The Eclipse of Empathy

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Before you write, check your empathy. Even if you’re writing primarily to express yourself, you are also writing to inform other people, to persuade other people, to impress other people in the way you want to impress them. Empathy lets you do that. Empathy is the art of figuring out how your readers will respond to your words.

Like any other art, empathy has its tools and techniques. One of them, believe it or not, is a knowledge of standard grammar, diction, and syntax, because that’s what your readers use to understand what you mean.

Here’s a passage from an article in the March issue of The New Criterion — a good journal, but the copy editing is off and on. Adrian Goldsworthy is discussing the politics of the Roman empire: “Aristocrats remained nostalgic for the centuries when they had real power and political independence without ever really doing anything to revive the system.” Never mind what the difference might be between “doing anything” and “really doing anything”; think about when the aristocrats didn’t do it. Did they fail to revive the system while they had some real power (there’s that real again), or did they wait to fail to revive it until, to quote The Wizard of Oz, it was not only merely dead, but really, most sincerely dead? I vote for the second alternative, but why should I have to vote? Why couldn’t the author have foreseen my plight and worded his thought in this way: “Aristocrats remained nostalgic for the centuries when they had real power and political independence; nevertheless, they did nothing to regain them”?

Trudeau has never shown much empathy toward people who care about the meanings of words.

That was easy, wasn’t it? Still easier is the act of remembering that some of your readers are in touch with a dictionary, and that this technology is available to you, too. If you remember the dictionary, you won’t say such things as a Breitbart author said on March 19, while writing about Robert Francis (“Beto”) O’Rourke. “Beto” is a rich person who must be very bored with everything but himself and has spent his life looking for something to do — such as being president, or (wait for it) eating dirt. Yes, Breitbart reported, after O’Rourke lost his Senate race to Ted Cruz, he traveled to some mystic location in the Southwest where you can get some kind of dirt with “regenerative powers.” He got the dirt, and ate it. He also took some home, for other people to eat. Well, that’s odd. But what does our Breitbart author say? He says, “The strange antidote is one of several unflattering details to have emerged regarding O’Rourke’s past.” Empathy can teach us that there are some readers who know the difference between an antidote and an anecdote. Even politicians should know that some people — many people — are pedants like that.

Now, you wouldn’t know it from the American news media, but (I could follow that but with almost anything) for many days now, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, has been the subject of a terrific scandal. The issue in mid-March was whether he would let significant details about his alleged attempt to influence a prosecution come to light. The Conservative opposition used parliamentary tactics to force the information out, but failed to break through Trudeau’s apparent stonewalling. According to a March 21 article, “Trudeau said there has already been a ‘fulsome’ accounting of the scandal.” There is a big difference between full and fulsome, but Trudeau has never shown much empathy toward people who care about the meanings of words.

Some people have too much empathy with their audience, too ready an understanding of how people will react to their falsehoods, prevarications, stupidities, or inanities.

I need to add that CTV, which published the passage just quoted, apparently doesn’t empathize with word-carers either. Its report includes such elegancies as: “attempts over the several weeks to have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take further steps to allow [MP Jody] Wilson-Raybould speak further and in more detail about the scandal, [further steps to further speaking!]” “there’s since been two federal cabinet shuffles [ah! shuffles there has been],” and “Conservatives voted against every line item, which Liberals used to try to score political points on social media [using their own line items to score points, eh?], pointing out some of the government programs and services the Tories opposed. Though [look out, here’s a sentence fragment!], from the Conservative’s perspective [just one Conservative, I guess], their ‘no’ votes were to signal they do not have confidence in the government.” The CTV report was updated without correction of those remarkable phrases.

It must be admitted that some people have too much empathy with their audience, too ready an understanding of how people will react to their falsehoods, prevarications, stupidities, or inanities. Like good authors and speakers, they know how others are likely to feel, and they shape their words accordingly. As you know, Christopher Steele is the author of what is called, both by people who know the meaning of the word infamous and by people who don’t, the infamous Trump dossier, the document accusing Donald Trump of doing various weird things in and about Russia. Steele has been deposed in a lawsuit brought by a Russian whom the dossier accused of employing electronic means to disrupt the Democratic Party. Questioned about whether he verified the allegations in the dossier, Steele said, “We did,” and referred to “an article I have got here,” an article that was posted on a CNN website. He understands that many readers will think, “Well! There’s a CNN news report, and he’s got it right there! That’s good enough for me.”

But there’s a problem. The CNN webpage was just a bulletin board on which anyone was allowed to post anything. CNN itself posted signs on it saying that its contents were “not edited, fact-checked or screened.” So what did Steele have to say to that?

“Do you understand that CNN iReports are or were nothing more than any random individuals’ assertions on the Internet?” an examiner asked [him].

He replied: “No, I obviously presume that if it is on a CNN site that it may has [sic] some kind of CNN status. Albeit that it may be an independent person posting on the site.”

At that moment, Steele triumphantly reestablished his mind meld with the credulous reader. Such readers are impressed by apparent forthrightness — “No!” — and by the assumption that they themselves are too sophisticated not to know the ways of the world. Steele obviously presumed . . . Why, of course he did. We all would, wouldn’t we?

But there’s a problem. The CNN webpage was just a bulletin board on which anyone was allowed to post anything.

Who among us has time in our busy lives to fuss over the CNN status of something that is, after all, a CNN site? Not Steele! Not the reader! The reader, being a sophisticated man or woman, also understands what “albeit” means and, if not, can still pass directly on to a concept of which all forthright, independent readers approve, that of an independent person posting on a website. Of course he posted something! The reader probably posts things too! And why not? The problem with this world is that forthright, independent people post their brains out, without ever being recognized or believed. But Steele saw the truth in the independent person’s post — saw it, and believed it!

