Category: US politics

The next up-to-four years (until Harris replaces Biden, and barring SMOD)

The Wall Street Journal is more sanguine about the new president than it should be:

Whatever their partisan affiliation, all Americans can take pride in Wednesday’s inaugural proceedings for President Joe Biden. The peaceful transfer of power from one party to another is a sign of underlying democratic strength no matter our current political distemper.

The ceremony at the Capitol had an unabashed patriotic feel that is all too rare these days. Traditional anthems and prayerful invocations were the order of the hour. Former Presidents were on hand from both major parties as usual, even if Donald Trump wasn’t. No one took a knee when Lady Gaga sang the national anthem.

And it was especially moving, at least to us, to see new Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband walk down the Capitol steps escorting Mike Pence and his wife to their waiting car. Mr. Pence in particular deserved this traditional show of respect after his role on Jan. 6 when he refused to reject the state electoral votes as President Trump demanded. He should be getting more praise than he is for that display of constitutional principle.

These rituals send a message to a diverse country, and to the world, about America’s fundamental institutional strength despite a bitter election campaign and the turmoil of recent weeks. In China the transfers of power are from one Communist Party cadre to another, and public political rites are limited to unanimous acclamation. Enemies have often misjudged America’s raucous politics for national weakness—to their eventual regret.

I must say I don’t understand the concept of wishing someone who wants to do bad things to this country well. Biden already did that by rejoining the Paris Climate Accord (an American economic suicide pact) and killing the Keystone XL Pipeline (because energy independence is a bad thing to leftists). He is already as bad as predicted, and he’s one day into our presidential sentence.

What, you may ask, is SMOD? At this rate, it may be the best possible outcome of the next four years.

“Our” America vs. “their” America

P.J. Kellogg:

After four tumultuous and divisive years, it feels as though we may no longer be the UNITED States of America. It seems like we haven’t been this polarized, this pulled apart, in a long time, at least since the Vietnam era.
But perhaps it’s time to focus on what we still have–or SHOULD have–in common: the values that set us apart as Americans, the values that define us and that we should all hold dear, no matter our party affiliation, no matter whether our candidate won or lost this election.
Before we are Republicans or Democrats or any other subset, we are Americans. We should care less about party affiliation, and care more about what we can accomplish by uniting. Blue or Red, left or right, we are all Americans, and we should all want what is best for the country, and for ALL Americans. We should stop listening to politicians and media that seek to splinter us into warring factions and tribes.
We believe our country IS great, because of the high ideals we aspire to: freedom, equality, opportunity. We recognize that we haven’t always lived up to those ideals, and we have done some shameful things in the past, and, sadly, we still do some of them. We seek to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them as we go forward. We are nowhere near perfect, but we strive to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday. Our trajectory should always be rising. We should be a better country tomorrow than we were today.
We were founded on the notion of rugged individualism. You decide what you want to do, you work hard at it, and if you are successful, you get rewarded for your hard work and risk. We believe in upward mobility. You can achieve what you want to achieve and be successful, so long as you do so honestly and don’t harm others in the process.
We also have a long and strong tradition of pitching in. Pilgrims, pioneers and farmers helped their neighbors. They came together to raise barns, harvest crops and put out fires. This nation of rugged individualists knew that everyone needs a hand sometimes. Today I help you, tomorrow I may need your help. This nation was founded on the value of loving your neighbor. Individual freedom doesn’t mean you turn your back on the community. We help those who need help. If your new neighbor needs help moving in, you grab some boxes and help. If someone in your community is sick, you make them a casserole, or the community pulls together to raise funds to help pay for medical care. It isn’t weakness to lift someone up when they are down. Compassion is strength. Sometimes we help another person one on one. Sometimes we combine our efforts with others through a church or a charity. Sometimes we do so through government–that’s all government is, really: it’s citizens pitching in and helping others.
We believe in science. We are always learning, always discovering. That’s how we developed the airplane, the automobile, how we eradicated polio, how we put a man on the moon, and invented the personal computer and the internet. We experiment, we try, we test, we learn. And we pay attention to the scientists and experts who have studied and experimented more than we have. Knowledge is a good thing.
Americans are action-oriented. We work. We see problems, and we find ways to solve them. Individuals, companies, and governments are all seeking to solve problems, overcome obstacles, move us forward. We believe in pragmatism and efficiency.
In America, we are all free to live our lives how we want. The Constitution clarifies that we are endowed by our Creator with the right to pursue happiness how we see fit–provided we don’t harm others or infringe upon their rights. Do what you want to do, love who you want to love, believe what you want to believe. But one person’s happiness does not require that another person suffers. Live and let live.
We believe that governments are necessary, and it is vital that they be effective and efficient. While we cherish the rights and powers of the individual to live as one chooses, there are some things that individuals cannot or should not do alone. The individual cannot defend the nation from foreign attacks. The individual cannot maintain streets or educate children or do a thousand other things. That is why we have elected through our democratic process representatives at the municipal, county, state and federal levels do act in certain roles on our behalf. And we willingly pay taxes to fund these necessary services. Government is not supposed to do everything of course; the Constitution sets limits on its powers, Government can help, when necessary–and should be as small as practical, as effective and as efficient as can be. Those things we want government to do, it should do well. Americans do not want to live without government, but we do not want to be ruled by it, either.
We firmly believe that all people are created equal and are entitled to equal treatment under the law. No one should get special privileges because of their wealth or race or gender or religion, nor should anyone suffer discrimination or face extra burdens or obstacles because of the same. This is not controversial and is not open to discussion. We are a nation that accepts all. And the laws and system should treat all the same. But we realize that not everyone will have equal outcomes. Everyone is unique and different, we all have different skills, talents, and abilities. We take different risks and have different work ethics and luck.
We are and always will remain a capitalist country. We believe in and support free markets, free enterprise, free trade, and fair competition. The government is not in the business of telling people what business they can or should be in, nor should it be picking winners and losers.In the USA, you are free to start your own business, you are free to innovate, and you have the freedom to fail. As citizens, we can and should strongly support our neighbors’ small businesses, which is where most people are employed. Big businesses should not expect nor receive much help from the government.
We have always been and should always be a melting pot. We welcome people from all over the world, We encourage them to come here legally and live the American Dream. We should remain the shining beacon, that city on a hill that people long to reach. We should streamline our immigration process and welcome those who wish to come here, assimilate into the U.S. while simultaneously honoring their heritage. We know that diversity is a strength, not a weakness. America is richer and more vibrant because we are a nation of immigrants, people who have come here from every possible shore, in search of a better life.
Our Constitution guarantees us freedom of speech, freedom of the press to investigate and report facts, and the freedom to exchange ideas. With that freedom, some people will inevitably lie or say ugly and offensive things. You are still free to express your opinions–and with social media we all have more ways to do that than ever before. But people are also free to shoot down your opinions, to attack them, deride them, fact-check them, and to call them out for being incorrect, irresponsible, racist, etc. In America, we speak our minds. We are often direct, blunt, and informal. But we do not have to be rude, insulting or hostile. We are also free to choose civility; we can decide to disagree without being disagreeable.
We believe in the freedom to practice whatever religion one chooses, so long as you are not harming someone else. This country was settled by people who wanted to practice their religion without persecution. You can believe what you want to believe, worship as you see fit, and you are just American as anyone else. If you choose not to believe, that is also your freedom of choice. While the United States was founded by Christians with Christian values and a common belief in the Protestant work ethic, and that is all undeniably part of our collective history and cultural fabric, we are not by any definition an exclusively Christian nation. It is much more important that we be a moral nation, full of good people who seek to do what is right–irrespective of creeds..

