See the video below by the editor-in-chief of Reason Magazine, Katherine Mangu-Ward.
See the video below by the editor-in-chief of Reason Magazine, Katherine Mangu-Ward.
There was a time not so long ago when leftists routinely charged that the radical right, roughly defined as anybody who didn’t agree with leftist orthodoxy, consisted largely of a bunch of Neanderthal book burners. Well, look who the book burners turned out to be.
America’s institutions are failing because, among other causes, America’s elites are not willing to defend liberal values. Free speech is under attack by social justice warriors who want to destroy anybody who doesn’t buckle under. Take a look at the John Stossel Video below.
A fascinating conversation between Reason Magazine’s Nick Gillespie and Science Correspondent Ron Bailey. See below.
With each passing day the failure of the welfare state to accomplish its stated objectives becomes more and more obvious. Needless to say failure hasn’t dimmed progressive enthusiasm for the politics of command and control.
The progressive project, still lauded by much of the academe, got its start in America with Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Progressive politics depended then, and continues to depend today, on the continuing evisceration of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights and the structural separation of powers designed to limit the power of government in order to protect individual liberty.
In the video that follows, in a conversation with Nick Gillespie of the libertarian Reason Magazine, Judge Napolitano explains the underlying philosophy that guided Roosevelt and Wilson and traces its effects on the modern era.
One of the more disheartening developments in what we laughingly call public debate has been the extraordinary emphasis placed on “the narrative”. The whole point of “the narrative” is issue framing. Instead of facts like who, what, where, why and when, the narrative seeks to define the contours of a story, and therefore the way the story is understood. In this manner, a story becomes part of a larger picture, woven into a tapestry of stories, pointing in the same direction, supposedly revealing a larger truth.
But there is a problem with this. It is reasonably easy for unscrupulous players to get away with deliberately mischaracterizing issues by slippery uses of language and symbols, especially when they are not called out by the press. To be clear, it is not just deliberate mischaracterization that is a problem; it is also results from intellectual laziness and sloppy thinking that comfortably fits into the accepted “narrative”.
Consider recent developments. The Corona virus is now charting a devastating path across the globe. With few exceptions, Taiwan being one, governments have been caught flat-footed. In part this is due to the dishonestly of the Chinese government which tried to cover up the outbreak at its epicenter in the Wuhan province. But other governments and international agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) chose to believe them or pretend to believe them, giving the virus time to metastasize around the globe before effective containment efforts could begin.
Let’s acknowledge that there are reasonable people (most politicians excluded) on all sides of the discussion considering the likely path and severity of the virus. In part this is due to a lack of data. As the Wall Street Journal reports, CDC officials botched the initial development of a test kit; resisted calls from state officials and medical providers to broaden testing, and health officials failed to coordinate with outside companies to ensure needed test-kit supplies. As a result, largely due to lack of information, U.S. efforts to contain the virus were hamstrung from the very beginning.
Add to that the magical thinking of President Donald J Trump. The irony is that Trump, a germaphobe, apparently decided that the whole exercise was nothing more than a publicity problem. And so he embarked on a regimen of happy talk in the hope that it would all go away, thus displaying for the umpteenth time how utterly unsuited he is for the office he holds.
Which gets us back to the narrative.
There is little question that Trump put on a breathtaking display of incompetence in his initial response to the threat posed by the virus. That said, it is also the case that we have a systemic failure on our hands. The failure has been years in the making. It is the result of bureaucratic ineptitude and policies adopted across many levels of government over a long period of time. It is not the singular fault of Trump as the developing narrative has it. Nor is the solution to simply hand out buckets full of cash, which is the usual progressive solution to just about everything.
Consider, for example, the latest policy initiative which is to “flatten the curve”. When epidemiologists talk about flattening the curve, they mean to spread out over time, rather than reduce, the incidence of contagion. The rationale for this is to avoid a concentrated case load that would overcome the treatment capacity of the health care system. Note that this approach, designed to save the system rather than individual patients, may very well result in more rather than fewer people becoming infected. On the other hand, if the system did become overwhelmed, it is quite possible, if not probable, that more people would die.
Why Are We in This Mess?
At this stage of the game it is worth asking why the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth finds itself with a potential shortage of hospital beds, other relevant medical equipment, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. One important reason, although not the only one, is the collection of perverse incentives embedded in the health care system.
Consider the question of hospital bed capacity. The limited number of available hospital beds is not an accident; it is there by design. Hospitals are subject to state as well as federal regulations. Among those are requirements for hospitals to acquire a “certificate of need” or CON from state regulatory authorities before adding hospital beds and some other types of equipment, e.g.,— MRI machines. Partially as a result, the U.S. has only 2.8 beds per 1,000 people—less than the 3.2 beds Italy has. By way of contrast, South Korea heads the list with 12.3 beds per 1,000 people. (For an in depth discussion, please see this article in Reason Magazine.)
