- The centrality of the church to black life in America Fred Siegel, City Journal
- Obama David Runciman, London Review of Books
- Remembrance of war as a warning Christopher Preble, War on the Rocks
- European culture and its relation to Russian culture Ivan Kireyevsky, Montreal Review
Today is inauguration day. Donald Trump will officially be the 45th President of the United States of America. Many have pointed out that Trump is the oldest president (slightly above 70 years of age). I disagree.
Old is not a “purely” absolute concept. Advances in living standards mean advances in our ability to live longer lives. Not only do we live longer lives than in the past, but at any point in our life, our health is better. Someone who reached 65 years of age in 1900 probably did not have the same health prospects as someone who reaches that age today. Basically, the “quality” of old age has increased over time (see this great book on the economic history of aging). So, when people say “old”, I ask “old as compared to what”.
To meet that test, I took the CDC data on life expectancy as well as soon historical database from 1900 to today. I combined it with David Hacker’s work on life tables in the US from 1790 to 1900 which can be found in this article of Historical Methods. Hacker’s data concerns only the white population. I took only the age expectancy at birth of males. Then, I plotted the age of the president at the time of inauguration as a share of the life expectancy at birth (E0). This is the result:
As one can see, the age of presidents as a share of life expectancy is falling steadily since the early 1900s. In this light, Donald Trump is not the oldest president. In fact, the oldest president is …. drumroll…James Buchanan (1.85 times the life expectancy of white males at birth). Moreover, in this light, the youngest president at inauguration is not Teddy Roosevelt (Kennedy was the youngest elected). Rather, the youngest is Barack Obama followed very closely by Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy.
I find this post to be interesting as it shows something more important in my eyes: how the poorest in society have done. Presidents have generally stemmed from the top of the income distribution. Over time, the ages of presidents at inauguration (in absolute terms) has not followed any clear trend. The drop seen in the graph above is entirely driven by increases in the life expectancy of the “average” American. In a certain way, it shows that the distance between that “Joe the Plumber” and the “Greatest Man in America” (huh…Lord Acton anyone?) seems to be diminishing over time.
Note: This is written for my overseas readers mainly. If you live in the US, you will probably find that you already know most of what I am writing about.
A couple of days ago, a police officer shot to death a black man in full daylight in Charlotte, North Carolina, very much the Old South, former home of abject slavery.
This is happening in the last months of the second administration of the first black American president, after more than seven years of his being in charge. “Being in charge” is an exaggeration of sorts though. The President of the United States exercises no constitutional authority over local police forces (or state police forces). His federal Department of Justice only has jurisdiction when a violation of civil rights is at stake and only over that specific putative violation. Homicide is not in itself a civil rights violation. It’s true that Pres. Obama cannot pick up the phone and tell the Charlotte police what to do or how. Yet, Mr Obama is responsible to some extent although indirectly for the violence, an idea I will develop below.
Cop kills black man: familiar story, right?
I forgot to give you important information. The police officer who did the shooting is black and a woman. She answers to a black police chief. He is squarely in charge of training officers and making rules for their behavior, including their use of firearms. The Chief of Police is appointed and answers to the mayor of Charlotte. The mayor is a white woman and a prominent Democrat. She is assisted by a city council of eleven, four or whom are black. As far as I can tell, there are zero, or one, or two Republican city councilors. The rest are Democrats.
The police says the victim had a gun. His family says in was sitting in his car reading a book while waiting for his child to come out of school. Disturbingly different stories, for sure.
There have been three nights or protests in Charlotte, that quickly became riots, with demonstrators throwing heavy objects at police officers and much destruction of property. One demonstrator was shot, apparently not by a police officer. And, of course, there was much looting of stores. It’s nearly always like this: One young black man dies, fifteen young black men acquire brand new mountain bikes.
Watching the riots on TV, I notice something that television channels and printed press journalist don’t comment on: Some of the most aggressive rioters are young white men who seem to me to know what they are doing and who are not distracted by broken store windows. I should use the word cautiously but they seem to me almost professional in their approach to rioting. The white young rioters are not mentioned I think because they cannot be fitted in the prevailing liberal narrative: It’s a race riot, it’s a demonstration against racial injustice by black people who have just had enough. How about the young white guys? Irrelevant, they are just lovers of justice who happen to be there. Yet, I can’t claim that I recognize any of them on TV but there are young white men just like them in every race riot I have watched in the past two years. If they are absent the first day, they are plainly present the second day and the next few days.
The show on my TV looks a bit like a movie because it’s not well connected to reality, the reality that everyone knows: On the whole, young black men don’t die because cops shoot them, they die because other young black men kill them. They also kill the occasional child and lately, even a young mother pushing her baby carriage. The percentage of violent deaths of black men at police hands that are legally unjustified, must be minuscule. No one in Chicago demonstrates against this continuing mass killing by African-Americans. I think blacks and whites alike don’t because it would contradict the main, tired old liberal narrative: Injustice and racial oppression are the source of all evils in American society.
