The joy of insomnia, checking out past Roundups in CIS Policy.
From the Archive
John O’Sullivan, ‘After Reaganism’, National Review, April 21, 1997.
O’Sullivan takes conservatives to task for being too slow in matching the shifting positions of radicals who have nimbly moved on to map out new directions to Utopia. ‘The Left ought to be more confused than the Right by the ideological flux of the post-Cold War world [but] it is moving more quickly to redefine the ground rules of the new political game’. This game, as O’Sullivan calls it, is the disintegration of existing society and the replacement of traditional relations with bureaucratic management. He examines this process at work in three areas – the economy, social and moral issues, and the national question of cultural or political identity.
The economy is undermined in the interests of consumer protection, workplace safety and the environment. He notes some estimates of the opportunity cost of clean-air and clean-water regulation (6 per cent of GDP) and affirmative action (4 per cent of GDP). ‘A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money’. But beyond the dollar cost is the agenda of control, bringing industry under bureaucratic control without the responsibility or the bother of owning it – “socialism without tears”.
Concern for the environment has extended to indoctrination of school children with a quasi-religious obligation to the earth or Gaia which is higher than the long-term interests of the human race. O’Sullivan points out that this gives the interventionist Left a whole host of silent constituents who cannot answer back, namely, the environment and the beasts.
‘Listening to Al Gore one wishes that the animals really could speak. If would be interesting to hear the candid opinion of the sloth on welfare, of wolves on foreign policy, and of the cuckoo on family values’.
In the moral domain the Left first discredits the values of traditional society (duty, fidelity and chastity) which help society to work without close bureaucratic supervision, then tries to resolve the resulting moral problems by law and regulation. At the level of national identity, O’Sullivan finds the greatest threat of all in the multicultural agenda, apparently aimed at the disintegration of the American people into a babble of contending interests. According to this agenda, the ancient symbol of failed communication, the Tower of Babel, becomes the Utopian dream.
Andrew Greeley, ‘The Other Civic America: Religion and Social Capital’, The American Prospect, May 1997.
Greeley claims that religion can indeed be a source of social capital, in this case, by encouraging people to contribute their time I unpaid) for worthy causes. He drew upon two studies of volunteering in 16 countries, carried out in 1981 and 1991 . The United States led the way, with 47 per cent of the population reporting some form of volunteer activity. Canada came close behind, with the rest of the field well back, between 20 and 30 per cent.
‘The North American countries, often dismissed as selfish and materialistic, are the most likely to have higher rates of voluntary service, and those rates rose in the 1 980s while they remained stable in Europe. This generous, religiously driven “habit of the heart” makes a major contribution to the economy and the general welfare of the country’.
If was not hard to identify the characteristic which was most often associated with volunteer activity – religious affiliation. But despite this, US commentators rarely note the integrative effect of religion and prefer to see religion as exacerbating conflicts.
Stephan Shakespeare, ‘Old Britain, New History’, The Spectator, 11 October 1997.
Shakespeare suggests that the road to New Labor and its electoral success in Britain was the New History that rules in school history texts. For example a chapter heading ‘Britain: A Trading Nation’, is illustrated by a picture of a tortured black man, a close-up of rotted teeth, a cluster of cowrie shells and an order for rum. The statement of aims for the chapter reads ‘You will see how Britain rose to be a leading trading nation… This unit concentrates in particular on the slave trade’. With this foundation in place the depiction of the Industrial Revolution is quite predictable and the Final Summary noted that ‘the Industrial Revolution increased the gap between the rich and the poor’.
In ‘Presenting the Past: Rulers and Rebels’, the death oF Wat Tyler is illustrated with a photo of Arthur Scargill (the hardline communist leader of the miners union) somewhat the worse for wear after a confrontation between police and a picket line in 1984. A textbook for 12-year olds presents three quotes about the French Revolution; the exercise is to match the quotes to three photographs – Goebbels, Gorbachev and Thatcher. Shakespeare concludes that the result will be to plant the idea that the three are more or less interchangeable.
