On Intimidation and Character Assassination

After a short break from political posts, I have returned. This morning, I read an excellent piece at Liberty’s Torch, which touched on intimidation in politics. This, in turn, was inspired by another post at The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler. Both got me thinking on the matter of  subtle intimidation.

Intimidation is a common feature of Leftist politics, such that most regular folks routinely hide the extent of their true political beliefs.

Leftists have taken it upon themselves to insinuate that this is racism, or some other -ism, and that we are all secret fascists who merely don’t want our horrible views exposed to daylight. But they have it exactly backwards, probably by design. You see, actual neo-Nazis and modern fascists are anything but secretive about their beliefs. Though they are very few, they are also very loud. They want to be seen. They have already paid the social price for it. Calling a Nazi a Nazi doesn’t hurt their feelings any. They know what they are.

In this, SJWs and their ilk are projecting their own behavior onto their ideological opponents. Many SJWs are thinly-veiled Communists, so they presume that we must all be thinly-veiled Nazis. After all, it’s the sort of thing they would do in our place.

In reality, most people on the Right are just scared. Not of physical violence for the most part, though perhaps some worry about that too. Rather, they fear character assassination. They fear being tarred as racist, sexist, or some other thing, and losing their friends, their jobs, and their good names.

Meanwhile the Left continues to increase the number of indications of racism. Eating a plate of Chinese takeout may now be considered a racist act. Wearing a kimono to an art exhibit about a well-known painting featuring a kimono is now cultural appropriation. Enjoying the wrong video game is an indication of sexism. Failing to be 100% convinced by Climate Change activists is proof of… well, some kind of violation against The One True Narrative. The specifics don’t matter. There is always something they can use against you.

In such an environment, many folks do indeed hide their beliefs. They fear that they might be the target of a political witch hunt, that anything they say will be taken out of context by the hostile media establishment and used to destroy them.

In some ways, this has bit the Left in the ass. Donald Trump’s election was unexpected in part due to the fact that people hid their support for him out of such fear. Polls were shifted as a result. The hidden Trump closet proved fatal to Hillary’s campaign.

But nonetheless, the fear is strong. I hear it from many personal friends who read my posts, but do not comment on them out of fear of being identified. One friend told me: “I love your posts. Even when I disagree with them, they always give me something to think about. But I can’t reply. It’s too public. I don’t know how you do it.”

In a Facebook thread that blew up to over 500 replies, I admitted my conservative/libertarian leanings in public view. I lost dozens of “friends” over this, one who spent the better part of the thread calling me a neo-Nazi and suggesting that I wanted to send Muslims to death camps, before he finally blocked me.

The level of vitriol you are exposed to as an open conservative is staggering, and I am not surprised that most regular folks are disinclined to weather it. Indeed, I wouldn’t have even done it, had my financial position been at all insecure. Only from a strong financial position can you weather character assassination by the media.

And I did lose some support in that quarter. The admission cost me one of my long-time DJ residencies. The promoter was an outspoken Bernie Bro, and could not countenance working with someone who as an admitted Rightist. I made up the difference with a new residency (and I maintained one of my other ones – I found out that promoter was a secret libertarian), but it was nonetheless disappointing to me. This was someone I had worked with for several years.

The financial and social penalty for admitted Rightists is non-trivial. Whereas most Rightists I know will continue to work with admitted Leftists. Perhaps this is a mistake. The Left has deployed a weapon against us, and perhaps it is time to use it against them, to expel them from our communities, to price them out of our markets, and to remove them from groups under our control.

For me, however, the price was much smaller than it could have been. By having minimal debt (only a mortgage now, and one that is approaching 50% equity), significant savings, and multiple streams of income independent of one another, it is very difficult for a Leftist to ruin me. The attempt cost me less than 5% of my income, and even that was quickly replaced.

How different is it for a man who has a lot of debt, and only one job? How much fear does he have that a media storm could deprive him of not only his job, but of his employability? I submit that such folks vastly outnumber folks in my position.

But it is always the Left that claims they are oppressed, harassed, bullied and such. The pressure on Rightists is not so obvious, but it is pervasive and everybody knows about it. This is why the Left continues to push the Nazi label. “Do what I want,” says the Leftist, “or I will make the entire world see you as the scum of the Earth.”