I wonder how many politicians, newspaper editors, television commentators, and news junkies have read the infamous dossier and actually believed it. Many of them cynically claimed to believe it, or part of it, or some deduction that might be made from it; but lots of them probably swallowed it whole. It was the right thing for them, and Steele had enough empathy to know that.

There is such a thing as selective empathy, the ability to put yourself in the minds of some people, though not of others. President Trump has made a career out of selective empathy. He doesn’t know or care how lots of people will receive his sayings, but he knows very well and cares very much how lots of other people will react. Whether that kind of empathy will win him the next election, as it won him the last, I cannot predict. But I can say that Hillary Clinton’s entire political life — and she has had no other life — demonstrates what happens when your empathy is too selective. Even among people who were certain to vote Democratic she aroused constant antagonism, and it wasn’t because of her “program” or even her personal history; it was because of her words, her tone, her manner of delivering her thoughts. This antagonism remained mysterious to her; she lacked the empathy to perceive its source. The only people with whom she empathized were those who thought her “deplorables” remark was, in the words of a Stephen Sondheim song, “another brilliant zinger.” Her circle of empathy included only people exactly like herself — uptight snobs who never talk to anyone except other uptight snobs.

Many of them cynically claimed to believe it, or part of it, or some deduction that might be made from it; but lots of them probably swallowed it whole.

Elizabeth Warren has the same problem, except that her circle of empathy is even more contracted. It was originally limited to the staff of the Boston Globe and some people in Cambridge who regard themselves as an intellectual aristocracy. But her long, insistently repeated series of “Indian” gaffes finally proved surprising even to them. They couldn’t empathize with the mind that could proclaim it was right all along about being Native American, because a DNA test purportedly showed a possible one-six-hundredth admixture of the appropriate “blood.”

Dimly sensing that something was wrong, Warren sallied forth in quest of the real America. She first tried to establish herself as a regular person by releasing a video that showed her drinking beer. Somehow that didn’t instill warm feelings in the breasts of average Americans. Then she took up the idea of ethnic reparations, announcing that she “loved” the idea of a congressional commission to study the matter. “I believe,” she added, “it’s time to start the national, full-blown conversation about reparations.” Another amazing failure: it was as if her words were designed to prove her lack of empathy. In a nation largely populated by people whose ancestors were nowhere near America in slavery days, or were here and fought to end slavery, the idea of reparations hardly evokes “love.” Maybe duty. Maybe fear. Maybe disgust. Maybe boredom. Not love. Warren had no clue about that. She also didn’t realize that the words national conversation have been used so much by people like her that to everyone else they now mean “orders from on high.” To refer to the national conversation, as if it were inevitable, merely confirms that reading. Nor did she realize that to most people “full-blown” sounds like something that happens when a gas line explodes.

Nothing can save the Elizabeth Warrens of America from their assumption that politics is a matter of policies and constituencies and one-sided conversations, bereft of the (to them) mysterious quality of empathy. And not only are they lacking in empathy; they are lacking in a knowledge of history. The American political landscape is littered with the wreckage of political careers, blown up when the pipe line of empathy failed.

The words "national conversation" have been used so much by people like Warren that to everyone else they now mean “orders from on high.”

In 1884, James G. Blaine (to his friends the Plumed Knight, to his enemies Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine) was running for president when he was done in by the lack of empathy of a prominent supporter, who described Blaine’s Democratic opponents as the party of “rum, Romanism, and Rebellion” — in other words by anti-prohibitionists, Catholics, and former Confederates. Those three groups proceeded to vote enthusiastically against him.

In 1912, former President Theodore Roosevelt, campaigning for a third term, proclaimed that “we [he and his followers] stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord.” The statement earned him a predictable derision, both from secularists, who were irritated by his sanctimony, and by religious persons, who knew what Armageddon was supposed to be (and it wasn’t the election of 1912). In 1967, George Romney, father of Mitt Romney and every bit as empathetic as his son, unintentionally terminated his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination by claiming that he had formerly supported the war in Vietnam because he was “brainwashed” by the military: "When I came back from Viet Nam [in November 1965], I'd just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get." The comment grated on everyone, including Senator Eugene McCarthy, who was even more distant from normal people than Romney was. For Romney, he said, “a light rinse would have been sufficient.”

In the presidential debates of 1976, Gerald Ford, intending to flatter Polish Americans by saying that their European relatives would not passively concede to communist rule, pressed boldly into the realm of idiocy by claiming that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford Administration." The Poles were not flattered. Ford lost the close election — to Jimmy Carter, who was soon to lecture Americans on the malaise that, he believed, had overcome their values. Although his “malaise” speech is supposed to have impressed people on the night it was given, it was one of those things that just don’t sit well with ordinary folks. Carter lost his own next election.

Blaine, Romney, Ford, Carter, Clinton, Warren, Theodore Roosevelt in his crazy years — all zeroed out by lack of empathy. And if you’re running a list, you can add Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, Richard Nixon . . . When you think about it, I guess you could say that empathy is good for writing, but lack of empathy is good for weeding.




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The Economics of Compassion

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America’s elite class would argue that the US economic policies of the past half century have been, overall, quite successful. They produced strong economic growth while supporting the ever-expanding role of governments (federal, state and local) in American society. Adhering to an ideology of compassion that was adopted by the Democratic party of the Great Society era, these policies reeked with concern for the poor, the marginalized, the little guy — often including poor, marginalized, little guys in other countries. Yet, even under the enormous fiscal drag of their profligate benevolence, the US economy performed as desired. Consumption and corporate profits soared, and GDP growth tripled. Our rulers no doubt admire their work.

But admiration from American workers should be withheld. For only the expression of compassion has reached the American working class. The revealed compassion for the average worker has been wage stagnation, and for many millions of displaced workers and their families immeasurable harm. Until 1973, wage rates rose with productivity gains; workers were rewarded for their efforts. From 1973 to the present, however, while worker productivity increased 77%, wages for the average worker increased only 12.4%. Gains for the top 1% of wage earners exceeded 150% during this period; those of the bottom 90% increased by a meager 21%. The reason, explains the Economic Policy Institute: “the fruits of their labors have primarily accrued to those at the top and to corporate profits.”

