The Labor Day edition of the ICBW podcast is now available. In part 1, we discuss recent urban unrest, in part 2 we debate the sincerity of public figures' professed political positions, and in part 3 we speculate on the mental condition of this year's presidential candidates. As always, listeners are encouraged to respond to our discussion by adding comments to this post, rather than by, say, rioting or looting.
Saturday, August 08, 2020
The August edition of the ICBW podcast is now posted. Part 1 covers the Beirut explosion and voting security issues raised by mail-in ballots, discussion of which continues in part 2. In part 3 we discuss the Orwellian--or perhaps not-so-Orwellian--semantic games recently infecting the discourse (including the constant introduction of ill-defined terms such as "the discourse" into the discourse). As always, listeners are invited to post responses in the form of comments on this post, which, unlike most podcasters, we in fact actually read...
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Saturday, June 06, 2020
Thursday, May 07, 2020
Wednesday, April 22, 2020
The reason so many people are so baffled by these choices, in my opinion, is that we lack clear information on the effects of various restrictive countermeasures. Suppose we require everyone in a particular location or pursuing a particular activity to wear some kind of cloth mask. How much would that cut down on the spread of COVID-19? What about requiring 6 feet of space between people? 12 feet? 6 feet plus a mask? Does it matter whether it's indoors or outdoors? As far as I know, we simply don't yet have good, quantitative answers to these questions, and until we do, we can't really determine what policy to impose on activities that involve interactions among people from different households. (That's why most locales have been resorting to the one big hammer they know works: fairly complete lockdown.)
Our first priority, therefore, should be to gather the data necessary to answer these questions as quickly and accurately as possible. Once we have the answers, the issue of "essential" vs. "non-essential" activities will likely disappear. Instead, we will be able to ask the question, "what set of restrictions makes a particular activity--whether essential or non-essential--under a particular set of circumstances acceptably low-risk for infection? For example, shopping--whether for essential groceries or non-essential fashion apparel--is presumably reasonably safe under the right set of conditions, and once we have determined those conditions, we should apply them equally to all retail environments. The same can be said of other activities, whether recreational, commercial, social or political. (It's of course possible that for some previously popular activities, a reasonably safe set of conditions simply doesn't exist. But one hopes that that set of activities is fairly small.)
Perhaps more importantly, approaching the issue in these terms is likely to mitigate a lot of the raucous political and social conflict surrounding it. Right now, discussions about how and when to "open up" are dominated by loud, belligerent and largely ignorant voices, because more reasonable ones have little in the way of concrete proposals or supporting evidence to back them up. Armed with a set of specific, transparent and scientifically supported policies, though--rather than a pair of vague, broad options--the reasonable voices might actually have a fighting chance.
Saturday, April 11, 2020
Saturday, March 14, 2020
Tuesday, December 31, 2019
- The US economy will slow markedly starting in early-to-mid 2019, though not into recession territory. The stock markets will continue to decline throughout the year, rallying late but not by enough to prevent an overall negative year. Real estate prices will also continue their decline, but oil prices will rebound modestly from their recent lows.
- President Trump's approval ratings will continue their stable modestly-underwater trend throughout 2019. There will continue to be multiple non-stop investigations--this time including Congressional ones--of the president's activities, but they will result in no immediate legal jeopardy to the president himself, nor will he be impeached by the House of Representatives. Numerous White House staffers and cabinet members will be investigated and prosecuted, however--including by politically ambitious state prosecutors unconnected with Congressional or Department of Justice investigations.
- The frontrunners for the Democratic Party presidential nomination at the end of the year will be the most viable candidates from the party's "mainstream" (read: minority) and "progressive" (read: upper-class/would-be upper-class) wings. Kamala Harris and Kirstin Gillibrand are the current favorites for these respective roles.
- In Europe, "Hard Brexit"--without a negotiated deal--will come to pass, with far milder consequences than opponents are predicting. As a result, British PM Theresa May will survive in office through 2019--partly out of Tory fear of the electorate, and partly out of the inability of her divided party (mirroring the pre-Trump US GOP's business/blue-collar split) to coalesce around an acceptable alternative. Meanwhile, the EU will calm its many internal rebellions by acquiescing to greater immigration restrictions across the union.