Of course, it’s seldom openly stated as such. But we all know it, nonetheless.

It all comes down to the media. Without the power of the media to amplify such nonsensical accusations, nobody would fear the Left. We would laugh at such insults. The stupidity of calling everybody a secret fascist would be readily apparent. But with the media able to pick any random target it wishes, and assassinate that person’s character at will, with little to no possibility of defense… the fear is there.

Incidents like what happened to Justine Sacco reinforce this. Remember Brendan Eich “resigning” (we all know the he was pressured to do so). Remember the media trotting out to the middle of nowhere to find a pizza shop that didn’t want to cater gay weddings. The implication is that anyone could be a target. Being a small business owner in the middle of nowhere doesn’t make you safe.

Nobody is safe from the media. That’s what they want you to believe, but in such a way that no one clearly states it, that nobody clearly admits it, so that they always retain plausible deniability.

Note that since Trump unexpectedly won the election, the media has been dedicating itself 24/7 to doing nothing but assassinating his character. They even tacitly excuse literal assassination, in the case of Steve Scalise.

At some point in the history of this country, the gatekeepers in media and entertainment presumed that they were the true rulers of this country, that they determined what people believed, what they thought, and what they were allowed to say. They presumed to move Presidents and Congressmen merely by leveraging character assassination and establishing the framework of their accepted Overton Window. They could swing whole elections.

The Internet has deprived them of the exclusivity of this framing. People may (and frequently do) bypass them for news and information. But they still retain the power of character assassination, even if a few, like Donald Trump, have remained stubbornly immune to it. They have the funding, the airtime, the audience, and allies among gatekeepers and HR departments around the world.

It is that power which must be broken if we are to step out into the light again. It is not enough that we cast them as fake news, though this must be done also. They cannot be permitted to assassinate characters on a whim.

And if we cannot break them of this power, then we must deploy a similar power ourselves. How much economic damage can we force on them if they do this? How many people can we get fired? How many businesses can we destroy?

I really don’t want to go down that road. I’ve always thought it to be one of the lowest, most scummy tactics a man might use on a political opponent. I hate it, and I’ve always attacked the practice as the worst of mudslinging.

But if they don’t stop it soon, what choice do we have? And maybe that’s the message we have to use: “stop now, we really don’t want to do this back to you, but we will if we must.”

Discovering Truth

One thing that has become clear to me over the years is that people can reason themselves in and out of pretty much anything. Evidence can be provided for just about any assertion, no matter how ludicrous, and debunking it can lead to an endless rabbit hole of argument and counter-argument that never resolves much of anything. You can test this by googling just about any idiotic idea, and mountains of “evidence” will be found to support it.

So how does a man determine what is true, or at least more likely to be true?

Scott Adams has an excellent method for sifting through bullshit quickly and efficiently. He provides a list of common methods of discovering the truth:

  1. Personal Experience
  2. Experience of People You Know
  3. Experts
  4. Scientific Studies
  5. Common Sense
  6. Pattern Recognition

Note that each one of these methods contain serious problems if used alone. For instance, personal experience can be narrow and subject to confirmation bias. Experts may lie to you, or be a member of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Intellectual Yet Idiot class. Scientific studies can be twisted, or could be outright fabrications. Common sense, which I actually liken to basic logical consistency, can be wrong on the basis of flawed assumptions.

So a good bullshit filter is taking the list as a whole. A lie will not pass all 6 items. Neither is it likely to even pass a majority of them. Studies and experts may, for instance, tell you that Islam is a religion of peace. But common sense, pattern recognition, and the experiences of people you know would tend to counter the assertion. Where one contradicts another, resolution must be made.  If your experience and the experiences of people you know contradict the experts, who do you trust? In that case, I look for a motivation for the expert to lie (like, say, grant money for Climate Change researchers). If I find a blatant conflict of interest, I will usually dismiss the expert opinion on the basis of the other evidence. If I don’t, perhaps I need to reevaluate why my experiences and those of folks I know are different. Maybe there is another factor at work.

Some time ago, I explained that Francis once changed my mind in a big way on an important issue. At the time, I considered mortgage debt to be generally good. After all, experts claimed that it was good debt, studies showed that holders of mortgage debt did better than their fellows, and common sense generally appeared to favor home ownership (I later understood that it didn’t, per se). The experiences of people I knew were good, and I recognized the pattern that homeowners were generally better off than their fellows. Everything lined up for this, right?

