Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Understanding (And Misunderstanding) Capitalism

The latest from Williamson the Great.

"The aggregate effect of competitive capitalism is indistinguishable from magic, but we are so used to its bounty that we never stop to notice that no king of old ever enjoyed quarters so comfortable as those found in a Holiday Inn Express, that Andrew Carnegie never had a car as good as a Honda Civic, that Akhenaten never enjoyed such wealth as is found in a Walmart Supercenter. The irony is that capitalism has achieved through choice and cooperation what the old reds thought they were going to do with bayonets and gulags: It has recruited the most powerful and significant parts of the world’s capital structure into the service of ordinary people. And it would do so to an even greater degree if self-interested politicians in places such as India and China (and New York and California and D.C.) would get out of the way.
The difference between market and state — between the world of choice and the world of command — is that whether you’re an In-N-Out aficionado or a Shake Shack man, nobody is going to put a gun to your head and tell you that you can’t have it your way. To paraphrase that great national embarrassment: If you like your burger, you can keep your burger."

On a related topic, another recent offering from King Kevin --

"(Katrina) Forrester has no patience for the “unbridled individualism of the market economist,” just as John Nichols, also writing in The Nation, laments “unfettered capitalism,” a favorite phrase among so-called liberals (Chris Hedges invokes it in The Death of the Liberal Class). Which brings us back to a linguistic question: What is the opposite of “unbridled”? What is the opposite of “unfettered”? Excising the negative prefixes and considering the implications is a much more illuminating argument that “liberalism,” as we perversely call it, “doesn’t start with liberty” than anything one might read in The Nation lately."

As with all of Williamson's columns, excerpts don't do them justice - they should be read in their entirety to appreciate their full impact.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Death Of Single Payer

...in Vermont, of all places. Try finding this story in The New York Times, or on NBC, PBS, NPR, CNN, ABC or CBS.

From an editorial in The Wall Street Journal --

Believe it or not, there really are liberals disappointed that ObamaCare does not involve more taxation and central planning of medicine. So be grateful for the state laboratories of federalism and in particular Vermont, where the purest progressive version of ObamaCare has imploded.

Last week, in a reversal that deserves more attention, Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin announced that Vermont would no longer create America’s first statewide single-payer health system. Vermont was seeking a waiver from the Affordable Care Act to abolish what’s left of the nominally private insurance market by 2017, but Mr. Shumlin’s budget gremlins concluded the plan was too expensive and would damage the state economy.


This surrender is all the more remarkable because the Green Mountain People’s Republic is the ideal socialist laboratory. Beyond the Democratic supermajorities in the legislature, Vermont’s small size and population make regulation easier to impose. There are only 14 hospitals, and providers are already divided into nonoverlapping “service areas” meant to reduce competition. The nonprofit Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont controls 80% of the commercial insurance market.

Then again, maybe Vermonters are smarter than their politicians. Republican Scott Milne ran for Governor against single payer this fall and lost by 2,095 votes. Had Mr. Shumlin disclosed the true costs before the election, he’d have been turned out.

More good news -- In the same WSJ issue (12/22), Bret Stephens extols American exceptionalism.

Imagine an economic historian in the year 2050 talking to her students about the most consequential innovations of the early 21st century—the Model Ts and Wright flyers and Penicillins of our time. What would make her list?

Surely fracking—shorthand for the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that is making the U.S. the world’s leading oil and gas producer—would be noted. Surely social media—the bane of autocrats like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and of parents like me—would also get a mention. Mobile apps? Check. The emerging science of cancer immunotherapy? Hopefully, with fingers tightly crossed.

After drawing up this list, our historian would then observe that each innovation had “Made in USA” stamped all over it. How strange, she might say, that so many Americans of the day spent so much of their time bellyaching about the wretched state of their schools, the paralyzed nature of their politics, their mounting fiscal burdens and the predictions of impending decline.


...fracking happened in the U.S. because Americans, almost uniquely in the world, have property rights to the minerals under their yards. And because the federal government wasn’t really paying attention. And because federalism allows states to do their own thing. And because against-the-grain entrepreneurs like George Mitchell and Harold Hamm couldn’t be made to bow to the consensus of experts. And because our deep capital markets were willing to bet against those experts.

