A California Crack-Up?

We can only hope.

There has been a small flurry of news articles covering the success of a political initiative by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur to split California into six states rather than one. If this sounds familiar, it’s because many Notewriters have been advocating for more decentralization – both in the US and abroad – since NOL was founded back in 2012. Because breaking up states within free trade zones is such a sophisticated idea, many mainstream pundits have been reluctant to read up on it. Instead, Left-wing reactionaries (and really, are there any other kind?) simply resort to slandering the entrepreneur responsible for the initiative (his name is Timothy Draper, by the way, and you can look up his wiki here), slandering libertarianism, and slandering rich people (Slate, predictably, covers all of the fallacious bases in one fell swoop).

Luckily, the internet now provides people with more than three television channels.

There are two things you need to know about secession within the US free trade zone. First, it is extremely hard to break up one state into many. There is a constitutional process for the whole idea (I don’t understand why the framers, and subsequent legal experts, can respect secession within free trade zones but cannot bother to apply their reasoning to secession in matters outside of a free trade zone’s jurisdiction; Texas, for example, provides us with a great case study of what happens when an administrative polity breaks away from a federal state only to join a rival federal state; Why should this concept not be applied to the West’s foreign policies today?).

In order for a potential administrative unit (“state”) to become an actual US state, it must first be approved by state legislatures. So, in California’s case, only the California legislature needs to approve of the secession. However, there are rules in the constitution allowing for states to join up with each other, or for one region between two US states (like the hippie area in northern California and southern Oregon) to apply for statehood as well. When two or more states are involved, the legislatures of each state must approve of the secession (or marriage). Are we all clear?

Second, after the state legislature(s) approve of the secession, the move must then be approved by the US Congress (both houses). Andrew Prokop, of the Left-wing site vox.com (lest I be accused of being too ideological), explains well what this means:

The biggest difficulty of all would be getting Congressional approval. Giving California 12 Senate seats would be an extremely tough sell. Though those seats wouldn’t necessarily be overwhelmingly Democratic […] they would dilute the power of every existing senator.

Indeed. Now you can hopefully see why libertarians generally support decentralized governance (and let it be remembered that federalism – even a territorially-expansionist federalism – is likely to be the quickest, but still legally-soundest, way towards decentralized governance). As I wrote in a ‘comments’ thread last September (2013):

[…] the federal pie itself would not grow in the event of a few states splitting up.

Think of it this way: suppose the federal budget is $100 for the year. Currently, there are 100 Senators and 435 members of the House, so altogether there are 535 politicians dividing up the $100 pie.

Now suppose the number of states suddenly doubled. You now have 200 Senators and say 870 members of the House.

Numbers like this guarantee that each politician will have less power.

Additionally, you cannot grow the federal pie simply by creating new states out of thin air. If this were the case, then politicians and intellectuals who favor the government redistribution of wealth approach would have long ago advocated for more states. Advocates of redistribution recognize that more decentralization of power makes it harder to come to a consensus about policy options.

And the less government does, the better off everybody will be.

Now, with this being said, there is more than one type of pie. There are state pies and county pies and private sector pies, too. Secession would weaken the power of state-level politicians (Governor Brown could only inflict damage on northern Californians rather than all Californians, for example).

County pies may or may not grow, but in my estimation I do not think growth at the county level is all that important.

The one pie that would grow would be the private sector pie, largely due to the lack of consensus (or, in other words, the greater amount of special interests) at the federal level that decentralization brings about.

Speaking of ‘comments’ threads: One of the things I like most about blogs is the fact that many of the insights I receive about an idea or an event are found in the ‘comments’ threads rather than in an original post. The openness of the blogging platform provides not only an avenue for individuals to express their thoughts, no matter how primitive or vulgar, but also a way for people to expand their horizons and learn something new. This is one of the reasons I try to encourage readers, as well as my fellow Notewriters, to get more involved in the ‘comments’ threads, although y’all are understandably weary of trolls.

The Federal Shutdown, the Debt Ceiling and an Extremist’s Morning After

The fake government “shutdown” is already over. I hardly had time to enjoy it. I was just beginning to make a list of federal services that are “non-essential” according to the federal government itself. I was kind of hoping that the EPA, for example, would bite the dust. I does not seem fair.

The debt ceiling problem is also dealt with for the time being. It’s another expression of the same underlying problem that led to the “shutdown.” (See below.)

OK, after the crisis that just ended temporarily, it feels to conservatives like Great Britain in August 1944. The Luftwaffe rules the skies. Our few remaining pilots keep getting shot down. Our central city is bombed nightly. Everyone else who is civilized has already folded. Nightly, they are opening the Champagne in Berlin. We stand alone. It does not mean that we are wrong to stand.