Except it didn’t. My personal experience went south in a hurry. And in 2008, the experiences of people I knew turned sour as well. And when I went back and thought about it a little more, even common sense (in line with what Francis originally wrote) suggested that being exceedingly careful with debt was the wiser course. The experts, of course, changed their tune pretty quick, for a while. But one of the things which turned me off to media talking heads and anointed experts was precisely how quickly they turned, backpedaled, and pretended their earlier assertions had never even existed. After that debacle, I’ve been a lot more skeptical of their class.

Point is, when I reran the assertion through the bullshit filter, I became convinced that Francis was right, and I had been wrong.

But you must be very careful with the tool. Some time ago, I had a self-admitted Marxist attempt to convince me that the red states were economically backward, and that the quasi-Socialist policies of the blue states had created economic gains relative to their backward right-wing brethren. He cited some experts that were criticizing Kansas, and some others who were criticizing the South.

Interestingly enough, I am a well-traveled man, at least with respect to the lower 48 states. Having just returned from a trip to Philadelphia, the evidence of my own eyes immediately contradicted the Marxist’s assertions. Most of Philly was terrible. Outside the downtown core, it looked like a bomb went off. Hiroshima probably looked more attractive after it was nuked. And even in the urban core, the sidewalks smelled like piss, there were cops on every corner, and the black panthers were demonstrating right across from City Hall, in an effort to get an Islamic terrorist freed.

The evidence of my own eyes did not show me a fountain of prosperity for Philadelphia. Nor have my travels to other northern cities shown me likewise. Now, one might say that Miami and Atlanta are bad too, and that perhaps this is a trait of big cities, not something unique to the blue states. But even the worst areas of Atlanta and Miami were better than most of Philadelphia. It was that bad.

Nor, I should note, do my friends who live in Chicago and Detroit say any better about those places. Oh sure, each has a limousine liberal urban core. But outside of that, they are all cesspits. And I lived in Los Angeles long enough to know that it is nearly as bad as Philly. No, the blue states don’t get to claim economic superiority, regardless of what GDP numbers say. There is something terribly wrong with blue state cities. And if some red state cities have a similar disease, it certainly isn’t anywhere near as bad.

So the experts can make their claims all day long. I’m not buying it, no matter how well they present their case.

Folks these days put too much stock in some items of the bullshit filter, and not enough stock in others. Where personal experience contradicts the experts, where common sense and pattern recognition contradict the studies, a resolution must be made. Most people would have you rely on the experts and the studies more heavily. But over time, I’ve come to favor personal experience at least as much.

Winston said it properly in Nineteen Eighty-Four:

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre.

To this day, this remains one of my most frequent citations. Buried in this is a central truth about many ideologies that have been peddled throughout history: they assert the primacy of another’s view over the evidence of your eyes and ears. Once trained to dismiss this, a man might be made to spout any kind of absurdity.

Leftists often assert that the Rightist has a closed mind. But it is the Left that commands us to ignore what we see and hear, and to spout only pre-approved views, without question or critique. Their notion of an open mind is actually a controlled mind. Skip the bullshit filter, believe what you are told, obey.

No thanks. I’ll run everything through the bullshit filter, thank you very much.

How Much is Enough?

When buying a product or service, the first question out of a man’s mouth is likely to be “how much is it?” As individuals, that question is axiomatic. So why is it that when we discuss grand political programs, the cost is so rarely discussed? And even when it is, the price is obfuscated behind layers of legalese and technicalities.

Sometime ago, I remember discussing Planned Parenthood with a liberal, and when I pointed out that my primary issue with abortion was the fact that I was paying for it with tax money, he replied that Planned Parenthood doesn’t get any money to perform abortions. This was a technicality. Planned Parenthood gets taxpayer money for all sorts of things, but comparatively little specifically earmarked for abortions.

Yet, if the government is paying for electricity, medical equipment, rent, whatever… for Planned Parenthood, but not specifically for abortions, how do we account that? It’s a sleight of hand designed to obfuscate the real price. I can make nearly any business profitable if you pay my bills. So why doesn’t that funding count in the price?

