It is the end of times (or something)

Two op-eds have caught my eye today.

The first by Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times and reproduced in the AFR:

The idea that the middle-class and the young will always be the most stalwart supporters of democracy is also looking increasingly rocky. 

The erosion of democratic values in the west was outlined last year in a much-discussed article by the academics Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk, writing before the election of Donald Trump. The article highlighted the rise of anti-democratic sentiments in both the US and Europe.

Rachman describes democracy in broad terms – so not just regular election, but including the norms of western civilisation like the rule of law and so on.

Joseph Schumpeter argued:

Lawless violence the bourgeois stratum may accept or even applaud when thoroughly roused or frightened, but only temporarily.

Western values are being eroded because we have failed to practice those values. For a generation (or more) we have become accustomed to being frightened. Our governments have made full use of “the crisis” to introduce draconian legislation, to give itself greater powers to “protect” us from danger. The routine reversal of the onus of proof, the removal of the right to silence, the expansion of the administrative state, etc. etc. are all mechanisms whereby our own democratic institutions have undermined their own legitimacy.  If our own institutions do not practice and uphold our own values why are we surprised to see them eroding.

That brings me to the second op-ed; Bret Stephens writing in the WSJ:

There was a time when the West knew what it was about. It did so because it thought about itself—often in freshman Western Civ classes. It understood that its moral foundations had been laid in Jerusalem; its philosophical ones in Athens; its legal ones in Rome. It treated with reverence concepts of reason and revelation, freedom and responsibility, whose contradictions it learned to harmonize and harness over time. It believed in the excellence of its music and literature, and in the superiority of its political ideals. It was not ashamed of its prosperity. If it was arrogant and sinful, as all civilizations are, it also had a tradition of remorse and doubt to temper its edges and broaden its horizons. It cultivated the virtue of skepticism while avoiding the temptation of cynicism.

And it believed all of this was worth defending—in classrooms and newspapers and statehouses and battlefields.

We’ve since raised generations to believe none of this, only to be shocked by the rise of anti-Western politics. If you want children to learn the values of a civilization that can immunize them from a Trump, a Le Pen or a Lavrov, you can start by teaching it.

I realise that it is becoming incresingly popular to blame our civilisational and cultural malaise on immigration and “peaceful invasion” and the like, but both of these arguments suggest that we should look to ourselves.  These two authors are speaking in terms of Donald Trump’s election. One of them, at least – I think, sees his election as a cause of collapse, many around here see his election as the solution to collapse, while I think is is merely a symptom.

Posted in Cultural Issues, History, Libertarians don't live by argument alone, Oppressive government | 60 Comments

The Swedish model

One day the media will actually hit on a genuine scandal and we will never hear the end of it. They are trying as best they can and have gone through Russia hacked the election, then Mike Flynn, and now yesterday’s non-terrorist non-horror in Sweden. So far, not only have they come up with nothing they have tended to harden the Trump side of the political divide. The Swedish example is an interesting one since it is impossible not to know the problems its immigration problems have caused. But a loose word and the jackals of the press are there in pack numbers.

There is then this, going back to Mike Flynn which has led to this article, President Trump Has Been Far Too Nice To The Mainstream Media, in this instance in relation to the electronic eavesdropping on Trump’s National Security Advisor prior to his appointment.

Here’s the real story – the intelligence community under the Obama administration was obviously eavesdropping on Trump’s campaign in violation of practically every law ever written. Whether it was direct tapping of phones and emails, or illegally accessing the communications swooped up by the NSA in its nets, it’s clear that Obama’s people were spying on Obama’s political opponents. The transcript excerpts of Flynn’s phone call with the Russian diplomat leaked because it could be played off as targeting the Russian, though this was still an outrageous disclosure of American spying capabilities. What these criminals can’t do is release the communications between Americans that they possess because doing that confirms what we all know – that Obama’s people spied on his political opponents like his IRS persecuted them. The only question really is what did Obama know, and when did he know it – interestingly, on his way out the door, Obama made it easy to hide the source of the leaks by opening up access to the information across a bunch of agencies. There’s your story, a scandal that makes Watergate seem microscopic, and the mainstream media will not touch it because it would destroy the media’s political allies.

That is true, and everyone understands it perfectly well, but where are the media hounds when we have a story bigger than Watergate?

The true measure of each story’s significance is that the media – meaning the left – still get to decide what is and what is not news, what is and what is not a scandal, and it is still able to enforce what it decides on our daily conversations. And while the left never relents and never appears to learn, the right has its traitors who would do anything for a favourable mention on the news tonight.

