Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

January 22, 2018

The Trump Economy

Filed under: News commentary,Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:53 am

The numbers don’t lie, the Trump economy is the best in years.

At the end of Trump’s first year in office the economy has seen three percent growth for three successive quarters, which we haven’t seen for 13 years. The Dow hit 25,000 which we’ve never seen before. Wages and employment are rising, most significantly at the bottom end of the income distribution and most concentrated in the red state heartland.

Moreover the confidence of small businesses as measured by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, is the highest it’s been since they started doing the survey 45 years ago!

There has predictably been a lot of grumbling.

“This is Obama’s policies finally kicking in.”

After eight years of assuring us that two percent growth is the new normal.

“Almost a quarter-million employees have been notified of plant closings and layoffs!”

That may be true – but so what?

Sorry, that sounds callous for those going through job loss, but the fact is when the economy is expanding and employment increasing, layoffs in certain sectors means the economy is changing, not static. The slack will be taken up in new more dynamic sectors and Americans will do what we always have; move somewhere else, learn new skills, and get a new job.

So why has this happened and what does it mean?

Because a great many of the Wise and Wonderful on both right and left predicted gloom, doom, and disaster.

In the past when we’ve seen the economy improve with a new and more business-friendly administration there has usually been a year’s lead time before we’ve seen improvement, but this has been immediate.

Some have proposed the first effects were largely psychological, and there is something to this. The Democratic Party is more than ever before dominated at the national level by hard leftists ferociously hostile towards free enterprise.

A change to an even tepidly pro-capitalist administration is like a shot of espresso to the economy.

And this change has been more than token. Trump promised to remove two business regulations for every one passed. At last count 22 regulations have been removed for every one imposed.

It’s not just that the regulatory burden on business is difficult and expensive, we could live with that. It’s that it’s so complex it’s nearly impossible to understand.

Want to start a business or move yours into a new market? If you don’t have lots of lawyers and accountants on your payroll to navigate the regs – good luck! Complex regulations and tax laws favor big business over the little guys, and that’s how the big guys like it.

And thennnn there’s the hot button issue, climate change.

Whatever your opinion of climate change, the fact is the proposals for addressing it these days consist almost entirely of political theater. The least burdensome proposals cripple the economy and accomplish nothing. The most radical proposals amount to dismantling industrial civilization resulting in impoverishment and mass starvation.

If we are going to find alternatives to fossil fuels the only thing that can accomplish this is a rich and dynamic economy that can support the research, development, and large-scale implementation of new technologies.

That’s a job for businessmen and engineers, not bureaucrats.

Probably the biggest thing the Trump administration has done is to remove a lot of the uncertainty of doing business. A thriving economy can stand a lot of stupid regulation, if they are consistent from day to day.

What it can’t stand is the uncertainty of a business environment where regulations are imposed capriciously by a chief executive who overturns settled law to pick winners and losers, and decides who has to obey and who gets special exemptions.

And I must say I did not see this coming. Trump seemed like the archtypical crony capitalist, leveraging political influence for his own advantage, even to the point of trying to use eminent domain for private projects.

It never occurred to me that a player skilled in that game could still realize it is horribly bad for the economy, and once in power act on that knowledge. And if you’d told me, I wouldn’t have believed you.

What a pleasant surprise!

January 5, 2018

Something is happening and nobody wants to think about it

Filed under: Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:09 am

A pundit I have a lot of respect for recently posted this comment on Facebook.

“So basically the takeaway from the #Wolff book is that the emperor has no brain.”

She was mirroring the sentiments of a number of thinkers I also have a lot of respect for. Nonetheless, I think they’re all missing something.

This is what I replied:

” …and who somehow wound up as president having never held political office or a military commission.
I didn’t vote for the guy, but this is lazy thinking. Worse, I suspect it’s cowardly thinking. Trying to avoid thinking about something that is staring us all in the face. That some serious and far-reaching changes are happening in the system that are beyond anyone’s control and whose outcome is uncertain.

