Saturday, July 31, 2010

"The real danger for the U.S. isn’t having too many immigrants—it’s not having enough"

Immigration is good for America. Too much of the public debate about immigration is driven by the Right's paranoia and nativism. Yes there are legitimate issues with border security that need to be addressed, but the contribution of immigrants as entrepreneurs and innovators and hard workers far outweighs the negatives of illegal immigration. All the Right is achieving is convincing millions of immigrants and their children that their only political home is on the Left and that's not good for America.

The reality is that immigrants add much more to our economy than they take from it. As Vivek Wadhwa wrote in Bloomberg Businessweek last year, though they ”constitute only 12 percent of the U.S. population, immigrants have started 52 percent of Silicon Valley's technology companies and contributed to more than 25 percent of our global patents. They make up 24 percent of the U.S. science and engineering work force holding bachelor's degrees and 47 percent of science and engineering workers who have Ph.D.s.”

A third of all graduate students in America are immigrants—half of those in engineering, computer and life sciences. And between 1985 and 1999 almost a third (32 percent) of America’s Nobel Prizes in chemistry were awarded to immigrants.

Immigrants also compose a key source of American entrepreneurs, from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to Intel founder Andy Grove. Over the past two decades, between a third and half of all Silicon Valley startups had a foreign-born person on their founding team—think of Google’s Sergey Brin, Hotmail’s Sabeer Bhatia, Yahoo’s Jerry Yang, and eBay’s Pierre Omidyar. This is what venture capitalist John Doerr was talking about when he said that America should “staple a green card to the diploma” of any immigrant who gets a degree in engineering. Even more than natural resources, American ingenuity or other factors, what stands at the heart and soul of U.S. prosperity was its openness to hard-working, ambitious, and talented immigrants of all stripes.

The WikiLeaks Information War

Why does it always seem to be the anti-American types who get the strategic citizen idea and have the motivation to implement it?
Some snippets from a post at Rethinking Security on WikiLeaks:

At this point, it seems apparent that WikiLeaks is waging an information war against the US national security establishment.

WikiLeaks is no longer about an abstract desire for transparency--it is about advancing its founder's specific--if somewhat incoherent--policy agenda.

For all of the volumes of writing since 9/11 about public diplomacy, information operations, and such this is a bona fide adversary information operation and a very successful one on the tactical level.

Old comment on waging the war of ideas

Here's a comment I left at Zenpundit back in May 2005:

The spread of ideas is a fascinating topic worthy of much study. In today's world, with the challeneges we face, getting a grasp on how ideas spread is necessary to not only winning the war on terror but also in opposing anti-Americanism and the continued popularity of leftist views. Hayek in his essay "Intellectuals and Socialism" says that proponents of liberty need to articulate a vision of their ideals that can inspire and motivate people. He said that socialists had been very good at this and thus saw their ideas gain dominance whereas the proponents of liberty concerned themselves with technical policy issues that were not capable of inspiring people.

Today we face the challenge of defending the ideals of liberal democracy from various anti-liberal (classical that is) ideals. As we know the revolution in comunication technology over the past 15 years presents us with a vast new paradigm for the spread of ideas. One of the major characteristics of this revolution has been its decentralization. We are now able to bypass all the previous communications gatekeepers. This offers tremendous opportunities for the spread of ideas that in the past would have been marginally significant. For those of us who support liberal democracy, who are inspired by the vision of a free society that guarantees individual liberty through the rule of law, we need to take advantage of this new communications paradigm to create institutions to compete on the international stage. We cannot rely on the government's public diplomacy, we have to take matters into our own hands, bypass gov't and flood the zone with our ideas and visions to oppose Islamist fundamentalism, anti-Americanism and socialism.
"I just thought that Phil was pointing to a need not being filled by our elite which has become, over the last couple of decades - somewhat removed from the rest of us in terms of self-identification."