Prior to 1973, those at the top (let’s call them the old aristocracy), paid workers a wage dictated by the limited supply of American workers. Ironically, the old aristocracy had few, if any, compassionate policies toward its workers. In those days, compassion was the responsibility of individuals, families, churches, local charities, and community organizations. Nevertheless, wages kept pace with productivity gains. By 1973, those at the top (let’s call them the new aristocracy) had shifted the responsibility for compassion to government and large corporations. Through War on Poverty programs, hiring quotas for women and minorities, education and welfare reforms, and many others, and through the decline of labor unions, the new aristocracy emerged as the champion of the working class — while stanching its wage increases. It began paying workers a wage dictated by a large supply of foreign labor. Outsourcing jobs to, and importing labor from, Third World nations suppressed the wages of American workers and threw millions of them into chronic unemployment.

From 1973 to the present, while worker productivity increased 77%, wages for the average worker increased only 12.4%.

After 50 years of ignoring wage stagnation and its effect on American workers and American families, the champions are prepared not only to ignore its continuation but additionally to ignore the ongoing, frenetic wave of automation. Even as numerous studies (e.g., here, here, and here) predict that by 2030 automation could reduce the demand for US workers by tens of millions, the new aristocracy pursues policies (e.g., higher fertility and more immigration) to increase the supply. It would be hard to find a better prescription for suppressing wage rates and widening the income inequality gap. A study by the Council on Foreign Relations, which is hardly an anti-immigration or anti-globalist group, warns that “automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are likely to exacerbate inequality and leave more Americans behind.”

Leaving Americans behind is a core economic principle of the new aristocracy. As far back as 1992, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, by liberal historian Christopher Lasch, described the new aristocracy as a globalist, professional-managerial class that is cosmopolitan in its world view, and unlike the aristocracy that it replaced, holds only a weak sense of civic responsibility to its local and regional communities. Happy to internationalize the division of labor, it follows policies that have diminished middle-income America and condemned low-income America to a permanent lower class. Lasch lamented its rise to power, chastising its members for “turning their back on the heartland and cultivating ties with the international market in fast-moving money, glamour, fashion and popular culture. It is a question whether they think of themselves as American at all. . . . Theirs is essentially a tourist view of the world.”

This tourist view has shaped economic policies that prioritize the growth of GDP over the welfare of those who produce it, including the welfare of their families and communities and of American society. The new aristocracy professes its concern for American workers but treats them with disdain. In his 2012 book Coming Apart, libertarian Charles Murray discussed what he called the New American Divide, in which the common civic culture once maintained by the old aristocracy has been unraveled by the new aristocracy. In Murray’s account, one side of the divide lives in upper-middle-class suburbs, statistically represented by a fictitious neighborhood called Belmont. Its inhabitants have “advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America.” Its most powerful residents, our new aristocracy, run the country: “they are responsible for the films and television shows you watch, the news you see and read, the fortunes of the nation's corporations and financial institutions, and the jurisprudence, legislation and regulations produced by government.”

This tourist view has shaped economic policies that prioritize the growth of GDP over the welfare of those who produce it.

In contrast, the fictitious neighborhood of Fishtown represents working class America. Its inhabitants “have no academic degree higher than a high-school diploma.” They hold blue-collar jobs, low-skill service jobs, or low-skill white-collar jobs, if they work at all; the work ethic, along with the institutions of marriage and religion, plummets. Of the unraveling, Murray writes:

If you were an executive living in Belmont in 1960, income inequality would have separated you from the construction worker in Fishtown, but remarkably little cultural inequality. You lived a more expensive life, but not a much different life. . . . Your house might have had a den that the construction worker's lacked, but it had no StairMaster or lap pool, nor any gadget to monitor your percentage of body fat. You both drank Bud, Miller, Schlitz or Pabst, and the phrase "boutique beer" never crossed your lips. You probably both smoked. If you didn't, you did not glare contemptuously at people who did.

Little has changed since the publication of Coming Apart. If anything, the new aristocracy’s sense of civic responsibility has weakened. It glares even more contemptuously at Fishtown.

In his article “The Working Hypothesis,” Oren Cass asks, “What if people’s ability to produce matters more than how much they can consume?” and offers the hypothesis “that a labor market in which workers can support strong families and communities is the central determinant of long-term prosperity and should be the central focus of public policy.” Policies that have catered to “marginalized” identity groups and the cheap-labor demands of corporate America have failed to bring true prosperity to mainstream America. Without meaningful work at a wage that rewards the worker with dignity and respect, families suffer (if they are formed at all) and communities crumble. Who would marry a man who could not find a job, or one whose wages are so low that it’s not worth building a robot to replace him? Who would want to live in a decaying community overrun with unemployed and unmarried men, pacified by drugs and videogames, and unencumbered by civic responsibility? Writes Cass, “In a community where dependency is widespread, illegality a viable career path, and idleness an acceptable lifestyle, the full-time worker begins to look less admirable — and more like a chump.”

Yet this is the society that has emerged from the policies of the new aristocracy — an unraveled, divided culture in which any desire to rehabilitate the citizens of Fishtown has long since left Belmont. Equally shameful, it is a society that can find no productive use for tens of millions of its working-age adults. These citizens constitute an immense, chronically unemployed underclass that has been omitted from the political arithmetic of GDP growth because they have been deemed unsuitable for work: criminals, alcoholics, the homeless, the disabled, the suicidal, not to mention the victims of welfare dependence, family disintegration, and opioid addiction. Not that many members of this forlorn cohort are without responsibility for their predicament, but there are effectively no procedures to redeem their productive value. It makes better economic sense to replace them with clever machines and cost-effective foreign labor.