“I am reminded of what a Russian woman in Lithuania told me in the early ’90s, ‘It’s not a social revolution, it’s an earthquake.'”

Love Trump or loathe him, this was not a glitch of history we’re all going to chuckle about in a hundred years, like a kind of American Tulipomania.

People on the left who loathe Trump seem to think this heralds the dawn of American Fascism and say they’re alarmed.

They’re lying. They’re delighted.

Finally their Viewing with Alarm seemingly has a real life basis and they have a popular excuse to take to the streets and fight “fascism,” i.e. to satisfy a craving for dramatic action that gives meaning to their otherwise drab and frustrating lives. Plus an excuse to assault people they don’t like and be self-righteous about it.

Perhaps I should back off pouring scorn on that. I’ve probably irritated a fair number of people myself regaling them with tales of the months I spent marching with the people of Belgrade every day past heavily armed men back in the late ’90s. Because damn it, it does make life seem… bigger, zestier, more meaningful.

On the right those who loathe Trump seem to think he’s an embarrassing interlude in American politics and are alarmed he will totally discredit American conservatism.

They’re just as wrong.

American conservatism discredited itself a long time ago when it settled comfortably into the role of loyal opposition and junior partner in the elite establishment.

What I think is happening is a genuine revolution precipitated by what I call a “ruling class crisis,” a widespread conviction that we have a ruling class that is not fit to rule.

And that’s what people don’t want to think about. Trump is going to be gone, in seven years according to his supporters. In three years according to his detractors. Next month according to those who really don’t like him.

But this isn’t going away. Whatever happens over the next few years, things are not going back to “normal.”

Steve Browne’s Amazon page.

December 11, 2017

Am I paranoid?

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 6:07 pm

I just read the most extraordinary opinion piece in the New York Times.

In an article dated December 1, Jill Filipovic lays the blame for Hillary Clinton’s defeat at the feet of now-disgraced Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and Mark Halperin.

These three allegedly pestered Clinton “with cold, aggressive, condescending questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr. Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later.”

That is, Clinton lost because male sexual predators were mean to her in interviews.

My first thought was, are they that stupid at the New York Times? That desperate?

My second thought was, wait a minute! Is this what’s behind the rash of sexual harassment scandals? Not that courageous women spoke out and inspired others to do the same, but powerful people who think SOMEBODY is to blame for Clinton’s loss and somebody has to pay for it?

Then my third thought was, am I paranoid? Have I spent too much time in Eastern Europe and absorbed the paranoid style of thinking? That is where vampire legends come from after all.

What do I mean by paranoid style you may ask?

Let me give you some examples.

One year in Poland the country was rocked by the news a former general under the communist regime and his wife were murdered. They were found tied to chairs in their home with their throats cut.

Of course everyone thought, “Ah-ha! Secret struggles among the powerful.”

About a year later police announced the results of their investigation and it turned out it was the result of a home invasion robbery gone horribly wrong.

Nobody I knew, as in not a single person believed it.

So were they paranoid or was I naïve?

Another. I was living in Serbia during the Clinton administration in the time leading up to the NATO bombing campaign. In one of my English classes a student asked me quite seriously, “Do you think (President) Milosevic is working for Clinton?”

(“Well I don’t think he draws a paycheck from him, but I think they both find each other’s existence convenient,” I told him.)

Or consider those vampire legends from the Balkans. Someone you love and trust might return from the grave to drink the blood of the living, with a strong preference for family members. Or a stranger knocking at your door asking to be let in or perhaps just a drink of water might be a vampire, who can only enter a home once they’ve been invited in.

What do these legends teach you? Trust no one! And never trust obvious appearances. Can you imagine growing up thinking like that?

Maybe we should.

A Serbian friend told me, “What you call paranoia, we call experience.”

So am I crazy? Or is she?

Filipovic’s article is paranoid clear through. It’s MEN! All men who want to excuse predatory behavior and quash any woman who gets uppity.

“That is why it’s so egregious that sexual harassers set the tone of much of the coverage of the woman who hoped to be the first female president,” she said.