“When I talk to foreigners, they’re even more impressed than many Americans by this renaissance,” says my Journal colleague Gregory Zuckerman, author of “The Frackers.” “They understand that it only could have happened in America.”

Also singing the glories of fracking is an editorial writer in Investor's Business Daily, crediting the recent surge in economic growth to this revolutionary advancement in energy procurement.

What's generating the growth? A huge factor has been the fall in energy costs. As crude slid from $105 a barrel last summer to closer to $70 by September, the cost of oil imports tumbled. A decline in imports contributed 0.16 percentage point to GDP.

Moreover, as fuel costs fall, U.S. exports rise because U.S.-made goods become more cost competitive.
With prices lower now in this quarter, the good news story rolls on. Thank you, fracking.

Businesses are clearly feeling less fearful about investing, and some of the Obama anti-business, anti-shareholder agenda has dissipated as the Republican Congress repels the worst ideas — cap and trade, minimum-wage hikes, new energy taxes and massive new spending initiatives out of Washington.


The president, despite his executive branch power grabs, is mostly a lame duck, and that's what investors have been waiting for. Businesses and investors now believe less is more when it comes to Washington, where caps over the last three years have restrained spending. And for the most part, they're probably right.

This is a recovery the private sector is creating. And no, Mr. President, you didn't build that.

Best Of The Best

A recent poll of right of center blogs and websites rated 85 prominent conservatives. Here are the results.

In ascending order, the top 25 --

25) Rick Perry
25) Dana Loesch
25) Darrell Issa
25) Trey Gowdy
25) George W. Bush
24) Mark Levin
23) Dick Cheney
20) Tim Scott
20) James O’Keefe
20) Ben Carson
19) Ted Cruz
15) Allen West
15) The Koch Brothers
15) Jonah Goldberg
15) Matt Drudge
12) Glenn Reynolds
12) David Limbaugh
12) Megyn Kelly
11) Bobby Jindal
9) Rush Limbaugh
9) Condi Rice
5) Mark Steyn
5) Antonin Scalia
5) Michelle Malkin
5) Charles Krauthammer
4) Mia Love
1) Scott Walker
1) Clarence Thomas
1) Thomas Sowell

For the racialists keeping score, surprise! - seven of the twenty five are black, including three of the top four. (And I'm not counting Jindal who's Indian or Cruz whom the NY Times would characterize as a "white" Hispanic).

And the least admired conservatives (including some who aren't) --

20) Arnold Schwarzenegger
19) Ron Paul
17) Christine O’Donnell
17) Mike Huckabee
15) Mitch McConnell
15) David Frum
11) Donald Trump
11) Joe Scarborough
11) Colin Powell
11) Dick Morris
10) Bill O’Reilly
9) Peter King
8) Chris Christie
7) Jeb Bush
6) John Boehner
5) Alex Jones
4) Karl Rove
3) Lindsey Graham
2) John McCain
1) Megan McCain

The design of the poll isn't ideal. Instead of soliciting opinions about a pre-selected list of people, the pollsters should have asked the respondents to rank their top 25 and bottom 25 choices from the entire universe of conservatives. Why are lightweights Fred Thompson and Donald Trump on the list while John Bolton and Kevin Williamson are not?

My own list includes journalists, ranked not necessarily by the magnitude of my admiration for them but by my opinion of the quality of their writing. (In no particular order within tiers) --
Tier One -- Kevin Williamson, Krauthammer, Steyn, Goldberg.
Tier Two -- Victor Davis Hanson, Andrew McCarthy, Theodore Dalrymple, Bret Stephens, Dan Henninger, Dennis Prager, Steve Hayes, George Will, Jay Nordlinger, Charles C. W. Cooke, James Lileks, Rich Lowry, Deroy Murdock, Roger Kimball, Conrad Black.
Tier Three -- Sowell, Amity Schlaes, Larry Elder, Donald Boudreaux, Ann Coulter, Ed Morrissey, Allahpundit, Byron York, Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes, Guy Benson, Kate Pavlich, Roger Simon, John Podhoretz, Walter Williams, David Burge (Iowahawk), John Stossel, Mona Charen, Ramesh Ponnuru and Dorothy Rabinowitz (though her political columns are about as rare as a truthful word from the president).

