Daniel Larison

They Call Him Michael O’Alamein For A Reason

So this week’s New York Times article by Brookings Institute experts arguing that we may yet be able to win the war has sent a tidal wave of hope through the pro-war camp and a chill down the backs of the Democratic Party defeatist. ~Tony Blankley

A tidal wave?  Good grief, these people are desperate!

Speaking on behalf of “defeatists” everywhere, let me say that this op-ed sure had me worried.  Whatever shall we do when “centrist” Democrats utter predictably optimistic assessments about the state of a misguided war that they originally supported?  I suppose war opponents shall have to run and hide–the tide has turned against us!  The tidal wave of Pollack is crashing down; the fateful hinge of O’Hanlon is squeaking threateningly.  In another shocking revelation, Joe Lieberman has said that we must not withdraw.

P.S. ITWOT?  What?

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Of Course, I’m Biased

Caplan divides them into three categories: antimarket bias, antiforeign bias, make-work bias and pessimistic bias. Antimarket bias describes people feeling that trade and profit are zero-sum games, that one person’s gain is another person’s loss. They haven’t learned that free exchange is win-win and that in a free market, profit comes from cost-cutting innovation. Antiforeign bias, perhaps a vestige of primitive man, consists of distrusting “them” even though our prosperity increases according to how global the division of labor is. Foreigners don’t want to invade us; they want to sell us useful things [bold mine-DL]. Make-work bias is the belief that what makes us rich is jobs, rather than goods, and so anything that eliminates jobs is bad. If that were really true, we could prosper by outlawing all inventions created after 1920. Think of all the jobs that would create! Finally, pessimistic bias is the view that any economic problem is proof of general decline. Lots of people actually think we’re poorer than our grandparents were! ~John Stossel

It’s no secret that I don’t like Caplan’s arguments.  I also find them wanting.  Do “lots of people” actually believe that we are poorer than our grandparents, the folks who lived through the Depression?  I would really need to see some evidence for that.  Not that the self-serving claims of libertarians aren’t enough for me, mind you. 

Profit can come from innovation, or it can come from other ways of cutting costs, such as reducing the price of labour by moving operations to places where labour is exceedingly cheap and of fairly comparable quality (or by importing cheap black market labour that does the same job for half the price or less).  If you could cut costs through innovation and cheaper labour, profits would be even greater–that sounds like a win-win…except for the people who don’t reap any of the profits.  The generalisation about foreigners is true, except in all those cases when it isn’t.  Some foreigners may want to invade; some may want to infiltrate and attack.  If you want to say that most do not want to do this, you might have a point, but the default assumption in favour of importing foreign labour and foreign products is no more rational when it is pursued relentlessly.  What Caplan has categorised as irrational biases are simply different political leanings from his own; he knows that he is rational, so it must be that all these others are irrational.  People do not assume that anything that eliminates jobs is undesirable.  They assume that something that eliminates, for example, the manufacturing sector from their town is undesirable, particularly when that manufacturing provides most of the employment in the town.  The libertarian answer: things change, people should move to another location.  When people respond to this upheaval in a hostile way, it is declared irrationality and bias and the libertarian believes he has answered his critics.  The optimistic bias of every free trader and market enthusiast is that every disruption, upheaval and economic transformation brings net benefits to all at ultimately minimal cost.  That might even be true, but it won’t change the response of the voters harmed by the upheaval.  The people who bear the brunt of those costs don’t care whether the costs are “minimal” in the grand scheme of things–they respond rationally to what is happening around them and are not inclined to measure their present misery against an uptick in national productivity. 

I can see why Caplan’s agenda is attractive.  It would be tempting for me to argue that no one who disagrees with me about policy questions should be allowed to vote.  That would simplify matters considerably, and naturally I think that the resulting policies would be better, but somehow I think someone might suspect that this was a not-so-subtle power grab.  If we were going to start setting up standards for voting, I would want to insist on voters who could also demonstrate foreign affairs and historical literacy, which would disqualify so many people that we would not need ballots, but could settle all important matters by a show of hands.

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Yes, But Is Kevin Drum?