According to Shakespeare, opinion polls found that the youngest voters at the last election were the most anti-Conservative. ‘No wonder. After 11 years of compulsory empathy lessons in school, only the hardest-hearted of youngsters could remain untouched by promises of a more caring society’.
Joseph Martino, ‘Pork Invades the Lab’, Reason, March, 1989.
State governments and universities in the US have begun to use hardline lobbying tactics to obtain Federal science grants. One of the plums was the Department of Energy’s Superconducting Supercollider, worth almost 5,000 jobs during construction and many thousands of positions thereafter. Several states worked hard to win the prize but nobody took any notice of the scientists who argued that it was not needed at all.
Research grants are now firmly planted on the political agenda, spelling the decline of the pre-1983 ‘peer review’ system where universities and other agencies had to compete on the scientific merits of their applications.
Christopher Tookey, ‘The Charge of the Angry Brigade’, National Review, 24 November, 1989.
The ‘Angry Brigade’ is a group of left-wing British playwrights who make their living by writing publicly subsidised plays calling for the overthrow of capitalism in general and the Conservative Party in particular. The personnel include some of the most substantial talents in the country; mong them David Hare, Edward Bond, Trevor Griffiths, Howard Brenton apd Howard Barker. They see the role of theatre as essentially political.
In the course of casting for a play, Edward Bond interrogated auditioning actors on their politics. Politics aside, other themes in their productions are unorthodox.
An evening of ten short plays by Howard Barker features rape, infanticide, casual killings, and flogging. His The Last Supper has the apostles stabbing and eating the Christ-figure. All of this no doubt reflecting the harsh realities of life in ‘Thatcher’s Britain’.
Sometimes their socialist principles are put aside. In the 1970s, Hare and Brenton used actors’ improvisations to build up plays that the two would then write by themselves for commercial production, thereby obtaining both the credit and the money.
Tookey suggests that it is hard to respond effectively to propaganda and obscenity on the stage because critics tend to appear (or can be made to appear) as if they are trying to restrict freedom of speech.
‘Champion of Choice’, Interview with Polly Williams for Reason, October 1990.
The public schools of Milwaukee have just started the first American experiment with education vouchers for low-income children. The cost of the vouchers, up to $US2500 each, will be deducted from the public school budget, which currently spends $6000 per pupil. The driving force behind this scheme is an alliance of Republicans and Democrat Polly Williams, a black member of the Wisconsin state legislature. Liberal Democrats resisted the scheme and finally tried to hijack the initiative with an alternative scheme whereby applicants would need to meet some negative criteria.
‘If you were in a family of alcoholics, had a brother in prison and a pregnant teenage sister, and were inarticulate, you would have been a perfect candidate. In other words, a program they hoped would fail.’
On the cost of public education: ‘The money is going to a system that doesn’t educate them and to a bunch of bureaucrats. A lot goes out the tailpipe of buses, trucking kids halfway across town so they can sit next to white kids. . . . It’s more feel-good politics for white liberals. They think their kids are having a neat cultural experience by going to school with African-American kids… Poor people become the trophies of white social engineers.’
On affirmative action: ‘I could see some affirmative action if it went to the people who really need it – at the very bottom. But it never does that, it goes to people who don’t need it, and it carries with it the stigma that whatever position you got, people think You got there because of favoritism.’
‘Why not just improve the public schools? ‘We’ve tried that for years, and the best we get is, “Well, we’re the experts, you are just parents”. The choice plan is our second option. The folks who run the poverty industry in this town are worried that kids will get a better education for half the money. In their shoes, I’d be worried too.’
Robert Brustein, ‘The Uses and Abuses of Multiculturalism’, The New Republic, 16 & 23 September, 1991.
‘The left, whose enemy list was previously limited to McCarthyites, bigots and extremists, has recently been adding those considered “insensitive” to racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, to discrimination against minorities, and to the suffering of AIDS victims.’
