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On the Tempest in the Malheur Teapot

A few have privately inquired as to why I’ve been so uncharacteristically mute about “Y’all Qaeda”–the mob of yokels who courageously stormed and took possession of a remote federal facility southeast of Burns on a holiday weekend after encountering stiff resistance from two chipmunks and an irritated barn owl. I guess I’ve kept mum because, really, what is there to say about it? They’re idiots? They’re a barely literate, infantile rabble? I try to limit my comments to things others might find insightful, interesting, provocative, perhaps even amusing. What’s the point of stating the obvious?

The Hammonds, for whom this mob of numbskulls purports to speak, are unambiguously on record as wanting nothing to do with them, and with good reason. Were I ever to find myself in hot water with the feds, the last thing I would want would be the Bundy boobs and their cousins by homosexual incest as my champions. 

These yahoos aren’t patriots. They aren’t “constitutionalists.” If they’ve even read the document, I suspect it involved a good deal of skimming. The people who fought first for our independence, then to secure order from the ensuing chaos were a breed apart. They were loftily erudite scholars, deeply and broadly educated in the classics, eloquent, subtle and profound. Ammon Bundy can barely cobble together a coherent sentence, and he’s one of the ringleaders. One can scarce imagine how dim his followers must be. If one of these daft maggots could successfully hack his way through a single sentence of the Federalist Papers and emerge from the exercise with even a faint glimmer of understanding, I’d eat my hat. The Founding Fathers pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor for high ideals, their rights as Englishmen and other legal principles dating to and, in many instances, pre-dating the Magna Carta. They were well-versed not only in Aristotle and Aquinas but also showed obvious familiarity with relative contemporaries like Locke, Montesquieu and Blackstone. Many had a great deal to lose, and many indeed lost it all. Perhaps most importantly, they abhorred lawlessness; indeed, the Constitutional Convention became necessary in response to it. The states under the Articles of Confederation had become fragmented and ungovernable. If the Framers could be brought into our time, while they would likely view with alarm the myriad ways in which the federal government has broken free of the limits they intended to place upon its power, they would be similarly unimpressed with Bundy & Co.’s response. Such were the towering polymaths who birthed our republic. This “militia” is an agglomeration of children with small arms play-acting at being revolutionaries. They’ll overtax the septic system at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge HQ for a week or two until they get bored, the media stops paying attention, or they learn their wives back home have taken up with the dude two ranchsteads over. And who could blame them–he has a rented double-wide and only five pickup payments left.

It’s as a champion of gun rights that I’m particularly peeved by these bozos. If ever a group of people played right into the hands of those who delight in the “gun-enthusiast-as-silly-hick” stereotype, it’s Y’all Qaeda. They’re doing such a thoroughgoing job of sullying our image that it wouldn’t surprise me to find out the Brady Campaign or Handgun Control, Inc.–or whatever it is those pink twinkies call themselves these days–is clandestinely funding them. They’re doing nobody any favors and garnering ZERO sympathy from anyone who matters–e. g. anyone in a position to effect change that would benefit the Hammonds and many other Western farmers and ranchers who often find themselves similarly strong-armed by the feds. They’re alienating anyone whose sympathetic impulses might have favored the Hammonds, but who may have needed additional persuasion to become true believers. Indeed the Hammonds, who truly are victims of unjust, overreaching laws and crusading prosecutors, gain not a groat from this. To me, that’s the real bummer of this whole disturbance of the peace: Y’all Qaeda is drawing the focus away from those on whose behalf it claims to be taking a stand. If these noisome gomers really cared about the Hammonds, they’d be raising funds to help the two men’s wives get by while they’re in prison, or to hire the best lawyers available for further appeals, or to lobby for legal changes. But hey, let’s face it–grabbing your rifle and pretending you’re a badass is way more fun. At least right up until actual blood starts spilling.

The Six Rules

Understanding basic economics means understanding how the world works. It allows one to peer through a lot of noise, haze, obfuscation and deliberate misdirects put out there by clever frauds. Nearly a quarter century (sigh) of studying economics has helped me boil things down to 6 economic maxims, which I have very creatively dubbed the Six Rules. I came up with none of these on my own, but have borrowed them from an assortment of giants upon whose shoulders I humbly stand, most notably Adam Smith, Thomas Sowell, David Ricardo, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. One or more of the Six Rules can be used to explain virtually anything you see happening, including things that don’t at first blush appear even remotely related to economics. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, in their popular Freakonomics books, have done a decent job pointing this out (their premise being sound even if some of their conclusions are dubious). For the Six Rules to be of much use, however, a reasonably firm foundation in the basics, such as the laws of supply and demand, is necessary. As they demonstrate daily, such a foundation is by no means a given even among our most elite politicians and policymakers.
The Six Rules are, as follows:

1. RESOURCES ARE SCARCE, AND HAVE ALTERNATIVE USES. A “resource” in this instance means anything that has economic value (e.g., for which there exists at least one person in the world who is willing to give something else of value in exchange for it). “Scarcity” in the economic sense means there is more demand for something than there is supply. This is also the case for anything of value, and price is both the signal and the medium for bringing supply and demand into a state of equilibrium. Something with a price of zero will not be supplied because there’s no demand for it, and the fact that there’s no demand for it is the reason its price is zero. 

