here’s a note about my own standards of assessment. I never thought that President Reagan was the Great Communicator. I liked him, but he didn’t communicate particularly well to me. I thought he was great when he stood up to the Air Traffic Controllers Union — one of the bravest episodes of modern presidential history — and when he stood up to the Russians in Reykjavik. I thought he was a dope, by his own principles, when he forced the states to raise their drinking age to 21, when he talked nonsense about “drugs,” when he failed to abolish the Department of Education, etc.

Today, no one dreams that Congress will achieve anything much (although a certain low trickery is always to be expected).

How good was Reagan’s hand? I’d say he had a full house or a flush. He was smart; he had an impressive manner; he understood the nature and effects of limited government; he didn’t overreach; he dismissed the outrageous criticism he received from a media establishment that was almost as obsessed with hating him as it is with hating Trump. At that time, the Democrats’ hand wasn’t fantastic, either; but I’ll give them a pair of jacks and a pair of queens. They were dominated by real unions, not government-employee unions and advocates of far-left causes. There were some savvy politicians in their leadership (and I don’t mean Jimmy Carter). No one was bluffing, but when the Democrats and the media (then, as now, the same players) showed their hand, Reagan won.

Reagan never had a majority in both houses of Congress, but he had large legislative achievements, such as the revision of the tax rates. Today, no one dreams that Congress will achieve anything much (although a certain low trickery is always to be expected). Survival is the measure of accomplishment. In these circumstances, almost any hand will win whatever there is to win.




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Imitating Obama?

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I confess that I am no fan of Trump. Actually, that dramatically understates it. I regard him as a dangerous populist ignoramus whose crudity of character makes him unfit for office. When he won the nomination, I sent the Republican National Committee a letter of resignation from the party to which I had belonged for four decades, and re-registered Libertarian. (I did this despite my impression that Gary Johnson was either a hopeless dope or congenitally loopy.)

It was for me, in short, a completely miserable election.

My only hope was that Trump, once in office, would at least pretend to be presidential, and would drop his nativist and protectionist stances, having decisively won the populist vote. And I admit I was cheered when he appointed a good judge to the Supreme Court, talked about repealing and replacing Obamacare, and also talked about lowering at least corporate taxes. He has so far been unable to deliver.

Nativists fear even legal immigrants, not seeing how beneficial they are to the economy.

But unfortunately he has pursued his nativist and protectionist agendas. On the nativist agenda, he killed DACA — setting up the deportation of upwards of a million young people brought here involuntarily, and raised with scant knowledge of the countries of their births. Not only did he refuse to increase the H-1B visa and other programs that legally allow in college-trained STEM and medical professionals, but he has actually proposed cutting all legal immigration by half. He continues demanding that a wall be built on the border with Mexico, even though illegal immigration from Mexico has been steadily dropping for a decade — indeed, for the last few years, more Mexican immigrants have returned home than have come north. (That’s because Mexico has a good growth rate, and is now in the top ten manufacturing countries on earth). Nativists fear even legal immigrants, not seeing how beneficial they are to the economy. For example, immigrants and immigrants alone are the reason we don’t face the same demographic implosion that the European countries and Japan face, and immigrants are disproportionately likely to open new businesses.

On Trump’s protectionist agenda, after killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Trump has set his sights on killing NAFTA. Several recent Wall Street Journal articles report on the administration’s attempt to renegotiate this deal, signed back in 1994. Trump’s curious hatred of Mexico and Canada is as bizarre as his love of Russia. In this he imitates Obama, who bashed NAFTA in his primary fight with America’s Sweetheart Hillary Clinton. At the time, most commentators assumed that this was just “Bubba bait” — that is, demagogic talk aimed at arousing nativism and protectionism by telling the economically illiterate that Evil Foreigners have “stolen” American jobs, jobs that usually have been automated away.

But to many people’s amazement, Obama — Trump’s match in protectionism — started trade wars with both Mexico and Canada shortly after assuming office. He stopped only when those countries fought back and kicked our economic behinds. For example, Obama violated NAFTA to “save” 200 trucking jobs (at the behest of one of his supporters, the Teamsters Union), but when Mexico retaliated with stiff tariffs against our farmers, 25,000 American jobs disappeared, whereupon Obama cancelled his policy with limited publicity.