I tried to explain this to my liberal friend, and evidently failed, as he would not count any money not paid directly from the federal government (state subsidies were conveniently ignored) for a specific abortion. Thus in his mind, the fiction that government doesn’t pay for abortions remained firm and unassailable. But if the government paid me money to buy a car, and paid me money to put gas in it, are they subsidizing my travel, even if they don’t earmark it for a specific destination?

But it isn’t Planned Parenthood that is the real subject of this post. You see, cost is ignored for pretty much everything in the liberal world. There is no limit to the amount of spending that is seen as appropriate.

When a charity asks me to donate money, the question is often “how much?” And not just how much money they want from me, though that is important as well, but how much money is actually spent on the mission of the charity, versus administrative overhead.

Yet with government spending, the question of how much is only ever answered with more. How much taxpayer funding do you need for welfare? More. How much is needed for paying school teachers? More. How much is needed for social services? More. How much taxpayer money do you need, period? More.

However much the government is taking today, it always wants more. And furthermore, the political Left is dedicated to guilt shaming you, via Weaponized Empathy, if you should disagree with them. How many Muslim refugees should be accepted by various Western countries around the world? More. Never is it a specific number, fixed and immutable, after which we might account our duty to human rights and dignity properly satisfied. Always it is more.

Slavery reparations work in a similar manner. Ta-Nehisi Coates argued for reparations some time ago in The Atlantic. And again, no cost figure is given, only vague references to a lot, and interest accrued over the years (as if this were a debt, from one individual to another). What Coates wants, and what many Black Lives Matter folks want, is a blank check to draw upon forever. Or, put more simply, they want more. Coates compares slavery reparations to German reparations to the Jews, but without the realization that many victims of Nazi depredations, and their immediate relatives, were still alive. So were many perpetrators. No slaves or slave owners live today.

Even so, Germany should not be expected to pay reparations forever, in some indeterminate amount. Rather, an amount was settled upon, paid, and the thing was done. “How much?” Asked Germany. “This much,” replied the actual victims.

One gets the sense that Black Lives Matter wants money and preferential treatment in perpetuity.

One amusing example is the cost of cars in Denmark. They suffer a 180% car tax. Did you buy a $10,000 car? Be prepared to spent $28,000 on it. A 180% tax, apparently, might be enough for somebody. Here in the United States, liberals salivate over the time when they can do likewise in America. Back when I lived in California for a while in the early 2000s, I remember when the sitting governor was ousted by Arnold “the governator” Schwarzenegger, partly because of rolling blackouts and a demand for higher energy prices, along with a proposed car registration tax that would hit $1,000 or more for some models. That, apparently, was too much even for liberal California at the time, and Gray Davis got the boot. Jerry Brown’s proposals are much more modest by comparison, though still obviously heading in that direction.

But make no mistake, the love of northern European Socialism among contemporary liberals means they would like to do the same. It is merely a case of too many folks in America asking how much. So they can’t get away with it just yet. Still, if you ask them to provide a number of what is ideal for them, they never do. Always, the answer is more.

Let’s look at it from a more fundamental angle. We are told that we have it too good. Maybe it’s our white privilege showing, or perhaps male privilege, or straight privilege. Whatever. So we need to give up some portion of our wealth, our careers, and some of the benefits we’ve accrued in life.

Okay. I disagree with all that. But, even supposing I were to agree, what’s the bill? How much do you require?

I’ve never received a satisfactory answer to that question. What percentage of my income is demanded? More. How much of my assets must I forfeit? More. How much should I give up from my business and my career? More. I even ask Leftists, on occasion, to just give me an ideal average tax rate. How much should American citizens, as a whole, and on average, give up to the government? More. Never have I once received a reply that says “this is the tax rate that we want, then we’ll leave you alone.”

Thing is, the more argument is remarkably persuasive to many, because it eliminates the need for the Marxist to conduct a cost benefit analysis. We don’t need to know how many poor people were helped by a welfare program, nor do we need to know much it cost. All we need to know is whether more people were helped by it. And even the most wasteful and ludicrous of government programs will help someone, somewhere, who can be trotted out as a sad story. You hear this argument from the political Left all the time. “If it only helps one person…” Sure. I could go distribute millions from the treasury to random people in the street, and it would meet that minimal standard. But is this smart from a cost benefit standpoint? Probably not…

Weaponized Empathy comes into play here. If you oppose said welfare program, you must want the people involved to die, or to starve, or whatever. If you say no more, you’re a greedy, self-centered Capitalist asshole.