Though this has been severely put to the test recently, we are a nation of people who believe in the Rule of Law. We must always seek to have good and fair laws that are applied equally and protect the rights of all citizens. We must have good people in government seeking to make and implement and uphold these laws, and we believe all private and public individuals and entities are to be held accountable under the law. No one is above the law, not presidents or Congress people, not billionaires or police, not anyone. We believe government power is limited by our national and state constitutions.
We are a country of innovation and invention. From mobile phones to the internet, traffic lights to GPS, many great things have been invented right here that have changed the world for the better. We believe in change. We like change–change is often (but not exclusively) positive. Change requires that we adapt, change how we do things, maybe give some things up that are obsolete and step out into the unknown. That’s how we grow, both as individuals and as a society. Progress is good. Stagnation is bad. We have changed a great deal over the past 245 years, and we will–we must–continue to grow, adapt and progress as we move forward.
A fiercely independent people, we like to be left alone (although we haven’t always done a good job at leaving others alone), but we stand up to bullies wherever they may be in the world. We believe in justice (even if we sometimes get it wrong). We are not warmongers, but we fight when we have to, when it’s the right thing to do. We help our allies and we stand up to threats. We don’t turn our back on the world. While “America First” sounds good, it’s very easy for that to morph into “America Alone.” We’re all in it together. The world is a better, stronger, safer place when decent democracies stand together, trade together, and cooperate with each other.
We believe in law and order. We absolutely hate mob rule and chaos and violent anarchy. That is not who we are. We are a nation of laws and we believe in the Rule of Law. Play by the rules. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. No one is above the law. If you harm others, there are consequences. We also believe in compassion and fairness. Anyone can make a mistake, but you are more than your mistakes. We believe in redemption and second chances.
We love this land. We are all about constant improvement. As Baden Powell taught his scouts long ago, “try and leave this world a little better than you found it.” We want to do the same. That means we respect the land, the environment, we seek to have clean air, clean water, healthy soil and a vibrant ecosystem. We believe in conserving the most beautiful parts of nature so they remain beautiful and so all of us can enjoy them. We believe that harming our environment is harming each other, and we are not jerks.
>We are an optimistic people. While we revere our past and what made us who we are, we are forward-looking. We believe our best days are yet ahead of us. Rather than being stuck on tradition, we dream about the best possible future, and then work to achieve it. Where we are going is more important than where we have been, or who we came from. There are always things that we can–must–change. If something isn’t working the way it should, we put our collective heads together and figure out a way to fix it.
We look back–not just on the last four chaotic, divisive, destructive years, but on the last decades–and we believe, we KNOW, that we can and must do better. We should be better than hatred and division, better than ignorance and indifference, better than disease and death and deception. We need better leaders, better political parties (or better still, NO parties), better media. But we need to BE BETTER CITIZENS. All of us. We need to love our neighbors, even if they are in a different party or speak a different language or are in a different tax bracket. And we need to be more informed, more thoughtful, and more empathetic. We need to think about the consequences of our choices and votes, and stop letting others manipulate our emotions.
We can and we will bounce back from this crisis, as we have many other crises in the past. We made it through a Civil War where the country nearly tore itself in two over the evil of slavery. We made it through the 1918 Flu pandemic. We survived two world wars, as well as the divisive Vietnam/Watergate/civil right era. We have endured economic hardships and disastrously bad leaders before. We can survive this era as well, if we pull together and focus on the values that unite us, rather than the ideologies and culture wedges that divide us.

If only. For one thing, Democrats do not believe America is great (the test is if you believe that American greatness is based in who’s in charge, or if you believe that certain fundamental changes are required before American greatness). Democrats certainly do not believe in “rugged individualism” (too much WMC). Democrats don’t believe in science (for instance, genders other than male and female). Democrats certainly don’t believe in freedom to live your life however you want. And we have seen selective love of “law and order” (Trump supporters bad, BLM and Antifa good).
So pardon the skepticism. We haven’t been united since 9/11. And nothing is going to change that.

 

The economic failures of Trumponomics

With two days left in the Trump administration, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires an assessment of Trump’s economics.

Jeffrey A. Tucker:

There is some bitter irony embedded in the original campaign 2016 presidential pitch to “Make America Great Again.” One looks around the country to observe catastrophe without precedent. Making sense of all the events that led to this will take years of investigation and reflection. It will require untangling good policies from bad, intentions versus realities, and many layers of causes and effects. My attempt below is not intended to be partisan; it’s an attempt to tell the sad story I saw unfolding before my weary eyes.

My quick summary: Trumpian economics failed not because of its initial deregulatory push, tax-cut agenda, and judicial appointments. Rather the MAGA agenda failed because of its turn against international trade, its autarkic approach to migration, and, most of all, due to a wildly inconsistent and essentially catastrophic response to the pandemic, all of which trace to a fundamental philosophical pathogen. The post-election antics, culminating in the mob breach of Capitol Hill security, merely put a fine point on it.

Philosophy

From 2015, even from his first public speeches following his presidential run, it was clear that Donald Trump was not a conservative in the Reagan tradition but was selling something of which we had no experience in politics during most lifetimes. He was reviving what I’ve called right Hegelianism that imagines the trajectory of history culminating in the ideal of a nation-state unified and managed by a great leader. In other interactions of this ideology in the interwar period, this unity is economic, social, cultural, religious, and racial.

This is not an American ideal. It’s not about freedom, rights, the rule of law, much less the limits on government. It imagines not a head of state that manages the government but rather an overarching central leader that manages the whole country in all its aspects. The US Constitution was structured not only to prevent such a system but to work as a rebuke to it. The first three words, “We the People,” were chosen carefully to embrace a self-managing society, not one ruled by a person over and over everyone else.

There are many instantiations of right Hegelian ideology but all end up rallying around trade protectionism, migration restrictions, and the centralization of power in the executive. These were the main themes of the 2016 Trump campaign. These themes were not, however, what drew the Republican rank and file to his candidacy. Instead, what the party regulars liked about him was his brash and aggressive willingness to stand up to his enemies. His anger and relentless attacks thrilled people in the party who were fed up with playing nice with the left. That allowed them to overlook the aspects of his ideological push that stood in hard contradiction to anything like traditional American conservatism, much less classical liberalism.

Trade

Trump’s first year began with a more traditional Republican agenda of tax cuts, deregulation, and non-progressive court appointments. Those who had worried that his right-populism and nationalism would predominate felt a sense of calm that things would work out after all. His regulatory appointments were solid free market people who believed in market forces and less centralization. My own grim predictions, made in Newsweek July 16, 2015, had begun to seem overwrought. Even I began to think I had been far too pessimistic.