Look: Ross is a smart guy [bold mine-DL]. He knows perfectly well that modern liberals have no serious connection to eugenics advocates of the past. He knows perfectly well that abortion supporters aren’t motivated by eugenicist theories. He’s not using the word out of a dedication to scientific precision. Rather, he and his fellow conservatives are using the word “eugenics” because they also know perfectly well that it’s (quite rightly) associated with racism, pseudo-science, and Adolf Hitler. ~Kevin Drum

No, Ross is using the word because that is the word that supporters of “liberal eugenics” use.  He is using the word because the connection between eugenics and a process of genetic screening plus abortion is pretty obvious.  He also perfectly well knows that eugenics is associated with Margaret Sanger, Woodrow Wilson and Oliver Wendell Holmes. 

Incidentally, Ross continues the Gattaca meme here, which makes sense, since it is entirely relevant.

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Who Lost Burkina Faso?

Shorter Michael Gerson: we need to bribe other governments in order to fight corruption.

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What Did I Say?

According to John Savage, I have supposedly argued this:

“Progressives” who support abortion on demand cannot logically argue against eugenics, such as was carried out by pre-WWII progressives who supported forced sterilization for the sake of reducing the numbers of “feebleminded” people.

This is what I actually said:

Every time someone on the left endorses the “right” to abortion today he does accept the idea that there are some who should never be born.  Progressive arguments on behalf of sterilisation and eugenics took it one step further: there were those who should never be allowed to conceive in the first place.   

In other words, the two views resemble each other in certain ways, but are not actually the same.  One is held by progressives today, and another was held by some progressives in the past.  At no point did I say or imply that progressives cannot logically argue against state-enforced coercive eugenics and sterilisation policies.  If anything, the implication is that today’s progressives have failed to be consistent in their current opposition to negative eugenics because they accept the methods and assumptions of “positive” eugenics and because they imagine that the state-protected and funded murder of unborn children is significantly ethically different from the use of the state apparatus to eliminate “undesirables” from the gene pool.  The Down’s Syndrome exception that seems to be in vogue rests on this assumption: there is a kind of life that is not lebenswert, enlightened people know that kind of life that is and they can determine–or will defend the rights of parents to determine–when such a life should be terminated or prevented from coming into being in the first place.  Progressives certainly can argue against negative eugenics (and it would be worth mentioning that I have made a point of distinguishing between different sorts of progressives to recognise that many different kinds have existed), and they do so, but this ought to make them take a much more critical view of “reproductive rights,” especially when one of the champions of that movement explicitly used an appeal to eugenics in her arguments for contraception.

This argument has become tedious.  On one side, there are those who point out the obvious (progressives in the past openly supported X, which means that progressivism has a history in which support for X occurred) and then note something true (there are today those who propose something called “liberal eugenics”) and then say something else that is true (modern progressives are typically strongly pro-abortion).  On the other side, you have a goodly number of people who either actively deny or ignore the first point, reject the second and resent that anyone would have the audacity to mention the third.  This is supposed to persuade the first group that they have made some horrible mistake.  It isn’t working.

The least impressive retorts have been along the lines of, “Why, conservatives supported segregation, too!  So there!”  As if anyone needed to be reminded.  This is not an obscure fact, but rather something that is routinely thrown in the face of anyone who claims to be a conservative.  It isn’t a question of whether conservatives should have to grapple with bearing a name that is associated with these policies–they already do, and have been doing so for decades.  If progressives want to use that name, they are more than welcome, but they will have to at least acknowledge and address the more unsavoury parts of the tradition to which they are appealing.  They cannot deny the history of the progressive tradition and they cannot be permitted to simply airbrush away inconvenient arguments that attempt to refashion eugenics in a liberal image.  If conservatives attempted to blithely pretend that there is no trace of the things that the left finds objectionable in the history of conservatism among modern conservatives, I would expect furious criticism and mockery from the left.  They should expect the same.

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Democratism Against The People (As Usual)

This bipartisan consensus is all the more striking because it is increasingly out of step with the majority of the American people. A poll conducted by the Washington think tank Third Way in March found that respondents favored protecting the security of the United States and its allies over promoting freedom and democracy in the world by a margin of 3 to 1. More recently, in a poll of Republicans by the Republican consultant Tony Fabrizio, only 16 percent of respondents supported basing U.S. foreign policy on spreading democracy, a dismal result for the Bush doctrine. On the Democratic side, the liberal blogger Ezra Klein recently pronounced himself “fed up with values,” calling instead for a foreign policy based on competence and consequences. Klein was sounding a familiar theme in the blogosphere: the idea that because the Bush administration has justified the Iraq war in the name of liberty and democracy, the values themselves are to blame. ~Anne-Marie Slaughter