Still, it also feels like the morning after. Time to look into it.

The so-called crisis is suspended for about four months. Nothing is solved. The Republicans collectively took a public opinion drubbing, it’s true. Speaking for myself, I will repeat what I said earlier: I am not attached to the Republican Party. I care only about limited government conservatism. Until now, the Republican Party was a not-so-bad vehicle for that view of the world. If it does not have the backbone to carry it further, so be it. Yes, I think that even if there is no other likely large vehicle in sight. I want to avoid pointless imaginings about my meaning by saying it clearly: What I fear most is not just another electoral defeat but a meaningless and useless electoral defeat such as the Republican Party suffered in the last presidentials. What hurts the most is the large number of nominal Republicans who just stayed home. Gov. Romney’s program was not the hill you want to die for. Gov. Romney was not the kind of commander who could induce you to die for that hill.

Here is the central conservative issue in a capsule. The phony government shutdown and the reappearing debt ceiling issue are parts of the same dark cloud:

A federal government that is deeply and routinely corrupt as well as shockingly incompetent keeps borrowing mindlessly to sustain the ordinary business of government.

It’s despotic; its’ a waste of resources; most of all, it’s immoral.

The mindless, nearly automatic borrowing is the worst part.

Myself, I think that I, my children and the federal government should only borrow under two circumstances:

  1. When the loan is to be applied directly to the acquisition of a tool that will contribute to greater earnings in the proximate future. I use the word “tool” liberally. Better freeways, for example, could easily qualify.
  2. When there is a strong presumption that we will earn more tomorrow . That’s with or without the condition in 1 above. This is separate. In the case of a country, for example demographic growth may by itself create such a presumption.

The present federal government’s borrowing fulfills neither condition. It’s borrowing to meet everyday expense. It’s as if I borrowed to buy bread for my lunch sandwich. There is also no reason so far to believe that the United States economy will grow a great deal tomorrow. (This could change the day after tomorrow if we had, for example, sudden access to new cheap energy. The Obama administration is doing its best to prevent precisely this from happening – Makes you think along dark lines, doesn ‘t it?)

Routine even legal, systemic federal government corruption: The widow of (wealthy) Senator Lautenberg received $174,000 from Congress because her husband took the trouble to die while in office. (WSJ 10/18/13, p. A12)

Federal Government incompetence: See the health insurance exchanges, in preparation for four years! Enough said! Note: I am not sure whether I am more afraid that its implementation will succeed or that it will continue to fail in exemplary fashion.

Mindless federal borrowing: It has become an integral part of the culture that the government must borrow to live. I said “integral part of the culture.” Below, an illustration I could not invent if I wanted to.

Larry Fink is the CEO of BlackRock, by some defensible measure, the largest investment firm in the world. Mr Fink said 10/16/13 or 10/17/13 (WSJ):

I have been in this business for 37 years. For 34 years I did not know there was such a thing as a debt ceiling.

Our point exactly! One of the highest placed business executives in the land takes government borrowing so much for granted that he does not know it’s subject to Congress-imposed limitations. He even sounds incensed when he learns the truth.

That’s what makes us conservatives, “extremists.”

Why do I care? I care because, unless there is another wave of fast economic growth lasting for several years, we are guaranteeing that our children and grand children will live in poverty. It’s wrong; it’s immoral.

And then, there is the growing phoniness of the public discourse including discourse by the mainstream privately owned press.

During the two days following the cessation of the pretend-government “shutdown,” the main media are eager to pretend that the multitudes feel great relief. They talk as if the average folks out there had experienced tremendous suffering because federal non-essentials were furloughed. I, for one, feel no relief at all. I don’t know anyone who does. (Agree, it’s an unsystematic sample but it’s a sample.) This is all the media’s deliberate exaggeration or a misplaced identification with federal public servants. It’s becoming more and more obvious that such public servants are overpaid and that they enjoy too many unearned privileges. (State public servants also, in some states, such as mine, California.) I don’t identify. It pisses me off. The more I know, the more pissed off I am.

They, the mainstream media, echo dumbly the noises coming from the administration about the alleged “costs” of the “shutdown” to the national economy. No one takes the trouble to do a net calculus, even to raise the issue of a net calculus. Isn’t it true that for each day certain federal bureaucracies are unable to do their job, some of the main producers in the nation are better able to produce? Again, the EPA comes to mind. And the IRS, of course. And a number of federal agencies whose names I don’t even know.

Besides, it’s an empty formula, a truism that (theoretical) wealth that fails to be produced usually is not regained, as the administration says gravely.