That all changed on January 22, 2018. That was the date that marked the end of peaceful trade relations with China. The Trump administration slapped high tariffs on the importation of solar cells and washing machines from China. This was the beginning of the trade war that would expand to Europe, Canada, Mexico, most of Asia, and ultimately the entire world. Some apologists claimed that this was nothing other than an attempt to gain trade concessions so that free and fair trade would be achieved. There was no evidence for that, however, apart from the periodic and perfunctory claims by Trump himself that he was not against trade.

The problem was that his actions belied his reassurances. Every policy decision was more extreme than the last. “Trade wars are good” and “easy,” tweeted Trump on March 2, before slapping tariffs of 10-25% on steel and aluminium. Administration spokesmen assured the public that there would be no retaliation, a prediction that defies all known experience.

Thus did it all unfold as the year went on. His one-man campaign to reverse 70 years of progress in trade culminated in a vision more astonishing than anything I could have predicted. Foreign Policy put a fine point on it: Free Trade Is Over.

The Trump administration went one further and imagined that it could and would decouple the US economy from China entirely. In a digital age with infinitely complex and interlocking supply chains extending the world over, this hope amounted to violence against a major source of prosperity since the end of the Second World War. What he ended up seeking was nothing short of trade autarky. This not only pillaged Americans of $63 billion in one year alone; it dramatically reduced US influence in the world, not only over trade deals (China keeps making them, even with the UK) but also over fundamental issues of democracy and human rights (Hong Kong has effectively lost its independence and the US was powerless to stop it). To top it off, a trade war designed to push exports over imports ended up reducing the export contribution to US GDP to the lowest level in ten years.

There was bitter irony associated with his one-man rule over US trade policy. The US Constitution clearly grants that power to Congress. But following the 1930 disaster of Smoot-Hawley tariffs, Congress began systematically to turn that power over to the executive. The belief is that the White House will always be inhabited by a well-educated person who will understand how important global trade is to peace and prosperity. Mostly that has been true. The plan worked until it did not. For fully three years, the world watched in astonishment as one man’s autarkic vision prevailed over the interests of every member of Congress, one hundred plus countries, and hundreds of millions of exporters, importers, and consumers.

Migration

Alongside the hope for national economic independence there was of course the immigration agenda. It began early on with a policy most conservatives embraced: an end to illegal immigration. If you listened carefully, however, you would notice that this was more than a concern about bad actors getting across US borders. Trump frequently spoke about job displacement – which should have been a sign that his immigration agenda was not, at its core, about security or race but was a mere extension of his protectionist trade policies. He intended to keep out both goods and people because he believed, sincerely, that this was the way to make America great.

There were grave consequences of his policies both economically and politically. The US population is growing more slowly than in many decades. In effect, he cut countable immigrants by two thirdsof the pre-Trump levels. This has caused the US to experience a labor shortage in retail and hospitality, at least until lockdowns so severely harmed those industries. It’s profoundly affected the tech industry as well as building, construction, and agriculture. Immigration has made a mighty contribution to economic progress, so slashing of the legal levels – and effectively abolishing immigration in 2020 – has had devastating consequences.

Even before the lockdowns of the Spring of 2020, the business community, which one might have supposed would favor his capital-gain tax cuts and deregulatory pushes, turned decisively against the Trump administration and Republicans who failed to stop his dramatic departure from a Reagan-style economic agenda. This created an unprecedented shifting in business community support for the Democratic Party and turning ideologically left.

Lockdowns

The Trump administration’s nationalist push was regrettable enough in its trade and immigration policies. But when it came to the coronavirus, it became absolutely devastating and ultimately wrecked the presidency. The turning point was January 31, when a ban of flights from China took effect. Trump reports he did this on his own, against the advice of everyone around him. It had previously been a well-established principle that flight bans do nothing to curb or mitigate viruses, especially since the virus was already here.

The hope here was surely propagandistic: the belief that the guilt for the virus itself could be pegged on China. Just as they are stealing intellectual property, selling us too-cheap goods, and dishing out compromised technology, so too are they sending us pathogens on airplanes. As with goods, the answer is to use the power of the state to stop the virus. That also put in motion a dangerous trajectory. Why allow any flights from anywhere? For that matter, why should states allow visitors from other states? If the goal of pandemic policy is to minimize exposure, even among non-vulnerable populations, the result would have to be a fundamental upending of life itself.

Sure enough, on March 12, Trump addressed the nation with a disastrous message in which he announced his complete change of mind on the virus. Having dismissed it previously as just another flu, he now saw the opportunity to be the savior to the nation by battling the virus with all his power and prowess.

At the end of the message, he made a shocking announcement. In four days time, all flights from Europe would be blocked. Just incredible and certainly without precedent outside of wartime. Indeed, such travel blocks are fixtures of war, deployed in the name of disease mitigation. The panic around the world was palpable, as people scrambled to book flights back as soon as possible. Huge crowds mingled for many hours in international airports, trying desperately to get back to the US before it was too late. Those travel restrictions were not lifted at any point in the remainder of his presidency.

It was the same with embassies and consulates issuing visas for coming to the US. It was all shut down. No more students. No more workers. No more tourists. The actions on the part of the Trump administration were so draconian and despotic. Though the president would variously claim that his actions saved millions of lives – as many as 4 million even – there is no evidence that blocking these flights and migrations achieved anything. The virus was already here and the US became the world’s leading hotspot. His actions caused a policy and political panic throughout the country. By March 16, most of the country was shut down with stay-at-home orders, limits on hospital use, closed schools, and blocked public gatherings. The lockdown was here, courtesy of the Trump administration, and the economic costs were astronomical.

We often hear people denying that this was the Trump administration’s doing – Trump would later become an advocate for opening up – but it clearly was. The administration’s own Department of Health and Human Services released on March 13 a classified edict: “The U.S. Government COVID-19 Response Plan.” It recommended school closures and business shutdowns. The federal government worked closely with all the states to follow this document, which had clearly been in the works for weeks if not months. Three days later, stocks crashed 13% – not because of the virus that had been here for months but rather because of Trump’s initial lockdowns.

After two weeks to flatten the curve turned into two months, and governors of many states continued to keep their economies closed, Trump began to smell a rat, wondering whether he had been tricked into destroying his own presidency by wrecking the economy. By mid-April, he began to call for opening up the economy. But even here he had doubts. Georgia became the first state to open in late April, but Trump tweeted against it, claiming that it was too soon. Thus did his messaging become completely confused. Was he for or against opening, did the shutdowns save lives or not, should states seek normalcy or keep stringencies?

This lack of clarity, this toggling back and forth between claiming the lockdowns saved millions of lives while at the same time demanding an opening, continued through September. Good sense at the White House did not arrive until public health specialist Dr. Scott Atlas of the Hoover Institution arrived finally to convince the president of the science and the facts. In doing so, he had to battle what amounted to a pro-lockdown fifth column within the White House itself.

By then, it was far too late for the administration to gain control of the narrative. The economy had been smashed, people’s lives wrecked, children and parents traumatized, and the country had become consumed with mass disease paranoia and virus avoidance. Leading into the final days of the campaign, and probably convinced that he had been gaslighted all along, Trump took a different strategy of avoiding the topic of the virus completely.

Carnage

To everyone’s complete astonishment, 2020 became the deadliest year in US history, and not only because of the pandemic. Deaths of despair due to lockdowns, murder, drug overdoses, and other deaths due to throttled medical care in other areas were also major contributors to the year of tragedy. By now, there are at least 28 studies proving that lockdowns do not work. Meanwhile, in China, the country that Trump had targeted three years earlier, had long ago abandoned the lockdowns it had sold the rest of the world and clocked a 6% GDP growth in the fourth quarter year over year.