Who would marry a man who could not find a job, or one whose wages are so low that it’s not worth building a robot to replace him?

Indeed, mere replacement may not be enough. In a tasteless satire called “Only Mass Deportation Can Save America,” New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens recommends that to spur GDP growth “complacent, entitled and often shockingly ignorant” Americans should be deported. Why go through the trouble of making underclass Americans better citizens? Simply ship them out and order “new and better” upgrades: immigrants from the Third World. America’s criminals, academic underachievers, the unhealthy, infertile couples, and shockingly ignorant mothers (of out-of-wedlock children) are contemptible enough, laments Stephens, to jeopardize his deportation plan. “O.K.,” he comments, “so I’m jesting about deporting ‘real Americans’ en masse. (Who would take them in, anyway?)”

But aristocratic preference for younger, more fertile, harder working foreign labor could fade — as new and better immigrants are replaced by new and better machines. According to a recent Pew Research report, immigrants will constitute 100% of the increase in the US labor force between now and 2030. To a very large extent, however, the jobs that immigrants perform are the very jobs that, by 2030, automation will eliminate. For example, a 2016 Obama administration study found that automation-induced job destruction will be “highly concentrated among lower-paid, lower-skilled, and less-educated workers,” noting that “83 percent of jobs making less than $20 per hour would come under pressure from automation.” And the elite upper class will come under pressure to express its compassion for the millions of hastily invited immigrants who will then be herded into the underclass.

The idea that meaningful work might be important to the worker, and to American society, has escaped the new aristocracy, especially its members who inhabit America’s centers of economic power — hulking citadels for millionaires, hipsters, and tourists. In terms of consumption and GDP, they are the only cities that matter. Yet these cities are smothered by dense low-income populations, immigrant and native-born, and their diverse miseries. The new aristocracy is as oblivious to these miseries as it is to life in America’s heartland. It is not concerned that the economy that has enriched itself is headed to a lopsided state in which the number of unemployed exceeds the number of employed — the underclass outnumbering the chump class. Nor is it concerned that its policies have produced citadels such as San Francisco, where homelessness is rampant, “poop patrols” clean human feces from the sidewalks, and injection drug addicts outnumber high school students.

New Aristocratic preference for younger, more fertile, harder working foreign labor could fade — as new and better immigrants are replaced by new and better machines.

The new aristocracy should worry that working-class America will discover the hoax of liberal compassion. American gilets jaunes might take to the streets of Washington DC, the wellspring of policies that have relegated the working class to what French writer Christophe Guilluy would call “peripheral America.” In Guilluy’s view, while the globalist economic model produces much wealth, “it doesn’t need the majority of the population to function. It has no real need for the manual workers, labourers and even small-business owners outside of the big cities.” In France, as in America, the model is embraced by “celebrities, actors, the media and the intellectuals,” who are unconnected with life outside New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other economic juggernauts.

Chic liberal thinkers see no downside to the ongoing wave of automation. New compassionate polices, they assume, will surely be developed to help the many millions of workers — citizens of Fishtown — whose jobs will be eliminated. Displaced workers will be retrained; they will go back to school; and surely, this group will do better than the shiftless, slothful underclass that has already been left behind. But the new aristocracy, warns Guilluy, “needs a cultural revolution, particularly in universities and in the media. They need to stop insulting the working class, to stop thinking of all the gilets jaunes as imbeciles.” America’s imbeciles should heed Lasch’s warning that, with the liberal elite, “compassion has become the human face of contempt.”




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Trump and His Antagonists

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Republicans who have experienced Citizen Kane may remember the scene in which candidate Kane gives his big pre-election speech. It’s all about how much he hates the opposition political boss, Jim W. Gettys:

Here's one promise I'll make and Boss Jim Gettys knows I'll keep it. My first official act as Governor of this state will be to appoint a special District Attorney to arrange for the indictment, prosecution and conviction of Boss Jim W. Gettys!

Kane’s wife and small son are watching from the balcony. The son asks, “Mother, is Pop governor yet?” “Not yet, Junior,” she replies. And that very night, she destroys Kane’s political career. You can take Kane’s promise as tragic overreach or comic overreach, but it’s overreach of some kind, and it earns the ordinary reward of overreach, which is failure.

Trump is open to severe criticism in many respects, but the “evidence” that launched this investigation was always laughable.

That is what occurred with the attempt to indict, prosecute, and convict Boss Donald J. Trump, and Republicans (at least those of the non-RINO type) have every reason to celebrate. But this isn’t just a story about a Republican president who is now better “positioned” for the next election. It’s a story about the power of the modern liberal state.

Obama-era officials of the FBI and the Justice Department joined with RINOs such as John McCain and with employees of the Hillary Clinton campaign to accuse Trump of subverting the American electoral process. With remarkably few exceptions, Democratic lawmakers, journalists, and academics expressed a fanatical belief in Trump’s guilt. An investigation was demanded, with the obvious purpose of having Trump thrown out of office and, if possible, sent to jail. The investigation was undertaken, and staffed with Democrats and “pit bulls.” During it, people who were alleged to have committed crimes unrelated to the investigators’ charge were apprehended with police state tactics and prosecuted in an inquisitorial fashion. For almost two years, Trump’s dealings were zealously explored, with the apparent goal of discovering something, anything, on which a charge could be based. Nothing was found.

This outcome should not be surprising to reasonable people of any party. Trump is open to severe criticism in many respects, but the “evidence” that launched the investigation was always laughable. The accusations in the Salem witch trials were a good deal more persuasive. Yet for two years, respected lawyers and journalists, leading members of “the intelligence community,” and the most powerful officials of the Democratic Party insisted that Trump was certainly and obviously guilty. When the investigation turned up nothing, most of them immediately began inventing new ways of investigating and convicting him, making no secret of their intention to get something on him.

