Category: General

At the Volokh Conspiracy, Todd Zywicki looks at a new article by Zeljka Buturovic and Dan Klein in Econ Journal Watch which aims to “gauge economic enlightenment based on responses to eight economic questions.” Among other things, the researchers filter the survey results for political ideology. Zywicki’s highlights:

  • 67% of self-described Progressives believe that restrictions on housing development (i.e., regulations that reduce the supply of housing) do not make housing less affordable.

  • 51% believe that mandatory licensing of professionals (i.e., reducing the supply of professionals) doesn’t increase the cost of professional services.
  • Perhaps most amazing, 79% of self-described Progressives believe that rent control (i.e., price controls) does not lead to housing shortages.
  • Zywicki said that “the questions here are not whether the benefits of these policies might outweigh the costs, but the basic economic effects of these policies. Those identifying as “libertarian” and “very conservative” were the most knowledgeable about basic economics. Those identifying as ‘Progressive’ and ‘Liberal’ were the worst.”

    Volokh blogger Ilya Somin follows with a number of caveats about the survey.

    The study certainly rings true when measured against the economic pronouncements of “progressive” faith-based groups. As I showed in my review of Prophet Jim Wallis’ latest book, the religious left’s understanding of basic economic principles is pretty dismal.

    Blog author: mvandermaas
    Friday, April 30, 2010

    U·to·pi·a [yoo-toh-pee-uh]- noun – an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. The word was first used in the book Utopia (1516) by Sir Thomas More. The opposite of dystopia.
    ORIGIN based on Greek ou not + tóp(os) a place

    Last Exit to Utopia

    Last Exit to Utopia by Jean-François Revel

    Note, dear reader, the origin of the term “utopia”: the Greek root indicates that utopia is, literally, nowhere. It is not a place. It does not exist. Sir Thomas More, who first used the term, certainly never considered such a place to be realistically possible. And the truth of the matter is that anyone remotely acquainted with the reality of human nature and history must admit that we do not live in a perfect world, and that such a place would be impossible for fallen humanity to create.

    Anyone, that is, besides leftist intellectuals and politicians, who continue to insist – against the overwhelming evidence of history – that socialism can work, that indeed it must work! They argue, in spite of all the plain evidence against them, that socialist solutions are more efficient and equitable than market solutions, and that the classical liberal system that has created the most vibrant societies and powerful economies in world history should be at the very least reined in and subjected to strict scrutiny, and at most outright replaced by a “more humane” socialist system.

    Jean-François Revel was a French intellectual, a member of the Académie française, and one of the greatest French political philosophers of the 20th century, at least in the seemingly small branch of 20th century French political philosophy that wasn’t completely enamored of totalitarian schemes. Prior to his death in 2006, he penned a book called Le Grande Parade, which has now been translated into English and re-titled Last Exit to Utopia, in which he exposes the intellectual and moral failure of leftist intellectuals who have served as apologists for the brutal communist regimes that brought misery and death to millions in the last century, and examines the project that was undertaken by the left after the fall of communism to rehabilitate Marxist and socialist ideas.

    Revel was no stranger to this type of clear thinking; indeed, as early as 1970 (in an earlier work, Without Marx or Jesus) he was willing to completely dismiss the argument that Stalin had hijacked and warped the course of Lenin’s revolution by noting that “…Neither Lenin, if he had lived, nor Trotsky, if he had remained in power, would have acted any differently from Stalin.” He understood that the problems in socialist systems were not caused by people corrupting the system, but stemmed from the design of the system itself. He restates that 1970 argument in 2000 – this time with the benefit of retrospect – in Utopia, describing the state of affairs after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989: (more…)

    Blog author: ken.larson
    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    There have been many published articles lately about school curriculum, school performance, school choice, and the Obama dictates that are aimed at pumping more money and asserting more control of an already mediocre performing public school industry. In The Wall Street Journal, University of Dallas professor David Upham comments on a revised Texas school’s U.S. History curriculum that has been proposed and awaits approval. It’s caused a stir among the educrates but that’s partly due to a longtime feud between academic types and the parent types that are found on school boards when things are working as they were meant to.

