Monday, November 15, 2010

The civilizing effects of capitalism

Economic historian Deirdre McCloskey has just published the second volume of her multivolume look at the history of capitalism and its relationship to the “bourgeois virtues.” What she means by the latter are the basic virtues of the middle class, from prudence to love to justice. What makes this approach interesting is that critics of capitalism have long suggested that there were very few virtues associated with the bourgeoisie, mostly because capitalism itself requires and encourages what they saw as the unvirtuous behavior related to greed and self-interest.

In the first volume McCloskey convincingly argues that market relationships civilize us and lead us to treat one another, especially strangers, with openness and kindness, which was previously unknown in history. In the words of economic anthropologist Paul Seabright, markets turn strangers into “honorary kin.”

Markets do this because they encourage us to treat others as equals in that we approach them, especially strangers, most often as traders. They have rights to their property, we have rights to ours, and those rights limit the ways we can interact. But they leave exchange available as a way to get the things we want. The mutuality and reciprocity of exchange both require and encourage us to treat one another humanely, with justice, and as equals. In other words, markets lead us to treat strangers as fully human.

Contrast this with the way the State operates. Think about your interactions with agents of the government. By the very nature of what they do and your relationship to it, that interaction can never be one of equals. All such interactions are based on inequalities in power not reciprocity. The agent of the State ultimately has power over you and can use it to bend your actions to his or her will. This is very different from the reciprocity and humanity of the marketplace. From the IRS to the TSA to the police to the border patrol, the essence of the State’s relationship with you is domination and hegemony — not equality, contract, and exchange.

Compare and Contrast

To see this vividly, consider what happened to a colleague of mine last week. He is not a U.S. citizen but has the legal right to live and work in the country. He had to travel across the Canadian border to drop a relative at the airport. Crossing into Canada and again on his return he was subject to lengthy harassment by border guards of both countries, including verbal intimidation, scattering of his citizenship papers, and various threats to bar him from returning to the United States because they couldn’t figure out his status and his paperwork. He described the interaction as “humiliating.” He could feel the power of the State.

Compare that to the other interesting part of his trip. His car broke down in Canada, requiring it to be towed to a local Volvo dealer in a sparsely populated area. Not only did the Canadian Automobile Association respond quickly and politely to his call, but its agent also gladly towed him to a Volvo dealer, presumably one the agent was familiar with. However, my colleague was concerned about being taken advantage of. After all, information differences are common in such situations, opening the possibility of opportunistic behavior; this was made even worse by the likelihood he’d never be back to that dealer: Reputation wasn’t an issue. But despite this clear opportunity, the dealership treated him honestly, completing the repair in about an hour at a very reasonable price.

More interesting is that my colleague struck up a conversation with the service manager while he waited, comparing stories about their young children and extended families. My colleague said that when he left he felt like he had made a friend. That’s a far cry from what he felt after both stops at the border.

Sure the Volvo dealer wanted the business, but faced with a perfect opportunity to take advantage of a stranger, the staff made him feel welcome and comfortable — they made him feel human. He became, for that short time, honorary kin. It was the bourgeois virtues in action.

The next time someone tries to tell you that markets are dehumanizing and that we need government regulation to prevent people from treating each other like mere objects, you might share my colleague’s story.



Honesty not required in the Leftist media

Bill O'Reilly

After last week's election results rolled in, some on the left became distraught and went after Fox News big time. Of course, we are used to the growing problem of Fox-o-phobia: an irrational fear of the Fox News Channel. On election night, FNC won the national ratings race, even defeating the network news operations, which is incredible because cable channels are much harder to access than single digit network channels.

Immediately after the votes were counted, the incoming fire began. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote that Fox News held "a victory party" for Republicans on the air. Milbank then stated: "To be fair and balanced, Fox brought in a nominal Democrat, pollster Doug Schoen."

A nominal Democrat? Well, that is flat-out false. FNC had seven Democrats on the air that night, and I believe Geraldine Ferraro and Joe Trippi might be surprised to see themselves described as "nominal."