Gettys’ riposte to Kane summarizes the affair to date: “You’re makin’ a bigger fool of yourself than I thought you would. . . . Anybody else, I'd say what's gonna happen to you would be a lesson to you. Only you're gonna need more than one lesson. And you're gonna get more than one lesson.” The presence of opponents who keep making fools of themselves should gladden the Republicans’ hearts, and it does. The problem is . . . well, I’ll speak for myself. I don’t want to live in an America in which even the president can be subjected to relentless judicial and legislative persecution, replete with accusations of “treason,” a charge that carries the death penalty. I take this personally. I don’t want it to happen to me. It makes me sick to see that it’s not just about Trump; it’s part of a deadly pattern.

With remarkably few exceptions, Democratic lawmakers, journalists, and academics expressed a fanatical belief in Trump’s guilt.

During the McCarthy era, people were harried for being “un-American.” Then there was something of a national repentance over insubstantial but fanatical accusations. A few years ago, it all started again, only worse. The “liberals” revived the term and have used it constantly ever since. Of course it is used of Trump. But it is also used of people who are, frankly, just like you and me.

If you are a libertarian, you spend a lot of your time entertaining or even pushing ideas that are un-American according to “liberal” or “progressive” activists and their endorsers in political office — ideas about guns, ideas about freedom of speech, ideas about equal treatment of races and genders, ideas about historical objectivity, ideas about welfare and social security, ideas even about the climate. If you reveal these views, you are unlikely to get a job as a teacher, or to be able to speak on a college campus without disruption or violence. Should you somehow become influential, you have a good chance of being harassed by mobs or boycotts. Whether you are influential or not, you have a good chance of being banned from social media. If you are a student in most parts of the country, you will have next to no chance of learning the views in question, except as they are scorned and ridiculed by teachers or professors. If you are merely an American citizen wearing a red hat, you face the significant possibility of violence if you enter a “liberal” neighborhood. If you are a person trying to run a business, or just trying to get to work in a neighborhood targeted by environmentalists, you find your life increasingly restricted — though not as restricted as the life of an inner-city mother trying to raise her kids under the increasingly heavy weight of the “progressive” state, killing jobs, killing her children’s education, killing her ability to defend her children and herself from the institutionalized violence of the War on Drugs.

Some Republicans are too preoccupied with worship of cops and soldiers, or with their own opportunities to engage in crony capitalism, to care about any of this. Others are coming to accept it as a fact of life. But it is not a fact of life, and it is no minor development. It is an attempt to change America into a place where the “progressive” state has a monopoly of wealth, power, and influence. Trump is not the issue. This is the issue.




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Mirror Blind

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Each week, I prepare a packet of five cartoons that I submit to the editor of a newspaper group. The editor runs one of them. Back in 2012, two of the cartoons that were not published dealt with President Obama’s decision to defer the deportations of the “dreamers” and their parents.

The first cartoon showed two men walking in front of the US Capitol. One says to the other, “Well, you know what they say about power: Abuse it or lose it.”

The second showed an undocumented migrant being interviewed by a journalist at the border. Journalist: “Why are you migrating to the US?” Migrant: “Because in my country the president ignores the legislature and does whatever he wants.” Journalist: “So, why are you migrating to the US?”

I recently resubmitted these two cartoons, on two different weeks. Both were published. The rest were rejected. I think I’ll hold on to them.




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Something There Is

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“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall...”
                                                         —Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”

I’m far from convinced that a border wall is desirable. But the people who fulminate against it tend to be so insufferable that they push me into seeing the good side of it, if only out of sheer contrariness. I am sick of “progressives” lecturing me on bigotry. They’re the last people on the planet with any room to talk.

Supposedly, wanting a wall is racist. Though actually, it’s pretty racist to lump people who obey the law — including immigration laws — together with those who don’t, based on nothing but skin color. Do “progressives” think that for those south of the border, criminality is the norm? Most of those trying to reach this country hope to leave the criminals behind them; they don’t appear to be in favor of letting everyone in.

These United States have held together as long as they have not only because they permitted compatible people to live together, but because they let incompatible people live apart.

Walls don’t only divide. They also unite. Good neighbors on each side of them are usually glad they’re there. A wall lets you be you, and me be me. Forcing people to put up with one another does nothing to help them get along.

People don’t all want the same things out of life. These United States have held together as long as they have not only because they permitted compatible people to live together, but because they let incompatible people live apart. I am a Westerner, born and bred. There is little chance I’d ever move East of the Mississippi, and I would appreciate it if people from those parts stopped trying to turn Arizona into Massachusetts or New Jersey. People north of the Mexican border can be forgiven for not wanting the US to become Mexico, Guatemala, or Venezuela.

It is not racist to want to separate oneself from violent and lawless people, or even from those whose way of life vastly differs from one’s own. Nor is it racist to prefer the company of those who want to preserve our way of life and can be trusted to do us no harm. There should be ways to make sure that people stop before they enter the country — actually stop — so we can see whether they will affirm our way of life as other immigrants have done. Though I think the wall would be unnecessary and excessively expensive, I do understand the reasons why a fair number of Americans want one. To dismiss them all as racist is irrational and intellectually dishonest.

I have lived around Hispanic Americans all my life. On the whole, I like them. They are a part of the culture of my home state, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere they weren’t welcome. I don’t associate those I know with human traffickers, drug smugglers, or murderers. People who make such a general association are racist, and no matter how much they may project their guilt onto others, the definition fits.

Though I think the wall would be unnecessary and excessively expensive, I do understand the reasons why a fair number of Americans want one.

But people who emigrate to the United States should be amenable to our culture. Not everyone who comes to our country respects it, or wishes to live a life compatible with our ideals. Education by state-run schools tends to indoctrinate the young into a reliance on the state to solve all social problems. I stand equidistant from those who want a border wall and those who want open borders.