    Teaching kids is supposed to be a family responsibility. At the least, schools were meant to be locally run with advice from elected boards from the community. Sadly, some school boards in the past – too many I think – have become entrenched with careerists and political types with their eyes on higher office or sinister agendas. Don’t believe me? Look at the resumes of some of your county, and state officials in various positions.

    Texas is a big, populous state and to put it crudely a major market for school books; and only a week or so before the WSJ article appeared, I saw another published piece in Education Week on text book content and publishing costs that suggested that innovative digital and online sources would allow greater flexibility in the fine tuning of content to a school district’s proclivity in telling a story – in the matter we are addressing here – the story of America. Many big city liberals don’t like having to take what a publisher gives them when the content reflects a pro-Constitution, pro-middle America mindset. And the reverse is also true.

    What is emphasized at school sometimes works to the disadvantage of the truth. I went to school in the 1950s and 1960s and one thing I’ve noticed in my post graduate work as a functioning adult is that The Progressive Era didn’t get taught back then. Woodrow Wilson was characterized as the hero of the innocuous “14 points” – not the promoter of a one world righteously enlightened order. And that story about FDR’s advisers – that some of them had met with the USSR’s Stalin and were strong advocates of collectivized farming – didn’t appear in any text books I ever saw: not in grade school, not in high school, not in college.

    When I watch ACTON’s film The Birth of Freedom – the part where Rodney Stark talks about being “taught the dark ages” – I nod in agreement. A lot of U.S. history and history in general has a thin outline as far as school texts are concerned. I was taught “the dark ages” too. Yet if they were so dark, how did the sea compass get invented; the plow, the axle, harnesses? Somebody must have turned on a light somewhere.

    As historian John Lakacs writes in the ISI volume A Student’s Guide to the Study of History, history is where we “re-mind” ourselves of what happened in the past. Unfortunately, curriculum choices and wrong emphasis has created at least three generations in The United States that need to be “re-booted” after some significant software downloads. (In that we’re taking Lukacs more literally than he had figured.)

    And it’s not just Texas that’s having curriculum battles. In South Carolina, a revised curriculum proposed by the academics was going to ignore American History before 1877 until parents started shouting NO when it occurred to them that 1877 is a convenient date to start only if you want to leave out the founding of the country and all the founding documents.

    One of the downloads in this re-minding project all families need to consider is another UD professor Tom West’s book Vindicating The Founders, wherein he takes on the misrepresentations of our history that are often promoted in today’s classrooms. In his chapter “Women and the Family” West does a good job of addressing the oft lamented despair of today’s feminists concerning women’s rights during the Colonial period. West’s is an explanation that considers times long past and relies on the reader’s understanding of human nature and the context in which society functioned.

    Then, the family was a unit of special and particular value for which there was an ideal example – Adam and Eve. A husband was a protector, a provider. A wife was the nurturing partner who bore and raised children and knew how to shoot when his absence required it. They had become “one flesh” in the sacrament of marriage and made decisions as a unit within God’s ideal. Voting and property and “rights” were bound to that ideal. It’s understandable for those times, but today….

    May 9th is coming up fast. It’s Mother’s Day just in case you needed a re-mind-er. There’s a Father’s Day too. They are meant to be family celebrations, not phone calls to two different area codes or glances at photos of people you never got to know.

    So much for rights.

    Blog author: ken.larson
    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    Last night I got a phone call from a polling organization that wanted to ask me some questions about local “upcoming elections and issues.” I listened to the introductory remarks politely but soon found myself persuaded to ask a question.

    “Where are you calling from?”

    If you don’t have call blocker, or an answering machine and still pick up your phone from time to time, you likely have listened to “Tina” or “Amy” from a remote area of Bombay or a Manila suburb try to sell you a re-financing deal or a scheme to eliminate your credit card balance. I can’t help but engage these callers and usually, indiscriminately ask them from where they’re calling.

    “South Dakota,” the young male voice answered.

    Hmmmm, I wondered. “How long have you been working for this company?”

    “Two months,” he replied.

    “Well, I can barely understand you, so please speak clearly.”

