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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Revolution for Dummies
Topic: Decline of the West

Various conservative commentators are worried that young people have become skeptical of capitalism and enamored of socialism. The commentators point out that Millennials really have no idea what they’re talking about. And this is no doubt true. What passes for historical education in the United States has more or less degenerated into a branding exercise. Capitalism = “greed” and “exploitation”; socialism = “equality” and “fairness.” The kids are right, though, that socialism is the antithesis of capitalism.  If you want the former, the latter must be uprooted. So what must go if greed and exploitation are to be replaced by fairness and equality? In the thicket of those devilish details is where Millennials lose their way. After all, one cannot eliminate vices without eliminating the institutions that foster them. To get rid of greed (the profit motive) and exploitation (work for wages), private property, money and the market economy must go. How to get rid of these things, though, and what can possibly replace them? 

As it happens history has the answers to these questions, for there was a time and place when capitalism was uprooted in the name of socialism. This enterprise was launched in 1918 by the newly installed Bolshevik regime in Russia, and it reached its climax in the Thirties as the Party/State “built socialism.” Undeniably, private property, money and the market economy were all eliminated in the Soviet Union. But later generations of socialists have, and Millennials no doubt would, deny that what replaced these things was socialism. 

The usual line is that Stalin, a cruel and cynical tyrant, perverted the pure Marxist-Leninist vision that informed the Party in its early years; that is, that there were roads to true socialism not taken. But there’s nothing much to this alibi. The first attempt to build socialism in Russia is usually called War Communism. It took its spirit and much of its methodology from the so-called War Socialism (Kriegssozialismus) of the military regime that controlled Germany in the last half of the Great War. War Socialism was economic mobilization by military methods: conscription, coercion, top-down control. Essentially, the German economy was placed under the control of the Great General Staff of the Army for the singular purpose of maximizing the war effort. 

 Lenin, who much admired the Ludendorff/Rathenau program, as War Socialism was also called, appropriated its methodology for his own purposes. In revolutionary Russia, socialism was to be built by the same methods. And the necessary first step was the destruction of “capitalism”—which entailed the destruction of nothing less than civil society itself. For no independent institution could be permitted to stand in opposition to the Party/State. To be sure, existing experts—factory managers, administrators, technicians, scientists, etc.—could not be summarily purged. They would continue to be needed for some time, until the Party could train its own technical cadres. But these “bourgeois specialists” had to be closely supervised lest they sabotage the building of socialism. And this in fact was the genesis of the Party/State, which put a political watchdog at the elbow of every such specialist. To foreign observers it might seem that the USSR had a conventional structure: government, armed forces, various economic sectors. But in reality the Party controlled them all, and in the fullness of time Party membership became an absolute prerequisite for any responsible post. 

The other characteristic feature of War Communism was its extreme violence. Obviously capitalism would not just vanish. It would have to be battered down, hence the purges, proscriptions and firing squads of the Red Terror. “Class enemies” were ruthlessly eliminated using measures from which the much maligned tsarist regime would have shrunk. 

So capitalism was duly destroyed but in the process the economy was brought to the point of collapse. Lenin and his colleagues thereupon, as a measure of self-preservation, called a retreat on the economic front. The building of socialism was deferred for a time and the market economy was partially restored under the name of the New Economic Policy (NEP). This brought a measure of prosperity sufficient to stabilize the situation and buy time for the Party to consolidate its hold on power. But the Party was ill content with this. Socialism had still to be built; NEP was seen as a regrettable necessity, to be discarded as soon as possible. This undercurrent of discontent favored the rise of Stalin who, once he became supreme, resumed the building of socialism using the methods of War Communism. The resulting slaughter rivaled that of the Final Solution. 

Thus the destruction of capitalism necessitated the establishment of a dictatorship that evolved into an all-embracing despotism; it necessitated the killing of scores of millions of human beings; it necessitated the ruination of a great nation, Russia, which may never recover from the ordeal it underwent between 1918 and 1991. And the “roads not taken,” those that supposedly led to “socialism with a human face,” were in fact roads to NEP-like un-socialism that the militant Party could never have tolerated. 

Our contemporary socialist-hugging Millennials know nothing of this history or, of they do, they believe it to be irrelevant. In these enlightened times, supposedly, capitalism will be kindly and gently replaced by a sort of uber-Scandinavian welfare state: Denmark on steroids. After all, the things most desired by Millennials—free healthcare, free education, secure employment, ease, abundance, tolerance, inclusion, fairness, equality—are basic human rights. Once they’ve been proclaimed as such and guaranteed by a beneficent government—presto, socialism! 

That Millennials could live without such capitalist accessories as skinny jeans, smartphones and Amazon strikes me as a dubious proposition. No doubt when the implications of destroying capitalism sank in, these things too would be branded as basic human rights. In short, young people will bash capitalism right up to the point that the bashing begins to impinge upon their own comforts and conveniences. Then will come the NEP. 

Even so we’re probably in for a Time of Troubles, for nothing good can come of a delusion so widely held as socialism, Millennial style. To demand all good things while rejecting the mechanisms that alone can produce them is a recipe for generational frustration. But this time, at least, the lesson of history is unlikely to be driven home with such sanguinary ruthlessness as it was in earlier times. No doubt $40,000 in student loans is a sad burden. Still, it beats a bullet in the back of the neck or a decade in the Gulag.