N. S. ! That’s what happens with Columbus Day and with Presidents’ Day, for example. (When only public servants and bank employees don’t work. When nearly the whole private sector keeps on producing wealth.) Why not cancel both holidays if non-production is a cause for worry? Why not make federal public servants come to work on both days if the president is worried? He only need issue an executive order. Bet you, he won’t even mention the possibility. And why do I have to state the obvious? Why aren’t the media doing their job? Have they been hypnotized? And, I almost forgot: if the president loses sleep over the missed production of federal employees, he could imitate the French in reverse and institute the federal forty-four hours work week. Would anyone notice?

Something else does not add up in the media’s discourse. For days, during the so-called “shutdown,” both administration officials and supposedly independent pundits threatened us with a world economic abyss because of number of non-essential federal employees were prevented from going to work. (I am not making this up; I am not exaggerating that we were told this ad nauseum; go back to those recent days, you will be amazed.) Yet, the day he current agreement is announced, the day we jumped form the edge of the supposed abyss, the markets reacted limply. The Dow Jones Industrial gained a lackluster 175 points that day. Now, that’s nice; it’s a gain for sure. However it’s no more of a gain than happens, for example, when the international price of the oil barrel comes down by ten dollars. The next day, the Dow Jones was flat. Trouble over; no big deal after all. Forget what we said yesterday. Forget the alarm. We were just kidding!

The Republican cave-in saves us from falling into the Grand Canyon and the market gives us a small hot dogs party by way of celebration! Does it make sense?

President Obama’s deftness never ceases to amaze me. No mistake seems to stick to him. On the day of the agreement, he declared that the new debt ceiling is not really debt. No one in the mainstream press questioned this absurd statement. Let me repeat, by the way, that I don’t think he is lying. He really does not know better. Academia is overflowing with his type of intelligent ignorance.

Perhaps, I am not grasping what’s going on, culturally. Perhaps, the reservoir of white American guilt concerning the long atrocity that was slavery, concerning racial segregation and discrimination also, is far from exhausted. Perhaps, the president can write checks on this for a long time to come. Or maybe, as Rush Limbaugh suggested, he struck a giant chord with the millions by giving them a chance to see themselves as victims. If you are a victim, almost any grotesque behavior is permissible. Soon only my wife, our grown children and I will be the only non-victims left in America. It will be a lonely existence. And, I wonder how long we will be able to support the victims because two of us are long retired (thus mirroring American demographics to come).

At one point one of Mr Obama’s servants referred gravely to the global reputational damage the shutdown has caused to the United States. (I don’t remember exactly who or when but I heard it with my own ears.) The “red line” in Syria about using chemical weapons does not in any way affect the credibility of the US, I suppose. The hundreds of civilians who died from chemical weapons died and all is forgiven. In the words of Pres. Obama’s former Secretary of State, “What difference does it make now?”

The day after the agreement the president gave another speech in which he advised those who don’t like something to just win elections in order to be able to change the something. I don’t think it was mistake. It was Freudian slip. President Obama does not believe that tea party Senators and Representatives who oppose him so tenaciously were just as elected as he was. It sounds familiar to me because I know history rather well and French history very well. The weakling tyrant, Louis-Napoleon, the Emperor Napoleon the Third (there was no Second) was initially elected. His supporters really thought that if you were elected by a sizable majority, you were morally allowed to do anything. They thought that was democracy. (There is a very nice readable piece by my old buddy Karl Marx on this topic for your reading pleasure where and when it rains: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Abstract of Chapter I.)

Thus do we drift fast toward a one-party state. I warned about this a long time ago, before Mr Obama was even elected. (See also on this blog: “Fascism Explained“)

The unspeakable Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said after the agreement was reached: “This is a time for reconciliation.” I don’t think so. I hope not.

Around the Web

I apologize for the dearth of posts lately. I have been reading a lot of books the old-fashioned way, chasing girls down so that I can  smell their hair and generally just enjoying life post-graduation.

  1. Will Wilkinson blogs about the drug war’s inherent racism at Democracy in America.
  2. Rebecca Liao writes about Democracy in China for Dissent.
  3. Randy Barnett on the future of federalism after the “gay marriage” SCOTUS decision.
  4. Uganda versus South Korea. An interesting take on development by Andrew Mwenda.
  5. The Economist has a great piece on the violence in Turkey.
  6. Fascinating ‘comments’ thread on Hayek and Pinochet. I am going to dedicate a long piece to this thread shortly. American Leftists are just classical liberals who have come to think of themselves as superior to their neighbors. Leftists in Europe and Latin America are murderous.