Young black men kill one another in gang wars for turf (for possession of a piece of ground.) The turf, the ground, is an important asset in the retail sale of illegal drugs. I would be curious of what would happen if Congress decriminalized all drug sales to adults and if a rational president signed the bill into law. I would bet that young black men’s death rate would plummet by 90% in a few weeks. I have no explanation as to why this is not done. It’s not as if the 40-year old so-called “War on Drugs” were working in reducing drug use!
After seven+ years of Obama, the economic gap between whites and blacks – however you measure it – has increased. African-Americans are worse off in relative terms than they were under Pres. Bush. This is no surprise to me. It’s a Democratic administration. The worst place for a black man to live in America is in Democratic-ruled big cities. It begins with Chicago, a Democratic city for 85 years. And then, there is Detroit, a war zone with no war. All this being said, we must not forget that most African-Americans lead lives that are both normal and peaceful, in crying contradiction to the narrative of continued racial oppression. There is a large minority of young black men however who have never had a job, who don’t look for one, who may have never known a person with a job except teachers and cops.
Democratic politicians have been promising salvation in the form of “social programs” paid for by those who do work. They have done so for fifty years. They have not implemented them, or the programs have done little good, or even worse. It’s time for a revolutionary new idea, one that’s very old, in fact. When there is rapid economic growth, employers compete for labor, even for the labor of the inexperienced, even for the labor of those usually seen as unemployable. Black Americans in ghettos need the same thing that all Americans need: vigorous and fast economic growth. This may be hard to believe but the United States has few problems that could not be solved by ten years of 3.5% annual GDP growth.
There is no sign of a search for economic development in the Democratic presidential candidate’s program. Donald Trump, by contrast, promises to reduce taxes and to rid business of many regulations. Historically, it’s usually enough to produce growth. Black Americans need less abstract “justice” and more of a fair chance. The left wing of the Democratic Party hates the very idea.
The past few months have been busy, to say the least. The Obama administration announced a series of executive actions regarding immigration and that has taken up most of my time. Meanwhile in my day job as a graduate student I’ve been overwhelmed with midterms and finals; I am sure my fellows in NoL can sympathize with this. The few moments of peace I have enjoyed have gone towards pondering one question: Who is an American?
The question is not isolated. By asking who an American is, I’m really asking what ethnicity, and other social groups, really are. The best answer to my question was an old Cato blog post appropriately titled, What is an American? In it Edward Hudgins discusses what makes an American. It is not, as some believe, a common language, creed, or ancestry. What makes an American is his love for liberty. It is in his closing remarks that Hudgins hits on something amazing, there is no meaningful thing as ‘American’.
Unfortunately, the American spirit has eroded. Our forebears would look with sadness at the servile and envious character of many of our citizens and policymakers. But the good news is that there are millions of Americans around the world, living in every country. Many of them will never make it here to the United States. But they are Americans, just as my grandpop was an American before he ever left Italy.
There exists those individuals who can prefix themselves as Americans, but at best this only tells us that they are somehow affiliated with the American continent. There exists a group of people who yearn for liberty and are willing to fight for it, but many of them were neither born or live in the United States. Likewise there are those who were born and live in the United States who are no friends of liberty. And so my initial question has lead me to a new one. Why not promote being a libertarian as an ethnicity? Why not introduce ourselves as ‘Libertarios’ instead of Americans, Germans, or Turks?
At first my proposal may sound strange to some. Would it not be silly to define an ethnicity by political views? I don’t think so. Few ethnic groups have a concrete basis in reality and are based more on fiction than anything else. I was born in Mexico, raised in the United States, and am directly descended from Germans, Jews, and Cubans. I feel little fraternity to these latter groups though. Why should I? I didn’t elect to have Jewish or Mexican ancestry, but I did elect to be a libertarian. Anyone who proclaims to be a libertarian automatically has my sympathy and support, even if I know nothing else about them. As this is the case I would prefer to be identified as a Libertario than any other ethnic group.
I am sure that there are those who would prefer not to be identified by any collective label at all. For those of you who fall into this category I would offer a pragmatic case for identify as Libertario.
I hope it can be taken for granted that, as libertarians, we wish there to be more libertarians. In the best scenario more libertarians in the world might lead to better public policy. In the worst scenario we at least have more potential friends. By promoting our existence as an ethnic group we would encourage more people to remain as libertarians. I have often found people who have libertarian political views, but who withdraw from participation if they become discouraged about the hope for change in their lifetimes. If we were an ethnic group though these individuals would continue to promote liberty, if only to signal their membership in the group. An ethnic group therefore not only encourages members to remain active, but produces positive externalities to promote the group’s message.