After killing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Trump has set his sights on killing NAFTA.

To his credit — and as readers of this estimable journal know, I was a consistent critic of Obama’s regime — Obama slowly but surely came to understand why more than 90% of economists favor free trade. Obama eventually approved of the three free-trade agreements left to him by George Bush, and late in his second term negotiated the TPP. Who knows, perhaps Obama finally read that Econ 101 text that he was too negligent to read as an undergrad.

But Trump is even more of a populist fool. He immediately killed the TPP, and has now targeted NAFTA. He is apparently surprised that both Mexico and Canada are fighting back. A bully is always amazed when the smaller boy he chooses to pick on hauls off and smacks him.

The Wall Street Journal reports just how close to a collapse of the NAFTA talks we are. We have seen record highs in the stock market, but this would almost surely change quickly should the talks collapse. One economic consulting firm, the Colorado-based ImpactECON, has put the net job losses at 125,000 for Canada, 256,000 for the US, and a whopping 961,000 for Mexico over the next three to five years.

Trump is apparently surprised that both Mexico and Canada are fighting back.

For those populists who will cheer the disproportionate job losses to Mexico, well, they may want to ask themselves whether their protectionism trumps their nativism here. That is, if we move to destroy nearly a million Mexican jobs, where oh where will all those newly unemployed Mexicans go to avoid starvation? Trump had better be prepared to build his wall quickly.

If NAFTA does get repealed, tariffs would undoubtedly result. At a minimum, the three member states would revert to their average tariffs rates: 3.5% for the US; 4.2% for Canada; and 7.5% for Mexico. But there is good reason to think that the tariffs will be much higher. Both Canada and Mexico will be furious at seeing the US dump the deal and will likely raise tariffs enormously. Moreover, the collapse of NAFTA and the Mexican job market will be the result. The American Automobile Policy Council estimates that the rise of the price of domestic auto parts from the tariffs will cost 50,000 US jobs. Another economic thinktank, Boston Consulting Group, gives the same estimate.

The ImpactECON study says the small gains in US employment in production of machinery and chemical industries will be swamped by losses in the agricultural, auto, and apparel industries.

Mexico could simply embargo products from the US — it just ordered its first shipment of wheat from Argentina, no doubt in anticipation of the looming trade war.

This last is a nice point — a point that Frédéric Bastiat would have underscored. What average Americans — including Trump — expect to see after NAFTA is some US manufacturing jobs disappearing while trade flourishes between us and our natural neighbors. They assume the trade will cause the job losses, which is debatable. But worse, they don’t see the gain in jobs in farming and other industries.

Under NAFTA, our agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada have risen fourfold, hitting $38 billion last year. If NAFTA is junked, the Mexicans could revert to their pre-NAFTA tariff levels of 75% on US chicken and corn syrup, 45% on turkey, potatoes, and dairy products, and 15% on wheat. You see, protectionism works both ways: Mexico pre-NAFTA was trying to protect its farmers from competition from American farmers. In fact, Mexico could simply embargo these products from the US — it just ordered its first shipment of wheat from Argentina (30,000 tons), no doubt in anticipation of the looming trade war.

The Mexicans, by the way, are especially angry. All major candidates for the upcoming presidential election there are opposed to what Trump is doing, but the one who is poised to make the most gains is the ultra-leftist Lopez Obrador. If Mexicans, in their righteous indignation, elect him, we could have a Cuba right on our border. For instance, Mexico could retaliate by cutting a free trade agreement with China, and allowing the Chinese to set up naval and army bases on its soil — which it is completely free to do under international law.

Talk about a “game-changer”: for the first time in US history, we would face a military threat from one of its long borders.

Even the author of the 2011 report by the leftist thinktank Economic Policy Institute, Robert Scott, has changed his mind. The report purported to show that NAFTA cost 700,000 US jobs, and was widely cited by protectionists of all political stripes. Scott now says that if NAFTA is abandoned, manufacturers will just “move” jobs to Asia.