Among those opposed to a wall, I strongly suspect there are many for whom that viewpoint’s primary attraction is that they want to be as different as possible from people who want one. Libertarians are divided on the issue, depending on whether they believe freer movement between countries is worth the risk of cultural decay. The problem is that as our culture decays, a commitment to liberty erodes along with it.

Libertarians have a tremendous stake in the promotion of what has traditionally been called American culture. We have no reason to assume that if we throw the gates open wide, all of those who stream in are going to respect liberty, individual responsibility, or what we hold to be basic human rights. We need to stand firmly for the values we hold dear.

I’ve been asked several times to run for office. I refuse to do that, because I’d run as a libertarian — which means that I would lose. The world doesn’t need any more politicians, but it needs every libertarian it can get.

Race and culture are frequently confused. Those who love liberty and individual responsibility are accused of racism — as if only people of white European ancestry can be assumed to care about such things. But it’s definitely racist to attribute particular ideas to certain races. A nonracist — and truly libertarian — policy would be to preserve and promote our culture, both in our immigration policies and in the education of our own citizens.

The world doesn’t need any more politicians, but it needs every libertarian it can get.

We don’t need a wall, but we do need something. Good fences do make good neighbors, but if I dislike the idea of Arizona becoming New Jersey, I hate even more the possibility that it might become East Germany. With or without an actual wall, a police state mentality is poisonous.

So, what is that “something?” What influence can we exert (“control” may be too strong a word) over who comes to the United States and why? And how can we do this if we don’t win elections and seize power?

We can refuse to call people racist when they express concern over what is happening to our culture. We can also take a greater interest in what is taught in our schools. We may not like the fact that most of them are taxpayer-funded, but as long as we are among those funding them, we have not only a right, but also a duty to insist that an appreciation for Western civilization is being inculcated. In the foreseeable future, most kids will continue to be educated in public schools.

If I dislike the idea of Arizona becoming New Jersey, I hate even more the possibility that it might become East Germany.

Liberty, societal stability, and the protection of natural rights answer common human yearnings. There are people in all cultures who do not have these yearnings, but there are also people who do. “Freedom has many difficulties,” noted President Kennedy, “and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us.”

If we don’t continue to stand for freedom here at home, the time will come when those who oppose a wall to keep immigrants out will indeed need walls to keep us in. We owe it to Americans of every race and generation to make sure that those who come to our country to escape hell aren’t bringing it along with them.




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The True Scandal of College Admissions

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Around the Ides of March, the college admissions scandal became America’s most popular news story. Many people were surprised, and very unhappily surprised, to learn that there was widespread cheating on college admissions. As someone who teaches in a college, I was shocked, but not surprised. I’ll tell you why.

A few years ago, I enjoyed one of my few social encounters with the very rich. I was invited, along with several other faculty members, to a country club lunch for graduating seniors from the town’s best prep school. The food was pretty good, and the people — the students and their parents — were very nice. There was no agenda, but the topic of conversation soon became the terror gripping both parents and children — the hideous, enormous, overwhelming fear that the kids wouldn’t get into college. All of them were applying to seven or eight schools, including one or two C-rate schools in case they were rejected by the better ones.

I reminded everybody that the kids were attending a high school with a great reputation, and that (as I had been told) they had good grades and high test scores, so of course they’d get into a good college. My words did nothing to dispel the terror, which was irrational and obsessive. It was as if the kids had cancer and were desperately trying to find a doctor — any doctor — who could cure it. The possibility that the cancer didn’t exist meant nothing at all.

In our time, the idea of college inspires unnatural respect and, consequently, unnatural anxiety. The students I met at the country club were well motivated; they would probably do well in college and get some intellectual benefit from it — if they and their parents could ever relax for a moment and indulge a bit of intellectual curiosity. But what shall we say of the millions of other kids who have no purpose in attending college except to receive a credential of purportedly exalted social status? They are wasting their time; the credential is false. It’s a credential awarded for nothing but showing up — as is particularly evident in the millions of instances in which the college itself, whether “noted” or not, is merely a degree mill; the courses passed are such as anyone can, and will, pass, addressed to subjects that are not worth knowing, and taught by professors who spend half their time in political agitation and the other half burnishing their resumes with absurd or empty “publications.”

America is a country that provides commencement ceremonies for kids who graduate from kindergarten — complete with tiny diplomas testifying to the fact that, yes, praise God, they made it! America is a country in which orgies of tearful congratulation are lavished on the “long, hard work” of young men and women who manage to leave high school without knowing how to read or write. America is a country that annually bestows upon higher education approximately two-thirds of a trillion dollars, the majority of which is spent on the production of credentials that are significant only because Americans assume that you are not significant without one.

In this context, the fact that a few (all right, a lot of) parents are willing to spend a fortune bribing colleges to admit their offspring, without any concern for the offspring’s desires or talents, or for the ethics of buying a status that is meaningful only if it results from intellectual achievement — no, that fact should not be surprising. Taken as a sign of the national mentality, however, it is certainly shocking, and still more shocking when one hears politician after politician proposing that the imaginary glory of attending college be passed out free, to all, like the shopping ads that cram your mailbox. America is now a place where everyone demands certification, even if it is the kind of certification that anyone — anyone, that is, with any values — should recognize as utterly and obviously bereft of meaning. Yes, that’s shocking, but at this point it is also quite predictable.




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Got Wolves?

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An environmental outfit named the Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit endeavoring to prevent the national administration from removing gray wolves from the endangered species list. It goes farther. It insists that a “comprehensive recovery plan” be provided for “gray wolves nationwide.” The group notes that “wolves are still missing from more than 90 percent of their historic range in the lower 48 states, and the Endangered Species Act, and common sense[!] tell us we can't ignore that loss. We’re doing all we can to make sure Trump officials fulfill their obligation to restore wolves in key habitats across the country.”