Yes. 9/11 revealed to us the massive failure of our public diplomacy; and now several years down the road it doesn't [seem] that there has been much improvement. We are faced with an entrenched PD bureaucracy that seems to be resistant to the kinds of changes that need to be made. So what to do?

Domestically whenever the liberal/left propose yet another government program to solve some problem what is it that we limited government types (whether conservatives, libertarians whatever) say? We say "Let civil society institutions (churches, charities etc) and the market solve the problem." So I am saying that this should be our solution to the problems of public diplomacy.

We need to be entrepreneurial and
create the kind of enterprises that can effect a change in how people around the world perceive America and our ideals. The left is already very successful at this. Michael Moore is the best example. But where is the pro-liberty, pro-American film director who can inspire people with our ideals?

We recognize that there are all manner of non-state actors operating within and influencing the strategic landscape in the war on terror: Hollywood, MSM, soldiers blogging from the frontlines etc. Our strategy in the war of ideas does not have to be led from above. We can become non-state actors too, operating on our own initiative, independent of gov't, and we can influence the strategic landscape to counter the effects of Moore, Newsweek, and the anti-American Arab and European media.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Tweeting Admiral

Purpleslog tweeted a Selil post about Admiral Mullen's tweet response to the Wikileaks release of secret Afghanistan documents. I wrote a comment and then found that to post it in the comments at Selil I would have to register and I am so sick and tired of registering for everything. I have a notebook filled usernames and passwords from past years like graffiti on a subway car and I'm just not going to do it anymore unless it's really important. So I'll just post my comment here:

"Laying a bloody straw-man at the foot of Wikileaks looks tough, but it is the act of a pompous and arrogant man."

Come on now, this is a tweet. This isn't some Oxford Union debate where Mullen is saying "Resolved: Mr. Assange & his source have blood on their hands."

As you point out this massive dump of documents is so large that other than a few academics no one will ever invest the time to read and understand them. So the battle has nothing to do with logic and theories or analysis of the documents, it's about the perceptions that are associated with the documents. Mullen's tweet is a perfectly valid effort to shape the perception of the documents and can only be judged within that context. There is a narrow window of opportunity to shape perceptions on this issue before the next one pops up. Mullen deserves credit for recognizing the game that is being played, and playing it right.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cafe de L'Enfer

Cafe de L'Enfer -- Looks like my kind of place:

Is Tom Barnett a "pop strategist"?

According to Steve Metz he is:

We need to remember that Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, etc., were not writing in a market environment. I doubt they could find a publisher today. Mahan maybe because the Navy mafia and defense industry would have liked it.

Even university presses look for commercial viability these days, making it hard to find a venue for complex, breakthrough works. Instead we end up with pop strategy like Barnett.

"We committed libertarians are a very small group of people with very unpopular views"

The libertarian movement, created in the years following WW2, has had more than half century to accomplish something. So what does it have to show for itself? Brink Lindsey tells us...

On the one hand, we can point with pride to an impressive blossoming of libertarian scholarship and intellectual activism. Libertarians are now represented in the academy in numbers that would have amazed the original members of the Mont Pelerin Society. The Cato Institute and other libertarian and free-market think tanks have achieved great success in winning a place for libertarian ideas in the political and policy debate. We have made great strides in getting libertarian ideas taken seriously in intellectual and opinion-shaping circles.

But getting taken seriously by tiny intellectual elites is one thing; winning acceptance in mass public opinion is another thing altogether. As an intellectual movement, libertarianism has come a long way. As a political movement, however, we’re still pretty near square one. The Libertarian Party crested in 1980 with a million votes or so in the presidential election; since then it has contented itself with being a fringe group that is generally scoffed at when it isn’t being completely ignored. And whatever success we’ve had in spreading libertarian ideas, we’ve accomplished very little in the core political task of expanding the number of active libertarians. According to a 2000 Rasmussen poll, only 2% of Americans self-identify as libertarian. To put that number in perspective, according to a 1999 Gallup poll, 6% of Americans believe that the moon landings were faked.
So we have some hard facts to face. We committed libertarians are a very small group of people with very unpopular views. And now that Goldwater-Reagan small-government conservatism has more or less disappeared, we have no effective representation in the political arena.