Then another source said Hillary’s backers were furious with her and wanted to know where their billion dollars went when all the polls said it was a slam dunk – and no you’re not paranoid.
And among the conservative anti-Trumpers a scholar I like whose work I respect is absolutely obsessed with the notion the Russians decided the election. She’s spent a lot of time in the paranoid part of the world too.

One of the characteristics of the paranoid style of thinking is a rejection of anything that seems simple and straightforward. That for example Clinton was a lousy candidate and an overwhelmingly favorable media could do nothing to overcome that.

But now here I am proposing that powerful occult forces are purging the ranks of the news and entertainment networks and wreaking a terrible vengeance on those they believe have failed them.

And I ask myself, I know I’m paranoid – but am I paranoid enough?

And my Balkan friend answers, “The answer is ‘no’. Not even close.”

October 16, 2017

Why Weinstein matters

Filed under: News commentary,Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:54 am

Unless you have just returned from a vacation in Antarctica you have heard of the fall of film maker Harvey Weinstein. Joss Whedon must be breathing a sigh of relief.

Whedon not long ago was accused of being a flagrant serial adulterer by his ex-wife. The accusations against Weinstein go way beyond that.

Weintein stands accused by an ever-growing list of actresses, former actresses, and staff of sexual harassment, stalking, groping, obtaining sexual favors by bribery and threats, and outright unequivocal rape by four alleged victims as of the time of writing.

This was an open secret for more than 30 years.

Weinstein’s brother says he was aware Harvey was a serial cheater but didn’t realize the extent of his depravity. The circumstances of their business relationship make this somewhat credible.

Actors who have worked with Weinstein such as George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Matt Damon, and Russel Crowe say they are shocked and appalled and had no idea.

They’re lying.

Hillary Clinton issued a belated and rather tepid condemnation. Poor lady was in a bit of a bind. On the one hand she had to condemn to maintain her feminist creds. On the other hand… Bill.

The fact that Tinseltown is a hotbed of corruption is not exactly news to us. The earliest use of the term “casting couch” dates back to the 1930s.

So why do we care and why isn’t this scandal dying out as fast as any other tabloid fodder?

I can think of some reasons. One is we delight in the exposure of hypocrisy. Weinstein has virtue-signaled his championship of every fashionable cause on the left, including feminism. He has made a feeble bid at redemption by vowing to “fight the NRA.”

Furthermore, women who have come forward with tales of harassment – and worse, are often stridently feminist themselves. Many have been loud in their condemnation of the “Republican War on Women” and the alleged sexual assaulter in the White House.

Ashley Judd of the pink knit hat comes to mind. And some gut-wrenching photos emerged of tiny Emma Watson being manhandled into a limo by the huge physically powerful Weinstein. The terrified look on her face strikes like an ice dagger in the heart of every man who loves his daughter. Yet in her feminist screeds not a word of criticism for her own industry.

We love comeuppance. Hollyweird has touted the moral superiority of the progressive left, their disdain for “flyover country,” and their contempt for people who cling to quaint old-fashioned notions of family, faith, and love of country. And here is proof they are no better than we are, and probably much worse.

We love to see the mighty brought low. Though it’s not an admirable sentiment, we can’t help a sense of satisfaction at seeing his so-called friends desert him and his wife, whose clothing design business he promoted by coercing stars to wear her products on the red carpet, has dropped him like a hot rock.

But here is the real significance I think. Weinstein, like Hugh Hefner, could have had all the willing playmates he wanted. And according to the testimony of reporter Jade Budowski, who once worked as a waitress at a restaurant Weinstein used for assignations with aspiring starlets, he did.

Weinstein’s disgusting behavior demonstrates not mere lust, but a delight in humiliating women and assaulting men, arrogantly confident in his power to silence critics.

Weinstein’s double life as champion of the progressive left and abuser of power is a stark example of the great political divide today.