- Justin Trudeau will win a comfortable majority in the coming Canadian federal election. (Canadians usually re-elect their prime ministers at least once if they don't completely screw up on the job.) Likewise, Benjamin Netanyahu will win re-election and remain in office through 2019, although a corruption indictment will be delivered against him, and its resulting legal process will drag on through the year, hanging over his political career without actually ending it.
- The combination of US withdrawal from Syria and increased Turkish intervention there to suppress the Syrian Kurds' territorial ambitions will turn the Syrian conflict into a Turkish-Iranian one, with the two would-be hegemons unable to work out an acceptable partition of the now-recolonized country. Russia will recapitulate its historic rivalry with Turkey by siding with Iran, and the US will thus be pushed by its NATO commitments and geopolitical interests into siding with Turkey, despite the many tension-generating issues dividing the two countries (which may in turn be assuaged somewhat by this partnership). Meanwhile, the US will reduce, if not eliminate, its involvement in Afghanistan, and refocus its energies on other geopolitical threats, such as China.
- Louis CK's comeback will spark a minor explosion of politically incorrect comedy, as stand-up comedians escalate from complaining about politically driven constraints on their material to actively rebelling against them. The change will mark a tipping point in cultural acceptance of leftist censorship, since comics are by nature conformist barometers of consensus opinion, rather than the daring vanguards of forbidden ideas they are often portrayed as being. (Laughter, as I've explained in the past, is a product of comfort and reassurance--often following surprise and/or discomfort--and comics must therefore provide reassurance in their punchlines to succeed. They do so, in most cases, by catering to audiences' consensus beliefs and prejudices. Thus if comics feel confident in mocking and flouting the rules of political correctness, then rejection of those rules must have achieved a high threshold level of consensus among comedy audiences.)
- As mentioned in the podcast, Joe Biden will win the Democratic party nomination, and be elected president. (Bonus "alternative reality" prediction: if Biden somehow fails to win the nomination, then Trump will be re-elected.)
- Following another election in which Likud weakens slightly but not enough for the opposition Blue-and-White party to forge its own coalition government, Likud and Blue-and-White will strike a deal on a unity government, with the leaders sharing prime ministerial duties. In Britain, Brexit will go through under the deal negotiated by Boris Johnson (with perhaps a few minor amendments), with no major economic consequences for Britain in 2020.
- The continuation of the Trump administration's absurdly expansionary economic policies will stave off an economic downturn through 2020 (at a likely serious cost in 2021, of course). Equity markets will rise modestly, amid high volatility, and interest rates will finally be forced upwards, but only slightly, towards the end of the year. Oil and real estate prices will follow a similar pattern.
- The civil unrest in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran will unfortunately be ruthlessly crushed, and will have completely disappeared by the end of 2020, with no significant interference by American forces (which will have quietly and all-but-completely withdrawn from Iraq, under Iranian pressure, by mid-year). The strain of dealing with this unrest will however impede the Iranian regime from significant aggressive moves beyond this consolidation of power. For example, as mentioned in the podcast, Afghanistan will not fall to the Taliban in 2020, although the latter will make significant progress following the reduction in US support for the ruling government.
- Hong Kong will likewise be fully pacified at some point in 2020, and attention towards China will shift away from human rights issues in both Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and towards the increasingly dire state of the Chinese economy.
- Conditions in Mexico will continue to deteriorate, with criminal organizations scoring even more spectacular victories against government forces, and more Americans getting caught in the crossfire. Crime in the US will also spike significantly, as soft-on-crime policies spread across more and more jurisdictions, driven by a strange-bedfellows coalition of radical leftists and libertarians. Anti-Semitic attacks in the New York City area will continue to occur at a high rate, for example, as will incidents of homelessness-related disorder in West Coast cities.
- In the US, there will be much attention given to the decline of non-online retail shopping, as "dead malls" and decaying downtowns prompt pundits to ponder this decline's dire consequences for society and propose solutions to the problem--mostly involving boycotting online retailers and pumping money into local ones.