Posted by tmg110 at 8:46 AM EDT
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Sunday, 15 October 2017
The Magical Thinking Behind Medicare for All
Topic: Liberal Fascism

The drive for nationalized healthcare—of which Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan is the latest manifestation—relies ultimately on the following arguments. (1) Compared with all other developed nations, the United States pays more for healthcare and gets less of it. (2) The principal reason for (1) is the greed of Big Insurance, which sucks up vast sums of money in wasteful administrative costs, profits and executive compensation while leaving millions uninsured. (3) The solution to (1) and (2) is the suppression of the healthcare market by making the federal government the nation’s sole healthcare insurance provider. 

The specious comparison has long been a staple of the healthcare debate in this country. Comrades Sanders, for instance, runs around claiming that the United States spends twice as much per capita on healthcare than his beloved European welfare states. Chris Pope, writing in National Review, subjected this claim to something that it rarely gets: critical scrutiny. The latest statistics from the World Bank peg US per capita healthcare spending at $9,403. The three wealthiest European countries are Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland. Their per capita healthcare spending comes to $8,137, $9,522 and $9,674 respectively. Sanders also claims that our supposedly dysfunctional healthcare system produces worse outcomes, e.g. lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates, than do those of the European welfare states. But this assertion is based on a fact not in evidence: that the healthcare system, tout court, is responsible for those poorer outcomes. 

The truth is (1) that the US spends a lot of money on healthcare because it can, being a very wealthy nation and (2) that differences among developed nations in such areas as life expectancy and infant mortality owe more to social factors and lifestyle choices than they do to quality of care. Compared with European countries, the US has higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. It also has a higher murder rate and a higher rate of death due to traffic accidents. And the average life expectancy, infant mortality rate, etc. for a country as large and diverse as the US is somewhat deceptive: West Virginia is not Massachusetts is not Utah. Indeed, when you look into the numbers you’ll find that states and regions with lower per-capita healthcare spending often exhibit better health outcomes than those that spend more, this thanks to demographic and social factors that have nothing to do with the quality or availability of healthcare. 

All right, then, how about the deprivations of those greedy insurance companies? Here again the actual numbers refute Sanders’ wild claims. The difference between what healthcare insurance companies take in via premiums and what they pay out in claims constitutes, supposedly, their unjust, excessive profits: 10% of total US healthcare spending. But only a fraction of this 10% goes to shareholders and executives. The rest goes for administrative costs: advertising, contracting, claims administration, fraud prevention, etc. Though Sanders pretends otherwise, much the same administrative costs would have to be borne by Medicare for All. Even now, Medicare fraud sucks about $40 billion per hear from the program; if Medicare for All were ever adopted it would have to be rigidly policed to prevent much higher losses due to fraud. And, yes, Medicare for All would also have an advertising budget, necessary to keep the public informed about the program. In short, Sanders’ promises of vast savings on the administrative front are pure wind. 

Medicare for All, by increasing the demand for healthcare while limiting its availability via price controls, would yield significantly worse results than the present system. Progressives pretend that because it’s a “right,” healthcare is somehow exempted from the laws of economics. But this is twaddle. First, there’s no way around the economic law that states: Arbitrarily imposed price controls diminish supply, i.e. you can’t get more by offering less. Second, suppressing private health insurance companies will not eliminate the profit motive from the healthcare sector of the economy. 

Right now, Medicare relies on an array of private contractors for various vital services—and these companies are for-profit entities. So are hundreds of clinics, medical practices, medical laboratories, medical device manufacturers, drug companies, etc., etc. It is to be foreseen that the price controls imposed by a single-payer system like Medicare for All would drive a significant percentage of these companies out of business. Only the largest, able to benefit from economies of scale, could survive in such an environment. It seems ironic that so dauntless a foe of Wall Street as Bernie Sanders is pushing a healthcare reform proposal that would benefit large corporations over small businesses, but there it is. 


The conclusion is clear and inescapable: Bernie Sanders and his claque simply don’t know what they’re talking about. The promises accompanying his Medicare for All proposal are based on nothing more substantial than oversimplification, misinformation and wishful thinking. Comrade Sanders knows nothing about anything, and he wants to take control of the nation’s healthcare system. So be afraid, America. Be very afraid.

Posted by tmg110 at 10:44 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 10 October 2017
Dark Mornings of the Soul
Topic: Scratchpad

 I do enjoy May, June and July: the days of the long sun. It’s pleasant to drink a glass of wine on the patio at eight p.m., with sunlight still gilding the tops of the trees at the far end of the back lawn. But there’s something to be said as well for getting up in the dark.

For the final seven years of my working life (2004–11) I held a job in Chicago. Because it was a bit too far to commute to work from my corner of northwest Indiana I kept an apartment in the city, returning home every Friday afternoon. At first I’d head back to Chicago on Sunday evening but later on, taking advantage of the hour gained by crossing from EST to CST, I’d get up early on Monday morning and head west at around four a.m. Usually I could count on arriving at my apartment by five, with time to spare for a nap before breakfast. 