So, why did Milbank mislead his readers, and how does he get away with it? We put the second question to Fred Hiatt, Milbank's editor at the Post. After a few hours of deliberation, he told us he didn't think Milbank had implied that only one Democrat was booked on FNC's election coverage. Either Hiatt is having trouble with the English language, or he really doesn't care. I'm betting the latter. Neither Hiatt nor Milbank would come on my program to explain themselves.

As to why the columnist wants to mislead readers, it's simple. He despises Fox News and wants to spread the loathing. But that's lazy. There are plenty of things to criticize about any national news organization, especially one that broadcasts 24 hours a day. Milbank just wanted to vent and didn't care about being accurate. He cared about being hostile and bitter.



Why Obama Will Not Move to the Center

He comes to destroy America, not to save it

President Obama told students in India that the 2010 election “requires me to make some midcourse corrections and adjustments,” but Americans are wondering whether he really understands that voters rejected his policies in the early-November mid-term elections. Instead of acknowledging that his policies are behind the defeat, the president blames “faulty communication,” as though the election massacre were just a public relations miscue.

Even Congressional Democrats blame the president for the “shellacking” the party suffered in losing the House to the GOP. They see a “tone deaf” and “distant” president who is “inattentive” and runs a “hapless political operation.” Some Democrats get highly personal in describing their president’s “holier-than-thou” attitudes and posturing. On November 8, Politico reported, “Many Democrats privately say they are skeptical that Obama is self-aware enough to make the sort of dramatic changes they feel are needed — in his relations with other Democrats or in his very approach to the job.” This view is supported by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-California) refusal to step aside for new leadership and her public assertions of pride at their “historic achievements.”

In short, few people see a humbled Obama; instead, they see a man who “learned the wrong lessons.”

In an editorial closely scrutinizing President Obama’s trip to India, the Washington Times characterized the trip as an announcement of “the decline of the United States as an economic power.” Mr. Obama, according to the Washington Times, “ignores the fact that it was American invention, innovation and competitive spirit that gave the country its economic pre-eminence in the first place. Rather than lecturing Americans to get in the game, he would do better to reverse the anti-business political climate he has helped foster.” Further, the Times wrote, the president “has never been comfortable with American global pre-eminence.” The Times summarized their analysis:

“In place of liberty, [Mr. Obama] substitutes redistributionist notions of social justice. Rather than a single American nation, he institutionalizes differences for political gain. Instead of patriotism and pride, he promotes internationalism and guilt. America’s decline is not the result of historical forces out of our control, but of condemning the history that brought the United States to its position of leadership. America will only resurge when it recaptures the moral image of the country as a land of individualism, opportunity and patriotism. That is an America Mr. Obama would rather do without.”

In addition to all of the non-American, “hate-America” people who had influence on the president during his formative years, Shapiro also notes the socialists and other “hate-America” mentors that the president chose as his friends and associates later in life. America’s supposed decline, Shapiro believes, is for our president — in accordance with all he was taught by his hate-mongering pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright — a matter of the “chickens coming home to roost.”

Clearly, the election of 2010 was a rejection of Mr. Obama’s ideology and agenda — a matter of the president’s chickens coming home to roost. The Obama presidency — with its anti-exceptionalism, anti-capitalist, anti-freedom emphases — is a wake-up call for America.



Obamacare reduces the incentive to work

It’s not that fewer Americans are searching for work. There are, to put it simply, less of us who want to work and to produce, and even among those of us who still want to work and produce, many of us are choosing to work fewer hours and to produce less. And the reason for this is simple: because of the generous federal entitlements provided in the new “Obamacare” law.

According to none other than the Congressional Budget Office, many of us have decided we no longer will have to work as much as we once did, given all the “assistance” we can get via Obamacare.

This is not just political “spin” or partisan punditry. It comes directly from Douglas Elmendorf, the Director of the non-partisan C.B.O., a federal agency within the legislative branch of our government that employs people to analyze government policies, and consider their impact on the federal budget, and on the economy. The C.B.O. likely produces some of the most objective, “fair,” and non-politicized data that we receive from our government.