When I discovered libertarianism I was very excited by the ideas and the commitment to freedom. But after several years I realized that libertarians weren't going to accomplish anything. The movement has very little appeal outside the small coven of true believers. They are too passive; they don't engage in the kind of perpetual organization and activism that is required of any movement that actually wants to be successful.

The long-term goal is to achieve a generally liberal outcome. Libertarianism is a variety of liberalism, but it is not one that can actually achieve that long-term goal. So the challenge then is to fashion a variety of liberalism that can achieve that goal, and that is what I am trying to do. Lindsey agrees:

What needs to be developed is a set of ideas that can serve as the basis for a new political identity. Not a strictly libertarian identity – there simply aren’t enough strictly defined libertarians to base a mass political movement on. Rather, a genuinely liberal identity – one that brings together “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” voters from across the current left-right spectrum. One that recognizes a more expansive role for government than committed libertarians would like, but which nonetheless supports both economic and personal liberty. Here, then, is the way forward as I see it: to articulate an appropriately inclusive political vision that puts freedom at the center of its commitments.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

"Energizing the real mainsprings of American power"

Niall Ferguson at the 2010 Aspen Ideas Festival

Unlike Britain in 1945, which was crushed by debt and slow growth, doomed to imperial decline, I think there is a way out for the United States. I don't think it's over. But it all hinges on whether you can re-energize the real mainsprings of American power. And those two things are: innovation, technological innovation, and entrepreneurship. Those are the things that made the United States the greatest economy in the world, and the critical question is: Are we going to get it right? Can we revive those things in such a way that, in the end, we grow our way out of this hole the way the United States grew its way out of the 1970s and, of course, out of the 1930s?

So do we have what it takes? I read what conservatives and progressives are writing and I don't see any real commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship. They may try to superficially and opportunistically associate their ideology with innovation and entrepreneurship but neither ideology has a vision for the type of society that we need. America is not Britain in 1945 transitioning from Empire to Socialism. British decline was not about losing the Empire. Why is Japan the 2nd largest economy rather than Britain? It could be Britain, but it's not. It's about policy and culture and drive. What America faces is nothing like what any power has ever faced. We need not just one but several political ideologies that articulate visions that offer us options for the world that we live in. And so Ferguson's critical question: Are we going to get it right? And I ask: do we have the imagination to get it right? The imagination to go beyond the ideologies we have inherited? The point is that the solution to our current problems will not come from what we think we know. It will be a discovery of something that we don't know.

"The Next World Order"

Liberalization-modernization always challenges the pre-modern social order. However it also creates opportunities for classes, tribes, ethnic groups who have skills, talents, and cultures that in the pre-modern world were despised, but turn out to be a perfect match for liberal modernity. I think this would be an interesting area of study for an economist, political scientist, or anthropologist -- maybe a good documentary film idea. Part of the turmoil that pre-modern social orders will experience is the increasing success and prominence of previously despised elements of their society. But it would be wise for these societies to embrace those elements and find a way to integrate them into their unfolding liberalization.

What really perplexes the Chinese, he said, is that scores of nations have engaged in the same sorts of economic reforms as India, so why is it that it’s the Indian economy that has become the developing world’s second best? The speed with which India is creating world-class companies is also a shock to the Chinese, whose corporate structure is based on state-owned and foreign companies.

I have no satisfactory explanation for all this, but I think it may have something to do with India’s much-reviled caste system. Vaishyas, members of the merchant caste, who have learned over generations how to accumulate capital, give the nation a competitive advantage. Classical liberals may be right in thinking that commerce is a natural trait, but it helps if there is a devoted group of risk-taking entrepreneurs around to take advantage of the opportunity. Not surprisingly, Vaishyas still dominate the Forbes list of Indian billionaires.