Even in high summer my weekly drive to Chicago would commence in the dark. But I much preferred the mornings in autumn, winter and early spring when I beat the sun to the city. Traveling on the Indiana Toll Road at such an hour I was seldom bothered by traffic, and the ever-present construction zones were easily navigated. I drove in silence, without radio talk or music, rushing through the dark under a sky full of stars�€Š—�€Šprovided that the weather was clear, which often it wasn’t. People who live along the Great Lakes are familiar with the phenomenon known as lake-effect snow. Depending on the vagaries of geography and wind it’s sometimes possible to stand in the sun, observing a heavy snow squall just down the street. On the Toll Road I often transitioned abruptly from unlimited visibility and a clear road to a mini-blizzard. My hands would tighten on the steering wheel and my speed would drop but usually within a matter of miles I’d find myself in the clear again. On several occasions I experienced four or five such transitions on the way to Chicago. 

The great gift of my weekly morning commute was solitude. This was particularly true after the Chicago Skyway and the Indiana Toll Road introduced electronic toll collection and I had no more need to stop and deposit money into the hand of a toll booth attendant. (If you don’t have an I-Pass or the equivalent—get one. It’ll change your life.) For a couple of hours every Monday morning I had the assurance that no one—wife, friend, boss, coworker—would interrupt my train of thought. My mind was free to wander where it would. Now and then this had practical results. I might remember something important that had slipped my mind, or spontaneously resolve some work-related issue. But mostly I just free associated. In the dark, on the road, all alone, ideas and inspirations seemed to come more easily. 

In February 2011 Chicago was struck by an epic winter storm that paralyzed the city for three days. Some 5,000 cars and busses were stranded on Lakeshore Drive, abandoned by their drivers and passengers. On the afternoon of the storm’s arrival I was fortunate enough to make it to my apartment, where I weathered the crisis in comfort. But the mess on Lakeshore Drive kindled an idea, and over the Monday morning commutes remaining to me before I retired the following September I wrote what was to become my first published short story. Of course I don’t mean that I pounded a keyboard with one hand as I drove. But by the time I did sit down at my desk, I knew exactly how to begin the story, how it would develop, and how it would end. The hard work had been done behind the wheel of my Xterra. All I had to do was type the thing up and give it a title. 

My final Monday-morning commute to Chicago was on September 26, 2011; the following Friday, September 30, I was due to retire. It was dark when I pulled out of the driveway at around four a.m., dark as I turned onto the Toll Road entrance ramp, dark as I passed the toll booths, my I-Pass operating the gate for me. The onramp curves sharply before merging with the Toll Road; I navigated the turn with practiced familiarity, easing onto the interstate. And then I was rushing along, speedometer edging past seventy, overtaking a solitary semi—alone in the dark, under a sky still full of stars. 

How I miss it now, the solemn peace of those dark mornings of the soul on the road to Chicago.

Posted by tmg110 at 11:54 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2017 12:01 PM EDT
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Friday, 22 September 2017
October's Legacy
Topic: Decline of the West

The Bolshevik seizure of power—which, supposedly, set Russia on the path to a Radiant Future—happened almost a century ago, on 7 November 1917. It’s called the October Revolution because at that time Russia still observed the Old Style (Julian) calendar, by which Lenin’s coup occurred on 25 October 1917. 

That the October Revolution neither occurred in October nor was a revolution seems fitting. Distortion of the facts and falsification of history were to become the new regime’s standard operating procedure, the principal prop of its power. The brutal honesty of its early days—the frank acknowledgement that the objective of the Red Terror was the destruction of actual “class enemies”—soon gave way to the mythmaking of the Stalinist era, so ably chronicled in Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror

It’s a fact difficult to grasp but nevertheless true that hardly any of the victims of the Stalinist purges were guilty of the crimes with which they were charged. The various conspiracies that the NKVD “unmasked”—concerning the Kirov murder, concerning the Red Army leadership’s coup plotting, concerning the treasonous “Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites”—were entirely fictional, formulated by the NKVD itself under Stalin’s supervision. Hundreds of thousand of people were arrested, brutally interrogated to make them confess, brought before kangaroo courts, condemned and shot in the back of the head. Millions more were consigned to labor camps in the USSR’s Arctic marches with long sentences that many did not survive. Yet it was all a lie. 

It’s true that as the purges went on, many guilty men found themselves on the wrong side of Stalinist “justice.” Yagoda, the NKVD chief who had at Stalin’s command engineered the 1934 assassination of Sergey Kirov as the overture to the Great Purge, found himself purged in his turn when the Boss decided that it was time to eliminate inconvenient witnesses. And in a characteristic twist, much of the testimony he gave at his 1938 trial was true. Yagoda had, indeed, organized the assassination of Kirov—though not, as the prosecution alleged, on behalf of a Trotskyite conspiracy. No matter! Like so many others he was convicted, sentenced to death and shot. 