Well. According to Wikipedia, which is not always the arbiter of truth but in this case seems likely (to apply the words of Margo Channing, used in a slightly different context) to be as trustworthy as the World Almanac, there are 50 or 60 thousand wolves in Canada, six or seven thousand in Alaska, and insignificant numbers in other parts of the United States. I think wolves are pretty cool — until you run into one — but this is no endangered species. It is one of many species that environmentalists have singled out, not for preservation, but for universalization.

The “historic range” of the gray wolf is pretty much all of non-tropical North America. The reason why it isn’t roaming free in Cincinnati is mainly that it is a predator on other animals, chiefly the animals that humans use for food. The gray wolf is anathema to farmers and stockmen, and if they find a wolf, they will kill it, law or no law.

They have more common sense than the citizens of a wealthy San Francisco suburb who kept discovering that they had a coyote problem when little kids saw the animal(s) stalking their pets. When the remains of a deer were discovered on the grade-school playground, the doting parents almost unanimously came out in favor of . . . Guess what? Protecting their kids? No. They came out in favor of letting predators continue their predations. Why? “Because the coyotes were here before we were.” A friend reports that similar comments were made when a rattlesnake was discovered in a resort near Santa Cruz, and the mother of a small child came at it with a shovel. “Don’t kill it!” the chorus shouted. “We’re on its land!”

If Ayn Rand was ever right about self-sacrifice being vicious, this is the time. More vicious, intellectually, is the idea that someone or something has a right to be “recovered” back to the place where it used to live. Buffalos do not have the right to camp out on the streets of Indianapolis. Grizzlies do not have the right to eat dead mammals on the beach at Santa Monica. Even I . . . I am Scotch-Irish (mainly), but I do not have a right to be restored to my historic range in the western isles of Europe. My current home sits squarely in the historic range of multitudes of rodents, snakes, insects, and weeds, and I am fully within my rights to keep them from recovering it.

If you think otherwise, you don’t know how to think. If you demand that other people pay for your recovery projects, you don’t know how to live.

* * *

For other discussions of “extinction” and “endangerment” of species, see: “They Shoot Owls, Don’t They?”, “The Hoot-Out at the OK Corral,” “The Great Butterfly Diaspora,” and “Lies, damned lies, and the dodo” (p. 11–12).




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The Two Socialisms

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When I was in college, the selling point of socialism, communism, revolutionary activism, all of that, was something called “participatory democracy.” That’s what the mighty SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) stood for. That’s what the neo-Marxists stood for. That’s what all the “community organizers” stood for. The idea, endlessly reiterated, was that “decisions must be made by the people affected by those decisions.” No one talked about Medicare for all, or government-funded preschools, or government-mandated revisions of the environment. The idea was that centralized “state capitalism” was wrong, not primarily because it was inefficient, or even inequitable in its effects, but because its decisions were not “democratic.” They had not been made by the people affected by them. If it was inequitable or “slow” (i.e., inefficient), that was why.

Now we are witnessing an immense revival of “socialism,” led by Democratic Party opportunists and hacks. And it is all about laws that need to be made to increase the power of the centralized state. It is about giving professional politicians sole power over healthcare, housing, education, transportation, employment, qualifications for voting, and the possibility of self-defense — and all this without the tiniest hint that anyone except the Philosopher Kings who compose the Democratic Majority in the House of Representatives should be consulted. Participation? What’s that?

American “socialism” has shifted, in our time, from a demotic and “participatory” style to a rule-from-the-top dogmatism.

I have to be honest. I am a foe of “participatory democracy.” I do not believe it is optimal, in any sense, to give power over the individual’s existence to whoever happens to be a coworker, a fellow student, or just a guy who happens to turn up at a meeting. I find myself unable to decide whether a regime of little Red Guards is more repellent than a regime of Bernie Sanders bureaucrats arrayed, rank on rank and cube on cube, to decide what the width of my bathroom door should be.

But I think it’s worthy of notice that American “socialism” has shifted, in our time, from a demotic and “participatory” style to a rule-from-the-top dogmatism, constantly twisting in response to the whims of the politicians but always determined to enforce those whims.

I wonder whether any of the socialists have noticed this. Perhaps they are as ignorant of their own traditions as they are of economics or sociology, or respect for anyone except themselves.




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The Second Machine Age and Worker Creativity

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The United States is the most advanced industrialized nation in the world. Its economy produces the greatest GDP (total quantity of goods and services), doing so with the greatest productivity (GDP per capita). Rapid productivity increase through technological advance has been, and continues to be, the prosperous economic history of the US.

The present wave of technological progress (aka automation, which includes advances in software, semiconductor devices, artificial intelligence, and robotics) is accelerating the pace of productivity increase. That is, while automation is a tremendous gift that allows the US economy to produce more goods and services with less human labor, millions of workers will be displaced. It is incomprehensible, therefore, that the solution to a shrinking demand for workers is, apparently, to increase the supply.

As early as 2030, 39 to 73 million jobs could be eliminated by automation.

This shrinkage became evident at the turn of the century, when job growth, particularly among lower-paid, lower-skilled, and less-educated workers, fell into stagnation. According to MIT researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, US job growth has now become decoupled from US productivity growth. They believe that productivity growth will increase relentlessly, as it has since the end of WWII, but US employment growth, which had previously risen with productivity growth until 2000, will remain flat, as it has done so since 2000. The authors attribute the cause of the Great Decoupling to the rapidly declining price of digital labor relative to human labor. The dramatic economic and cultural implications of such automation is examined in their bestselling book, The Second Machine Age.