The real “culprit” behind manufacturing job loss is not international trade; it is automation and creative destruction.

The NAFTA talks are approaching crisis phase, because the US is making unreasonable demands. For example, the US negotiator Robert Lighthizer wants a “sunset clause” requiring the agreement to be renewed every five years, and a watering down of the provision for arbitrating disputes.

Of course, the joke in all this is that the US was losing manufacturing jobs long before NAFTA. As early as 1974 sociologist Daniel Bell discussed the shift from industrial work to high-tech and service sectors in his book The Coming of Post-Industrial Economy, and the term “rust belt” was coined in 1982, more than a decade before NAFTA came into being. In fact, over the last decade all of the top ten manufacturing countries in the world lost manufacturing jobs. The real “culprit” is not international trade; it is automation and creative destruction. We don’t hand-bolt wheels on cars anymore, not because the Mexicans do it, but because robotic arms do. And we don’t make buggy whips anymore, not because the Chinese make them cheaper, but because we don’t have buggies.

The failure of many American workers to adjust to the shift from low-knowledge to high-tech factories results primarily from the pathetically poor average education they receive. I mean, you can’t read the instructions manual for the new computer-aided machinery if you can’t read to begin with. While other countries are reacting to the evolution of the industrial economy by building new colleges and trade schools, cranking out engineers, doctors, scientists and skilled workers, we struggle with risible high school and college dropout rates, a proliferation of humanities and social science majors, and vanishing trade schools.

We don’t make buggy whips anymore, not because the Chinese make them cheaper, but because we don’t have buggies.

All of this could be cured if we did what supposedly socialist Sweden did over a quarter century ago: immediately adopt a universal voucher program — that is, require all public schools in America to adopt perfectly pro-rata voucher systems within one year. But this would arouse the teachers’ unions like nothing else. They will protect the cushy jobs of mediocre and even positively bad teachers, forcing parents to keep their kids in failing schools.

Rising protectionism and fear of trade don’t just run the risk of depression and trade wars — which in turn run the risk of military war. They also distract us from the real cause of long-term blue-collar unemployment: a horribly broken educational system.




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The Republicans’ Hidden Motive

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I knew a man who owned a house in an upscale suburb, and instead of maintaining a carefully manicured front yard, he planted sweet corn in it.

Strange — but why shouldn’t he have a garden like everybody else? And why shouldn’t it be corn? Why should anybody assume that a little strip of cropped grass is the badge of middle class respectability, just because hundreds of years ago English aristocrats maintained enormous parks of such stuff? Corn is much more beautiful. And useful!

The man clearly had reason on his side. But aren’t you thinking, “No amount of money would make me grow corn in my front yard?”

If you’re a Washington Republican, you’re free to campaign against Obamacare or endorse schemes to reduce the deficit or bewail government regulation, so long as such advocacy is without prospect of success.

That’s the way I think too — but why? Presumably, it’s because I know that my neighbors — most of whom are utter strangers, whose lives have no interest to me at all — would disdain me, and I would suffer a loss of status, at least in my own mind. It would be worse if my colleagues and friends got wind of it and disdained me also, or just thought I was crazy.

Now, picture a conservative political figure, a member of the Republican Party — congressman, senator, senior staff employee. He (or it may be she) identifies with what class of people? People who live in small towns in New Mexico and plant corn in their front yards? No, he does not, even if he comes from New Mexico. This professional inhabitant of Washington identifies with people who graduated from important colleges, people who eat at stylish restaurants, people who know what positions the EU takes, people who consult for things called NGOs or serve on the boards of banks, people who spend Sunday mornings reading the New York Times, thereby representing the height of intellectual culture. He does not identify with Pentecostals, people who wear shirts with their names over the pocket, people who drink Budweiser, people whose factories are about to close, people who wait tables while they’re attending trade school, or any other people who voted Republican. The person I have in mind is burdened by a $2,000,000 mortgage, contracted because “there’s no other way to live in Washington.” He would rather die than come to the office in a Hawaiian shirt, or wearing a MAGA cap.

The people you dine with in Washington don’t care. They think it’s just the price of doing business.

