Saturday, 26 January 2008

Twenty Years Ago

1-26-88 . . . Tonight, during a routine interview with presidential candidate George [Herbert Walker] Bush, CBS news anchor Dan Rather asked about Bush’s role in the Iran-Contra fiasco. Bush complained, saying that he was there to discuss current issues, not past involvement in administrative affairs. Rather, however, pushed on, asking question after question about whether Bush knew that arms were being traded for hostages. It got to the point where Rather badgered Bush, which prompted this exchange. Bush: “How would you like it if I judged your entire career on the basis of those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York?” Rather: “We’re talking about you, Mr Bush, not me.” (Bush was referring to an incident in which Rather left the CBS news desk in a huff.) Bush’s remark was clearly irrelevant, but he knew that he could score points with the viewing audience by attacking Rather, who is thought to be a liberal sympathizer. Later, Bush described the interview as “tension city”. In fact, it may have been planned. During a campaign, candidates will do just about anything to get attention. [So will journalists.]


Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Tour Down Under.


Nobody knows who runs this website. It may be Hillary Clinton herself; it may be one of her henchmen, such as Sidney Blumenthal; or it may be a rabid supporter with no connection to her campaign. The author of this post calls Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (founder of Daily Kos) “Head Kook” and his followers “Kooks.” Now, I happen to agree that they’re kooks, but I’m surprised that someone who wants Hillary to be elected president would go out of his or her way to antagonize them. Won’t she need their support if she’s nominated?

Jonathan Wolff on Liberty and Property

Let us consider, for a moment, whether accepting the value of liberty has any consequences for the question of distributive justice. How should a liberal society distribute property?  Opinions differ widely. One tradition, following Locke, supposes that valuing liberty requires the recognition of very strong natural rights to property. In the libertarian development of this view—the most eloquent presentation of which is Anarchy, State, and Utopia, published in 1974 by the Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick (1938-2002)—these rights are so powerful that the government has no business interfering with them. The government in Nozick’s ‘minimal state’ has the duty to enforce individual property rights, but may not tax individuals beyond the level required for the defence of the citizens against each other and foreign aggressors. In particular, on this view, the state violates individual rights to property if it attempts to transfer property from some (the rich) to others (the poor). Distribution is to be left to the unimpeded free market, gifts, and voluntary charitable donations.

The libertarian, then, tries to argue from the value of the liberty of the individual to a very pure form of capitalism. In effect, this places an individual’s property within his or her ‘protected sphere’ of rights, where no one else, government or individual, may interfere without consent.

An opposing view points out that libertarianism is bound to lead to vast inequalities of property, which in turn will have a detrimental effect on the liberties—or at least the opportunities—of the poor. This view, welfare liberalism, argues that property must be redistributed from the wealthy to the less fortunate to ensure equal liberty for all. Property remains outside an individual’s protected sphere, and the government has the duty to supervise and intervene where necessary (subject to the laws of the land) to protect liberty and justice. The most important variant of welfare liberalism is contained in A Theory of Justice, published in 1971 (three years before Nozick’s book) by Nozick’s Harvard colleague, John Rawls (1921-2002). In fact much of contemporary political philosophy has been inspired by Rawls’s work, whether in defence of it, or, like Nozick, in opposition.

(Jonathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, rev. ed. [New York: Oxford University Press, 2006], 134-5)

Note from KBJ: Note the question-begging nature of the question, “How should a liberal society distribute property?” The question presupposes that property is not already “distributed,” i.e., that it is not already in the hands of individuals. It has somehow gotten into the hands of agents of the state, whose job it is to “distribute” it in accordance with some exogenously specified principle. Conservatives must resist this rhetorical sleight of hand. The appropriate question, to a conservative, is not how to distribute property but whether there is justification for unsettling or disrupting the existing distribution of property, which is presumed to be acceptable. To a conservative, the status quo needs no defense. What needs defense is its alteration.

Note 2 from KBJ: The expression “gifts, and voluntary charitable donations” is quadruply redundant! About all that’s missing is the word “free” in front of “gifts.”

John McCain

Stephen F. Hayes gets it (which is not to say that he agrees with it). I don’t know how any self-respecting conservative can support John McCain, financially or otherwise.

John Edwards

I’ve been saying this for more than 30 years, during most of which I was at odds with him, but nobody writes like William F. Buckley. May he regale us with his stylish wit for many more years!

Addendum: Just to see who’s on the same wavelength as I am, which part of Buckley’s essay made you laugh?


The New York Times has a new term for illegal aliens: “nonlegal residents.” Keep in mind that this is a news story, not an opinion piece.


No wonder SEC teams do so well in bowl games. They cheat.

Addendum: See here for the Hall of Shame.

Holmes on Homes

Has anyone seen this television program? Just past midnight this morning, as I was fixin’ to go to bed, I happened upon Holmes on Homes on one of the Discovery channels. I had never so much as heard of it. It’s about a man (Holmes, I guess) who repairs and remodels people’s houses. I think the idea is that he corrects other people’s mistakes. From the moment I changed the channel, I was transfixed. My own mechanical skills are laughably deficient, so everything I was seeing amazed me. They’re tearing out floor tile and replacing it with hardwood! They’re tearing out a wall! They’re putting in a bathtub! They’re rewiring the living room! They’re putting in bookshelves! Many of you would be bored by these things, but not me. When the hour-long program ended, at one o’clock, I was delighted to see another episode come on. I watched it. At two o’clock, a different program came on, so I went to bed, my head filled with images of electric screwdrivers, sanders, crowbars, table saws, and paint rollers. I’m going to find out when this program airs and watch it religiously. My aim is not to learn anything, because I probably won’t. It’s to enjoy watching things being repaired by someone who cares about making it right.