“You said no to helping poor people with more of your money? Wow. I just can’t even… how could you hate poor people that much? White privilege strikes again.”

There is a classification of human that doesn’t understand price, and always demands more. Yes, that’s right: the toddler. And toddlers are gifted at using empathy against you. When I say no, my son will pout, and sniffle, and try to make me feel bad for denying him. Of course, it doesn’t work on me. I just let him cry all he wants in the corner until the noise gets unbearable, in which case he gets a timeout or a spanking, depending on the severity of the tantrum. My wife is somewhat more susceptible to his charms, however. But even her tolerance is limited, and when it is exceeded, her punishments are probably a grade worse than mine.

Just because he wants some $100 toy, doesn’t mean he’ll get it. Just because he wants more cake (no amount of cake is enough for a toddler, as far as I can tell), doesn’t mean he’ll get it. And to be fair to him, the lessons are starting to take. The tantrums are growing fewer, and he’s starting to get it. But Marxists never really get it. Maybe they just weren’t spanked enough as kids, I don’t know.

But like the parent who says “time out” when the demands grow overly emotional, perhaps we need to start treating any attempt to use the more argument as the childish demand that it truly is. If a man can’t even be bothered to do a proper cost benefit analysis and present a bill, in other words if he can’t say this much is needed, then that man is not presenting a serious argument, no matter how many appeals he makes to morality, emotions, or helping the poor, oppressed people of wherever.

Instead, he’s making a toddler argument, and if it is illegal to spank him until he screams, then the least we can do as American voters is give that political toddler a proper timeout. Go sit in the corner, liberals, until you can learn that policies have costs, more is not a valid price, and “it’s not fair” is not a useful argument.

After all, even my two year old is starting to figure out that much.

Debt: The Opiate of the Masses

Lately, debt has been on my mind. America has been addicted to it as long as I’ve been alive. Our government is in debt, companies are in debt, individuals are in debt… even my local CDD is in debt. Credit is a dangerous tool, one that is easily turned on the wielder. Thus the comparison to opioids. What may have a use in certain cases, especially emergencies, may become addictive and deadly if not managed properly.

Recently, I rejoined an ancient computer hardware forum, and some of the folks there were discussing credit. As is normal for me these days, I expressed my general aversion to debt, and extolled the wisdom of living with your means. The hostility this engendered was, perhaps, worse than if I had declared myself a worshiper of Lucifer. It was like I had personally run up to their homes and kicked their dogs. Or, perhaps more appropriate to the title of this post, as if I had suggest that the opium user should quit his habit.

A few of the forum denizens explained that it was better to buy expensive things on credit, if the interest rates were low, and then invest the cash at a presumably higher rate. And sure, playing the spread between interest rates is an old trick. But here’s the kicker: how many of them were actually doing this? I hear this excuse all the time from folks I know have little to no liquid assets. It’s a lot like the addict saying “I can quit any time I want.” They claim they can sell the car, or furniture, or whatever they bought on credit whenever they want, and that debt can have beneficial effects too.

If it truly worked this way in practice, there’d be a lot less bankruptcies and delinquencies, I think.

Perhaps some folks do play the spread between investment returns and low loan rates successfully, and there is nothing wrong with such a strategy, if well executed. But they are surely outnumbered by folks who use this as a quick excuse to load up on things they want, and can’t afford. It is the same with folks who claim they are using their credit cards for the points, or the rewards. Some people do this successfully (my in-laws play this game very well). But a hefty fraction use this to excuse their credit addiction, and wind up carrying balances, easily wiping out any gains from rewards or airline miles.

Another excuse is that credit cards are more secure than debit cards, for a variety of reasons. It’s easier to cancel a charge than to reverse a debit transaction, and the credit card puts an extra layer of defense between your savings and checking accounts (or wads of cash that can be mugged from you) on the one hand, and the merchant on the other. Again, there is truth to this. I actually employ such a strategy myself. I exclusively use a credit card for most medium-to-major purchases (and all online purchases), and have the full balance paid each month automatically, so balances are never carried and I don’t get charged interest. But how many folks actually do this, and how many use it as an enabling excuse?