Video producers par excellence - Bill Whittle and Andrew Klavan.

Politicians -- Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Gowdy (the C-Span superstar whose evisceration of Jonathan Gruber is a joy to watch), Walker (arguably the most effective conservative since Reagan), Jindal, Tom Coburn (soon to be retired), Jeb Bush (who was a popular and highly effective governor from a swing state and who is, contrary to his reputation in some quarters, a solid conservative - more so than his brother or father), and Perry (who was governor of the state that produced the vast majority of the nation's job growth during his tenure), stand out among the mostly decent bunch of Republicans in Congress and in governor's mansions. This includes McConnell and Boehner who have done well under difficult conditions.

And in the middle ground encompassing journalism and politics and SCOTUS -- Carson (though if he was serious about politics, he should have run for senator from Michigan, then maybe for president), John Bolton (prime candidate for Secretary of State in a Republican administration), Scalia, Thomas, Rudy Giuliani, Mitch Daniels, a trio of political analysts - Michael Barone (the undisputed king of pundits), Jay Cost, and Jim Geraghty, Mitt Romney (a wildly successful and profoundly admirable gentleman both inside and outside of politics), Cheney (a major irritant to people deserving to be irritated and the staunchest advocate of taking all measures necessary to protect the country), G. W. Bush (unlike the current president, a man of integrity who took the measures necessary to protect the country), and of course Sarah Palin, (unlike Hillary) a self-made woman, the scourge of the feminazi left, the ultimate anti-Julia.*

* (added 12/28) -- This from M. Joseph Sheppard, writer for Politico --

Governor Palin endorsed 22 candidates for various offices during the midterm finals, including senators, governors, lieutenant governors, congressmen, and attorneys general.  Of those so endorsed, an incredible 20 were elected – contrasted with, for example, Hillary Clinton's record of 8 wins out 24 endorsed candidates.

...For all her detractors’ cries of "irrelevance" and "she's just a reality show entertainer" (those two being among the nicer epithets), Palin goes on, election cycle after election cycle, populating Congress with her endorsed candidates in a cost-effective manner...

...After Russian president Putin invaded the Ukraine and annexed the Crimea, video surfaced of Governor Palin's 2008 speech where she predicted exactly that occurrence should then presidential candidate Barack Obama be elected. Palin sounded a deserved note of triumphalism in March:

"Yes, I could see this one from Alaska," Palin posted on Facebook, saying she said "told-ya-so" in the case of her "accurate prediction being derided as 'an extremely far-fetched scenario' by the 'high-brow' Foreign Policy magazine."

"Here’s what this 'stupid' 'insipid woman' predicted back in 2008," Palin said. "After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama's reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia's Putin to invade Ukraine next."

Palin's post has been shared by more than 16,000 Facebook users and "liked" by more than 70,000.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fueling Our Growth

Repairing the damage done to the economy by the Obama administration's tax increases and regulatory impositions, the oil and gas industry is almost solely responsible for whatever growth we have experienced in recent years. The fifty cent drop in gas prices this year is equivalent to a $75 billion tax cut - a gift to the country from this much maligned industry. Today's Wall Street Journal features an interview with Mark Papa, one of the unsung heroes of the windfall. Papa, the former CEO of drilling company EOG resources, is an enthusiastic spokesman for fracking, the revolutionary, wealth producing technology that he helped develop.

“I can’t think of any other single event that has caused such a positive economic benefit to the nation as a whole as shale oil and shale gas.”

...“there’s been a million frack jobs performed in the U.S. with zero documented cases of damage to the drinking-water table. For my set of statistics, those are pretty good odds.”

...“It’s my belief that for likely the next 40 or 50 years, we’ll continue to be in a hydrocarbon-powered economy, the main drivers of which are natural gas and crude oil. . . . You have to rely on the logic of the American people and our legislators to say, look at the economic benefits. The benefits are so obvious that an objective person would question whether we want to impose punitive regulations that will diminish what’s accrued.”