This publicly concerned American may be a trust-fund baby, or he may be an incarnation of Jay Gatsby, the kind of person who wants to have been a trust-fund baby, but the effect is nearly the same. Status is all in all to him. In his mind, a veneer of culture (so called) and professionalism (so called) is worth a hundred times more than the world from which he came and the political values that allegedly summoned him to Washington.

If you’re a Washington Republican, you’re free to campaign against Obamacare or endorse schemes to reduce the deficit or bewail government regulation, so long as such advocacy is without prospect of success; the rubes back home may care, but the people you dine with in Washington don’t. They think it’s just the price of doing business. Your staff doesn’t care, either; they majored in Poli Sci like everyone else.

The question is whether you care. Maybe you did at some time. But now you find yourself in an embarrassing situation, because now you have the chance to do something with your political ideas. You have the chance to end all these government programs you’ve been promising to end. But you just can’t bring yourself to do it. If you think for a moment about actually, seriously, attempting to reduce the growth rate of the NEH or the NEA or Amtrak or anything in the government, you feel that if you did, you couldn’t face the people at the next cocktail party. You couldn’t face your interns the next morning — even if you’ve never succeeded in remembering their names. They wouldn’t say it out loud, but you know what they’d be saying to one another behind your back. You’ve heard them saying it about other people. “Knuckle dragger” would be the nicest term.

You can’t face that. What you are able to face is the mainstream media, which will always proclaim you a courageous statesman if you betray your constituents and your political party. After all, every proposal for change has something wrong with it. There’s always a Section F, Paragraph 14a, about which you can hold a press conference, declaring that you cannot, in good conscience, vote for a healthcare reform that would prevent the stepchildren of soldiers wounded in battle from receiving free measles vaccinations. The question isn’t whether the reform is beneficial, or whether your constituents favor it, or whether you and your party were elected by advocating it. The question is whether you lose social status or gain it. Which will it be?

Now you find yourself in an embarrassing situation, because now you have the chance to do something with your political ideas.

Like conservatives and modern liberals, libertarians tend to explain human behavior by reference to an extraordinarily short list of motives. The usual suspects are money, power, envy, hatred, and sex. The result is that these explainers of human life are continually perplexed by some very common human actions.

A notable instance is the inability of Congressional Republicans to pass any of the Republican president’s key proposals. It’s not that they fear a loss of power, campaign contributions, or bribes. If they voted their alleged convictions, they would gain immensely more power, and enjoy an immensely larger share of the money that ordinarily accompanies power. They might lose the contributions of the Chamber of Commerce, but it’s amazing how small most political donations really are. And they would get others, while avenging themselves royally on their envied and hated enemies. As for the sex motive, I’m not sure that it’s easier to get sex as a liberal than it is as a conservative, but I am sure that the ordinary person with pretensions to gentility would rather die than face the day when his daughter comes home from Wellesley and demands to know why, as her professors suggest, he’s a fascist.

If you’re in Congress, you’ll cling to your seat no matter what you do — you’re likelier to die before the next election than you are to lose it. But loss of status among the nice people you know, or do not know, would be unendurable.

Unless, of course, you actually believe in the political ideas you espouse. Probably, however, they’re just your way of gaining enough status to enable you to renounce them.




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Diddling While Rome Burns

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Your humble social media correspondent is troubled. For some time now, discord among warring libertarians has raged on Facebook, my own battlefield of choice. In just the past few days it has gotten uglier than ever among my own libertarian Facebook friends.

One friend — whom I also know personally — has gone on an unholy tear about the injustices of life as a tenant. “Rent is theft!” his posts repeatedly scream. I’ve always considered him a levelheaded person. I have no idea what’s happened to him. A lot of people are quitting him because he’s gone to a place so dark they don’t want to follow.

In just the past few days it has gotten uglier than ever among my own libertarian Facebook friends.

I know he leans far left. Like a lot of former statist progressives, he’s outraged about something practically all the time. He sees it as his personal mission to convert as many as possible of his comrades to left-libertarianism. I suppose you could say that he’s the Apostle Paul of that faction. But if all he has to give these hungry souls is more outrage and aggrievement, I think he’s offering pretty thin gruel.