In a much-discussed magazine article last year, Lee Kwan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, raised an important question: Why does the rest of the world view China’s rise as a threat but India’s as a wonderful success story? The answer is that India is a vast, unwieldy, open democracy ruled by a coalition of 20 parties. It is evolving through a daily flow of ideas among the conservative forces of caste and religion, the liberals who dominate intellectual life, and the new forces of global capitalism.

So why isn't India perceived as a threat in the way that China is? That's a fascinating question, one that deserves a lot of thought. And it is one that China should take the time to really think about. What China and a lot of countries don't understand is that America wants other countries to be successful. But our view is shaped by our experience of the 20th century, and that experience was shaped by the rise of Germany, Japan, and Russia and we are always on the lookout for any country whose rise has the potential to follow their path. India is doing the right thing, they realize what Germany and Japan now know and the Russians have yet to figure out: you can achieve national greatness through economic and cultural achievement within a generally liberal framework rather than through dictatorship, war, and conquest. If China can realize that basic truth and pursue appropriate policies it will achieve great things for its people. And if it can't then it will face American power committed to defending a liberal international order.

Flashback 2003: Bill Clinton on Iraq

It's important to remember these things.

Bill Clinton:

Let me tell you what I know. When I left office, there was a substantial amount of biological and chemical material unaccounted for. That is, at the end of the first Gulf War, we knew what he had. We knew what was destroyed in all the inspection processes and that was a lot. And then we bombed with the British for four days in 1998. We might have gotten it all; we might have gotten half of it; we might have gotten none of it. But we didn't know. So I thought it was prudent for the president to go to the U.N. and for the U.N. to say you got to let these inspectors in, and this time if you don't cooperate the penalty could be regime change, not just continued sanctions.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How do you defeat the radical left?

How do you defeat the radical left? What strategy should you use? What ideas, rhetoric, symbols and attitudes should you use? What methods of organization and activism? How do you think about this for the long term, rather than just in the limited framework of the election cycle? How do you win the persuadables over while holding off the true believers?

These are the questions I've been thinking a lot about over the past few years. And it has been my effort to answer these questions that has in large part driven the change in my political views. I don't believe that conservatism and libertarianism are capable of defeating the radical left. In fact I think they do more harm than good. They are deeply unattractive to those who need to be won over and they divert the talents and energies of a lot of good people, like leaves caught in an eddy on a river, into political movements that will never be successful.

In this effort it has been necessary to rediscover and rethink the meaning of the word "liberal." The goal is to craft a variety of liberalism that builds upon everything we have learned since 1776, that is an appropriate response to the challenges and realities we face in the first part of the 21st century, that can appeal broadly to most Americans and to many around the world, and one that can successfully stand on its own and fend off the collectivist, anti-liberal leftism that has plagued us for far too long.

So that is what I am trying to do.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Political organizing is the basis for political movements, which in turn alters the climate for politics inside Washington"

We need to apply to the study of political movements the same approach we see in the study of the military and warfare, with its focus on organization and logistics, tactics and strategy. I think this would do a lot to infuse our political system with more strategic and organizational thinking which could mean that people will feel and be more empowered as citizens.

I would also ask why most observers and analysts pay so little attention to the details of political organizing. Politics is not only about what leaders say and do in Washington and on TV. Political organizing is the basis for political movements, which in turn alter the climate for politics inside Washington.

And yet, if I had to tally up all the reporting that I've seen on the actual work of building the Obama campaign organization it would fill, at most, a thimble. Americans have a notably thin understanding of what it takes to change anything, in part I think because our story-tellers and meaning-makers prefer to trade in myth over reality too. (Thus we get Rosa Parks acting on her own, for example.) This cycle of ignorance is self-reinforcing: reporters don't ask power players about political organizing because they don't understand it; power players don't think it matters because reporters don't ask them about it.

"More than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security"

Sometimes Obama gets it right. Unfortunately, since the 1960s Democrats have conditioned themselves sneer at any effort to point out the good America has done in the world and mindlessly regurgitate the tired leftist litany of American wrongs. So it is good that Obama said this and I hope that there are some Democrats who will actually think about what is being said.

Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions - from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank - that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.

We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades - a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, markets open, billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress, and advancing frontiers of human liberty.

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for - and what we continue to fight for - is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.

Using "liberalism"

I have taken to using "liberalism" recently in its broader more accurate sense, rather than in the narrow sense that is common in American political discourse. I find it is much more useful and gives more room to think and explore ideas. My goal is to get beyond the classifications that not only artificially limit our range of thought, but actually direct our thinking down pathways to the same conclusions. And I'm just not interested in that. My goal is to arrive at my own conclusions, not memorize a bunch of ideological talking points. Timothy Garton Ash had an interesting essay on "liberalism" --

A plausible minimum list of ingredients for 21st century liberalism would include liberty under law, limited and accountable government, markets, tolerance, some version of individualism and universalism, and some notion of human equality, reason and progress. The mix of ingredients differs from place to place. Whether some distant cousin really belongs to the extended family of liberalisms is a matter of healthy dispute. But somewhere in this contested, evolving combination there is a thing of enduring value.

This has been an American argument, some would say the American argument, for more than 200 years. In fact, the United States is still full of liberals, both progressive or left liberals and, I would insist, conservative or right liberals. Most of them just don’t use the word. Liberalism is the American love that dare not speak its name.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The California Dream: Entrepreneurship and Activist Government

This was the right formula, but unfortunately this era was followed by one dominated by an intolerant, anti-capitalist, radical leftism that was incapable of comprehending or tolerating these "two seemingly contradictory principles." Part of our task is recovering from the boomer generation's disastrous ideological tendencies and finding a way to build a 21st century American System based on entrepreneurship and activist government.

These places grew before the current malaise infected the state. As Starr points out, California based its ascendancy on two seemingly contradictory principles: entrepreneurship and activist government. Under Gov. Earl Warren, but also Goodwin Knight and finally Pat Brown, the state made a commitment both to basic infrastructure—energy, water, roads, schools, parks—and expanding its economy.

By the early 1960s, this system was hitting on all cylinders. New roads, power plants and water systems opened lands for development for farms, subdivisions, factories. Ever expanding and improving schools produced a work force capable of performing higher-end tasks, and capable of earning higher wages. New parks preserved at least some of the landscape, and gave families a place to recreate.

For Pat Brown, arguably the greatest governor in American history, this was all part of California’s “destiny.” Starr describes Brown’s California as “a modernist commonwealth, a triumph of engineering, a megastate committed to growth as its first premise.” Yet within this great modernist project was also stirring opposition, on both left and right, that would soon place this Golden Age at its end.

Many of the objections were legitimate. The Sierra Club and its many spinoffs rightfully saw the Brown development machine as threatening California’s landscape, wildlife and, in important ways, the appeal of its way of life. More careful controls on growth clearly were needed. The battle over the nature of those controls continues to this day.
Some more angry voices, then as now, targeted the very existence of suburbia, the dominant form of the state’s growth, and eventually sought its eradication.

The Entrepreneurial 10th Mountain Division

I suspect that the WW2-era 10th Mountain Division was the most entrepreneurial military unit in American history.

After the war, ex-soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division fired-up America's modern ski industry. They published ski magazines, opened ski schools, and established ski areas, including Vail, Aspen, Sugarbush, Whiteface Mountain and others. At least 62 ski resorts have been founded, managed, or employed head ski instructors that were 10th Mountain Division veterans.

The Basics

The alternatives are not on the one hand some totalitarian, socialist state and on the other some laissez-faire, minarchist state, and that's it. There are other alternatives if we have the imagination to conceive them. If I argue that we should let markets work and solve problems via voluntary associations that doesn't mean I'm advocating a cold, cruel, survival-of-the-fittest state. Likewise if I argue that government can provide many useful services that doesn't mean I'm advocating a totalitarian, anti-liberty state. We need to get beyond these absolutist, all or nothing conceptions of government and society.