In addition to this calamity, US government spending soared 47% while the money supply registered record increases as measured by M1. The effects of this debt and money printing will be felt through next year. In addition, New York City is in shambles, Washington, D.C. looks like an armed camp, and most states still have terrible stringencies in place enforced by police power. At least 150,000 businesses are dead, 1 in 4 women with children have left the workforce, millions of kids have lost a year’s worth of schooling, in addition to other staggering costs.

None of this is great. It is a nightmare.

Counterfactuals are impossible but nonetheless tempting. What if the Trump administration had not alienated virtually the whole of the business community with its attempt to reverse 70 years of progress in global trade? What if it had pursued the path of sincere diplomacy rather than coercive belligerence with China? What if it had pushed legal reforms in immigration rather than executive edicts? And what if in January the White House had consulted traditional public health experts rather than allowing career bureaucrats to talk the president into locking down?

We can never know the answers to these questions. But it is likely the case that the country and world would be a very different place than it is today, perhaps even a greater place. The economic policies of the Trump administration constitute one of the greatest lost opportunities of the postwar period. We’ll be paying the price for decades. The fundamental problem traces most fundamentally to an illiberal philosophy behind the seeming policy chaos. Repairing that problem is essential to laying the necessary groundwork to recover what has been lost.

The Biden administration, for however many days it lasts, will of course learn the wrong things from Trump’s four years, because Democrats are not now and never will be about economic freedom.

 

A GOP alternative, or what the GOP should have been all along

Neal B. Freeman:

On April 15, 1943, tens of millions of Americans sat down at a broad mahogany desk or, many more of them, at a rickety kitchen table, and wrote out checks to the federal government. Most of those Americans wrote checks in the four or five figures, a few of the wealthiest in the six figures.

That day was a bonding moment for a chesty, prosperous nation, a moment when citizens from all stations came together and divvied up the bill for public services. It was also a republicanizing civic experience. Every taxpaying American, from the lawn guy to the industrial mogul, found the same two questions at the tip of his tongue. The first was, “Wow! How did my tax bill get so high?” And the second was, “Wow! What did I get for all of that money?” Both of those questions were potent, small-r republican questions. April 15, even more than religious holidays or the Fourth of July, had become the most conservative day of the calendar year.

That would never happen again, of course. The statists of all parties, as Hayek might have put it, made sure that it wouldn’t. Soft statists from the stupid party and hard statists from the evil party conjured up a swift, sure, bipartisan solution to a problem that no citizen had to that point detected. For all subsequent years, the tax bill for every American would be sliced into 52 bite-sized pieces, after which employers would be coerced into stripping tax revenues off the top before cutting an employee’s weekly paycheck. Never again would an American citizen feel the sandpaper scrape of hard-earned tax dollars passing through his fingers. Never again would an American taxpayer add his voice to the deafening chorus demanding answers to those two questions. The stealth phrase “take-home pay” would soon infiltrate the language and, as between the citizen and his government, it was now manifestly clear who would get paid first.

In the Museum of Modern Statism, which will one day break ground on the Washington Mall, an alcove should be reserved for the man or woman, or quite possibly, the committee that came up with this ingenious scheme to separate more Americans from more tax dollars with less resistance. (For the alcove, my mind’s eye suggests a bust of a man bearing close resemblance to Andrew McCabe. Just a thought.)

Another political development of like consequence rolled out over several decades, beginning with First Lady Hillary Clinton and consolidating under President Barack Obama.
For reasons now forgotten, I spent a few years helping to build a political organization in Nassau County, a big, fast-growing suburb of New York City. We were pretty good at it. With Nassau running up huge GOP majorities, New York State was led for a time by a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, and two U.S. senators, all of whom were elected Republicans. (Our county committee proudly passed around a story describing ours as a “political machine led by one Jew, two WASPs, and ten thousand Italians.” For us political machinists, this story fell into the category of “too good to correct.”)

Our secret sauce was to recruit for leadership in every town, of which there were dozens sprawled across the vast county, a prominent family physician. “Prominent” because he saw lots of patients, all of whom had invested in him both financially and psychologically. “Family” because as a general practitioner he would come to know not only mom and dad but the kids, too. “Physician” because he was one of the most trusted men in town, the only man in a prim suburb whom neighbors would allow to poke and prod their naked bodies.

More salient than these surface attributes, the town doctor was a fiercely independent businessman. He did responsibility-accepting, BS-rejecting, profit-seeking, result-based work. He didn’t know it yet, but he was a born Republican leader.
Soon thereafter, predictably, he became a target. Mrs. Clinton, in her role as the overperforming spouse of an elected official, tried to run town doctors out of business. Health care for all, as she proposed to contrive it, meant private practice for none. Despite her tireless efforts, or perhaps in some measure because of them, Mrs. Clinton managed to scare the bejesus out of the American people and her campaign to nationalize health care came up short. But all, alas, was not lost. After unleashing the shock troops of Left activism — the tort lawyers — Mrs. Clinton secured a significant political victory: She softened up the doctors. Her tort lawyers distracted them with malpractice suits, squeezed them with rising insurance premiums, and intimidated them with reputational attacks. Staunchly Republican doctors began to appreciate the subtle charms of bipartisan solutions.

Barack Obama finished the job. After disarming the pharmaceutical companies, he demobilized the doctors. Obama, again, failed to deliver on his stated goals of universal health care at basement prices, but, again, he achieved substantial political gains. Consult your own experience. If it coincides with mine, your primary-care physicians, one after the other, went to work for a hospital, folded into a multi-practice consortium, or hired themselves out to some large health-care bureaucracy: The compliance python had crushed the prominent family physician. These doctors were soon converted from independent businessmen into nonprofit executives. Over time, and in thousands of towns across the country, the most trusted man in the Freedom Party became a stalwart of the administrative state.

Now to COVID-19, yet another crisis that Left activists are determined not to waste. This past year has been a radicalizing civic experience. Families have splintered, breaking down along generational lines. Church attendance has plummeted. Voluntary organizations have withered. In many communities, private services for the young and the old, the weak and the halt, have simply vanished.
Beyond these incalculable social costs — costs borne disproportionately by the Freedom Party — there have been huge and ominous financial costs. The decline of the dollar in international markets tells us that we have spent too much; that some smart people think we will be unable to pay our bills; and that — here’s the ominous part — it’s time to consider swapping out the dollar for the renminbi as the world’s reserve currency. That would be the tipping point of all tipping points. (The radical wing of the Democratic Party, the loud wing, has been silent in this matter. They profess to believe that some redundantly modernized monetary theory will float the boat.)

Beyond these widely distributed costs of the pandemic, consider the targeted measures implemented by blue-state Democrats and complicit Republicans. Have the authoritarians imposed harsh lockdown measures on tech executives, teachers unions, debtors, rioters, media organizations, government bureaucrats, Hollywood producers, academic types, talking heads, tort lawyers, and tax-advantaged activists? No? Well, have they imposed harsh measures on merchants, savers, working couples, amateur athletes, salesmen, churchgoing Christians, synagoguegoing Jews, police officers, parents, students, clergy, and senior technophobes? They have?
Indeed, so. The groups hit hardest by the lockdowns happen to be the constituent elements of the Freedom Party and, to those of you who choose to see this division as the work of coincidence, we say that you are sweet souls and you have our concern.

