Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Belief in magic thrives in the modern world

"California," argues Victor Davis Hanson, is "becoming pre-modern" despite ballooning government solutions. Like fictional pre-modern societies, it is becoming a two-tier society; a landscape of fantastical castles amid a sea of peasants. It is as if the technologically sophisticated components of the Golden State were creating its shadow of poor, homeless, drug-addicted and unskilled populations.

Huge global wealth in high-tech, finance, trade and academia poured into the coastal corridor, creating a new nobility with unprecedented riches. Unfortunately, the new aristocracy adopted mindsets antithetical to the general welfare of Californians living outside their coastal enclaves. The nobodies have struggled to buy high-priced , pay exorbitant power bills and deal with shoddy infrastructure -- all of which resulted from the policies of the distant somebodies.

Yet in some respects, not only California but the whole global world is morphing into a similar two-tier arrangement. This may be driven by something called knowledge inequality. The processes by which a society produced its goods and governed itself were once common knowledge to a large percentage of the population. But they are not now.

Relative technological simplicity and cultural homogeneity made knowledge equality easier. This, in turn, facilitated rational governance. At the time of the American Revolution, the knowledge of what was possible and affordable was within the grasp even of a farmer or workman. However today -- and California may be an extreme example -- society is reliant on processes only a tiny few understand. Under these circumstances public policy and even economics become recondite.

Annie Lowrey of The Atlantic writes that "California is becoming unlivable" and suggests solving the wildfire/electricity outage problem by banning development. "One solution ... is to build more dense housing in urban areas ... California isn’t doing enough to discourage building in fire-prone areas." Yet regulation is what caused the problem in the first place.

The bulk of wildfire destruction in California happens in the Wildlife Urban Interface (WUI) ... Although much of the WUI is naturally vulnerable to fire, human behavior is primarily to blame for the destruction. People start more than nine in 10 fires ... If building in the WUI is so dangerous, why do it? In part because building new housing is so very difficult in many urban regions in California, due to opposition from existing homeowners and strict building codes.

Is California Becoming Premodern?

Knowledge inequality makes "magical" solutions inevitable because an ever-smaller fraction of the public know how things work or are paid for. Healthcare woes? Medicare for All. Housing crisis? Make affordable housing a "right." Students choking under loans? Write it off. Graduates without literacy or numeracy? Teach Woke Math.

Fix the wildfires by tightly regulating development sounds like a solution. Following Arthur C. Clarke's famous adage that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," many things are now solved by linguistic legerdemain. Ever since, Apollo politicians have been invoking associative magic as political spells:

"Nothing is impossible in this age of miracles. If we can put a man on the Moon, we surely are capable of seeing that our temporary surplus agricultural products are placed in many hungry stomachs of the world.” ...

Nixon’s Democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, used the phrase in his standard stump speech: “If we can put a man on the Moon, certainly we can afford to put man on his feet on Earth.”

Sending a spacecraft to the lunar surface and solving homelessness might be different problems, but with a few similes and metaphors, they can be "magically" connected and thus solved. Associative magic is especially strong in Bernie Sanders, who uses it to solve housing. "This is the richest country in the history of the world. No one in America should be homeless." With it, he can set salaries. "In the richest country in the world, our teachers should be the best-paid, not among the worst-paid." The same magic can pay for healthcare: "In the richest country in the world, it is obscene that millions of people are pushed into poverty and insolvency because they had the bad luck of getting sick and needing to see a doctor."

There's no objection to magic because many people, especially in or from the Third World, are surrounded by found marvels like cell phones, machine learning, GPS, CRISPR therapies, etc. They are used to things that simply work -- though none but the sages know how. Immigrants can be forgiven for thinking, as they wander in their misery through the technological wonders of California, why the magi have simply not waved their wands and created the same level of comfort for them. In a world of magic, what's one more spell, because that's all it takes, right? It must be because -- and the politicians never tire of telling them -- the wizards are selfish and holding back.

The difference between science and magic, noted Chaz Orzell, is that in the world of sorcery some people are born with amazing powers. Wealth does not come from the application of truths external to humanity but rather from birth powers, celebrity, or beauty.

The primary distinction between these magic systems and science is that magic relies on inborn talent in a way that science doesn't-- science and the products thereof will work for anyone, but only certain special people are able to do magic ... magic ... is fundamentally not amenable to scientific investigation-- something not bound by easily discoverable rules.

In such a world the solution to every problem is redistribution. To effect this political parties ceaselessly put up magical people as candidates whose powers derive from certain associative properties. Nobody runs anymore on the strength of competence but because they are gay, lesbian, disabled, a person of color, or imbued with some other property. Only with this talisman can they approach the tower of capitalism to demand more of who abides within.

In 1926 the French sociologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl wrote: "The primitive mind does not differentiate the supernatural from reality, but rather uses 'mystical participation' to manipulate the world. According to Levy-Bruhl, moreover, the primitive mind doesn't address contradictions." Except for the wizards we are, most of us, primitives now.