In my previous essay in Liberty I alluded to the compulsion I see in so many people to dress up in fancy and heroic costumes. As this turbulence on Facebook was something I was already facing daily, I had it at least partially in mind. Almost everybody involved is between 19 and 25, looking for a girlfriend (or in some cases, a boyfriend) and hoping to appear edgy and revolutionary. I know I must be getting old, because the whole production is making me tired and cranky.

These people need to take a good, hard look around them. I can’t imagine where they’re getting the notion that our increasingly police-state and nuclear-faceoff world really cares whether they’re AnCap, AnSoc or AnCom. Their mothers might have cared, in a worried, “Do you have a tummyache, dear?” sort of way, and their buds at the dorm probably found it mildly engrossing over pizza and beer. But they’re supposed to be adults now, and they’re merely diddling while Rome burns.

We’ve all got a lot of heavy lifting to do if we are even going to budge this society in a libertarian direction. The blessed time when we might profitably haggle about what type of libertarian society we’re going to have — just exactly, and to a precise ideological point — is one that neither I, nor anyone reading this essay, will ever live to see. It may be as distant in the future as the American Revolution is in the past. In the meantime, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are standing for what is right and that each of us is doing our personal utmost to work toward that worthy goal. Ordering fries with that is simply not an option.

Where are they getting the notion that our increasingly police-state and nuclear-faceoff world really cares whether they’re AnCap, AnSoc or AnCom?

I’m glad to see so many new converts to the liberty movement, especially among the young, but I fear that few of them will persevere long enough to see their commitment through. I think it’s very likely that they’ll get discouraged by the tough slog, and end up returning to statism — a hefty part of the appeal of which is the promise of an order of fries with that. To switch metaphors yet again, we now find ourselves stuck in Siberia, but hope to row, in our huge fleet of leaky rowboats, clear to Honolulu. As we navigate the stormy waters between us and our destination, will they turn aside and end up shipwrecked on Alcatraz?

We’ll all just have to stay tuned. I know that I’ll continue to follow the soap opera. And I fully intend to persevere on our journey. I don’t needa side of fries — though there are some days when I yearn for an aspirin, the size of a hockey puck.




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Healthcare: More Is Less

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There was a time when insurance companies focused on actuarial tables while physicians focused on diagnosis and treatment. But not any more! Now insurance companies are raking in the premiums — double what they were five years ago for many customers — while doing everything in their power to reject claims. Patients are more afraid of the insurance agent than they are of the disease.

In the past month alone, my daughters have had four hefty medical claims rejected, including a medication prescribed to control chronic seizures and a gallbladder removal that was deemed “elective” by the insurance company! What is the point of buying insurance if you can’t use it? And how can the market respond to customer dissatisfaction when government regulation gives insurance companies so much power?

Insurance companies are raking in the premiums — double what they were five years ago for many customers — while doing everything in their power to reject claims.

I raised five active, rambunctious, rough-and-tumble children across three decades, and while I worried occasionally about their health and safety, I never worried about how I would pay for their healthcare. My relationship with insurance companies was straightforward and consistent. Our copay was consistent. Our deductible was consistent. If one of the kids was injured, I could call my favorite orthopedic practice without worrying that the claim would be rejected on the grounds of some esoteric technicality. When my daughter developed epilepsy, I was proactive in finding the right doctor, the right diagnosis, and the right treatment that has kept her virtually seizure-free for 15 years — until her current insurance company decided that the medication her doctor has prescribed for those 15 years will not be covered.

In the past five years, everything has changed. Suddenly it’s the insurance agent, not the physician, who decides what the patient needs by deciding whether it will be covered. Insurance premiums are so high that few families can save enough to cover out-of-pocket expenses, yet everything is becoming an out-of-pocket expense. My daughters find themselves owing nearly $15,000 in uncovered medical expenses in a single month — and they have insurance!

In the past month alone, my daughters have had four hefty medical claims rejected, including a medication prescribed to control chronic seizures and a gallbladder removal that was deemed “elective."

American healthcare, once the best in the world, is collapsing under the weight of over-regulation and crony capitalism that favors the insurer over the healer. Rand Paul, the only actual physician in the US Senate, has been locked out of discussions about healthcare reform. Let’s hope it all collapses soon, so the free market can rebuild from the ashes.