Tuesday, December 24, 2019
Sunday, October 27, 2019
Sunday, July 28, 2019
Sunday, June 16, 2019
Monday, June 10, 2019
The current-day context for the dispute is the breakdown of the Reagan-era alliance between the white working-class and commercial-class wings of the conservative/Republican coalition. As I explained four years ago, the rise of Donald Trump signified that this alliance, which had rested on an exchange in which the white working class gained commercial-class support for its traditionalist social views, and in return supported libertarian pro-business economic policy, was in serious jeopardy. The white working class, I argued, was no longer satisfied with this tradeoff, and their economic plight, severely exacerbated by the economic crisis of 2008, necessitated, in their view, a greater say for them in the combined coalition's joint economic direction. This dissatisfaction placed them on a direct collision course with their pro-business allies, who naturally have their own very firm ideas regarding economic policy, as well as interests that are significantly in conflict with those of their blue-collar alliance partners.
Trump's victory, and his subsequent enactment of working class-friendly policies on trade and immigration, have further alienated libertarians and pro-business conservatives. Many of them have responded by declaring political war on Trump--and implicitly, on his working-class supporters, some of whom in turn have declared such "never Trump" conservatives to be traitors on a par with their arch-enemies, the white-collar professionals in the liberal Democratic alliance's "progressive" wing. (The irony, of course, is that virtually all of the prominent commentators on both sides of this debate are, demographically speaking, highly educated professional writers and journalists--that is, a perfectly natural fit for the "progressive" cohort.)
Ahmari's attack on French, then, is best viewed as a Trump faction supporter's call to arms against his recalcitrant libertarian allies, who, he claims, have betrayed the alliance with their insufficient anti-progressive militancy. Now, Ahmari is a firebrand Catholic, and his focus in his manifesto is cultural, not economic: he accuses anti-Trump libertarian conservatives of treating progressives not as bitter enemies, but only as political opponents, in the battles over cultural issues such as abortion and religious freedom. But then again, French, an outspoken Christian and cultural conservative who has been a tireless legal advocate for conservative free speech rights on campus, is an extremely odd target for Ahmari's cultural broadside--or, rather, would be an odd target, if his true preoccupation were cultural activism rather than tribal factionalism.
Why, then, does Ahmari couch his attack on French in terms of the latter's allegiance to "classical liberalism", rather than fire off a straightforward partisan attack on pro-business conservatives' refusal to embrace wholeheartedly the working class-centric Trump economic program? The answer lies in the second, more longstanding element of this dispute's context: American political culture's ambivalence about (if not outright hostility to) democracy.
In most of the world's democratic nations, democracy itself takes center stage in political debate: factions argue about policies on the understanding that the electorate are the ultimate and proper arbiters of government's direction, and that their interests and preferences (however unsophisticated) are necessarily paramount. But American democracy was founded over two centuries ago, when democracy on a national scale was still a new and somewhat ill-understood concept. And to America's revered founding fathers, the essence of democracy wasn't so much the basic principle of ensuring government accountability through popular sovereignty as it was the art of defining a delicately engineered system of political mechanisms which, if designed to perfection, could produce optimally wise, efficient and effective government--irrespective of the inevitable defects and perverse wishes of a selfish, ignorant, fractious democratic rabble.
Unfortunately, American political culture has enshrined this oddly abstract vision of government into a kind of dogma, with the result that (a) most educated Americans have little use for democracy, and incessantly seek out means to suppress or circumvent it in the name of one or another public good, and (b) arguments about policy take the form of grand philosophical debates about the ideal society, and the ideal structure of government to implement it--again, irrespective of the will of the people as expressed through their electoral choices. The result is what one might expect of policy debates untempered by the moderating influence of the democratic spirit: all the noisy pomposity of clashing abstract absolutes, replete with the sort of extreme pronouncements and radical calls to action that make normal citizens cringe.
And so it is with Ahmari's jeremiad: to him, it isn't radical progressives with their ludicrous, freedom-crushing policy proposals--or even wealthy, selfish plutocrats with their libertarianism and accommodationism towards popular opinion--that are the problem, but rather "classical liberalism" itself, whose political neutrality and respect for democracy fail to prohibit a priori the enactment of morally repugnant (in Ahmari's eyes) laws and policies. Now, Ahmari never quite gets around to explaining what he would replace democracy with. But the mere fact that he is arguing on this structural level about what amounts to some factional bickering between two ostensibly allied conservative cohorts, illustrates just how badly American founder-itis has infected the nation's political debate, obscuring the democratic essence of partisan disputes and eliding discussion of the obvious democratic approach to resolving them.