Brustein approves of a form of multiculturalism that amalgamates the riches of many cultures to reflect the variety of American life. This is being replaced by something very different under the same name: a tribal approach that celebrates the style and achievement of a single culture and excludes others. The second, although it calls itself ‘multiculturalism’, is better labelled ‘uniculturalism’ or ‘racial fundamentalism’.
A typical example is provided by the black playwright August Wilson, who insists that only black directors can do movie versions of his works. He also protested against George Gershwin’s ‘bastardising our music and our experience’ in Porky and Bess. Apparently all that whites are allowed to do is to declare the plays to be masterpieces and award them prizes. Criticism is out of bounds even if the plays are limited and repetitive through their concentration on victimisation.
Virginia I. Postrel & Lynn Scarlett, ‘Talking Trash’, Reason, August/September 1991.
‘If you don’t recycle, Santa Monica will look like the inside of this truck’ reads the sign on the garbage truck. Santa Monica, California, jumped the gun on recycling and started a program in 1981. This costs the city one and a half times as much as ordinary collection and landfilling. After a decade of practice the people of Santa Monica recycle only about 12 per cent of their garbage, a worrying indicator compared with the 25 per cent mandated by the more gung-ho states such as Ohio and California itself, which have adopted the Environmental Protection Agency target of 25 per cent as a mandatory minimum.
These demands may be unrealistic and some of the problems are exemplified by a small family garbage removal service in Ohio. Virtually no lead time has been allowed to make the transition to 25 per cent recycling and the company has to weigh the trash collected at each stop to check that each firm is meeting the target. ‘The bookkeeping is unreal’. Major capital investment will be required to make the new system work and costs will have to be passed on to consumers.
Plastic is generally unpopular with the greens but research revealed that elimination of all plastic packaging in the Federal Republic of Germany would double the cost of packaging, quadruple the weight of materials required, and almost double energy consumption. Clearly there is a need for an ecological approach (looking downstream) to evaluate proposals designed to force environmental rectitude upon us.
Dana Mack, ‘Are Parents Bad far Children?’, Commentary, March 1994.
Mack opens a chamber of horrors which some of us would probably rather not know about. She scans some books in the recent genre of parent bashing, including Susan Forward’s Toxic Parents (1 989) which catalogues a wide range of abusive parenting practices from incest to occasional moralizing, from life-threatening beatings to demanding that children attend Christmas dinner.
Claudette Wassil-Grimm’s How to Avoid your Parents’ Mistakes When You Raise Your Children (1990) casts her net even wider. Apparently children can be ruined not only by parental delinquency in fairly extreme forms such as alcoholism but also by ‘parental overworking’, ‘overeating’, ‘overspending’, ‘moodiness’, ‘illness’ and even ‘death’.
This is all music to the ears of radicals reared on the corruption and decadence of bourgeoise family life. It has also created a bottomless pit of needs for therapy, not to mention a market for more books of the same kind, and state programs to make the little ones whole again. ‘These programs instruct children in the delicate subjects of paedophilia, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other dangerous negative propensities of adults – and this introduction to the big, bad world of grown-ups begins in kindergarten.’
As a partial corrective to the hysteria Mack deploys some statistics to challenge the notion that there has been an epidemic of child abuse. Reports have soared but less than 40 per cent are substantiated. Of the genuine cases, less than 20 per cent are physically dangerous and less than 3 per cent call for medical attention. This is admittedly unsettling, even without inflation of the figures, but it is clear from other evidence that neglect of children is a much larger problem than is child abuse. Here Mack points the finger at the baby-boom generation whose self-indulgent lifestyles are facilitated by a theory that conventional, time-consuming, caring parenthood is really a cover for diverse forms of psychic abuse.
Irwin M. Steizer, ‘”Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics” Revisited’, The Weekly Standard, December 23, 1996.