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Climate Change Wars

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Who’s right?

In the climate change controversies, the Left and the Right are at daggers drawn. The Left overwhelms with data, models, and prognostications warning of environmental disaster because atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased from an historic base level (by volume) of 0.03% to the present 0.04% — a huge percentage increase in raw CO2 levels, but a miniscule amount as a percentage of the entire atmosphere. The change, it is said, results from human activity, which must therefore be restricted.

The Right is skeptical of the data and how they’re gathered, often with much confirmation bias. It questions the models’ inputs and premises, and their ability to predict future conditions accurately. It accuses the Left of ignoring solar flare cycles, the possibility that earth is warming because we’re still coming out of the last Pleistocene ice age, and just plain old random fluctuations — the last three causes having nothing to do with human activity, which therefore needs no further restriction.

The Left overwhelms with data, models, and prognostications warning of environmental disaster.

But most of all, the dispute is about increasing government power. The Left’s solution to climate change is to put more controls on the economy. To the Right, this solution suggests an unnecessary power grab that would further restrict liberty and keep the world’s poor from pulling themselves up by their bootstraps — all for questionable results from reforms based on speculative premises.

The battle lines have been drawn along ideological lines, with science — both good and bad — playing second fiddle: most people just don’t have the knowledge or critical skills to evaluate the methodology and all the factors, conclusions, and opinions.

Fortunately, there is a third approach, one that relies on the Hayekian insight that markets are much better at analyzing all available data than any one individual, institution, or government (and I would include computers in that list) could possibly be. This is the approach taken by PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center, a libertarian thinktank dedicated to improving environmental quality through property rights and markets.

The Right is skeptical of the data and how they’re gathered, often with much confirmation bias.

It makes little difference whether the United States remained in or left the 2015 Paris Climate Accords: the agreed upon CO2 reduction levels were minimal, unreachable, and unenforceable. And despite the fact that carbon emissions from US power generation are at a 25-year low (thanks in part to fracking and cheap natural gas), “global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are steadily increasing and show no signs of slowing,” according to Shawn Regan, research fellow and executive editor of the PERC Reports.

Let’s admit it: solving the perceived problem of climate change on a global scale would be economically devastating, politically unattainable, and practically impossible. So PERC’s latest report focuses on adaptation, a concept heretofore deemed either taboo or irrelevant.

Al Gore dismissed adaptation as a “kind of laziness, an arrogant faith in our ability to react in time to save our skins.” Many others, says Regan, claimed that “focusing on adaptation would only distract from accepting costly carbon mitigation policies.”

Fortunately, there is a third approach, one that relies on the Hayekian insight that markets are much better at analyzing all available data than any one individual, institution, or government could possibly be.

But adaptation is the name of the game, and market forces are already at work — and have been for a long time, even though they’re seldom heralded by the media. As the latest PERC Reports (Vol. 36, Issue 1, Summer 2017) puts it:

Market prices send signals about local conditions that no central planner or scientific expert could possibly know. Property rights give resource owners the incentives necessary to adjust to changing conditions. If sea levels rise or crop yields decline, property owners have good reason to act — whether to invest in protections or innovations.

Some of the issues addressed by PERC’s scholars in the winter edition include how wheat production has, since the 1850s, adapted to a fluctuating climate (yes, the climate is not static); how wheat is increasingly being grown in harsher climates; how the global coffee sector is adapting to hotter conditions; how financial instruments are helping water traffic cope with the Mississippi’s erratic fluctuations; how free markets help cities adapt to climate change, through innovative designs in architecture and construction in flood-prone areas; and how urban growth — yes, urban growth — can do the same, through naturally occurring evolutionary redevelopments according to principles recognized by the late Jane Jacobs, doyenne and scourge of city planners. An analysis entitled “The Hole in the EPA’s Ozone Regulations” illustrates the way in which one-size-fits-all government edicts are prone to being gamed by those affected, and shows how an innovative contract in southern Arizona pays farmers to conserve water.