The second part of the sentence–that resources have alternative uses–means that every dollar used for X is rendered unavailable to use for Y. It is another way of saying resources need to be allocated or, if you prefer, that their use needs to be prioritized. This rule comes from Thomas Sowell’s indispensable Basic Economics, where it is used in tandem with what should possibly be a separate Rule on this list in itself: There are no "solutions," only trade-offs. Which is to say, in a world where resources are scarce and have alternative uses, there can be no solutions, only trade-offs. We simply can’t do everything, because resource scarcity requires their allocation in one way which necessarily precludes their allocation in an alternative way.

2. PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES IN WAYS THAT ARE EXTREMELY PREDICTABLE. You’ll often hear economists refer to “perverse incentives.” When you hear that, it means people are responding to a law, policy or set of circumstances in the exact opposite manner as was hoped for or considered desirable. A commonly used example is a law that drives landowners to kill off an endangered animal the law intended to protect so they can avoid being deprived of the economic value of their timber or some other natural resource they would be able to exploit but for the animal’s presence. Such a law creates a perverse incentive against protecting endangered species. Whenever you hear a politician or pundit gassing about the “unintended consequences” of a law, you should call to mind this Rule. Look not at the intention behind the law–which is perfectly irrelevant–but at the incentives it creates and you’ll quickly conclude that people are responding to those incentives very predictably.


4. GOVERNMENT, MONOPOLIES, AND OTHER ENTITIES NOT SUBJECT TO MARKET DISCIPLINE ARE INVARIABLY ILL-MANAGED. When you can’t go out of business, there’s nothing to keep you in line. This is doubly true when you're playing with other people's money. Governments and monopolies routinely violate the other five Rules on this list and get away with it, which is why they tend to behave arbitrarily, capriciously and even irrationally. Other very large businesses–virtual monopolies–behave similarly. The bigger a big business gets, the more it behaves like government.

5. WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THOSE DESCRIBED IN RULE NO. 4, ECONOMICS IS NOT ZERO-SUM. Unless Bob robbed you at gunpoint, or had something you needed so desperately that you’d pay any price for it (the same thing as robbing you at gunpoint), Bob’s being rich is not the cause of you–or anyone else–being poor. People get rich by adding value to the economy, which increases the overall amount of wealth in circulation, not by impoverishing others. No Steve Jobs = no iPhones. No iPhones = You need to carry a camera, a video camera, a phone, a computer, a calculator, a calendar and some dozens of other objects around with you. You can’t have wealth without the rich. Moreover, if Mark Cuban didn’t have a private jet, nobody would be employed flying it, maintaining it and supplying parts and fuel for it. If there were no demand for private jets more generally, thousands of people up and down the supply chain required to build them would be out of the job. Rich people are the reason venture capital exists, which in turn is the only reason anyone is able to start businesses and create employment opportunities. We’d be living in caves subsisting on whatever we could grow or catch without them.

6. PRICE FLOORS CAUSE SURPLUSES AND PRICE CEILINGS CAUSE SHORTAGES. All the time, every time, without exception. It’s important to remember this because politicians in particular are very fond of scoring points by attempting–successfully, more often than not–to convince people that through their peerless and indispensable genius, they’ve found a way to magically carve out an exception to this rule in this or that special case. Hasn’t happened, never will. Price ceilings on oil always–always–lead to oil shortages. Price floors on unskilled labor (the minimum wage) always lead to a surplus of unskilled labor, meaning higher unemployment for the unskilled, particularly if they are younger workers. The political gains to be had from convincing people that this basic economic maxim can be suspended in a particular instance are obvious and irresistible to politicians. Your job, as an informed voter, is to stop falling for this ruse. The laws of supply and demand are no different from the laws of physics: indifferent to our will and utterly immutable. Price is the mechanism by which the two drive each other, and price controls, whether floors or ceilings, are merely lies about fundamental reality. They’re feel-good fairy dust mixed with moonshine.



Aaaand it begins . . .

Clearly my only mistake was in failing to place enforceable bets on the question of when (not whether) this next troop deployment/campaign in the culture war would commence following SCOTUS's pulling of a heretofore unknown fundamental and universal right to gay marriage from its rectum. Then again, perhaps not, since admittedly even I was surprised at how quickly this came. It's as though one of the left's stormtroopers went rogue and jumped the gun. Either that, or it's a deliberate trial balloon put forth to gauge reaction. No matter.