A recent McKinsey Global Institute study estimates that, by as early as 2030, 39 million to 73 million US jobs could be eliminated by automation. There are numerous other studies with similarly ominous predictions. The jobs that are most susceptible to automation are ones that involve routine procedures that can be performed by computerized algorithms. These include machinery operation, vehicle operation, fast food preparation, data collection and processing, financial services, and customer services. Well-paying jobs that can be obtained today with only a high school education will be the first to go. The jobs that will survive, and thrive, are those involving cognitive tasks, favoring occupations where skill and education are important. They will include engineers, scientists, medical professionals, and teachers. Luckily, they will include jobs for those who apply high cognitive ability and skill to actual work, such as carpenters, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, and welders.

Future jobs, the jobs that will be created by the 2nd Machine Age, will no doubt favor those educated in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines. Beyond these job types, it’s anyone’s guess. In a Harvard Business Review interview, Brynjolfsson and McAfee discuss three job categories that will survive automation. The first is “high-end creativity that generates things like great new business ideas, scientific breakthroughs, novels that grip you.” The second is deciphering body language. People who excel at “emotion, interpersonal relations, caring, nurturing, coaching, motivating, leading, and so on” will be in demand. Dexterity and mobility comprise the third category: because “it’s unbelievably hard to get a robot to walk across a crowded restaurant, bus a table, take the dishes back into the kitchen.”

Well-paying jobs that can be obtained today with only a high school education will be the first to go.

But it’s a pretty good guess that the jobs-of-the-future market will be much smaller than markets that followed any previous waves of technological advance. The number of high-end creativity jobs will be about the same. That is, the number of elites that currently hold such lofty positions is not likely to grow. Even if it did, say doubling, it would still be a statistically insignificant portion of the labor force. Similarly, it’s not likely that we will need a greater number of body language decipherers than we need today. Robot controllers will obviously be needed (e.g., to control fleets of driverless trucks and flocks of pilotless drones). And, of course, the demand for robot repairmen will skyrocket.

Elsewhere, things look bleak. Robots that serve up to 360 (basic to gourmet) sandwiches per hour are looming, and they don’t have to navigate crowded restaurants. Machine operator jobs will no doubt survive. After all, the machines of the future will need human operators. So the guy that ran the old machine that replaced ten workers will be retrained to operate the new machine that replaces a thousand workers. And even in occupations that experience an increase, the gains will be short-lived. For example, AI will eventually replace vaunted robot controllers. Technological advance is simply destroying jobs faster than it is creating them.

Why is it, then, that with a rapidly shrinking demand for labor, we need more workers? In an era of stagnant wage growth, an increase in the labor supply can only cause a decrease in wage rates. The standard answer is that the US economy must be infused with millions of young workers to support America’s aging population in retirement. That is, the working age tax base must be expanded to keep our intergenerational Ponzi schemes (aka Social Security and Medicare) from going broke. America’s declining birth rate, warns Lyman Stone, of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), “will likely have far-reaching negative economic consequences.” To stave off insolvency, Mr. Stone proposes a “fertility dividend” policy, where the benefits paid to retirees would be based, in part, on the payroll tax contributions of their children. Without some such scheme, “our long-term obligations will have to be financed with substantially fewer people (or, perhaps, substantially more immigrants).”

Technological advance is simply destroying jobs faster than it is creating them.

Our political leaders prefer the latter option: substantially more immigrants, including about 20 million working age adults projected to enter the US by 2030. It’s the only way to increase US GDP growth, say Republican stalwarts such as Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Larry Kudlow, and every Democrat worth his open-borders salt. As to the jobs of the future, education reform is their answer. They’ll simply transform the system that has, for many decades, failed many tens of millions of working class Americans, into a system that prepares students and retrains displaced workers for the millions of yet to be determined jobs that they hope will eventually materialize.

There is growing evidence that, over the next decade or two, tens of millions of jobs will be eliminated through automation. Many experts believe that technology has advanced to the point where an advanced industrialized nation can produce economic abundance with a paucity of human labor. Given this possibility, what responsible policymaker can conclude that the US economy needs more fertility and more immigration? Is he willing to bet that tens of millions of new jobs of the future will be created — jobs that will be accessible to working-class America? Or that our education system can be reformed to prepare students and retrain workers for jobs whose only currently known characteristic is that they will generally require greater technical knowledge, cognitive ability, and creativity than the jobs that they will eliminate?

Policymakers’ time would be better spent in contemplation of how American society can benefit from the prosperity that, thanks to automation, can be produced by a smaller and smaller labor force. For there is no evidence that a shrinking population is inimical to GDP growth in advanced industrialized nations. A recent study, “Secular Stagnation? The Effect of Aging on Economic Growth in the Age of Automation,” published in the American Economic Review, found “no negative association between aging and lower GDP per capita.” As one might expect, advanced industrialized economies with aging populations are the most likely to adopt automation. Indeed, “when capital is sufficiently abundant, a shortage of younger and middle-aged workers can trigger so much more adoption of new automation technologies that the negative effects of labor scarcity could be completely neutralized or even reversed.”

Is any reasonable policymaker willing to bet that tens of millions of new jobs of the future will be created — jobs that will be accessible to working-class America?

In the US, where capital is abundant, automation relentlessly propels GDP growth. If the projections of the McKinsey Global Institute, et al. are accurate, then by 2030, the US will produce more GDP with as few as 118 million, possibly as few as 84 million, workers — a truly remarkable feat of efficiency. The problem will be that the US labor force will then consist of 225 million working age adults. Those who clamor for more fertility and more immigration should explain their plan for the 39 to 73 million who will be waiting for the new jobs to open.

It had better be creative. At minimum it should include stipends for interim living expenses. One hopes it will include dexterity and mobility training. Nothing will be more important to tens of millions of former truck drivers, burger flippers, and farm workers than being defter than a robot. And those who are not drawn to body language deciphering, should bone up on their STEM skills.

Finally, no plan would be complete without staunch support for our best and brightest. These include many millions of students and displaced workers who will settle for nothing less than the envied high-end creativity jobs — the high-paying ones where you get to work on scientific breakthroughs and novels that grip.




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Cowboys and Other Ones

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