Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A defense of "Anti-intellectualism"

The following is via Instapundit and I agree with it. I would however like to place a broader perspective on it.

"Intellectuals" have overwhelmingly been Leftists. Smart people of a conservative bent have generally gone into business and used their brains to make a lot of money (I did so myself) whereas Leftists just sit around and whine. And that counts as intellectualism. And sadly, people have sometimes listened to them uncritically and sometimes given them power. And THAT is the disaster: Letting people who couldn't run a chicken coop run a country. Barack Obama is a prime example.

But there are of course SOME smart conservative people who go into academe (I did that too) and they really do tend to follow the ideals that Leftist intellectuals give lip-service to. I see it in global warming commentary. Warmist "scientists" and supporters are full of abuse and opportunistic reasoning, while the skeptics are aways posting facts, figures and lots of graphs.

So it is Leftists who have destroyed respect for intellectual endeavour and they are still hard at it with their global warming hoax -- JR

Part of the problem is that the American distrust of intellectualism is itself not the irrational thing that those sympathetic to intellectuals would like to think. Intellectuals killed by the millions in the 20th century, and it actually takes the sophisticated training of "education" to work yourself up into a state where you refuse to count that in the books.

Intellectuals routinely declared things that aren't true; catastrophically wrong predictions about the economy, catastrophically wrong pronouncements about foreign policy, and just generally numerous times where they've been wrong. Again, it takes a lot of training to ignore this fact.

"Scientists" collectively were witnessed by the public flipflopping at a relatively high frequency on numerous topics; how many times did eggs go back and forth between being deadly and beneficial? Sure the media gets some blame here but the scientists played into it, each time confidently pronouncing that this time they had it for sure and it is imperative that everyone live the way they are saying (until tomorrow).

Scientists have failed to resist politicization across the board, and the standards of what constitutes science continues to shift from a living, vibrant, thoughtful understanding of the purposes and ways of science to a scelerotic hide-bound form-over-substance version of science where papers are too often written to either explicitly attract grants or to confirm someone's political beliefs. and regardless of whether this is 2% or 80% of the papers written today it's nearly 100% of the papers that people hear about.

I simplify for rhetorical effect; my point is not that this is a literal description of the current state of the world but that it is far more true than it should be. Any accounting of "anti-intellectualism" that fails to take this into account and lays all the blame on "Americans" is too incomplete to formulate an action plan that will have any chance of success. It's not a one-sided problem.

If you want to fix anti-intellectualism, you first need to fix intellectualism and return it to its roots of dispassionate exploration, commitment to truth over all else and bending processes to find truth rather than bending truth to fit (politicized) processes.



Beware of feds bearing R&D gifts

President Barack Obama, soon after releasing his federal budget proposal for fiscal year 2012, flew to California to dine with some of the biggest names from America's high-tech business sector, including Steve Jobs of Apple, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Google's Eric Schmidt and Yahoo's Carol Bartz.

The president visited Silicon Valley to promote his "competitiveness agenda," backed by billions of dollars in new federal spending, which, according to the White House, is meant to finance investments "in research and development and to expand incentives for companies to grow and hire."

Obama apparently did not see the irony in extolling the virtues of more federal money for science and technology before a group of people who, by and large, had founded and grown their businesses into stunning success stories without government handouts.

If Congress approves billions of dollars in new federal spending for corporate R&D, don't be surprised if Silicon Valley's executives lobby for a share of the loot. But they should be careful about what they ask for.

While public "investments" in technological innovation sound like a good idea, the danger is that the funds will be directed toward politically popular projects rather than those with the highest economic value. Remember Jimmy Carter's quest for a new synthetic fuel or Bill Clinton's dream of getting Detroit to produce a car that would go 100 miles on a gallon of gas? Untold federal treasure was wasted chasing those wills of the wisp.

The notion that technological innovation requires government subsidies is not modern. During and after the Civil War, for example, the U.S. government provided the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads incentives to build the first transcontinental railway link. The two companies received grants of 20 square miles of land for each mile of track they laid and taxpayer-financed loans of up to $48,000 per track mile, depending on the terrain.

Those who think that that engineering feat could not have borne fruit without federal subvention must never have heard of the Great Northern Railway. That line (now part of the Burlington Northern system) connected St. Paul, Minn., to Seattle -- a distance of 1,700 miles over the Northern Rockies. It was completed in January 1893. Built entirely with private funds, the Great Northern was the work of James J. Hill, not Uncle Sam. There were no federal land grants; no loans.

Hill and his colleagues began by purchasing the assets of the bankrupt St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, whose owners, despite government subsidies, had laid only 10 miles of unconnected track. The new team completed the original line, put it on a sound financial footing, and then extended it into North Dakota, ensuring adequate traffic by promoting the development of agriculture along the route. They even gave livestock and feed away to help get farmers and ranchers get started.

The Great Northern also built branch lines that served farms off the main track. Congress, in contrast, prohibited the subsidized railroads from doing so, fearing that the additional cost would jeopardize repayment of their federal loans.

There are two lessons here. The first should be obvious: bureaucrats have no incentive to invest in the most commercially promising ventures. Indeed, federal subsidies prompt businesses to take risks they would not take otherwise. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific went bankrupt eventually.

The second is that if Washington funds Silicon Valley's R&D efforts, politicians and bureaucrats, not the techies, will be calling the shots. Had government been looking over Steve Jobs' shoulders, I don't think the iPhone or iPad would be on the market today.