Anti-competitive restrictions on hospital beds and other capital equipment are not the only problem. The system is driven by price controls that discourage innovation. The biggest spender for health care is the federal government, which decrees what it will pay for certain services through Medicare and Medicaid. In turn, these pricing policies affect what insurance companies will pay providers. Which in turn affects premiums that customers pay. Which, of course, our modern central planners want to eliminate by making private insurance illegal, thus locking in all the market distortions the current system has embedded in it. A single payer system would rely on mandates and allow no competition, and would guaranty that supply and demand would remain out of alignment.
But rational discussion of supply, demand and market pricing is to be avoided at all costs. The all important and phony narrative must be maintained. The problem is really the result of waste, fraud, abuse and corporate greed. Couple that with the fact that Donald Trump is president. Add the fantasy that he is illegitimate because Vladimir Putin put him there, and all the ingredients are there to believe anything. Anything but the truth of the matter, which is that a combination of incompetent leadership and the command and control system put in place over the years failed us. As usual.
Not surprisingly, because it fits the narrative, the solution being crafted in Washington is to throw money at favored constituencies, which may or may not have anything to do with the virus. Consider the argument for sending out checks to citizens in order to stimulate the economy. Does anybody seriously believe that sending citizens checks and then telling them to stay home is even remotely stimulative?
It is certainly the case that many citizens will experience significant hardship over the months ahead as the unemployment rate rapidly heads north. In this emergency situation it is proper for the government to act as a backstop, especially since it is a response to a situation utterly beyond the control of the citizenry. But it is important to note that the rescue is not free; the bill will have to be paid later. In addition, it should serve as a wake up call for reform that moves in the opposite direction we have been headed. The health care system should move toward decentralization, market pricing and local decision making rather than more centralization, price controls, and top down bureaucracy.
But I’m not holding my breath.
The latest CNN poll, released today, has Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders statistically tied in the race for the Democratic nomination. (The CNN story is at this link). While not all that surprising, it seems to reflect the alienation of large swaths of the public from mainstream society—or what we used to think of as mainstream society. The leftward lurch of the Democratic Party is a reflection of this.
The growing enthusiasm for Senator Sanders is similar to the groundswell that catapulted Donald Trump into the White House. In each case the respective party establishments were appalled at how the candidate attacked elites and their policy prescriptions. Nevertheless in each case disaffected voters flocked to the outsider candidate, largely because of a sense of aggrieved populism. In each case those disaffected voters found a candidate who would speak to those grievances, real and imagined.
There is, however, an important difference between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump’s campaign and Presidency is one that thrives on symbolic politics. It checks the cultural boxes of Trump supporters (e.g., build the wall) but, with the exception of trade, most of the policy is standard Republican fare seasoned by Trump’s personal boorishness. Which is to say that the key to understanding the Trump White House is to separate policy and personality. Not an easy thing to do.
But Bernie Sanders is different. He is a man with a weltanschauung. And he gives every indication that he actually believes the preposterous things he says, which are an integral part of that world view. The problem is that a large swath, and perhaps a majority of Democratic primary voters, does not understand what it is that Bernie Sanders is trying to sell. That is because he occasionally–actually more than occasionally– obfuscates. Whether Sanders muddies up the waters because of ignorance or just plain tactics remains to be seen. For instance, he can pretend all he wants that his policy preferences are similar to the ones adopted by the Nordic countries, but they are not. While Bernie Sanders remains a committed socialist, the Nordic countries are among the most capitalist, market-centered ones on earth. Arguably more so than the United States in many respects, especially with respect to public finance.
Bernie Sanders is a hard line socialist who wishes to remake society just like every other socialist. And he has been singing the same tune (with occasional politically convenient adjustments) for at least 40 years. The problem is that a lot of people, and perhaps a plurality, have no idea how catastrophic the result would be if Sanders and his left wing allies (like the Squad) were able to seize the levers of power.
So think of the 15 minute video below, put together by Reason magazine, as a public service message. It summarizes Sanders’ policy and political activities since the 1980s. That’s pretty much all you need to see. Anyone who would even consider voting for Sanders ought to watch this film. If, after watching this, anyone still insists on voting for Sanders, that person will have succeeded in achieving the improbable goal of making Trump supporters look like comparative geniuses.
After 6 months of studied silence, On Liberty Watch is going to re-open. In addition, the website will be revamped a bit over the next few months. The mission however, remains the same: the defense of liberty. The inanity of the state of the culture and politics demands it.