Take the egregious case of restaurants. Immigrants who come to America for the right reasons open restaurants for good reasons: (1) they can leverage their intellectual property (Mom’s recipes); (2) the kids will never go hungry; (3) it is still in some measure a cash business; and (4) they can launch and grow their business with a loyal, hardworking, and underpaid staff — the kids and their cousins. Immigrant restaurants have been for more than a century a first-class ticket to the American dream.

Here in Florida where I live, we are blessed not only with the legacy restaurants — French, Italian, Chinese, and Mexican — but with more recent arrivals, including Cuban, Haitian, Puerto Rican, Nicaraguan, and most recently of all, Venezuelan. These restaurants are run by independent businesspeople, who ripen over time into prime prospects for the Freedom Party. (The Puerto Ricans present a special case. Since the turn of the century, a million Puerto Ricans have settled in the Orlando area. That’s more than New York, more than San Juan. It’s been a veritable diaspora from an island with three million people. To overstate but accost the central point: The early arrivals came for opportunity and started their own businesses. The later arrivals, after Hurricane Maria, came for social services and became welfare clients. To read the national press, you would think that “Hispanics” are a fungible lot.) The Associated Press reports that, across the country, 110,000 restaurants have closed during the pandemic. That’s an astounding number, a tragic number. Not one of those families came to America aspiring to become government dependents.

I recount these episodes to drive home the obvious point. It is not only in war — when the patriotic citizen cedes ground carelessly to the national-security state — that individual freedoms shrink and shrivel. It is not only in bursts of ideological exuberance — the New Deal, the Great Society, the Biden Infrastructure-Boondoggle-To-Be-Named-Later — that the state advances. As every American knows in his hips, to borrow Willmoore Kendall’s timeless phrase, the state never sleeps. Sometimes slowly, sometimes with gathering speed, sometimes on cat’s paws, sometimes with the banging of rhetorical pots and pans, the state advances. The era of big government is never over.

Which makes it surprising, and troubling, to hear the conversation rising in Zoom confabs, and extended in political journals, to the effect that conservative writers, even “conservative leaders,” have lost patience with libertarians. The contention is that our cause has been damaged or even contaminated by libertarian excess, as if libertarians were a problematic faction in need of ideological cleansing. I’m not clear as to precisely what “cause” is referenced here, but some of this talk is surely disingenuous: It is no more than strawman-swatting to conflate healthy libertarian impulses with the handful of capital-L voters who march to the polls with perverse intention to tip close elections from the slightly less statist candidate to the slightly more statist candidate. To the extent that the current talk is substantive, however, and seeks to drive libertarians from our coalition, it is both amnesiac and misguided.
I have spoken here of the Freedom Party, by which I mean to denote that once dominant, now receding community of Americans who cherish individual liberty: those Americans who have been willing to defend the tiny but sacred space within which we are permitted to exercise our God-given rights as promised by the Declaration and secured by the Constitution; those Americans whose philosophical yearnings have been fire-started by the clarity of Locke, the passion of Jefferson, the poeticism of Oakeshott.

Freedom-loving Americans. We share a long and honorable tradition. At the very birth of our nation, the 56 brave men who pledged their lives and their fortunes — assuming, correctly, that many of them would lose both — did not take on mortal risk in the cause of a levelling statism, or some form of socially engineered equality. They took on the certain perils, and hoped for the uncertain rewards, of a robustly free society pursued in the cause of individual liberty.

As of course did the founders of the conservative movement. Russell Kirk may have begun with his quirky individualism, William Buckley with his Nockian anti-statism, and Frank Meyer with his hard-shell ex-communism, but they all took it as a given that conservatives would begin by layering their own fusionist priorities atop a foundational commitment to personal freedom.

The hour is late, but we are still the Freedom Party.

The coup attempt that wasn’t a coup attempt

Ryan McMaken:

On Wednesday, a mob apparently composed of Trump supporters forced its way past US Capitol security guards and briefly moved unrestrained through much of the Capitol building. They displayed virtually no organization and no clear goals.

The only deaths were on the side of the mob, with one woman—apparently unarmed—shot dead by panicky and trigger-happy Capitol police, with three others suffering nonspecific “medical emergencies.”

Yet, the media response has been to act as if the event constituted a coup d’etat. This was “A Very American Coup” according to a headline at the New Republic. “This Is a Coup” insists a writer at Foreign Policy. The Atlantic presented photos purported to be “Scenes from an American Coup.”

But this wasn’t a coup, and what happened on Wednesday is conceptually very different from a coup. Coups nearly always are acts committed by elites against the sitting executive power using the tools of the elites. This isn’t at all what happened on Wednesday.

What Is a Coup?

A gang of disorganized, powerless mechanics, janitors, and insurance agents running through the Capitol isn’t a coup. And if it was a coup attempt, it was so far from anything that might hope to succeed as a coup that it should not be taken seriously as such.

So how do we know a coup when we see one?

In their article “Global Instances of Coups from 1950 to 2010: A New Dataset,” authors Jonathan M. Powell and Clayton L. Thyne provide a definition:

A coup attempt includes illegal and overt attempts by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting executive.

There are two key components of this definition. The first is that it is illegal. Powell and Thyne note that this “illegal” qualifier is important to include “because it differentiates coups from political pressure, which is common whenever people have freedom to organize.”

In other words, protests, or threats of protest don’t count as coups. Neither do legal efforts such as a vote of no confidence or an impeachment.

But an even more critical aspect of Powell and Thyne’s definition is that it requires the involvement of elites.

This can be seen in any stereotypical example of a coup d’etat. This generally involves a renegade military detachment, military officers, and others from within the state apparatus who can employ knowledge, skills, influence, and coercive tools gained through membership in the regime’s elite circles.

The attempted coup in Japan in 1937, for example, was carried out by more than fifteen hundred officers and men of the Japanese imperial army. They nonetheless failed, likely because they miscalculated the amount of support they enjoyed among other officers. More recently, in the 2009 Honduran coup, the bulk of the Honduran army turned on the president, Manuel Zelaya, and sent him into exile. That was a successful coup. More famously, Chile’s 1973 coup was successfully led by Agusto Pinochet, the commander-in-chief of the army, and his position enabled him to shell the Chilean executive palace with military hardware.

Contrast this with nameless MAGA hat–wearing flag wavers, and the inappropriateness of the term “coup” in this case should be blatantly obvious. With real coups, power is seized by a faction of the elite which has the ability to take control of the machinery of the state indefinitely. Although some of Trump’s critics claim he was somehow responsible for Wednesday’s mob, it is clear that Trump was not coordinating or directing any sort of military operation through Twitter posts. There was no plan for holding power. Had those who invaded the Capitol building managed to take control of the building for a time, there’s no reason to think this would have somehow translated into control of the state. How would it? The real coercive power remained well ensconced within an apparently undivided military apparatus.