Some Hayekian thoughts on recent Congressional follies

Friedrich Hayek, the Nobel-prize-winning Austrian economist (and now YouTube sensation), upheld economic competition and opposed government policies that reduced it. In his surprise bestseller, The Road to Serfdom, he argued that central planning would undermine competition, hamper the economy, and lead to pressures for more and more measures that would enhance the power of the government at the expense of individual liberty. Competition, he wrote, "is the only method by which our activities can be adjusted to each other without coercive or arbitrary intervention of authority."

What would Hayek, who died in 1992, have said about last year's legislative overhaul of the healthcare and financial sectors? In a nicely done recent paper, Peter J. Wallison, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, makes a good case that the great economist would have opposed both measures as anti-competitive.

The regulatory overhaul of the financial sector-the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act-would enable the government to directly control financial companies it deems "systematically important" because their failure could destabilize the US financial system. Wallison describes several ways in which this provision of the Dodd-Frank Act would undermine competition in the financial sector, but I found this passage of his especially helpful:
"In return for the Fed's protection against failure and competition, the largest financial firms in the US economy will be inclined to follow the government's directions on how to conduct their business. For example, if a smaller financial firm is failing, the Fed will be able to induce one of the larger firms to acquire it; if a country is having difficulty selling its bonds, the Fed will be able to get some of the firms it is regulating to invest in those securities. These are not fantasies. In the past, when the Fed was regulating only bank holding companies, it induced them-in the interest of stability in financial markets-to lend to countries that were having difficulty meeting their international payment obligations."

By contrast, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("colloquially known as ObamaCare, even though the president never submitted his own plan") would impair competition in a different way-namely, by hampering an effective price system, Wallison argues.

Wallison mentions several provisions of ObamaCare that would undermine competitive prices. One, for example, would require health insurers to "spend at least 85 percent of premiums on `activities that improve health care quality' (the Medical Loss Ratio, or MLR) for large-group insurance," he writes. Here I found Wallison's analysis particularly illuminating, if a bit dry:
"With the MLR, for example, the government's rules on what goes into the numerator and denominator of this ratio will determine the profitability of individual companies and whether they will be able to participate at all in a competitive system. Speaking generally, the numerator of the MLR will be only what the government considers as "activities that improve health care quality."

Immediately we see that price competition is impaired because consumers have no choice on this issue; the services they want may not be available simply because the government has determined that they do not "improve health care quality." In addition, companies will have to price their services to ensure that they meet the minimum MLR in any year or be forced to rebate premiums.

This immediately distorts the pricing system by introducing an element that has nothing to do with what consumers are willing to pay for insurance services. Finally, many companies that offer specialized services that do not fall into this category may have to abandon the services entirely, thus restricting not only competition for those services specifically, but also-if those firms sell out to competitors or otherwise leave the business-the competition that comes from the number of competitors in a market.

Say, for example, that an insurer offers a doctor-referral service, and that service is not included among the items that the government considers an activity "that improves health care quality." The insurer, then, would likely abandon that service because its cost would then have to be paid out of its 15 percent of premium revenue that is available for both administration and profits. Abandoning that service would reduce competition among insurers for the most effective referral services."

Both ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank Act were touted as measures that would give consumers greater "protection" and "affordability." But if Wallison's analysis is correct, each of these legislative landmarks will undermine economic competition and thereby act against the interests of consumers




US Justice Department appeals ruling striking down ObamaCare: "The Justice Department has appealed a judge's ruling that struck down the federal overhaul of the health care system, the Obama administration's signature legislation. In its appeal, the Justice Department said the federal health care overhaul's core requirement to make virtually all citizens buy health insurance or face tax penalties is constitutional because Congress has the authority to regulate interstate business."

Chechen leader: Iron rule, Moscow's blessing: "The capital of Chechnya, left in rubble at the end of two savage wars with Moscow, has been remarkably rebuilt with new apartment buildings, a gold-leafed museum, an enormous mosque -- and heavily armed men posted throughout the city who hint at the unspoken bargain that holds the peace. The armed men answer not to Moscow but to Ramzan Kadyrov, the former warlord whom Vladimir Putin appointed president of the Chechen Republic in Russia's North Caucasus Mountains four years ago, letting him do as he wished in return for subduing his rebellious people."

Budget crunched, states push for more lenient sentencing: "As costs to house state inmates have soared, many conservatives are reconsidering a tough-on-crime era that has led to stiffer sentences, overcrowded prisons, and bloated correctional budgets. Budget deficits and steep drops in tax revenues in most states are forcing the issue, with law-and-order Republican governors and state legislators beginning to overhaul years of policies that were designed to lock up more criminals and put them away for longer periods of time." [Could well release everyone doing time for non-violent, non-theft crimes]

We've become a nation of takers, not makers: "More Americans work for the government than in manufacturing, farming, fishing, forestry, mining and utilities combined .... Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million). This is an almost exact reversal of the situation in 1960, when there were 15 million workers in manufacturing and 8.7 million collecting a paycheck from the government." (

Unionization through regulation: "Changing election rules to favor one side is something we usually associate with dictatorships. Yet a U.S. federal agency did just that recently, as part of the Obama administration's efforts to impose policy changes favorable to organized labor without the consent of Congress. And, as in a dictatorship, the result is very difficult to undo."

To save lives, lift the long ban on paying money for bone marrow donors: "For those in need of a bone marrow transplant, finding a suitable donor is considerably more difficult and time-consuming than finding a blood or plasma donor. The New York Blood Center reports that it receives 10 to 15 new requests for donor matches every day. One reason for this tragic shortage is a quirk in an almost 30-year-old law, the National Organ Transplant Act, that prohibits paying people to donate a life-saving bodily substance like bone marrow."

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.

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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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