Posted in American politics, Media | 9 Comments

Guest Post: Nathan Dyson Freedoms and Fines: NSW growing fine revenue

As Australians we often take for granted the extensive public services that we receive for a subsidised or free price. What we sometimes forget is how these services are being paid for and by whom. Like every state and territory in Australia, a significant proportion of the annual budget is paid for by revenue received through fines. The regulations and laws from which these fines derive limit our freedom and restrict the kinds of choices we can make in life. In New South Wales the extent of this restriction reached $463 million in the 2015/16 financial year. This leads one to question the efficacy and motivations behind the existence of these fines.

The table and graph below display the amount of revenue from fines during the financial years 2011/12 to 2016/17. The obvious trend is that each year fine revenue increases by a significant percentage. Within the five years from 2011/12 to 2015/16 there was a 32% increase in fine revenue.

*The 2016/17 financial year only includes months July to November of 2016

 

To try and identify a cause for such a high increase in fine revenue, the NSW population growth rate and inflation rate were collected and listed in the table below. It was found that only a relatively small population and inflation growth rate existed between these years. The reason behind this high increase in fine revenue is therefore dubious. It leads one to question whether this derives from people in NSW performing finable actions more often or due to increasing revenue raising efforts.

It is often debated that these regulations and laws are intended for the safety of the public. However, the cost of this intention is that our choices and freedoms are severely limited. When we see $463 million (approximately $200 from each household) of the state’s revenue coming from fines alone, it signifies the extent of restriction on our freedoms. Below is a list of only a few of these prior freedoms that are deemed ‘illegal’.

It may also be the case that the revenue raised through these fines are merely a substitution for increasing taxes. Tax hikes are unpopular and by implementing more regulation and laws that subject the individual to fines, the government can avoid such unpopularity. In 2015/16, an average $200 is furtively extracted from each household. At times, there are government actions that lead to increased electricity, grocery and transport prices – which often leads to public outrage. However, there is almost no discussion surrounding the increase of fines and the financial burden this puts on Australians.

It is clear that over-regulation and prohibition of our personal freedoms have gone overboard. Making choices for ourselves are prohibited even when there is clearly no risk of harm to another person. We should therefore ask ourselves whether these fines are in our best interest. For if we remain content with this way of thinking, we will continue on this slippery slope of overregulation.

Nathan Dyson is an intern at The Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance

Notes:

*All information relating to population and CPI rates was collected from the Australian Bureau of Statistics

* All information relating to fines revenue was collected from the NSW Office of State Revenue

 

Posted in Guest Post, Take Nanny down | 77 Comments

Q&A Forum: February 20, 2017

Posted in Open Forum | 224 Comments

Perhaps there’s space at Hogwarts

Something that is doing the rounds in the UK: Petition for J.K. Rowling to take in muslim refugees in her 18 spare bedrooms:

J.K. Rowling has often announced her solidarity with Middle-Eastern refugees on twitter. She is well-known advocate of open borders and often stated, that Europe has the duty to give every single one of these refugees from all over the middle east, rarely warzones, asylum and welfare. Everyone who represented a different opinion was viciously attacked by her, and she is not alone. Many other multi-millionaires and billionaires seem to be fond of virtue-signaling about refugees. Since she is a sheltered member of the rich elite, who is very much disconnected from the ugly reality of rape, murder and destruction which many of these refugees bring with them, we think that it is time for her to show some true solidarity. J.K. Rowling has 18 spare bedrooms in her mansions in Britain and could easily give 18 refugees a long-time housing, not to mention the space available on her giant property to erect refugee shelters.

The refugee crisis will require 250000 homes to be built every year in her homeland Britain. Helping refugees in Europe will cost 10 times as much as helping them in neighbouring countries would. Donations by the superrich, even in the millions, are a drop in the ocean, as the taxpayer will have to pay billions for the following decades. Elites, that echo the MSM narrative, defending open borders, are hypocrites that will never share the outlook of the working class, which has to encounter refugees every day. So let’s bring one of the loudest virtue-signaling apologists of globalism back to reality and give her some new roommates.

We demand that J.K. Rowling grants no less than 18 refugees shelter in her mansions for at least 8 years. She rejects safe immigration, which is why we also demand, that there will be no additional vetting process for these refugees. Her virtue-signaling stems from ignorance, and the 100% effective cure of it will be this drastic change of perspective. To make this group of refugees representative of the situation Europe, we also demand that the group consists of 14 men and 4 women, since over 75% of the millions of refugees are male.