    We agreed to continue and I was told it would take 13 minutes. The questions were all over the place, and it became clear that the young man was unfamiliar with how to pronounce some of the names of persons, places and things he was asking me about. Do you “support; very strongly, strongly, not very strongly, not at all.” It went well enough until he got to a question that required him to say the word incumbent. He fumbled it a couple of times but I was able to understand what he was trying to pronounce so I interrupted.

    “In-cum-bent,” I said slowly. Then I asked him if he knew what the word meant.

    “No, I’m sorry, I don’t,” he replied shyly.

    “How old are you?” I asked.

    “Eighteen,” he replied.

    “Are you in high school?” I asked.

    “I’m a freshman in college,” he replied boldly.

    I told him to listen carefully and took the next minute to define what an incumbent was and relate the word to the work he was doing in polling potential voters as to questions of whom they would support or vote for in the upcoming elections. I added that at eighteen years of age he was likely to be an eligible voter and knowing what the word incumbent meant seemed to me a minimal necessity of his civic duty. I also told him to take the script home and practice reading it more smoothly, and finding out what words like incumbent meant.

    I told him to improve his skills and maybe he could be advanced at the little company he was working for. It was good advice.

    But I wondered as I hung up the phone, as you may be wondering now. How many 18 year olds like this voted in November 2008.

    The family friendly Movieguide published my review of Michael Moore’s trashing of the market economy, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Excerpt:

    Perhaps the most egregious bit of manipulative effort Moore displays in his latest attempt, which by all reports has failed miserably at the box office, is his attempt to use religion, in particular the social teachings of the Catholic Church, to grant an imprimatur to his un-nuanced critique of the business economy.

    Having come out of his Catholic closet (who knew Moore ever considered himself a serious Catholic?), he enlists Catholic priests (among them two bishops!) to lend credibility to an unequivocal denunciation of capitalism as intrinsically, irrevocably and wholly evil. The problem is, that one of the priests and one of the bishops have no standing in the Catholic Church. The one “bishop”, James Wilkowski, is neither a Roman Catholic bishop nor even a Roman Catholic, but rather a member of something called the “Evangelical Catholic Church.” The man identified as the priest who performed Mr. Moore’s marriage is not listed in the US Directory of Catholic priests.

    The other two clerics are indeed priests, both being from the most left-wing extreme of the Catholic Church. They are certainly entitled to their opinions, but the opinions they offer in the film are far from representative of the official position of the Church.

    Read “Socialist Lies Sink to a New Low” on MovieGuide.

    A very good piece on taxation, income inequality and fairness in today’s Wall Street Journal by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. Brooks, a frequent guest speaker at Acton events, is also author of “The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future”, forthcoming from Basic Books in June. Watch for the review on the PowerBlog soon.

    Simple facts about our tax system do not support the contention that it is “unfair” in favor of the rich. According to the most recent IRS data, the top 5% of earners bring in 37% of the income but pay 60% of the federal individual income taxes. The bottom half of earners bring home 12% of the income but pay 3% of the taxes. Today, according to the Tax Foundation, 60% of Americans consume more in government services than they pay in taxes.

    In sum: A large majority disagrees with the current administration’s redistributionist philosophy; believes the rich already face a tax rate that is too high; and disapproves of the fact that more and more Americans pay nothing in federal income taxes. So why do arguments like the president’s persist?

    The answer is that nobody wants to sound anti-poor, so we too easily concede the notion of fairness to those who define it as redistribution and criticize redistribution only because it leads to economic inefficiency.

    This is an error. There is nothing inherently fair about equalizing incomes. If the government penalizes you for working harder than somebody else, that is unfair. If you save your money but retire with the same pension as a free-spending neighbor, that is also unfair.

    Read “‘Spreading the Wealth’ Isn’t Fair” on the Wall Street Journal Web site.

    Blog author: jcouretas
    Friday, April 9, 2010

    A reader sends on this fun video. Anyone know where can I get a bottle of this Dr. Utopia’s Ism elixir? Looks tasty. Is one sip enough?