One of the chief problems was this: a modernizing, developing country requires a strong and effective government.  That does not mean that it needs a tyrannical and socialistic one, but it does need a government that is honest and competent enough to establish and maintain the legal, economic and physical infrastructure which a growing market economy needs.  Governments must be able to enforce contracts and the law in reasonably transparent and reasonably timely legal procedures; they must maintain the roads, ports, sewer systems and power generation capacity on which modern and especially urban life depends; they must maintain a sound currency and a reasonable macroeconomic environment; they must either build or sponsor a basic health infrastructure; they must provide a solid educational system.

The US as Superintegrator

I like this:

I foresee that the US becomes for the world, what the Franco-German axis has become for Europe, a superintegrater instead of a superpower

The Hong Kong Myth

There are examples out there of the proper balance between an active government and market economy if people could get beyond their rigid, ideological templates and actually see them:

Actually, where Asian government has succeeded is not whether the government led the way, but where the balance between government and the market was delicately calibrated. Economies work well where governments knew how to let the market work where it functioned best and the government concentrated on what it did best.

The idea of Hong Kong being the freest market in the world is a bit of a myth, considering that half of Hong Kong citizens live in government owned low-cost housing and the government provided superb social welfare. Positive non-intervention did not mean no intervention. It meant that the government provided the environment for the private sector to thrive, without competing directly with the private sector.

The American Experiment and Ralph Ellison's Endless Blues

We tend to focus on hot button issues and ideological battles, but the American Experiment is is an endless improvisation of the unfolding of the realization of what a human being can be. If we can rise to the challenge and craft a vision of America that articulates this in a way that transcends ideology then we will have really achieved something:

In its best sections, this mysterious draft is full of wit, satire, and the chaos that Ellison concluded was so central to the ongoing surprises of American life and for which the United States was uniquely prepared to handle, improvisation by desperate or even surreal improvisation.
That sense of the importance of improvisation beyond measure was written into the founding documents and appeared over and over in the national life and the national response to need or threat. If the chaos is sufficiently epic, so must the improvisations be if anything close to an actual “solution” is to be achieved. That is the fundamental tension at the center of the national life, and Ellison’s fundamental sense of American life.

Other options

Fareed Zakaria:

But the truth is, since the Cold War ended, most people haven’t voted based on deep ideological divides. The majority gravitate toward the center and search for a party or person who seems to reflect their sensibilities, attitudes, and feelings. They want a modern party that feels as though it understands the world we live in.

Two things come to mind. First is Virginia Postrel's thesis that the real competition following the demise of Cold War ideological divides was between Stasists and Dynamists. And second that neither of the two ideologies that dominate left and right really "understands the world we live in." The metaphor of "the center" is not very useful since it does not describe what people believe or want. It assumes the legitimacy of the existing left and right ideologies and does not recognize that the huge numbers of people in "the center" are in fact rejecting those ideologies and want something else. They are not splitting the difference, they want other options. So let's see this as an opportunity and come up with "other options."

Why pubic employees should not be allowed to unionize

Why pubic employees should not be allowed to unionize:

Two City Hall sources said last night that municipal employee unions District Councils 33 and 47 would put their full weight behind the drink tax and garbage fee to preserve city services and, thus, their jobs.

Public employees deserve to be treated fairly, but their unionization is an undemocratic manipulation of the political system.

The 1960s and the rise of conservatism

The United States never had a conservative movement prior to the 1950s. And in the 1950s that newly created conservatism was little more than a fringe intellectual movement with little influence on policy. So when did conservatism move beyond this small group of intellectuals to become a real political movement that could influence policy and elections? The 1960s. The intellectuals who populated the movement in the 1950s were still around in the 60s, but something in society began to change with the coming of age of a generation characterized by intense political passions and an inclination towards zealotry. It was this cohort (most of them boomers but others were a little older, some a little younger) whose sensibilities have dominated our politics and have bequeathed to us a rigid, intolerant partisanship.