Numerous other Party members, men with considerable blood on their hands, met a similar fate. That such brutal oppressors of the masses followed their countless victims to the execution cellars seems just in a rough-and-ready sense. But there was another casualty, truth, whose demise was to prove fatal for the regime that Lenin established and Stalin stabilized. Once the Great Purge had run its course and Stalin called a halt, the regime’s principal task became the maintenance of the Great Lie. A conspiracy of silence descended upon the Soviet Union. The history books were recast into an acceptable form. Photographs were altered or faked. Various personages were erased from history or had their records distorted out of all recognition. In 1920, Trotsky was universally acknowledged to be the most significant leader, after Lenin, of the Bolshevik Party. Stalin was recognized, if at all, as an obscure functionary. By 1940 (the year of his assassination in exile at the hands of the NKVD) Trotsky had been transformed into the primal traitor and defiler of the Party’s revolutionary socialist purity. Stalin, meanwhile, was hailed as Lenin’s partner in the October Revolution, the man who inherited and completed Lenin’s revolutionary task. 

The crimes of the Stalinist regime were as enormous in their way as those of the Hitler regime in Germany. The difference was that in 1945 the latter regime collapsed and its crimes were exposed. But the Soviet Union lived on, and though the leadership groups that followed Stalin after his death never again resorted to mass terror, they were the inheritors of terror’s proceeds. The truth was their enemy: a deadly threat to the stability of the regime. 

In the Fifties Nikita Khrushchev, who had in his day been a loyal Stalinist, embarked upon a program of economic and political reform. And he perceived that such reform had to include at least a nod in the direction of the truth. In his Secret Speech to the XX Party Congress (25 February 1956) Khrushchev ventured to criticize the Stalinist “cult of personality” and to condemn, if only partially, the crimes of the Stalin era. It was a profound shock to the system, not only in the Soviet Union but in the Soviet Bloc and around the world. Many Western Communists had their revolutionary faith shaken. In Poland and Hungary, Khrushchev’s revelations helped to touch off revolts that had to be put down by the Soviet Army. 

Khrushchev’s colleagues came to view his political and economic reforms, of which the Secret Speech was a key component, as reckless and destabilizing. They were right to do so. The choice before the Soviet leadership was stark: stability at the cost of growth and development, or dissolution. Needless to say they chose the former course, deposing Khrushchev and reestablishing Stalinism, albeit in a minor key. The Great Lie was rehabilitated. This was the dominant theme of the Brezhnev era. “Don’t talk to me about socialism,” he is reputed to have said. “What we have, we hold.” But with the passage of time, behind the façade of superpower status, the regime’s grip gradually weakened. By 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev assumed power, it was clear that the USSR was in terminal decline. Like Khrushchev before him, Gorbachev embarked on a reform program—and this time the fears of the former’s colleagues were realized. The demolition of the Great Lie was accomplished, the truth about the origins of the regime was laid bare, and this brought down the Soviet Union itself. 

The history of the Bolshevik Party and the regime it established embodies many lessons, first among them being the destructive power of the Lie and the fitful, uncertain power of the Truth. In Russia the Great Lie was demolished, but perhaps the damage it did can never be repaired. Detectable in the rule of V. Putin is a definite nostalgia for the Stalin era, when supposedly the USSR bestrode the world like a colossus. It would appear that the Truth—so far, at least—has not set Russia free. Indeed, it seems at times that the victory of the Truth and the consequences flowing therefrom have made the captive peoples regret the breaking of their chains.

Posted by tmg110 at 10:45 AM EDT
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Thursday, 21 September 2017
Universe to Bono: I Don't Care
Topic: Decline of the West

Did you know that there is such a thing as “the moral arc of the universe”? No? Well, according to U2 frontman Bono there is indeed such an arc. And what’s more, President Donald J. Trump is disrupting it. But not to worry! In U2’s new album, Bono and his crew are taking on Captain Bombastico.

As an example of the preening self-regard of the celebrity Left, this one is hard to beat.

Come to think of it, though, “the moral arc of the universe” is a concept dear to the hearts of non-celebrity liberals, progressives and leftists as well. Senator Kamala Harris tells us that she supports single-payer healthcare for America—not because it would provide the nation with better healthcare at al lower price but because “it’s the right thing to do.” When Russia’s neotsar, V. Putin, snatched the Crimea away from Ukraine, President Obama sniffed that such things simply aren’t done in today’s brave new world of international law and justice. (Last time I checked, though, the Crimea had not been restored to its rightful owner.) And of course there’s “climate change,” which according to the Left the United States is morally bound to combat at any cost because that too is “the right thing to do.”

Now of course the moral line of argument goes in one direction only: from the Left through the Center to the Right. Should you be so audacious as to champion traditional family values as a route out of poverty, you’re sure to be reviled and denounced for attempting to impose your code of morality upon minorities. And sometimes the Left’s moral line of argument stops short, as when it condemns the sexism and misogyny still to be found in this country while ignoring the sexism and misogyny that besmirch practically the entire Muslim world.

One gets the impression, indeed, that the Left does not really believe that the universe exhibits a moral arc. So as to combat a (largely mythical) epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses the Left begins with a lie, falsely claiming that one in five women who attend college fall victim to sexual assault. Then the Left jettisons a cardinal moral principle, justice, by demanding that universities set up kangaroo courts where male students accused of sexual assault can be convicted and punished without all the fuss and bother of due process. It’s difficult to discern in such goings-on an arc of justice of any kind, much less a universal one.