...“If you want to point to a success of private enterprise, and how the capitalist system works for the benefit of the total U.S. economy,” he says, “I can’t come up with a more glowing example.”

Friday, December 5, 2014

Herman Badillo, R.I.P.

A long time ago when I was young and foolish and living in Brooklyn, New York, I supported Herman Badillo in his races for New York City mayor in 1969 and 1973. Ideologically, he wasn't much different from the other far left candidates he ran against, but he was soft spoken and seemed honest and sincere so I favored him. It turns out my instincts were right. Badillo became fed up with the Democratic Party and bolted to the GOP in 1998. He died Wednesday and in remembrance, the Wall Street Journal re-printed part of the op-ed he had written for the paper when he made the switch.

From the time I arrived in New York from Puerto Rico at age 11, I was brought up Democratic. And when I went into politics—as a U.S. congressman, Bronx borough president and deputy mayor—I did so as a Democrat. Last week, after more [than] 30 years in Democratic politics, I joined the Republican Party.
In recent years I have found myself questioning inflexible Democratic policies. I have seen a disturbing lack of vision among local Democratic leaders. As two New York Republicans—Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani—reinvented and revitalized government, Democratic leaders doggedly fought to preserve failed, anachronistic policies.
This inertia has been most evident in their approach to schools. In the City University system (of which I am vice chairman of the board of trustees), there are schools like Hostos Community College, where students not even fluent in English have been awarded degrees. And when I challenge the practice of social promotion in elementary and secondary schools and call for academic standards, prominent Democrats attack me.
This defense of low standards reflects a fundamental Democratic problem: Many Democrats believe that some ethnic groups, such as Hispanics, should not be held to the same standards as others. This is a repellent and destructive concept, a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Left's Toxic Rhetoric

Kevin Williamson (yes, again) commenting on the Ferguson situation, addresses the left's pathological and malicious habit of labeling policies it disagrees with as racist.

It is possible — barely possible — that this is in fact how the Left sees the world: That behind every criticism of affirmative action, behind every anti-crime measure, behind every proposal for welfare reform, behind every expression of capitalism, behind every measure taken against voter fraud, behind every criticism of the Ferguson lynch mob, a burning cross looms, men in white hoods await, and the lynching noose is being prepared. That view is borderline insane and contrary to the overwhelming evidence of contemporary American life as lived, but people hold all sorts of loopy views, so it is just within the boundaries of plausibility that people on the Left, so-called progressives, genuinely hold this view.

More likely, the spectral evidence of white supremacy in our modern Salem race trials is simply a rhetorical tool, a way for well-fed progressives to beat their critics into submission if one of them should happen to point out that progressive policies seem to produce reliably horrific results for people who are poor and, especially, poor and black.


...when former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani takes seriously the operative slogan of the Ferguson protests — “Black Lives Matter!” — and asks the obvious question — “Don’t they matter in the 93 percent of cases when the lives of black murder victims are taken violently by black criminals?” — the Left’s reflexive response is to denounce him as a racist.


The reality is this: Black men, especially young black men, die violent deaths at appalling rates in these United States. But they do not die very often at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, thugs reminiscent of characters from American History X, police officers of any race or motivation, lynch mobs, the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, Walmart, the Tea Party, Goldman Sachs, carbon dioxide, or any other bogeyman currently in vogue among so-called progressives. As Giuliani noted, blacks die violent deaths almost exclusively at the hands of black criminals. But attempting to accommodate that reality in any serious way does not pay any political dividends for the Left. It does not put any money in Jesse Jackson’s pockets or create any full-time jobs for graduates of grievance-studies programs.


CNN - "Let the rioting begin!" Flashed on oversized screens in every airport in the country. Just enough detail to make the bulletin inflammatory but not nearly enough to reveal the truth. --

Also - Noticed this funny item in a column about Hillary Clinton by Kurt Schlichter --

Keep in mind that this is a woman who flunked the District of Columbia bar exam. To do that, you literally have to answer the question, “What is a tort?” by drawing a picture of small cake.