When people think of "the sixties," they commonly associate the era with civil rights protest, with the student, antiwar, and feminist movements, and with the rise of the New Left. Yet the untold story of the 1960s is about the New Right. While thousands of youth did join protests on the left, thousands of others mobilized on the right. Many of today's conservative leaders came of age during the 1960s and became politically active during their college years through participation in Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a youth organization founded at the estate of William F. Buckley. Ironically, YAF began in 1960, the same year as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), one of the primary organizations of the New Left...

Idealistic youth from one end of the political spectrum to the other formed movements to reshape American politics. Whereas youth on the left came into ascendancy during the 1960s and early 1970s, the other wing of that generation came into prominence during the mid-1970s and 1980s and began to take over the seats of institutional power. The 1960s must be seen, then, within this larger context: not only fostering protests on the left, but also nurturing a new generation of leaders on the right. Much of the conservative backlash of the 1970s and 1980s was led by people of the same age as leftist activists, not the older generation.

I look forward to the time when that generation fades from the scene and we can move forward with a different political sensibility. It will be interesting to see what politics can be like absent the boomer's zealotry.

Quote from A Generation Divided: The New Left, The New Right, and The 1960s by Rebecca Klatch.

In the beginning...

What contemporary political ideology was created by academic intellectuals, who were elitist and anti-democratic, who looked to Europe rather than to America's founding for ideas and inspiration, and who were opposed to classical liberalism? It would probably come as a surprise to many that the answer is: Conservatism.

Conservatism was created after WW2 by a group of academic intellectuals, it was not a bottom-up, grass-roots movement:

[T]he new conservative movement was overwhelmingly associated with colleges and universities. Virtually every one of its spokesmen held a position in academe.

Conservatism was founded by people who were elitist and anti-democratic:

As conservative intellectuals examined the fruits of liberal ideas, they frequently noted with special distaste the spectacular rise of a mass society and the cult of the common man...

[Bernard Iddings] Bell unsparingly castigated the so-called civilization around him. "The chief threat to America comes from within America" -- from the complacent, vulgar, mindless, homogenized, comfort-seeking, nouveau riche culture of the common man. Was this perspective undemocratic? Of course it was, Bell cheerfully conceded. One of the most dangerous assumptions of our time is that the common man "can be entrusted...without skilled leadership, safely to run himself and society." Instead, the masses require "an elite, a democratic elite," that will exemplify excellence and "a more urbane and humane way of living."

Many people mistakenly think that conservatism was founded to champion the ideals of the American founding. Instead the intellectuals who created American conservatism were European oriented. They were inspired by Old World conservatism not the American founders.

A second noticeable feature of the traditionalist group was its extraordinary orientation toward Europe. We have already noted its relative lack of interest in the specifically American past. One must take care not to exaggerate; nevertheless, the principle early acts of recovery were of European conservatives--Burke and Metternich, for instance--not Americans...
...Instead, they imported European insights and took their stand at home.

Not only was the original, Old World conservatism anti-classical liberal, but it was in fact classical liberalism's first ideological enemy, later to be followed by socialism, fascism, and communism. Many of the founders of the American conservative movement after WW2 were also anti-classical liberal:

...nearly all the leading new conservatives took pains to dissociate themselves from the "nineteenth-century liberalism" that was also enjoying a new vogue on the Right. Most vehement was Viereck; his conservatism, he said, had nothing to do with rootless, "cash nexus," selfish, laissez-faire individualism. Russell Kirk also emphasized that his kind of traditionalism was not a defense of materialistic businessmen or the "dogmas of Manchesterian economic theory." "Conservatism is something more than mere solicitude for tidy incomes." In a lengthy critique of Ludwig von Mises...Kirk warned of the dangers of rationalistic, atomistic capitalism and utilitarianism: "...once supernatural and traditional sanctions are dissolved, economic self-interest is ridiculously inadequate to hold an economic system together, and even less adequate to preserve order." Kirk had worked for a "soulless corporation" and had lived in a dreary industrial city; he had no inclination to idealize free enterprise. Robert Nisbet was also critical of the corrosive, anti-social laissez-faire of the nineteenth century: it had weakened social bonds and "accelerated" the aggrandizement of the "omnicompetent State."