So when the Left employs a moral argument you can take it for granted that no actual code of morals is involved. Describing something—single-payer, “fighting climate change”—as a moral imperative is a tactic of the Left, designed to impress or shame people who actually do embrace a code of morals. This is not to say that progressives, as a group, are bad people. One striking feature of our progressive elites is that they mostly honor in their private lives the traditional moral precepts that come in for fierce denunciation in their political lives. (Celebrity progressives, who would have been quite at home in the Rome of Caligula, are the exception here.) It’s not hard to see why. For instance, to accept the moral validity of traditional family values would undermine some key dogmas of the Left, such as institutional racism and multiculturalism.

“The moral arc of the universe” is one of those expressions, so impressive on first acquaintance yet so hollow on examination, that deserves to be laughed out of existence. Not only is it intolerably pompous, it’s obviously untrue. As a matter of fact, the universe doesn’t care. If you don’t believe me, ask the dinosaurs. Oh, but you can’t, because the universe snuffed them out by means of a genocidal asteroid strike. Well, you could ask a survivor of the Stalinist purges or the Holocaust—some still survive—or of the Cambodian genocide, or of the Rwandan genocide. Or you could ask the people of Puerto Rico, who just received a slap upside the head from that universal bully, the universe. 

“Without God, everything is permitted,” wrote Dostoevsky, which is another way of saying that without belief in some transcendent power or purpose, morality has no footing. The “moral arc of the universe” or “the spirit of humanity” or “the Radiant Future” are poor substitutes indeed for the Ten Commandments. If the terrible twentieth century taught us nothing else, it ought to have taught us that.

Posted by tmg110 at 7:45 AM EDT
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Monday, 18 September 2017
Single-Payer: The Crystal Meth of American Politics
Topic: Politics & Elections

Napoleon advised that one should never interrupt the enemy while he’s making a mistake, so probably I and all conservatives should just keep quiet about the Democratic Party’s growing craze for single-payer healthcare: “Medicare for All,” as Senator Bernie Sanders (Bolshevik, Vermont) has dubbed it. But single-payer is such an extravagantly bad idea that I just can’t resist pointing out how dumb the Dems are for embracing it. So let’s review. 

The cost, of course, would be astronomical. Sanders & Co. speak vaguely of taxes on the rich and on such nebulous activities as “speculation” which would finance single-payer, but nothing they propose comes close to covering the bill. Indeed, no one’s really sure how much it would cost. Estimates range from $2.5 to $3 trillion per year. Accepting the lower number puts the price tag at $25 trillion over ten years. That’s serious money. Sanders’ plan is short on specifics but his tax proposals would raise only $14 trillion over ten years. 

The claims that single-payer would be cheaper than the current system also seem dubious. The administrative costs of a system covering all 320,000,000 Americans would be astronomical, particularly in view of the facts that the job would have to be farmed out to private companies. And guess what? Those companies would expect to be paid for their services. So though single-payer would abolish private health insurance companies, it would replace them with a vastly expanded medical services industry. As Jay Cost has pointed out, this kind of private-public partnership has been tried many times before and has a vexed history. Flush with cash, the huge new medical services industry would be in a prime position to lobby and influence the government. Sanders & Co. claim that a single-payer system would put the government in the driver’s seat, with power to negotiate better healthcare deals for Americans. More likely, though, the system would come to be administered in the interests of those who operate it. 

Then there’s the claim that a single-payer system would be more cost-efficient than the current private-public system. But as the Washington Post notes, there’s much less to this assertion than meets the eye. On a per-capita basis US government healthcare systems like Medicare spend more than Canada, Australia and Britain each spend through their entire healthcare systems. In other words, the US spends more per head to cover a portion of the US population than those other countries spend per head to cover their whole populations. Expanding Medicare to cover everybody wouldn’t automatically change that. Something else would have to give. 

This brings us to the claim that a single-payer system would empower the government to control costs, e.g. by setting reimbursement rates and prices. Here again, though, the more closely one examines this claim, the more dubious it looks. Through programs like Medicare and Medicaid, the government already wields a big stick in the healthcare sector of the economy. But its influence is tempered by realities both economic and political. Obviously, there are limits on the power of price controls: set prices too low and the supply of goods and services that constitute the healthcare system would shrink. Only large medical conglomerates, able to achieve economies of scale, would tend to thrive in such a system. Small medical practices, clinics, laboratories and hospitals would be driven out of business. And this brings us to the real reason why the federal government’s leverage over healthcare costs is and would be less than total: the extreme political perils of taking a hard line on healthcare spending. As the WP puts it: 

Doctors and hospitals have effectively resisted efforts to scale back the reimbursements they get from federal health programs. Small-town America does not want to give up expensive medical facilities that serve relatively few people in rural areas. A tax on medical device makers has been under bipartisan attack ever since it passed, as has the “Cadillac tax” on expensive health-insurance plans. When experts find that a treatment is too costly relative to the health benefits it provides, patients accustomed to receiving that treatment and medical organizations with a stake in the status quo rise up to demand it continue to be paid for. 