For comparison consider the Mormon people. Many Mormons spend time advocating on behalf on their religion, with several even going abroad on missionary work. From anecdotal experience I’ve noticed that many of them are ill treated when they perform their advocacy. Why do they bother to do so then? Because, as I’ve noted above, it signals their membership in the Mormon community. The average Mormon may not particularly enjoy being harassed for their beliefs, but they do it anyway to tell other Mormons a simple message, “I’m one of you.”
It goes without saying that there must be a benefit to belonging to a given group for this to work.
Additionally the existence of an ethnic libertario community would make raising children to be libertarians much easier. I side with Bryan Caplan in the belief that a relatively easy way to grow the movement is by simply having more children than the general population. It doesn’t matter if you believe children’s political beliefs, and by extension their ethics and other characteristics, are shaped by genetics or their nurturing, a libertario community would help with producing children. If you believe in the genetic argument, then an ethnic community reduces the cost of finding a spouse who shares your political beliefs. If you believe in the nurture argument, then surely a child raised among libertarians is more likely to end up being one himself.
Thoughts? Am I just crazy? Or do you have a counter proposal to ‘Libertario’ as our ethnic label? Comment below.
Late last month I asked a simple question, what does the Obama administration hope to accomplish in regards to immigration? I answered that its goal was not to reform the United States immigration system unilaterally, but to use executive action to force Congress into acting.
My prediction turned out to be correct. The administration had initially planned to announce executive actions meant to provide relief from deportation for many of the country’s illegal alien population and to make legal migration easier after the Labor Day weekend. ‘Had’ is the key word here. In its latest series of press conferences the administration has pushed back the announcement till year’s end.
Why did the administration push back its announcement? Partly because the administration doesn’t really want to issue executive actions – it merely wants to use the threat of executive action. Some opponents of the current administration, including libertarians, envision the executive branch as having unlimited powers but the truth is that the administration has all too real limits to its powers. Members of the President’s own party lobbied for the postponement in fear that a radical change in immigration policy will cause them to lose their upcoming elections.
The state is not a monolithic beast with a single mind. Rather it is composed of several competing factions who are nonetheless united in their shared goal of maintaining a functioning order. The state is usually seen as the antithesis of the market, but I think this a wrong way to think. The state is itself a product of spontaneous order and better thought of as an example of how human cooperation can do great harm.
What this means is that the Obama administration must first secure its hold over its own party before it can duke it with other factions within the state apparatus.
It also means that conspiracy theories, of the like discussed in the comments section of my last post, are unlikely. It is true that ‘open borders’ could be used to rob the United States of its sovereignty in favor of creating a larger transnational state in its favor. However it is unclear why Obama and his allies, as individuals, should wish to see the creation of a new state unless they were assured they would be leaders in it. The creation of a new state is no small feat and usually requires a long time horizon.
Monarchs of the past could afford to undergo the long process because they were assured that even if they themselves did not live to see their creations their children would. Obama has no such assurance; in a few years he will vacate the White House and go into retirement. As a matter of tradition Obama, as most US Presidents have, will leave electoral politics. He may lend his support to some charitable cause, but he will never again be active in day to day politics. His incentives are as such to maintain the United States as strong as possible to preserve his legacy.
Who then does have the incentive to see the creation of a new state? Presumably it would have to be a faction in the current state apparatus that has some power but has been relegated to a position where they cannot expect to rise any further. In times of old this would be a Duke who, although strong, could not expect to see himself made King under the current regime because of one reason or another.
Which faction could fit the bill today? The Democrats? No. As noted above, current Democrats would not be assured of their involvement in a new state and would not risk their current power given their short time horizon. The Republicans? No. The Republican Party is believed by many to be destined to become a permanent minority party at the national level, but for the foreseeable future it still has enough sway to win a healthy amount of seats in Congress and could very well win the Presidency under a charismatic candidate. Even if the Republican Party is destined to become a minority party, why would it want a stronger state replace the US? It anything it should want the south and western mountain states to secede so that it could continue to influence national politics, albeit in a new nation. What about Hawaii? The far flung state owes its political union with the US to an overthrow of its indigenous monarchy. It may harbor some desire to regain its independence, but it is unclear why it would want to see the US by a larger state still. If anything the rebellious factions in the US should desire to break up, not increase, the current state.
By no means should I be seen as saying that conspiracies cannot be in play. I simply do not see the necessary incentives for a conspiracy to arise that would wish to see the United States replaced by a transnational state.