In Australia, of course, we should build all shelters in the ACT.

Via Instapundit where the comments thread is a treat.

Posted in Hypocrisy of progressives | 42 Comments

Trump v the media

Bret Stephens, a columnist at the Wall Street Journal, delivered the annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture and discussed the relationship between Donald Trump and the US media.

Some of you may have noticed that we’re living through a period in which the executive branch of government is engaged in a systematic effort to create a climate of opinion against the news business.

The President routinely describes reporting he dislikes as FAKE NEWS. The Administration calls the press “the opposition party,” ridicules news organizations it doesn’t like as business failures, and calls for journalists to be fired. Mr. Trump has called for rewriting libel laws in order to more easily sue the press.

This isn’t unprecedented in U.S. history, though you might have to go back to the Administration of John Adams to see something quite like it. And so far the rhetorical salvos haven’t been matched by legal or regulatory action. Maybe they never will be.

How lucky are the American media. We here in Australia only have to go back to the Gillard government’s Finkelstein Inquiry to see an actual attack on the media by executive government. In the UK the Cameron government initiated the Leveson Inquiry.  Here in Australia, at least, two journalists were fired from their job.

But the question of what Mr. Trump might yet do by political methods against the media matters a great deal less than what he is attempting to do by ideological and philosophical methods.

I’m not sure about that. If Trump can wage war on the media – many of whom are opposed to his presidency and will try bring him down if they can – without  exercising and abusing executive power well then good luck to him.  Having lined up a mark, it seems the media are genuinely surprised that he is fighting back.*

Then there is this comment:

If you like Trump, his presence in the White House is a daily extravaganza of sticking it to pompous elites and querulous reporters. If you hate Trump, you wake up every day with some fresh outrage to turn over in your head and text your friends about.

I think that does describe a large proportion of the population. But there is another group; those who neither like nor hate Trump, but are happy to watch him stick “it to pompous elites and querulous reporters”. The fact is a lot of the media have become lazy and complacent, and very self-indulgent. Playing “gotcha politics” is just not going to cut it.

I think Stephens intuitively realises this, but doesn’t draw the obvious conclusions:

When Trump attacks the news media, he’s kicking a wounded animal.

But the most interesting conversation is not about why Donald Trump lies. Many public figures lie, and he’s only a severe example of a common type.

The interesting conversation concerns how we come to accept those lies.

Nearly 25 years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the great scholar and Democratic Senator from New York, coined the phrase, “defining deviancy down.” His topic at the time was crime, and how American society had come to accept ever-increasing rates of violent crime as normal.

“We have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard,” Moynihan wrote.

You can point to all sorts of ways in which this redefinition of deviancy has also been the story of our politics over the past 30 years, a story with a fully bipartisan set of villains.

Some people became desensitized by the never-ending assaults on what was once quaintly known as “human decency.” Others seemed to positively admire the comments as refreshing examples of personal authenticity and political incorrectness.

Shameless rhetoric will always find a receptive audience with shameless people. Donald Trump’s was the greatest political strip-tease act in U.S. political history: the dirtier he got, the more skin he showed, the more his core supporters liked it.

Trump is reaping a lot of what others have sown – including, at some margins, the media itself. Those media organisations that get serious and play Trump with a straight bat can and will come out of this fight looking good. Other’s won’t.

*Reminds me of that great line in Legend when Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy) says, “You won’t mind if I fight back, will you?”.

Posted in Media | 45 Comments

Wise words

The values of ordinary voters never were the social media values of Left environmentalism, feminist fundamentalism, asylum-seeker advocacy and anti-business hysteria. Voters may tolerate such enthusiasms, especially among the young, in times of prosperity, but in the low-wages growth post-GFC world they most of all want a ­better life for their children and their children’s children.

Chris Mitchell

Posted in Australian Story | 16 Comments

Monday Forum: February 20, 2017

Posted in Open Forum | 1,331 Comments

CNN called out

Posted in Media | 43 Comments

“The new mediocre …”

I have an op-ed in the AFR this morning that talks about Australia’s fiscal strategy over the past ten years and the need for a return to “the old-time fiscal religion”.

Right now politicians tax as much as they think they can get away with, spend as much as they can, and borrow to make up the difference.

Putting the budget onto automatic pilot with a debt and deficit trajectory and then borrowing to pay their own salaries is symptomatic of the new mediocre.

As they say in the classics – read the whole thing (ungated version here).

Posted in Budget, Economics and economy, Taxation | 18 Comments