On the one side the “progressive” view that all of society’s ills will yield to the use of unchecked power in the right hands once we have discarded the outdated superstitions of the Founders.

On the other the view that there are no safe hands. That power is dangerous and men corruptible. That problems are best addressed by free men in voluntary association in almost all cases.

What both sides see plainly, the former with increasing dread the latter with a somber sense of recognition, is confirmation that this is the reality of power.

This column appears in the collection “The View From Flyover Country: A Rural Columnist Looks at Life in the 21st Century” available at Amazon.

September 27, 2017

The UN speeches

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:28 am

Last week President Trump and Vice-President Pence delivered speeches at the United Nations on successive days. Nobody seems to realize it yet, but this changes everything.
Public reactions ranged from sneering dismissal to outrage.
Why? Because they said things every sane and sensible person knows to be true, but must not be said.
“The United States will forever be a great friend to the world and especially to its allies. But we can no longer be taken advantage of or enter into a one-sided deal where the United States gets nothing in return,” Trump said.
His message was though we share a common humanity we are not “citizens of the world” but citizens of the United States and entitled to look after our own interests, just as citizens of other countries are entitled to look after theirs.
Furthermore he said it is right and proper that this be so. That nations are not impediments to a grand world order but at their best laboratories of human diversity where men are free to seek the good life in their own ways. That nations have a right to exist and a right to enforce their borders.
But at their worst nations create living hells of oppression and misery, and in our time the chief sources of this misery have been the ideologies of socialism, communism, and Islamic jihadism.
And he named names. Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and the bandit regime of North Korea.
And to the consternation of delicate minds everywhere he said something must be done about them. That evil must be fought, sometimes at a terrible cost.
The very next day Pence addressed the UN Security Council and said what is as plain as a pikestaff that no one has dared to tell them to their faces.
He said noble intentions and sweet words are not enough. That great beginnings do not ensure good ends.
And he said the UN Human Rights Council is at present a sham.
“As we look at the membership of the council today, we see nations that betray these timeless principles upon which this institution was founded. Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council actually attracts and welcomes many of the worst human rights violators in the world. A clear majority of the Human Rights Council’s members fail to meet even the most basic human rights standards,” Pence said, expanding on Trump’s remark.
Pence called out Cuba and Venezuela, and called out the council for its history of condemning Israel while ignoring the most murderously oppressive regimes on the planet.
These things they said are true and beyond dispute. The conclusions that flow from them are inescapable.
There are evil men in the world who are masters of nations. Some of those nations have, or soon will have weapons of terrible power. Some export terrorism and disturb the peace of the world.
“He called Kim Jong Un Rocket Man!”
Oh heavens, he insulted a tyrant who starved perhaps a million of his subjects to death and holds public executions, attendance mandatory, where people who displease him are blown to bits by anti-aircraft guns, a name from a song by Elton John.
Whatever will this poor old world be FORCED to endure next?
What the hell is so controversial about this? When did it become vulgar to point this out? Our fathers knew it. Many still bear the wounds they got fighting evil.
Well Trump is regarded as a vulgar man by the elites both left and right, and he is. He speaks his mind when it might serve him better to hold his tongue. He displays his wealth ostentatiously and unashamedly. He’s a womanizer and not at all discrete about it. (Though it should be said he does seem to be able to take “No!” for an answer, which his predecessor Bill Clinton had a problem with.)
I’ve said before that the Best and Brightest are not getting meaningful answers because they are not asking the right questions.
In this case the question is not why did Trump and Pence say these things, but why those who so obviously consider themselves our betters did not?

September 11, 2017

Asking the right question

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:02 am

Well we’re three-quarters of the way through the first year of the Officially Worst President Ever Who Will Bring About the Apocalypse.

Or at least that’s what you’d think from all the overblown rhetoric flying around.

“How did this happen?” you hear to the accompaniment of wails and gnashing teeth.

“Why don’t they (his supporters) see he’s a monster?” they ask.

“Why don’t they impeach him?” they demand.