I’ve seen some pretty big rhetorical leaps, but this one is astonishing.  As I understood him, Klein declared himself “fed up with values” in the context of criticising foreign policy that is abstract, vague in its ends and indifferent to means and oblivious to the realm of the possible.  Klein never “blames” the “values” here–he blames those who invoke liberty and democracy (whether sincerely or not) as supports for reckless and aimless foreign policy projects.  To the extent that “values” rhetoric provides justification to horrible foreign policy thinking, it shields bad policies from the appropriate level of scrutiny and critical attention they might otherwise receive.  Stripped of its region-transforming happy talk about the March of Freedom, administration policy in the Near East makes little or no sense and this would be much more clear to all if the entire debate were not cluttered with idealistic prattle that all people are destined to be free. 

What Slaughter describes as a “familiar theme in the blogosphere” is not familiar here at all.  Few bloggers “blame the values,” since many do not think the administration is committed to those “values” and others think they are so incompetent that they could not successfully advance them no matter what they tried.  Most critics of democratism, the spreading of democracy and the fomenting of global revolution are not themselves hostile to democracy as such (not that democracy can be called a “value” in any case) and do not necessarily blame democracy for the misfortunes in Iraq.  They may pin some blame on the elections, especially the way the elections were organised along sectarian and ethnic lines, but they would hasten to point out that elections are not by themselves enough to make a proper liberal democracy in the sense that most people mean it in this country.  There are those critics who think that administration talk of democratisation has always been two-faced and cynical (this is tempting, but incorrect), while they believe that they, the critics, are the defenders of democratic principles against the administration.  There are others who are quite fond of democracy, but who find the forcible export of it to be a misguided, impractical or counterproductive way to encourage this form of government abroad.  There are a few, including myself, who believe that genuine democratisation itself would be undesirable, and that it is doubly foolish to promote something that we should not want to see happen anyway–but then we were not exactly pro-democratic enthusiasts before the war, either.  There is virtually no one who used to think liberty and democracy were wonderful and who now think they are madness because George Bush used them in his talking points.  If you generally favour liberal revolutions and popular government, your problem with the “freedom agenda” is not that it has been promoting democracy, but that the administration believed launching a full-scale war was the wisest way to achieve this end. 

Despite this considerably wrong, misleading statement about bloggers, Slaughter has remarked on something that will be familiar to readers of Eunomia: the interventionist, democratist consensus is alive and well in both parties and dominates the top tiers of both presidential fields.  Most Americans do not want this nonsense, but like good democratists the elite of the two parties will continue to impose such policies on our country and on the world in defiance of what the majority of citizens actually desires.

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The Robot Speaks

“I think the presidency ought to be held at a higher level than having to answer questions from a snowman,” quipped Romney while campaigning in New Hampshire. ~The Evening Bulletin

Well, that works out nicely, since I think the presidency ought to be held to a higher level than allowing it to be sought by a smiling robot.

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Yes, Wherever Did We Get Our Crazy Notions?

While Kevin Drum continues to embarrass himself, Ross has another good post on one particular angle of the debate over the designation “progressive.”  The “meme” of progressives as supporters of eugenics and sterilisation comes from the history of early 20th century progressivism.  (Or you can try the short version: just watch Gattaca and see whose politics seem to have prevailed in that world.)  You can merely glance at this period and find progressives who endorsed or upheld either segregationist or sterilisation or eugenics policies: Woodrow Wilson, Oliver Wendell “Three Generations Of Idiots Are Enough” Holmes, and Margaret Sanger.  Sanger saw birth control as a means to reduce the reproduction of undesirable populations.  Every time someone on the left endorses the “right” to abortion today he does accept the idea that there are some who should never be born.  Progressive arguments on behalf of sterilisation and eugenics took it one step further: there were those who should never be allowed to conceive in the first place.   

Those three are not minor, fringe figures in the history of American progressivism.  They are part of the legacy that progressives today call to mind when they use this name.  Today, I assume progressives would abhor state-coerced sterilisation and overtly racist and eugenics rationales for birth control, but it was not always so.  Now there are those on the left who favour a “positive” eugenics that is supposed to be qualitatively different from the bad, old eugenics.  If Kevin Drum doesn’t know about that, that’s hardly Ross’ fault.