Homosexual Marriage

I don’t care much if homosexuals, a small percentage of the population, gain the right to marry. (The right to marry? What kind of a right is this?) In general, I don’t like the idea that an activist minority can use the armed power of the state to force a cultural change at all, on a well identified majority. (Why no thave a court decree that lies are now included under the definition of “truth,” subject to fines and even to jail terms for recidivism?) I also don’t get all that agitated by the realization that civil union contracts can achieve the same objective, concrete ends, as marriage without hurting deeply the many.

At the same time, I think that both fear of the new and a simplistic reading of the Bible motivates many opponents of homosexual marriage. (By the way, given the California large majority vote on Proposition Eight, it has to include many Democrats, not just Republicans.) I am no theologian but I have trouble imagining a God who loses sleep over the fact that some men love men (and act upon it) or that some women love women (and act upon it). After all, that was His indifferent design that did it.

I am not much concerned either about the example it will set if the right to homosexual marriage becomes the law in the whole country as it is already in several states. I don’t think we are on the eve of seeing a woman marry her two Chihuahuas, one male, one female, for example. The spread of polygamy is a greater possibility. One form, polygeny, might turn out to be OK because there is a shortage of functioning males, I hear. I do believe in slippery slopes though. I have to because I am a three-times former smoker.

Whichever way the Supreme Court decision comes down, I will easily live with it. My friendship for the homosexuals of both sexes I have known and who care about the decision makes this acceptance even easier. (That’s the way it is: Principles regarding abstractions tend to melt a little in contact with the warmth of flesh and blood of real people.) Homosexual activists are not, however making friends with me by their insistence of having the Court (or the courts) overturn the results of a well established democratic process. I mean California Proposition Eight (against which I voted).

Deep inside my brain, there is also a vague notion that the issue does not reduce to morality or to tolerance. It has to do with some very basic structures of human thought based on dualities. I don’t have a good grasp of this. I will wait until I do to discuss the topic (unlike some visitors on this blog who will say anything twenty seconds after it comes to mind.)

FDR, Uncle Fred, and the NRPB

In Ayn Rand’s epic novel Atlas Shrugged, government officials regulate the economy through something called the Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources. She clearly chose that name to reflect their belief that productive people were bound to produce just because of their “conditioning” and could therefore be treated pretty much like coal in the ground—as resources ripe for exploitation.

One wonders whether she had ever heard of the National Resources Planning Board (NRPB). The NRPB was a real agency, part of the kaleidoscope of bureaus that formed the New Deal. Its history is in some ways as dry as dust, but a closer look reveals some interesting and timeless insights into the planning mentality and the role of personalities in shaping history.

The philosophy underlying Roosevelt’s New Deal, if one can call it that, was to try something and if it didn’t work, try something else. In that same spirit the NRPB mission changed frequently; even its name changed four times before it was killed in 1943. It had been authorized as part of the National Industrial Recovery Act, but that program was ruled unconstitutional in 1935, leaving the National Planning Board, as it was called then, in danger of extinction. It was quickly rescued by FDR, however, and established as an independent agency. Casting about for a new name, one planner suggested “natural resources,” whereupon another commented that human beings were America’s most important resource. “National Resources” was suggested. The President chewed the phrase over a few times, then, pleased with its sound, grinned and announced, “That’s it. Get that down, boys, because that’s settled.” Continue reading

America and Firearms (Explained to Overseas Readers)

The other day, I am watching the news on TV5, the international French language network. I am doing this to get away from the spectacle of the impending economic disaster in the US where I live. This is shortly after the massacre of school children in Connecticut. One item draws my attention: The cute, airhead French female announcer (or “anchorette”) states that last year about 28,000 people in the US lost their lives to guns.

Here we go again, I think. More half-assed information that is worse than no information at all. I have witnessed European media disseminating misleading information about the US for more than forty years. This time again, I have to intervene to help overseas of observers of the international scene who want to know about reality and who might happen to read this blog.

I can’t tell you how often I have witnessed the following: European commentators making sarcastic, superior comments about some American event or custom, or some American way of doing things and then, their society adopting uncritically the same American event, or custom, or way of doing things ten years later, or even later. Right now, for example, I would bet you anything that one of the novelties on French radio is 1990s American popular music. That would be especially true on the channel that calls itself without batting an eye-lash, “France culture.”

The tendency of Europeans to copycat the United States is so pronounced that it even affects social pathologies, the last thing you should want to imitate. Accordingly, it seems that the French expression for “serial killer” is: “serial killer.” N.S. ! (Would I make this up?) Continue reading