Stelzer claims that some key economic indicators in the US have been miscalculated. Consequently the accepted picture of economic performance is drastically wrong. Consider the CPI. A panel of experts led by Michael Boskin estimates that for two decades the real rate of inflation has been 1 .3 per cent per annum below the official figure.
This has massive implications for the payout in pensions (indexed to the CPI) and the perception of real wages. If pensions and other entitlements could be linked to the lower CPI, the savings in state spending would amount to $1 trillion over the next decade. As for earning power, according to the conventional wisdom American families have been struggling to maintain living standards in recent decades with a decline of 9 per cent in real hourly earnings from 1975 to the present. Inserting the alternative CPI figures into the equation yields a 35 per cent increase instead of the 9 per cent decrease. Similarly, the increase in median family income over two decades shifts from 2 per cent to 19 per cent.
The statistics on international trade could be equally misleading. Some 40 per cent of exports of services may be missing from the official figures, amounting to $85 billion. Another $60 billion is ‘lost’ through defective accounting practices in Customs. Result of the correction: A trade surplus in the order of $40 billion!
Yet another soft spot concerns the mismatch between reported incomes and spending patterns. Many people, classified as poor and receiving benefits, spend a great deal more than the annual income they report. Among the millions who are supposed to require state assistance, some 75 per cent own a car and over 40 per cent own their own homes.
Peter Huber, ‘Cyberpower’, Forbes, December 2, 1996
Once upon a time only the very rich could move their money around the world to keep it in places where they felt it was safe and productive. ‘Today millions of ordinary investors can move their wealth between currencies and countries as fast as they can click icons on a screen’.
It is not only central bankers who are under scrutiny, so too are regulators and governments. If labour laws, consumer protection and the like become too onerous then the work may be done in another country. According to Huber 54 per cent of US obs are still in the non-traded sector, but services represent the most rapidly expanding section of the economy and this is where the market is truly global. The result is a worldwide trend towards more responsible government, at least in spending and taxing.
‘The tremendous new mobility of private capital sharply curtails government power over macroeconomic policy. Budget planners become little more than fancy book-keepers. Whether they talk left or right, governments worldwide have little choice but to abandon fiscally suicidal policies, most notably the practice of issuing long-term debt to finance current entitlements’.
‘On the Future of Conservatism: A Symposium’, Commentary, February 1997.
These fifteen short pieces were inviter in response to an acrimonious and infIammatory public debate which surfaced in the US last year. There was talk of ‘the reversal of the conservative revolution’, of a fatal divergence between ‘economic conservatives’ and ‘moral conservatives’, and even some rhetoric about ‘the end of democracy’.
In contrast these commentators are moderate and restrained. For example, Peter Berger points out that there neve was a conservative revolution in the first place. Robert Bartley, editor of the Wall Street Journal is generally positive, though he signals: ‘The great frontier for the conservative tide is of course the culture. The media, the creative arts, and the universities are still dominated by the adversary culture establishment’. He considered that self-fulfilling pessimism was a great danger to avoid.
Norman Podhoretz is even less dismayed than is Bartley by the Presidential election. ‘Bill Clinton won the presidency by running not as a liberal but as a conservative’. Moreover, there was no turn to the Left after the election. Podhoretz plays down the alleged split between the economic conservatives and the moral conservatives, and instead examines obscure differences of ideological orientation between Jewish ‘neocons’, Straussians, Thomists, etc.
Some contributors identify the perennial concern of market liberals (classical liberals or Hayek’s ‘old whigs’) deploring the yearning for state regulation which authoritarian conservatives share with the Left. And some, dismayed by the collapse of family life and civil order, wonder what will be left to conserve when, if ever, conservatives manage to arrest the trends of social policy over the last thirty years.
Sheldon Richman, ‘The Seen and Unseen in Gun Control,’ The Freeman, October 1998.
Richman draws from the lesson taught by Frederic Bastiat on the need to consider the unseen consequences of policies and events, not just those that are apparent. Consider a broken window. This creates revenue for glazier, which would appear to be an economic good (a boost to the GNP). But that is only half the story; the other is the unseen cost to the window owner who has to spend money on repairs instead of in some more enjoyable or productive manner.