Let’s take that last question first. The reason they don’t impeach Trump (aside from a Republican majority in both houses of congress) is that impeachment is a trial. To have a trial you have to have a crime. Being crude and obnoxious is not a crime. Heck being a bad president, if that’s your belief, is not a crime just a misfortune.

Second to last question. Because his supporters don’t think he’s a monster. Most probably don’t think he’s a saint either, just better than the alternative.

As to the first question the answer is it’s the wrong question.

First of all let’s consider what did happen, bare facts no opinions.

What happened was a reality TV show host and high-end real estate tycoon who had never held public office beat a seasoned politician with: time in the White House, time in the Senate, time in the State Department, the endorsement of a sitting president, overwhelmingly favorable media, good campaign intelligence, and a campaign chest at least twice and possibly as much as four or five times as large.

Is any of that in dispute?

If not, let’s go on to the obvious question.

What was it about Hillary and her supporters that made Trump a viable alternative to enough voters in enough places to carry the Electoral College?

Like a great many simple and straightforward questions there is more than one answer. The combined weight of Hillary’s various scandals, the fact she carried Bill’s baggage but without the charm, the fact the cultural left is getting scary to ordinary folks, etc.

But there’s one reason that stands out and it’s only getting worse.

Leftists are so unbearably self-righteous it’s hard to stand them.

This was shown in stark relief when Hillary coined that phrase “Basket of deplorables.”

More recently Tim Commerford, bassist for the group Rage Against the Machine, commented on the DACA controversy, “Anyone who voted for him is racist, he’s a racist. And as a racist who voted for a racist, you have an opportunity to make it right, and admit that you made the wrong decision.”

This is not exactly new. We’ve had our noses rubbed in the fact that those on the utopian left consider themselves our moral superiors.

They’re against racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, war, and injustice. Unlike the rest of us who want to bring back slavery, put women back in the kitchen and homosexuals in prison, impoverish the working class, wage total war against the rest of the world, and sell justice to the highest bidder.

You see, you can’t just be wrong with them your opinions have to come from active malice.

“I think affirmative action was a well-meaning experiment but has probably hurt more than it’s helped.”

“You’re a racist!”

“I think minimum wage laws destroy opportunities for low-skilled workers to advance.”

“You want people to be poor!”

“Since more people want to come to America than we can possibly accommodate, it makes sense to choose from among them those who are most likely to assimilate and contribute to our country.”

“You’re a redneck xenophobe who hates anybody who’s different!”

Sound familiar?

When you get that message as an in-your-face rant from an addled second-rate rapper you might get mad, but you’ll likely shrug it off and forget about it.

But when you get it from a smug self-righteous church lady in tones so holier-than-thou it makes your blood pressure go through the roof, what do you do?

You watch how much Donald Trump drives them to apoplexy and you inwardly smile a little.

July 8, 2017

Now it’s a fight

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:54 am

“Be nice. Until it’s time not to be nice.”
Patrick Swayze, Road House

Oh my, everyone seems all a-Twitter about the president’s feud with the media.

“Greatest Liar, idiot, schmuck, thug, goon, unbalanced, like somebody pooping their pants,” said Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe.”

“I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..” tweeted Trump.

After attacks by CNN Trump posted an old video from his days promoting wrestling of him body slamming a WWE wrestler, with CNN superimposed on his opponent.

CNN cried “He’s inciting violence!” joined by any number of intellectuals, many of them Republicans, many whom I respect highly, and Jerry Springer too.

I urge everyone to take a chill pill.

The president’s behavior seems erratic, childish, and embarrassing. But those who call it disturbing have evidently forgotten presidential hijinks from Clinton to LBJ.

Remember Clinton’s behavior with interns? Remember when a couple of White House secretaries resigned because Johnson made them take dictation while he was sitting on the white porcelain throne? And remember JFK seduced a 19-year-old intern and coerced her into servicing a friend while he and others watched?

In terms of bad behavior, Trump isn’t even in their league. Yes it’s childish and petty, but it’s not the end of the Republic, it’s something else.