Lefties, you’re about as opaque as pure mountain air, as cryptic as a skyscraper, as subtle as a mushroom cloud, as covert as a mountain range. Your repulsive totalitarian impulses never went anywhere, and are as strong now as ever. Sure you ditched the jackboots and the uniforms and toned down your rhetoric to distance yourselves from the Maos and the Kims and the Castros and make yourselves more marketable and mainstream. You're "walking through," as Alinksi would put it. But your core is eternal. You may expel tankerloads of greenhouse gas through your larynxes about tolerance, but your actual tolerance for real-world dissenting viewpoints is precisely zero. It’s your way or the highway, as ever it’s been. Your thuggery may be practiced with a smiling face and calm, placating, reasonable sounding, even pleading voice tones, but you’re the same thugs you’ve always been. And I’m calling you out.




I'll Take My Constitution Good and Dead, Thank You

I take serious issue with people who claim we should view our Constitution as a “living” document, e.g., one that must be interpreted afresh from time to time because the plain or obviously intended meaning of its provisions may no longer be “relevant” to modernity. 

My problem with that line of thinking is fairly straightforward, and really has nothing to do with any sort of reverent fealty to the document. Which isn’t to say I have no reverence or fealty to it, but that it’s neither perfect nor perfectable, as nothing devised by fallible human beings can ever be. But neither is it anywhere near as imperfect as those who breezily dismiss it as an antiquated charter more suited to a low-density, agrarian society would have us believe. Those who habitually overstate how “different” things are today, and maintain a dogged, if mostly unexamined insistence that the passage of a shade over two centuries has wrought such profound and lasting change to the fiber of the republic as to anachronise the document that produced its essential structure lack a grasp of human nature anywhere near so firm as that of the framers. The wisdom underlying our Constitution is as forceful and relevant now as always. Our charter acknowledges eternal human shortcomings and the need to limit government power accordingly. It was written by men educated in the classics and well-versed in the philosophical and metaphysical conundra perennially inherent to the human condition. In the broad sense, our Constitution is remarkably well-founded and wisely and adroitly conceived. This is why it has endured, and why those who would dismiss it merely for something as irrelevant as its age exhibit little depth of understanding of its great and lasting strengths. Times change. Technology and demographics change. Human beings . . . not so much.

My issue with those who would discard or modify it frequently to suit what they perceive as changing times is that we already have–and always have had–a “living” Constitution, just not in the way they mean it. From its inception, it has been amendable if the body politic sufficiently wishes it to be so. There’s a perfectly unambiguous process set forth in Article V that spells out just how to do this. Amendments to the Constitution must be ratified by two thirds of the Senate and House, then by two thirds of state legislatures. 

Yes, this is a major undertaking–by design. Lives, fortunes, the dispositions of vast resources, how we define basic human rights and other implications too broad and numerous to list depend upon constancy in constitutional jurisprudence. It should never be amended for light or frivolous reasons, or moved in some direction or other by passing whims and fancies (as is done with quite ridiculous frequency to many state constitutions, such as Oregon’s). Still, the thing is far from impossible, given that in the 226-year history of the republic, it’s been done 18 times (there are 27 amendments, but the first 10–the Bill of Rights–were ratified all in one clatter). Not only is it not impossible, there have been periods in our history (1865-70, 1913-33, 1961-71) when it happened quite frequently. 

But most proponents of the “living” Constitution idea aren’t referring to this slow, deliberative, prudent process that ensures the overwhelming majority of citizens are solidly on board, and that a change so important as to call for amendment is more persistent than ethereal. Rather, they prefer to short-circuit the prescribed process by substituting the judgment of a very small number of elite lawyers in black robes for that of a supermajority of citizens and their elected representatives. It’s particularly ironic that the same people who place such sycophantic faith in unelected oligarchs to make the right decisions about what our Constitution “ought” to mean–particularly if their desired interpretation differs either from the obvious intent of the framers or English intelligently read–are, in other contexts, the first (and loudest) to scream about “elitism” and this or that policy being counter-majoritarian. 

They are also, of course, the same people who would tout something like Obamacare as the “settled law of the land” five minutes after its enactment, yet treat the 226-year-old Constitution as infinitely malleable. The whims of such unstable personalities can admittedly be challenging to keep up with.

“(A)rmed with an undisciplined mind, (I) focused only on attracting girls through the romantic pull of earnest, self-elevating liberalism.  I believed in stupid things, but only because those stupid things attracted stupid girls.  I call this the stupid loop.  And it’s what drives all young men into brief affairs with liberalism.  As well as acquiring Kanji tribal tattoos and urinary tract infections.”
–Greg Gutfeld (describing himself as a “confused freshman at Cal”)