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Leaving Me Cold

I agree with Djerejian–any description of the confrontation between the U.S. and Iran as a second Cold War is just ridiculous.  Are we involved in a similar “cold war” with Venezuela?  Maybe we should ask that master strategist, Rick Santorum!  Yeah.  To label every standoff between Washington and a regional power as a “new Cold War” is at once to make light of the significance and scope of the Cold War and to engage in a kind of foreign policy myopia similar to the disease that causes pundits to see a potential Hitler in every foreign regime they dislike.  These comparisons are not very substantive.  They seem deliberately excessive, almost as if the author wants to make a splash by saying outrageous things. 

While I appreciate Djerejian’s point about not having time to set straight every ludicrous foreign policy argument out there, this one seems to cry out for special attention.  Wright begins by stating certain obvious facts: Iran has gained in strength because its regional opponents have been deposed by the U.S., and its proxies have enjoyed some successes in the region.  After that Wright loses me.

According to Wright, a “Green Curtain” is descending, or rather is being draped by the U.S.  Why green?  Well, I suppose several of the allied states are fairly repressive and, in a few cases, openly fundamentalist, but this would make a hash of the “moderation” vs. “extremism” scheme that is supposed to define who is on either side of the “curtain.” 

The only similarity between what is happening today and the Cold War is that both do involve containment doctrines of a sort, which is to say that both situations involve adversarial relations between Washington and another power.  That’s it.  Before the invasion, standard U.S. policy in this part of the region was “dual containment,” targeting both Iraq and Iran.  Now that containing Iraq is not in the picture any longer, containment has focused entirely on Iran.  Obviously.  The recently announced weapons sales to the GCC states are a new part of this long-standing policy of anti-Iranian containment.  In other words, the only thing remotely Cold War-like in Iran policy has been going on for years before 9/11, and most of our Iran policy is not really anything like U.S. Soviet policy during the Cold War. 

Administration Iran policy is far more of a “forward” strategy and far more confrontational than the Truman Doctrine was towards the Soviets, and it actively seeks the deposition of the current regime where containment doctrine dictated holding the line against the other side’s aggressive foreign policy.  The biggest flaw in the comparison is the idea that Iraq’s government is essential to the “Green Curtain,” which would be like saying, if we wanted to pursue this comparison a bit further, that the Ukrainian SSR was a vital ally in holding back the Soviet menace.

The article is not entirey clear whether the “Green Curtain” notion is actually the way that the administration conceives of what it is doing, or if this is Wright’s projection of inapt comparisons onto their standard anti-Iranian policy.  Both are quite possible.  The administration’s fondness for inappropriate and ridiculous historical analogies is well-known.  If these bad analogies are still infecting the policymaking process, as they probably are, it is important that they are met with as many challenges and rebuttals as possible.

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Well, He Still Has More Money Than McCain

Fred Thompson

Hey, Fred, Where’s The Cattle?

Fred Thompson plans to announce Tuesday that his committee to test the waters for a Republican presidential campaign raised slightly more than $3 million in June, substantially less than some backers had hoped, according to Republican sources. ~The Politico

Via Jason Zengerle

The funniest part of the article comes a little later:

He attracted support from such top-shelf party figures [bold mine-DL] as Mary Matalin, Liz Cheney, George P. Bush and other GOP stalwarts who saw him as a potential Hillary Clinton slayer.

Not to be flippant, but since when have these people been “top-shelf party figures”?  (If these are top-shelf party figures in the GOP, today’s GOP really is in much worse shape than I thought.)  A Cheney loyalist and failed former campaign manager, Cheney’s daughter and the President’s nephew do not constitute a band of power brokers.  This is the quintessential band of courtiers, filled with servants and connected First and Second Family members.  These people are there to show that Bush and Cheney have been willing to give Fred their indirect backing, and bizarrely Fred, like McCain, has accepted the poisoned chalice.   These supporters have been thrown at Fred in the same way that the old Bush ’04 campaign team was thrown at McCain.  The latter really worked well, didn’t it?  Now that one of Fred’s new co-campaign managers is Spence Abraham (you all remember Spence, don’t you?) and he has Larry Lindsey as his economics advisor, it looks as if the first-term band is getting back together!

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