But PERC doesn’t limit itself to climate controversies. It is to environmental policy what the Cato Institute is to political and economic policy. All of PERC’s scholars are well-placed experts with impressive credentials.Two of its resident scholars are Liberty editor Randal O’Toole and water policy expert Terry L. Anderson, director of PERC and also a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Anderson is the author of a groundbreaking book, Water Crisis: Ending the Policy Drought (1983). I particularly recall the influence that his ideas exerted on Sam Steiger, Republican Congressman, water company entrepreneur, and policy expert, the first libertarian mayor of my city, Prescott, Arizona and the first Libertarian Party candidate for governor. Steiger’s over-5% vote tally put Libertarians on the Arizona ballot, seemingly for good.

Adaptation is the name of the game, and market forces are already at work — and have been for a long time.

But I digress. Other PERC reports focus on how privately organized, ground-up, rights-based fishing groups have evolved in Fiji, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, Northern Australia, Belize, and other places, protecting near-shore fish and near-shore fishermen’s livelihoods. There are PERC articles assessing the runaway costs of the federal government’s wild horse program, and showing how human-wildlife conflicts were mitigated when elk were reintroduced into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

One fascinating piece is an interview with and profile of Ryan Zinke, President Trump’s interior secretary, who arrived at his new job dressed in boots, jeans, and a cowboy hat, seated somewhat awkwardly on an English saddle atop a 17-year-old Irish sport horse ridden through the streets of Washington. Another is a contrast between the policies advocated by such environmental organizations as the Wilderness Society and the Audubon Society and the way in which they manage their own properties.

PERC’s analyses focus on politically achievable and practical ends. The organization’s style is thinktank noncontroversial. The appeal to libertarians is clear.




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The Importance of Showing Up

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In the wake of the horrendous massacre in Las Vegas, we have heard moving stories of heroism: a husband who was shot and killed while protecting his wife; a young woman whose vertebrae were broken helping others climb over a wall to safety; a young man stripping off his clothing to cover the faces of seven dead victims and helping a dozen others to safety; a stranger slinging a wounded woman over his shoulder as they ran for cover; a woman driving her pickup to the site in order to carry the wounded to hospitals; people lined up for five hours or more to give blood.

As the wounded begin their long road to recovery, they too will exhibit heroic efforts to regain their lives. Las Vegas, Columbine, Boston, Iraq, Afghanistan — the list of massacre victims has become too long to quote. We listen misty-eyed to their stories and praise them for their courage.

Coincidentally, two films opened this week with mass shootings as their theme. One of them, Super Dark Times, speculates on the events that create a mass murderer. The other, Stronger, is the subject of this review. It tells the story of Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and provided a description of one of the bombers that helped the FBI track them down.

Las Vegas, Columbine, Boston, Iraq, Afghanistan — the list of massacre victims has become too long to quote.

We expect our recovering survivors to be stoic and heroic — especially when they appear in movies. But more often than not, survivors are just normal. They cry, bicker, swear, and complain. Crisis doesn’t automatically build character; it reveals it. And Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is anything but heroic. A kitchen worker at Costco before the attack, he can’t even remember to take the chicken out of the oven before he takes out the trash. He is driven by an unwavering belief that his beloved Red Sox can only win if he watches the game from his favorite pub with a beer in his hand. He lives in a tiny fifth-story walkup with his mother Patty (Miranda Richardson), an alcoholic who is even more needy than Jeff. His girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) has broken up with him three times, primarily because he can’t get it together enough simply to show up when they have a date.

But on April 15, 2013, hoping to win Erin back, Jeff does show up — at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, bearing a homemade sign to cheer Erin on. And that’s how he loses his legs above the knee.

Erin shows up too, to shield him from his family and fans and to help him through his rehabilitation — and, yes, to assuage her guilt that she is the reason has lost his legs. But Jeff is a lousy patient, refusing to appear for the therapy sessions that are essential to building the core muscles he will need if he ever expects to use his prosthetic legs. Nevertheless, a sweet and painful romance develops between them.

More often than not, survivors are just normal. They cry, bicker, swear, and complain.