Moreover, it has been clear for years that the permanent technocracy which controls the day-to-day execution of federal administrative power (i.e., the “deep state”) has long been committed to undermining the Trump administration—from high-ranking FBI agents to military diplomats, to Pentagon officials. From where would Trump draw the necessary cooperation from elites to overturn more than two hundred years of established norms in transfers of presidential power? In any case, the Biden administration is likely to be better for the state’s elites than the Trump administration. There is no reason for any group of them to contemplate a coup against Biden.

Thus, if any of Wednesday’s Capitol rioters thought they were about to bring about a coup by smashing some windows in the Capitol, they were engaging in thoroughly amateurish thinking. It’s unlikely, however, that more than a few of the rioters thought there was a coup d’etat afoot. It’s more likely most of them simply wanted to dramatically display their displeasure with the federal regime and to signal they weren’t going to placidly submit to whatever the American bureaucracy decided to dish out.

Nonetheless, we should not be surprised that the media has rushed to apply the term to the riot. This phenomenon was examined in a November 2019 article titled “Coup with Adjectives: Conceptual Stretching or Innovation in Comparative Research?,” by Leiv Marsteintredet and Andres Malamud. The authors note that as the incidence of real coups has declined, the word has become more common but with modifiers attached.

Examples of these modifiers include “soft,” “constitutional,” “parliamentary,” and “slow-motion.” Numerous critics of the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, for example, repeatedly called it a “soft coup.” The authors note this is no mere issue of splitting hairs, explaining that “The choice of how to conceptualize a coup is not to be taken lightly since it carries normative, analytical, and political implications.”

Increasingly, the term really means “this is a thing I don’t like.” But the term’s use paints the noncoup participants as criminals poised to seize power illegally. By applying this term to the acts of a disorganized group of Trump supporters with no base of support among state elites, the pundits know exactly what they’re doing.

If you think it’s over, you’re wrong

Facebook Friend Michael Smith:

The media, and even a large contingent of the Congressional Republicans and Democrats want you to believe what happened at the Capitol complex was only about President Trump.
It is not.
I have constantly been told today by preening ruling class members that “This is not who we are”.
Where the hell have they been for a year and a half, in a coma?
Because thanks to the way BLM and ANTIFA were ignored as they occupied, looted, and destroyed without consequence, this is EXACTLY who have become. They made us this way.
We have witnessed a national media express overt bias against a president they despise.
We witnessed talk of impeachment even before the president was inaugurated.
We watched as Democrats and the media cheered when the 25th Amendment was discussed.
We watched as Congressman Steve Scalise was shot on a baseball field by a Bernie Sanders supporter.
We watched a destructive, partisan investigation of “collusion” wind on for two years that ultimately ended in a whimper.
We watched as a decorated Army general was railroaded and was held hostage by a partisan judge as the liars criminals in the DOJ safely scurried away and were rewarded with jobs at CNN and MSNBC.
We watched a false impeachment concocted by House Democrats, in secret and behind closed doors.
We watched as the Democrat Speaker of the House ripped up the State of the Union speech in front of the joint session of Congress, the President, and a live TV audience.
We watched as investigations of Crossfire Hurricane turned up crime after crime and one single, low level functionary was prosecuted – the primary actors went free.
We have seen how the law does not apply to favored groups.
We watched as Democrats and the left-wing media cheered as ANTIFA and BLM tore apart cities. Violent protest was patriotic, looting was reparations, and violence was completely understandable because the cause was righteous.
We have seen how easy it is for our constitutional rights to be ignored if we are in a “public health crisis” and governors decide they can force you to shut your business, stop going to work and submit to house arrest for an indeterminate period of time.
We have seen how social media can just shut down speech with which they disagree any time they want and still enjoy protection of the government.
We watched as unexplained events occurred as we had a very suspect election rammed down our throats.
In the aftermath of the election, we watched as concerns about the election were turned aside, affidavits were ignored, statistical analysis was swept away and even the Supreme Court refusing to even hear a major complaint from an entire state.
We have watched as states clearly violate their own state constitutions and in turn, Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution of the United States by ignoring their own legislatures when they modified election laws.
And then we watched as only 11 Senators could even be troubled to rise in opposition to the counting of electoral votes from states with suspect vote tallies.
Americans are exhausted.
And quite frankly, they are damn tired of being ignored. There are a significant number of Americans who are tired of being the Forgotten Man. We are tired of getting crapped on and then still getting the dinner bill.
This is not solely about Trump. I do not completely understand his actions but in truth, I do understand how he feels. I feel the same frustration. This is about something bigger; it is about the total failure of the ruling class to hear the citizens. It should be no surprise when tactics that groups use that prove to be successful are taken up by their opposition.
If the ruling class does not learn from this, they are morons. That includes Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Congressional Republicans. They can condemn the actions today as much as they want, but if they ignore how it came to this point, God help us all.

The election skeptics

Ryan McMaken:

Perhaps not since the nineteenth century have so many American voters so fervently doubted the outcome of a national election.

Slate headline from December 13 reads: “82 Percent of Trump Voters Say Biden’s Win Isn’t Legitimate.” If even half true, this poll means tens of millions of Americans believe the incoming ruling party in Washington got its political power by cheating.

The implications of this are broader than one might think. Under the current system, if many millions of Americans doubt the veracity of the official vote count, the challenge to the status quo goes beyond simply thinking that Democrats are cheaters. Rather, the Trump voters’ doubts indict much of the American political system overall and call its legitimacy into question.

For example, if Trump supporters are unwilling to accept that the vote count in Georgia was fair—in a state where Republicans control both the legislature and the governor’s mansion—this means skepticism goes well beyond mere distrust of the Democratic Party. For Trump’s vote-count skeptics, not even the GOP or the nonpartisan election officials can be trusted to count the votes properly.

Moreover, unlike the general public, Trump supporters appear to have adopted a keenly suspicious view toward these administrators and the systems they control. This is all to the best, regardless of the true extent of voter fraud in 2020. After all, government administrators—including those who count the votes—are not mere disinterested, efficiency-obsessed administrators. They have their own biases and political interests. They’re not neutral.

How did Trump supporters become such skeptics? Whether accurately or not, Trump is viewed as an antiestablishment figure by most of his supporters. He is supposed to be the man who will “drain the swamp” and oppose the entrenched administrative state (i.e., the deep state).

In practice, this means opposition must go beyond mere partisan opposition. It was not enough to simply trust the GOP, because, either instinctively or intellectually, many Trump supporters know he has never really been a part of the GOP establishment. The opposition from within the Republican Party has always been substantial, and the old party guard never stopped opposing him. For Trump’s supporters, then, the two-party system isn’t enough to act as a brake on abuse by the administrative state—at least when it comes to sabotaging the Trump administration. In the minds of many supporters, Trump embodies the anti-establishment party while his opponents can be found in both parties and in the nonpartisan administrative state itself.

This view has formed over time in a reaction to real life experience. Trump supporters have been given plenty of reasons to suspect that anti-Trump sentiment is endemic within the bureaucracy. For example, from the beginning, high-ranking “nonpartisan” officials at the FBI were actively seeking to undermine the Trump presidency. Then there was Alexander Vindman, who openly opposed legal orders from the White House and lent aid to House officials hoping to impeach Trump. Then there were those Pentagon officials who apparently lied to Trump in order to avoid drawing down US troops in Syria. All this was on top of the usual bureaucrats, who already tend to be hated by conservative populists: education bureaucrats, IRS agents, environmental regulators, and others responsible for carrying out federal edicts.