Some quick statistics on credit usage:

The average household with credit card debt pays a total of $1,292 in credit card interest per year.

That’s $1,300 flushed down the toilet every year. The average balance held by folks who had credit card debt was $16,748.

The average auto loan balance, again for folks who have auto loans, was $28,948.

Probably worst of all is the average student loan balance of $49,905.

Finally we have mortgage debt, which averages at $176,222.

Now a lot of folks will balk at the mortgage debt figure, but the fact remains, as I’ve said before, that mortgage debt isn’t “good” either, at least not personal mortgages. In a business situation, the optics are a little better, as business is, in essence, always a game of calculated risk and reward. But this is a game that can screw over the individual very quickly. The worst case from a business perspective is that the business fails. If you don’t have personal liability for the business, well, it still sucks, but you’ll be okay.

Some folks may talk about the mortgage interest exemption, and the low rates of mortgages these days, and the fact that houses are just so damned expensive. These things are all true. And in my case, I still do have a mortgage (though it is much less than the average, at least). I regard this as a personal failure, however, and I would not recommend that others do it. Indeed, eliminating the mortgage is my highest financial priority. I picked up a considerable amount of extra work solely to pay this down as quickly as possible.  If my readers wonder why some days The Declination doesn’t get an update, there you have it. I’m probably pulling another 12-14 hour workday.

If I had it to do over again, I’d buy a travel trailer when I turned 18, park it on a piece of crappy land someplace, live on the cheap and stash my money for a decade. At the end of it, I’d have been able to buy a house, car, and anything I wanted in cash. And I absolutely mean that. The only reason I don’t now is that I have a family, and the place we are at is good for my family, and I’m pretty certain I can pay this off in a couple more years. Even then, this is no excuse. Getting a mortgage was a mistake, one I must mitigate as best I can.

Now, if you feel you can earn a better return on your money playing the spread between mortgage rates and investment returns, by all means, do so. But if you don’t have the liquid assets to pay it off at any time, it’s not a good idea.

Sometimes I suspect my grandfather’s generation, who lived during the Great Depression, was much wiser in this. They knew the dangers of debt, and the vagaries of banking. They didn’t trust the government or the banks, sometimes in almost comical fashion. One grandparent of mine was fond of stashing wads of cash in utterly bizarre places throughout the house, places no one would think to look. A family friend buried guns in a sealed box in the backyard, just in case the government ever decided to come for them. Another had stashes of gold he kept hidden. Folks from that era were far more suspicious and less trusting. And certainly, my grandparents were not fond of debt. Neither side of the family carried a mortgage, or ever financed a car.

We’ve come to the age when a smart man can rationalize away conventional wisdom in favor of his addictions. He can talk a good game, and tell himself it’s all okay, and what he is doing is supremely clever. But conventional wisdom survived some terrible times in history… and historically, spendthrifts often come to bad ends. And the rationalizations aren’t so different from the addict telling folks that he can handle his habit, and that he’s not really addicted. After all, he can quit any time he wants to, right?

Farewell to Thomas Sowell

So I’ve been out awhile for the holidays. Upon returning, I learned that Thomas Sowell is finally retiring, at the ripe age of 86. I had this to say elsewhere:

Thomas Sowell is retiring, and it’s something of a sad day. He’s 86, now, and he’s had a good run. We can’t ask anything more of this man. But for decades he has been a voice from the old Chicago school of economics. While others of this economic philosophy were experts in the arcane details (and make no mistake, Thomas Sowell was also), Dr. Sowell had a special gift: he could articulate the principles of the Chicago school in a way that the everyday layman could understand.

Many of us libertarian-minded folks learned the basics from Dr. Sowell’s books and videos. I remember his appearances with Milton Friedman and other Chicago school economists in debates, and he would come armed with a litany of facts, statistics, and prepared data. His opponents, most often, did not do their homework. He embarrassed many Socialists and Keynesians in such a way.

At the same time, he was always calm, collected, and respectful. You almost never saw him angry or frustrated. He was confident in his positions, but spent much of life learning and modifying them as he gained new data (it is little-known that he began his career as a Marxist, and only later changed his mind). He was less ideologically driven than most. And so I came to trust him on that basis. It takes a pair to admit you’re wrong, modify your position, and start over.