Addendum: Here is information about Mike Holmes. By the way, my stepfather, Jerry, is a master carpenter. I helped him work on our house (in Michigan) many times while I was growing up. Somehow, nothing “took.” My three brothers (one older, two younger) are also master carpenters. Any one of them could remodel a kitchen. My greatest claim to fame is replacing the guts in a toilet. How come I didn’t acquire their knowledge and skills? What the hell happened?

Addendum 2: Here is a nine-minute video clip that shows you what the program is like.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

I believe that your editorial support for John McCain as the Republican primary choice is a serious mistake (“Primary Choices: John McCain,” editorial, Jan. 25). He supports the most conservative aspects of the Republican right wing.

He is in favor of making permanent the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest; he is opposed to women’s right to choose; he spoke out against torture of detainees, but quietly retreated when President Bush persisted with unlawful torture.

The most serious problem that Mr. McCain would present as president, however, is his determination to continue the war in Iraq until we reach some vague entity that he calls “victory.” He is a militarist. As president, he would be a menace, keeping us in an unwinnable, bloody, costly war without end.

Finally, we need Democratic control of the White House and Congress to undo the damage that President Bush has done to our country. Why should The New York Times endorse any Republican?

Morton Wachspress
Pompton Plains, N.J., Jan. 25, 2008

Note from KBJ: The letter writer is unclear on the concept. The New York Times is not endorsing John McCain for president. The Times is saying that if (God forbid) one of the Republicans had to be elected, it would prefer McCain. This is compatible with not wanting McCain to be president.


The editorial board of the New York Times wants to reduce the abortion rate. Why? Is it because the fetus matters, morally? If so, then its interests must be put on the scale, and that means it’s possible for its interests to outweigh its mother’s interests. If fetuses count at all, they sometimes win.


You probably think I’m lying when I say that I don’t read Bob Herbert. I’m not lying. But today, the headline of his column caught my eye. Check it out. Isn’t it interesting how progressives, all of a sudden, have come to see what conservatives have been seeing for the past 15 years or so? The Clintons are power-mad and ruthless. Whether they would admit to it or not, they subscribe to the doctrine that the end justifies the means.

Addendum: This op-ed column by Garry Wills is pertinent.

Addendum 2: Jonathan Chait, who wrote the infamous essay “Mad About You: The Case for Bush Hatred,” says that “conservatives might have had a point about the Clintons’ character.” Note that he plans to vote for Hillary, if she gets the Democrat nomination. What does that say about his character?

A Year Ago



Here is another blurb from my latest long-distance telephone bill:

Tame Predatory Lending

Millions of homeowners face foreclosure in 2008 as their mortgages reset to higher rates. Much of the blame for the mess goes to predatory lenders, who lured borrowers with low rates, pocketed their fees and resold the loans to investors. Lenders were rewarded for pushing big loans on unqualified borrowers and now face no penalty if they default. The Homeownership Preservation and Protection Act would force brokers to ensure borrowers can afford mortgages they take and bar commissions for brokers who make loans to unqualified borrowers.

Note the terms “predatory,” “lured,” and “pushing,” each of which infantilizes borrowers. By the way, one result of depriving lenders of the benefit of their bargain is to put homeownership out of reach for many people. This is another example of progressive do-goodism.

Free Trade Again

Many readers are shooting from the hip. Holster your gun and listen. Free trade is a policy. As such, it’s an open question whether the United States or any other country should engage in it. (That’s what the debate about NAFTA was—and is—all about.) My first point is that free trade, like any other policy, has both costs and benefits. Still with me? I believe the costs exceed the benefits. When I say “costs,” I mean all costs, not just tangible costs. I’m concerned about such things as community, family, tradition, and culture, which are difficult or impossible to monetize. If you disagree with that, say so and explain why.

Let me now concede for the sake of argument that the benefits of free trade exceed the costs. My second point is that not everyone benefits. Many people do less well under a free-trade regime than they would under a protectionist regime. I care about the losers. Do you? Please don’t say that since the gains from free trade exceed the costs, the winners could compensate the losers and still be better off. Are they made to compensate the losers? If not, then why should it matter that they could compensate the losers? Does it matter to someone whose job was outsourced that someone else made a killing as a result of it? Does it matter to a community ravaged by unemployment that a community in some other country is now thriving?

Finally, I’m a patriot. Call me a tribalist if you want, but I care more about Americans—my people—than I do about nonAmericans. I don’t care one whit that free trade improves the lot of people in other countries. I care about Americans, their communities, their families, our traditions, and our culture. And as between wealthy Americans and working-class Americans, I care more about working-class Americans. In other words, I’m not an impartialist. (You aren’t, either, since you give more weight to your children’s interests than you do to your neighbor’s children’s interests.)

Please note that all of these claims are evaluative in nature. Some idiot wrote to say that he knows more about economics than I do and is going to teach me. Leave aside the insult (which is why I didn’t approve his comment), and leave aside the fact that I’ve published a scholarly article in economics. His comment shows that he doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I’m making value judgments. I’m saying that as between this bundle of goods and that bundle of goods, I prefer this one. I have now (in this post) told you why I prefer this one. If you prefer that one, so be it. Different people have different values.