What are the visible and invisible factors in gun control? The visible factors are the murders and massacres which prompt the demand for stricter controls, also the cases where applications for gun licences are rejected, which probably count as a plus in the eyes of controllers.
The invisibles are all on the other side of the argument. They include the inconvenience and delays for permits for legitimate gun ownership. More to the point in Richman’s eyes are the unseen victims, people who might have been saved from criminals if they had been able to use firearms for defence.
Richman cites a figure of two and a half million cases per annum of defensive use of firearms, often without discharge of the weapon. He notes that some of spectacular mass shootings were terminated by defensive use of a weapon and might have been terminated earlier if more people at the scene had been armed, not just the assailant.
Virginia Postrel, ‘Nailing Down Employment: The economic significance of the manicure’, Straight Thinking, Issue 20.
The author disputes the prognosis offered by conservatives of left and right regarding the future of work and employment in the US. Technology is supposed to be destroying employment and pessimists wail ‘We can’t all be computer programmers’ while others (Jeremy Rifkin in The End of Work) call for punitive taxes on frivolous industries such as entertainment.
Postrel describes the meteoric rise of cut-price nail salons which have moved filing and false nails from the domain of the rich and pampered to a mass market. This has eluded the notice of the Bureau of Labor Statistics which counts 35,000 manicurists and made forecast of 55,000 by 2005. Manicurists are licensed in most states and the licensing boards track 235,000 active ‘nail-jobs’. The BLS has carelessly mislaid almost 200,000 workers. Postrel wrote ‘imagine how wrong they can be about gardeners, car washers, massage parlour workers or other non-union lobs.’
Part of the key to success of the stand-alone nail clinics is modern acrylic materials. These are cheap and effective, aiding the repair of bitten nails, making the nails smooth and even, hold polish better and permit the Dragon Lady look. The materials were invented by a dentist, in his garage, after a patient who was a manicurist noted the smell of his materials and complained of the low quality of the acrylics she was trying to use. Electric files halve the time required for a trim. After the new materials and technology came discounters and competition in the marketplace. People can obtain a licence with 400 hours of schooling and only a few thousand dollars of capital are required to open a shop. With proliferating salons the benefits of technology pass to the consumers, both in cost and quality of service.
All of this is girl stuff and if does not speak to the concerns of economists and commentators who are stuck on lob losses in steel and the auto industry. But it does speak to the condition of future employment by small business and the self-employed in the service industries.
Trang Thomas, ‘The Great Wall of Racial Divide,’ Australian Quarterly, September-October 1998.
The editorial commentary on this article states that it examines why, in parts of Australia ‘we are once again instinctively revealing our latent racist tendencies.’ This impression is somewhat undermined by the opening statement that Professor Thomas does not personally experience enough discrimination or harassment to worry her or have any impact on her well-being. The article does not provide any substantial evidence that racism, allegedly associated with One Nation and its supporters, has been on the rise lately.
Racism is a particular form of intolerance, and if we focus on intolerance as the fundamental evil then many of the opponents and critics of Pauline Hanson have a lot to answer for. Professor Thomas writes ‘The right to free speech does not absolve those in the political process from the responsibilities of truth, clarity and verification. The onus is on the speaker to prove his credibility.’ This of course includes the media and others who lambasted Prime Minister Howard for not being more active in attacking Pauline Hanson and One Nation. These folk might have achieved more credibility if they had publicly denounced the organised thuggery that disrupted One Nation functions.
The most worrying feature of the One Nation episode up to date has been the licence that the critics have given themselves to abandon good manners, truth and commonsense. This has been done in the name of high principle, by people claiming the moral high ground as the voices of good will and sweet reason. They have also spread their message overseas, promoting the destructive illusion that Australia was on the verge, or maybe even in the grip, of racist hysteria.