All quotes from The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America by George Nash. This is an excellent book and required reading if you want an understanding of conservatism.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Yes, Hayek supported a comprehensive system of social insurance

Will Wilkinson points to the interesting phenomena of some folks on the left discovering that Hayek supported a government-provided safety net. It will be even more interesting when people on the right begin realizing that as well. I've been writing about how my views have changed to supporting both a dynamic entrepreneurial market economy and an active government. Hayek was one of the influences on that change. Hayek:

There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.

Wilkinson comments:

What Hayek had in mind was a competitive market in risk-rated insurance and a competitive market in medical services. No price controls. Let the markets rip. Mandate a certain minimum level of insurance coverage. If you’re uninsurable or can’t afford a policy, then the state pitches in.

Our political debates would be better if we were trying to figure out how to get the best out of both markets and the government rather than being trapped in the never-ending food fight between an uncompromising anti-government right and anti-market left. Hayek offers us a good base to work from.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Civilian officials must promote economic insurgents-entrepreneurs"

Schramm, Litan, and Stangler argue that entrepreneurship should be a key element of our strategy in Afghanistan. It should come as no surprise that I wholeheartedly agree. Perhaps we should establish an "Office of Strategic Entrepreneurship" to oversee its implementation.

For any economy to grow, for living standards to rise, new businesses must be created. Those local businesses must be allowed to experiment with different ways of solving local problems. Each of these firms can be seen as a type of "insurgent"-starting, experimenting, and growing. Not all will succeed; the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has suggested that, in some cases, new business creation should be discouraged because some entrepreneurs might fail. Progress, however, only comes about through trial and error.

Government provided healthcare

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Active Government And Entrepreneurial Market Economy

Brink Lindsey has an interesting review of Arthur Brooks' new book "The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future." I have not read this book and most likely won't read it, but my interest here is not the book but a comment of Lindsey's that I think is worth pointing out:

The first is free markets; the second, small government. They need not be a package deal. Governments can effectively stifle enterprise and competition without spending a lot of money, while a large public sector and a vibrant private sector can go hand in hand.

Indeed they can. In my words, you can have an active government and a dynamic, creative market economy. These are not mutually exclusive. And I think that this is going to be the ultimate outcome of our political competition. In general the American people are entrepreneurial and support a free enterprise system, but they want government to provide rules for that system. The American people also want a government that can provide a variety of services from a strong military, to infrastructure and social services, to support for science, education and parks, but they want it done in a fiscally and socially responsible manner. And they don't want the burden of these government services to stifle free enterprise. The result will be some practical synthesis of these two positions. This of course will be completely intolerable to both the left and right, driven as they are by a pro-government, anti-market and pro-market, anti-government fundamentalism. The notion that you can be both pro-government and pro-market will not compute. But this combination has been with us since the beginning. America's Founders were not anti-government, they were anti-tyranny, and that's not the same thing. The Founders were creators of governments and their republican ideology gave them the belief that government service was patriotic and positive and that government should take action to improve republican society. Of course industrial age organization and the innovation of the welfare state were beyond their experience so we have no idea how they would have responded. But their republican and liberal ideals were not necessarily incompatible with the required innovations of later generations. After all they invented the modern liberal republic and were at the leading edge of social and political innovation of their era. What are the leading edge ideas of our time? That is where the Founders would be. They were not conservatives, "standing athwart history yelling stop!" Rather they were a rare generation living between the pre-modern and modern worlds, living on the edge of a continent, building a civilization out of nothing, they created the liberal modernity that would prevail 200 years later and prove to be the only sustainable mode of organizing a modern society.