Speaking at a little-noted event at the University of Southern California’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, Mr. Elmendorf noted that, outside the healthcare sector of our economy, the greatest impact of the Obamacare agenda will be in the labor market. It was October 22nd, just days away from the big midterm election, and Elmendorf’s presence at this conference, and his remarks at the conference, did not receive nearly the amount of press attention that they deserved.

Mr. Elmendorf stated that, in some cases, Americans will simply choose not to work, because their needs for healthcare will be provided by the enhanced Medicaid funding that is provided for in the Obamacare law. As Journalist Matt Cover noted at (he was one of few journalists that actually reported on this event), this assessment of Obamacare by Mr. Elmendorf coincides with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s remarks last May. Back then, Speaker Pelosi insisted that Obamacare would allow “artists” to “quit their day job” and pursue their art, free from the constraints of having to provide for one’s self, because the government would now take care of artists’ healthcare needs.

That all sounded so good, right? It seemed like President Obama was making good on his agenda of, as he likes to say in his folksy fashion, “gettin’ people some help…”

But notice the gravity of what Mr. Elmendorf is describing. He’s talking about Medicaid, a social care program from our federal government that is intended to offer short-term assistance to poor and lower income households. And the head of the C.B.O., the individual described as the “top accountant to Congress,” is making the observation that we have, as a result of Obamacare, given increasing numbers of Americans a reason not to work (or to “not work as much”), and to choose instead to avail themselves to a government welfare program.

In short, our federal government has incentivized (some) people to consume more than they produce. And this is a very destructive thing.

Unfortunately, this is also a common thing. When government tells people “you don’t have to provide for yourself, you can instead choose to subsist off of somebody else’s effort,” it is inevitable that some people will choose the latter. And when people make this type of choice, it does long term damage to themselves and their families and to the broader society as well.



Why Do Christians Remain Silent About the Persecution of Christians in Muslim-Majority Societies?

Christians in Iraq have been, and not for the first time, deliberately targeted in a major terrorist attack. Indeed, from Indonesia to Pakistan to Iraq, from the Gaza Strip to Egypt to Sudan to Nigeria, Christians are being assaulted, intimidated, and murdered by militant Muslims.

Yet virtually never do Christians in any of these countries-perhaps with some occasional exceptions in India--attack Muslims. In the West, there have been no armed terrorist attacks on Muslims or the deliberate killing of Muslims. There does not exist a single group advocating such behavior.

Have you seen any of this in the Western mass media? Have any Christian church groups-some of which find ample time to criticize Israel-even mentioned this systematic assault? Indeed, on the rare occasions that the emigration of Christians is mentioned, somehow it is blamed on Israel, as one American network news show did recently.

I'm not writing this to complain about double standards, since one takes this problem for granted, but out of sheer puzzlement. Presumably, much of the Western media and intelligentsia-along with a lot of the church leadership, assumes that it is impossible for a non-Western, "non-white" group to ever be prejudiced. There is also a belief that if one dares report the news about pogroms carried about by Muslims against Christians it will trigger pogroms by Christians against Muslims.

The Catholic Church is quiet because it fears that complaints will increase persecution. Indeed, at a recent high-level Synod for the Middle East, leading Catholic clerics from the region blasted Israel and talked about how wonderfully Christians are treated in Muslim-majority countries. Iraq was singled out as a country where there were no problems in Muslim-Christian relations. Apparently, though, appeasement isn't working.

The al-Qaida terrorists said that all Iraqi Christians would be "exterminated" if two "Muslim women" in Egypt were not freed. Apparently, these were two young women, both married to Coptic Christian priests, unlikely candidates for conversion to Islam. They were in fact kidnapped and forcibly converted.

Thus, aggression against Christians is turned into a rationale to persecute Christians, a pattern we have often seen used elsewhere by Islamists. Yet many of the attacks in these countries are not carried out by revolutionary Islamist groups but simply by regular people, sometimes in large groups... Increasingly, Islamists are making it clear that any presence of Christians in Muslim-majority countries is unacceptable, just as the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East is unacceptable.

I just cannot understand how this factor and these attacks so often go unnoticed, and certainly unprotested. Isn't it time for Christians to try to help their persecuted brethren before they are wiped out--or at least forced to flee--altogether?



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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