In short, all the economic incentives would be for cost control while all the political incentives would be against cost control. That’s the political reality of a single-payer system and it’s a circle that can’t be squared. Once the government takes control of the entire healthcare system, it will be held entirely responsible for every physician forced into early retirement, every hospital closed, every treatment denied. So, politicians being what they are—beings desirous of being reelected—they would shrink from the rigors of cost control. 

But the single-payer mob believes that it has an ace up its sleeve: The American people support single-payer! Naturally, though, that support depends on how the question is put. Ask Mr. & Ms. Average American if they want free government-provided healthcare and they’ll probably answer yes. But ask them if they’d like having their taxes substantially raised to pay for it, or if they’re willing to accept some one-size-fits-all healthcare plan in place of their current coverage, and you’re likely to get a different answer. The truth is that most Americans are fairly well satisfied with the healthcare coverage they have now. Why, for instance, would a family of four with decent employer-provided coverage cheer at having to pay higher taxes for Medicare for All? The costs being revealed, the details being spelled out, the cries of outrage, woe and anguish would soon drown out the tinny bandwagon music of the single-payer circus. 

And there would be plenty of woe and anguish for sure. One thing that Sanders & Co. have so far failed to explain is this: How would the transition from the current system to single payer be managed? How long would it take? How much would it cost? How disruptive would it be? What about the economic fallout? The US healthcare system is one-sixth of the national economy. It is a mechanism of astonishing breadth and vast complexity. The idea that it can be neatly pivoted onto a new axis by some dim old codger and his congressional colleagues is beneath criticism. Remember Obamacare’s inaugural pratfall? Expand that by five or six orders of magnitude and you’ll get some idea of the chaos that would surely accompany any attempt to implement a single-payer healthcare system in the United States. 

So, as a conservative, looking at the thing from a purely partisan point of view, I fervently hope that the Democrats make single-payer the keystone of their political platform. Like gun control, single-payer is an idea both ideologically addictive and politically toxic. And the Left appears to be hooked.

Posted by tmg110 at 10:23 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 5 September 2017
Leave It to Cleaver
Topic: Decline of the West

I learned something new and interesting recently: One cannot argue in favor of traditional virtues like hard work, thrift, honesty, civility, patriotism, delayed gratification, sexual restraint, etc. And why not? Because: Ward Cleaver! 

Two law professors, one at the University of Pennsylvania, one at the University of San Diego, had written an op-ed piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer in which they decried the decline of such virtues, grouping them under the brand name, bourgeois culture. Not all cultures are equal, the professors noted, and they went on to argue that the culture best suited for a postindustrial, democratic country is the bourgeois culture that prevailed in Western countries up to the Sixties. But now that culture has fallen out of fashion, as witnessed by our society’s growing dysfunction. 

You can, I am sure, imagine the response to this from the academic Left. Racism! Sexism! Homophobia! Xenophobia! Etc. and so forth. What no doubt most enraged the snowflakes and grievance mongers was the fact that the professors’ point is really inarguable. Such virtues do forge the key to a happy, productive life. But since they’re associated in the collective consciousness of the Left with Mr. Cleaver, a middle-class white guy sitting there in his easy chair after work, still wearing a tie, reading the paper while June gets dinner ready, the professors have just got to be spreading racism and sexism and hate speech—blah, blah, blah. 

Never mind that nothing they wrote could be construed as an attack on minorities. They made a point, indeed, of noting that the underclass vices, arising from an “antiauthoritarian, adolescent, wish-fulfillment ideal” dating from the Sixties, affect whites as well as minorities. And, they go on to note, not only are the vices colorblind but so are the opposing virtues. That is to say, the benefits of bourgeois culture are available to all who choose to embrace them, regardless of race or ethnicity. 

So what’s wrong with promoting these bourgeois virtues? Why is it, precisely, that championing bourgeois culture is hurtful and harmful to minorities? Or is that argument really just a nice way of saying that blacks and other minorities cannot be expected to pattern their behavior along the lines of hard work, thrift, honesty, civility, etc.? Recall the stories that came out of New Orleans during the Katrina disaster: social breakdown, widespread looting and violence, snipers shooting at rescue helicopters—even rumors of cannibalism. Well, of course, the media seemed to intimate. New Orleans is a black majority city, after all, and the people feel marginalized and abandoned so…what did you expect? But it turned out that many of these terrible stories were either gross exaggerations or outright fiction. By and large, the people of New Orleans behaved no differently than people anywhere would behave in the face of such a catastrophe. But the media—and by extension the Left—rather casually assumed that they’d behave very badly indeed.

By a choice irony, the white progressive elites who decry Cleaverism mostly practice the bourgeois virtues, though they wouldn’t dream of describing them as such. But they’re not willing to preach what they practice—which, like the fables of Katrina, suggests something not particularly flattering about their actual attitude toward minority groups. 

Yes, yes, I know: The bourgeois virtues can’t be forced on people. But on the other hand, what’s the point of denigrating them by dragging in poor old Ward Cleaver? What’s the point of saying, in effect, that hard work, thrift, honesty, civility, patriotism, delayed gratification, sexual restraint, etc. are white people’s values? What’s the point of multiculturalism if it teaches in effect that sloth, ignorance, criminality, irresponsibility, selfishness and adolescent self-regard are beyond criticism? Again, the irony is choice: In its obsession with race and multiculturalism, the Left has arrived at some conclusions that can fairly be described as racist. 