    Blog author: jcouretas
    Monday, April 5, 2010

    First Principles, the excellent Web-based resource from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, has posted another “classic” from its extensive archive of journal articles, this one by Wilhelm Roepke. I’m snipping a kernel from “The Economic Necessity of Freedom” (Modern Age, Summer 1959) because it so succinctly and powerfully sums up why a moral framework — and our “highest values” — are necessary for a market economy that is not only efficient, but humane. These values flow out of the “classic-Christian heritage of Europe” and are rooted, for Roepke, in an orthodox Christian anthropology.

    … I came to see that socialism did not have the cure for our social ills, that indeed socialism was a heresy which aggravated these ills the more men acted on it. The economic “orthodoxy” according to which I adjudged socialism a heresy was historical liberalism, and with this liberalism I am quite willing to take my stand. What such liberalism advocates in the economic realm can be very simply stated. It holds that economic activities are not the proper sphere of any planning, enforcing, and penalizing authority; these activities are better left to the spontaneous co-operation of all individuals through a free market, unregulated prices, and open competition.

    But there is more to the matter than the advocacy of a certain economic technique. As an economist, I am supposed to know something about prices, capital interests, costs, and rates of exchange, and all of them supply arguments for free enterprise; but my adherence to free enterprise goes to something deeper than mere technical grounds, and the reason for it lies in those regions where each man’s social philosophy is ultimately decided. Socialists and nonsocialists are divided by fundamentally different conceptions of life and life’s meaning. What we judge man’s position in the universe to be will in the end decide whether our highest values are realized in man or in society, and our decision for either the former or the latter will also be the watershed of our political thinking.

    Thus my fundamental opposition to socialism is to an ideology that, in spite of all its “liberal” phraseology, gives too little to man, his freedom, and his personality; and too much to society. And my opposition on technical grounds is that socialism, in its enthusiasm for organization, centralization, and efficiency, is committed to means that simply are not compatible with human freedom. Because I have a very definite concept of man derived from the classic-Christian heritage of Europe in which alone the idea of liberty has anywhere appeared, because that concept makes man the image of God whom it is sinful to use as a means, and because I am convinced that each man is of unique value owning to his relationship to God but is not the god declared by the hybris of an atheistic humanism — because of these things, I look on any kind of collectivism with the utmost distrust.

    And, following from these convictions along the lines of reason, experience, and the testimony of history, I arrive at the conclusion that only a free economy is in accordance with man’s freedom and with the political and social structure and the rule of law that safeguard it. Aside from such an economic system (for which I make no claims of automatically perfect functioning), I see no chance of the continued existence of man as he is envisaged in the religious and philosophical traditions of the West. For this reason, I would stand for a free economic order even if it implied material sacrifice and if socialism gave the certain prospect of material increase. It is our undeserved luck that the exact opposite is true.

    Joseph D. Martinez, a 2008 alum of Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society program, produced a great video to introduce readers to my new book, Liberating Black Theology (now in the Acton Book Shoppe. Buy it here). Thanks, Joe!

    “Liberating Black Theology” book promo from Joseph D. Martinez on Vimeo.

    Blog author: mvandermaas
    Thursday, March 11, 2010

    Nicolae Ceausescu with his wife Elena

    Nicolae Ceausescu with his wife Elena

    It is a good thing from time to time to step back and remember just what it is that we who believe in the free society fight for each day. I stumbled across Michael Totten’s exploration of Romania – Twenty Years After the Fall of the Tyrant. With the passage of time, it is easy to forget – at least for those of us who never directly experienced it – just how suffocating and cruel the Communist dictatorships of the 20th century were.

    “Communism changed our mentality,” said Daniel Apostol, editor in chief of Romania’s Money Channel. “We are still fighting now to come back to what we were. We lost the culture of private property. We lost this sense of privacy and respecting each other’s time and respecting people as individuals, as human beings. That was the worst thing that happened to us. This is why we are struggling so much now to get back to the capitalist society, to the free market, which can run only if there is respect for private property…”

    Totten details the continuing consequences of totalitarian rule in Romania, and the country’s struggle to rebuild itself. All in all, a fine reminder to all of us who experience the blessings of liberty to never take those blessings – or the systems that were built to protect and preserve them – for granted.

    See also: The Architect as Totalitarian by Theodore Dalrymple