Let us compare this with the European Union, a new state in the process of being formed from the remnants of the previously separate European countries. As many observers have noted previously, it is hard not to notice that the European Union is effectively a new German Reich. Germany was unable to secure an empire on the continent using arms, but it has been immensely successful in winning its empire through commerce. German politicians and their bureaucrat allies have a clear incentive to see the continued rise of the EU, but even here there are rival factions who oppose them. One wonders if euroskepticism in the United Kingdom is truly because the British people oppose the EU or because Germany and its allies, and not the UK, will be the center of power in the new state?
It is widely believed that the Obama administration will extend deferred action to include a significant portion of the United States illegal alien population following Labor Day. Some analysts are estimating that as many as five million illegal aliens will be provided some form of amnesty. I am skeptical this is the case, and believe it is more likely we will see smaller actions taken. The executive branch has a high degree of freedom when it comes to applying immigration law, but there are limits. The President’s actions thus far have been made with the goal of getting Congress to pass immigration reform, and any future actions are likely to follow that trend.
Let us consider for example the announcement of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA has provided temporary relief for half a million migrants in the form of work permits and legal presence. Perhaps more importantly it also strengthened a constituency that has a strong stake in seeing immigration reform passed by Congress. A cynic is tempted to say that the ultimate purpose of DACA was to create several thousand lobbyists.
Earlier this year the Obama administration also mused with the idea of extending the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program to include those who had received DACA relief. The MAVNI program allows those who enter it an opportunity to earn US citizenship by serving in vital military roles. The actual perquisites to join the MAVNI program are high and it is doubtful more than a handful of DACA recipients will ever earn citizenship in this manner. As it is clear that this program is of little practical use, why did the administration bother with it at all? I suspect it was because it was hoping to win over support for immigration reform from military constituencies.
The administration has also proposed allowing spouses of certain legal migrants to acquire work authorization. Here too the idea is better in principle than actual practice, as only spouses of H-1B visa holders already in the process of gaining permanent residency are eligible. It is clear that the purpose of this proposal had more to do with gaining support among skilled migrants and their employers than it was about actually providing relief.
Opponents of increased immigration may consider the above actions to be instances of executive abuse, but they are all minor compared to what the Obama administration could do.
The Obama administration could, for example, lower the threshold necessary for a waiver of inadmissibility to be approved. A significant portion of the illegal alien population would be eligible to readjust their legal status either through their family connections to US citizens or by employer sponsorship, but they are barred from doing so because they have accrued unlawful presence. A waiver of inadmissibility is an existing process that pardons said unlawful presence, and it may suffice for the Obama administration to instruct US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to be more generous when it decides whether to grant the waiver. Allowing illegal aliens to attain permanent residency and citizenship via this method would be a significant departure from past executive actions by providing long term relief.
The Obama administration has previously altered how the waiver of inadmissibility is granted by allowing it to be filed inside the United States instead of requiring applicants to do so in a consulate abroad. I am therefore skeptical that the administration is not aware of how relatively easy it would be to use the existing system to grant massive relief to the illegal alien population.
Furthermore I doubt the administration wishes to grant deferred action for a large portion of the illegal alien population as it may then find a decreased willingness to include a pathway to citizenship as a perquisite for immigration reform. Prior to DACA’s announcement there was broad support for passing a version of the Dream Act, but said support was lost as many saw DACA as being a de facto Dream Act. Few people know or care about the marginal differences between the two and many have perceived DACA as being sufficient. A large expansion of deferred action for the illegal alien population may, in the short term, provide them relief at the expense of making others perceive that there is no need for further action to help them. It may also lead to the current pro-immigration reform coalition to break apart and make it more difficult to increase the number of legal immigrants.
Liberalization of immigration law paradoxically makes it more difficult to find support for fully open borders. How much support would there be for open borders if all one had to do to legally enter a given country was sing the national anthem and pay for a ten dollar entrance visa? I suspect under such loose regulations the desire for open borders would be restricted to a handful of individuals interested in it on philosophical grounds.
The Obama administration cannot create any new pathways to citizenship for the United States’ illegal alien population. Nor can it create new pathways for legal immigration. It can however provide relief for the illegal alien population and ease the process for legal immigration. I doubt it will though, as its goal is to get Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform with as few as possible executive orders.
- Arms in the Several States. This is a great post by a law professor at Fordham (Nicholas Johnson) on the legal history behind the struggle of black Americans to arm themselves in the face of State oppression.
- World War I and Australia
- Held up in customs: Life in China gave Brittany Griner more than she bargained for. This is an excellent piece on the life of a female (former) college basketball star living in China.
- Putin’s Cold New World. This is a piece in Dissent magazine by a Polish Left-wing sociologist who deplores what he thinks of as inadequate protection from the United States. Interesting to read in tandem with the knowledge of factions and rent-seeking that is often addressed here at NOL.
- The House sues Obama: Political theatre, political pain. A penetrating insight from Will Wilkinson into the House’s decision to sue the Obama administration. The best account I’ve read of the drama so far.