It’s a fight.

At the presidential level we haven’t seen a real fight in a long time. Mitt Romney fought like a sick nun. John McCain fought like he’d been paid to take a dive in the third round.

It’s not new. What’s different is that someone is fighting back now.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was accused of inciting murder by the New York Times, and had David Letterman describe her as having the appearance of a “slutty flight attendant” and joked about her 14-year-old daughter getting “knocked up” at a baseball game.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was opposed with riots, vandalism, threats on his life and some of his political allies had their doors kicked in at midnight by heavily armed police on trumped-up charges.

Representative Paul Ryan (R- WI) was portrayed as pushing a grandmother in a wheelchair off a cliff.

Their responses ranged from stoic dignity to feeble protest.

Down here among the plebes how many have grown tired of being called racists, fascists, Nazis, etc because of opinions and concerns which they could articulate and were willing to discuss like free men in a free state?

Within the past week I’ve seen two articles. In one the author proclaimed he did not have to talk to his opponents because he’s a decent human being – and they are not. In another the writer said white, Christian, rural Americans are superstitious bigots who will never change.

Though he didn’t offer a solution to the problem of sharing a country with such, one gets a chilling suspicion of what he’s willing to consider.

One could dismiss these as solely the responsibility of the writers, but comment threads seem to show the opinions have widespread support in some quarters.

What Trump seems to have grasped on some level is that rational discourse is not an effective reply to name-calling. That the major media openly and flagrantly tilt heavily leftwards and are widely disliked by a great many people. That they will never judge him by the same standard as JFK, LBJ, or Bill Clinton.

In short, that there is nothing whatever to be lost by fighting back hard and dirty.

Lord how I wish we had a president who could fight like a gentleman and then share a drink with an opponent, as Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil would.

How I wish we had a refined intellectual with a pragmatic working-class streak like Daniel Patrick Moynihan as president.

And how I wish so many had not lost sight of the fact that disagree is what free men do!

But here we are and here we will be for a while. Because a lot of frustrated people have discovered they like a good fight.

April 25, 2017

The Return of Socialism

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:38 am

Well it happened again. Something I’ve run into from time to time starting in college.

Apropos of something I forget I remarked that after the catastrophic collapse of socialism worldwide in the late 1980s early ‘90s I thought socialism would never again be a viable movement.

Subsequent events have proven me wrong.

A very intelligent and articulate person with as I have, years of experience living in Eastern Europe, said those countries weren’t socialist, they were communist.

I countered they called themselves socialist and officially considered themselves as working through the transitional stage of socialism towards true communism.

He replied there are plenty of prosperous democratic socialist countries such as the Scandinavians, and if you wanted to see capitalism look at Russia today.

Stop me if you’ve hear this before.

“Oh the Nazis weren’t socialists.” Although National Socialist German Workers Party doesn’t sound like a right-wing trope to me.

“Oh they were communist, not socialist.” Though Union of Soviet Socialist Republics sounds, well… kind of socialist.

So what is going on here? Why is a political label associated with some of the most brutal tyrannies in history respectable, even popular again?

Firstly, I think there is a problem of definition. Those European countries cited as examples of democratic socialism are not socialist according to most dictionaries. They are welfare states, the desirability of which is an argument for another time.

The original and still primary definition of socialism is government ownership of the means of production. There are arguments about how much government ownership. Some insist the government should own only “the commanding heights” of the economy but us little folks would be free to own shops with a few employees.

Many people who call themselves democratic socialists don’t advocate this. One even asked me, “Where’d you get that idea of socialism?”

(I told him, “The dictionary.”)

One Englishman said, “Nah, socialism means taking care of your mates.”

OK, I can get on board with that. But it sounds not much different from a church committee or a neighborhood association. Church social = socialism.

What a lot of people seem to mean by “socialism” is “not capitalism.”

Again, we’re running into problems of definition here. By capitalism many mean what we’ve got now; private ownership of the large scale means of production by powerful interests which wield great political influence through funding political campaigns, regulatory capture, lobbyists, and every way legislation – and legislators are bought and sold. Plus socialization of loss through bailouts, subsidies, etc.