Jeff’s lowlife family basks in the notoriety as reporters and promoters come calling. Oprah! The Bruins! The freakin’ Red Sox! His mother is positively drunk on booze and celebrity. Jeff’s relatives don’t understand the trauma he experiences in open spaces, where he relives the horror of that sunny afternoon, and they consider it a personal affront when he doesn’t share their enthusiasm for public appearances.

“You’re a symbol, kid!” one supporter proclaims.

“Of what?” Jeff asks.

“Of Boston strong!” is the reply.

But Jeff isn’t strong. He’s barely coping. We see his struggle in the intimate moments that we don’t often think about when we’re turning our wounded warriors into heroes — taking a shower, taking a crap, dragging himself across the floor like a baby, unable even to crawl.

Stronger is admittedly a genre film, and as such, it’s reasonably predictable. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Jeff does finally discover the strength to show up, although it comes through a plot development that is not at all predictable. What keeps this film from being maudlin, despite its subject matter and its predictability, is the topnotch acting, not only from Gyllenhaal (one of the best actors of this generation) but from the entire supporting cast. The beautiful Miranda Richardson is frumpy and low-class as Bauman’s self-centered alcoholic mother. Maslany is believably conflicted as the girlfriend from a better side of town who alternately feels pity, revulsion, and love for this tenderhearted young man. The nurses, paramedics, and doctors are so perfect in their calm, take-control speech patterns that I had to check the credits to see if they were medical professionals playing themselves.

We see Bauman's struggle in the intimate moments that we don’t often think about when we’re turning our wounded warriors into heroes.

Eventually Jeff agrees to throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game, and he asks for a bit of advice from the catcher. “Aim high,” is the response. Those two themes of the movie — show up, and aim high — are good advice for anyone.

Two days after the Las Vegas bombings, Jeff Bauman sent a message of encouragement and hope to the survivors. He wrote:

To the victims waking up in a hospital right now wondering how life will ever be the same. . . . I know your pain. The most important advice I can give is to remember that healing your mind is just as important as healing your physical, visible injuries. It took me too many years and dark moments to realize that and it is so, so important. You will walk again. You will laugh again. You will dance again. You will live again.

Bauman has learned how to show up, indeed.


Editor's Note: Review of "Stronger," directed by David Gordon Green. Bold Films/Lionsgate, 2017, 116 minutes.



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The Preventables and the Deplorables

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Ayn Rand says somewhere that you don’t understand a specific concept or thing until you can state the general class of objects to which it belongs, and you don’t understand a general class until you can identify some of its specific constituents.

She’s right, of course. The problem is that people can, and commonly do, get the specifics in the wrong classes.

We all know Democrats who meet a Republican and immediately put him or her in the class of Bigots and Dumb Asses. And we all know Republicans who meet a Democrat and immediately put this nice, unoffending person in the class of Destroyers of the Republic. When Democrats or Republicans encounter a libertarian, you can see it going on, right behind their eyeballs — the classification process effortlessly identifying “nice young person” as “good example of the Naïve and Feckless Class.”

Whatever the gunman’s motives, it is difficult to see any way of preventing this kind of thing from happening again, except by holding all public events in a bank vault.

This way of thinking can damage the thinker, as it did when Hillary Clinton naively and fecklessly put many of her potential voters in the “basket of deplorables.” More often, it damages society at large.

We live in a time and place when a vast range of specific problems are automatically put in the class of Things that Can Be Prevented, which is considered equivalent to the class of Things that Should Be Prevented, No Matter What.

The latest example is the horrible massacre at Las Vegas. Whatever the gunman’s motives, it is difficult to see any way of preventing this kind of thing from happening again, except by holding all public events in a bank vault. But before the victims’ blood could be wiped from the streets, talk turned to the question of how to, in effect, construct the bank vault.

I hope that means of putting cancer, insanity, and sheer stupidity in the Can Be Prevented category will ultimately be discovered, but they haven’t been discovered yet. And before you discover a means of prevention, your attempts at prevention are bound to be both feckless and destructive. In fact, if we keep going in this way, we will soon be unable to think, because the only classes of concepts we will have in our brains will be (A) The Preventables and (B) The Deplorables who “refuse” to prevent them.




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