And then there were the federal medical “experts” like Anthony Fauci, who insisted Americans ought not to be allowed to leave their homes until no new covid-19 cases were discovered for a period of weeks. Translation: never.

Health technocrats like Fauci came to be hated by Trump supporters, not just for seeking to shut down churches and ruin the lives of countless business owners, but for setting themselves up as political opponents of the administration through daily press releases and other means of contradicting the White House.

It only makes sense that Trump’s supporters would extend this distrust of the bureaucracy to those who count the votes. After all, who counts the votes has always been of utmost importance. It’s why renowned political cartoonist Thomas Nast had Boss Tweed utter these words in an 1871 cartoon: “As long as I count the votes, what are you going to do about it?”

This has always been a good question.

Old party bosses like Tweed are now out of the picture, but the votes nowadays are calculated and certified instead by people who, like Tweed, have their own ideological views and their own political interests. The official vote counts are handed down by bureaucratic election officials and by party officials, most of whom are outside the circles of Trump loyalists.

Given the outright political and bureaucratic opposition Trump has faced from other corners of the administrative state, there seems to be little reason for his supporters to trust those who count the votes.

Thus, whether facing FBI agents or election officials, Trump supporters learned to take official government reports and pronouncements with a healthy dose of skepticism. The end result: for the first time, under Trump, the American administrative state came to be widely viewed as a political force seeking to undermine a legitimately elected president, and as a political interest group in itself.

Naturally, the media and the administrative state itself have reacted to this with outrage and disbelief that anyone could believe that the professional technocrats and bureaucrats could have anything in mind other than selfless, efficient service to the greater good. The idea that lifelong employees of the regime might be biased against a man supposedly tasked with dismantling the regime was—we were assured—absurd.

Although Trump’s supporters may get some of the details wrong, the distrustful view of the bureaucracy is the more accurate and realistic view. The view of the American administrative state as impartial, nonideological, and aloof from politics has always been the naïve view, and one pushed by the Progressive reformers who created this class of permanent government “experts.”

Before these Progressives triumphed in the early twentieth century, this permanent class of technocrats, bureaucrats and “experts” did not exist in the United States. Prior to civil service reform in the late nineteenth century, most bureaucratic jobs—at all levels of government—were given to party loyalists. When Republicans won the White House, the Republican president filled bureaucratic positions with political supporters. Other parties did the same.

This was denounced by reformers, who maligned this system as “the spoils system.” Reformers insisted that American politics would be far less corrupt, more efficient, and less politicized, if permanently appointed experts in public administration were put into these positions instead.

But the rub was that in spite of claims by the reformers, there was never any reason to assume this new class of administrators would be politically neutral. The first sign of danger in this regard was the fact that those who wanted civil service reform seemed to come from a very specific background. Murray Rothbard writes:

The civil service Reformers were a remarkably homogeneous group. Concentrated almost exclusively in the urban Northeast, including New York City and especially Boston, the Reformers virtually constituted an older, highly educated and articulate elite. From families of old patrician wealth, mercantile and financial rather than coming from new industries, these men despised what they saw as the crass materialism of the nouveau riche, as well as their lack of good breeding or education at Harvard or Yale. Not only were the Reformers merchants, attorneys, and educators, but they virtually constituted the most influential “media elite” of the day: editors, writers, and scholars.

In practice, as Rothbard has shown, civil service reform did not eliminate corruption or bias in the administration of the regime. Rather, the advent of the civil service only shifted bureaucratic power away from working-class party loyalists, and toward middle-class and university-educated personnel. These people, of course, had their own socioeconomic backgrounds and political agendas, as suggested by one anti-reform politician at the time who recognized that civil service exams would be employed to direct jobs in a certain direction:

So, sir, it comes to this at last, that…the dunce who had been crammed up to a diploma at Yale, and comes fresh from his cramming, will be preferred in all civil service appointments to the ablest, most successful, and most upright business man of the country, who either did not enjoy the benefit of early education, or from whose mind, long engrossed in practical pursuits, the details and niceties of academic knowledge have faded away as the headlands disappear when the mariner bids his native land good night.

Gone were the old party activists who had worked their way up to a position of power from local communities in which they had skin in the game. The new technocrats were something else entirely.

Today, of course, the bureaucracy continues to be characterized by ideological leanings of its own. For example, government workers, from the federal level down, skew heavily Democrat. They have more job security. They’re better paid. They’re less rural. They have more formal education. It’s a safe bet the bureaucracy isn’t chock full of Trump supporters. Civil service reform didn’t eliminate corruption and bias. It simply created a different kind.

Trump supporters recognize that these people don’t go away when “their guy” wins. These are permanent civil “servants” whom Trump supporters suspect—with good reason—have been thoroughly opposed to the Trump administration.

So, if the FBI and the Pentagon have already demonstrated their officials are willing to break and bend rules to obstruct Trump, why believe the administrative class when they insist elections are free and fair and all above board? Many have found little reason to do so.

The problem with assuming that voter fraud, voting fraud or voter count fraud cost Trump the presidency is that it fails to admit that Trump lost votes for a legitimate reason — Trump himself. It also fails to admit that some voters voted against Trump because they preferred Biden’s positions to Trump’s.

For what it’s worth, I think the hypothesis that voter fraud cost Trump the presidency is unprovable.

 

We’re number 19!

Dan Mitchell:

According to the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of North America, the most economically free jurisdiction in North America used to be the Canadian province of Alberta.

But Alberta then slipped and New Hampshire claimed the top position. And, according to the the 2020 edition of Economic Freedom of North America, the Granite State is still the best place to live.

But since most of my readers are from the United States, let’s focus just on American states, and specifically look at how they rank based on the policies they control.

On this basis, you can see that New Hampshire is in first place, followed by Florida, Virginia, Texas, and Tennessee (if you’re looking for a common thread, four of the five have no state income tax).

Here are some highlights from the Fraser Institute’s summary.

Economic Freedom of North America 2020…measures the extent to which…individual provinces and states were supportive of economic freedom… There are two indices: one that examines provincial/state and municipal/local governments only and another that includes federal governments as well. …The all-government index includes data from Economic Freedom of the World… The top jurisdiction is New Hampshire at 8.16, followed by Florida and Idaho at 8.10 , then Wyoming (8.09) and Utah (8.08). Alberta is the highest ranking Canadian province, tied for 9th place with a score of 8.06. The next highest Canadian province is British Columbia in 27th at 7.98. …The highest-ranked Mexican state is Jalisco with 6.70… The lowest-ranked states in the United States are Delaware at 7.72 in 56th place, following Rhode Island (7.76 in 54th) and New York (7.77 in 53rd).

As I noted above, I think it’s especially instructive to see how jurisdictions compare when looking at the policies they control.

Here’s what the study says about the subnational index.