To counter this, modern socialists advocate taking large-scale economic decisions away from individuals and put in the hands of “democratically elected officials.” That is to say, curing the problem by doubling down on what caused the problem.

Free market advocates break their hearts and work themselves into early graves trying to explain that’s not what they mean by “capitalism” and what they advocate is something else entirely. That in fact the modern idea of capitalism is pretty close to Musolinni-style fascist economics.

A free market rests on a few basic principles. Among them: property rights, voluntary trade, and personal responsibility.

Property rights. What’s yours is yours to use as you see fit. Simple in principle though often complicated in practice taking into consideration your neighbors’ property rights, and legitimate public interest such as roads, bridges, levees, etc.

Voluntarism. That to the greatest extent possible trade of labor, goods, and services should be carried out by mutual consent, without force (robbery, extortion) or fraud.

Responsibility. You assume the risks, you reap the rewards – or incur the loss. This also means you do not inflict your costs on your neighbors. Again, simple in theory and complicated in practice. We all do this a little when we drive our cars, which nobody minds much. We tend to notice when a neighbor starts up a pig farm though.

Though markets are complex and prone to error, mistakes of judgement and unforeseen consequences, any argument for a command economy has to explain why the choices of the many should be overruled and controlled by the few.

It’s as simple as that.

February 19, 2017

Racism and identity politics

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:01 am

November 28, 2016

Death of a Dictator

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics,Social Science & History — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:19 pm

Well, he’s dead. At last.

Fidel Castro (1926-2016) the longest-ruling dictator in the Western Hemisphere died on November 25.

The encomiums were every bit as sickening as I expected.

“Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!” Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein wrote on Twitter.

“Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn called Castro, “a huge figure in modern history, national independence, and 20th-century socialism.”

President Barack Obama was somewhat more circumspect in his eulogizing.

“At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation,” Obama said in a press release.

Though hedging his praise a bit Obama failed to mention that the way Castro “altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation,” was to imprison, torture, and execute people who disagreed with the Cuban socialist vision, impoverish a country that had a standard of living equal to the United States, and send untold thousands of people across shark-infested seas on makeshift rafts on the slim chance of arriving penniless on America’s shore as the better alternative to living in Cuba.

Contrary opinions came from thousands of Cuban-Americans dancing in the streets of Miami, Cuban-American politicians such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and President-Elect Donald Trump.

“The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Trump said.

Trump called for, “a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”

One may hope.

Future generations may well wonder how and why a dictator not much different from any in the sad history of the 20th century was lionized by politicians, movie stars and media moguls who took tours of Cuban Potempkin villages and returned all aglow with the thrill of their brief proximity to absolute power.

Refugees and visitors who could evade their handlers reported magnificent works of architecture crumbing and decaying, mothers and housewives resorting to prostitution to feed themselves and their families, and the healthcare praised by Michael Moore doled out in filthy hospitals where patients had to bring their own bandages and bed linen.

Castro did defy the mighty United States from his little island, thus winning the admiration of America-haters around the world.

Though the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is generally thought of as a win for President John F. Kennedy there are accounts that Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba when he realized Castro and Che Guevara actually intended to use them to start World War III.

And at that Castro and Khrushchev got a win for their side by getting an agreement from Kennedy not to invade Cuba, for all intents and purposes abandoning the Monroe Doctrine.

Remarkably he continued to do so after the collapse of his superpower patron the USSR.

Boldness often wins the admiration of the timid. But there is more I think.

Castro appealed to everything base in human nature, the desire for ultimate power. To take what we want, to bend others to our will, and to kill on a whim.

A reasonably free country can offer the chance to rise very high, to the heights of wealth and fame of those who flocked to sit at Castro’s feet, and often sleep in his bed. But it cannot offer that.

Some of the most privileged of our fat happy country revealed the darkness in their souls by whom they chose to admire.

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