He came from a humble background, and rose to become the star of the Chicago school. In a day and age when American blacks often believe they can’t succeed, due as much to the toxic influence of Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons as anything else, Thomas Sowell stands out. And he possessed intellectual courage. If he had spouted the party line, and put his intellect to the service of Marxist race-peddlers, he could have had far greater fame, wealth, and power. If Obama could sling himself into the Presidency off of nothing, imagine what a mind like Dr. Sowell’s could have done, if only he embraced Progressivism? He chose to forgo these in the search for truth, and that alone is worthy of great respect, without even taking into account his many other accomplishments.

The Left, of course, reviled him for this. He could never be forgiven his sin of leaving the ideological plantation. As a friend of mine said this morning: “It’s been a Leftist rite of passage to call Thomas Sowell an Uncle Tom since the 1970s.”

I don’t know who will take his place, or if it could ever be filled. I can only wish him the best in retirement, and say thank you, for a great part of my own understanding of economics and philosophy began with him. He’s been an enormous impact in my own life.

The Politics of Envy

Francis enlightens us to the driving force behind modern politics, in America and around the globe. The money quote:

In a society in which some will prosper more than others, uncontrolled envy is the stimulus for unending conflict. A society that accepts rampant envy as somehow justifiable (or at least, ineradicable) will be lucky indeed if those conflicts remain non-violent.

Yet in contemplating the social order of the West, which routinely grants respect to the demands of the querulous, such that those who ask nothing of the State except to be left alone are mulcted without limit to satisfy them, what conclusion can we reach but that envy, in the First World, has become one of the ruling principles of society?

Envy is a sort of economic Cargo Cult, in which it is assumed that those who are better off are somehow stealing from those who have less. Of course, on occasion this is true. Many of the wealthy political class obtained their wealth through rent-seeking, government largess, or government-created monopoly power. That is, in effect, a form of stealing. But this is the truth made to serve a lie.

Much is made of the notion of privilege these days. SJWs will often explain that whites get more because of their whiteness, and thus some portion of their wealth must be confiscated, or some portion of jobs denied them, or other similar schemes of wealth redistribution. Those targeted are frequently the middle class, the regular working stiffs, who in aggregate, are far more likely to have been stolen from, than to be doing the stealing.

This is all lost on the envious. They see that some people have more than they do, or those for whom they agitate, and they demand that we share our wealth with them.

Appeals are often made to our Christian faith. Jesus was a pretty swell guy, they will say, and he helped the poor and the less fortunate. So we must do so also, or we are not good Christians. It’s an overly simplistic narrative, of course, but even so it is easy to dismiss. At no point did Christ tell us that charity ought to properly come from a distant government. Quite the contrary, Christ extolled us to give freely, which implies a choice… not a gun held to our head that says “give us 50% of your crap or else you’re not a nice person.”

Charity is no longer charity at all if it is done forcibly. It is theft, and it is done to satiate the envy of one person in order to serve a political agenda. Only, as Francis points out in his article, there is no satisfying the envious. They will always want more. And thus the demands of the envious continue to grow. They want more money, more benefits, more freebies.

Rather than allow a BBQ event to provide its leftovers to the poor, the clerisy demanded that the food be destroyed. It was not fit, they explained, to feed the poor, because of a variety of arcane regulations. This ties in neatly to the regulations that prevent charities from giving away expired canned food — even though canned food is safe for years after such dates. The food must be destroyed. People would love to clear their cabinets of expired cans to help the poor — indeed, in my youth I remembered that’s how they did food drives. They’d specifically ask for stuff you didn’t want. Better that it goes to a hungry person, than the garbage.

But not anymore. Expired cans are not good enough. Indeed, top of the line BBQ is not good enough either. One gets the sense that unless the poor are given five-star service from famous chefs, it is not good enough. This extends to toy drives. I remember when I was young that used toys your children didn’t want anymore would often go to the poor. Again, better that an old fire truck toy go to a child who would otherwise have a bleak Christmas than for it to find its way into the garbage. Now, toy drives specifically explain that everything must be new, in its packaging, and accompanied by its receipt. I have no doubts there is some government regulation, or de facto legal precedent (somebody suing because the toy was not new) for why this is true.

Envy is the ruin of any economic system. And charity that is directed by the government is no longer charity, but something else entirely.

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