As the professors noted in their op-ed piece, many contemporary social problems can be traced to the breakdown of what they call bourgeois culture. Yes, certainly, its precepts had often been violated in practice. But beginning in the Sixties its social value was first criticized and then denied in principle. Today we’re living with the result. And Mr. Cleaver, wherever he is, must be looking on with a rueful smile.

Posted by tmg110 at 9:38 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 5 September 2017 10:25 AM EDT
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Friday, 1 September 2017
Why We Won
Topic: Military History

With the help of Dr. Leo Niehorster’s outstanding website, World War II Armed Forces Orders of Battle and Organizations, I did some quick calculations and came up with an eye-opening factoid. Among the units assigned to US First Army for Operation Overlord, the 1944 Allied invasion of France, were 33 quartermaster truck companies. Each company had 48 2½-ton cargo trucks and 1-ton trailers. In total, these 33 companies had 1,584 trucks and trailers, exclusive of additional vehicles assigned to the company and platoon headquarters. First Army also had 10 fuel supply companies, each with 16 2½-ton trucks and trailers, an additional 160, for a grand total of 1,744. Not counted are the many additional trucks in other units. For example, a 105mm field artillery battalion had 27 2½-ton cargo trucks. 

Besides the hundreds of thousands of deuce-and-a-half trucks, as the GI called them, that were supplied to the US armed forces, more than 400,000 were supplied to the Soviet Union via the Lend-Lease program. By 1945 over 30% of all trucks in Red Army service were American. In all, American factories produced 2,382,311 military trucks between 1941 and 1945, mostly 2 ½- and ¾-tonners. The latter, going by the name of weapons carrier, was produced in many variants: light cargo trucks, command vehicles, ambulances, etc. 

No wonder we won the war.

Posted by tmg110 at 12:05 PM EDT
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Friday, 4 August 2017
Unacceptable Alternatives
Topic: The Box Office

HBO’s next big thing is a series titled Confederate, set in an alternate America where the South won the Civil War, becoming an independent nation and preserving the institution of slavery. Because contemporary progressivism had perfected the technique of virtue signaling via willful stupidity, the announcement of this new project has produced a backlash, as if HBO is planning to produce a pro-slavery polemic. Whether the nosebleeds protesting Confederate really believe what they’re saying is a good question; probably, in the spirit of doublethink, they do and don’t simultaneously. In contemporary America, the issue of race has become an ideological depth charge, guaranteed to roil the waters of the leftie fever swamp. 

Very likely Confederate will turn out to be a tiresome Cautionary Tale for Our Time along the lines of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. HBO knows full well that it must kowtow to every piety of the Left regarding race or risk being subjected to a public shaming in the style of Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Thus the free exercise of the imagination, so necessary to make a project like Confederate succeed, is pretty much off the table. And that’s too bad, because with the possible exception of an Axis victory in World War Two, a Southern victory in the Civil War is the most written-about scenario in the genre of alternate history: a rich vein of the imagination from which to mine the raw materials for a riveting dramatic series. 

Ward Moore’s Bring the Jubilee (1953) is perhaps the best-known novel on the theme of an alternate Civil War and embodies several ideas that could be very useful to the producers of Confederate. Moore envisions a Union defeat at Gettysburg in July 1863, followed by the occupation of Washington and a march on Philadelphia by General Lee’s victorious Army of Northern Virginia. Union resistance collapses and the US government capitulates on July 4, 1864. The ensuing Peace of Richmond consigns Maryland, Delaware, Missouri, Kansas, the American Southwest and California to the Confederate States of America, and also requires the United States of America to pay large reparations in gold. Thus by 1940, when Moore’s narrative commences, the CSA is a global superpower. The truncated USA, its economy ruined by postwar inflation, its dwindling population beset by chronic poverty and hopelessness, is a powerless and despised backwater. 

In Moore’s CSA slavery has been formally abolished but blacks, though no longer property and humanely treated, have no political rights. In the USA, however, the situation is very different. Rage against defeat in war and the humiliations that followed finds its focus in virulent racism. Blacks—on whose behalf, it is said, the ill-advised President Lincoln precipitated the nation into civil war—share the blame with the despised Abolitionists for all the ills of the war and its aftermath. Mass lynchings are common, often perpetrated by members of a secret terrorist organization, the racist, nativist Grand Army of the Republic. 

A TV series based this background material could be as arresting and provocative as Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle. But for all its imaginative power, Moore’s alternate history offers no space for a politically correct narrative. By and large, the people of his imaginary America accept their world as it is. There is no heroic black resistance movement. There is no abolitionist movement. None of our contemporary assumptions about race and politics are operative. Moore shows, in short, that an America in whose history the South won the Civil War would be a different America. But I’m sure that HBO, anxious to placate its progressive critics, will depict the boringly familiar: all those pieties concerning race, politics and economics with which contemporary progressivism feels comfortable. No doubt modernized slavery will be organized on a corporate basis, with wicked plutocrats exploiting black labor for the benefit of the shareholders. And no doubt progressives themselves will be cast in the role of heroic, enlightened abolitionists—with blacks, just as they are in reality, condescendingly regarded as a mascot group. 