In an ironic sort of way, the more technologically advanced a society becomes the more medieval and superstitious its governance can become. Then we will truly become pre-modern, supplanting nuclear power plants with windmills and electricity with candles. Perhaps the biggest problem of the 21st century will not be income, but knowledge inequality.



California’s Disastrous State Illustrates Limits of Progressivism

Victor Davis Hanson

More than 2 million Californians recently were left without power after the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric—which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year—preemptively shut down transmission lines in fear that they might spark fires during periods of high autumn winds.

Consumers blame the state for not cleaning up dead trees and brush, along with the utility companies for not updating their ossified equipment. The power companies in turn fault the state for so overregulating utilities that they had no resources to modernize their grids.

Californians know that having tens of thousands of homeless in their major cities is untenable. In some places, municipal sidewalks have become open sewers of garbage, used needles, rodents, and infectious diseases.

Yet no one dares question progressive orthodoxy by enforcing drug and vagrancy laws, moving the homeless out of cities to suburban or rural facilities, or increasing the number of mental hospitals.

Taxpayers in California, whose basket of sales, gasoline, and income taxes is the highest in the nation, quietly seethe while immobile on antiquated freeways that are crowded, dangerous, and under nonstop makeshift repair.

Gas prices of $4 to $5 a gallon—the result of high taxes, hyper-regulation, and green mandates—add insult to the injury of stalled commuters. Gas tax increases ostensibly intended to fund freeway expansion and repair continue to be diverted to the state’s failing high-speed rail project.

Residents shrug that the state’s public schools are among the weakest in the nation, often ranking in the bottom quadrant in standardized test scores. Elites publicly oppose charter schools, but often put their own kids in private academies.

Californians know that to venture into a typical municipal emergency room is to descend into a modern Dante’s Inferno. Medical facilities are overcrowded. They can be as unpleasant as they are bankrupting to the vanishing middle class that must face exorbitant charges to bring in an injured or sick child.

No one would dare to connect the crumbling infrastructure, poor schools, and failing public health care with the non-enforcement of immigration laws, which has led to a massive influx of undocumented immigrants from the poorest regions of the world, who often arrive without fluency in English or a high school education.

Stores are occasionally hit by swarming looters. Such Wild West criminals know how to keep their thefts under $950, ensuring that such “misdemeanors” do not warrant police attention. California’s permissive laws have decriminalized thefts and break-ins. The result is that San Francisco now has the highest property crime rate per capita in the nation.

Has California become premodern?

Millions of fed-up middle-class taxpayers have fled the state. Their presence as a stabilizing influence is sorely missed. About one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients live in California. Millions of poor newcomers require enormously expensive state health, housing, education, legal, and law enforcement services.

California is now a one-party state. Democrats have supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature. Only seven of the state’s 53 congressional seats are held by Republicans. The result is that there is no credible check on a mostly coastal majority.

Huge global wealth in high-tech, finance, trade, and academia poured into the coastal corridor, creating a new nobility with unprecedented riches. Unfortunately, the new aristocracy adopted mindsets antithetical to the general welfare of Californians living outside their coastal enclaves.

The nobodies have struggled to buy high-priced gas, pay exorbitant power bills, and deal with shoddy infrastructure—all of which resulted from the policies of the distant somebodies.

California’s three most powerful politicians—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Gov. Gavin Newsom—are all multimillionaires. Their lives, homes, and privileges bear no resemblance to those of other Californians living with the consequences of their misguided policies and agendas.

The state’s elite took revolving-door entries and exits for granted. They assumed that California was so naturally rich, beautiful, and well endowed that there would always be thousands of newcomers who would queue up for the weather, the shore, the mountains, and the hip culture.

Yet California is nearing the logical limits of progressive adventurism in policy and politics.

Residents carefully plan long highway trips as if they were ancient explorers charting dangerous routes. Tourists warily enter downtown Los Angeles or San Francisco as if visiting a politically unstable nation.

Insatiable state tax collectors and agencies are viewed by the public as if they were corrupt officials of Third World countries seeking bribes. Californians flip their switches unsure of whether the lights will go on. Many are careful about what they say, terrified of progressive thought police who seem more worried about critics than criminals.

Our resolute ancestors took a century to turn a wilderness into California. Our irresolute generation in just a decade or two has been turning California into a wilderness.



U.S. economic growth continues, recession pundits proven wrong again

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning today issued the following statement reacting to the latest GDP numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showing a 1.9 percent inflation-adjusted increase in economic growth in the third quarter of 2019:

“The Recessionistas have been proven wrong yet again as the economy continues to sustainably grow in the third quarter by 1.9 percent. While this growth rate is not spectacular, it’s not horrible either and in view of the perpetually wrong economic pundits’ gloom and doom prognostications, it should be viewed as a repudiation of those who attempted to talk down the Trump economy.

“Fewer Americans are unemployed right now than at any time since 2000, and the unemployment rate is lower than at any time in the past 50 years. Americans are working, wages are on the rise, and the only people unhappy are the Never Trumpers and those with Trump derangement syndrome who are perpetually mad.”




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