For the subnational index, Economic Freedom of North America employs 10 variables for the 92 provincial/state governments in Canada, the United States, and Mexico in three areas: 1. Government Spending; 2. Taxes; and 3. Labor Market Freedom. …There is a separate subnational index for each country. In Canada, the most economically free province in 2018 was again Alberta with 6.61, followed by British Columbia with 5.98… The least free by far was Quebec at 2.84… In the United States, the most economically free state was New Hampshire at 7.84, followed by Florida at 7.73. …(Note that since the indexes were calculated separately for each country, the numeric scores on the subnational indices are not directly comparable across countries.) The least-free state was New York at 4.25… In Mexico, the most economically free state was Jalisco at 6.57.

One obvious takeaway is to avoid Quebec and New York.

And almost all of Mexico as well.

One of the many great things about the Fraser Institute is that they are very good at sharing their data.

And, because I was curious to know what states are moving in the right direction and wrong direction, I downloaded the excel file so I could make the relevant calculations.

Here are the numbers, showing the both the overall shift since 1981 as well as the data for 1981-2000 and 2000-2018.

The good news is that every single state has more economic freedom today that it had in 1981. Michigan and Massachusetts enjoyed the biggest increases over the past four decades, though both of them still plenty of room for upward improvement.

Looking at the 1981-2000 and 2000-2018 periods, there was much more reform at the end of last century than there has been at the beginning of this century. So maybe the “Washington Consensus” influenced American states as well as foreign nations.

I realize I’m a dork about such things, but I was especially interested to see that some states (Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Colorado) were very good performers in 1981-2000, but fell to the bottom group in 2000-2018.

By contrast, other states (Montana, North Dakota, Washington, and New Mexico) jumped from the bottom 10 to the top 10.

The Wisconsin 1981–2018 ranking is entirely driven by what has happened in this state since the turn of the century. Except for two years, Republicans had complete control of the Legislature, and for six of the eight years of Democratic Gov. James Doyle. The state GOP can be criticized for a lot (and notice that 19th was with eight years of complete GOP control of state government, meaning the GOP didn’t do enough to defang state government), but at least compared to other states Wisconsin was among the most economically free in the U.S.

 

Another thing voters rejected Nov. 3

James Freeman:

President Donald Trump didn’t start the dishwasher rebellion. But after hearing the legitimate complaints of consumers, he has led this nonviolent movement to an entirely peaceful series of victories for common sense.

Two years ago this column noted that a band of stout-hearted liberty advocates at the Competitive Enterprise Institute was petitioning the government for a redress of dishwashing grievances. Federal regulations on appliances were making household chores more difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Team Trump took up the cause and began to seek public comment on how to improve the rules. Numerous consumers shared their views, including someone named Gregory, who wrote to the Department of Energy:

Please mother of God, allow someone to make a dishwasher that will get my dishes for a family of 5 clean enough, fast enough to empty the dishwasher by bedtime! Currently, to get a load clean, we have to run it on the hour long cycle, then the four hour cycle to get them clean. This saves neither time, water or electricity.

The Trump administration has now reformed not just dishwasher rules, but other bureaucratic annoyances as well. This week the Department of Energy reports it has completed two additional final rules:

The first rule ensures that Americans can have access to high-performance, time-saving clothes washers and dryers. The second rule ensures access to showerheads that can provide enough water for quality showers.

“Today the Trump Administration affirmed its commitment to reducing regulatory burdens and safeguarding consumer choice,” said Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette. “With these rule changes, Americans can choose products that are best suited to meet their individual needs and the needs of their families.”
The department is concerned that cycle times for washers and dryers could become very long in the future—reducing the value of these critical time-saving devices. The final rule on washers and dryers allows manufacturers to offer new products that meet consumer demand for clothes washers and dryers that have shorter cycle times. The rule establishes separate product classes for residential clothes washers and clothes dryers with cycle times of less than 30 minutes (45 minutes for front-loading clothes washers)…
“Today’s final rulemakings allow consumers to choose products that can make their lives easier, more comfortable, and save them time,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “That time and effort saved can be better spent on the more important things in life.”

“This is good news for those who like a more powerful shower, as well as those who like a less powerful government,” summarizes Ben Lieberman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Amen.

You are reading the work of the household’s dishwasher, so I can’t attest to that. I can attest that modern clothes washers and dryers are crappy, taking too much time to clean, not always adequately rinsing, and frequently needing more than one cycle to completely dry clothes. Energy efficiency completely misses the point if things have to be washed and dried twice because they’re not adequately designed.

Of course, the presidential administration that finally took the side of consumers over radical environmentalists is leaving Jan. 20, to be replaced by an administration from a party that bends over for the tree-huggers. This rule probably will be changed in minutes after Jan. 20.

 

 

The unneeded post-COVID economic fixes

James Freeman:

The arrival of a highly effective vaccine seems like as good a time as any for politicians to consider pausing their massive interventions in the U.S. economy. The Journal’s Peter Loftus, Melanie Grayce West and Christine Mai-Duc report:

The first U.S. Covid-19 vaccinations outside of clinical trials began Monday, kicking off the most urgent mass immunization campaign since polio shots were rolled out in the 1950s…

Pfizer is shipping out nearly three million doses in this first wave, with more expected in coming weeks. Pfizer expects 25 million doses will be available in the U.S. by the end of the month.

Another Covid-19 vaccine, from Moderna Inc., could add to the supply of doses this month if it is authorized, which could happen later in the week. Both vaccines are given in two doses, three or four weeks apart.

…Federal officials expect about 100 million Americans will get immunized against Covid-19 by February or March. The general public could be inoculated in the spring or summer.

Stocks rallied Monday morning on the vaccine news. And for some reason many investors also seem to want another round of debt-fueled Washington spending. It seems likely that at some point there will be a reckoning in the value of the dollar and/or the size of federal tax bills from the 2020 Beltway Covid response. But for now unfortunately the question is whether the response should be expanded still further. Fortunately not everyone is eager to accept Beltway premises.

“Do We Need More Stimulus?,” asks Donald Luskin of TrendMacrolytics in an investment research note today. Mr. Luskin writes:

In client calls this week, we’re hearing a strong consensus that the economy is in a sustainable V-shaped recovery, and that 2021 will be a very good year. We’re not going to say this consensus is wrong. Indeed, it’s what we were nearly alone in predicting all the way back in March and April… Will there be short-term setbacks? Of course, and the formation of a consensus is what usually provokes one…
If anything, our biggest difference from the optimistic consensus is that we’re now thinking past recovery to expansion, and we don’t see it as a stretch that 2021 could be a downright boom.

A downright boom? Mr. Luskin continues making his case:

US households have accumulated $2.5 trillion in personal savings this year, unable or too cautious to spend the prior stimulus money. That’s a moneybomb of pent-up demand equal to 11.8% of GDP, and it will detonate next year when the “third wave” of Covid-19 tops out and 50 million inoculations with the new vaccine are administered through January.

State and local politicians have devastated businesses they consider nonessential, but a lot of money is still sloshing through the economy. We just need to let people use it. Big banks are certainly flush with cash and ready to lend if politicians will allow businesses to operate. And the Journal’s Orla McCaffrey reports that small banks are also in great shape:

Profit at community banks—small, local lenders—jumped 10% in the third quarter from the same time last year, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Total loans rose 13.4% in the third quarter, compared with 4.9% for the industry. Deposits surged 16.7%. Noncurrent loan rates have risen slightly this year but are still far below levels seen during the last financial crisis.

Do you think Donald Trump will get any credit for any of this? Of course not.