As I thought about all this, an idea occurred to me. What if slavery in the CSA had evolved in such a manner as to replicate apartheid-era South Africa, with most blacks concentrated in “homeland” areas? And what if, to control these homelands, the white government had created a class of blacks receiving special privileges in return for serving as administrators, police officers, etc.? And what if the nucleus of resistance to the CSA developed among those black men and women? The dramatic possibilities are obvious—and, alas, obviously unacceptable to the doubleplusgoodthinkers of contemporary progressivism.

Posted by tmg110 at 9:57 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 4 August 2017 1:04 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 2 August 2017
Celebrity Populism and Its Discontents
Topic: Decline of the West

remarkable feature of Trumpian populism is its malignant influence over both the supporters and the opponents of President Donald J, Trump. Among the former we find celebrity pundits like Sean Hannity, retailed to their fans for years as conservative stalwarts, abruptly transformed into shameless apologists for every offense against truth and morality perpetrated by Trump and his cronies. Listening to Hannity’s denunciations of the “deep state” and his vilification of Trump’s critics, I have often felt like pitching my glass into the TV screen. So to avoid a sad waste of good liquor, I no longer inflict upon myself the raving and ranting of that sycophantic phony.

But let us give Donald Trump his due. He also brings out the very worst in those who loathe and despise him. Assassination porn, fantasies of impeachment and dystopian malarkey send thrill after thrill up the collective leg of the Left. Trump’s supporters are routinely denounced as crazed gun-toting, racists, homophobes, misogynists, etc., etc. The hate-Trump Left, no less than the Love-Trump Right, seems incapable of seeing the man for what he is.

And what is he? Well, he’s nothing particularly new in American history. Trump didn’t invent populism, that not-really-conservative, dumbed-down, lowest-common-denominator, know-nothing ideology of the ignorant aggrieved. The shade of Huey Long no doubt beams with admiration of Trumpism. Perhaps even William Jennings Bryan nods approval from time to time. What’s new about Trump is not his populist message but his mode of operation, an amalgam of the celebrity culture and contemporary social media. This magnified his presence on the political stage and opened channels of communication bypassing those self-nominated gatekeepers of American political culture, the traditional mainstream media. Trump refused to play by the rules so therefore he couldn’t possibly win: thus reasoned the journalistic and political establishments. (I include myself in this criticism.) Not until the game was almost up did anybody see it coming: the knockout punch that floored Hillary Clinton, clearing Trump’s path to the White House.

Yet the substance of Trump’s populism is actually rather traditional: suspicious of free trade, inclined to protectionism, nationalist, isolationist, anti-immigrant, celebratory of “average Americans,” deeply suspicious of the Establishment, not particularly conservative. When Trump does mention a conservative principle, it seems as deeply felt as “Have a nice day.” In some respects, indeed, his populism resembles that of Bernie Sanders, the equally dumbed-down champion of that ideological oxymoron, “democratic socialism.”

What makes Trump distinctive is his open contempt for both propriety and the truth. He seems literally not to care whether the things he says bear any relation to reality. Last week the Commander-in-Chief supposedly banned transgendered people from service in the armed forces. But he did so via a tweet that, so far as anyone knows, has not been followed up by the kind of presidential directive necessary to give effect to such a ban. Also via Twitter, Trump has carried out a campaign of public vilification directed against his own attorney general. Before that, he fired the Director of the FBI in the most brutal and humiliating manner possible. Recall the dust-up over the relative sizes of his and Barack Obama’s inaugural crowds. Directly against the evidence of everybody’s eyes, Trump and his cronies insisted—insist to this day for all I know—that The Donald’s crowd was bigger. This ludicrous episode proved to be an omen, for Trump’s conduct in office since then has been very effective in driving his enemies on the Left over the screaming edge of madness.

And it’s not a pretty sight. Sean Hannity’s behavior may be unforgivable, but I can’t condemn the Rust Belt, Middle American voters who pulled the lever for Trump. They have a legitimate grievance against the political class—which seems, to put it no more pointedly, unconcerned about Middle America’s problems and priorities. Trump didn’t corrupt American politics but merely took advantage of a preexisting condition. Nor is the Left’s dislike of and contempt for his supporters anything new. The Left considered Middle America to be deplorable long before Hillary Clinton made the sentiment explicit. The unspoken assumption behind the theory of the ascendant Democratic majority was a belief that working-class white Americans would soon become extinct—and good riddance. The Trump Ascendancy has merely liberated the Left to say plainly what it really thinks about its fellow Americans: “You are stupid, ignorant, hateful and retarded.”

The resulting polarization of American politics, bred of mutual contempt and ill will, may well make this country ungovernable for years to come. For all the blather about bipartisanship nobody really believes in it any longer and it seems to me unlikely that either major party will be able to cobble together an effective governing majority. No matter who has control at the top there will be Resistance, gridlock, spreading lawlessness. But perhaps we need some such profound political crisis, whose climax would break the logjam and open a path forward. Because right now, America’s going nowhere fast.

Posted by tmg110 at 1:21 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 2 August 2017 1:24 PM EDT
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